A First Birthday


This is still just an adoption blog, not a blog of Grace’s life. But she’s been home two months and had her first birthday a couple of days ago. We thought her first birthday was a good excuse to sign off (again) with a progress report. (She’s only been home two months?! That’s how long we were in Kazakhstan with her!)


We’re incredibly lucky.  Grace is healthy and happy and she sleeps through the night.  Twelve hours!  (With two bottles and changes.)  She’s transitioning from two naps a day to one.

We’ve seen a lot of firsts.  When we met Grace, she was a lump who wouldn’t even try to crawl for an out-of-reach toy.  Now we’re chasing her.  We’ve seen her progress through sitting when placed, commando crawling, sitting up, and knee crawling.  Now pulling herself up to standing and sitting back down again is a favorite pastime.  Over and over.  Up and down.  She walks holding our hands or along the couch or from support to support, but not by herself yet.  She’s already exhausting us.  What happened to our quiet, little lump?

Much of her movement and climbing is about touching things.  She’s compelled to touch things.  Apparently, the whole purpose of standing up is to put more things in reach.


She’ll pull herself via the chair or couch your sitting on and let you know that you should pick her up.  As soon as you do, she squirms to reach the stuff on the end table she couldn’t reach from below.  Nice.  I thought you wanted to see me.

We recently caught her climbing a child size chair to get on the couch.  Why?  To reach a remote control left there.  She wasn’t consciously trying something new.  She probably didn’t even realize she was climbing.  She just really wanted that remote control.


She appears to understand what “no” means — sometimes.  She likes making a good screech or motorboat sound.  She’s waves hello and goodbye occasionally.  She says “ma ma ma” and “da da da”, but it’s not clear if she really understands what they mean.  She says “ma ma ma” a lot when she’s hungry. 🙂

She eats table food now.  It’s not mess free, but she can now put food in her mouth faster than she can eat it.  We have to watch that.  She uses a sippy cup all day and her nightly bottles are switching from formula to milk.

She’s flown to see one grandma and the other one’s coming to visit in a few days.  She’s met a lot of family and friends and she is very outgoing.  She likes attention.  She knows she’s cute.

She goes to swimming lessons, Gymboree, the Sprayground (a “water-enhanced playground”) and the beach.


She became a citizen when we touched down in the U.S.  Since then she’s gotten her citizenship papers, social security card and first bank account.  We’ve applied for her U.S. passport.  (She has a Kazakhstan passport.)


Grace is having fun and we’re having fun with her. Mom’s enjoying being home with her for the summer.  Dad’s still learning to get home by six.


Home At Last

Almaty was great.  We’d go there on vacation if it wasn’t so far away.  We had a trip to the mountains scheduled for our last day, but it rained.  But two months is a long time away from home and it was time to go.



Our trip home started after midnight and lasted 26+ hours, including 2 and a half hours from JFK airport to home in Friday-before-Memorial Day traffic.  Grace did great.  She slept a lot on the first flight and some on the second.  The bassinets on the airplanes were lifesavers.  We all slept on the ride home from the airport.


Hurrah for bassinet seating!


Frankfurt airport.




Home at last.

Grace is still adjusting to the timezone.  After an initial crash, we played until 1:30 AM Saturday morning.  She slept too much of the day Saturday, but surprisingly, most of the night too.  Sunday was better, though.  So we’re slowly getting there.


We have such wonderful friends who have made this long 2 month journey to Grace practical.


We want to especially thank Beth and John for their help above and beyond the call of duty.  While we were gone, our house was robbed.  We’ve known for a little over a week.  Beth and John were checking on the house and discovered it.  They called the police and did a lot of clean up and repair for us.  Not much was taken and the clean up was so good, it looks like it never happened.  It would have been horrible to be surprised with this after such a long trip home  Thanks so much guys!

Kathie handled our mail and bills and filled our fridge before our return, which was wonderful.  Russ gave us a ride to the airport.  Sandy left a delicious meal in the fridge.  Thanks guys.

From the moment that we were met in Almaty airport on March 26th to when we were dropped off for our return to the states with Grace in our arms, we were in good hands with the WPA in-country staff.  They were professional and caring, and did everything in their power to ensure that the trip was enjoyable and, more importantly, that the adoption was successfully completed.

Eldo at Golden Rule Travel got us a great airfare and, more importantly, changed our return flights and got us bassinet seating.  Thank you, Eldo.

So now we begin our life together as a family of three, knowing that we are surrounded by friends and family who will make Grace’s life a happy one.

Heading Home


Since we came to Almaty, we’ve received Grace’s new birth certificate with our names on it.  We’ve also gotten Grace a quick medical checkup, a Kazakhstani passport and a US visa.  We’re done!

Our return was scheduled two months ago for this Saturday.  We’ve managed to move it up a day.  We’ll be home Friday afternoon!  When we touch down on US soil, Grace becomes a citizen.  She’ll have dual citizenship until age eighteen.

It has been fun, but we’re pretty psyched to go home.


Today we went to the Green Market to get some more souvenirs and a stroller for the layover. Our driver/translator did some great haggling for us.  We couldn’t even have found the items we wanted without him.

We ate Dungan (an ethnic minority in China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) food and had laghman, manti and something I would describe as chicken fried eggplant (which was better than it sounds).


