Friday, January 30, 2009

Day 11 - Baby Signs*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

Somebody asked about what baby signs we're using, so we thought we'd post a little about the sign language we're trying out. Most kids who have spent some time in a baby house are a little speech delayed - they just haven't had somebody working with them one on one like a parent does. One of the ways to get them thinking linguistically and expressing their needs and wants, even if their little mouths are having trouble forming the words, is to use sign language along with spoken English.

We didn't use baby signs with Sam or Ben, so although we were familiar with the concept we hadn't ever actually tried it out. Before we left for Kaz (during those endless months of waiting) we started researching baby signs so we would be prepared if we wanted them in country. We got a book from Borders (there are dozens out there, if you're interested just go to a book store and page through them until you find one you like. Or just get the one that's on sale). We read it through and then photocopied the signs that seemed most useful so that we didn't have to bring the whole book with us (the luggage weight limit rules our lives!). There are also tons of baby sign sites on the Internet if you want to do some research without laying out the $15 for a book.

The signs are just ASL signs, although sometimes a book will simplify one or two of the more complicated motions for little hands. The signs we've been using are:
  • Mama
  • Papa
  • More
  • Again
  • Food
  • Drink
  • All done
  • Ball
  • Book
We figured we had nothing to lose - if she jumps straight to vocalizations, great, but if the signs can give her a stepping stone for a little while, that'll work, too.

Today was the first day that Sasha has actually signed anything to us (Mama) and it was such a thrill! She was obviously very proud of herself as she put her little fist to her chin and said "Mama" and we are really encouraged that pairing the signs with the English words is helping to make some connections.

Other notes:
We've been collecting photos from our strolls around Karaganda. Here's a shot of my favorite mode of transportation here - the kid sled! We've seen very few strollers here, but tons of baby sleds and they just make so much sense in a place covered in snow for a good part of the year! The sleds either have bars to push them, like this one, or they're towed with a rope, either way they're always loaded up with a (usually sleeping) toddler or baby in a gigantic snowsuit.

And did you check out the heels on the mom?!? Seriously, I have no idea how they do it, but most of the women wear boots with heels while walking around the snow-covered streets of Kazakhstan. Steve and I have near-death experiences every day on icy stairs and sidewalks while wearing our gigantic boots... those women have a sense of balance that far exceeds ours.

Papa came out ahead in today's visits - he got to kiss Shura's "hurt" hand after she "pinched" it in a cabinet, "burned" it on the heater, and "hit" it with the balloon (see yesterday's post for an explanation of the "Sash pretends to hurt her hand and needs a thousand kisses" game). We're just tickled pink that she's coming to us when she's in need of comfort, mock or no. Yesterday, Mama got to do all of the comforting, but it was great to see her go to Papa a couple of times today when her hand needed kissing.

And Papa got his first Sasha kisses today! It was a very sweet day all around.

Prayer requests: Please pray with us that Sasha would continue to look to Steve and me for comfort, cuddles, and consoling when times are tough or she's hurting. We are so encouraged by the really healthy steps toward trusting and dependence she's already taken and please continue to pray that she will continue to look to us, not just as cool people to hang out with, but as Mom and Dad.

Day 10 - Our Daily Schedule*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

We thought you’d like to hear a little about our schedule while we’re here in Kazakhstan.

We’re still at a hotel, although we hope to be able to move into an apartment next week. We get breakfast in the hotel, and it’s really nice to get a good start on the day (and to have somebody else cook it for us!). Breakfast is usually either porridge (corn, rice, or cream of wheat) or eggs and blintzes (like crepes) with a mild sour cream or jam. Sometimes we’ll get bread with a slice of summer sausage and cheese as well. Breakfast here is really good, albeit quite a bit denser than your normal breakfast in the States. We also usually get juice, and the cartons of juice here is really great. Pomegranate is our favorite so far.

After breakfast, we head to the baby house for our morning visit. Our visit is right after Sasha's breakfast as well and we pick her up from her room and bring her into an adjoining room that’s really just a large hallway outside of her main room. Most families just do their visits in the main room (which is the room that the kids eat, play, and hang out in. They also have a bed room and a potty room), but we’ve been fortunate to be able to bring her into a quieter room for our visits. It does mean that we don’t get as much time to get to know her room-mates and caregivers, although folks are always walking through so we’ve gotten to know most of the caregivers and doctors anyway.

I’m not sure why our visits are in a different room, but I’m guessing it’s because Sash is a little older than most of the kiddos being adopted and we’re the only ones visiting in her room (Group 8) so there’s enough room in the hallway for us to play (some of the younger groups have two or even three families visiting right now). There are around 12 kids in each group, with two caregivers at all times and then a parade of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who come in throughout the day.

We get an hour and a half to play in the morning and we mostly just play with the toys we bring – balls, balloons, books, a doll, stacking cups, etc. Then for the last 15 or 20 minutes of our visit we feed her lunch, which is always an adventure. Lunches there are really humongo – soup, meat (usually a meatloaf-like substance), beets or cabbage, and diced cucumber and tomato and a cup of juice. Sometimes we can get her to eat it all, sometimes we can’t – we’re still getting the hang of the baby house style of feeding.

