Monday, August 17, 2009

A Busy Weekend

On Saturday we decided to take Owen on his first trip to the beach. The sky matched his morning disposition - storm clouds! For the most part, Owen is a pretty happy kid, quick to smile and tolerant of obstacles that slow him down (or jump up to knock him down). Clearly, we took him out of the crib on the wrong side that day! Undeterred, we took the little grump and the excited Alexa - crossing our fingers the clouds would blow over. By the time I arrived on the beach (after dropping everyone off while I found a parking space) Owen was miserable! He hated the salty water. He hated the sand - especially the way it got in his mouth and on his face when he sucked his thumb. He didn't care that we had fun digging toys, floating things and a bucket. He loved sitting down and having a fit after each attempt to cheer him up. Things did not look good. To give everyone a little break, we adjourned to the blanket for a snack. Maybe it was the food or the blanket or the short respite- but whatever it was it worked!! Owen was a changed little man and everyone got to have some fun on the beach. Nothing amazing happened as we kept the trip short in hopes of maintaining the now good experience...

The other big event was the car-washing/water balloon fight. All day Sunday, Alexa asked when the car-washing would commence. It was also supposed to be a big secret that she and Tracy bought water balloons. I feigned ignorance about the whole plot despite Alexa's numerous slip-ups. When the time finally came, Mommy and Daddy did most of the work while Owen tortured us by walking to the end of the driveway and then coming back. Alexa also suddenly had great interest in riding her bike. Fortunately, the water balloons quickly became a true family endeavor! Alexa just wanted to hit Daddy with balloons. Owen just wanted to see the balloons pop - something that was surprisingly difficult. Getting a balloon to actually burst on someone was nearly impossible as the ground took the brunt of our attacks! On his own, Owen decided that biting the balloon yielded the quickest results. Biting is actually a popular interaction with inanimate objects - he loves to bite buttons on the shirt you are wearing, looking like a vampire. In the end - and after many duds - we all were soaked and water satiated.

One of Owen's favorite games is passing objects back and forth with one of us. Only he likes to do it mouth-to-mouth! Owen will hold anything he can in his teeth and then aim it at your your mouth. Once you take it, he has a quick laugh and then opens his mouth for you to return it. This game would probably go on in perpetuity he any of us were patient enough!

Owen loves to climb in things, on things, or over things all by himself. We have a small swing attached to the small slide by the pool. Owen could climb in and out of it the whole time we are outside. Alexa also introduced him to the baby-sized fire truck outside and somehow rode with him. Now Owen has to have his fire truck time when we go swimming. I know I will experience what most father's feel with their sons - the hope that he likes the "guy" things we liked and think he should like as well. So far, Owen hasn't disappointed! He is every bit the "boy" - totally fearless, loves rough-housing, enjoys balls, climbs everything, and likes cars/trucks. BTW, I think Alexa is just the "girl" Tracy wanted as well...

Here are some more pictures for those making requests:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Daily Dosage of Owen

This week things returned to normal in terms of work schedule. That means whenever I have somewhere to go, Owen comes with me - as well as Alexa of course. Owen had his first playdate at the mall for lunch and romping in the play area. We joined Alexa's good friend Zack and his sister, Leah who is Owen's age. Thankfully the experienced Miss Dana helped me manage lunch - Alexa was a big help simply by not needing much help! Bill Cosby was right, you aren't a real parent until you have multiple children! Owen did great and only made a small, manageable mess on the floor. Sufficiently fed (at least the children), we headed to the play area...

The play area has one entrance and about a 4-foot-high wall enclosing it. Owen wasn't intimidated by the large group of children in the small play area - ages ranged from nearly newborns to 6-7 year olds. However, he did quickly figure out how to exit and this became a game for him. He would head in a random direction and enter the closest store, then I would pick him up and zoom him pack to the play area. Alexa and Zack entertained themselves while the parents stayed close to the little ones. Leah and Owen played near each other (we'll pretend it was on purpose) and Dana got some great pictures. Everyone had a good time and each family went home with a tired baby!

Here are some other random notes about the week for Owen:

- I decided to do some vacuuming while the kids got there bath with Tracy. Suddenly the very naked Owen came walk/running toward me and the vacuum sound did not phase him a bit. My recollection is that Alexa didn't like loud noises as a baby, so this really surprised me. In fact, Owen was trying to help me vacuum by holding the hose! The little guy is fearless...

- Owen is now able to pick up his bottle and serve himself - finally tilting his head back when the liquid gets too low. I really appreciate this one for numerous reasons: Owen violently turns his head sideways when he is done with a swig, it is hard to distinguish being "done" versus just "needing a breath", and for some reason it makes me uncomfortable to stick a bottle in his mouth with his head tilted all the way back while standing.

- We are officially crediting him with his first word - up! Monday, Owen was playing with one of his toys that says "up" and "down". I thought he was saying "up" on his own, but he would never repeat it when I said it. Today, Tracy was asking Owen if he wanted to come up and he said "up" very clearly. I could hear this from the kitchen but he refused to say it when Tracy called me over and when I tried to elicit it later. I almost credited him with his version of "doggy", which comes out as something like "da-a". He clearly knows he is referring to the dogs and says it while following one around (Speaking of which, he was doing that to Archie today and would hug him or lay his head on him whenever Archie stood still). The problem was twofold: he is inconsistent with how he says it, often running it together and sounding like dada, and he calls our cat the same word. If you've ever met our cat, Wojo, you'd know he ACTS more like a dog than a cat, but I have to maintain his integrity as a cat!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fun with Owen

Owen is really a fun little guy - he loves to laugh and is so social! In an early post, I wrote about how he shows more affection for Tracy and just seems more comfortable with her. Now I feel Owen treats us about the same. In the last couple of days, he's started to give us kisses- he leans and opens his mouth slightly then kind of blows gently. It is so sweet! On the not -so-sweet front: Owen has always been a good eater but the last couple days he could eat all day - and his diapers are taking the brunt of it;) Hopefully, this signals a growth spurt...

We've added a few more things to his fun arsenal. He likes to go down the slide (assisted) into the pool. He loves for me to throw him in the air and then let him land somewhat roughly on the bed - don't worry, I'm holding him most of the way! Just generally, he loves to copy us - especially sticking his tongue out or making the same sound. Maybe I'm just being the "Dad", but I don't think his verbal skills will be delayed like normal adoptions from non-English speaking countries. He really seems to be trying out a new sound each day. Yesterday, it really seemed like he was saying "Mama" on purpose to Tracy (doubtful, I know)! Plus, having an older sister somewhat close in age should be an advantage.

Anyway, we are really enjoying our new edition in case you didn't notice;) Tracy and I were discussing how much easier it is the second time with a baby. It's not that Alexa was uncommonly difficult, just that we stressed about small things and didn't know how to act with a baby. Owen makes it easier though by being so easy to please. There's really only one area where I can complain - he throws a fit every time we put him in his crib for sleep. I find it odd only because he was raised in an orphanage where things are usually run on a tight schedule. The good thing is that he always settles down within 10 minutes (often less) and sleeps through the night! It's probably just more proof Owen was an orphanage favorite.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Owen's First Days Home

The first excitement for Owen was meeting our cat, Wojo. Owen was fascinated and kept trying to put his face in Wojo's fur - the result was a close-up of the cat's rear end since he was trying to get away as fast as possible! When Wojo finally settled down, Owen laid his head on Wojo's side and stayed there until Wojo finally got up.

