Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day Twenty-two: Our Amazing Son!

Presenting Xavier Aleksey Manning...

Our Amazing Son! Today was not something I can adequately describe in words, but I guess I will try. We got up around 7:00am. I slept better than I expected but we were both tired. We got ready and then we waited. We both read our Bibles. We prayed together. And then we waited some more. At 9:01am I said, "Where are they?", but a few minutes after 9:00am Dimitri and the care taker came to our hotel room with our tiny and very shocked little Xavier. We knew the process of getting up early and flying would be rough on him. Immediately they asked for his clothes so our first act as parents was to strip the poor thing and put on brand new funny feeling clothes. I signed a paper, gave our gift for the orphanage to the care taker and then they were gone. It was just the three of us. We had already decided to try breakfast thinking he would be hungry, so downstairs we went to eat in the hotel restaurant. Xavier was so overwhelmed. He just tucked himself in, literally to some extent, and sat in his high chair taking tiny bites of the porridge as I fed him. He slowly came around some, but that room was too busy and new. When headed back to the room determined to make the rest of the day less shocking. In the process I think we angered the breakfast staff. JJ had ordered an omelet and we did not sit there long enough, I guess, for them to bring it. As we were riding up the glass elevator I could see them bringing something out and then talking to each other with animated gestures. Oh well! We had his routine from the baby home thanks to our Michigan friends and we tried to follow it as much as possible. He was so much more comfortable in the room. We played with the stuffed cow. We got him to smile by playing silly faces games and giving him so many kisses. We tried a lunch of strawberry baby food, which he seemed to enjoy. He was rubbing his eyes and it was almost nap time so I got him to lay back and drink from his sippy cup. Then I laid him in his crib with his soffie (thanks Aunt Cheryl!), told him it was time to sleep in Russian, and quietly left. Within a few minutes he was asleep! We ate our lunches, watched Sherlock Holmes, and gathered our wits for the rest of the day. Okay, maybe this was a bad move, but I woke him up in keeping with his schedule. I wanted him to sleep through the night. This parenting stuff is so trial and error, but he didn't seem to mind. We had a snack of crackers and some sort of baby cakes thing. I tasted it and it was pretty good. He crammed it right in! Then we played in the room more. We got coats on to see our new friends off. Their flight to Moscow was this afternoon. Then we decided to try a walk outside just for some fresh air. Oh, Dimitri went over the plans for our week with us before we went outside. Xavier didn't seemed too happy to be outside, but once again not upset. We walked on the beach and sat in a little swing together. He was starting to shut down again so we headed back to the hotel. As soon as we got back in the room he perked up and played like crazy. He moved his toys all over the room. He carried his sippy cup like it was going out of style. He climbed on the couches. He babbled away. He pushed his stroller around the room. We had supper of hot dogs, peas, and carrots. He finally showed some preference. He did not seem to like the peas at all. He would make this funny face with every bite. JJ and I ate. Then we decided it was time to try the tub. We had slowly got him to investigate the bathroom throughout the day. Okay, this is the amazing part. Our son loved his first bath with us! I mean loved it. It took him a few second to realize what was happening, but then he was splashing like crazy! He was laughing and he never once seemed upset or scared. Oh, except for when I scolded him for drinking the water. By the way, I don't know who taught him this, not me, but he reached for the video camera and I said my first "Nyet!" of our relationship and he turned around, shook his finger at me and babbled something!! JJ fell off the couch laughing! So, bath time was great. We got our pj's on (Oklahoma State of course), played a little more, had a small snack, washed our hands and brushed our teeth, and laid down for bed. We both kissed him good night and told him we love him. Now he is sound asleep. Whew! Praise the Lord and Hallelujah!!! This has been one amazing day that I will never forget. We have our son, the perfect child for our family, and we are excited beyond words!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day Twenty-one: Surprise!