When we leave the baby house we usually go to a café for lunch that has wi fi and that’s where we post to you guys! After that we head back to the hotel to chill or nap for a little while before our afternoon visit.

Our afternoon visit is later than most of the other groups’ (again, because Shura's a little older), so the baby house tends to be quieter in the afternoon. We come after her nap and snack, although sometimes we feed her snack when we first arrive if they’re running a little late. Snack is usually a bun and some yogurt. And then we play for another two hours!

After the afternoon visit, we either go out to dinner or maybe go to our travel partners’ apartment to do laundry. Otherwise we usually get dropped off at the grocery store where we pick up a loaf of fresh bread, a hunk of cheese, a yogurt smoothie, and some juice and just have dinner in our hotel room. And the next morning it starts all over again!

Today’s notes:
Sash came up with a fun new game today while we played with the balloon. She would tug on the deflated balloon so that it made a snapping sound and then come to me whimpering with her hand outstretched so that I would give it a bit show of kisses and pity until she collapsed in hysterics, walked back over to Daddy and the balloon, and started the whole cycle again!

We’ve been trying to encourage her dependence on us (remember, she still has to be taught what it means to have a Mom and Dad), so this game gives us great physical contact and “babying” time for our otherwise independent little toddler.

Prayer requests: Today, please take a little extra time to pray for the moms at home in Utah. They have given us such a gift by caring for the boys while we're in Kaz and we are so grateful that they could jump in when we truly need it most. Please pray that their energy is sustained, that they continue to grandparent Sam and Ben wisely, and that they are able to fill the parent void for our boys while we're so far away. Pray that they will look back on this time as a truly special month with their grandsons.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 9 - Caps for Sale*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

Steve: Today was a good day for shopping. Not too cold, fairly sunny, and both of us had energy to spare. So we coaxed our interpreter into taking us hat shopping. We figured that the best way to remember our trip to the frigid Siberia like country we are in is to bring home a few things that kept us warm while we were here. The hats that people wear are very extravagant. The best ones are made out of mink fur or seal fur and the cheaper ones are out of squirrel and sheepskin. Maybe it was really out of rat fur cause we'd never be able to tell the difference. Don't worry though, the salesmen assured us that they were very good quality. You could tell by the way he would briskly smack it around and twist it up and it still looked like a dead animal.

Ack - Jamie jumping in here before the post gets out of hand.

We did have a great time hat shopping and ended up with some very pretty, very warm dead animals for our heads. The hat salesman said that Steve's makes him look both rich and serious, which is perfect because those are the perfect two adjectives that I'd choose to describe my husband. I have to admit, the new headgear is warmer than our fleece hats by a mile! Maybe I need a full-length mink... I'll work on that.

We were able to find good hats for Sam and Ben as well, now we just need to find a very small one for Sasha! We'll keep looking for a toddler-sized shopka.

Our visits today were definitely all about Daddy. One of our favorite daily activities is playing with a balloon. We have a very complicated balloon ritual. First, the balloon comes out of the magical bag of toys that we bring on every visit. Then Sash and Daddy take turns stretching the balloon out and enjoying the snapping sound (and she's managed to only snap her own fingers once in all of these visits). Next comes the blowing up and watching the balloon wiz around the room. Finally, Daddy ties off the balloon and we play some throwing and bouncing games. To be honest, we get more mileage out of the blowing-up process than the inflated and tied off balloon - it's really a lot of fun.

Prayer requests: Continued good health, both for us and for Shura. We're finally sleeping through the night, which is wonderful, but with the way illnesses come and go in the baby house, we'd sure appreciate your prayers for health and energy for all three of us.

Also please pray that we would continue to get to know the baby house staff. We're doing a good job learning their names and it's been fun starting to connect with Sash's caregivers. Please pray with us that we would continue to get to know each other and that we would be able to help out with their hectic days as much as possible.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 8 - Hey, aren't you that guy? The one that skis?*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

So it has come to my attention that I may have communicated an unintentional rumor in the baby house. One morning we were conversing with a care taker about ourselves and the life that we will be providing for our daughter. We mentioned that we lived where there is lots of skiing and where the 2002 Winter Olympic Games took place. I also mentioned that I teach skiing and that we went to the 2006 Winter Olympics to watch skiing. All of this was communicated without our interpreter present.

The next day, one of the younger caretakers was very excited to see us and really wanted to have her picture taken with me. I thought how sweet that she wants to be a part of these memories our daughter will have. She also asked for my autograph. Huh? Autograph?

Maybe it would be better to let our interpreter do all of our communication for us since I've let it slip that I was a famous Olympic athlete. They aren't sure if it was for downhill racing or a more technical event like the slalom or maybe even bobsledding. I am hoping someone figures out that it must be the Biathlon since I have a muscular physique just like those athletes possess. Thankfully no one is guessing curling.

