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And now the tough wait begins
Friday, September 28, 2007
I went today to Sacramento (my fourth trip during this whole process) to get the last (I'm knocking on wood while typing this) documents apostilled. They're now on their way to our agency and should be in Moscow hopefully before the end of next week. And what all that means is that we now truly enter the toughest wait of all...the wait for a court date.

As those who have been there, and even more so friends like the Horner's, know this is the worst wait of all. We're so close now we can taste it. And in this process where the unpredictable is a given, fear and anxiety become enormous but like...oh...the ten million other times during this exasperating affair there is nothing we can do but sit and wait and try to keep ourselves busy.

We're throwing ourselves into the myriad of things we need to do to get ready for little A. I've started getting the house baby-proofed and hope to have that completed within the next couple of weeks. Stef is starting his Life Book and is even going to our newly formed local FRUA group for a seminar on making life books.

Side plug, if you're in the S.F. Bay area in the East Bay Jenni is one of the people starting up this FRUA group.

Oh, I just realized that since we're being so secretive about our little guy I hadn't mentioned anything about him. Well I think I said he has very thin blond hair and blue eyes, and of course is the most beautiful kid in all of Russia (but that's common knowledge). No, I mean about the "A" name. We decided to go with his given Russian name which is similar (although we're spelling it differently) to a very famous tennis player who was married to Brooke Shields and is now married to Steffi Graf. Now if you can't figure that one out where were you in the 90's???

Anyway, so we also have a few more things to do with little "A's" room and some landscaping projects we'd like to get done before he arrives. So we've got plenty to keep us busy with, but that certainly will not dis-wade the anxiety.
posted by Steveg @ 2:16 PM   5 comments
Next round of accreditations?
Thursday, September 27, 2007
A little soapbox oratory about the whole process of accreditation.

First let me say that there have been a number of rumblings in various sources about the next batch of accreditations.

Side note: The term accreditations is not really valid anymore since the rules of the game have changed a bit with government decree #654. However the term "means" something to most people so I too still use it.

Although our agency is already accredited they had mentioned in an online chat that they had heard through the grapevine that there were another batch of agencies that were about to be accredited. It appears that one of the main reasons "why" agencies are getting accredited is how well they adhere to post-placement reports. Agencies that have had a bad history or filing these are finding it very difficult to gain accreditation.

For those who don't know, post-placement reports are a legal requirement of adopting from Russia (and most other international adoptions). They are very simple and painless and are conducted (usually) by the same social worker who interviewed you for your home-study. They visit you with your child and just see how everything is working out. It is very similar to how the social worker visited you in your house for the home-study. They're not holding you up to the light to make sure you are the perfect parent, they just want to see if everything is okay or if you need any advice or assistance to make things okay.

I cannot stress this enough. Beyond the legal obligation (everyone, included us sign a contract stating we will follow through on these reports), the post-placements help future families trying to adopt since, as I mentioned, this is one of the major issues the Russian government uses to authorize accreditations (or revoke them). PLEASE make sure you continue with your post-placement reports. Some people get mad at their agencies and stop doing these for some sense of retaliation against the agency. But keep in mind you are not merely hurting your agency, you are destroying the possibility of people just like you to get their kids.

Although this next round of accreditations is still really just a rumor, there appears to be a strong likelihood that it will be yet another group of about 8-9 agencies (both of the first two groups had that many). Because it appears that it is far more difficult for agencies to gain accreditation than it was in the past, it's my opinion that if you are just starting out you really should sign up with an agency that is already accredited. Again, that's just my opinion but having had to wait 16 months to just be able to go on trip #1, I certainly can tell you that waiting for red tape to clear up is no fun.

The current list of accredited agencies are listed on the Russian Ministry of Education website which you can view in English here. Hopefully this next round of accreditations (which the rumor suggests will happen in early October) will add to this list.
posted by Steveg @ 7:45 AM   2 comments
A snowsuit, a snowsuit, my kingdom for a snowsuit
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
After reading about a great idea proposed by someone who goes by the username Dannyssong on the FRUA forums, I created a yahoo group where adopting parents could share snowsuits. For folks who live in Minnesota the snowsuits parents are required to get to bring home their little ones from Russia might have further uses. But for us here in sunny California (actually Northern California isn't really that sunny, that whole Beach Boys thing is in Southern California) the snowsuit is truly a one time use item.

So I started a yahoo group where people could share (not sell, just share) snowsuits and other one time use items. It's working out pretty well with all sorts of items that people are donating (the only cost being that the people getting the stuff need to pay for shipping). So far there are snowsuits, sweaters, Russian language tapes, all sorts of things.

