Friday, April 30, 2010

Meeting "The Man"....or in my case, the Woman

The night before I lay there full of anxiety with thoughts racing through my head. What will the orphanage be like? What will my little girl be like? Will she let me play with her, hold her? Will she like me? What will I do if she throws a fit and doesn’t want to be near me? Will the orphanage people watch me to see if I will be a good mother? On and on the questions went as I fought for the blankets from my sister and tried to drown out her snoring....she’s going to kill me for writing that :)

We were told to be ready at 9:00 a.m. SHARP. So there we stood on the side of the street in front of the hotel at 8:55 a.m. and the driver and translator show up at 9:10. This became a typically pattern; we’re ready and waiting and they are late. No problem, this just gave us more time to take photos, which is a hobby both Beth and I love! Off to the Department of Education to get formal permission to visit the orphanage!

The drive through the city was adventurous and extremely bumpy! The roads in Kaliningrad are in bad shape so we bounced along, swerving around potholes and what seemed to be aimlessly driving in any lane which seemed to be what everyone else was doing. It was similar to a Chicago cab ride but a little slower because we were weaving around potholes. We asked questions about the area and buildings while snapping photos as best we could as we rode in what felt like some sort of carnival ride. There were so many times I wanted to ask them to stop so I could get a photo but we were on an important mission.

We arrived at the Department of Education office and waited in a small hallway for our meeting. I was prompted by people on the internet adoption message boards that many places do not have toilet paper so I packed a few little packages of Kleenex in my backpack. This saved us here! I was so nervous, my mouth was dry, and of course being dehydrated from breakfast wasn’t helping matters. We were taken into the Director’s office where his assistant spoke to us. The Director was out of town but gave her permission to proceed with our meeting which was great we didn’t have a delay. She restated the medical information I had received on the child, which wasn’t much. I asked if they had any other information, they did not, so I formally agreed to go to the orphanage to meet the girl. She was so nice and told us that whenever the Director sends someone to an orphanage, he says the same thing, “go meet your child, take them home and love them.” That was so sweet and brought tears to my eyes, this could be “it”, finally finding my child. So off we went to meet the 22 month old little girl that could potentially be my daughter! After all these years, all these hopes and failures, to say out loud, “my daughter” sounded strange to say and hear but absolutely wonderful.

Off we go for a quick lunch and then the 1 ½ hour drive to the orphanage. They recommended a pizzeria that ended up being very reasonably priced and tasty. Again with the small glasses and no refills! We ordered Coke but noticed that most people were drinking that orange juice. There was a small grocery store a block away where we bought bottled water and of course, chocolate. We noticed they did not have aisles dedicated to soda like the US. They carried Coke, Coke Light (which does NOT taste like Diet Coke) Sprite and orange Fanta. The area was three shelves high and only about four feet long. Not big soda drinkers, the Russians.

A little side story here. I LOVE chocolate and tried it in every country on a 7 country trip through Europe in 2004. I made sure that the chocolate I was sampling was actually made in that respective country. I concluded, based on those countries traveled, that Belgium had the best chocolate to date…..that’s still the case. The Russian chocolate was not that great. I kept the labels of the chocolate bars, created a collage, framed it and it’s hanging in my kitchen. I’ll have to figure out how to get the Russian chocolate label added now.

Standing on the street corner waiting for our driver and translator to pick us up, we observe that all the females up to about age 50 are very thin, wear skirts or straight legged pants and stiletto heels. How they walk on those crumbling streets and sidewalks without breaking an ankle is an amazement to us. It is very busy, lots of people around, but our driver picks us out of this crowd immediately. Uummm, how did he do that, could it be both of our red coats (when everyone else is in black or grey) or do we have a distinct “American look”, other than not being the only two non-size 2 people on the street…..oh to ponder.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kaliningrad Arrival - Finally!

We exit the plane via outside stairs again and find my adoption agency translator immediately. She became known as Natasha #1, because my agency rep was Natasha #2, and our driver was Sasha. (found out later that Natasha #2 and Sasha are brother and sister).

We go to collect our luggage and end up being the last ones there because, you guessed it, one of our bags was lost. Must to her dismay, it was Beth’s food suitcase! My agency people worked diligently with the airport staff but they don’t really have a system for lost luggage so the outcome looked grim. We fell in love with Sasha, the driver. He carried our bags, loaded them into the car and held the car doors open for us. We wanted to adopt him too!

