Sunday, August 3, 2008


Yes, we’ve made it home. Sorry to leave you hanging like that, we really did intend to post right away, but it just didn’t pan out that way.

Our adventures certainly continued as we made our final journey home. You may or may not have heard that some of the Lufthansa employees went on strike. Guess which airline we were flying? Good guess! Guess which international flight was the only one cancelled? Right again! So here’s what happened… We had heard that there was a strike before we left Almaty, but when we checked the flight status online, all of our flights were still a go. However, when we got to the airport, we learned that our flight from Frankfurt to Calgary was cancelled. After quite a long time, the supervisor was able to get us booked on an Air Canada flight instead, but wasn’t able to give us a seat assignment and said we would have to do that once we were in Frankfurt. No problem, so long as we’re on the flight, seat assignment is minor. Also, they were unable to rebook our flight from Calgary to Saskatoon, but we could also do that once in Frankfurt.

Or so we thought. The impact of the strike was quite evident as we arrived in Frankfurt. First, we were given an apron position on landing, which means that rather than pulling right up to the terminal, you are shuttled from the plane to the terminal in a big bus. Then, once we did arrive at the terminal, we found ourselves amid a throng of fellow Lufthansa passengers who were all trying to figure out if their flight was still good, and if not, trying to make other arrangements.

We checked in with the Lufthansa service desk, which then told us we needed to talk to Air Canada instead. So, we waited in line once again. We were given boarding passes for the flight, but again were told that we couldn’t get our seat assignment until we were at the gate. Our boarding passes said “gated” and we told that meant that we were on the flight and not on standby. But again, no luck getting our flight to Saskatoon figured out. So, we heaved a sigh of relief that at least we would get back to Canada and set out to keep ourselves busy for the next six or so hours.

In the meantime, we thought we would send a quick email and blog to let everyone know back home what was happening. However that was exactly the time that our laptop battery decided that it had reached the end of its useable life. It partially powered up and then immediately shut down, which apparently caused a number of problems that continued when we got home, including not being able to connect to the Internet. No Internet, no blog.

Anyway, since we had the time, we thought we would head early to our gate to try to get our seat assignment and arrange flights from Calgary to Saskatoon. At the gate we were informed that we were on standby and wouldn’t know if we were actually on the flight until minutes before departure. Obviously this caused us some significant stress. Add to that the fact that the area we had to wait in was very crowded and very, very warm. Rod stayed in line and dealt with the ticket situation while Tammy cruised the airport trying to extend the ‘happy baby warranty’ as much as possible. Just before departure, we finally got seats and were on our way to Calgary. Whew!

Once at Calgary, we needed to make arrangements for our final flight, but we weren’t too terribly worried because at least we were back in Canada and the worst case scenario meant that we abandon flying and rent a car to get home. Not that after 36 hours of travel were we in any shape to drive, but we knew that we would be able to successfully book a hotel room, get some rest and head home in the morning with little trouble. But, we did manage to get two seats on the second flight to Saskatoon and decided that we would get home quickest that way, so we set in for another wait before our flight.

Finally, just before midnight on the 30th, we touched down in Saskatoon and were met by many of our family and friends at the airport, only 8 hours later than originally planned. All in all things worked out really well, considering what could have potentially happened.

So, how was Max through all this? Amazing! We really did prepare ourselves for the worst and had already rehearsed our apology for our fellow passengers who would have to endure endless hours of misery on our account. But, we ended up with bulkhead seats from Almaty to Frankfurt and so Max was able to stretch out and sleep in a bassinet for almost the entire flight. He only woke up long enough for us to feed him some breakfast and then it was time to prepare for landing. He stayed awake the whole time in Frankfurt. (Really, who could sleep with all the comings and goings there?) He also slept for about 6 of the 10 hours on the flight to Calgary and when he was awake, he was either eating or playing. In Calgary he got a lot of time to stretch his legs and burn some of his energy before our flight. He was pretty active on the last flight, but it was only 45 minutes, so it wasn’t too hard to keep him entertained.