Yeah, so I told our interpreter to feel free to make up any story she likes about me. It might be the only time someone will admire me for my physical prowess.

Jamie's turn:
Even without Steve's new found celebrity (clearly his favorite part of the day), we had a really nice day with our little girl. She's still testing our boundaries, but today each episode of boundary-pushing ended with tickles or hugs or cuddles, and it was really nice to find balance between all of the facets of toddlerdom.

Oh, and did I tell you that Sasha started saying my name?!? It's just the sweetest thing to hear her say, "Mama." And today she started turning my head to give me kisses on the cheek (well, face rubs on the cheek, I guess that the full pucker will come with time). Daddy's definitely the fun one, but I'm glad that I get to be the snuggly one :)

The social worker interview went... interestingly. I should say that it ended well, and that's what really matters in the end, but we found it very difficult to overcome the cultural stereotype that because we have children by birth we will be unable to love our daughter by adoption as much as our boys. And how can you prove to someone that you will love all of your children, each uniquely and each equally? Well, you just can't, it's not something that can be proven. But in the end they gave their permission for us to continue on through the judicial process, and that's what matters.

Prayer requests: Please start praying even now for the judge to agree with our abilities to parent and love this little one. We still probably have two weeksish until court, but there's nothing wrong with starting to pray now for the outcome that will bring our little one home!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Day 7 - Oh, Right, You're a Toddler*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

Today was a really interesting day - we experienced all of the highs and all of the challenges of toddler parenting. Don't get me wrong, it was a great day and the three of us are getting to know and love each other better every day, but we want to be real about our experiences here, even when they are challenging.

Our morning visit was really exciting - she said my name! Mama is the first non-mimicked word that we've heard her say (that we understand - to be fair, it's very possible that she has dozens of words in her vocabulary that we just can't decipher with our ears) and it was really cool. She referred to me as Mama throughout the day, and I just love having a name!

She hasn't quite started calling Steve Papa yet (the P sound is easier for her to make than the D sound, so we're going to try out Papa for a while and see how it works. Besides, Papa is the normal name for Daddy here and that's how her caregivers refer to Steve so we might as well stay consistent.), although she has mimicked the word a few times. But this morning she did mimic the sign for father after Steve did it, so we're hoping that the baby signs that we're trying are starting to connect.

Our afternoon was considerably different from the morning. When we came in to her room to get her, she was playing with a small McDonald's toy. Galya, one of her caretakers, came out to us and mentioned that our daughter was needing to hear the word nyet a lot in playtime. When I asked Sasha to hand me the little car, she pouted for a bit and then chucked the car across the room. Ah, the joyful routine of toddler boundary-testing.

We spent most of the afternoon in our 7x20 foot room repeating a firm but disimpassioned "no" and then redirecting her attentions away from picking apart the foam chair rail, banging on the door, or throwing her toys. I won't say that our afternoon was the easiest we've had, but there was nothing that happened that worried us about her or our abilities as her parents - she was just a toddler testing her (and our) limits. We cuddled and read books and sang songs and never got beyond stage 1 of the pout, which was nice. She simply needed to see that the world with us will remain the same, with safe limits just like she is used to. This is a good thing for her to connect to us in this way, because as soon as we set foot out that big door things will look a whole lot different, but we will need to feel like a safe anchor to her. She'll be depending on us for that. We are so lucky that we have more time with her here to do that - the two week bonding period is long, but it is such a gift to build trust and rapport with her before heading out into the big wide world.

We are just finished our first week of bonding time and now we move into week 2. I'm glad that we have the time here to make those bridges.

Prayer requests: Sasha is totally on the mend and didn't have a fever today - hooray! I'm a little slower than she is, but I am feeling a little better every day. The cough is almost gone and now it's just turned sinusy.

We'd sure appreciate your prayers over, oh, let's say the next 16 years that we are able to consistently provide and enforce safe, reassuring, healthy limits for all three of our kiddos to flourish within.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 7 - Social Worker Visit Tomorrow!

Just wanted to let y'all know that we're meeting with the social worker tomorrow! It may be an interesting visit since we don't quite fit into the normal adoptive parent mold (i.e. we're a little younger than usual and have kids by birth and are now adopting). We'll let you know how it all goes - we're excited to be one step closer to being Sestra's official parents.

Day 6 - Where in the World are the Morningstars?*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

Everything is still going peachy on the adoption front so I'd like to take a minute to tell you about where we are. The city that we are in right now is called Karaganda. In Russian it is Караганда.

I'd have to say that this city reminds me of Salt Lake in some ways. There are large concrete apartment structures that people stay in just like that hotel at Snowbird. There is snow on the ground. There are people. They walk, too. That's really about it.

The buildings are small city-sized with few reaching over ten stories. The cars are really cool - a mix of late-model Asian and European cars and then a few Soviet-era boxy-type cars. People drive much differently than in the US, means a mix of aggressive and courteous. Cars stop for jaywalkers, then zoom away to get back up to speed. Our driver is great. His name is Vladim and he takes us about in his beautifully kept Mercedes with deft skill. His car is much nicer than the one in the photo posted. There are times when he gets that car moving in the snow and I think there is no way this rear wheel drive car will get through it. No sweat though. It does. I did notice beefy snow tires on a lot of cars here. I suppose that since the snow is around for all but a few months it's worth the money for good snow tires.