The first morning in his new home Owen would whine if Tracy or I left the room. As the day progressed, he walked around the house and felt comfortable enough to go to into his own room and start playing with toys by himself. Alexa can be found in Owen's room more times than her brother. Speaking of which, the first nap Owen took in his crib turned into a slumber party as Alexa slept UNDER the crib! Every night since, Alexa has made a bed there and fallen asleep - although she eventually comes out the first time she awakens in the night. We had to buy her a sleeping bag to make it more comfortable - so she is sleepover ready now for all of you who have friends of Alexa in your house:)

After all the success in the bathtub, it was no surprise Owen enjoyed the pool. We have a floaty for him and he will stand on the steps and play with toys. He has no fear of getting his face in the water. Today, Tracy and I were pushing him back and forth -Owen would purposely put his head in the water and then laugh when we grabbed him. He is just as brave in the bathtub and I recommend coming to watch if you need a good laugh!

Tracy's parents visited on Sunday and he acted with them just like he did on our first trip - interested but quiet and passive. By the end of the short visit he let his grandmother hold him and play with him. Interestingly, Alexa wanted to play by herself instead of with her grandparents. My mother will be in town this weekend , so we'll see how she acts this time (I'm sure Owen will be is normal wonderful self!).

On Monday, the dogs came home from boarding and Owen showed no fear. He wanted to touch them badly although they just wanted to jump on me and Tracy. We appreciate the way the dogs clean-up after Owen, but he doesn't appreciate the way they try to steal the food out of his hand! Owen does like when Raven licks him while he's eating in his highchair. Today, he was grabbing Archie's tail and rubbing it on his face - like I did to him with the zebra rocking horse during our second trip. I'm really happy he isn't allergic to any of the animals!

This morning Owen had his first doctor's appointment, which includes duplicating all of the vaccinations and bloodtest history just to be safe. The poor guy woke-up a little grumpy and was whiny during the 30 minute wait. Surprisingly, he was perfectly still and quiet as the nurse measured him and the doctor checked him out! Owen stares very intently and shows no signs of fear or stress. He acted like nothing was happening as he had his blood drawn! Then came the vaccinations. The first thing was the one where a needle is used to make a bubble on the forearm - Owen was not pleased. Next came three shots to the legs and he was doing that cry where there is no noise for 15 seconds (the calm before the storm) then the scream of bloody murder. As a parent, you tell yourself that this is what the baby needs but then still feel awful watching someone else make your baby feel that way. Can't wait until the next visit in two weeks:(

Overall, Owen is doing very well. He laughs a lot and loves trying to figure things out. He has been whiny as his body adjusts to the new time zone and schedule. I think we may have his sleeping and eating schedule set now. He eats everything we give him (and sometimes things he unfortunately finds elsewhere!) although sometimes it takes him a bit to decide he wants to eat something. We couldn't be happier and wouldn't change a thing about him! Alexa does her best to be a good big sister. She has been really tired due to the travel, stress, and pink-eye though. Tracy and I could use more sleep even though Owen has yet to wake-up in the middle of the night (knock on wood). I'm still getting used to saying I'm a father of two or we're a family of four. Since we got Owen's referral it has always been weird answering questions like "How many children do you have?" When Alexa was asked if she had any brothers or sisters, she would always look at me first. Well, thankfully that is finally over!

I know I need to post some more pictures (and take more plus video!) so that will be my goal over the next couple of days. Check back soon for the latest and greatest Kosofsky Family moments and thank you for all the wonderful sentiments you've expressed for Owen and the rest of us!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Finishing-up in Russia and the Longest Flight Ever!

Friday we all went to the US Embassy for our interview and to get Owen's passport with visa documents. It is a fun experience because the Embassy schedules several adopting families at the same time. We all sit in a room together for about an hour sharing stories, letting the children see each other, and waiting to be called to the window for the interview. It is a very low stress day and the people working at the Embassy are always helpful and pleasant.

When we returned to the hotel, I decided to venture out for some shopping at Old Arbot. The hotel provided a shuttle that dropped me off a little over a mile from my destination. After surveying the area, I could see where I needed to go but did not see a direct way to cross the busy street in front of me. I was also trying not to look too much like a tourist and draw the attention of a local official, which would mean showing him/her my documents (passport, hotel registration) and hoping I got them back without incident. Eventually, I remembered Moscow has these underground walkways with kiosks that sell all kinds of things. I made it through two of these on my way and spent the rest of the walk in parks without looking too conspicuous (I assume). I found pretty much what I wanted in Arbot and my lack of Russian was not a problem. When I returned to the hotel I was exhausted but felt I had redeemed myself from my previous walking adventure...

The next day we were finally going home with our baby boy! Per the routine, we had to get up more than five hours before the flight to meet our driver four hours before it and get to the airport three hours before. For the first time we actually needed all the time! We were told to buy Owen's baby-in-arms ticket at the Moscow airport and attempted this at check-in. When we got to check-in, we were told the ticket had to be bought at the ticket counter. This may seem obvious but you have to understand the process at this airport (plus know that we were able to get the ticket at a similar point for Alexa). Here's how things work:

1) Go through a preliminary luggage screening - one long line
2) Go through a passport check with Delta representatives - a few short lines
3) Go through the normal US-type check-in, where you check bags and get boarding passes (this is where we tried to buy the ticket) - several fairly short lines
4) Go through Russian Passport Control - a few long lines
5) Go through the normal metal detector for carry-ons and people
6) Finally enter the terminal gate area

So now someone has to go back through steps 1 and 2, after waiting in line to buy the ticket at the kiosk ticket counter near the entrance. So I take my passport and Owen's and go through all the roped areas backwards (no one tried to stop me which was a little concerning). After waiting in the for 15 minutes, I get to the front and am told Owen has to be present as well - ugh! Now is the really tricky part because Tracy is already in line for step 4 with both children. I manage to get her attention and make the Owen transaction across some ropes. Apparently since I left Owen, he has been melting down and Tracy looks spent. Fortunately, I take him and distract him enough so that he is actually fine while I get his ticket. By the time I make it back through steps 1 and 2, the check-in agent is not at step 3 and Tracy has made it through step 4, which means I can't see her. I've told the people so far that we already went through the first steps before and get little resistance. I decide to just walk past step 3 and get in line for Passport Control. At nearly the same time, a Russian women points to me and speaks in Russian and the check-in agent tracks me down. This is a very good thing because he translates that the lady is saying I can go in a shorter line because the baby and the agent gives my something I need for Owen to get through Passport Control. At the window, the Russian agent says I missing something and I have to put Owen down search my bag. He, of course, crawls under the gate where I catch him in time but send him into another meltdown. Somehow I got out the right documents, got him under control, and didn't forget anything I needed to go on! After that, things went smoothly and we had time to eat lunch before boarding on-time.

Owen was miserable on the 11-hour flight from Moscow to Atlanta. He had more meltdowns in that period than I can remember- and the only thing that seemed to help was giving him to the other parent. There were at least two other babies on the flight and each took turns crying loudly throughout. I felt bad for the other passengers! The only good thing about the flight was that Owen became a United States citizen the moment our plane touched the tarmac at the Atlanta airport! Poor Alexa never adjusted to the time change and slept more than Owen both at the hotel and on the plane - although that did make things easier for us with Owen's disposition.

