We are a married couple who adopted our little Russky, Nikita {aka Nicky, Nicky noodle, little man, Nikoli, the Nickster, crazy dude, goofball, puppy love, etc...you get the picture!} from St Petersburg, Russia four years ago. Join us as we stumble through the joys and perils of parenthood, while our son teaches us a few things along the road...


August 30 & 31, 2008 - Our Last Weekend in Peter!

Wow - the changes we've seen in Nicky's personality are amazing! He was very timid and unsure about everything at first, but today he was all about touching everything and was very curious about even the littlest of item in the house. He's so cute about it and will look at an item, like an Xbox control, then look at us with the "can I touch it?" look & then gets super excited once he does!

We took him out for a walk after nap time yesterday, to the park by the Russian museum, and as usual we go rained on! He seems pretty content to just play with his cars and follow Milhouse around thou. He's starting to understand us better, and he definitely trusts us more.

We gave him his first bath yesterday (I'm sure he's had something like one at some point, I just don't think it's very regular)...he was NOT happy about it at all! Kris got in with him & Nicky screamed & cried the whole time. Once we took him out and dried him off, he was ok; we decided to fore go that part of the routine tonite!
He fed himself on Friday, but part of yesterday & today he decided he liked the way we did it better...to be expected! He wants to see exactly what we'll do for him! This afternoon he was all smiles & giggles - he's super ticklish - and was even talking more & mimicking what we would say. He & Kris were looking out the window at the boats in the canal & were knocking on the window & Nicky would repeat "knock knock"...he thought that was great fun! Tonight he was having too much fun to go to bed thou; Kris called his parents and I took him in like we have been doing. I laid him back on his pillow & he shot back up, just looking at me. I laid him back down & he started to cry & fuss at me! I let him cry a few minutes, then held him a bit & put him down again & within minutes he was out like a light. There's just so much going on for his little brain to take all in right now. I can't imagine how he'll be tomorrow on the plane!
Saturday night was Paul's 30th birthday, and after he & Courtney went to dinner, they came back here & 2 of their Russian friends (from Paul's school) came over. All the travel & guide books tell you that if you ever get into a BODKA (Vodka) drinking session with Russians, you better not start what you can't finish. They are so right! Between the two of them, and the 4 of us, we killed a whole bottle...and I only had one little shot! Kris had 3! It's very smooth, so it wasn't too bad, but we also had a few beers and all split a bottle of Russian (шампанское) champagne to boot! The champagne was very tasty...and very inexpensive. Kris and I had stopped by the store to pick up a bottle and some cake (or the like) and we saw a Russian man buying some, so we bought the same kind. Apparently we made a good choice...Paul told us it was a good one! It was so much fun actually getting to hang out with Paul's friends; they had some great stories about working as Geologists in the former CCCP (USSR). They wished us nothing but happiness with our new little family member and said that we were definitely the best thing to happen to him!


August 29, 2008 - Picking Nicky Up From the Orphanage!

We met Svetlana at a travel agency on Nevsky Prospect, about a block from our apartment, at 10am. We had celebrated the fact that we were getting Nicky with Paul & Courtney the night before, so we were kinda dragging a bit! We purchased our tickets for our trip to Moscow via Rossiya Airlines...we've heard that it can be a bit dicey, so we're a bit apprehensive (as if we weren't already with having Nicky with us!). We then went to the passport office, where Svetlana had to double park (a TON of that going on here), therefore leaving me in the car "just in case". Well, "just in case" happened no more than 10 minutes after Kris & Svetlana had gone inside! I didn't even think to ask how to drive her car (a Citroen); I just figured since it was all in English I could figure it out. Fortunately, the guy that needed me to move (even thou he didn't speak a lick of English) was able to help me out! "R" for reverse I could figure out; "N" I figured was still neutral; "A" was a bit tricky, as was "M". Soon figured out that "A" was automatic (aka drive) and "M" was manual (also drive, but with the crazy shifter that's on both sides of the steering wheel! I had thought I would then pull into the parking spot that had been vacated. However, by then a big tractor had tried to come down the super narrow street & eventually had to drive with it's digger part up in the air to get thru. Since that caused quite the traffic jam, I decided to stay put; luckily K & S came out shortly after that!

