Monday, March 30, 2009

Better than Paper Dolls

I have to confess that I am thoroughly enjoying dressing a little girl. Boy outfits are fun, don't get me wrong, but it's a blast to have a daughter to dress up! Yes, I do find that most of the outfits I choose for her have a definite Punky Brewster flair... I think I watched too much Pipi Longstocking as a child.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ode to the Schi Devils

In exactly one week, I embark upon a new decade of adventure and joie de vivre - I turn 30! I know, you're all thinking, "Wow, you've packed a lot of fun into those first 30 years and you look so young and gorgeous!" It's true, they've been a fabulous first three decades.

In celebration of this auspicious occasion, I got a slightly early birthday present from Steve - new skis!!! And they are simply amazing (second only in amazingness to the man who purchased them). We went up to Sundance Saturday to use up the last buddy passes and try them out and it was sheer joy. The crud, the groom, the firm, the Schi Devils tackled it all with grace. And they look pretty kick-ass with my jacket, too. Sam says that the design on the skis looks Kazakh. You gotta admit, there aren't too many 8-year-olds who would come up with that.

Here's a link to the specs, because I know you're all dying to know all about my new skis: Steve got the 167s, which are perfect even though a little piece of me still misses those 195s I skied on in high school. Oh, and new bindings, too - the Bombshell from 22 Designs. I tell you, I was skiing in style yesterday.

And, of course, I had to break in the new skis on Jamie's. You can't live in Utah and be named Jamie and try out your brand new skis at Sundance and not take the first run on Jamie's. Sorry, I was skiing solo (we can't both leave Sash yet) so there aren't any photos of my first turns, but here's the view from the top of the run. I can hear your sighs from here - yes, this is one amazing place.

Sam and I got to make a couple of runs together, which we both enjoyed. He showed me his favorite spots and landmarks (the elf's tree, Grandma, Grampa, and Silly trees, the cool cut through, etc) and was kind enough to wait patiently for me as I had to adjust my bindings a few times (new equipment, you just have to fiddle with it), which I definitely appreciated. He's one quality kid.

Sam usually only does a couple of runs before heading in to hang out in the Children's Yurt or the cafeteria, but yesterday he did so many runs that he lost track of the total! This actually caused a bit of a panic because Steve and I couldn't find him for so long - we never thought that he would still be on the snow after two hours! That's the tricky thing about free range children... they're hard to find when they're out on the range. Of course, Sam was safe and sound and happy as a clam when we found him. Ben's emphatic, "Where were you? We've been looking everywhere for you!" was met with the most obvious of answers: "On the mountain!"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

130-year-old Woman?

My dad recently forwarded me an article about a woman who claims to be 130 years old and lives in Karaganda, Kazakhstan! Her age was discovered during the Kazakhstan census that actually took place while we were in-country.

Apparently she doesn't have enough documentation to get into the Guiness book, but it's an interesting article nonetheless. Dad said that the longevity probably comes from eating all of that horse meat :)

Here's the article - enjoy!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sasha Blooms

It has been simply amazing watching Sasha unfold and blossom over the past days and weeks. Steve and I were watching our videos of our first minutes together way back nine weeks ago (it seems like a lifetime ago!) and I just couldn't believe how reserved and shy our little one was. I guess she's still that way around folks she doesn't know, but there isn't a bit of bashfulness about her at home!

We are so thrilled with how well Sasha is adjusting to our home and family. She really seems to understand that we are special people, different than anybody else in her life. We've been enforcing the typical adoption bonding rules - nobody but a member of our family gets to hold, feed, or comfort Sasha (basically, Mommy and Daddy are the only ones who do Mommy and Daddy-type things) and we haven't allowed anybody else to enter our home. This has made for some interesting logistics challenges as we usher a babysitter into the front door for Sam and Ben while bringing Sasha out of the side door but it's all worked out well so far. The grandparents come to visit in May/June, so the visitation ban will only stay in place for a couple of months, but we just want to give Sasha every chance to get the hang of being a part of a family and create the unique parent-child bond.