On the 20 minute drive to the hotel, we asked Natasha #1 some questions about things we saw and she gave us some history. She does the adoption translator job when needed and otherwise is a tour guide and teaches people English. It was interesting, they didn’t ask us any questions, weren’t really interested in who we were or what we were about, but if we asked questions, she would willing talk to us. It wasn’t that they weren’t nice, just not interested in us, it’s hard to explain.

We arrive at the boutique hotel that has about 15 rooms, new, cute and nice accommodations for the reasonable price, definitely not what you would get in the US. The desk clerks spoke English so that was a relief. Our room was actually a suite; living room, long hall with full closets, bathroom, large bedroom, refrigerator and flat screen TV. We arrived at 7:30 p.m., got our instructions for the next day and fell into bed.

We were challenged by the electric plug convertor box. We read the instructions about what was to be in HI and what on LO but some things that were to be on LO did not work. So we took a chance and put the curling iron on HI and it worked fine…..that is until I got home and then it quit, guess we burned it up.

I was VERY concerned then about plugging in my laptop so we just did 10 minutes shifts of charging and I am happy to say it is still working after I returned home!

Breakfast was, well, unusual. They gave us a very small glass of orange juice and then coffee or tea. I don’t drink coffee or tea and when I asked for a refill of orange juice I took the waitress of guard, so I guess you don’t do that. We had two slices of cold ham, two slices of some really good soft cheese, two cherry tomatoes, two slices of cucumber. Then they brought us a crepe type of thing that had a strange combination of vegetables inside that we still cannot identify. We also had the Russian version of pancakes that were kind of a thicker doughy crepe. Even though Beth and I are “selective eaters” we did try these last two things but did not care for them. I guess the hotel got the hint because the next morning they asked if we wanted something different. There was no menu, you just got what they had and the only other option was oatmeal….bad texture, not happening. So we stuck with the ham, cheese and got some toast out of them. This has to last us because some days we did not have time for lunch. Can you imagine that? Me missing a meal?!?!?

Saturday, April 24, 2010


After an extremely uncomfortable flight, not much sleep and feeling grungy, we land in the Moscow airport. We had to exit the plane via outside stairs, board a bus and go up stairs in a service entrance into the airport. The airport was under construction so many concessions were being made for normal procedures. We stood in the passport control line for about 15 minutes until we saw some people going rogue and decided to join them. We were in the “foreigners” line and the “citizen” lines were empty. We saw a couple of people tentatively go to those lines and when they waved that it was all clear, airport security would allow us to use those lines, then we jumped on the chance.

We retrieved our luggage, exchanged some money and went to meet our Russian driver, Vitaly. He was nice but a little distant, not warm and welcoming. He did not offer to carry our bags at all, which we were warned about, but it was still odd. Just when you think chivalry is dead, something reminds you that it isn’t and you need to be thankful when it actually does happen to you. Vitaly drove us from the international airport to the domestic airport about 10 minutes away. He helped us get our tickets at the counter and saw us through to the security line.

At this point we were tired and had been lugging our carry-on bags around and decided on this last leg to just check them all. We had 3 ½ hours to wait for our plane, we were miserable and had hit that point of being so tired you’re just kind of in a daze on the borderline of feeling sick. We started to watch another movie on my laptop to pass the time but just didn’t feel like it.

This section of the airport was new and I was taking a few photos. My sister didn’t understand why I wanted photos of the airport but fellow designer understand what compels us to take photos of things that other people don’t see. We were so tired and at this just needed to lay down and sleep. So we found an empty space behind a wall at a gate, spread out our coats on the hard terrazzo floor, wrapped our purses around us and dozed off. When Beth’s cell phone alarm went off, we woke to find quite a few people standing by us at the gate. We would have been embarrassed but figured on one knows us and we were simply too tired to care. Waiting at our gate I saw an older gentlemen with a “man purse”! It looked just like a women’s purse and I couldn’t help but covertly snap a photo.