Anyway - from there we drove out to the orphanage. We went into the music room and gave the social worker the clothes we had brought for them to change him into. Oh yeah - they don't get the clothes they wear there; you have to bring clothes for them, unless (like Svetlana joked) you want a "nekked baby"! Another quick note - the social worker there had been on vacation when we had originally visited the orphanage (thank goodness). She has the personality of a pencil & I don't know if it has to do with us being American & adopting Nikita or if it's just her Russian personality! They brought Nicky to us and we hung out for a minute while the social worker got the registration book for us to sign, verifying that we had picked him up. The social worker says to us as we are getting ready to leave "Good bye. Go to America." and walks out. Nice, real nice! So - I picked up my SON (ha! that's fun to say!) and we all walked out of the orphanage...so long! We got in the car and Nicky sat on Kris' lap with wide eyes all the way back into town. We had to go back to the passport office to get his passport...so cute! Then it was on to the apartment.

We brought him inside and let him "tour" the place and he met Courtney (Paul was at the grocery store) and their cat Milhouse...who he really seems to like now! Actually, I think he just likes to feed him treats, and he yells something at him when Milhouse walks into whatever room we're in. We can't quite make out what he's saying, but we figure it's whatever his caregivers would say to the cats that would come into the orphanage yard!

We all laid down for a quick nap, but before, we decided to put some comfy pants on him. Imagine our surprise when we found our potty-trained son was wearing a diaper! They told us "they can't afford diapers" "they are all potty-trained very early"; not so true apparently. Althou, I have to say, he goes potty on the potty, so I think a lot of it must have to do with the "just in case" due to the changes he's going thru. Well - the surprises kept coming - we discovered that he's NOT circumcised!!! WTF?! We definitely weren't ever told that part, nor did we think to ask since we never saw that on any of the "lists of questions to ask at the orphanage"! Not that it would've changed our decision as to whether or not we would adopt him, but that's a pretty big shock!!! Needless to say, I've now searched WebMD for "how to care for your son's uncircumcised penis"! Didn't think I'd be doing that one! Oy!

Other than that, things went pretty surprisingly well! He's a good eater and sleeper and he's very agreeable. He slept thru the night - we got him down by 8pm and he woke up around 8am...not bad!


August 28, 2008 - Pushkin Visit

Our coordinator (Svetlana) picked us up at our apartment at 9:15am and after all the "hi's & how are you's", she gave us an overview of our agenda for the day. We needed to head to the city registration office to get Nicky's official birth certificates (the original with his born name & birthmother; and the new one with Kris & I listed as the parents & his new name: Nikita Miles Alexander Johnson...whoo hoo!). After the registration office, we would visit Nicky at the orphanage (ДОМ РЕбЕНКА - baby home) (in Kirovsky Region) for a little bit before he went down for nap. We would then be heading to Пушкин (Pushkin), the town just outside (about 25k) Peter where Nicky was born so we could get his registration cancelled, therefore transferring it over to the orphanage, then eventually to us. When Svetlana was finished telling us about our day, she casually said "So I think we can pick Nikita up tomorrow so he can spend the weekend with you. That might be better so he can get more used to you since he wasn't as comfortable with you the last visit." Kris & I looked at each other with silly grins, then asked Svetlana "Really?!". We had contimplated asking for that to happen; even had the "You ask her. No, you ask her." conversation before we got in the car! This whole process is very different than anything us Americans are used to...especially for those like myself that like to plan things and know what's coming next. We had left, after our first trip, under the very clear assumption that we would not pick Nicky up from the orphanage until the day we were to leave for Moscow (Labor Day). We were pleasantly surprised & giddy like little school girls (ha! Kris a schoolgirl?!)...maybe more like kids on Christmas morning...when she told us! Of course, then the "OMG what the heck are we going to do with a 2+ year old over the weekend in Peter" came to the front of our minds! We definitely weren't prepared in the toy & stuff to do department. We packed the bare minimum; enough for a few days in Moscow (considering most of the time will be paperwork, waiting around & some sightseeing), and enough for the (OMG crazy long) flight home. Needless to say, Nicky has now made 2 trips to the toy store here...something all the "experts" warn you against doing too soon for fear of the institutionalized child becoming overwhelmed. (Toy stores are enough to overwhelm most adults, if you ask me!).