The sign language continues to go super well and Sasha just loves the fact that her words are powerful and she can actually request and get what she wants! The two current favorite words are "banana" (first photo) and "milk" (second photo). You should see her light up when she signs one and we respond by saying and signing the word and then go get her what she's asking for. Toddlers rock!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

At least we know...

You know you don't blend in Utah when his hair is longer than hers. Hmmm... it may be time for a trim, dear.

Today was my first day back at work. I know, we've been home less than a week, but income is a good thing and after 9 1/2 weeks off it really did feel good to get back to work. The commute was long, but that's because it was snowing - didn't somebody tell the weatherman that it's almost April? I think we brought Siberia home with us! And the day was long... I wish I could blame it on jetlag but I think it had more to do with not being used to a full workday than the time difference.

As usual, I think that the separation was harder on Mommy than anybody else. It makes me even more grateful for the time we've spent together over the past weeks. Papa did a wonderful job holding down the fort (as always) and everybody was safe and happy when I got home... although Sasha's hair was covered in Mountain Dew (no, I did not ask for the story behind that one). It's such a blessing to know that I'm leaving my kiddos with the best caregiver in the whole wide world (even if his hair is a little scruffy)!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Now I Know I'm Home

Today we introduced Sasha to the Sundance Nordic Center! Snow is definitely in our little gal's bloodline and she did wonderfully even as Mommy and Daddy got a bit frustrated with the sticky snow. I mean, you don't glide much when you're towing kiddos, and having a few inches of snow stuck to the bottom of your skis sure doesn't help! Oh well, I guess that's just the price of spring XC and we'll put up with it for a beautiful morning outside with our kids!

A favorite place with favorite people
We did have a slight incident... but this totally wasn't Steve's fault - he was navigating around a fallen tree. In Steve's words, "Oh, that explains why they felt so light!"
Don't worry, our little trooper's spirits couldn't be dampened by a little toss from the sled! Ok, that's not true, she wined the whole way back, but a few Skittles fixed her right up.

Ben's Breakfast Order

As he pulls my sugar tongs from the silverware drawer, I hear, "Mom, for breakfast may I please have nacho cheese, melted on a plate, separated into glops, and eaten with tongs?"

Well, how can you say no to a delicious, nutritious breakfast like that? Fortunately, I had heard about this breakfast from the moms and knew that it involved microwaved cheddar cheese. Ben said that my cheddar cheese glops tasted as good as Grammy's - high praise indeed!

And Ben can now get the mail on his own, with the help of some creative step-stooling

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On the Charts!

Today was Sasha's first appointment with our pediatrician and I am proud to report that our little one is on the charts! Sasha is 23 1/2 pounds, putting her in the 16th percentile for weight, and 31 1/2 inches tall for the 8th percentile in height! It's amazing to think of the growth she's experienced over the last couple of months - in October she only weighed 16 pounds! Good love, solid food, and lots of prayer sure has made a world of difference to our baby girl.

At this rate, I may not be able to use Sasha's favorite mode of transportation (the laundry basket) for much longer! Our pediatrician couldn't believe how well Sasha is doing. In fact, she walked in the room and looked at us and had to check her chart twice - she thought that she had come into the wrong exam room because Sasha is so awesomely chunky!

And this appointment went so much better than our clinic visit in Kaz. No tears (except for the shots), although Sasha was definitely appropriately wary and wasn't about to be let out of my arms. The doctor said that everything's looking good and Sasha is definitely thriving with us, so tomorrow we'll contact Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake and start working on closing that palate!

Monday, March 23, 2009

First Outings

We are doing so well! Honestly, I am just overwhelmed by how smooth and fun and simply joy-filled our transition to a family of five has been. Sasha seems to be loving her home, we're all adjusting well to the time difference, and right now we're just enjoying a family love-fest. These are the moments to treasure!

