Saturday, August 06, 2005


Faithful Blog Readers:

I know we are behind on our postings, so please bear with me as I try to summarize the last few days and the days immediately ahead....

Thursday morning at 9:30, we learned in a phone call from Dana the children's visa applications MIGHT be signed Thursday or, if not, HOPEFULLY Friday, but nothing was yet certain. As you might imagine, the news was not well received and after a heated pow-wow among the four of us a return call was placed to Dana with a request for more clarity/information. At 11:00, Dana called back to say the visas were signed(!) and we would buy our plane tickets tomorrow for a Tuesday flight to Almaty (Olesya having made reservations for us earlier in the week).

Friday afternoon following our baby home visit, Dana took us to the travel agent to buy the tickets. For reasons we still do not understand, Bob and Beth's tickets were ready, but there were no seats available for us. Last night was pretty miserable, as it looked like someone had goofed and we would have to be inconvenienced or pay or both to make things right.

This morning around 11, Dana came to the hotel and took a call from Olesya while we were together in Bob & Beth's room. Still no seats for the flight on Tuesday: Best available would be seats for the same flight on Monday. (One of the issues involves our preference for a direct flight - easier with kids and fewer questions we will be unable to answer with no translator accompanying us). We went to the travel agent immediately and bought the tickets for Monday.

Bottom line: Alli and I fly from Kostanai to Almaty on Monday, Bob and Beth do the same on Tuesday. Medical exams will be on Wednesday, US Embassy interviews on Thursday and we will all fly HOME together on Friday, August 12!!!! Accordingly, we will take the children from the baby home and become full-time parents on Monday morning!

I have tears in my eyes writing this: tears of joy and frustration and exhaustion. As always, many thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers every step of the way. As we rush through these next two days and our brief stay in Almaty, please continue to keep us and the kids in your thoughts and prayers: No doubt, we'll all need your strength at one point or another.

This might be our final posting until we return home. Thanks to all of you for sharing our experience with us: Your interest encouraged us to post even on the most mundane or difficult of days. We hope you enjoyed the Blog as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you. At last count, we had more than 5400 hits, and I know they weren't all from Vegas (we love you, Gidge!).

I promise we will post through our return trip after we have a chance to get settled at home - or maybe in the middle of the first few nights while we and the kids work our way through jet lag. If there are any among you who are considering doing what we have done, please let us know and we will be happy to try to address your concerns and answer your questions. You can comment to the Blog or send a more personal message to

God is truly good! May he continue to bless us all. Our love,

Pat & Alli

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

August 3rd

Happy 126th Birthday Kostanai!

We sleep in today: With the town's birthday celebration, many of the local businesses are closed or operating on different schedules. The gym does not open until 9. Bob, Alli and I leave the hotel at 9: Bob and I for the gym, Alli for the Internet Cafe, where she will check e-mail and copy photos from our camera to floppy disks so we can make prints for Dana (our birthday gift will be a photo album).

At the gym, it's busier than usual in the exercise area but quiet in the ping-pong room. We work out from 9:10 until 10, then play eleven games in just over an hour. Bob wins the first four, but I take six of the next seven to win the day 6-5. Bob leads overall 116-106.

The weather remains cloudy and comfortable for our walk to the baby home, perfect weather for taking the kids outside. Bob & Beth go first, then we take Molly and Aidan. We walk up and down the street outside the baby home. We're out for 30-40 minutes. Molly falls sound asleep and I hold her head against my chest so it won't roll from side to side while I walk. Aidan is quiet and watchful: He gives his Nuk a workout and holds tightly to Alli's fingers.

Back in the marble room, Molly sleeps soundly until it's time to clean up and take the kids back. It might not sound like much, particulalry since Molly fell asleep, but it's always a great visit when we get to take the kids outside.