The rest of our Thursday... the registration office took about an hour or so. The lady was very nice and wished us well, and seemed genuinely happy for the 3 of us; we never really know what type of attitude/reaction to expect from the "powers that be" here. We got to the baby home just before 12pm & the kids were all eating...not sure what, but it definitely smelled tasty to Kris & I! Nicky came into the music room to see us and this time he was calm, no tears, and actually seemed relaxed with us. We played with the машина (literal translation is "machine", said like machine with the emphasis on the "ma" & ends with "a"; it means "car") we brought for him...he loves him some Matchbox! We also "read" the book "Cars" to him...not that he really understands what we're saying, but the book makes fun sounds & he likes to push the buttons! His caregiver came for him around 1pm for nap time, so we headed to the car for the drive to Pushkin (named after the Poet Alexander Pushkin).

Pushkin is situated on land granted by Peter the Great to his wife, the future Catherine I. The Catherine Palace, also known as "Tzarskoye Selo" (Tsars Village), built in 1717, is the centerpiece of the town, along with Alexander Palace. Catherine Palace is a blue, white & gold marvel. More than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof (stole that from Wikipedia!). It is surrounded by a huge, beautiful garden, which of course, we didn't get to see much of since it was pouring down rain (figures!). We went inside, and even thou several others made it thru the pseudo-security check with their bags & overcoats, Kris & I were told to "disrobe" and visit the coat check (at least that part is free!). (note - it cost more to go inside the Palace & Park (you paid for both separately...grr!) than it did to visit both the Church on Spilled Blood & the Hermitage). Never fails - we got sent to the same place the day before at the Herm, so we shoulda known better...stupid Americans! Anyway, in order to protect the beautiful marble & wooden floors, we were instructed to put (what looked like hospital) booties on over our shoes...quite fashionable!

We were then ushered with many other (smelly) visitors up the staircase to endure a long explanation about the marvel of the palace, room-by-room...in Russian...no wonder they charge so much! Several of the rooms are still under reconstruction, so they were closed for viewing; we saw maybe 7 or so rooms & 2 staicases...real bummer. However, the Grand Ballroom was beautiful - it had gold-gilt mirrors all over the walls, and the doors & window sills were covered in gold as well. The ceiling was painted with angels and Gods & Goddesses, ala Sistine Chapel. There was a room that was entirely encased in Amber...very amazing - of course this room was off limits for picture taking.

My favorite room was the Green Dining Room - it was a pale green, white & pink and was very soothing & peaceful. We eventually left the pack and took our own tour of the remaining few rooms and looked at the pictures hanging in the hall to the exit of the destruction from WWII. When the German military forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they had the residence intentionally destroyed,leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. Prior to the WWII the Russian archivists managed to remove a fraction of its contents, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace. The work that has been done is amazing, althou they still have a long way to go.


August 27, 2008 - Hermitage Visit

Today we decided to sleep in a bit and take out time venturing out of the house to the Hermitage & Winter Palace. The Herm consists of 6 large buildings, only half of which are open to visitors, and faces the Neva River. It was built in the 18th century by the Italian architect Rastrelli (as was most of the palaces, etc, throughout the city) and it became the home of Empress Catherine II when she ascended to the throne in 1762. This is also where Tsar Nicholas II and his family lived when Lenin & the Bolsheviks launched the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Winter Palace has an amazing light blue & white ediface with amazing interior detail. The rooms themselves were more the artwork than the actual paintings and sculptures were. Each room that has been restored on the ground & 1st floors are so beautiful. Each painted a different color, including gold guilding of mirrors, door frames, you name it! They all had amazing wood floors with intricate designs and different types of wood inlaid within and the crown mouldings were to die for! It was definitely a feast for our eyes! We only made it through the Winter Palace and ventured a bit into the Small Hermitage; most of the artwork on the lower floors are the old, dark, Renaissance style, etc; apparently there are a few Titian's and Da Vinci's...didn't ever find those though! We did however, see several Van Gogh's (Kris' fave), Sisley's, Monet's, Matisse's, Gauguin's and Picasso's, so we're not hurting in the culture department! All the walking really made us yearn for a nap, so we decided 3-ish hours was good enough for us!