Somehow during this ordeal Owen figured out that when we give him his eye medicine, it is over very quickly and painlessly if he doesn't fight. Even on the plane, he was perfectly calm and motionless - giving us a much needed respite. I know I'm biased, but the kid is pretty sharp:) It turns out Alexa acquired pink-eye from Owen as well - fortunately we already had the right medicine!

Owen was better on the short flight from Atlanta (although clearly exhausted from lack of sleep) and we got our luggage and to the car without any trouble. I foresee many rides in the car to get Owen to fall asleep. He actually starts to laugh when he sees a car seat. I sure hope gas prices drop soon! He slept the whole car ride and then woke-up enough when we go home to look around before going to sleep pretty quickly. I'm almost as ehausted writing this as I was experiencing it - okay maybe not...

Next up will be Owen's first few days home

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Short Owen Update

As I left the hotel room to blog in the lobby, Owen was singing himself to sleep "bah, bah, bah, bah." Maybe we actually do see sheep and then knowledge of the world replaces them with our hopes and fears...

(shakes off that philosophical mindset and gets down to what you all our waiting for!)

Today I went to the US Embassy alone and - although gone an hour - only spent about 10 minutes accomplishing what was necessary. Tomorrow we go back as a family for our interview and to receive Owen's passport with visa documents. Since Alexa has been begging to eat "out", we went to the lobby restaurant and gave Owen his first dining experience. Owen sat in a high chair calmly while we waited for our food and then freaked out inexplicably just after starting to eat. My theory is that the mashed potatoes he was shoving into his mouth with his baby utensils (i.e. hands) went up his nose and caused a most uncomfortable sensation. Whatever happened, we all got to see his first inconsolable meltdown! Tracy eventually had to take him out of the restaurant and let him finish for about five minutes. Once he came back, a spoon seemed to work better (Owen actually is pretty good with one - although he periodically tried to use the wrong end) and he proceeded to eat an entire bowl of the stuff! Seriously, I may have had trouble finishing that much. Of course, his diapers for the rest of the day reflected the prodigious consumption...

The rest of the day went very well for "Owen moments" (although we do give him eye medicine a couple times a day and it is a pretty horrible experience for all involved - of course he is scared and uncomfortable as we simultaneaously hold down his arms and head, pry his eyes open, and put medicine the consistency of Neosporin in there). The first moment came when Alexa and I were having a pillow-fight on the bed (her idea). Owen was watching us with great interest, so I lightly brushed his face with a pillow and he started cracking-up! He wanted me to hit him so he would be knocked off-balance like his sister. I obliged and he loved it every time I "hit" him! The second moment once again involved inspiration from Alexa. She kept asking me to flip her over on the bed, and after a few times Owen had to join the fun. He was sitting on Tracy's lap in a chair watching and suddenly started leaning back. Tracy adroitly turned this into a back flip where he mostly landed on his feet with an occasional assist from his head. Owen could not get a enough of this! He must have done it 15-20 times and Tracy had to put a stop on it. The last moment I will share is his latest bath exploits. The newest addition to his antics is purposely slipping while standing and then rolling over in the water. The back of the bathtub is slanted, so I use it like a slide (don't worry, his feet are almost to the bottom of the tub when I release him!). This would cause him to rollover when his butt hit the bottom (is that redundant?). He decided he didn't need the slide part. He would just drop from a standing position and sell the landing with a roll that caused his head to go under water momentarily. It was hilarious - both the act and his laughter afterwards plus how quickly he would do it again! I took some video that I'll post eventually...

I'll leave with that. We have one more day in Moscow and then leave Saturday for home. I'm not looking forward to the flying, but getting home will be so nice...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Owen Day #3 - Getting out

Today was a free day with no adoption-related tasks. The new Kosofsky Family decided to grace the local park with its presence. Unfortunately, Owen didn't have a great morning - acting very ornery and tired. He had a major meltdown when I forced him to allow me to put on his shoes and even gave Tracy some 'tude. I should have known things wouldn't go well when the money exchange office was closed due to technical problems. The plan was to get money, go to the park, and then stop at the grocery store to pick-up a few things. Now, I would have to walk to the bank and then walk in an entirely different direction to the store. Still, we pushed on and walked to the park. It was a beautiful day and Owen seemed to enjoy going on the slide. However, he really never warmed up and didn't appreciate it when I wouldn't allow him to eat dirt - I know I'm a terrible helicopter Dad! Tracy had had enough as Alexa was also in a bad mood, so we went back to the hotel all a little grumpy. Alexa is generally good with Owen but is clearly a little jealous of the attention. This morning Owen was working his way off the bed and Tracy asked Alexa to help him - her help was letting him fall to the ground face first! Lots of yelling and crying followed (by kids and adults respectively). Once things settled down, I headed out on my walkabout as naps seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

The hotel manager gave me directions to the bank saying I would see it on the way to the Metro station - plus I asked about a grocery store and was told I would see it as well. So I setoff with grand delusions of a short walk and two successful transactions. I found the sign showing the different exchange rates and turned to look for the clearly marked door to the teller. If you've never been to Moscow you can't appreciate how much some places of business work NOT to advertise themselves! The door under the sign was dark gray and blended in with the surrounding wall. It was the only door within 30 feet, so I gave it a try and it actually opened. In my mind, finding the door should have been the last hurdle before my success transfer of dollars to rubles. Instead, I was looking at an entry area with stairs going up and down. There were 2-3 unintelligible signs with no indication where to go. A man was standing in the stairwell and I bravely looked at him inquisitively saying "bank". Seeming to understand me perfectly, he pointed down the stairs. Again my optimism returned and I headed down...where I found 3 more doors that didn't open from the outside. Ugh! While looking back-and-forth between the doors, a voice came out of a speaker in Russian of course. The person was obviously telling me to do something, so I pushed some steel buttons on the door producing the voice and tried the door. No luck. Eventually, I heard that typical buzzing noise that alerts you that a previously unopenable door well now comply. Another man came out of the door and I went in...to see a teller type window that clearly did not perform my intended transaction. The man behind the glass started talking to me in Russian and I gave him the international signal for "I'm a stupid American walking around your country with basically no knowledge of your mother tongue and expecting everything to workout because the world is a friendly place that can't wait for yet another American to visit and expect everything to work like it does at home" (i.e. I shrugged my shoulders, tried to smile, and pointed to my mouth). And thus came my worst moment ever in my five trips to Russia - he gave me a disgusted look and performed the "shooing" gesture. Fortunately, I didn't act like some Americans I've heard about traveling abroad. I quietly made my exit knowing that he was totally entitled to the opinion he had of me and hoped I would find a bank. Another block down the street, I found such a bank with nice glass doors and the kind of tellers I was accustomed to! The teller was friendly and gave me the correct currency. My optimism was restored and I headed for the grocery store. I won't give you all the details but essentially the store near the bank was a little convenience store and didn't have what I needed. I walked another 20 minutes to the store our coordinator recommended and had an excellent experience with friendly employees and successful purchases. With that, the great part of the day started...

When I got back to the room, Alexa and Owen were out cold after an abbreviated lunch. Tracy let Owen cry himself to sleep because he obviously needed the sleep, but apparently it was some momentous crying and screaming! Tracy fell asleep a few minutes after I returned so I went down to the lobby to check email. When I went back up, I was exhausted and took an hour nap until Owen woke-up (Alexa is a little under the weather and stayed asleep for awhile plus fell asleep before everyone for the night). I fed Owen and he ate his lunch and most of dinner too. The signs boded well for the rest of the day and Owen delivered!