Sash is sleeping really well in her own bed. We've had a couple of fussies in the middle of the night, but certainly nothing to complain about. She is such a trooper!

As you can see by these two photos, Sasha's love of ducks has continued. Ben got her two rubber duckies before we left, a red one and a white one. They are clearly her favorites (and that's saying a lot because we've accumulated quite a few rubber duckies over the years) and accompany Sasha pretty much everywhere - I pity the parent who tries to put Sasha on the potty without one or more duckies in her hands!

We had our first playdate at the park on Saturday and it was sheer joy seeing all of our friends again! Have I mentioned lately how blessed our family is to have such amazing friends? It was bliss to feel the sun on our faces, enjoy the warm breeze, and bask in the company of the folks I hadn't seen in 8 1/2 weeks!

Sasha loved the park as well and did very well with her first exposures to both grass and wood chips. Both had to be pulled up and sprinkled over her tights, which I believe is a universal among toddlers. Ben and Sam did an awesome job showing their sister around the park, I am constantly touched by their tenderness toward their sister.And church yesterday was amazing. I just kept tearing up through the whole service, so very grateful to be back with the congregation that we love so dearly. We introduced Sasha to around 40,000 people and she was very brave in the face of all of their oohs and aahs. She just snuggled into my chest for most of it (remember, our little one is a bit shy at first), but she did give a few flirty smiles to her admirers. She was just perfect - clearly looking to us for security and comfort and secure enough not to freak out. And she even made it quietly through the whole service with the help of a few graham crackers! We'll take her to the nursery eventually, but until we feel very secure in our bond we'll keep her with us for the service. I just hope they all go as easily as her first!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 1 - The real adventure begins

Our 60 days in Kazakhstan were tremendous, but the truth is that those two months were really just the prelude. The real adventure began yesterday, our first day at home! Now we get down to the business of being a family, of assimilating all of the parts of our lives (church, school, work, skiing, camping, and just hanging out) into the tapestry that is the Morningstar Family of Five.

Our first day was roughly 10,000 times better than I thought it would be. Sasha slept 13 hours straight and didn't wake up until 9 am - she's the least jetlagged of us all! The rest of us managed to get in a decent night's sleep as well, with the exception of Sam who woke up at 3 and didn't go back to sleep. He's normally our early riser, but that's taking it a bit too far!

Sam went to school in the morning (it was only a half day, so we're not being too mean) and had a lot of fun showing his classmates some of our souvenirs from Kaz. Then we all went to lunch at Chick-Fil-A (the family favorite!), had a quiet evening at home eating from our fabulously stocked cupboards, and nobody fell asleep until after 7 pm. We'll have that jetlag licked in no time.

Sasha is adjusting so well to life in Utah. The kid is simply amazing. She's learned to navigate the stairs pretty well on her hands and knees and is clearly already showing an interest in the Xbox, proving one more time that she's a Morningstar through and through. We've managed to find lots of stuff that she likes to eat - oatmeal, soup, yogurt, and bananas are the current favorites. And she loves sitting in her booster seat and feeding herself. It's so nice to be home where we can let her explore and enjoy her environment!

Sash and Nez are adjusting to each other. For the first few hours Sash was simply terrified of Nesbitt, which makes sense since Nesbitt outweighs her by 60 pounds and she's never seen a dog before in person. But Sasha is starting to understand that Nez is her friend and she even gave her some nice pets this morning! Of course, Nesbitt is happy to have a new person who will throw her food from the booster seat and is pretty disinterested in Sasha unless there's food in it for her.

It'll take us a few more days to really feel like ourselves again (which of the children in this picture slept 13 hours the night before?) but even with the jetlag, Day 1 was a complete success. We sure do have some quality kiddos.