Paul & Courtney returned home from their 2 week jaunt to Poland, etc, and we all decided staying home for some good old-fashioned Pizza Hut was definitely what we all needed. It has been so great being able to stay with people we know and trust during these past few weeks. We don't think we would have been as relaxed about all the craziness otherwise. Having the ability to talk to people who have experienced the same situations and being able to commiserate is awesome! Not only that - they speak the language, so it comes in handy when going out to dinner! :)

Ok - that's enough for now...hope I haven't put you all to sleep with all this crazy talk! Thank you all so much for "listening"! I can't wait til we're back in the US so we can actually talk to you all and share more stories...and introduce you to our son, the adorable Nicky! We are definitely in way over our heads, but loving every minute of it! Until tomorrow...yes, I will have another long one built up by then...soooo much more to tell! Sneak peak...Nicky is, as we speak, sleeping in our room...yup - you read that right! We picked him up this afternoon...he's all ours!!!


Tuesday, August 26th - Fun in Peter

So this morning we had planned to visit the monster that is the Hermitage. However, we found out the Church on Spilled Blood is closed on Wednesdays, so we figured we better swap and go to the Hermitage (aka "the Herm") on Wednesday. Probably a good decision anyway since we had to make the long trek to pick up our registration in the afternoon (pouring rain, of course). Note - when saying the word "registration" you must pronounce the "g" like the "g" in "get"...it makes things so much more fun to speak as the Russians (kinda like "when in Rome...")! Now, before I tell you about Spilled Blood and it's awe inspiring beauty, I must back up a bit. I don't think I have ever mentioned what we Johnson's have lovingly dubbed "Peter Belly"; if you have a weak stomach, you might want to read ahead. We leave the apartment and walk about a half a block to the bank to get some more roubles (aka "Monopoly Money"). We no sooner walked into the ATM vestibule when I began to dry heave. Talk about embarrassing! I had to stand outside, pseudo hiding from the passersby, waiting for Kris to get our cash...not a good feeling! Back to the apartment we went, for me to, well, let's just say, take a few moments to myself! At that point, we decided we better go ahead and eat lunch at home before heading out again. So, what is Peter Belly you ask? For those of you that have traveled to Mexico, think "Montazuma's revenge". Basically the water here has the parasite giardia in it and even brushing your teeth with the water will send you running to the toilet...not so fun for sight seeing! Note to self...only use & drink bottled water when traveling to Russia, unless you're looking to lose a few pounds! Ok - back to Church on Spilled Blood. We walk up and stand in the line that is formed outside a big black box-type thing that houses what says "KACCA" (cashier). Being the stupid Americans that we are, we stood in line waiting to purchase our entrance tickets. We get to the front and head up to ask the lady for our two tickets (with the extra fee for taking pictures, of course) and she pulls out this long pointer, extends it, and raps it on the window pointing to the fine print, which reads "purchase tickets inside" (or something to that effect). Ok...so what is the line for then?! Why were other people walking away from the box with tickets in their hands?! After talking to Paul & Courtney (the American friends we're staying with), we found out that the line outside is for Russians; all foreigners must purchase theirs inside. I don't know about you, but that's just weird! Anyway, back to the church...one word can be used to describe the church...amazing! It's a Russian-style church that was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when Stalin went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country It took about 24 years to build the church; 26 years to restore. During the times it was not being used as a church, it was used to store set design for the theather, and during WWII it was used as a veggie market (which earned it the nickname "Church of our Savior on Potatoes"). Seeing the inside of the church was even more amazing than the outside, which we didn't think could be possible. (I'll post pictures on snapfish & send later.) The interior frescoes are all comprised of tiny tiles in bright colors and pure gold. They all tell the stories of Christ, and inside several of the "onion domes" (the round tops on top of the outside of the church) have beautiful pictures of the Virgin Mary. Apparently during the restoration of the church, a German bomb, left over from WWII, was found lodged in the rafters of the church and had it actually gone off as planned, the enitre church would have been destroyed. Thank God for small miracles...I guess technically that's a rather large miracle, but you get the point! We went out for dinner at a primarily vegetarian restaurant called the Idiot. It was kinda payback...Monday evening we ate dinner at Carl's Jr - used to be called Hardee's in the US until Carl's Jr took them over. Basically the choices were burgers, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and french fries. You all know what I ended up eating...and no, dad, I didn't decide to finally eat meat again! The restaurant is Dostoevsky-inspired and has a very bohemian vibe...and the best part...the servers speak English & actually acknowledge you when you walk in! Of course, we leave the restaurant happy and full, only to be greeted by more wonderful pouring down rain! Did we bother to bring the umbrella? Nope. You would think that we were smarter than that, but, we've apparently lost our minds on this trip! We've about run the gamut in the weather department (knock wood we don't wake up to snow tomorrow!). When we came here for our first trip in early July, it was beautiful. Sunshine (almost 24 hrs...it was during White Nights...we had about 3 hrs of darkness), and warm (mid 70's). When we arrived mid-August, it was kind of similar; pretty warm (high 60's, low 70's) and sunny. When we came back this week, it all changed. It's pretty chilly (highs in the mid 50's...that's pretty much like winter for Texas!) and rains every day...or at least drizzles off and on. Kris packed for himself this trip, so he's sans jacket and wearing one of the same three sweaters every couple days! I can't really talk either, as I brought layers, so am pretty much wearing the same items every few days too. It's so hard to pack for 3 weeks when you are on a weight limit (for flying), not to mention, having to pack for different seasons all in 3 weeks!

