Some good questions about babysitter Maria via email! Maria was sent to us from heaven via angels Oleg and Inna. She charges $5/hr, double that for two. She's great with the kids! She picks up laundry on the way out ($5-10/kg), and it comes back clean, dry, folded, lightly starched and ironed. Even my boxers! It's nicer than my professional cleaners back home. A few days ago, she walked in the rain to pick up our laundry at the time she promised. She even insisted on taking out our trash on the way out from babysitting. She wouldn't take no for an answer; not that she could understand a word we said when we tried to stop her. And I couldn't stop her anyway, because she's bigger and stronger than I am! We've heard that it's very hard to bring people back home; the U.S. is very tight with visas these days. Otherwise, yes, Rob, I think we'd bring her home! We've actually had casual talks about bringing Inna to Chicago as a part-time nanny, but really don't think it is possible due to U.S. visa constraints! In fact, having Oleg to drive us around wouldn't be so bad, either! Oh yes, when Maria is not available, Inna's mom baby sits.

I also forgot to add yesterday how fascinating it was that at the honey counter of the green market, we were given the choice of honey from May or August. We asked what the difference was and were told, well, one is from the flowers of May and the other is from the flowers of August. Thanks! Lost in Translation. She gave us a taste of each; I thought they were quite distinct - May was richer and more complex, but August sweeter. We went with August.

Finally, being past the half way point of our trip, I can say that I am starting to get home sick and wish we could just bundle up the kids and go home. So I thought this would be a good time for 'Top Ten' lists! Today's is seen below; I'm working on 'Top Ten Things I miss from home' for tomorrow.

Top Ten Things Iím Glad We Brought:

10. Duct Tape (Thanks, Bruce and Joann! This would have never occurred to us, but our friends who had just returned from Kaz suggested it 2 days before we left. When they suggested it, we thought, ĎUh, okay, I guess you can never have enough DUCT TAPE with you when you travel!í Well, we used it on our first night in Kazakhstan in Almaty, then again on our first night in Kokshetau. And we sleep better at night just knowing itís there! Apparently the stuff doesnít exist here!)
9. Sex and the City DVDs (Especially since getting the kids, this has become our regular ĎTV viewingí even though itís really us pulling up our chairs to the table where the laptop computer sits and putting in a DVD! I wonder if weíll get through all six seasons? Thanks Carrie!)
8. Plastic Sandwich Bags (Otherwise known as food storage devices, DVD envelopes, CD envelopes, money holders/protectors, and toiletry storage devices)
7. Portable Picture Printer (The court required regular pictures of our child visits. We could print pictures whenever we wanted in the apartment, and didnít have to search the town for places capable of printing from digital devices!)
6. Sawyerís Insect Repellant (Those darn mosquitoes are STILL sneaking in, even though itís maybe 50 degrees outside!)
5. iPod (Up until it broke! It WAS #2 up Ďtil then! It really has been fantastically great to have immediate and portable access to our entire music collection, over 400 CDs, on this trip! The flight felt shorter, nights are more relaxing, chores seem easier, and the kids get to hear music.)
4. Creative Zen Micro (Huh? Whatís that? Itís a little mini MP3 player similar to the iPod mini, having 1/8 the capacity of the iPod, which I remembered we had brought along after our iPod broke! Oh, did I mention that THE iPOD BROKE?)
3. Mini portable speakers (Formerly, the perfect companion for the iPod, but since the iPod is BROKEN, itís now the perfect companion for the Zen Micro!)
2. Digital Camera (Almost forgot to list this because we just take it for granted now. We brought a camcorder, expecting to create a movie of our experience, but have hardly used it. The digital camera is so small and portable, can take great pictures, and can even make short video clips. Plus itís so easy to upload to the computer. It is the single biggest item that has allowed us to document our trip!)
1. Laptop Computer (To me, itís been the wormhole through which we feel we can get a glimpse of home and home can get a glimpse of us! As much as I complain about the slow/intermittent Internet connection, Iím actually profoundly grateful that we at least have that!)


As John said, we're kind of in the home stretch and are beginning to look toward the Promised Land of HOME!  You'll probably see more of our Top Ten lists in the coming days!  Although I have to say that I started to feel a shift in my own mental state yesterday-- and it started in the morning, so I know it wasn't just caused by the sudden drop in my blood pressure! 

I think that our first week here we were consumed with adjustments... physically adjusting to jetlag, mentally adjusting to the language and customs of another country, and emotionally adjusting to meeting our children and being so far away from home.  In the second and third weeks we were focused on court-- preparing, worrying, wondering, hoping.  Since Monday we have been intimately learning about our children's habits, personalities, schedules and our own abilities to parent.  Now that we are in a routine and are feeling more comfortable with all of the above, there is a new era from now until we leave for Almaty... what will these next days hold for us?

For me, I struggled with a few days of "Why can't we just go home?" and "I'm going to go nuts for much longer in this brown apartment!"  But since yesterday I have felt more at peace.  I think I have begun to notice and appreciate the little details more and really enjoy the fact that we have all this free time to singularly focus on our new family.  At home I am so used to splitting my attention and going so many different directions at once that I either miss the details, or I notice them but can't process them.  Here I have the luxury of noticing, processing and reflecting.  I had sort of hoped I would come to that point sooner on this trip, but there were all of the transitions to go through first!

These are some of the little details I have been musing over the last day or so:

   *  How sweet it is to hear my husband read "That's Not My Puppy" for the fiftieth time to my children

   *  How luxurious the warm water feels in the shower when you can't keep it running the whole time

   *  How much better Nescafe tastes when John makes it and brings it in to me while we're giving the morning bottles

   *  How the owner of this apartment made her simple dwelling her own by matching the brown wallpaper to the brown chairs to the brown carpet

   *  How we eat food that is simple and locally grown because that is what is available

   *  How we really only buy what we need because we might need to go to three different places for supplies... how all of our conveniences in the States encourage us to buy more than we really need...

   *  How bright Daniel and Maya's first smile of the morning is!

Excuse the philosophical ramblings... I fear you may be exposed to more of it in the coming days!  If you prefer, just skip ahead to the photos!

Miss you all--

Everyone wants to read "That's Not My Puppy!"

Get me outta here!!

John and Maya play after naptime

A selection of delicious baby food!

Sleeping Beauty and the Beast

Maya is excited to go out for a walk!

Daniel... not so excited.

Local neighborhood soccer match, girls against boys (the boys got spanked!!)

John and Maya enjoying the soccer match

Our Neighborhood

Saturday is Rug Day!