The cold here really does shape this place and the people. Your perspective is different when it is -15 C (5 F) outside in the "heat" of the afternoon. It is a widely held belief that drinking something cold from a fridge will make your throat sore. We've had cold bottles of Coke at lunch and dinner yesterday and now my throat does tickle a little bit. Coincidence? I hope so.

There are some definite Soviet overtones throughout. The men walking down the street look like they are right out of Spy Game. It's like the cold makes them scowl this defiant face that says "You can't break me!" This perception may also come from a long held belief of mine that anyone speaking Russian is talking about rockets, missiles, and microfilm. It seems so secretive and exciting that way. All I hear in my head is "Tell me vhere da zecret rocket planz are!" when really all he said was "I'd like a beef stroganoff plate with rice, please." And never before have had I wanted to take up smoking so badly. Everybody cool's doing it! The thought of having something warm fill my lungs seems luxurious in this cold. It would certainly make the long walk to the Internet café seem to go quicker. Then again, I guess diminished lung capacity would make it longer still. Oh and the walk to the café is maybe 200 to 300 steps from the front door of our hotel. How's that for a distorted perspective, huh?

Notes and Thoughts:
In the evening, we enjoyed the company of our travel partners. They invited us over to their apartment for dinner, card games, and a few loads of laundry. It was nice to sit around the table with them and trade cute stories about our beautiful children. Also our clothes are much cleaner feeling coming from a washing machine than from all the sink washing we've done.

It was Sunday today and the baby house has a different schedule. Instead of visiting twice, we just visited once today. Our poor little girl has a case of the sniffles and wasn't feeling like her chipper self. While it isn't fun to see her feel bad, it is nice to hold her and enjoy some quiet time. Most of her time with us has been so activity driven that the change of pace today was welcome. Toward the middle of our visit, she melted into Mommy's arms for a little snooze, and all three of us just relished in the cuddle time.

Since we had a free afternoon, we took advantage of an offer to travel to where our daughter was born. Temirtau is a smaller town in Karaganda region (Karaganda is the state and city we are staying in) where the industry is dominated by one of the largest steel plants in Kazakhstan. It was neat to see the place where she was born and take a few minutes to walk around the town snapping pictures.

Well, its getting to be time to go back to the hotel. Anyone have a cigarette?

Prayer requests: Slowly but surely we're feeling better and enjoying more energy in the evenings, which is wonderful. Both of us even fell back to sleep this morning after our usual 5 am wake up! Hooray!

We still ask for your prayers for both Sasha and Jamie's health, and please join us in prayer now that we are granted a court date very soon after our bonding period is over (still 8 days away). There's a new judge in the region and dates have been a little slower coming than "usual" (if you can use that word), so please pray for favor in the processing of our paperwork, granting of court dates, and in the judge's eyes as we make Sasha an official Morningstar!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Day 5 - The Pout*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

Sasha has a unique attention grabbing style when it comes to letting us know she's upset. Most often this is displayed when a toy or other item of interest is pried out of her vice-like grip. It really goes in three stages. I'll explain them for you. The following images are recreations of true events, but the faces have been changed to protect the accused. Also, the pictures don't really do her justice - our bodies don't bend like hers does!

Stage one - The pout
In stage one she will place her chin firmly against her chest and protrude her bottom lip outward in excess of average toddler specifications. This is often accompanied by eyes of an accusatory nature toward the recipient of the pout.

Stage two - The bridge back arch

Here our daughter puts her entire body into play. She flings her head back to make contact with the floor behind her and then rounds her back making her stomach lift into the air. Her arms and hands will often extend to both sides to offer support.

Stage three - The tears

When all other options have been exhausted, our daughter then goes into full cry mode. In this stage, the tears come from her eyes and one cannot help but do everything in their power to make everything better. Through skill and experience, we have prevented any of her episodes from escalating beyond this point.

Stage four - Unknown

As of this date we have yet to experience a stage four event. One can assume from analysis of previous stages, that stage four will likely result in the end of the world as we know it through some sort of massive explosion. May God have mercy on all our souls if that day arrives.

Other news and thoughts (Jamie writing now):
The coolest thing about our visits today came in the first minute of our arrival. When we walked in her room, Sasha looked up, recognized us, and walked right over with a big smile on her face! The other days we've needed to walk over and pick her up, which is no biggie, but it felt so great to be greeted with a smile and body language that says, "let's go play!"

Also, Sasha had her passport/visa photos taken today! A photographer comes around to the baby house every couple of weeks and takes photos of all of the kids who are in the adoption process, and it feels great to be one tiny step closer to the completion of her US and Kazakh paperwork.