More From Russia...August 26th

Hello everyone! (here's another long one for ya...) Hope you are all doing well! I'm so out of the loop when it comes to the things happening in the US, I won't even begin to ask questions about what we are missing. I can say this...we are beginning to miss the US as a whole. Things here are altogether different...smells; language; food; sights; cold shoulders...you name it! Speaking of language, we have traveled quite a bit and I have done a pretty good job of butchering many a language in that time. However, I've never experienced the complete lack of understanding as I have here in Russia. In most languages (and their respective countries they're spoken), if one happens to pronounce a word incorrectly, the "native" will look at you a little strangely, but then the light bulb will go off and the "oh! I know what you're trying to say!" will happen. Not so true in Russia. If you pronounce a word incorrectly here, you'll get nothin' but a blank stare! And I'm not talking like a big mispronunciation...I'm talking maybe the accent on the wrong syllable! Seriously - have you seen the cyrillic alphabet?! Crazy characters (I use that term loosely...), some having similar sounds, some completely out of my realm of even being able to say! I'm lucky to have learned "hello" and "good bye", which, still struggling with those! Not to mention, since I have butchered many a language, I will be in a situation where I need to say something simple like "thank you" and instead of it coming out in Russian, it might slip out in Turkish, etc! So weird - I try to be a good traveler and learn a few basic phrases in each country's native tongue, and now I'm telling Russians "all is good" in German! Oy! Oh well...whatcha gonna do? :)


August 25, 2008 - Back in the Россия...