Today we woke up around 7:00am. The hotel has a breakfast buffet so we headed downstairs for the first breakfast we didn't have to cook in two weeks. We ordered omelets, but they covered them in chives. I really think when we get home I won't want to see chives or dill for a very long time. We came back in the room and I decided to unpack our little guys things and get the room a little more prepared for his arrival. It was raining and I knew we would be in the room most of the day, but I didn't want to just sit. Dimitri called and asked for JJ. It is funny how he always wants to talk to only one of us at a time. He wanted JJ to be in the room around two so we wouldn't miss his phone call. He said JJ would go with him to get the birth certificate. Now that we had our plans for the day JJ decided to take a nap. He had horrible heart burn last night and didn't sleep well. I stayed in the other room while he rested and practiced music for camp. It was so peaceful to sing and listen to songs. I read some in the Bible and surfed the web a little. Then Dimitri called back and said he wouldn't be at the hotel until 3:00-ish. The phone woke JJ up and we decided to get some lunch. The restaurant in the hotel was so quiet at lunch, but it has always been that way. We ordered off the "business lunch" menu (which seems to be a hugely popular concept here by the way) and our food came very quickly. Then we had ice cream for dessert, of course.
The ice cream at this restaurant is actually my favorite of any place we've eaten. Dining out in Russia is always an experience. They seem to make everything fancy, even ice cream bowls. We came back to the room and watched a movie. Our friend from Michigan came up to talk while his wife and kids took an afternoon nap. It was so nice to just talk about our experiences and things at home that were familiar. Dimitri came for JJ and I was left alone, so I decided to call my parents on Skype. In the middle of our conversation JJ came back. He asked me to sign a paper really quickly and then he totally shocked me. He said our little guy is coming tomorrow at 9:00am!! What??!! What happened to Thursday? JJ said Dimitri had told him there was a change in plans. He hurried out with the paperwork. I was left to wonder if it was real. I got off the phone and JJ came back shortly. Sure enough, Dimitri had said we would get our son tomorrow morning at 9:00am!! We were overwhelmed. I know this is the moment we have been preparing for all along but now that it has arrived ahead of schedule, well I'm so happy and so I don't even know what. I don't want to say nervous because that doesn't quite seem like the right word. Just full of emotions I guess. We hurried to tell our friends and then off to the store to get some food that hopefully will work for our little guy. Then we hurried back to the hotel. We had already planned to eat supper all together at a nearby restaurant. While we were talking in the lobby a gentleman approached us saying he noticed our English. Turns out he is adopting as well! This is their second child. He wife stayed home with their son and he made this final trip alone to get their second son. He had the same surprise as JJ and I. His son will be arriving tomorrow morning, also ahead of schedule. We will probably be finishing the end of our adoptions together. We all went to the restaurant, now a group of 5 adults and 2 toddlers. This place was called Route 66. Isn't that crazy? The really crazy part was the lack of English on the menu and the surprising resemblance to Hooters instead of just a burger place in the US. Our new friend told her little girl she couldn't wear shorts like that when she got older even if she likes orange. =) Our waitress spoke English rather well and we ended up with some good food. We even got onion rings that looked homemade. I couldn't help taking a picture of one of the table tops as we left. We are on the map all the way in Russia!

Now we get to try to rest. It is going to be hard with all the thoughts about tomorrow. I can't wait to share pictures with you guys. Tomorrow we will be a family of three!!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day Twenty-Back to Arch