In Utah news, Sam lost another tooth yesterday! Here's a photo from the grandmas of him, one tooth down and two Lego sets up (he's enjoying some early birthday presents!) The gap looks good on you, Buddy! And yesterday as we Skyped with the Utah crowd we got to see Ben in his newly acquired hairnet - the "hat they gave me at my field trip to the grocery store." Another bold look for the Morningstar boys.

Health-wise, we're doing a little better. Well, actually, Steve's fine and dandy, but I've still got a stupid cough which, judging by some of the comments, may hang around for a while. We've been advised that vodka is the surest cure for a cough (and for most other ailments, I gather), so between your prayers, the cold meds, and my medicinal consumption of vodka (which feels far better on my throat than I would have guessed) I'm sure I'll be on the mend soon.

And wonder of wonders, the major event for tomorrow is that we plan to do laundry! Oh, yes, we will have two clean pair of pants each! I feel so decedent even planning it. The idea of washing our jeans in the hotel sink was not appealing. Our travel partners moved into their apartment and offered to have us over for dinner, cards, and the use of their washing machine. Hooray! It looks like we'll be stuck in the hotel for a little while longer, but hopefully we'll be in an apartment by the end of the week.

Prayer requests: For the short term, I would really love to lose this cough. And if we could sleep in past 5 am, that would be lovely as well (but we're sure that will come in time as our bodies adjust).

Longer term, please join us in prayer even now that Sasha would quickly come to understand that we are truly special people in her life, different than any caregiver relationship she has ever had. We are so grateful for the strides the three of us have already made in attachment, and we pray that our little girl will understand in her heart that something truly special is happening to her and that she is coming into a family who will love her and care for her, forever.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 4 - Recap of our First Two Days*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

Our third day of bonding was as great as the others have been. Today we got to chat with the head of the baby house and she gave us as much info as she has on Sasha's medical and family history as well as all of her measurements and vaccinations since she arrived at the baby house. It's nice to be able to piece together even itty bitty pieces of her past; we really feel that we owe her as much info as we can discover about her life in Kazakhstan. Oh, and she says that Sash is bossy and the queen of her group! Hey, you have to have some spunk to make it in a baby house :)

Our fondest memory from today was Sasha happily chatting away to an Altoids tin. We use an Altoids tin as a camera case and she saw it sitting out and immediately walked over, held it to her ear, and started babbling merrily away! I guess that anything will work as a cell phone for this kiddo.

We thought we'd take a sec to catch you up on our around-the-world-in-a-day (literally!) trip to Kazakhstan.

We left Utah at 2 pm on Sunday afternoon and Steve was able to arrange a fantastic flight schedule for our trip to Kaz (well, as fantastic as any 24-hour schedule could be). We flew from Salt Lake to Denver and then from Denver we were able to fly Lufthansa all the way to Frankfurt, Germany with only a two-hour layover. The flight was fine, although our in-flight entertainment (the cool kind on the back of the seat) broke about a third of the way through the flight. Lame. Oh well, at least Steve and I were able to see all of Ghost Town with Ricky Geravis (pretty funny, add it to your queue) before the entertainment went belly up.

Other than that, the flight was smooth and easy. We had a two hour layover in Frankfurt and then flew from Frankfurt to Almaty, KZ with a stop in Astana. We landed in Almaty at 2 am local time, almost exactly 24 hours after leaving Utah!

Needless to say, we were pretty bleary-eyed after such a day, and the drivers from our agency picked us up at the airport and took us to a hotel for a few hours of shut eye. We met with our agency reps in Kazakhstan in the morning and signed some more paperwork and then we hung out in the mall for a few hours until it was time to go to the airport again to catch our regional flight. The mall was pretty cool (although 4 hours there was a bit much, but we had already checked out of our hotel and at least it was warm) - the neatest part was the little indoor ice rink where 4 or 5 little girls were having their figure skating lessons with coaches and all. We got to see a couple of them do their routines with music and coaches barking orders and stopping the music when they messed up. It was all very Blades of Glory except cuter and without John Heder.

I am very proud to say that we checked our baggage on the regional flight without paying any extra baggage charges! Yep, we actually succeeded in traveling to Kazakhstan for a 7 week trip on a combined 88 lbs of luggage. I guess that sounds like a lot, but you have to consider all of the baby clothes, baby toys, just-in-case medications, snow gear, and gifts we were carrying. It is no small miracle that we made it in under the weight limit.

We landed at around 10 pm and were met by our driver and interpreter. They took us to our hotel to crash for the night, and the next morning we started our visits with Sestra! Somebody posted a comment to our blog likening those first few days to a conveyer belt ride, and they are exactly right - you really have no idea where you're going, you just take a ride, get dropped off somewhere, wait for a while, get picked up again, and go for another ride! Needless to say, we are grateful that the conveyer belt dropped us right here with our daughter and we're enjoying a slower pace of life and travel now that we're in the bonding period routine.

