Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's official now

We got word from MAPS that the appeals period is now safely behind us, and our coordinator Zhanat (make that, "fabulous and charming coordinator") is in possession of Morgan's birth certificate, adoption certificate and the final, official court decree. Next on the adventure - she will apply for passport documents and travel stamps so that we can bring her (drum roll)... HOME!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Three weeks to Trip II and counting...

We've been back, amazingly, for one week already. We've had receptions with many friends and it's great to be back home in Miami, but we miss our daughter Morgan very much. We're counting down three weeks remaining until we can return to Kazakhstan and pick her up in Almaty.

I've also been fighting a sore throat for almost four weeks now and I plan to go treat it with some antibiotics finally.

Our trip to Kaz was fantastic in many ways and was much better than we had imagined it could be before departure. Of course we would prefer never again to see the shower we suffered with for five weeks. But the food was awesome, and I will seek out Karaganda beer wherever it might be found in the U.S. We miss our fantastic coordinator, Zhanat, who was 50% new family member and 50% lifeline for survival and adoption process.

We're happy for Nan and Jim, who successfully cleared court last week and for Kelly, who should by now have Sabina safely back in Manhattan or thereabouts. Here's a shout out to Ryan, Chris, and Jenn; and to Bruce and Marci - we hope we see you all at the Aul sometime.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wednesday Morgan Pic

Tuesday Morgan Pic
Wednesday Morgan Pics
Originally uploaded by Robertson Adams.
Thanks to Nan Wolfe for snapping this pic of Morgan today even though she and Jim were in court. Their blog describes a tough day in court today. We are hoping that all goes well for them and that they can clear up the bureaucratic glitch.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Back in Miami now

We made it back to Miami Monday afternoon following a pleasant but long Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt. We miss Morgan a LOT already (boo-hoo, boo-hoo) and thanks to Nan and Jim for taking a pic recently to show that she seems to have gotten (surprise) even bigger yet, already.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!
Originally uploaded by Robertson Adams.
Morgan got just a bunny nibble of chocolate-chip banana bread when caregivers weren't lookin'.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Food, glorious food

We are within a couple days of returning home so I thought it would be nice to adore the food we've enjoyed for the last 5 weeks. It's amazing how little fast food a city needs. People here are slim, healthy and live to be old old old, even though they smoke and drink heavily.

Fahn Shan (the Chinese Place) - as close to downtown as you can get in Kostanai, the Chinese place has an English menu and the gent who served us on two occasions spoke basic English too. The best menu items are spicy pork and sweet-and-sour chicken. Atmosphere is authentic, and it's clearly popular with the locals.

Nautilus - Cool décor and good food, if you can figure out the menu. It's challenging to read because it's not just Cyrillic - it's italic, which makes it difficult. Myaso (grilled meat) is the word to know when ordering - it comes out as satay-style beef cubes on sticks, rather than shashlik, but it's tasty and fresh. Avoid the salads at all costs - we got food poisoning from one of those "prawns" or the soggy lettuce it came with.

Dolce Vita - The pizza cafe popular with kids of all ages seems to be managed by Miss Lena and her boyfriend Dennis. Their pizza is excellent and we've eaten Pizza Romana almost every other day while here - that's a LOT of pizza. Their tomato soup is hearty; ravioli stuffed with mushrooms was terrific; chicken with ham on rigatoni was salty and garlicky, which was good for us but might be strong for some. Location: 72 Al Farabi near the university.

Traktir (The Russian Pub) - is another hit with us. We love their chicken dishes and mashed potatoes. Service is attentive and the other customers make for interesting people-watching. Salads are safe to eat and worth trying, as long as you like mayonnaise.

"Assol" - The restaurant named for a character in a romantic children's fairy tale, has a handwritten menu and is open for lunch only. It's the cheapest, best food we had in Kostanai at 500 tenge for two. Goulash was tangy and hearty. Plov (pilaf) had plenty of lamb in it, and was hearty and filling. Be prepared to read handwritten Russian with no English spoken here. We think it's a company lunch room so the atmosphere is kind of institutional but clean.

Kostanai Tourist Hotel Restaurant - Has an English menu, good service and a decent selection of wines. Our food was excellent and we had a nice view of the park - not many other restaurants actually view the Central Park from a window. Inexpensive with very good service.

Bavarian Cafe - Is a little bit West on Al Farabi street, and has terrific interior design, very attentive service and great food, with an English menu. But prices are high enough that we've only been once, though we plan to go again tonight. Beef covered with ground nuts and spices was very good. Nice wine list.

Mango Cafe - At the West end of Al Farabi near the train station, Mango Cafe has good food and a nice cafe atmosphere. Excellent people watching, so don't be in a hurry. Our favorite dishes are the lamb again - "Kazbek" lamb is grilled with pomegranate seeds, and other dishes are similarly creative and filling. Not expensive.