Today we started our "get back on a more normal schedule so we can adjust before we get our son" campaign. Of course we had some motivation. Our flight back to Archangelsk left at 10:00am. We stayed up too late last night waiting on the dryer, but I woke up fairly ready to go. JJ got up and washed dishes. Whoohoo! I have the best husband ever! I went through each room gathering our random belongings and making sure things looked just like they did when we arrived. I enjoyed my nice big bathroom for the last morning. We will both miss that tub with jets. We did not fix breakfast and I was super hungry later. We crammed everything back into the two suitcases, backpack, and diaper bag that we hauled to St. Petersburg. Natasha showed up right on time. She had just arrived from Moscow on a train the night before. She has been super busy with families finalizing adoptions and the missions group visiting. We made it to the airport just in time. In fact, Natasha made us cut people to get inside and rushed us to the check-in desk. Our flight started boarding soon after we made it through security. Oh, we forgot to take our zip-lock baggies with liquids out of our carry-ons and we both got scolded. JJ had to search through his bag so the lady could inspect his shaving cream. I'm glad they have tight security, but it feels a little ridiculous after the billionth time. We made it on our flight just fine and it was a pretty smooth ride. It was a little bumpy as we descended, but that seems to be the norm. Vladmir met us at the airport and took us to the hotel. It was very quiet at the Hotel Pur Novalok. We were both hungry but the only place to eat in the hotel was the Sky Bar restaurant and we have learned that their speed of service is extremely slow. We went to a nearby pizza place instead. It is amazing how much the weather has changed in just the two weeks since our court hearing. The sun was shining. It was almost completely calm. People were walking all along the river/beach area. Some games of volleyball and soccer were being played on the beach. We saw several people in shorts. We came back to the hotel and got our Internet connection working. Then we tried to call Dimitri with no response. We still don't know the exact plan for our paperwork process. I guess we'll continue our campaign and get up early tomorrow in case we have a morning appointment. We watched a movie then went to get some groceries. We have a fridge, but no way to heat food. We will have a much more limited menu, but at least we can have sandwiches and cereal. We visited with our friends from Michigan. They arrived late last week and got their kids on Friday. The kids are so adorable. It is a huge adjustment and it will take time, but they are hanging in there and they have already made progress. I know we have that ahead of us too and I am praying for wisdom and peace during our first few days. It magnifies the difficulty that everything starts in a hotel across the world from everything familiar. At least we have a bigger room now. We have a "suite" for this portion of our stay, so the bed is in a separate room and we have a "living room" area as well. After our visit we hurried back for the most exciting part of our day, JJ preaching from Russia. JJ had planned to preach this Sunday when we first learned our itinerary. We had hoped our little guy would already be with us, but that wasn't too be. It was still very exciting. We got to see all our church family. We were able to be part of Sunday School, sing songs with everyone and just be part of the service. I am so proud of JJ for taking on this challenge and grateful to our wonderful friends, Casey & Ashley Drew, for sacrificing their time to help with the technology and cover services. JJ spoke about carrying the name of Jesus. It was a wonderful time, but it made me miss home more than ever. We have less than two weeks now. I hope everyone else had such a nice Sunday. Tomorrow a new phase in our journey begins.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day Nineteen

Today has been our last full day in St. Petersburg. Our flight back to Archangelsk leaves tomorrow morning at 10:00am. I think our bodies have become accustomed to a new routine and we are going to have some adjustments this next week. We have been sleeping later than normal each day. We usually eat breakfast around 11:00am, lunch around 4:00pm and supper around 8:00pm. I don't think we will be sleeping in as much from now on, but that is all right. JJ fixed a big batch of blini for breakfast. I started laundry and organizing the things we've spread out across the apartment. We watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on tv. I've become a little less annoyed with the Russian voice overs, but it is still not my favorite. Sometimes I just turn the volume all the way down. We had to visit the ATM, so we decided to make one last walk around our neighborhood. We took the video camera along this trip to film some of our surroundings. I'm grateful we decided to walk around because we saw an amazing sight. This weekend is the celebration of St. Petersburg's 308th birthday. Several blocks of the Nevsky Prospect were blocked off for the celebration. It was a sea of people as far as you could see. I did not take any pictures, but JJ filmed some of the festivities. It was like a fair or 4th of July celebration at home. Vendors were selling wigs, flags, and toys. Other people were painting faces. Every few blocks a stage was set-up with different musical acts performing. Around one square all sorts of booths were in place. It was actually pretty overwhelming trying to take it all in and not get run over at the same time. All that walking made us hungry. We ended up at a cafe we had visited before. We had tried their desserts and coffee, but this time we had chicken and mushroom pasta. It was tasty. =) Now we are back in the apartment waiting on the laundry. The dryer seems to take forever here, but at least we have a dryer, right? We've been in St. Petersburg two weeks now and there are some things I have not adjusted to even in this time. 1. Cigarette smoke everywhere. You simply can't escape it. 2.Very little personal space. I could not count the number of people I've bumped into, but no one seems to mind. People just walk and stand and sit so close to one another. 3.Chives and dill as seasoning. These seem to be the most popular spices. I can handle them, but only in small quantities. Often they seemed to be sprinkled all over our meals. I'm sure I'll find a few more things before we go home. I hesitate to even share these things. I've enjoyed our time here very much, but I wouldn't be truthful it I didn't say I won't miss some things about Russia. Well, Natasha should be calling us soon with more details about tomorrow. Paka for now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day Eighteen