Steve and I are blessed with two lovely travel partners from St. Louis who are getting to know their first child, a son. It's been so nice to have somebody to chat with and commiserate with when things are tough and rejoice with when all is going well! They just moved out of the hotel last night into the apartment they'll stay in for the rest of the trip, but hopefully our apartments are close to each other so we can still visit. We're still in the hotel because our apartment isn't ready yet. We're looking forward to getting into a permanent place, but for now we'll enjoy the big comfy (well, very firm, but still comfy) bed and breakfast prepared for us each morning.

Day 3 - Oh, You Again?*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

As we came in for our second day of visits, we were greeted with a puzzled, "Oh, you again?" look from Sasha. I'm sure looking forward to the day she comes running to us slow-mo through a field of wildflowers with her arms spread wide shouting, "Mommy, I'm so glad to see you!" but I'll be content to wait on that one :)

We had a really nice day with our little girl - these visits are just fantastic. We have discovered that Sasha/Sash/Shura (all nicknames for Alexandra) is rather ticklish (sounds like a certain Ben I know...) and loves being swooped up and hugged and tickled until she is in hysterics. Yeah, it's as amazingly fun as it sounds to see our cautious, observant little girl come out of her shell with shrieks of laughter from Daddy's tickle attacks.

Our second day of visits also brought us a new game - yesterday was learning to roll the ball to each other, today was the hug game! We figure that we want to encourage as much physical contact as possible, so we made a game of Sasha walking to Mommy and getting a big squeeze and then walking to Daddy and getting another big squeeze and then back to Mommy again... well, you get the idea. It was so fun to see her come to us for a hug and we'll take all the baby hugs we can get!

Our other really special time together came at the end of our second visit. It seemed like a tough day in room 8, there was lots of crying and general unhappiness and I'm sure it's stressful for everybody when days turn out that way (and you know how all it takes is one kiddo to start crying and that sets them all off... those caregivers are saints with far more patience than I have!). For the last 10 or 15 minutes, Sasha was content to just stay in Daddy's arms and be babied as he bounced her softly and walked around the room. It was just sweet, contented, snuggle time and it did all of our hearts so good.

We're loving these long, slow days just getting to know our little girl.

Prayer requests: Steve and I have both developed little throat tickles and cough-lets. We're fine right now, but we'd sure appreciate your prayers for our continued health and good, restful sleep.

We Skyped with the boys and Grandmothers in the evening and it was so good to see them all and say hi. Please continue to pray with us that the boys feel connected to this process and that God is weaving all 5 of us together even as we're thousands of miles apart.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 2 - Meeting our Daughter*

*This post was updated with photos and additional info after adoption

How can we possibly describe the day we meet our daughter? Well, I guess that really the feelings are the same as the days that Sam and Ben entered this world and our lives – wonder and gratitude. Today was truly an amazing day; it exceeded all of our hopes.

It all started with a brief meeting at the baby house and after a few formalities we were taken up to a toddler room. When we saw Sasha, we just new that she was our daughter. We expected her to be cautious at first – after all, she doesn’t know that we’re Mom and Dad, to her we’re just weird sounding strangers – but after just a few minutes she was sitting in our laps and using us as a convenient perch to watch the world around her. The girl is such an observer! And by the middle of our first two-hour time together she seemed right at home with us. We expected our first visit to be tough, but were so blessed by a genuinely fun get-to-know you!

By the end of our afternoon visit, we were really getting to know each other. We were rolling balls to each other on the floor, playing put & take (my grandmother’s name for the game most little ones play where they put things in their place, take them out, and put them back again), reading stories, and Sasha was even repeating lots of the words we said, especially when she found her voice this afternoon (this morning she was mostly silent with a few little whispers). We got to feed her lunch, too, which apparently is unusual for parents to get to do on the first day and of course we were thrilled to feed her! And from an attachment perspective, there’s lots of good stuff going on – she’s looking at us in the eye, referencing back to us when she’s curious about whether what she’s doing is ok or not, and she shows affection for her caregivers when they walk through our little play area.

The baby house workers have been really amazing. They’re friendly to us and show such love and attention for Sasha, and the coolest thing is that they’re working really hard to foster her attachment to us – they praise us while talking to her and they encourage her to walk to us and give us hugs and stuff like that. I’m sure it means a lot to Sestra to have the people she loves most in life encouraging her to get to know her Mama and Papa.

Oh my goodness, today was just such a whirlwind that it’s hard to sum up. What can I say? Today we met our daughter.

Day 1.75 - Written by Steve at 5:00 in the morning

I can't sleep. I roll over in this gigantic rock hard bed and look at Mrs. Cover stealer. She's sleeping peacefully. The jerk. Reaching for bedside travel alarm clock the time reads 4:30am in the morning. Ugh. Not good enough I toss and turn to try to find a few more moments of sleep. Quick mental math says my body is jetlagged from the 11 hours worth of time zones I travelled through yesterday. Or is it 13 hours I travelled through the day before? Point is I'm on the other side of the world from where my body thinks it should be and I still can't sleep. Why? Soviet style firm mattress, no. Lack of covers, nothing unusual there. Strange sausage soup in stomach ate at 11:00 last night? Nope, heart is still a tinder box-like structure with a leaky gas line and no flame sources are near by.