Hi everyone! Россия is Russia in cyrillic & that was my attempt at a (albeit bad) joke (think old Beatles song...back in the USSR!). Ok - it's been a long day, give me a little slack! :) So - we arrived back in St Petersburg late yesterday afternoon. Switzerland was so nice and relaxing, we almost didn't want to leave; our driving force was getting back here so we can complete our after-court paperwork and pick up Nicky! 3 weeks is a long time to be away from home...we've barely been gone for 2 and it's starting to take it's toll already. Kris got a cold or sinus infection and has been feeling rather poopy & I somehow pinched a nerve in my shoulder blade, therefore turning my neck is quite painful. We're quite the couple! At least we didn't have much to do today..or so we thought. In case any of you ever plan to travel to Russia, keep these few things in mind. 1) You must have a valid passport...not too much to ask. 2) You have to apply for a visa to enter into the country...still not too much as a lot of countries require this piece. 3) In order to get your visa, you must have an invitation to travel to Russia. This is where it can get tricky; we were lucky and our agency did that part for us. We had to fill out the visa application, send it to an agent working for our agency in DC and the invitation was sent to her, so she did all the leg-work from there. 4) After getting off the plane in your city of interest (ours being St Pete of course), you must fill out a "migration form" (similar to our immigration/customs form in the US)...once again, not too much to ask. You go through passport control and they look at your passport & visa (all without smiling or saying a peep), give you your stamp (they do love their stamps in this country!) and you go merrily on your way. 5) This is where the process gets tricky...getting the visa registered in the city you are staying. If you plan on staying in the city for more than 3 business days you need to get registered. Usually this service is offered through the hotel you are staying; since we are staying with friends in an apartment, we had to go to a hotel that proclaims to provide this such service. Well - this afternoon we began our trek through the streets of St Pete looking for the hotel our friends have sent other visitors to as well. It wasn't too far from the apartment, but finding things in this city can be quite difficult. Not only is everything in Russian (go figure), but most streets do not have signs indicating their name. We found the hotel without too much of a hitch...turns out Kris is pretty decent at reading maps! We get inside the hotel and the girl starts making copies of our paperwork and asked for our contact info and at the same time was calling someone else (manager maybe?). After a few minutes this guy (manager?) came and told us that he cannot provide the service, as he was not the one to issue our invitation letter! (Keep in mind, our invitation was all provided to us both trips by our agency and the first trip we used the registration service provided by the apartment rental company we used; they didn't issue our invitation letter & had no problem). So, he gives us a map and the name of another agency we can use and sends us on our way...for about a "5 minute" walk he says. Well - knowing that this place is near the apartment we stayed at during our first trip to Peter, we knew it would be more like 30 mins (it's about 2 miles away!)! To top it off, the wonderful weather we experienced during our first trip has disappeared and has been replaced with 60-ish degree rainy weather...gotta be great for Kris' cold! We stopped into the Radisson hotel on the way; I had read they would do the registration for a fee as well. We walked in, walked up to the check-in counter and asked the girl at the desk if it was a service they provided. She looked at us as if we were some crazy street urchins and said they only do that for their guests, and maybe we should "find a 3 star hotel" because they might do it for us! As if that was completely beneath them...too bad for them...at 1000 roubles ($40 or so) a pop, they're missing out on a nice profit! We find the registration place fairly easily and give them our info. Not only do we have to make the trip back there to pick up our paperwork tomorrow afternoon, but we found out we'll also have to get registered when we get to Moscow next week (at least we're staying at the Radisson & they'll do it for us). I have yet to find anything explaining WHY we need to get registered, just that it's a must or you will be fined. The other side of the registration too, is that's what's holding us up from getting Nicky and bringing him home. We have to go and get his registration voided and it's in the town of Pushkin and we have to be registered in order for it to happen. To top it all off, we thought that we might get to see Nicky this week since we got back in early (we didn't need to be back until the 28th), but our agency has 2 other couples that are here picking up their little guys, so they will not have time to take us to Nicky's home too. :( We're pretty bummed about that part, but we do get to see him Thurs & Fri, so at least we have that to look forward to. We are going to the Hermitage/Winter Palace tomorrow and will go into the Church on Spilled Blood on Wednesday...both are supposed to be amazing inside and since it's rainy outside, it will be the perfect distraction!


August 22, 2008 - Swiss Family Johnson

We are here in Basel, Switzerland...we arrived last Saturday the 16th. We are staying with my friend Rachel, her husband Jeroen and their beautiful daughters Tess & Meret. We've spent our time hanging out in the laid-back town...strolling along the Rhine River; shopping; eating; napping; and enjoying great company. We are getting tons of practice taking care of a two year old...we are even being trusted to stay home alone with the girls tonite...scary! lol! We spent this past Tuesday - Thursday in the towns of Locarno & Ascona in the southern canton of Ticino, Swiss. It was so amazingly beautiful and relaxing. It's one of those places you would not think of visiting, but after doing so, you want to go back again & again. We stayed in a hotel right along the Lago Maggiore with a fabulous view of the lake and the surrounding Alps. We just missed the Locarno film festival by a few days, but I think we're better for it...a nice, quiet trip is exactly what we needed.
The first morning we got up and walked about 5k to the town of Ascona...wow - so pretty. Since Ticino borders Italy, the national language is Italian, and the architecture matches. We wandered around through the back streets and did a bit of shopping. We ate lunch at a restaurant that had a salad bar...can you say heaven?! It was right up my alley...the Russians aren't that big on green, leafy salads, so needless to say, the vegetarian in me was ready to eat a tree if I didn't get a big salad soon! Our waiter brought our beer, and he must have felt sorry for me just eating salad, as he didn't charge us. Kris had a bowl of pasta & we each had 2 large Swiss beers, & our total was still $50! Oh well...if you look at the pictures I've sent from snapfish, you'll see that it was well worth it! We'd love to scoop up Nicky and bring him back there to live if we could. After lunch we took the ferry back to Locarno...we decided we had had enough exercise after the walk to Ascona. Although - once we returned to Locarno, we somehow had the energy to rent a paddle boat and cruise around the lake a bit. Kris' legs were too long and he kept getting them caught up in the steering wheel, so I was the lucky one entrusted with driving! Good thing too...Kris kept running over the bouys, so we weren't getting very far!