Anyway, the main writer for the Russian section of Adoptionblogs.com contacted me saying she wanted to do an article about the site. And she wrote up a very nice article about it. Which you can read here.

If you'd like to join the yahoo group just click on the Snowsuit Swap picture on the right.
posted by Steveg @ 12:03 PM   1 comments
Nearly done with Dossier Part II
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
We're basically done with remaining documents for our dossier part 2. The only thing left is getting our doctor's letters signed and notarized which will happen on Thursday. I'll then drive to Sacramento right from his office to get everything apostilled. After that I'll make the necessary copies and head to Fedex so that everything will be at our agency on Friday.

We're hoping that court dates happen in the same time frame as they were happening before the accreditation delay. If so, we may be able to get a court date in the end of November, but we're telling ourselves it won't happen until December (gotta manage those expectations).
posted by Steveg @ 2:57 PM   2 comments
The benefits of learning the lingo
Monday, September 24, 2007
As I've mentioned in the past we tried to learn at least a little Russian and I must say it did come in handy. At a minimum I highly recommend learning at least the Cyrillic alphabet. Stef made sure we both learned it and that was truly invaluable. A lot of words are phonetically the same (English restaurant sounds sort of like res-ta-rahn in Russian).

Anyway, both the alphabet and some Russian phrases we learned came in handy right away. That very first day we had a lot of time before we got to see our little one (remember we had arrived in Novosibirsk at 5:30am) so once we got settled in the hotel we decided to take a little walk around the city. Our hotel was centrally located and there was a bunch of little shops and restaurants around that we wanted to take a look at. Not to mention that we had to go to the other hotel (which was literally right down the street from ours) to get internet access. So we decided to venture out.

Also, or as Stef would emphatically say of course the most important thing we needed to do that morning was go and buy her a hair dryer. Our plan was not to bring one since there's a 50-50 chance the hotel has them and buying them is suppose to be better since the American ones require the voltage converter (not just the plug adapter) and often will blow out the converter.

So we head over to a block of stores that someone had kindly posted about in the Novosibirsk yahoo group. But unfortunately the whole row of shops were being remodeled or something and they were all closed. So we decide to just wing it and walk around town popping into the shops we came across to see if they might have one. There were a bunch of supermarkets on that map and pharmacies so we thought the odds were good to find a store that at least had like some Russian brand hair dryer. Maybe something that was made in Breshnev's time. Well unfortunately each place we stopped at came up goose eggs. But we found practically anything and everything that we could possibly need.

Well in one of the pharmacies I convince Stef that I should just ask the girl working behind the counter in my broken Russian and see if I can get the message across that we're looking for a hair dryer (which by the way is not in the phrase book we brought with us and now we know to not just bring a phrase book but also a Russian/English dictionary). Anyway, so I say (in Russian) "Excuse me please, I speak a little Russian but not very well. Can you help me find...?" and then proceed through clever hand gestures and making the sound of a hair dryer (while pointing to Stef's hair) get across our need.

The girl is quite impressed with my antics (not to mention getting a good laugh in) and she gets what we're looking for and then gives us directions to a store called "Mir" (yes, like the Russian space station) which also just happens to be right next to our hotel. It turns out to be some huge appliance store with washers and dryers, vacuums, refrigerators, as well as smaller appliances like electric shavers, tanning lights (that one gave us a laugh) and, naturally, hair dryers. But not just a model or two of some Russian brand. No, we're talking about maybe 30 different models with every brand you've heard of (and about 15 curling irons to boot).

Which of course meant that Stef bought both a hair dryer and a curling iron which we now are at least going to be able to bring back with us for trip #2. Her story is that it makes sense because we can use these in many countries in Europe for any future vacations we take.

Ah, yea right.
posted by Steveg @ 6:01 PM   3 comments
Man do I love Manti
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Although we packed plenty of Pepto Bismol chewables, Pepcid, and Tums we never used one tablet, not one (but I do recommend to all traveling to Russia to bring that stuff because you never know how you will react to the food). But for us, we loved the food. Stef had salads (which you're really not suppose to eat, because of course it's not cooked) and was fine. I had a sausage that was the best sausage I've ever eaten in my life. Clearly hand made and not by some industrial sausage making machine, it was flavorful and delicious.

But the one meal that was the best we had was when our translator brought us to a little, the best way I can describe it is a "sidewalk cafe shack". It sort of resembled those little stands at football or baseball games but it was just a stand alone shack. You walk up, order your stuff and then they had little plastic chairs and tables under a huge umbrella (like you'd see at an outdoor event or wedding).