I'll leave you with a short quote from Sam on the topics of plane flights and adoption, because it's just too sweet not to share:
I'm not going to have a flight like that for a very long time. Not until my family goes somewhere to adopt. I just know in my heart that my family will want to adopt, too.
Wow, that's some kinda great kid right there.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day 60 - The 37-hour day

You know you've had a heck of a day when you find the following assortment of coins in your pocket, all received as change for purchases within your 37-hour day: three quarters, one dime, two nickels, twenty tengue, and half of a euro.

It was long, it was harrowing, but we survived our 27 hours of flights and layovers to arrive home sweet home in Utah at around 7:30 pm yesterday evening. Actually, I think it all went about as well as you could expect 13,000 miles with 3 children to go. We had a few rough patches, but overall the flights were smooth and on time, the luggage all arrived with us, everybody got at least a little sleep, and Steve and Ben were even able to join the rest of us on the last leg to SLC even though it was completely booked (one person missed the connection and another pilot flying with us graciously took the jump seat to make room for my guys).

Sasha flew like a champ and slept on both of the long legs, although she did struggle to fall asleep (read: screamed for 45 minutes) on the fully-booked 11-hour flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco. But I could hardly blame her because the lights were on and people were moving around for the entire flight. At least when she did finally fall asleep she stayed zonked for several hours. And this photo demonstrates what a toddler's shirt looks like after 2 snacks and 2 meals on an airplane. Scary!

And at the moment this picture was taken (when we landed in San Francisco), our little girl became a proud US citizen! Ok, so Mommy and Daddy were way more excited about this than anybody else (everybody else was sleeping).

It did take a while to get through immigration, but that wasn't our fault - there were two folks in front of us in the "new immigrant" line and apparently it's common for new immigrants to not speak very good English (whoda thunk?) making for some interesting and time-consuming communication between the officials and soon-to-be citizens. But we successfully handed over the sealed packet that the US Embassy in Kazakhstan gave us (we felt like supercool spies) and our neato stack of passports and still managed to make our connection. Success!

And if you're wondering what love looks like - this is it, right here. We came home to a clean house and fully stocked fridge and cupboards with casseroles ready and waiting. Amazing. It was such a relief not to have to do anything when we returned! They even cleaned up Nesbitt's poo in the back yard so that the kids could play outside today. I'm telling you, greater love has no man than this. We have the most amazing friends you could ever dream of.

Our 60 days in Kazakhstan is complete. The adventure truly begins now :)

Day 59 - Kinda Sucked

Sorry for the little delay in posting... we had an interesting day Wednesday. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Day 59 started beautifully - sunny and warm. We made our second trip to the park with the war memorials and enjoyed seeing the Russian Orthodox church (one of the largest wooden structures in the world and constructed without nails), feeding the pigeons outside of the church, and playing on the park's small playground:

We got back to the apartment and found the door open... "hmmm," we thought, "that's odd." Then we walked in and saw our stuff strewn all over the apartment and thought, "Ah. Not odd. Bad." Yep, our apartment was robbed.

Most of the remainder of the day was spent working with our adoption agency's representatives in Almaty and watching the police go over our apartment with a fine-toothed comb. I was really impressed by how thorough the Kazakhstani police were - I expected them to walk in and say "Yeah, it was robbed, and we'll never figure this out so we're not going to bother doing anything" (or the Russian equivalent of that statement) but instead we have officer after officer arrive and look over the apartment, take photos, and dust pretty much every flat surface for fingerprints.

Yeah, it sucked, but we have so much to be grateful for. Nothing irreplaceable was taken, just our travel electronics (iPod, laptop, video camera, etc) and a small bit of cash. Our clothes and souvenirs and suitcases were rifled through but nothing was broken or ripped. And we still came home with everything we came to Kazakhstan for - our amazing little Sasha!