Sidebar...laundry is a very daunting task in other countries. You'd think it would be universal, but the machines over here are not only in German, but they also have many different settings! I'm used to my simple "cold, warm, hot" and "permanent press, normal, heavy" and whatever else it says!
Anyway...we left Locarno via train back to Basel on Thursday morning. I thought it would be easy to take a nap, but the scenery is so beautiful, it's hard to sleep...I was afraid I'd miss something! We just hung out and watched a few episodes of Dexter (Rachel has the full first season on DVD and has gotten me hooked too!). I mentioned we were babysitting...well...Rachel & Jeroen fed, bathed & put the girls down, so really all we're doing is listening out for any cries...so far so good!
We are gearing up for our trip back to Peter on Sunday...6:15am...not my favorite time of day! :( We received our itinerary for our trip back...we will do some paperwork on the 28th & 29th and will then get Nicky on Monday (Labor Day for you Americans! Althou we've only been gone just over a week, it really feels like decades! So different than a normal vacation.). Monday we'll fly to Moscow and will do more paperwork & we'll get to fly home to the US on the 4th! We're pretty anxious for that part to be over. If you've been keeping up with the news, there's a bit of unrest with Russia and Georgia & now that the US has said their two cents, we're nervous to see how we could be treated. I'm sure things will be fine, but... Anyway - I'll bother you all with some more chatter and pictures from Peter, I'm sure.:) After spending this time with Tess, we can't wait to have Nicky and see all the fun stuff he does! Kids are so amazing!!!


Friday, August 15, 2008 - Adoption Court Date

Well - we got up early and had some breakfast while reviewing our speech a few more times. Our coordinator picked us up at 10:15am for court at 11am and due to the crazy traffic in town, we barely arrived on time...nothing like adding a bit more stress before we go to hopefully make a great impression of ourselves and our family! We met with the translator, who reviewed our speech, made a few revisions, then headed into the courtroom. Sidebar - the "courtroom" was just that - a room in a random building...a run down random building at that! Not at all what you would ever see in the US. Apparently the official court building is under construction, so this is it's temporary location.

Anyway - we went in and were joined by the translator, the Judge (grumpy lady!), her secretary, the Chief Doctor of the Orphanage, a representative of the guardianship authorities/social worker, a rep of the Committee for Labor and Social Security, a member of the Medical Commission and the Prosecutor. We stood and introduced ourselves, then we were asked if we understood and if we trusted the "membership", after a few other questions and answers of "да" (yes) by us, Kris stood to present our speech. The whole time he was speaking and the translator was translating (obviously), the judge appeared very stoic and was flipping thru our dossier...very unnerving. There were a few questions regarding our religion - for those of you that know us, we don't attend church, save for a few holidays. We certainly don't attend any one particular church or of any one denomination for that matter. That's very hard to explain here in Russia - it's all very black and white. Either you attend or you don't (no in betweens) and either you are of one faith or another (no "nondenominational"/"christian" churches). They also asked whether or not we felt that us being together for only 3 years was long enough for us to have established a strong relationship.

After the questions, the judge left the room for deliberation, and returned about 10 minutes later. It may have been 10 minutes - it felt like ages! We were both so nervous and kept rethinking everything we said/didn't say. The judge came back in to give her decision and as she was talking & the translator was translating, I just wanted someone to say "it's all good - the answer is yes!" - of course, it was court, so they were very formal and rambled on (as I am doing now!). She closed by saying "good luck and I wish you all the best with Nikita". At that point, I was relieved and was able to breathe again! We gave our thanks and walked out as soon as we could so we could actually show some emotion! So - we are officially parents! We've got ourselves a little Russian! :)

They told us during the hearing that his grandmother, aunt, grandfather & great uncle had all denied their rights to him - so sad - he has family out there that want no part of him, but we've had to jump thru hoops to get this far! Plus - on March 28 they presented Nicky to a Russian family for foster/adoption, and they turned him down due to his medical conditions (developmental delays...due to being in an orphanage!). I could never imagine turning him down - we fell in love the second we saw the little bugger! :) We grabbed some lunch and now we get to go and visit Nicky for a bit...I hope he's in a better mood to see us today. I know it will take time for him to understand, but we're Americans and we're impatient and need some instant gratification!!!

