Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mother Hen's Food Obsession

Does anyone know a good clandestine way of smuggling food into a baby house? I'm only half kidding.

Because he's turned over on 11 months, Vic is in a toddler room now that does not get baby formula. He's small for his age, and malnourished... so I'm obsessing about how I can smuggle food in. My level-headed husband keeps telling me that Vic's getting all he needs and we shouldn't rock the boat. What if I get caught? It'll only be until the end of June then we can bring him home and stuff him full of good food. He's right, but my mother radar is very hard to put aside... that my baby isn't getting enough nutrition and liquids.

Bob and I were joking about possible methods of secretly mixing outside food into his bowl of cream-o'-wheat & beef mixture. Mushed banana squirted into the bowl via medicine syringe? Vial of dry formula tucked up my sleeve?

In other news... we are completely in love with this kid. Despite all my worries about food, he is a very smiley, giggly, strong, active, talkative little guy. He's scrappy. To quote the movie "Raising Arizona", he's a little outlaw.

Bob tells this story from when he was a kid. His family lived for a while on a few acres in the piney woods of southeast Texas. They had a small camp house with a large garden and several animals, including horses, chickens, and goats. I would hesitate to call these six acres a "farm", as it was more properly a "ranchette". It was about as close to Mother Earth News as you could get in the piney woods along Village Creek.

At any rate, they had a dud rooster for a while, and as a result, some of the laying hens would sit on unfertilized eggs. These eggs would rot instead of hatching chicks. After it was clear that the eggs were not going to hatch, Bob's parents would buy pallets of live baby chicks from the feed store, and then empty the chicks out by the sitting hens. The hens would rise from their rotting nests and happily adopt all of the chicks. I suppose they never realized (or cared) that the chicks were not hatched from their own eggs.

We have thought about that story a lot over the last two days, as we now know exactly how those hens must have felt.

Pictures From Karaganda

Hello Beautiful !!

We flew into Karaganda Monday evening, arriving around 7pm. Went straight to a grocery store for staples & dinner, and then to the apartment. After the traditional "1st Night Spaghetti", we watched the movie "Thank You For Smoking" until we somehow ruined the plug for the dvd player.

Bob and I felt like kids on Christmas morning while waiting to go to the Baby House. When we met Stanislav (Stas), it was love at first sight... at least for us. He really liked all the kisses, but we could tell he wasn't used to getting them.

We're going to name him after my father-in-law, so his new name will be Victor Hugo Sims. Vic is absolutely beautiful. We'll try and post photos soon, as we've just got our dial-up internet access in the apartment.

When the nurses brought Vic out to us, they had obviously dressed him up for the occasion. He went easily to me, and gave me some smiles, then went easily to Bob... until all the attention from the interpreters & staff (& mom/dad) got to him and he started frowning & crying a little. I took him back and he calmed down very quickly.

One of the staff asked us if we liked him and we said yes, that we'd like to continue seeing him. Honestly, I don't think you could have pried him out of my arms. He looks great for his age & experiences. However, the poor little guy was the first in his group to get chicken pox. He's getting over it, but now has green medicine spots over each sore to dry them out.

Our first visit of 2 hours went by too fast and we put him down into his crib for a nap when it was time to go. From there we went to lunch with another US couple and their interpreter, Oxana. We all had a traditional Kazakh dish called Lagman, and wow, that was good. It felt great to talk with another couple who had just gone through all the first-day emotions.

After lunch, we went back to the baby house for the afternoon visit. The nurses brought him out, and he was all smiles when he saw us - obviously recognizing us from the morning's playtime. The nanny commented that he usually cries a little when going to sleep, but that today he was all smiles and went to sleep easily for his nap. :o)

He's in much better shape skills-wise than we thought. Vic has a lot of strength, but not a lot of practice... he can crawl, but only in short bursts, then he resorts to belly-crawling. He can stand, pull himself up, roll-over, and change toys from one hand to another.

The urge to pop him in our daybag and take off is overwhelming. He is so handsome and has beautiful blue eyes with long eyelashes, just like his brother. Vic also has blonde hair, just like his Aunt Cookie. :) His hands and feet are so cute - I pulled off his socks to take a peek.

Vic smiles, coos and talks more than we thought he would at such an early stage with us. He loves to cuddle and is very happy sitting in daddy's lap while concentrating on his pincer-grip to pick up a cheerio. He worked very hard to get the cheerio in his mouth, but took it back out - I think he's not used to chewing food. Vic played a game of chase with me, and it was the _cutest_ thing. He would crawl off, turn his head & smile, waiting for me to catch up.. then he'd take off again. Bob also got some sweet laughs putting Vic high in the air.

Our daily visits should be from 10-12, then from 2pm-4. We should be able to feed him at both visits, but were only allowed to feed him this afternoon. I think they prepped the kids early for the first visit, so he was already fed when we met him. The 2pm meal looks like cream of wheat with minced meat followed closely by a bottle of fruit tea. I'm not sure if or when he's fed formula, perhaps at the 6am feeding or at bedtime. We'll try to find out.