And please don't think that Kazakhstan is entirely populated with criminals (that's Australia - I learned that in The Princess Bride). The fact is that we were in a big city (>2 million people) and break ins happen. Kazakhstan and even Almaty are still safer than most of the US, we just were unlucky enough to be one of the statistics :( We still have a deep love and respect for our daughter's homeland, and all of you planning pleasure cruises to Kazakhstan because you've been sucked in by the photos and stories on our blog should keep your tickets! Ok, on second thought, cancel the cruise tickets, but only because Kaz is the largest landlocked country in the world :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day 58 - Reflections on Kaz

Our St. Patrick’s Day was pretty uneventful. We started with a trip to the other park within walking distance from our apartment, a war memorial park with an eternal flame (which Ben thought was really cool) and some crazy looking Soviet-era statues.

Unfortunately, it started to rain just as we were walking to the park so our outing got cut short and instead we had a movie day in the apartment, enjoying our last bag of microwave popcorn and cups of hot Nesquick (which isn’t half bad).

Sasha and Steve enjoyed a long nap and then we headed out to the park again, which happened to be close to Mad Mulligan’s Irish Pub, which we had read about in our guidebook. On the way, we realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day, making our restaurant choice fortuitous indeed (although it would have been more convenient to come to this realization while we were still at the apartment so that I could change into something green and avoid all of the pinches I received along the way to dinner).

As you can see, Ben wasn’t enthused about the walk (he wasn’t feeling great), but as soon as our pizza arrived he started feeling much better. The food, by the way, was very good – by far the best pizza we’ve had in Kazakhstan (although Sam says that he liked Mario’s Pizza Palace more) and my burger was really quite tasty. They were out of Guiness (I know, how does that happen at an Irish pub?!?) but we toasted with the Russian brew on tap and enjoyed a very pleasant evening together. It feels good to eat something that tastes like home every once in a while.

On the eve of our last day in Kazakhstan, Steve and I have compiled this list for your amusement…

You know you’ve been in Kazakhstan a long time when:
  • You think that fur is attractive and practical – furs are very popular here and there’s no better way to stay warm
  • You freak out and almost burst out crying in gratitude whenever you hear somebody speaking English
  • It’s -20 outside and 80 inside and it doesn’t phase you a bit
  • You wish that your 6% milk was just a little creamier
  • You aren’t surprised when the hot and cold taps are switched everywhere and the hot water is scalding
  • Something’s missing from your dining experience if the restaurant isn’t blaring dance music
  • You have never been so grateful that you don’t need a wheelchair
  • Smoking in public places seems normal
  • You don’t look twice when there’s horse meat on the menu
  • It’s perfectly acceptable not to have lines on the street because it makes it all the easier to create your own lane
  • You're used to a 1:1 employee to customer ratio in every store and security guards watching you carefully as you decide which bottle of shampoo to put in your cart
  • You’re no longer offended that everybody walks down the street with their eyes turned down and a scowl on their face – it’s just the normal way to stroll
  • You think that bright yellow and turquoise buildings look pleasantly patriotic – the national colors are blue and yellow
Yep, 58 days is definitely long enough to get familiar with a place!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day 57 - Almaty from Above

This morning we had Sasha's visit at the international clinic and we are proud to say that our daughter is healthy enough to enter the US! Not that we had any doubts about this, of course, but it's nice to know that the doctor agrees. We go to the Embassy on Wednesday to finish up her visa work and then we're scheduled to depart Thursday - it's crazy to think that our epic journey is nearing its end!

Sasha was not thrilled with her doctor's appointment. It was really interesting - we've heard from lots of folks that because the doctors at the baby house give the kids one-on-one attention (and the doctors at the baby house were fabulous), kiddos adopted from Kaz usually really enjoy doctor's appointments. This was not exactly our experience. There was lots of wailing - who knew that a stethoscope could be so terrifying?!? On the up-side, Sasha was clinging to us for dear life through the whole "ordeal," so we figure that bodes well for bonding. If she's looking to us for help and security, that's good for everybody!

After the doctor's appointment, we headed up, up, up to view Almaty from above. We took the cable car that takes folks up to a high hill above the city and spent a warm afternoon enjoying slightly hazy but still lovely vistas.