We boarded the plane for our last 2 hour flight leg and wouldn’t you know it, I get stuck by a bad body odor person again! We dozed off and the lady beside me gives me an elbow jab to my ribs to wake me up for the snack cart. Ok so on one hand that was very kind but her jab was pretty hard. Just caused Beth and I to laugh again, we had to because the food was terrible and of course we were starving. When everyone exited the plane, they do not exit in a polite and orderly manner, like every row goes when it’s their turn. Oh no, whoever gets up first and pushes the hardest, gets off the plane first. I know some friends that would have been very annoyed by this and normally I would have been but was simply numb with exhaustion. We had visions of a nice soft bed in the near future….sigh.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


So I bought a new digital camera at Christmas.  It is my first one and I must say I am not that happy with it.  When outside and sunny, you can't see the screen very well at all.  Then when you look through the viewfinder, the border lines inside are not what the taken photo's border really ends up being. So the composition is difficult to control and the color did not come out correct either.  I am looking to see if there are adjustments that can be made on the camera to correct these issues but have not found any yet. So overall I am not that please with my photos (and most of them were taken from a moving car) but they do give you an idea of what the trip was like.  Please click on the link to the right and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New York Dash and Flight

So we landed at JFK airport in NY for a 2 ½ hour layover. It was lunch time so we hit Chili’s for a sandwich and then meandered through the duty free shops for awhile. It was 40 minutes before the flight left and typically boarding starts 20-30 minutes prior to departure time, so we had plenty of time to make a restroom stop before boarding the plane…..or so we thought.

We are washing our hands and I hear our names paged over the airport as last call or something to that effect. So Beth and I make a dash to the gate, along with several other people, because they wanted to view our passports one more time at the gate before we boarded the plane. So we hustle on, get our stuff crammed overhead, plop in out seats feeling flustered, out of breath and rushed only to look at each other and laugh. Oh yes, this was definitely shaping up to be an eventful trip. Then of course we sit on the plane for 30 minutes before it takes off!

I drew the short straw and had to sit by a man with TERRIBLE body odor for the 9 hour flight! At first I honestly did not know if I could sit there, at this point I was gagging a bit, and was keeping my eye on an empty seat across the aisle in case I could make a dive for it. No such luck, a lady occupied the seats just minutes before we left. Darn those late boarders, giving us poor souls in undesirable seats false hope. So I’m whining about the smell, of course, and say that after a few hours we can switch seats to give me a break but my dear sweet sister wasn’t buying it. My only chance for survival was to fall asleep.

As we were waiting to take off, we noticed a large group of college aged folks sitting around us, and I asked them what there were going to Russia for. There were two separate college groups on mission trips to the orphanages in Russia. What a coincidence and I tell them that I am going over to adopt. So these two charming gals asked a few questions, were very interested, and we chatted for a bit. During the long flight, as we took “standing breaks” in the restroom/food area, we heard of several couples going to Russia to adopt on the flight as well. We didn’t get the opportunity to meet them, but did meet two couples on the way back (that will be in another post).

For me the flight was miserable! I was happy though that I took Beth’s advice and bought one of those neck pillows. I do a lot of traveling for work, but have never seen the need for one of those, but now I love it! I could only nap a couple of hours, my body was sore from sitting in those uncomfortable seats, and I just wanted to stretch out but obviously couldn’t. We watched a movie on my laptop because the movies on the flight were dumb. I just needed to be off that plane, away from the smelly man and be able to lie down flat…..all of which happened soon in a unique location.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Visas, Airline tickets and Packing

So now the rush is on to get the visa applications processed and finalize flights. My agency coordinates the hotels because they get a discounted “adoption rate” but I am responsible to book the flights. Thankfully and with GREAT appreciation, love and thanks, my sister Beth was able to travel with me. I have traveled to several countries in Europe but never needed a visa. To apply for a visa, you have to send in your passport with the application…this made us extremely nervous. So we scrambled around, paying overnight mailing charges every which way, to expedite the visas. They arrived Thursday afternoon and we flew out Saturday morning! Close call in my mind, my blood pressure went down a bit and on to the next thing.

So Beth and I are what I like to call “selective eaters”, meaning we are a bit picky and not real adventurous with new foods. This is to the aggravation of some of my friends, coworkers and a brother-in-law. But I see it as I know what my stomach likes and what it will send right back up. Plus I am in HUGE money-savings mode (as all pre-adoptive parents are) and I was looking for some convenient snacks and food to take to save money and make my stomach happy. If Amy’s stomach is happy, then everyone’s going to be happy.

Beth was telling me she had a suitcase specifically for food and I thought she was kidding…..she wasn’t, at least not entirely. She did have two sweaters in the suitcase but I think she put those there as a decoy to the food that lie beneath :)

I, on the other hand, brought a large suitcase so my macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly were carefully cushioned between my clothes. (yes I had a bag of M&Ms too). We reviewed what we both had so we didn’t double up on things like a blow dryer, curling iron, etc.