Owen has really warmed-up to Tracy, which is natural for a boy who may never have seen a man before I walked into his orphanage. I can honestly say I was a little jealous at the way Owen walks up to Tracy asking to be held and will smile at almost anything she does. That isn't to say he never lets me hold him or never laughs when I do something amazing. However, if Owen is upset or needs some affection, then Tracy is the go-to parent. Today I felt a much better connection with Owen! He seemed to be looking for me more and laughing more often and easier at my antics. I've found that not trying too hard works better and just allowing him to make a lot of eye contact while approaching me when he wants.

The highlight of the day was bath time! In the last 24 hours, Owen's balance and tolerance in the bathtub improved exponentially. After a few minutes, he could walk around and successfully sit down and stand-up (something he does almost non-stop). He also loved Tracy pouring water on him and didn't mind the washing at all. The first time he slipped and went under water (well the water was only three inches deep so it was mainly up to his ears) he thought it was hilarious. By the end of the bath he was purposely falling and rolling in the water - this from a baby that was screaming bloody murder two days ago when the water touched his toe! We have tons of pictures and video to be posted later...

Once again, I've gotten carried away blogging. Can you tell I just recently got custody of my baby boy?! Oh, if some of you are wondering why no pictures have been posted here, I've been putting them on Facebook since loading them is slow here and I'm terrible at formatting the blog with photos. I'll take that on when I return home (or this can be your incentive to join Facebook!). Tomorrow I go to the US Embassy for a brief visit and then we'll probably do some more exploring.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Owen Day #2 - Some Surprises & Improvements

When I left off yesterday, I had high hopes of Owen going to sleep in the near future. The near future turned out to be 12:08am! So, he was awake from around 9am with only a 45 minute nap. The good news was that I was able to move him to the crib once he fell asleep without any trouble, and he never awoke during the night. Unfortunately, we all had to get up by 7:00 to meet the driver by 8:00 and go to Owen's medical exam. As we were getting up, Owen blinked awake and greeted us with a smile. He rolled around for a few minutes and was ready for breakfast!

The medical exam went as well as possible.
The doctor spoke very good English and was really good with both kids. He said it was obvious Owen was an orphanage favorite - a fact mentioned by our coordinator, something that seems to happen frequently at each orphanage and was most likely true for Alexa. Owen had no trouble with the fact the doctor was a man (Alexa still has issues with tall males other than Daddy!) and never showed any discomfort during the exam. Oh, the vitals are in: 20 lbs, 29 inches at just under 14 months, which is about 5th percentile on each (for comparison, Alexa was not even on the charts and it is rare for a Russian baby from an orphanage to be on the US charts). He wished he had something to complain about but he couldn't find anything!

Tracy asked me what I found most surprising about Owen now that we have seen him for 24 hours. I immediately said how vocal he is and she quickly agreed. I'm sure that is part of him becoming more comfortable with us, but he just seemed like a baby that loved to observe and then try to imitate. Well, you know what they say about assumptions! Owen really seems to be trying to talk to Alexa. I'd say he makes at least 5-6 consonant sounds (e.g. guh, da, ba) and all kinds of tongue and raspberry noises. He's really a funny kid! The next biggest surprise is how strong-willed Owen can be. When he doesn't like something he will express his displeasure! Again, he never did anything during our visits to show he was unhappy. Could he be smart enough to know he should be easy during the visits until the adoption was final;) This has been a good lesson because we got the crazy notion Owen would be the lowest maintenance baby ever. To his credit, now that the shock of his acting like...oh, I don't know...a baby(!) is over+, we're realizing he usually complains for a good reason. Yesterday, we just kept assuming he was tired, which he probably was, and writing it off. Now when he mysteriously becomes cranky, it is probably due to a wet diaper or something like his bottle leaking all over him. About the wet diaper issue, Owen has EXTREMELY sensitive skin! During our visits, his face would end up with red areas mostly where we held him against us. Now that he has been around us and gotten to fall a lot, we've seen that he always gets red spots that will go away in a couple hours. He also has some angry looking diaper rash - Desitin to the rescue! - that the doctor mentioned but had no concerns. My point - that you probably lost during this rambling - is that he tends be cranky due to experiencing skin discomfort versus some "character flaw" like being a spoiled baby. The other surprise is his activity level. He was trying to run with Alexa in the halls of the hotel and would crawl fast when gravity one a brief battle. He did this long enough to make me and Alexa tired! I'm sure this is no surprise to those of you who have little ones, but Alexa wasn't really close to walking when we took her home at 13 months. And I'm guessing the "boy" factor is playing a part too...

There have been some majors improvements in a couple key areas today. Things have been better today in terms of sleep - Owen took a 3 hour nap
(we all slept a much needed 2 hours) at 1:00 and finally fell asleep at 10:15 - but he was in his crib for an hour without really complaining. The other "big" news was a successful bath. He was really freaking out yesterday when Tracy tried one- like full-on panic! Today, I suggested starting a bath with Alexa and letting him watch. After a few minutes we put him in and after some minor complaints he was hooked! The only problem was that he wanted to constantly stand-up and then sit down and the bath was super slippery. He also wanted to taste everything - like the shampoo bottles and even the soap. The soap was funny to watch - he took a big bite with his 5 teeth and had had enough of that! Although he did leave a nice imprint for his dental records:)

With that, I'm going to go to sleep. Tomorrow is a free day and we plan to go to the park, a grocery store and possible shopping at Arbot Street downtown. I'm sure Owen will add to his list of surprises and hopefully improvements too - not that he needs many!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Owen is ours!!

I just wanted to give a quick update while things are fresh in my mind (something that will change quickly since I've been up since 2:30am and Owen won't take a nap). Tracy and I didn't sleep on the airplane, so we all slept yesterday from 1pm to 6pm and only stayed awake a couple hours before going back to sleep. Thus, I awoke at 2:30am and Alexa and Tracy were up within the next hour. We gave up on going back to sleep by 4:30 and slowly prepared for the exciting day. The day got more exciting when Alexa decided to play with two Barbies by the open window! The naked Sharpay decided she had had enough of Moscow and took a dive from the 8th floor- landing on the roof of the covered part of the drop-off. The wonderful Renaissance staff rescued Sharpay just before we were leaving for the orphanage- thus, preventing more of a meltdown by the already exhausted Alexa. At 9:00 we were loaded in the car with a suitcase full of presents and the knowledge that almost two months (and two years since we started this process) of waiting would finally come to an end!

Before getting to the orphanage we stopped at a grocery store to buy some candies, tea, and Nescafe for the staff. Once there, we went through a short administrative procedure and delivered the gifts, while Owen was taken to get pictures made for his passport. Alexa did not appreciate the "additional" wait and kept asking where her brother was. Finally, he arrived and things honestly could not have gone more smoothly. He was immediately comfortable with us and found Alexa pretty interesting. We took him upstairs for a quick change of cloths and said our goodbyes. In the car, he was very patient letting me get him in the car seat and loved the sights both inside and out. We made a stop at the passport office to drop off the pictures and sign the documents. While inside the office, I could hear some baby-like noises and then heard a loud one as I was coming back to the lobby. Owen was making far more noise than he had at any of our previous visits! You have to understand that he was always very attentive in the past but liked to observe - rarely making any noise for 20-30 minutes after we arrived. Then he would make some sounds mimicking us but very tentative and never loud. Well, he obviously sensed something had changed!