And, what have we been up to since then? For the most part we’ve been getting ourselves readjusted to being at home, and enjoying seeing Max in his new home. We had prepared ourselves for many days of struggling to get his clock turned upside down, but really he seems to have had the easiest time out of all of us. We’ve only been home three and a half days and already by the second day he was right back to his routine. He’s only had a couple of early, early mornings and for one of those he went back to sleep in less than an hour, so we’ve been really fortunate to be able to get some decent rest already. Now we’re just needing to finish unpacking and get things put away. As you know, Max is really good at unpacking, but he’s not too keen yet on putting things away. Well, we can’t really blame him, he’s only been here three days, so he doesn’t yet know where everything goes!

Helping Mom and Dad sort through 10 weeks of mail.

Everybody enjoying Max’s high chair. (including Max's new best buddy Bear)

Getting ready for camping or an evening sit around the fire.

Enjoying the reclining feature of his new carseat.

We’re not sure yet which direction our blog will go from here. For now, we’re going to focus on getting settled and into a routine. We may post a blog here and there, but we aren’t sure yet. We’ll have to see how things go. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or just want to find out what’s new. It has been a pleasure to have you all along on our adventure. We hope you have enjoyed it along with us.
Take Care and Best Wishes

Tuesday, July 29, 2008



Well, here we are folks, all our documents are done, our bags are packed and we are just waiting those last few hours before we are picked up to go to the airport.

It’s hard to believe we’re leaving. We’ve developed a whole new realm of “normal” for ourselves. As in, it’s normal to not really know what you’ve ordered for supper and it’s normal to have to stand for minutes at a street sign to sound out the letters so you have a clue where you’ve gotten yourself. It’s also normal to look ten times before crossing the street and have much too close of an understanding of how gophers in Saskatchewan must feel.

And, it’s normal to be full time parents with nothing else to do all day but make sure our little guy is happy, healthy and knows just how much he is loved and just how privileged we feel to be given the opportunity to be his parents.

So, what will we miss? Well, lots and probably most of it we won’t even realize for many more days to come. But, at the top of our list:

*The people at the baby house, both the staff and all of the wonderful other adoptive families we have met and shared this experience with. Although we are very much looking forward to seeing our families again, we also feel that we are leaving some new family behind as they continue their adventure in other directions.

*The wonderful coordinators and translators that we have worked with here that have helped make our dreams come true. They do not take enough credit for all of their hard work and dedication.

*The scenery, especially the moon peeking over the mountains and shining on the river across the street from our apartment in Ust.

*Learning about another country and culture first hand. Seeing how other people really live, not how their lives are portrayed in a distilled book or internet version. And yes, to some degree, the language. Although it has been trying at times, to say the least, it has also given us a definite sense of accomplishment to know that we could survive on our own and could learn at least a tiny bit of another language.

*The yogurt. ‘Nuff said. (and butter, and full sugar soda - all of the things we generally don't indulge in at home.)

Anyway, our goal is to get at least a couple of hours rest before we are picked up for the airport, so we’d best sign off and do our best to accomplish this feat.

Catch you on the flip side!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

So Much to Do, So Little Time!

That sums up our experience in Almaty. Being the largest city in Kazakhstan and the former capital city of Kazakhstan, Almaty is abundant with things to do and see. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the predicament of deciding what to see and what we are close enough to see by walking since we haven’t really all that much time here. Something that also weighs in on our decision is the direction of the mountains. Since we are on the south side of the city, going is much easier than returning because the city is built on quite a slope, so it’s downhill all the way there, but uphill all the way back. And by uphill we don’t just mean a little bout here or there, it’s a steep uphill the whole way. On one block we walked yesterday we were able to calculate that the grade rose about 6 feet over the course of the block. The shopping mall across from us has a full story difference from one side to the other. That is, when you walk in the side closest to us, you are at street level but if you depart from the other side, you must go down one level to be at street level again. Those of you who spent considerable time here in Almaty must have legs of steel by now!

However, our adventurous spirits did take us on a bit of a walking tour the past two days. The first day we scouted out the locations nearest to us until we got our bearings and yesterday we ventured a little farther. As it turns out, we are about two blocks from the Presidential Residence and the Central Museum (pictured below), which we will set out to see later today.

Yesterday we ventured to Kok-Tobe, which is a beautiful park up the mountain that you access by taking a cable car. From atop Kok-Tobe you can look over the entire city, (well the part that isn’t covered up by smog, anyway). There is a bit of a zoo, some restaurants, a children’s play area along with numerous water features and souvenir stands. It was definitely beautiful and very peaceful there, and we can see why it is a popular destination. Here are a couple of pictures from atop Kok-Tobe. The views of the city appear blurry, but that is actually smog, not a camera malfunction.
Nope, we didn’t get as far as Paris, this is the French Embassy here in Almaty!