So my carry-on (a backpack that was a God’s send…big thank you to message board folks for recommending this) contained my laptop, camera, book, granola bars, water and paperwork. Beth’s carry-on was her “food suitcase.” Funny story this…..her suitcase had to be opened and her peanut butter and jelly was confiscated by the TSA before we even left St. Louis. The TSA agent was a comedian and felt it was necessary to LOUDLY announce other food items in the bag. I was across the aisle, with my back turned, not knowing what was going on until I heard him shout out, “beefaroni!” Yes, I knew at that moment it was my sister. Being funny like she is, she was joking around with the TSA guy and it all ended well, sans her PB&J to her dismay, but never fear, mine was still enroute in my checked bag. So this is how the trip began and promised to be full of interesting situations, especially when Beth and I are together!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Kaliningrad Region Overview

Kaliningrad (Калинингра́дская – written in Russian) is the region I was assigned to and following are some interesting facts and a little history about the area.

Russia’s smallest oblast (region), it is an enclave 200 miles away from the border of Russia proper. This area was formally German territory which was allocated to the Soviet Union in 1945 during World War II (WWII). Located along the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania, the primary and port city is also known as Kaliningrad.

Founded in 1255 and known as Koingsberg, it was the capital of German East Prussia. It was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after Mikhail Kalinin, the formal “leader” of the Soviet Union from 1919 – 1946. Germans living in the region were forced out and replaced with Soviet citizens. The ice-free port of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea was home to the Soviet Baltic fleet during the Cold War.

After the fall of the USSR in 1994, neighboring Lithuania gained their independence cutting Kaliningrad off from Russia. Kaliningrad was supposed to develop in the post-Soviet era into a “Hong Kong of the Baltic” but hasn’t happened. Railroads connect Kaliningrad to Russia through Lithuania and Belarus but food importing is not cost effective so they relay on neighboring European Union-member states for trade. Some people in Moscow still refer to Kaliningrad as Germany, and with their disconnected physical location from Mother Russia, Kaliningrad itself is like an orphan.

Kaliningrad city is home to approximately 400,000 people with nearly one million living on the region of Kaliningrad, of which is approximately one-fifth forested.

Kaliningrad’s industries include: transport railcars, crane plants, car/truck assembly plants, shipbuilding, food processing, manufacturer of electric propulsion systems and fishing. It also has 90%+ of the world’s amber deposits which is mined. Their monetary denomination is the rouble.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Feelings While Waiting

So during the wait, so many thoughts and feelings were swirling in my head.  I was so excited that it all moved so quickly and my dream of becoming a mother was so close.  But then I would flip to, "am I ready for this?"  I had the recommended books on my coffee table and had only read one, Parenting the Adopted Child. It was wonderful and a great resource and I was excited to start the next book, Attachement in Adoption, to glean all of it's knowledge....I got to chapter four before I traveled.
My brother-in-law gave me the Russian Rosetta Stone language package and I had used it three times.  Let me just say that Russian is a very difficult language to learn!  They have a Cyrllic alphabet which are basically shapes and symbols that are letters to them, very difficult. So I paused on the language (thinking I had plenty of time to learn it) and focused on the books.  But time ran out.

So this is where I was very anxious about it all.  I hadn't read all the books, couldn't speak a word of Russian yet, hadn't evaluated any daycares yet and most of all, didn't have the vacation time and money saved up that I planned that I would have.  But above all, I was so very happy and nervous, I worried the little girl wouldn't like me.  Then entered the fear that I'm sure most parents have.  I pray I am a good parent and make the right decisions, am able to teach her what she needs to know, am able to be strong if she gets seriously ill, etc.  I consider myself a strong person in most aspects but am old enough to know my weaknesses.  With that I feel very blessed to have the loving and supportive family and friends that I do.  One friend in particular I have had since we were in kindergarten and we've managed to stay in touch and see each other as often as we can. 