Once back at the hotel, Owen seemed to have fully come out of his shell. He was laughing and smiling at pretty much everything! I showed him his reflection in the full-length mirror and he was entertained for about an hour - he would hold these empty water bottles and walk back and forth from the bed to the mirror cracking up when he got to the mirror. We had a general idea of his sleep/eat schedule so we fed him and figured he would fall asleep soon thereafter. That was at 12:30pm. It's now 6:30pm and he is still awake! We've fed him lunch and dinner (plus a snack) and gave him a bath after he decorated himself in carrots. He is a pretty laid back kid and hasn't really cried yet (despite banging his face on the crib and in the bath). Speaking of the bath, that was much more difficult than I expected. He was not at all happy and resisted the whole time, which made him slip a lot and kept Tracy and I very busy. As I type, he is whining in his crib looking as miserable as he can. He is truly a boy - getting into everything and never wanting to lay still! Hopefully, he'll sleep soon and I'll post more.

In case I crash (very likely), tomorrow's schedule is to go to the doctor who must examine Owen and declare him fit to leave the country- and then ideally pick-up his passport. Wednesday should be a free day before we spend Thursday and Friday at the US Embassy...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Moscow City Trip #2 Summary

Sorry not to have written for so long! To be honest, waiting for OLG to come home takes away some of my motivation for writing. Now that we are less than a week from the third and FINAL trip, I've mustered the resolve to give you a summary of our trip.

The main purpose of trip #2 was the court appearance. We arrived in cool, rainy Moscow on Sunday and were scheduled to leave Thursday (more on that soon). On Monday we got to see OLG twice and he warmed-up to us after just 15 minutes. He started making the raspberry sound we shared on the first visit and clearly recognized us. Oh, and he walks now very steadily after taking his first steps on the previous visit. We brought a couple toys, but his favorite thing was the lens cap to Tracy's camera - he carried it all the time and it apparently tasted great! One of the other toys made noises and was shaped like a phone. Somehow he knew to hold it up to his ear! Like a true father, I think he is an exceptionally bright kid:)

During the afternoon visit, we were taking his sweater off (because he seemed hot) and the collar/zipper got stuck for a bit around his ears. He started to cry (the first and only time) and Tracy immediately grabbed and hugged him tightly. His crying quickly stopped and enjoyed a kind of hug he apparently didn't get ever or often. After that he started going up to Tracy periodically and putting his hands on her shoulders and then letting her hug him. It was a great day!

Tuesday was court day, which means we get up three hours early to meet our driver, get to the courthouse an hour early, and then wait until the last minute for our coordinator to arrive (she was also our translator and paperwork courier). Tracy was a little stressed plus the waiting area was very hot since we had to dress-up. Our coordinator prepped us the day before when we were waiting for OLG to wake-up. Everything went according to plan. Tracy took the podium and got the typical questions from the judge (in Russian of course) about why we were adopting and our home situation. After maybe ten minutes she was done and I had a my shorter turn getting some similar questions. The director of the orphanage was then questioned about OLG and our interaction with him. Then the prosecutor (a government representative who has to research the child's background and possible family ties) spoke very briefly. Finally, the judge adjourned to chambers to review the paperwork and returned for her decision. In less then 40 minutes, OLG was offically ours!! Well almost... In Russia, there is a mandatory 10-day waiting period after court. This is the last chance for a Russian relative or other person to ask for the child. Once this period ends, no person in Russia can attempt to gain custody of the child. Thus the need for trip #3. So we were of course very excited and yet we couldn't really celebrate. Our only reward was going to the orphanage directly after court!

(Warning: heart-melting moment coming!)

When we got to the orphanage, our coordinator was told about OLG's activity the previous night. Apparently after the hugfest the day before, OLG would not go to sleep until all of the caregivers gave him a satisfactory hug. It took them much longer than usual to get him to sleep and he had never done anything like it before! We had a nice-but-too-short visit and had to leave him for the second-to-last time.

Because our flight left Thursday, Wednesday was our last day at the orphanage until Trip #3. This time the staff was sympathetic and gave us a good two hours to visit! OLG was not used to staying for so long and he started walking toward the door about halfway through our session. I think we wore him out and he gave us some memorable moments. I started exploring the playroom and picking out more interesting toys. I brought out a xylophone and he was very interested when we made music. He quickly figured out how to use the stick but eventually preferred the taste of it. However, the highlight of the visit came when I brought out the rocking zebra (yes, a rocking horse with zebra striped fur). OLG rode the zebra on the first day but didn't seem too interested. This time I took the tail and rubbed it on his noise, which he really liked. After a little of this, he suddenly started rubbing his face into the zebra's backside and cracking himself up! We have the video, which I promise to post here when I can. Overall, it was a great visit and he really felt like he was ours. Sadly, we had to say "goodbye" and begrudgingly went back to the hotel.

Thursday was horrible - and not just because we had to leave OLG! Things started badly when our driver was over an hour late to meet us - this is a guy who was usually 15 minutes early. He explained in his minimal English that there was a bad accident making the traffic from the rain even worse. This didn't bode well for trip to the airport! We arrived at the airport still close to two hours before the flight and strangely there was no line to get to the check-in area. This was due to the fact that the flight had been cancelled (Tracy checked the flight online that morning and it was supposedly on-time). We were informed that the flight had techincal problems coming to Russia and had to divert to Iceland, where it was stranded. The driver stayed with us although he couldn't really translate. Luckily, we met a young woman from our flight who was American but spoke Russian because her family was from the Ukraine. We stood in a long line waiting for Delta to figure out what to do with us. After an hour, we tried getting re-routed but there was no good option. So, we were told the airport hotel would let us stay there and a plane would come special for us early the next morning. The hotel was kind of a nightmare! Our room smelled badly of smoke, had two tiny single beds, and there was no hot water. We'd been told the hotel would take care of food but no one knew anything. The highlight was the okay dinner we ate in the restaurant - although our server disappeared for 30 minutes after taking our order. Oh, I forgot to mention there was construction at the airport right outside our window. I'm normally a light sleeper, but I slept easily because we were exhausted from the stress! We just wanted to get out of there, so we awoke at 3:00am and went to the airport to wait until 6:00 when we could check-in. Fortunately, all went well from that point and we got home on-time (a day late).

Next post: Tracy's Passport ordeal and prep for Trip #3

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Russia Update - OLG visits

Okay, now for the good stuff!

Day #1, visit #2

When we last saw OLG he was outside, a little unsure, and not so lively - partially to blame on the obvious cold he was fighting. We returned to the orphanage after his dinner and our late lunch - this time indoors in a nice, large playroom. As a gift, we got to where attractive blue booties to cover our shoes - this was standard procedure in the orphanage when inside with the children. I quickly scoured the room for good icebreakers and settled on a big stuffed ladybug and a ball - in addition to the musical toys we brought - getting moderate success. Initially, there was more thumb-sucking and long stares that said "Okay, who are you again and why should I give you my time?" Tracy broke the ice with some tickling that drew smiles with thumb still planted in mouth. By the end of the visit, OLG was playing with toys, crawling around, and using stationary objects to stand (and looking like he could stand on his own). He clearly had good strength and coordination in his hands and legs. We were hooked! After saying goodbye, we went to the orphanage director's office and were asked if we accepted our referral. Hmmm, let's think about this - YES!!! Let the paperwork begin...