Almaty is very nice as long as you don’t have to drive.  It’s Kazakhstan’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.  It has tree lined streets and views of the Tian-Shan mountains.  We’ve wandered into random restaurants, said “English?”, and gotten an English menu and a wait person with enough English to get by.

Unfortunately we’ve been taking fewer pictures since we started carrying a baby around.  We’ll try to get some better ones for the next post.


Wheelchair & stroller access.



We moved from Karaganda to Almaty last night, on an 11:45 PM flight.  There’s only one flight a day and it’s at 11:45 PM.  Here are some last moments from Karaganda:




Thursday we ate with two other WPA families, Alison and Russ, and Heather, her daughter Judy and dad Don.  We had shashlik (shish kebabs) and khachapuri.

Friday Theresa burnt her foot carrying hot water from the stove to the washtub in the shower that we were using for “baths”.  She has a blister that’s a good couple of square inches in size.  But she says it doesn’t hurt any more.


But Mom...

Grace did not enjoy being woken up for the night flight.  But the city lights, the airport and the plane were all too exciting for her to go back to sleep again.  All the passengers on the small, prop-driven plane got to enjoy her babbling.  Fortunately there was no crying until the descent.  Then she screamed bloody murder for a minute and fell asleep so suddenly it was like she was switched off.



Finally asleep at 3:15 AM.


Checking out the Almaty apartment.


The apartment is in a great location in Almaty.  We went for a walk today and had Thai food.  It was very good but very expensive.  Oh, yeah.  There’s hot water!  The hot showers were wonderful.

Grace wants to congratulate two of her big cousins on their recent accomplishments.  Peggy graduates from the University of Rhode Island today and Jaclyn will be graduating from Ursuline later this week.  CONGRATS LADIES!!!


Good News!

It’s day nine with no hot water in Karaganda.  (City wide.)  The bad news is that it’s probably off for a month!  We’re told this is typical in the Spring.  The good news is that we leave for Almaty Saturday night!  Hopefully we’ll be home about a week later!


My Brown Eyed Girl

Mom decided it’s time for Grace to start feeding herself.  Dad wanted to wait until we got home.

Given all of the children that had to be fed in the baby house, the caregivers had a very efficient approach to mealtime which didn’t allow the children to handle the food.  So far bananas, macaroni, bread and corn flakes are Grace’s favorite self-serve food items.  She’s better at grabbing things in her fist than she is at opening her fist in such a way that the food goes in her mouth.

Sometimes eating can be a messy job


It took a few baths before Grace realized that they could be enjoyable.



On the move in her BabyLegs

We ate with Russ and Alison again and also with our primary interpreter, Oksana, who we hadn’t seen since we stopped visiting the baby house.  (For those who know the WPA Karaganda team, Oksana is an occasional third interpreter, not to be confused with Oxana.)

The weather’s been great and we’ve had Grace out everyday. We saw some yurts set up in Central Park.









She's coming right for us!

Look out! She's coming right for us!

(The picture above is very large. Give it time to load if you’re on a slow connection.)

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Grace has a special message for her бабушки (babushki or grandmothers)!


And grandmothers like pictures, so…


She's teething a bit.


Austin Powers anyone?


Grace has mastered peek-a-boo with daddy.



You wanna go?

We got out and had lunch with Alison and Russ who are part of the next wave from our agency.  They’re in their 2 week bonding period and they’re adopting a little girl.  We’d been eating at home a lot the last couple of weeks, so we were dying to take Grace out.


Grace's first restaurant, Assorti.

The weather’s great too.  Spring is really here.  (Have we said that  before?)




Fast asleep on the walk back to apartment.



Uh oh, gang signs.


Surrounded by toys, she plays with a water bottle.

No Backsies!

Our fifteen day waiting period is up!  G is ours!


So where are we going?

Also, “G” is Grace Zhanar.  Zhanar was her Kazakh given name.  The “Zh” is pronounced like the “s” in “measure”.  We might have kept it as her first name, but we didn’t want her to spend her whole life spelling it for people and telling people how to pronounce it.


Grace is now at home with us in the apartment!



Asleep at last.

A few days ago we had some excitement in the apartment.  Theresa was toasting some old bread in the oven (no toaster) to make breadcrumbs.  We were sitting in the living room with the door closed and forgot about them.  By the time we remembered, the rest of the apartment was filled with smoke!  Oops!  No alarms, but no damage done.  Nice, toasty smell.

Here are some pre-Grace pictures of the apartment.




Sink on the left. Stove on the right. Entire countertop in between.

Sometimes at lunch Theresa and I eat lunch off the same plate.  We’re sitting that close together anyway.



The sheet outside is to try to stop the morning sun from piercing my brain.  It doesn’t work.   We use the inside clothes lines seen in the two pictures above for drying things.

We’ve been without hot water for the last three days.  This morning Theresa used a bucket of stove heated water for a sponge bath in the very narrow shower.  Not up for such contortions, I went for the he-man, very, very cold shower.  That was a mistake — a really big mistake.  Can I get a membership in a polar bear club for that?


Note the top loading, horizontal axis washing machine that holds less than half of what our washer at home holds and takes up to 3 hours depending on the settings you use.  Fortunately the controls are in Italian and we could make them out.  It was slightly intimidating that the washer has temperature settings in degrees.  We’re used to setting “hot”, “warm”, or “cold”.  We never had to decide how warm.

On the other hand, the tiny oven has settings 1 through 5.  No cake baking.


Outside our apartment door.