It dawns on me that the real reason I can't sleep is that it is the day that we go to the baby house to meet someone who may become our child.

I can't sleep now because I'm fretting over what I should wear. Jamie will help with this one. Should I wake her to ask? Yes! Oops can't. Self preservation alarm prevents me from harm like that. Can't really give it up and creep as silently as a church mouse to check and make sure bags with clothes still there. Confirmed that our bags didn't evaporate into thin air. Rats. Feet on floor means not sleeping! Feeling the bitter shame of defeat, I use the alarm clock radioactive glow mode to skillfully and silently explore more. Self preservation alarm needs to be range adjusted and retested. Apparent now that Velcro ripping, toilet flushing, baggage juggling, and wardrobe spelunking do not qualify as silent, skillful, or smart. Sorry for that, Beautiful...

We are about to change everything for one little child very soon.

Well, I guess I can blog :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kaz Day 1 - Arrival and Departure Again!

We're here! We arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan at 2 am and we're just about to leave for a couple of meetings with our agency and then we fly out to our region! Sorry that this post will be quick, our driver, Dim, is scheduled to arrive two minutes ago so I'll probably have to log off quickly.

The flights were fine - 24 hours of flying is never a pleasant experience, but the flights were smooth and on time, our luggage arrived in good order, we passed immigration without a hitch, and we even managed to grab a couple of hours' sleep!

We're not feeling too jetlagged, thanks to Steve's patented "starve for the 12 hours before morning and then eat a big breakfast to reset your clock" and it seems to have worked! I'm sure we'll be dragging tonight, but we'll take another snooze on the plane and try to let you know when we arrive in our apartment!

Today's prayer request: Continued health, and that we would be prepared to meet Sestra tomorrow and that she'll be ready to meet us!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kaz Day -1

We leave for the airport in just a couple of hours and for our negative-one day in Kazakhstan (we'll arrive at around 2 am tomorrow morning) I thought I'd share my first memory verse for Kaz, Isaiah 55:8-11
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
We know that our adventure is far from over just because we're finally getting on the plane we've been waiting a year to board! We will have cultural and procedural challenges, we'll have to cope with fatigue and jetlag, and then there's the adventure of becoming Mom and Dad to a little girl who can't remember a parent's love. But we trust that God's ways are far above our own, even when we don't quite understand how all of this is going to work out. God's love and word never return void.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Seriously - 44 pounds?!?

T-minus one day!

Ok, whoever decided that we can only bring 44 lbs of luggage for five to seven weeks in Kazakhstan is now on my list of least favorite people. I mean, seriously - 44 pounds?!?

But except for the trials of conforming to the ridiculous luggage-weight edicts of people I now hate, we've had a lovely final day in Utah. We hung out with the boys, got a new round of Encyclopedia Brown books at the library, went out for Teppanyaki, read Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late - it was a lovely day.

And we are now packed theoretically within weight limits. And tomorrow we're off! Wahoo! Hopefully our next post is a couple of days from now in Kazakhstan!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Skiing with the Grandmas

T-minus two days!!!

The grandmothers arrived on Monday and I'm so glad that they're getting a chance to enjoy Utah's finest before taking on sole responsibility for our boys for like 5 weeks! They are brave souls indeed!

On Wednesday they went up to Sundance for the twilight ski (it starts at 2:30) and they shut the place down - apparently Sam just couldn't get enough! He's such a great little skier, and he really enjoyed showing Grammy and Gramma his favorite spots on the mountain. I'm just glad that they can still keep up with him... for now. I think that in a few more years, we'll all be racing to keep up!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Commuting on the Bus - Day 5

T-minus four days!

The bus is getting better... I found a route that is more walking but less waiting, and so I leave the house at 7 and stroll up to work at 8:45 (well, it's really more like huffing into work because most of my mile walk is uphill). I could get a faster route, but that would mean leaving the house before 7 and I'm just not sure I can handle that thought. Mornings and I have a tenuous relationship.

And coming home I leave the office at 4:30 and roll into the driveway a little after 6. Not bad. I'll probably keep trying to find faster routes, but this is livable.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Visas are Here!

T-minus six days!

The last piece of travel paperwork is in place - our Kazakhstan visas came today! Wahoo! Get these people on a plane, they're ready to meet their daughter.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Last Weekend in Utah

T-minus 7 days!

This weekend we took advantage of the Utah snow and enjoyed the truly amazing scenery around our home.

As you can see, we've gotten a lot of snow over the past week. It's a beautiful thing... unless you're in your first week of commuting 40 miles to work.

Anyway, we decided to take the opportunity to enjoy our last weekend in Utah at the Sundance Nordic Center, one of my favorite places on earth. Actually, we went twice on Saturday - once in the afternoon with the boys and then we went snowshoeing in the evening (they're open late on full moon nights!). It was simply delightful!

Here are a few choice shots from the day and night:
One happy, snowy family

This kiddo couldn't take a serious photo to save his life!

No, I don't trust him with that snowball, either

Mush, Mommy!