Day #2

The visit started with a little bad news. Not shockingly OLG had a cold and this meant he couldn't be exposed to us for more than one visit. However, we were told we could only visit for 15 minutes!! Like a good Russian we accepted this news with stoic resignation - and I think that worked to our advantage. We did get the pleasure of feeding him lunch! Tracy and I were a little out of practice in general, and certainly not in orphanage-level shape. More food ended-up on his face and clothes (and everything within 3 feet) than in his mouth. The good news was that he gets way more food than Alexa did and thus doesn't cry like she did if the spoon stopped moving.

(A little background: Alexa's orphanage was terribly underfunded and food rations took the brunt of it. This is not an exaggeration - when feeding Alexa (at 10 months), the caregivers would hold the top of her head back so her mouth opened as wide as possible- and then they moved the spoon between her mouth and the bowl as quickly as possible. Before seeing this demonstration, we had the chance to try feeding Alexa, and she would cry if you hesitated a second between mouthfuls - this was because hesitation meant your turn was probably over! Oh, and the spoon was a large tablespoon that seemed like a shovel. When we first gave Alexa Cheerios, she would stuff her mouth like she was playing Chubby Bunny and then put as many as she could in both hands (and you could see her mind working to figure out where she could put more!)

Anyway, OLG gets basically twice as much food and much more substance to it. Maybe it was done subconsciously, but the feeding alone took 15 minutes- how could they send us away without any playtime? We ended-up getting another 30 minutes to play with him! Another bonus, the feeding did the trick in perking OLG up. He was 100% more animated and interactive - and even made some baby noises telling us he felt more comfortable. A few minutes into playtime we were informed that OLG actually took his first steps in the morning! We tried to recreate them and he took about 2.5 mini-steps that we're going to count (we have the video proof). Needless to say, the rest of the visit went very well. He was completely mesmerized by me - he probably had not interacted with a man since he entered the orphanage at 18 days old! There were periodic coughs and our visit for the next day was in doubt. This made leaving even more difficult...


Day #3

Things were left that our coordinator (actually her assistant) would call us in the morning to let us know if the visit was a go. We got up early and waited for the phone to ring. When the call came, we were informed things would work like the previous day and then we were asked if we wanted to visit. Yet another softball question...

In addition to having two previous days of interaction, OLG received some medicine the night before and the results were obvious. Today he was a downright riot! We didn't make it in time to do lunch, but I'm sure he was well fed. The biggest change was his noise level. He was playing with a couple cups and loved banging them together. We started saying "boom, boom, boom" when he would do this and he was fascinated. He would watch our faces, studying how we were making our noises. Suddenly he made a sound like a "B"! Obviously liking our reaction, he moved on to a full rapid-fire raspberry sound. Later, we held him up to a mirror, which he couldn't get enough of! He would try to climb the sofa to grab the mirror - all the while making his new sound. The only thing slowing him down was the occasional cough or sneeze and Tracy trying to wipe his nose (he hates it but doesn't hold grudges). We got a ton of wonderful video! We really felt like a family today - even if it was only for 30 minutes! We said our goodbyes with him smiling back and melting our hearts...

I'm going to watch some of his videos and try to forget the date. Thanks for following along and come back for more updates soon on Alexa who has had a busy few days!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Russia Update - Remaining process

Before I continue the encounters with OLG, here's the process going forward:

- Our coordinator needs several documents for our court dossier so a date can actually be set. This paperwork is in various stages but should be sent to Russia by this Friday.

- Hopefully, we completed enough paperwork while in Russia to start the process to remove OLG from the Russian databank. This step takes about three weeks and is the primary factor in setting the court date. If everything is fine with the paperwork, the court date will be scheduled about 4-6 weeks from now. Other than a couple small items, things are completely out of our hands at this point.

- Once a court date has been set, we will be invited to travel again. Typically, you get a couple weeks notice so early June will be when we start jumping when the phone rings:)

- Unfortunately, the court trip will not be the last one - although a short one. In Alexa's case, the judge waived the "mandatory" 10-day wait period - making her ours once court ended. That rarely happens anymore and only if there are real concerns for the child's health. Instead, we will have to wait two weeks after court. So, essentially this trip will entail going to the orphanage one time to get in our last required visit before court (OLG's cold prevented two visits during the first trip), appearing in court, and one day of red tape.

- The current plan is for me (Adam) to return alone for the third trip. As soon as I arrive, OLG will be ours and he will stay with me. The next 7-12 days will be spent getting his passport, visa and other documentation at the US Embassy.

Doing the math, that puts us around the end of July for OLG's arrival home. Just writing that makes it seem so long...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Russia Update

Well, we're back from our first trip to Russia! Before I go any farther, I'll warn you that we are not allowed to post any pictures or specific details of "Our Little Guy" (or OLG, until he comes home). This is because he isn't truly ours until after the Court rules in our favor (and the 10-day Wait Period). Russia does not like us Americans to be presumptuous! However, because we have started the application process to formally adopt (essentially this means we accepted the referral and are asking Russia to allow us to adopt), we have a new name for OLG. I will go through where we are in the process and what's ahead at the end.

Other than the reason we were going in the first place, there were some other intriguing elements to this trip. First, this was the first time Alexa spent a night (actually five) away from the both of us. Second, Alexa's Dance Recital was the Saturday after our trip, which meant leaving early on Friday -something we were not positive could happen. And third, the dreaded Swine Flu (don't get Tracy started on it!) was a real concern in terms of Russia keeping us out.

The third concern only reared its head slightly as we were made to wait on the plane while health officials "lasered" our ears to make sure no one was running a temperature (above 100 we believe). As for concern #2, we made it back in time for the Recital (and Alexa did great!), but the 20 hours of travel that day are still being felt. And concern #3 started out pretty rough, so we allowed Alexa to call us each day (not cheap and once the phone rang at 4am!). In the end Alexa was a trooper, but when we got home she ran to us and broke into tears - it was so sweet!

So, I guess you all are ready to hear about OLG?! The way this trip worked was that we were invited to an appointment with the Department of Education to review a referral (child). We received some basic information before we traveled like birthdate, height/weight/head circumference at birth and more recently (no pictures or video). We had a small scare because the more recent measurements were very low - but we weren't told when they were taken. Eventually, we got better data that put OLG ahead of Alexa at the same age. We forwarded this information to a group of doctors that specialize in international adoption. Simply based upon our limited data, there were no red flags for developmental issues like FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). We were told to get some pictures of OLG and do some basic tests during our visit, so the doctors could review them and give us a recommendation (we have to make a decision to go forward before the end of our visit, so this information was sent while in Russia).

Our first task was to go to the DOE office and meet with an official who gives an overview of the child's medical history and asks some questions about us - the questions are a small preview of what the judge will ask during the court appearance (our work situation, how long we've been married, other children, where we live, etc.). At the end of the questions, we got our first look at OLG - a picture not long after he was born! We gladly agreed to meet "our referral" and our next stop was the orphanage!!

Much like this post, everything took longer than the anxious parents-to-be wanted. We got to the orphanage after the typical Russian traffic-strewn, "lanes are just a suggestion" ride - our driver could easily make it as a taxi driver in NYC. Then we had to meet with a couple representatives of the orphanage and sign some forms. Finally, OLG was brought up to see us! He was very attentive and healthy looking (despite the obvious cold he was battling). We were allowed to take him outside to the playground- the orphanages love to layer the children, so he was dressed for a blizzard! OLG seemed a little unsure but never cried, although close a couple times. We brought some musical toys to play with and he inspected them and understood how to make them work. After about a half hour, Tracy got his first smile by tickling him and his face just lit up. (BTW, we were being observed by social worker during this first encouter which was a little awkward.) After exploring the whole playground and trying a little bit on the swing, we were told we could come back after dinner and visit some more. We were asked if we wanted to come back - ummm yeah! Overall, the first encounter went well and we were hooked - not that there was any doubt of that happening. The only downside was both Tracy and I sitting on a yellow bench that apparently got painted too recently - we each had a yellow circle on our butts...