The Korean Restaurant - Other than the condiments and the owner's family, there was not much authentically Korean about this restaurant, but our lamb and chicken dishes were good. Actually the grilled lamb was excellent. The pork chop was weirdly covered in cheese and mayonnaise, but underneath it was a good cut of meat. The decor is new and bright and clean, and service very attentive.

Goldfish Cafe - it's close to the Aidana Plaza Hotel, and has an English menu, but no staff understands English. Their plov (pilaf) is good, and their chicken was good too. They offer breakfast - with pancakes - but we didn't have a chance to try it.

Knights Castle - One of a handful of actual Restaurants we went to - with higher prices but there's a floor show (dancers). They have an English menu and many items were appealing, but they got our order wrong and the lamb dish was mostly fat, not lean. The decor inside is unbelievable, it feels like a Disney attraction. The dancers were interesting but not amazing.

Baron Munchausen - We expected a more Germanic cuisine, but it was generally Russian pub food at this interesting theme restaurant. The English menu is an interesting read - each menu item is named with a little lie or joke of some kind. Salads were tasty and creative. Our entrees were really delicious and attractively presented.

444 - In the remote countryside East of town, this ranchero had a live band and dance show. The shashlik (kebabs) were the main attraction, and were delicous. I would suggest ordering a few extra skewers because the portions weren't much. The salads were fresh and tasty and the service very attentive. The show was fun and well choreographed, considering where we were.

What there's not - No McDonald's or Burger King, or Wendy's or any Western franchises at all, for that matter. No Starbucks or 7-Eleven. And we haven't missed them at all.

Chunky Monkey

Today Morgan is eight months old. . . and she weighs in at an impressive 21 pounds! So, that's why nothing mom buys fits. She would be wearing size 18mos clothes in the US. It's difficult to buy clothes here, b/c sizes are listed in centimeters, and the labels are NEVER accurate.

Pictures of the little monkey are coming soon. We're off to eat lunch, maybe the Chinese place.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Go Dolphins

Go Dolphins
Originally uploaded by Robertson Adams.

Pascha Cakes

Originally uploaded by Robertson Adams.

Pascha Cakes

Also called moon cakes, possibly. We'll have ours later today.

Pascha--Russian Orthodox Easter

One of the main dividing lines here in ethnically diverse Kostanai is religion. Most people aren't religious, but family celebrations often follow religious traditions, and that includes the Russian Orthodox Church.

Today we went into our favorite bakery to find huge trays of beautiful cakes. And wondered aloud what they were for, and the lady in line said "Paska", and I realized this was like Pascal lamb, which is close to the Russian word for Easter-- Pascha.

A little internet research:
Easter is a holiday that moves on the calendar, unlike Christmas, which is always January 7 in Russia (or December 25 in the West), and the exact day of Easter needs to be calculated in a special way. This year is the same as the Western date, April 8th.


The Church has developed a whole system of methods to find out the exact Sunday when they should celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These dates are calculated years in advance and they depend on the phases of the Moon, and since we (both Russia and the West) are not living according to the Lunar calendar, the consequence is that Easter is celebrated on a different day each year.


Of course Easter/Pascha is celebrated at roughly the same time as Passover. The word "pasqua" is actually of Jewish origin, meaning passing with Christ to the other life, or deliverance from death. (Whether this was a spiritual rebirth or physical rebirth is for another time.) Five thousand years ago, Judaic tribes celebrated this spring day as a feast of calving of cattle. Later, Easter was connected with the beginning of the harvest, and later still, with the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Christians have given a different significance to this day, celebrating it in connection with the resurrection of Christ.

Of course Lent is 40 days.(Which is just enough time to read this blog entry.) Orthodox services consecrate willow branches. The willow branches represent the palm branches with which the way of Christ was covered on the way to the capital of Judea. Everyone tries to get some willow branches to put them by icons until the next "Willow Sunday." We saw many people walking around Kostanai with Willows, but thought is was just related to spring, not to Palm Sunday.

The Russian Easter church service starts the night before. Directly after this ceremony and for several days thereafter, a ritual takes place, usually between friends (though complete strangers may also participate). One person goes to another and says "Khristos voskres!" (Christ is risen!) The other must answer, "Voistinu voskres!" (He is risen indeed!) and then they kiss three times and give Easter eggs to each other. Directly after church that night, the Lenten fast is broken. Now meals with eggs, butter, and meat are allowed by the Church.


There are two types of Russian Easter eggs: krashenki, dyed red by boiling eggs with onion skins, and pysanky, the famous Faberge style enamel eggs. The bejeweled and bedazzling enameled eggs created by court jeweler and artist Karl Faberge were first commissioned in 1884 by Czar Alexander III as a special Easter present for his wife.