I'm amazed at how attached we already are to this little guy. Bob keeps me laughing with his "Raising Arizona" quotes... "He's an angel! Sent straight from heaven!"

Monday, April 28, 2008

Arrival in Karaganda Monday Evening..

We flew into Almaty late last night, after a six hour Lufthansa flight from Stuttgart through Frankfurt.

Just prior to leaving our home for the Stuttgart airport, we decided to leave our official no-fee (non-tourist) passports at home. They didn't have the Kaz visas in them, and we didn't want any extra high-value items that might be lost or stolen. Of course, as soon as we got to the Frankfurt airport, we immediately regretted leaving them. For the first time in six years of living and traveling in Europe, the German passport control at the Frankfurt international terminal wanted to see our Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) orders, which is essentially a special type of visa for US forces living in Germany. Fortunately, I had a copy of my US Army-issued orders on hand. The official passports would have been even more convincing. Suprisingly, Lufthansa did not charge us for extra baggage.

We negotiated the Almaty airport immigration easily with only a little waiting. We claimed our bags, and I suppose at some point we cleared Customs, although I was never really sure who or where Customs was. We were met by our driver Emil, who immediately put us at ease with his flawless English and warm personality. Because there is a special international convention currently in Almaty, we stayed last night in the Hotel Alma Ata. It was clean and functional, and we were relieved to find an inexpensively priced, well-stocked minibar after the long and dehydrating flight. In it you'll find both bubbly & non-bubbly water, a few soft drinks, juice and some candy bars. We drank two waters immediately, and saved a third for the next morning.

Today was mostly a blur of travel and a meeting and more travel and a store and then more travel and another store and then our apartment, where I now write this dispatch. We had the long-anticipated meeting with The Sisters. It involved some degree of detailed discussion due to the fact that we're different and non-routine -- Americans living in Germany, adopting in Kazakhstan, and then traveling directly back to Germany. There's two different ways we can get the child back through German Immigration. I'm still working on both and have yet to decide which way would be best.

Our flight to Karaganda was also uneventful. I think we ended up paying about $80 in Tenge due to excess luggage. We're carrying a heavy bag full of baby medicine donations, and we're also carrying some books. The overage cost was not as much as I'd expected.

Our apartment here is way above expectations. It is clean, well-lit, and very nicely furnished. The kitchen is especially well-stocked and furnished due to castoffs from, I presume, previous adoptive parents.

Tip: if you have a stateside GSM-type cell phone (example: T-Mobile), you can get it unlocked prior to leaving the US and have a very inexpensive option for using locally in Kazakhstan. For example, I have an unlocked Sony-Ericsson handset that was previously on T-Mobile in the US. I bought a new SIM card at a mobile phone shop in the Ramstore mall this morning for about $10 worth of KT. I now have a Kaz phone number and SMS (text) capability that I can use to communicate with the in-country staff if required. Of course, you have to call T-Mobile prior to leaving the US to get the phone unlocked, and they normally require you to have been on their contract for a year or so. Unlocking the phone allows you to use other carrier's SIM cards. Note again this only works with GSM or quad-band phones. Also, don't forget to keep track of your old SIM card, so that you can re-install it again when you return to the states!

Laura's notes: First.. I miss Jack. There, I said it. I know I probably miss him more than he does me at this point, especially with his grandmother at his every whim. Bob and I both commented that every little boy we see seems to morph into Jack. I still believe that not bringing him with us, and keeping him in school, was the right idea... but I still miss him.

The apartment we're staying in is great, nicely decorated, and has a beautiful kitchen (compared to others we've seen online). It's a two bedroom, one bath, first story apartment and just what we needed. I feel like we're living in an Ikea showroom! The downside is that this gorgeous apartment is out in the boonies, and we'll need a driver for the entire stay to get to/from the baby house & grocery store. I'll try to post photos later of it once our luggage is cleared up a bit.

On the drive from the airport to the apartment (via a stop at the grocery store) I was looking at the houses on the left side of the car. I suddenly realized that I knew where we were. The playground we were passing belonged to the babyhouse, with the building just beyond. Oxana, the interpreter, was impressed that I knew what it was. Somewhere in that building was our child. It made me both thrilled to know we would hold our child in the morning, and ache to hold Jack at the same time. I've felt like our travel time here was like being in limbo... one child at home, one yet to meet, and longing for both.

Okay, it's pretty late here and we need to catch up on a week's worth of sleep. Although this post is getting long, we really don't have much to report. I'm afraid to say it, but we're wondering when the hard part is going to start.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is this it?

Months ago when we received our region assignment, I had a crazy dream about flying to Kazakhstan. It all centered around the plane and flight attendents and was rife with preconceived notions of a former soviet era... I'm confident in saying that the plane we leave on tomorrow morning will not be made of concrete cinderblock. I told you it was a nutty dream.