On Friday, we ventured south of our apartment to scout out an area that has a lot of new developments. There are a number of skyscrapers being built. We also came across this beautiful building, which isn't on our map, so we aren't exactly certain what it might be. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a great picture of it because it is surrounded by trees and buildings that block the view, but it is definitely beautiful nonetheless. From the side you can get a feel for the steepness of the city.

Max enjoying the playground on one of our last days in Ust.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We’ve Gone Prime Time!

Okay folks, so here’s a crazy story…we’re in Almaty!

Yeah, we know we were supposed to get here eventually, but we originally had our flight booked for tomorrow, not today. So, here’s what happened…

Minutes before noon today we were lounging around waiting for Max to get up from his nap when all of a sudden the phone rang and our coordinator told Rod that she was going to be at our apartment in 5 minutes to pick him up because we needed to fly to Almaty today and we needed to change our tickets. Oh, and could we be packed and ready to leave for the airport in an hour so we can catch our 3pm flight!

No, we’re not kidding.

So picture it, Rod running out the door, somewhat clothed, and Tammy trying to get some lunch into her son that just woke up as she’s doing the mad dash packing race. Picture a hot dog eating contest, but instead of the contestants sitting at a table with a big bib on, they’re rushing around 600 sqft grabbing and smashing stuff into suitcases and duffle bags. AND, one charming and well rested little boy is trying to help by chasing his frantic mother around the apartment and unpacking the suitcases as fast as she can pack them!

Rod arrived just in time to see both of us near complete meltdown and felt that the best solution was to join in the ramming and cramming. Our poor driver, who thought he would come up and grab whichever suitcases were ready, stepped into a complete mad house. The ear to ear grin on his face said it all. We’re really glad he kept the quiet part quiet because one peep out of him may have ended his lovely life.

Now, if you think our day was stressful, just imagine our friend DW who was in the same predicament as us, but didn’t get the call until just after 1pm and in addition to all that we had to do, also had to pick his son up from the baby house (which is on the very opposite end of town as the airport – couldn’t get any farther apart).

So, you’ve heard us talk about adoption being like the movies Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation. Now, as we’ve said, we’ve gone to prime time and we now have The Amazing Race – Baby on Board. These couples on TV have nothing on us. We can do all that, carry a toddler, and somehow change a diaper or two! Oh, and we weren’t packed nearly as light as those lucky contestants.

Oh, and how did Sir Max handle the whole episode? Well, besides a few tears during the packing frenzy, he was amazing. Once we got all our stuff and ourselves crammed into the car, he was totally a trooper. He didn’t fuss whatsoever until the last couple of minutes before we finally got to the apartment here. Now that’s an amazing feat in itself considering the poor guy barely got to eat dinner, was witness to the packing disaster, missed his afternoon nap and didn’t get to eat supper until 7pm (don’t worry, we packed him full of cheerios and biscuits on the plane, so he won’t starve before tomorrow.)

We had planned to post a picture of Max getting ready to leave Ust and take his first plane ride, but for one, we don’t know where we crammed the camera and two, we had to make a choice – take a picture of the plane he would ride on or get on the plane, we didn’t have time for both.
Anyway, so that was our day. How’s things on your side of the world?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Almaty, Here We Come!

As promised, we said we would let you know what we know, which most days doesn’t add up to much, but here’s what we know today:

We will fly to Almaty this Friday afternoon. We still haven’t heard where we are staying, but are confident that there is a place that will be ready for us. We won’t know for certain if Max’s visa will arrive in time for our flight until Monday or Tuesday, so you will all have to continue to be patient along with us. Believe us, we do understand just how hard that is. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Other than that, we’re just riding the days out here. We now realize that if you have forgotten what we look like, we will be the only ones wearing sweaters in August back home. After a month of temperatures in the mid 30’s outside and low 30’s in our apartment, what we consider cool weather has increased considerably. The other morning we were discussing how we maybe shouldn’t have left the windows open and fan on overnight because it was rather chilly in the apartment. We then noticed that the thermometer in our alarm clock sat at 26 degrees! Brrrrrrrr……