We walk back to the hotel. My stomach is not right, and while we have made plans to meet Dana at 4 to wander around town and enjoy the birthday festivities, I spend most of the walk contemplating a nap instead. We get back to the hotel at 3:30, and after relaxing for 1/2 hour, I feel well enough to join the others. The city center and park are very crowded: lots of people and many more vendors than usual, especially those selling kabobs and beer. We stop to watch a few acts in a talent show for children, visit a display of Kazakh urts (their traditional tent-like dwellings), stroll through the park, watch some chess and visit a vendor for VERY cold beers! At 5:30 we adjourn to the Russian Pub for dinner. They have outdoor seating for the occasion and we order kabobs.

After dinner, we walk to Victory Park and the soccer stadium, where a concert is under way. We wander around the stadium listening to the music and people-watching. After a stroll through the park and a look at a particulalry interesting monument - Dana explains it is for Kazakh people exiled and forbidden to return by the Soviets - we set out to walk Dana home. Bob and I pull out early - he's tired and my stomach is not happy again - and the girls carry on without us.

I'm reading and dozing when Alli gets back. She crawls into bed with her book and reads briefly before drifting off. We turn in for good around midnight.

August 2nd

Still cloudy and cool after last night's rain - a good day to stay in bed a little longer. It's 9:30 before Alli and I get everything moving in the same direction and walk to the pasty shop, where we find cake made from baked cottage cheese & apricots as well as raisin muffins.

On our walk to the baby home, our little friend Ibiek sees us coming and begins walking toward us. He's wearing what appears to be a man's (or at least a much older boy's) polo shirt, and he's eating a bag of seeds. He comes up close to me, motions for me to bend down and says something I can't begin to understand but which must have been, "I'm not wearing any underwear!," because the next thing we know, he lifts his shirt and reveals the truth! Grandmother comes running over - not to scold her grandson but to pose for a photo - and it's picture time again. Ibiek asks if he can take another photo, so the four of us pose for him. Considering he's three-foot nothing and has to aim pretty high for a guy his size, he takes a pretty good picture!

At the baby home, Alli and I go to the infirmary and we're told Aidan is in his regular room! He seems like a totally different boy from yesterday and responds warmly to Alli's hug. The three of us go to get Molly and then head downstairs. We have juice for both kids today - we had decided even if Aidan were still in the infirmary we'd chance the juice - and once Aidan realizes it's not whatever it was he refused to drink on Sunday, he slugs it down heartily. With Molly, I try a little now (loud protest) and a little later (a look like "About time!") with moderate success. The trick is to hide the bottle both before - unless I'm ready to give it to her - and after - the disappearing bottle trick carries more weight than my explanation that the juice is all gone, however sincere and convincing I might be in delivery. It's too cloudy and cool to take the kids out, so we stay in the marble room and play until it's time to take them back to their individual rooms.

We bus back to the hotel and Alli & I head for the Internet Cafe. I post Blog entries for Saturday and Sunday, July 30-31, while Alli reads and answers e-mail. We're meeting Dana, Bob & Beth for dinner @ 6 - we wrap up at the I.C. at about 5:50.

We go to the pizza place (against Dana's better judgment) where we wait about 10 minutes for a table. While we're eating, a large group takes the table next to ours. We think we hear English! They think so, too, as we are helping Dana with new words she's learned while reading her current book. After too much whispering and nobody making a move to say hello, I blurt out, "Try the ham and pineapple pizza," and the ice is broken. In a quick conversation with them at their table while we wait for our bill, they tell me they are missionaries from Florida here to work in the villages surrounding Kostanai. We, of course, are here on "secret business."

We settle the bill and leave only to have one of the women come running after us: She claims our payment is 500 Tenghe short. As we always do, Alli and I count and contribute, Bob and beth do the same, and Dana counts a third time to make sure there are sufficient funds. we have never been mistaken before - and are not likely mistaken now - but we pay the additional sum and cross another establishment off our list.

After dinner, we walk Dana ALL THE WAY HOME. Last night, we had asked her where she might like us to go for her birthday (two days from now on August 4). She said she'd like to have us to her home and prepare a meal for us. Tonight, I thought we should figure out where she lives in the likley event we will walk there on Thursday. When I suggest she allow us to accompany her further tonight, we are all surprised when she asks if we'd like to see her home tonight.