We're all packed and feeling a little out of sorts. After all these months (years) of preparation & careful planning, the thought of just getting on a plane and finishing the adoption in a sort-of lock step from here on out is just weird. Sure, the important dates may change; court, flight home, return flight, etc. But, for the most part... we're pretty much just going through all the moves to finish this big dance. God willing.

In just a few days or even hours, we will meet our next child. I remember sitting in the hospital before labor was induced with my son Jack... It was a surreal feeling knowing that in this building, this German town, I will become a mother. Then finally, in this labor room, I'll see and hold the child I've dreamed of all my life and carried for 42 weeks.

I have a very similar feeling now; it's one of losing control and at the same time relishing every moment. This is the house we will eventually bring our child home to. These clothes I pack will be seen over and over in our cherished babyhouse photos for years to come. I'll wear this outfit with the pretty pink jacket when, God willing, a judge proclaims us parents again.

So, wish us luck. Knock on wood. Cross your fingers. Pray, pray, pray that all goes well and the only tears shed are of happiness.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Don't Have Time for This

Now that travel is imminent, I suppose I should begin getting serious about this blogging effort, so that our experiences might actually be of some interest or help to others.

In most adoption blogs, we would be at the point right now where I share out detailed packing list, our itinerary, pictures from our send-off party, our family care plan, and how all of our tightly orchestrated plans are coming together like clockwork.

Sadly, for us, this is not the case.

We fly in five days (three business days remaining). Our current status:
  • The "To Do Before We Leave" list is rapidly becoming the "Things that Won't Get Done Until After We Return" list.
  • The person who was supposed to be covering for me at work was just sent away for two weeks of travel abroad due to an (organizationally self-inflicted) crisis.
  • We've managed to lose the registration card for a vehicle that will expire during our travel
  • My dear Mom (Jack's guardian here during the trip) will arrive at the Stuttgart train. station some time tomorrow during my work day. I have no idea how we will get her from the train station to our house. She will be greeted by a kitchen that currently has no microwave.
  • I'm overdue on several critical updates and commitments to my two other web efforts.
  • I have two evaluations and The Leave Request (over)due for submission at work.
  • My Outlook inbox is full of meeting requests and messages with subject lines like "**Urgent!**", "Past Due", "Please read!!!". Needless to say, I've turned off my read receipts (related link, slightly NSFW). My boss, who has thus far been over-the-top supportive of this whole endeavor, will now be doubly-burdened in an already painfully (ahem) resource constrained environment.
  • We still have to organize all the charitable donations we received into some semblance of order for presentation.
  • I just submitted a Foreign Travel Clearance Request (required as separate action from leave request -- who knew?). No idea if it will be approved or not. I'm trying to pitch this as a "Personal Mission of Theater Engagement."
  • Our suitcases are all still empty. Actually, I'm still not even sure if I've unpacked yet from our trip to Morocco last Thanksgiving.
  • The power cord on our laptop broke.
My (late) lunch hour is over. Time to get caught up on work email -- from last week.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Visa Applications

We sent out our visa applications (along with our passports) to the Kazakh consulate in NYC by FedEx at 0800 this morning. Supposedly, the approved visas will be back to us here in Stuttgart in time for our flight to Almaty, tentatively scheduled for the evening of Sunday, 27 April.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can share in our anxiety and tension by tracking our visa shipment status along with us here:

Visa applications (Stuttgart to NYC)
Visas return (NYC to Stuttgart)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We have dates & LOI !!!!

Quick post as there's much to do.

We will arrive in Kaz on April 27th, meet with the in-country side of our agency the morning of the 28th then fly on to Karaganda the same day. Bob and I will get to hold our precious little one sometime on the 29th of April.

Our referral date and the travel date hold such emotion for us beyond the obvious. One year ago we were in shock and denial when my father-in-law was released from a local German hospital. He was diagnosed with cancer and not given very long to live. We received our referral on this same date one year later. On the one year anniversary of his death, we arrive in Kazakhstan to adopt his namesake.

Dad, we all love and miss you dearly. Thanks for pulling strings for us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The one I dream of, and the one I leave behind

Okay, I'm giving in. I have more I'd like to share on the blog, but don't feel comfortable in such an open setting.. so as of this weekend the blog is going private. If you would like to continue viewing the blog, just let me know and I'll add your name. I'll try to invite family, friends, and fellow bloggers that I know check the site. If I've forgotten you, know that my head is somewhere else right now. I don't mind a nudge. :)

Jack and I went to a local Schwimmbad with friends today. We had an absolute blast. Although I am very impatiently waiting for our LOI and travel dates, I know each day brings me closer to leaving my first born behind for 2 months. Just typing this and making the thought more concrete is almost more than I can bear. So, today was just the day I wanted and needed to have with Jack. We both enjoyed playing with each other and he was in a great mood (so was I :). Plus he was able to play with the other kids and pool toys while I got to chit-chat with girlfriends. He has 4 more days before Spring Break is over, and hopefully we'll get just as many fantastic days. He's an awesome boy; I'm so lucky I get to be his mom.