Well, the visit with Nicky today was accompanied by more of the same grumpiness! :( They told us that he knows he will be leaving with us, and that when they moved him up to the group he's in now he was very sad, grumpy and cried a lot, so we shouldn't take it personally. We just can't wait to get him all on our own so it's less confusing for him.

Now what? Well - we leave for Basel, Switzerland in the am and will also travel to Locarno for a few days, then back to Peter on 24 August. Our 10 day waiting period is now 13 days, and we will start the final paperwork on the 28th. Then on to Moscow for the US Embassy paperwork and home on 4 September!!!


August 14, 2008 - St Petersburg, Russia

Well - we arrived in St Pete safely yesterday evening (Wednesday 13.08.08), although we are pretty jet-lagged this trip. There were 3 screaming kids on the long flight to Frankfurt...hopefully not a sign of what's to come in our future! We were so very lucky to be blessed with a 5 hour layover in the Frankfurt airport before the flight to Peter (can you read the sarcasm?!), so that definitely added to our fatigue. We promptly headed to the бар (bar) for a few Russian beers with our friend Courtney, then hit the grocery story for some provisions. We went to the orphanage this morning (Thursday) to see Nicky & he didn't share our enthusiasm for spending time together! Typical 2 year old, I'm sure, but it was pretty difficult to experience! He cried and said "нет" (nyet = no) a lot...he wanted no part of us! Once we finally got him away from his group, we were able to get at least one smile out of him in the 2 hours we had...so not long enough! We then went for some souvenirs and headed back to our apartment for a nice, long, much needed nap! When we finally roused, we walked around the city center to see a few of the sites we missed on the first trip. The city itself is very beautiful and the buildings look more like what one would expect to see in Paris (Peter the Great who designed the city, was very taken with western architecture). The people watching here is fabulous as well - many a girl in super-spiky high heels and fish-net stockings in the middle of the day! And - mullets are all the rage...the fashion is all very '80s! We grabbed some dinner and came back to the apartment to get ready for the big court date in the morning. We finished writing our speech (Kris is the lucky one that gets to represent us in court...thank goodness!) and we're now studying our home study to make sure all our statements match those we gave in January!


August 12, 2008 - Leaving for Trip 2 to Russia

well - our departure date has finally arrived! we are due to leave for russia this afternoon...our flight leaves at 4:10pm. we arrive in frankfurt at 9:05am and then leave for st petersburg at 2pm...i just love long layovers! we get into peter at 6:40pm and we are staying at our friend's apartment in the city. so nice to actually have someone to stay with and be able to save some $! plus - they can help us get around a bit. we will get to see Nicky on thursday some time...not sure the exact schedule of everything - it's all off-the-cuff! that's been one of the biggest challenges for me...makes it hard to plan for things! i think it's actually been good for me - kinda gives me a glimpse at parenthood! our court date is on friday - not sure what time - and when we're done with that we're free to leave the country. the ministry of education imposes a 10 day wait after court, which is actually 11 days (starting from the day of court) which could turn into 15 days. we'll not know how long our wait is until friday - keep your fingers crossed for 10 days! but - oh darn - if we have to stay in peter a few extra days, then i guess we'll just have to go and look at a beautiful museum...darn! :) anyway - it cost way too much to fly home during the 10 day wait as most people do, so we are spending the time in basel & locarno switzerland! darn - a forced vacation! we'll stay with my friend Rachel & her family and then take a trip to locarno - beautiful town in the south of swiss sitting on a pristine lake...once again - darn! we return to peter on the 24th and if the wait is not extended, we should get Nicky some time on the 26th!!! crazy!!! we're gonna be parents! :) we will then get his passport, etc & travel to moscow on the 27th and spend 2 days there at the US embassy. if all goes well, we'll be back in the US on the 30th! we are so excited and ready to get this trip started! we'll email and send pics along the way...i figured that would be a good way for me to "journal" too. don't worry - i won't test anyone on what i've written...it's just easier to email everyone at once.
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