We accept and are soon seated on the floor of their living room/dining room on handmade satin floor mats placed around a table cloth on which is spread a variety of dishes -"winter salad" (tomatoes, cucumbers and spices mixed to the consistency of marinara and served cold), sliced cucumbers, bread, crackers, apple butter, Kazakh "donuts," candy made here in Kostanai and hot tea - most of which are home made from ingredients grown on the family farm.

The apartment has the living/dining room (Kazakh people traditionally eat while seated on the floor, so there is no "dining room" furniture) with access to a small balcony, a galley kitchen, three bedrooms and a bathroom. The furnishings are simple, and a large shelving unit is the dominant piece in the living/dining room. A sheet covers a portion of the piece, and we are told it is out of respect for Dana's recently deceased father (you might remember he died several weeks ago).

Dana's mother and sister join us for the visit, and we pass a delight-ful evening of conversation and family photos. The only awkward moments involve those few instances when Dana is out of the room and unable to translate for us (no one else in her family speaks English). Other- wise, we talk, ask each other questions and discuss topics ranging from the very light-hearted (American movies) to the more substantial (our true business in Kazakhstan). Before we know it, it's after 11 AM and we are being told it's too dangerous to walk home. Dana calls a taxi for us and we get back to the hotel just after midnight following as rewarding an evening as we've had in Kostanai. We're all looking forward to Thursday and our return trip.

Monday, August 01, 2005

August 1st

"What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life - to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the moment of last parting."

I've been reading John Irving's A Widow for One Year, and the above passage from George Eliot's Adam Bede appears in it. In light of so much of what Alli and I have been through these last sixteen months, in consideration of the two little souls who have come into our lives in these past nine weeks, and while contemplating the journey ahead for the four of us, I wanted to save the words in the event I donate the book to "The Box" when we leave....

August 1st! It's hard to believe. Our time here has flown by truly: We've been made busy at times, kept ourselves busy at others, and we have enjoyed many, many more moments than we've despaired. We have not been bored, though in the last week or so it has been hard to muster much enthusiasm for dinner at the same handful of places. We have enjoyed our stay in Kostanai - we simply want to go home.

At the gym this morning, Bob wins the day 8-5 and widens his series lead to double figures again at 111-100. Alli and Beth's walk takes them to and around Victory Park and down to the river before a final stop at the pastry shop. The four of us meet on the street corner near the hotel @ 10:40. It's cloudy and cool and we decide to walk to and, we hope, home from the baby home. After breakfast and showers, we're off at 12:15.

Aidan is STILL in the infirmary. We thought he might be until a doctor had a chance to examine and release him. We're a little frustrated we have not been able to speak with anyone and get any kind of an update on his condition, and we're hopeful today will be the last time we find him there.

During our visit, Aidan is whiny and more clingy than usual, prefering Mom to everyone and everything. Molly gets her apple juice and is generally pleasant. At one point, I take Aidan for a walk around the halls - we don't want to take him outside until he is back in his regular room - and we bump into Alli and Molly along the way. Mom and Dad trade babies and continue on our separate ways (unlike walking outside, the hallways are too narrow and too dark to make strolling as a family feasible). Though I'm barefoot and Molly's underdressed by baby home standards - that is to say no coat or hat - we sneak outside for a few minutes to escape the warm conditions in the halls.

After our visit, we walk back to the hotel. The potential delay is the topic of conversation; the consensus is we want to know something firm sooner than later.

Back at the hotel, Alli crashes while I do laundry. Dana arrives @ 5:30 and we go to "The Rice Place" for plov & bread (with the dipping sauce we discovered on our last visit). It's delicious as always! While we're eating, the storm we thought might blow up at any time during the day materializes with thunder, lightning and steady rain. The five of us board a bus heading back to town: Bob & Beth and Alli & I depart at our stop and Dana stays on for the ride home.

Back at the hotel, it's movie night again: "Serendipity" with John Cusack & Kate Beckinsdale. It's more corny and less funny than I remember. We turn in around 11:45.