As always, Max is doing wonderfully. He continues to be a very happy little boy that we can’t wait for you all to meet. We’ve discovered that he is rather fond of walks in his stroller. This afternoon Rod pulled it out from the balcony for us to walk down for some groceries and Max’s reaction could be likened to Christmas and Birthday all in one. You would have thought we had just presented him with the biggest gift ever! He was laughing, kicking, flapping his arms, screaming, and crawling around like a mad man. I guess he needs his daily outings as much as we do. We are very happy that he is willing to spend some time in his stroller because it will make navigating airports that much easier and we don’t have to worry as much about him when we are fumbling around for passports and paperwork. Of course there is the little glitch of preferring to be in motion, but he’s gotten much better at sitting patiently for a couple of minutes, especially if you sneak him a cookie!

We’ve also completely lost our desire to cook and so we are using our last few days here to visit all of our favourite restaurants one last time. Tonight was a visit to a restaurant that is nicknamed “The Pancake House”. It has another name that we can never spell, but it has excellent food and an English menu. The Beef Carmen is fantastic, as are the Russian borsht and the ham and cheese crepes. Tomorrow we will either head for the restaurant below the Pancake House (take the doorway on the right instead of the left) which is also highly recommended and is a more traditional sit-down restaurant or the Pizza Bluez by the traffic circle. We had originally thought that it would be difficult to take Max to a restaurant for a meal, but he does really well. Maybe it’s all the action and people coming and going, but he doesn’t fuss (touch wood) and eats really well, plus it is much easier to find something for him to eat when he has a bit of variety from both of our plates.

Well, we’ve got a few things we want to get done yet tonight, now that Max is asleep, so we’ll sign off for now and either post an update on Thursday or possibly not until Almaty, if we find somewhere to access the Internet.

Take Care

Monday, July 21, 2008

Here's the Plan, Stan

Yes, Max’s passport did arrive, so as far as we know, everything is still going according to schedule. Tomorrow morning we will go to purchase our tickets to fly to Almaty on either Thursday or Friday afternoon of this week. As it turns out, the coordinators are able to apply for Max’s visa on our behalf (we love these people) and so we will meet up with the remainder of his paperwork in Almaty, on time for us to fly home on the 30th.

This morning we thought it might be a good idea to do a little more packing since we didn’t know exactly how much noticed we’d get about departing for Almaty. We knew it was going to take us a bit to get everything perfectly arranged (crammed in) because we replaced our depleted supplies with new purchases, so we didn’t have as much extra room as we hoped. Plus, our goal was to go down at least by one piece of luggage so we packed pretty much everything and it appears that we will be living out of suitcases for the next few days.

As always, we’ll let you know what we know as soon as we know it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Random Thoughts

As the days wear on we can honestly say that NOTHING seems new or noteworthy, so finding things to blog about can be a bit of a challenge at times. However, we know that at the very least reading a new blog lets you all know that we are alive and well, so here are some random thoughts that have passed through our minds the past eight weeks or so.

When we first arrived here in Ust our first apartment was only temporary and so we tried to avoid unpacking a lot or accumulating anything extra before we switched to our current location. On top of that, we were dead tired and completely disoriented in our surroundings. The first thing we did after our visit to the baby house on the first day was make a stop at Arzhan, which is similar to Costco to pick up some food and supplies. Of all the things we had on our minds, what we might eat for the next few days or weeks never crossed our minds, so when we arrived at the store, we went completely blank. In addition, we had no idea what we would find, and with our driver’s little car, we didn’t want to buy too much stuff so that both families would have room. One of the first things we laid eyes on was a bulk package of spaghetti (about 2kg). Perfect! Simple, versatile, easy to cook and store. We knew we’d be able to work with that and at the very least could have just plain ol’ spaghetti with butter.

So now it’s eight weeks later and we are still working on that same package of spaghetti! We are starting to feel that in addition to the movie Groundhog Day we can add segments from Forrest Gump as well when Forrest’s friend and business partner, Bubba, is telling Forrest about all the things you can do with shrimp. “You can bake it, broil it, fry it, make it with sauce, …”

Things That Don’t Translate Well
We expected the language thing to pose a few challenges along the way, but we are quite surprised by the two things that seem to be the most difficult to translate.
“Right of Way” – as in the pedestrian has the right of way. Here, it seems to have been interpreted as “the pedestrian had best move right out of the way if they wish to make it to their destination in one piece.” Now that we are moving about the city with a stroller, we have noticed people are more willing to stop to let you cross the street, but we are actually finding that even more tricky because with multi lane traffic you can’t assume that just because the first car stopped that the next car will catch on so you sometimes find yourself half way across the street peeking around a bus for oncoming traffic and the bus driver is getting a little impatient because he doesn’t want to fall behind schedule and he doesn’t know what you are stopping for.