So as I prepare to travel, I have a constant thought that keeps running around in my head, making me feel selfish and guilty, keeping me awake at night.  I want a healthy child for myself but I know there are many many children in the world that are not healthy but need and deserve a loving family. If I had the resources and constant assistance, I would take a special needs child, but in my current position I am not able to.  At times I think that is just an excuse I make but then I review my life and know that I cannot give a special needs child everything they require when someone else will be able to.  For those children I pray they find their "forever families" soon.  These special needs children remind me of the Left Sided Angel sculpture I have on my blog.  Not perfect but ready for flight and hopeful.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wait

So I was accepted by the agency in late May 2009.  Did nothing in June, studied for a certification for work. July was the paperwork push and social worker visite for the home study.  Got ALL my paperwork submitted by mid-August (usually takes people 3-4 months to get it all togther...I was excited).  But I had to wait on my Illinois birth certificate copies...they took 7 weeks to get!  So all paperwork was in to the agency by mid-Sept., they translated it into Russia, sent if off and my official "posting date" was Oct. 15th.

From the posting date, the wait to be assigned to a region was supposed to be 7-8 months.  Well two months later, Dec. 2009, I was assigned to the Kaliningrad region!  Very excited because now it seemed REAL!  Now the wait was supposed to be 12 months but low and behold I get a call on March 11th that they have a referral for me!!!!  I was literally shaking and did not know what to say. Yes I know that's a shock, me not knowing what to say :)

I get all the details that Thurs. and was told I had 2 weeks to decide if I wanted to travel to see this referral.  It was a little 22 month old girl, which was also a shock because in Russian adoptions there are more boys, 70% more, so I was expecting a boy.  I show the girl's medical information to a local St. Louis doctor who specializes in international adoptions and she said all looked good from what information they gave me.  Between the time I met the doctor, I didn't sleep much and was panicking a little.  I thought I had at least a year wait and had only read one recommended book on adoption and was just starting the CDs to learn some basic Russian.

So I called my agency that Tues. March 16th to tell them I was accepting to travel and my coordinator said, "great, because they want you to travel next weekend."  Speechless again and the panic came back. So I make alot of calls to family and friends telling them the good news and started making lists and lists and lists of what I needed for the trip.  I was going to Russia to meet my little girl!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork!

Adoption involves a TON of papework!  I had to provide police background check, FBI fingerprints, tax return, house value, medical report to name a few.  There is also the home study where a social worker asks alot, and I mean ALOT of questions about you, your family, background, upbringing, etc.  People freak out about the paperwork, I just treated it like a checklist. For example:
Q: Growing up, what was your relationship like with your parents?
A: They were the boss, I wasn't.  Check.
Q: What is your relationship like now with your parents?
A: They didn't move without telling me or change the locks, so I'd say good. Check.
Q: What was your relationship like with your siblings growing up?
A: All six of us are still alive, so I'd say good.  Check.

On the questions went, in a personal interview, along with inspecting your house to make sure you don't live in a hovel.  Letters of reference went well (those payoffs didn't cost me too much - LOL) and sanity background...check!  Off the papers went to Russia to be translated, I was approved and the wait began.

I was told the wait would be around 15-18 months.....that's what I was told.......

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Beginning

What agency, which country?  Questions that had me researching for several months.  I attended my first adoption informational session with Children's Hope International in St. Louis.  I was also talking with another agency based on Oregon, both allowed adoptions in Bulgaria and Russia for singles...that was me.  I was torn between the two agencies so I completed the pre-registration for both ( it was free!) and decided whoever had the best news would be the one I would select.  The second agency said they no longer represented Russia but I could still apply to Bulgaria but they may or may not have issues with my past open heart surgery and I would just have to take a leap of faith.  At this point I saw it more as being pushed into a deep black hole of losing alot of money.

A small deviation here.  I had open heart surgery for a surprise heart defect but am fine now, no medications needed, not restrictions on activites or length of life all of which my doctor's report confirms.

Back to your regularly scheduled post.  So I had to decide whether I wanted to spend the several thousand dollars and take the chance they might reject me.  The day I received this news, I received a flyer in the mail for another informational session with Children's Hope, featuring a family that just returned from Russia.  I took that as a sign that I should go with CHI and Russia. so off to the informational session I went.  Yes I believe that God gives us little signs to help us out, but I do not happen to be a person that catches on to them very fast at times :)

I talked to the family in depth and so I signed with CHI and my adventure into Russian adoption began: excited, anxious and hopeful.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I loved to write when I was in high school, and yes, that was a long time ago.  We will see how my creative skills are now, but I am certain English teachers afar will cringe.  I forge on at the urging of friends and colleagues. This blog will be a journal of my story in the world of adoption from Russia.  I will be a single parent and will be fulfilling a dream....after I overcome the obstacles that have been set in my path recently.I will post as often as I can and any comments are welcome, just please be kind :)
~ A