Yikes, it's gotten later than I expected! I'll continue tomorrow with the rest of the visit and the process going forward...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Agadir, Morocco

Agadir was the second stop on the cruise. This is the location of the runaway panhandlers and the frightening marketplace where you could get just about anything (and see exactly where it came from).

Here are the obligatory "riding camel" photos. Alexa's was at tourist trap on the top of a small mountain or "scenic view location." She wanted to ride the camels as soon as she saw them. However, she changed her mind after being placed upon one by a local and when the camel stood up! My picture was taken at the place where we were designated to ride camels. Needless to say, Alexa did join me this time. There was also a show that included a belly dancer, acrobats and men riding horses and shooting rifles repeatedly:



This is a sample of the marketplace. Multiply this picture by 500 and that will give you an idea of the size and variety. We didn't dare buy anything because the place was very crowded and hard to navigate. The goal was to stay close to the guide and cover Alexa's eyes when appropriate!

This is Alexa in front of the pharmacy/spice store. We got a "demonstration" that quickly turned into a sales pitch. Tracy was anticipating this and made it worth the store's wait - they couldn't give us enough little extras in thanks!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Morocco Pictures - Rabat and Casablanca

One thing I didn't mention in the last post was the large number of cats roaming Morocco. This was a nice thing for Alexa, but a not-so-nice thing for Tracy who was worried about what Alexa could catch if she petted them. I visited Israel several years ago and saw the same thing. I'm not sure what it means, but I'm bringing it up because you will see a cat in this picture of the Royal Palace in Rabat.

Next, we visited the ancient ruins at Chellah -built by the Romans. The interesting thing, other than the ruins themselves, were the large birds who had nests on the newer towers. Also, there were about 30 cats gathered near a man-made pool that featured a couple of violet fish, which might have been eels. Unfortunately, we could never get an explanation so I'll just call them "eels" since that is more interesting...


In contrast, we also visited the largest mosque in Morocco located in Casablanca and completed very recently - Hassan II Mosque:
This picture gives you some idea of the size of the mosque as well as its detail and beauty:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Morocco

I really enjoy going to new countries - and the more exotic sounding the better! However, as exotic as it sounds to go to Africa, Morocco is about as tame as you can get on that continent. It is a very peaceful and accepting country that had plenty of Western touches. Still, there were enough third world reminders to be seen.

The big drawback in shore excursions with large groups from a cruise ship is that you find yourself in tourist traps. When you combine that with a country like Morocco, you come in contact with very pushy peddlers of nonsense. Add in a 4-year-old, and Daddy got a wee bit PO'd! That came to a head in Agadir (our second stop).

The next to the last straw occurred at the top of a "scenic view" mountain at the beginning of the tour. Alexa knew we were riding camels that day and became very excited when she saw them so soon. The guide warned us that this was not the stop with our included camel rides, but we could ride if we wanted. He also warned people would be trying to sell us things - that was an understatement... While Mommy and Daddy were engaged with some peddler, we turned around to see Alexa wasn't there! We quickly spotted her - BEING PLACED ON A PRONE CAMEL BY SOME LOCAL! I almost lost it, but my tune changed when I saw Alexa's excitement and knew the ride was inevitable. For those of you that haven't ridden a camel, the part where the camel stands up is pretty disconcerting. You're rocked forward pretty violently when the hind legs come up, and then jerked back when the front comes up. Alexa did not enjoy that experience and was close to crying most of the ride. After she got down, the real fun began. (side note: Norwegian is an American cruise line that primarily uses US dollars as the currency. Unfortunately, we were in a part of the world that used Euros and rarely took dollars. As you will shortly see, Morocco was more flexible on this issue) For those of you who know Tracy, you would never call her passive or indecisive - while I might resemble those labels. For some reason, we switched roles in Morocco. After the impromptu camel ride, it was time to pay. I think the guide had suggested something like five Euros, but we didn't have many and the money wasn't that organized. So Tracy is struggling to get the money out and first the peddler doesn't want US dollars when he sees them come out. Then a couple people join him asking for more money. Tracy gives him some Euros and before I know it he is pointing to a $20 bill and saying that will do. I'm trying to stop this transaction but the guy is too quick and Tracy is too frustrated to want to deal with it. I believe that scary ride cost us something like $35.

The previous story plus being continually barraged by people pushing things on us, led to what I'll call: The Henna Incident. Our group is walking through some nice, cute part of town and a lady approaches Tracy asking if she wants a henna tattoo. Tracy says "no" three times but, undaunted, the lady grabs Tracy's hand and just starts putting henna on her arm. I'm standing behind watching this as steam must be starting to come from my head. Money is asked for and Tracy repeats that she didn't want it. The lady goes another direction by quickly putting some on Alexa. The trick is then to say Alexa's is free but to please pay for the adult's. After another 15 seconds of haggling, I finally step into the picture and simply say "NO!" pretty loudly, which can be effective with my voice. At that point, the lady gave me a quick glance and then scooped her henna back into the container (off both of my ladies) and makes her exit. The lesson was clear: Moroccan peddlers go after women very aggressively - or possibly loud, crazy Americans scare Moroccan women!

I don't mean to paint Morocco in a bad light because we did enjoy the visits and found the people nice - at least the ones who knew they were getting our money beforehand;) There were clearly more affluent areas where Europeans had homes, but the general population seemed to have a pretty good standard of living. I do though have to tell a quick story about the marketplace we visited. If you are squeamish, you might want to skip the next paragraph...

It wasn't a good sign that outside the marketplace, someone was holding up a dead chicken - I assume to sell. Before leaving the bus, the guide warns us the marketplace is crowded and we should try to stay close. Remember we have a 4-year-old and Tracy doesn't eat much meat or anything that still has any bones in it. So, we go inside and the guide immediately walks us through...the meat section. Now, I'm a pretty carnivorous person but I was totally grossed out. There were more feathered chickens strung-up. Then came various displays of internal organs. But the piece de resistance was, I kid you not, a complete cows head displayed prominently with blood dripping off of it! Luckily, Alexa had so many other things to look at and many taller adults blocking her view, because I didn't even want to try to explain that to her. At that point, pretty much all of the tour started walking faster and really enjoying whatever there was to see in the other direction!

We're back to the G-rated part of the post. For those who skipped the previous paragraph, you can uncover your eyes and stop saying "la-la-la-la I'm not listening to you."

It's getting late so I'm going to stop now, but I'll add another post tomorrow with a bunch of pictures and hopefully a few positive notes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Western Mediterranean Cruise: Overview

We recently returned from an enjoyable 9-day cruise of the western Mediterranean. This was our 4th cruise together (but Alexa's first) and first on Norwegian. I doubt we will go on another of their cruises after the way we were nickel-and-dimed for subpar service. However, the boat itself was fine and the itinerary was great! Tracy took literally hundreds of photos that I still need to sort through - thus, I will include them when I make posts for the individual ports/countries.