Which leads me to another thought about strollers. I totally understand why you push them, but doesn’t it seem just a little strange that when we head out in the world with the children that we are trying our hardest to protect and nurture that we make them go first into whatever awaits us? Almost sounds like those medieval taste-testers that were forced to taste the king’s food to make sure it wasn’t poisonous. Okay kid, you go first, and if nothing bad happens, I’ll follow….

“Poop” – before we became parents we noticed that other parents spent a lot of time talking about poop. We didn’t know that so much could be said about poop. So when it came time to find out about how our little guy has been raised before we assume his care we felt obligated to find out about poop. We gave our translator a list of questions about his schedule, diet, sleep habits, etc. to ask the caregivers while we were having our visit. Now, not wanting to sound crude, we wrote “How often does he have a bowel movement?” Now, to some of you, that may seem like a really absurd question. But the whole time we had our visits, Max only had one soiled diaper, so we were wondering if he was one of those people who just didn’t need daily movements. (I know, too much info) And, knowing that we were about to completely throw his little system for a loop, we thought we should know if any of the changes we made were affecting his digestive system.

Anyway, we handed the translator our list and went about our merry way so we could enjoy our time with Max. A little while later, she returned and said she got information about most of our questions, but there were a few she needed to ask us about. Sure enough, the poop question was one of them! She said, “What is a bowel movement?” Now of course our first reaction was to go completely blank. It totally threw us for a loop that this would be one of the things we might have to do charades for. I even looked it up in our Russian/English phrasebook. No poop. You wouldn’t believe how long it took for us to try to find a tactful and not too disgusting way to explain what we were wondering. Her first reaction was one of, “He poops when he poops, you can’t set a clock to it, you just deal with it when it happens.” But, finally we were able to explain why we wanted to know and she seemed satisfied that we weren’t off our rockers. (Note to self – just because someone says they speak English (Russian, French, etc.) does not necessarily mean they understand it!)

Russian Music Videos
In addition to our one and a half English television stations (CNN and a sports channel that is sometimes English and sometimes Russian) we have about 40 Russian stations that we surf through once in a while to see if there is anything we can watch, even if we can’t listen to it. Funniest Animals is one of our favourites because it is actually just as funny, if not better, without the annoying commentary. Sometimes we can catch a music video channel that plays a lot of music from North America (the popular music here is about 50% North American and 50% other) so when we can we tune in to it for some variety. We’ve noticed that a lot of the Russian music videos that we’ve seen look like they are right out of the 80’s. Very low budget, so they end up looking a lot like “Mickey” by Toni Basil (as in, “Oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey, hey Mickey!”) or some of the early Cindi Lauper or Madonna videos. Nostalgic yes, but not necessarily good.

Dish Racks
Now here’s a great idea. In the cupboard above our sink is a built in drying rack for dishes. The dishes can drip dry right into the sink and you don’t have to go back to them to put them away because the dish rack doubles as cupboard space. The only downside for our North American lifestyles is that as far as we know, most people like to situate their sinks by a window and so to have a built in dish rack you would have to sacrifice your view. However here, where dish towels seem to have absolutely no absorbing qualities whatsoever, we love the built in dish rack.

Another interesting thing we’ve noticed here is that there doesn’t seem to be any zoning bylaws. We originally thought that the plan right from the start was to build the stores along the street and the living areas above them. As time passed and we saw a few new stores being established, we realized that most buildings were once completely living spaces, but as times got better, if one wanted to start a store of their own, all they had to do was purchase a ground floor suite or two which they could renovate into a store. As time passed, more and more people did this, which has lead to the street level shopping and apartments above.

So, that’s all for the random thoughts from our little corner of the world. You never know, we may come up with more, we may not. Here’s hoping your little corner of the world is happy, healthy and looking forward to a terrific day!