Usually the Easter eggs in Russia are red. Red is the colour of blood on the cross that Christ shed for the atonement of the sins of the world. In Russian, "Krasniya" is Red and also means beautiful. "Red Square" is more correctly translated "Beautiful Square".

The choice of this colour for Easter eggs is very old. Legend has it that when Mary Magdalene came to the emperor, Tiberius, she brought him as a gift a red egg with the salutation "Christ has arisen!" To dye eggs red, it is possible to use fuchsine, onion peels, and bright scraps of silk. In different regions, Paskha eggs have their own distinct decorations.


If you aren't a Martha Stewart fan, move on. For colouring eggs, it is best to use onion peels, which are gathered in advance. Depending on the colour of the peels, the colour of the eggs can vary from bright red to dark brown. To make the colour more saturated, more peels are used and the eggs are boiled for about 30 minutes. To protect the eggs from cracking during boiling, salt is added to the water. Cold eggs (from a refrigerator) must be allowed to warm at room temperature for half an hour before being placed into the boiling water.

Speckled eggs can be created by first wetting the eggs and placing them in dry rice. The eggs are then wrapped in gauze and fastened closed by a thread to allow the rice to stick. Finally, the eggs are boiled in a dying solution in the usual manner. Painted eggs can be made shiny by first being wiped dry and then greased with sunflower oil.


Popular even with non-religious Russians, most Russians enjoy a family ritual that includes an Egg Tournament. The family sits at the table and everyone chooses an egg, then one of the family members (for example, a child) holds his egg firmly in his hands and lets another family member (for example, the mother) hit the egg in his hands with her egg. One of the eggs breaks, and the one with the unbroken egg wins and has the opportunity to hit the eggs of other family members. Eventually, one egg will remain unbroken and it may be saved for other tournaments since it is now Easter time and one may eat as much as he wants. The last person to win can eat an egg, can choose another egg and repeat the tournament with somebody, or somebody may lend him his egg if he does not want it. It is especially popular in families with young children.

- Konstantin Vassiliev, Svetlana Rodinskaia, and Alexander Iona of the Saint Petersburg Student Community for Sustainable Development

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Outside the courthouse this AM

We went to court this morning at 10:30 and things went very smoothly, thanks to the professionalism of our MAPS coordinator, Zhanat and the support of both Ministry of Education and Delphin House. We were asked a few questions, and by 11 am we were smiling on the courthouse steps.

After that, we went to Delphin House to tell the good news to Morgan, who giggled approval, and then did some paperwork related to power-of-attorney and visa documents at a notary office. Tonight we're planning to go to Mango Cafe with Nan and Jim to celebrate the great news.

What's next is a 15-day "appeal period" in which anybody can challenge the decision and so we're not officially the custodians of Morgan Adams until then. We fly home on Sunday April 8th (Easter) and expect to be back in Miami by Monday afternoon. Then, around May 8 or 15 we fly again to Almaty, and a week later we can bring our daughter home.

This is a big milestone and we want to thankd the whole MAPS team including Libby in Maine and Dina in Almaty, and again thanks to Zhanat for making so much of her personal time available to work on our case.

We're Dolphins Fans Now...

The Gators beat Ohio, so we're officially Miami Dolphins, Heat and Panthers fans now. (We don't need more plush dolls to show it.)

Where's Punxsutawney Pyotr

A groundhog could have told us that there were at least two more weeks of winter last week but somehow we were gullible and thought the weather forecast for 50 degrees would come true. Nyet, nyet nyet. This morning it was 25 as we dressed for court, and it warmed only to about 32 by lunch. So much for Hawaii Five-oh!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Say “Nimnoga Pajalsta”

Originally uploaded by Robertson Adams.

Yesterday we got a great care package from Morgan's Nana Marlene in Miami. It included several packs of (delicious) coffee, plus some cool handmade gifts we can use. Thanks Mom! (Note to other adoptive families sending packages to Kaz, that the USPS parcel-post took about 20 days and was $29.)

Today we went to a local event, very much like a youth Cabaret with kids ranging from 4 years old or so up to high school age. People really love to sing "show tunes" and perform. It's all very different flavor, and yet oddly very familiar feeling. We took some great video, and hope to put some of it up on the website.

We've been apprehensive as our stash of DVD's (thanks Laurie!) dwindled and we worked through whole seasons of "Gray's Anatomy," "Monk," and "Six Feed Under." Today - 29 days after arrival - we finally figured out that the DVD's in the rental shops have English tracks and can be rented for 100 tenge (80 cents). Tonight we rented "North Country" which was excellent. The snowy mining and wheat country reminded me of Kostanai. Many first-run movies are available here. They accepted my Florida driver's license for collateral, so I will be returning them too.

We're preparing to go to court, and when we do we will describe it here. But until then we can't talk much about it.