It was Kazakh food (i.e., Kazakhstan) and was the best stuff I've ever had. There is a dish called "Manti" which is very similar to Chinese potstickers or even the Russian pelmeni. However, these are much larger in size (round and about the size of your palm) and are eaten by hand. Traditionally they are made with lamb and horse meat but this little place just used regular beef. They're eaten with either sour cream or butter or a spicy sauce (what we got) poured over them.

Manti is not boiled like potstickers or pelmeni but instead are steamed. And they are really out of this world. I could have had those things for every meal. With the help of our translator I ordered the whole thing in Russian, which really impressed the guy who was obviously of Kazakh decent. He asked me where I was from and when I said "California" he responded with "Los Angeles Lakers". I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was from Northern California and as such are not Lakers fans.
posted by Steveg @ 10:28 AM   3 comments
Russian showers
Friday, September 21, 2007
Here's another great story from trip #1.

And this might be more of a State by State funny story. But in California we have some pretty strong water conservation rules, like all toilets must be 1.6 gallon sized and all faucets are required to have restricted flow devices built into them. Not to mention that most of the municipal water service around the state is fairly low pressure to begin with.

The same is certainly not true for Russia. Not sure if you're a Seinfeld fan but there was a great episode in which Kramer was ticked off with the low flow shower heads that were installed in the their apartment building, so he ends up buying a black market shower head from Yugoslavia or somewhere. And he's all excited because he now can finally take a "real" shower.

Well he installs the thing and the water pressure is so massive that it literally knocks him down in the shower as he tries desperately to stand back up as the shower is kicking out a water stream that looks like it's coming from a fire engine hose.

That was the shower head in our room in the Hotel Novosibirsk. And man, it was great!!! It took the whole concept of "Going with the flow" with Russian adoptions to a whole new level.
posted by Steveg @ 8:33 PM   2 comments
Getting back on track
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Well we're getting back to our normal schedule but I don't think we'll be 100% till the weekend when we can catch back up on our sleep. I had actually watched a show that showed that your body will actually force you to catch back up. Your internal clock needs those 8 hours a day and will keep a tab of how much you've had and how much need.

Anyway let's talk Russia. First I want to relate some news that we have heard from our agency. Of course they're already reaccredited but they still hear things and now this is just a rumor so don't take it as fact. But there is some feeling that the next group of agencies to be accredited will be occurring soon. When? Well we all know the timing of things through the Russian system. And so the reality is there is just no way for anyone to have a good estimate. But I did find it encouraging that our agency, who are usually ultra conservative on rumors, mentioned it in their chat.

Now for my first of many funny stories from trip #1.

On our last leg of the journey on the way there (an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Novosibirsk), there was a very nice looking young man sitting next to Stef. We was very well dressed and I was thinking how nice to see a Russian "yuppie". During the flight the stewedess comes down picking up any trash from the passengers (napkins, water glasses, etc.) and she reaches over to take the young man's plastic water cup. He signals "no" to her and speaks to her (in Russian) that obviously meant he wished to keep it, even though it was empty.

He then proceeds to take out a fifth of what looked like whiskey and fills the glass up. Well this Russia after all. But I did say he looked like a nice young man and he was. He proceeds to offer some to Stefanie.

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Oh, and that flight was a red eye which basically got us into Novosibirsk at 5 in the morning. Well I guess anytime is good for a little whiskey in Russia.
posted by Steveg @ 3:32 PM   6 comments
Back in town but want to go back
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Yep, we're back. It was just so hard to say goodbye to him. We literally could not even look at the pictures we had taken that day after we had dropped him off on our last day there. We had to just go out and take a walk and think about other things.

We were very lucky and were able to spend several hours each day (playing, taking him out for a walk, etc.). We really feel blessed, he's just so healthy and well cared for. His caregivers love him and they all do a great job. If you are early in the process and have not yet gone to see your little one(s), these orphanages are very nice, very clean, the caregivers really do love these kids and do the very best they can with the limited resources they have.

In our place they have a huge kitchen where they actually bake their own bread. And let me tell ya, each day we walked in there the smell from the kitchen was pretty inviting.

Overall we're just so happy and, of course, want to go back asap. As such we jumped on the remaining documents we need to get by getting our doctor letters done (or at least started with physicals today). And we got our clearance letters started with our police department (those should be ready to be picked up tomorrow).

Over the next few days I'll write up a few stories on some of the good (like just about everything) and the bad (well that would be Russian drivers).
posted by Steveg @ 5:23 PM   3 comments
What can I say....AWESOME
Saturday, September 15, 2007
We've been able to meet with our little guy for several days and it is just the best time we've ever had. I don't think I can even relate in words how we're feeling right now.