Steve and Jamie make some full-moon-snowshoe angels

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Commuting on the Bus - Day 1

Hmmm... it's a nice idea, but I will confess that I am not yet quite sold on commuting on the bus. Today was my first day and I will say that it was a wholly pleasant experience - the drivers were nice and I made all of the connections I was planning to make. I didn't get too carsick (bussick?) and I made it in to the office by 9. The downside? I spent 3 1/2 hours on the bus.

Now, I did find a better route home that if I can leave the office by 4:30 will get me home by 6, so I'm going to try that one out tomorrow as long as I can make it out by 4:30 (didn't happen today - I took the faster route, but didn't catch the bus until 5:10, so I wasn't home until 7). And I found a way to work that will only take two buses instead of two buses and Trax, so I'm going to try that one tomorrow morning. I had no idea how much of a science finding a bus route was!

I'm definitely willing to try this a few more times... hopefully I can find a way to keep the commute under 3 hours. Otherwise, I'll just be a planet killing commuter! I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Plane Tickets Purchased!

Hooray, we finally have plane tickets to Kazakhstan!!! We leave next Sunday, 1/18, and if all goes as planned (heh heh heh, that's a funny little adoption joke there... like anything ever goes as planned) we will meet our daughter on the 20th or 21st!

This is a big day for the Morningstars, and we are so excited to have seats purchased for our 24 hours of travel (20 hours in planes, 4 hours of layovers) for the most exciting trip ever!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The End of Freedom

Well, today was my first day of work and it really was great. I'll admit that I had (and still have) mixed feelings about going back to work after my 7-week hiatus - I am so very talented at getting paid for not working and I've really enjoyed my time home with the boys. Seriously, I could do that full time (getting paid for not working, not hanging out with the boys - that's way too stressful to do full time! Thank God for Steve, he is made of stronger stuff than I). But my salary at Move ends this week and I am so very grateful to have started something so great and so soon.

I'm working as a Sr. Product Manager at inContact and I'm really excited about this new position. This week is all about training, which is good since the contact center industry is new to me. The day was great... except for the two-hour drive home in the snow. Sigh. I'll have to figure out how to use the bus soon :)

You'll be proud to know that I used my last day of freedom yesterday to the full - I went skiing at Sundance! I told you I was good at not working.

Still hoping to hear something soon about our LOI (Letter of Invitation) to Kazakhstan with our firm dates - we'll let y'all know when we hear something!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

T-Minus 10 Days(?)

We are theoretically maybe I hope around 10 days(ish) from traveling to Kazakhstan! Aaaaaaah!!!

The government crowd in Kaz is still on winter holiday, so we still don't know for sure, but if we're going to be in country in mid-January, then we are less than two weeks from travel. Woo hoo!

I think that we (me) must be learning something about patience because I'm really not going crazy. I mean, we're making all of the preparations for travel (except for plane tickets, visas - you know, the incidentals): roughly 200 pounds and 15 suitcases of prospective travel gear is strewn about Sestra's room, we got our updated homestudy, our updated FBI records are (I hope) en route, today we notarized new medical certifications for Steve and Jamie (we're still leprosy free and have no "severe dermatosis with the disturbance/breakdown of callusing" or other very scary sounding conditions that I am grateful to have no knowledge of) and half a dozen other forms and letters that are now almost a year old, and the moms fly in next week to take care of the boys for the first half or two thirds of our trip (bless you, grandmothers!). But I'm not feeling overwhelmed or otherwise psycho. I guess that the year of of preparing for and buying stuff for our trip is paying off :)

I have to give a huge shout out to the folks at Chase Bank. They have been amazing through this last year of notarizations, helping us find and order new bills for travel, giving us letters certifying our account, and the list goes on. Way to go Orem branch of Chase Bank!

And yesterday we completed Packing Phase I (yes, this is what it was called on my to do list) and we are actually getting close to fitting seven weeks worth of crap for two big people and one little one into two 40-pound suitcases. I am going to want to burn those clothes after wearing only four outfits for seven weeks, but it's well worth the sacrifice to make more room for presents for the baby house staff and others who are integral to the successful processing of our adoption in Kaz!

Don't worry, we'll be sure to post as soon as we have actual travel dates!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 Begins!

Happy New Year!

Our 2009 started simply perfectly - a new dress, a devastatingly handsome husband, and a small, simple party surrounded by some of the people we love most in this world. Well, I guess it was just shy of perfect since Sarah stole my rightful victories in both Scene It and Settlers of Catan... but I digress.

And for the first time ever the boys stayed up to ring in the new year with us! They're such fantastic, fun ages - able to understand the significance of the day and celebrate in true Morningstar fashion (that is, able to set off their own confetti poppers). Oh, and as you can see in this photo, Sam decided to start 2009 with a haircut! He's truly a whole new kid - he has eyes!

Needless to say, we look forward to 2009 with eager anticipation. January alone brings a new job and new daughter (in chronological order, not order of importance :) and we look forward to all God has designed for us in the coming new year!

We hope that your 2009 started spectacularly! Happy New Year!


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