We were excited to see that there was an alpine coaster at the top of the gondola and all five of us had a blast riding the "Fast Coaster." It wasn't as big as the alpine coaster in Park City, but it was lots of fun, especially since they even let Sasha ride!

Here are a few more favorite photos from the day:
Steve and Sam riding up the gondola
The mountains around Almaty are beautiful and this photo just doesn't do them justice
Mama and Sasha stroll
One of the odder statues we've seen in Kazakhstan - the Beatles?!? Apparently this statue was errected by local businessmen who were grateful to the Beatles for bringing fun into their lives While Kazakhstan was part of the USSR
We had a wonderful day together!

Day 56 - Almaty Zoo

Today was a simply beautiful Sunday - temps in the 50's or maybe even 60's, blue skies, and warm sunshine on our faces (something I haven't felt in a long time!). On such a lovely day, an outing to the park was definitely in order.

Our apartment building is situated between two of the city's largest parks, which is awesome. Here's a picture of the outside of our building. Today we walked to the Central Park, which isn't exactly central in the city... but I digress.

The park will be absolutely beautiful in a couple of weeks, but today it was obviously still in winter clean up mode as the last patches of snow melted away. We enjoyed watching the city workers sweeping up the winter's debris with their gigantic twig brooms. Ok, Mommy enjoyed watching the sweeping because she's obsessed with the brooms in Kazakhstan. I'm not sure that any other member of the Morningstar family really cared.

The fun fair and park vendors were just gearing up for the year and Ben was in heaven because a) it was allowance day and b) they were selling cotton candy, popcorn in Technicolor shades, and Coca Cola. Needless to say, he returned back to the apartment this afternoon with only 20 tengue remaining of his original 750.

Thankfully, we only stopped for one ride in the fun fair, the giant slide! It's amazing how much self control children can muster when they have to pay for rides themselves :) I think they chose very wisely, the slide was really cool, way taller than the one we usually have for Orem Summerfest, and only cost 70 tengue (less than 50 cents).

The next stop was the Almaty Zoo, conveniently located just on the far side of the Central Park. I had to snap a photo of the boys "mountain climbing" up the zoo's entrance - we saw ramps like these all over Karaganda and now in Almaty as well and Oxana confirmed our suspicions that they're wheelchair ramps! Wow, I pity the person who pushes a wheelchair up those ramps, and anybody going down is in for a wild ride!

We had a lovely afternoon at the zoo. The boys confirmed our suspicions that their favorite "exhibit" was the playground, which we had to visit both on our way in and before heading back to the apartment.

They were thrilled to find both a merry go round and a see saw, both of which are sadly hard to find in the States. After watching the boys play together on them, it was immediately apparent why - who knew whomping your brother to the ground over and over on the see saw could be such fun?!?

My favorite part of the zoo was Ben's llama ride! He is officially the only person I know who has ridden a llama and at the end of the ride he proudly proclaimed, "I rode one of those things in The Emperor's New Groove!"

Ben also took a ride on one of the biggest horses I have ever seen. The kid sure makes me proud of his adventurous spirit - as soon as he saw that horse, he just new that he had to ride it!

I'm pretty sure that Steve's favorite part was watching this kid poach a ride with his rollerblades. There were several kids rollerblading through the zoo and it seemed like a great way to get around... I kinda wished that I had blades on myself.

And Sasha's favorite part of the zoo? It had to be her apple juice box. She can't actually suck through the straw (it's one of the casualties of not having a dividing line between your mouth and nose, you can't create suction), but she was more than happy to chew on the straw while we squeezed the juice box. Between the juice and the box of biscuits we bought to snack on (which tasted oddly like those cookies at McDonald's), she was one happy girl.

Here are a few more fun photos from our day:
Papa takes a turn being Sasha's pack mule
We're pretty sure that these translate to "Warning - Tigers and Owls can kill! They are easily angered by tank tops and short shorts so arm yourself well"
Is it just me, or is something watching me?
Loving the Ergocarrier!


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