Everything is working out better than what our hopes were for this trip.

When we get back I'll write up a more detailed "trip report" but let's just say that our guy is have a blast with us and us with him. He's a bit shy as we start each visit but once he smiles going there's no stopping him.

We're also enjoying the various sites and food and everything. This city rocks!!!

Our translator lives very close to the hotel so she's got all these little restaurants or cafes that she knows really well that have traditional Russian food that is awesome. Of course we don't want to leave for other reasons (some little Russian we know) but really everything else is so cool we'd be happy to wait staying right here.

More later....
posted by Steveg @ 9:19 PM   9 comments
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Yep, that's hello in Russian.

The journey has be perfect so far. All planes on time, nice hotel, good food, no illnesses, etc.

This is our first day here in Novosibirsk.

We'll update as we have time, our hotel does not have internet access so we have to walk to another hotel to get access.
posted by Steveg @ 7:15 PM   7 comments
We're Off To Russia
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Just a quick note (at the ungodly hour of 4 in the morning). We're heading to the airport for the first of our three leg journey (San Jose to Atlanta, Atlanta to Moscow, and finally Moscow to Novosibirsk).

Thank you everyone for all the kind words and warm wishes.
posted by Steveg @ 4:46 AM   6 comments
Got the visas all set to go!
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Our visas got here this morning so it looks like we're all set for heading out bright and early Tuesday morning. We have a meeting with our agency Monday morning to go over the details of the trip.

The whole visa thing was a bit odd. You have to send in your passports to get the visas and then they ship everything back to you. Of course all this was Fedex'd back and forth so at least you have tracking numbers, but it's a bit scary knowing you're leaving in a few days and you're giving away your passport.

But the firm we used was great and everything went off without a hitch.
posted by Steveg @ 2:52 PM   9 comments
A busy Friday
Friday, September 07, 2007
Stef was working from home today because we are starting to get the items we need for the second part of the dossier done (that will have to be done in order to get a court date). And one of the items is a doctor letter. Basically it's an annual check-up and then a letter from him stating we're okay. So far we do not believe we need do to a full 8-Doctor medical for our region. This letter should suffice. So we were all set to get that done this morning.

But of course, there was a slight change of plans.

We got a call from our agency that we needed one of our documents redone and a new type of document for our homestudy agency. Fortunately, our homestudy agency actually thought the Russians might ask for this and had already given it to us.

Yes, we're extremely happy with those guys as well.

Anyway, all of this needs to be apostilled and so we figure, well, let's reschedule the doctor appointments to the week we get back and just go and redo the one document this morning and head up to Sacramento to get the apostilles done. So that's exactly what we did and in the process nipped this hiccup in the bud.

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And I think this little change for our Friday highlights those things you have happen pretty often throughout this whole process. And for those that are either just starting out or thinking about adopting always remember two key things:

Just go with the flow and Expect the unexpected

And if you don't worry about it and don't get freaked when your plans change (because they will) you'll have a much easier road. Just remember that great quote by Dr. Martin Luther King:

Keep an eye on the prize

The kid(s), the new family, the new life is what it's all about. Don't worry too much about the BS that has to go with it.
posted by Steveg @ 2:16 PM   0 comments
Travel plans getting more solid
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Okay, so a little more update on the trip.

We're going to leave here really early on Tuesday morning and eventually hitting Moscow on Wednesday morning. We have a big layover in Moscow so we're going to check into a hotel for the day to rest up (thank God) and then get prepared for the final leg of the journey.

We'll arrive bright and early in Novosibirsk on Thursday morning. We'll then be there through Sunday and returning on Monday. So we should have plenty of playtime with our little guy.

We were trying to set up some time after the trip (on the way back that is) to stop by St. Petersburg and do some sightseeing. But it's just too short of a notice and we're far more interested in just getting to see our guy. So our new plan is to just arrive pretty early on our second trip and do our sightseeing then.
posted by Steveg @ 11:10 AM   8 comments
Heading to Russia!!!
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Of course just after I post that we're still waiting for travel dates for our first trip we get the call this morning. And that we are leaving next Tuesday!!!

Much to do, will report more once I've calmed down a bit.

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posted by Steveg @ 11:13 AM   11 comments
Still waiting for a call
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Yep, still waiting for an invitation from the MOE.

But like Ryan says...

"There's no Rush in Russia"

I just love that line
posted by Steveg @ 5:27 PM   2 comments
About Us




Our Story:

I'm Steve and this is my wife Stefanie. This is our story, mostly seen through my eyes, of the journey to create our family by adopting a child from Russia.

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