The cruise started and ended in Barcelona, which we visited on our honeymoon cruise - so we just stayed on the boat there or were at the airport. The first two stops were in Morocco: Casablanca, mostly to access the city of Rabat an hour away by bus, and Agadir. Morocco was very interesting and the people were friendly. We're both glad we went but will likely never go back. And just in case you were wondering, the movie "Casablanca" was filmed entirely in the US so we didn't recognize anything fromit.

The next two stops were islands: Gran Canaria, the largest of the Spanish Canary Islands, and the Portuguese island of Madeira. Both islands were beautiful and lush, but Madeira wowed us with its dramatic cliffs. They each also had very cute European towns with great architecture.

The final shore excursion was at the port of Malaga, in southern Spain, where we traveled to Granada. Tracy and I both wanted to stay to live in this area if we could just get all of our friends and family to come too! Before the trip, I would have said the place I wanted to live in Europe was Italy. Now, I agree with Tracy about southern Spain...

I'll post over the next few days something on each shore excursion and more on the boat itself with pictures. For a teaser, here are a couple of pictures from our two favorite places - Madeira and Malaga - and the obligatory cute picture of Alexa:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Random February Stuff

Well, we took our bi-monthly trip up to Orlando to visit with family and some other reason I can't quite recall...oh right, to go to some Disney Theme parks that they apparently have up there! I like the following picture because it shows four generations of my family in a curving sequential order:
Here are the obligatory face-painting pictures of Alexa (left at Hollywood Studios with her friend Liam, right at Animal Kingdom with her cousin Lucas):














The crowds weren't too bad at Hollywood Studios, although we only got to ride Toy Story one time (worth the wait!). However, Animal Kingdom was an absolute zoo! I stood in line for thirty minutes to get a pastry (surprisingly worth the wait as well!) and people kept thinking it was the line for the Safari ride - which had actually overflowed a good fifty yards beyond the roped area. Luckily, we got to the park as it opened and hit the Safari first. We were rewarded with abundance of animals. It was pretty much downhill from that point on and we decided to leave early. Truthfully, Alexa could have played all afternoon despite that typically 4-year-old whiny stage of punch-drunkenness. Tracy and I eventually got our way...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Snow in Florida...sorta

Alexa's school held a Snow Day, which primarily involved dumping a big pile of manufactured snow in the middle of the parking lot. There was also an area where snow was constantly being blown, as well as face-painting, puppet shows, snacks, and use of the playground. After the excitement of playing in the snow (twice) wore off and everyone had their faces painted, the playground was the biggest hit. I've been at the school during normal outdoor play, and I have to say the craziness level was several notches higher! I wish I could return to the time when going to school on the weekend was that much fun...

Anyway, here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure:



Thursday, February 5, 2009

Yee-Haw!

I think Alexa has found her calling.

In general, she is pretty shy and prefers to study new situations and activities - rather than jump in immediately. Several weeks ago, Alexa went with our neighbors to watch their little girl's horseback riding lesson. When she returned, she asked if she could do it as well. Tracy used to ride horses when she was younger and has always wanted to own a horse - living in Colorado certainly didn't assuage that desire! In other words, it didn't take much persuasion for Alexa to get her way. Tracy did some research, signed-up Alexa, and two weeks ago was the first lesson.

As soon as Alexa saw the practice area with horses, she couldn't get her seatbelt off fast enough! We had to walk through the stable and Alexa wanted to feed all the horses the carrots we brought and pet them. She wasn't intimidated at all and couldn't wait to get on her horse. First came the helmet fitting:

We had to wait while the other people finished, which was a small torture for Alexa. Each horse that walked by got a good long look from Alexa and that look said "Can I ride you and feed you and brush you and pet you?!"

Finally, it was her turn! I paid close attention to her as she walked into the ring and prepared to mount the horse. This is where she sometimes gets a little scared and has cried in the past with other activities- not this time! The expression you see on her face was the one she had the whole time.

When her lesson was regrettably over, she wanted to pet all the other horses and know what their names were (hers was "Socks") and basically never leave.

The following week provided some benefits for us. Whenever we needed to motivate or distract Alexa, we could bring up her next lesson. It also backfired as Alexa asked every morning if it was horseback riding lessons. (Alexa knows the days of the week but hasn't mastered the whole concept of time and days)

For the second lesson, her instructor decided to leave the horse's side and see what Alexa could do. Tracy would give me (the non-horse person) the play-by-play like: "she's steering the horse", "she's kicking the horse" or "she's giving it commands!" Toward the end of the lesson Tracy commented how she couldn't believe how far the instructor was allowing Alexa to get away and then said "she's trotting!" I could tell by her tone that this was amazing but it hit home when the instructor said, "Well, that is the first time I've had 4-year-old trot!"


Alexa looks totally at home on a horse. I've never noticed an instant where she looked unsure or stressed! And she just seems so happy. It's times like these when I get that big goofy grin and love being a parent the most. It's hard to describe the feeling but is one of the biggest joy I know...

Monday, January 19, 2009

2008 Holiday Season - Part 2

We decided to take Alexa to see Santa at the mall. Maybe it is just because I rarely did this and it has been over 30 years since the last time, but I didn't remember having to purchase a photo package for the privilege of sitting on some impostor's lap. I'm certain this wasn't the case in "A Christmas Story", which is the only image that really comes to mind when I think of this tradition. As you can see from the photo below, our Santa looked the part - other than that Ebenezer Scrooge expression of disinterest on his face! Can you imagine making that face when our beautifully attired daughter graces your presence?! It probably comes as no shock that the best picture of the event was taken by Tracy...



Of course, being at a mall during the Holidays with a four year old necessitates at least a little shopping. After getting some clothes and knick-knacks, Tracy casually asks Alexa if she would like to have her ears pierced as we pass the "Piercing Pagoda". Alexa agreed with some trepidation but was sold once we let her pick out her starter earrings! The employee warned us that they typically do both ears at the same time for young girls because sometimes after the first piercing the child doesn't want the second. So, two employees readied their "guns" while Tracy setup in prime picture taking position (I was nearby for moral support). The tension was high...and then...it was over. Literally, Alexa didn't even flinched. Tracy had to ask if they were done. Alexa almost looked bored. So, the pictures below accurately reflect her reaction:



Coming up next will be the start of the actual Holidays...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2008 Holiday Season - Part 1

Well, I'm finally getting around to the long overdue December update - or I should say updates! I blame my procrastination on the volume of events and, of course, college basketball. Between all the preparations, school activities, family visits and celebrations, the month absolutely flew by! Here's what Christmas looks like in South Florida:

Alexa has gotten to a really fun age for, well, pretty much any event - although she does occasionally decide to act her age. Such was the case when we went to a special "Behind-the-scenes of the Nutcracker" show. Alexa is in her second year of ballet and tap, and was very excited to see "real" dancers perform. The show was very interesting. The director brought out several dancers and had them demonstrate various ballet movements and people were allowed to ask questions. Then the dancers performed many of the scenes in full costumes. Unfortunately, Alexa's patience for sitting still ran-out almost immediately due to the abundance of other children around.

Other parents have described their children as progressing through alternating six-month cycles: one in which the child is an angel and another where the child is...er...not such angel. December was the end of one of the latter periods for Alexa. To be fair, there was so much going on I'm sure she wasn't getting enough sleep and was overstimulated. I know for those of you who've met Alexa, it is hard to believe. Trust me, the halo does disappear. However, I'm not here to disparage my daughter because she was very sweet most of the time and you won't see any pictures that show otherwise.

Stay tuned for the more jolly updates coming VERY soon - no seriously, I promise!