We both slept well last night and I woke up ready to embrace a new day. Our time in St. Petersburg is almost complete and it feels like we are actually getting closer to get getting our son. I read some in Luke and washed dishes before JJ woke up. I fixed omelets and toast for breakfast. Our Internet has been inconsistent today, but we were able to check the news, Facebook, and other sites this morning. We watched some funny videos on YouTube. We worked on music for a youth camp we are helping with this summer. I will be leading the music for the evening services and JJ helped me by putting the songs on his classroom website so everyone playing in our group can hear them. We won't have much time to practice after JJ and I get home. We went out shopping for a few souvenirs and some gifts for those that have helped us in Russia. Gift giving is a cultural tradition and I think it is nice. I wouldn't do it at home, but I understand that some things are involved when traveling in another culture. JJ probably loves it. He is a natural gift giver. We found some nice gifts at a huge bookstore. I have enjoyed the large bookstores near our apartment. I can spend hours in a bookstore at home. It is not as relaxing here because of the language barrier, but they are still nice places to browse. We tried a new restaurant for lunch.
I've seen these giant spoons each time we've walked on the Nevski Prospect and the restaurant opened this weeks. Turns out it is similar to a Chipotle or Qdoba restaurant except they fill blini with fillings of your choice.

It was tasty and a fun dining experience. The manager spoke some English and she helped us order. Speaking of tasty, JJ couldn't resist snapping a photo of this sign.

Once again, some things are confused in translation. I can actually say tasty in Russian. It is one of the few words in my vocabulary. We came back to the apartment and spent some time on Skype. Then we went back out to find one last gift we forgot on our earlier trip. We picked up some Carl's Jr for supper. I hardly ever eat Carl's Jr at home, but it has become a good fall back plan here. Now we are watching Factor A, a Russian show like American Idol. In fact, JJ looked it up and he said Simon Cowell had something to do with the creation of this show. They are singing in Russian, but at least we can discuss their singing ability and stage presence. Maybe you should check it out on the web. It is pretty funny. Tomorrow we will start our laundry and packing mode. Hoorah!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day Seventeen-St. Isaac's Cathedral and Peter & Paul Fortress

St. Isaac's Cathedral

Anna said this brass chandelier weighs around three tons.

This is a rare stained glass window in an Orthodox cathedral. It was a gift.
Many of the paintings on the ceiling were changed into glass mosaics. The climate in St. Petersburg caused the original paintings to decay too quickly. Anna said an outline was made on plaster and then pieces of plaster were removed as each piece of glass was put in place.
The citizens of St. Petersburg grew cabbage in front of the cathedral during the siege of WWII. They painted the golden dome gray so it wouldn't be as obvious to enemy bombers. Many works of art were preserved in the cathedral.

Anna and I as matryoshka. Anna was a big help to us during our stay in St. Petersburg. She wants to illustrate children's books and she made some beautiful paintings for our little guys room. I wasn't as creative in our gift, but we did find, "The Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle, one of my favorite illustrators, to give her in return.
The entrance to the Peter & Paul Fortress
A spire atop the cathedral. This cathedral is the burial place for all the Russian emperors.

The "gate of death" where prisoners were taken out of the fortress to the place of execution.

There was an exhibit on torture in the Middle Ages. I did not feel compelled to spend any money exploring that display, but it did make for a funny photo op.
Sometimes things are a little confused during translation.
What a typical prison cell would have been like in the fortress. I gathered that most of the men and women imprisoned here were political prisoners waiting for trials.
The almost empty pitcher of house lemonade at a nice pizza place where we all ate lunch.
Tiramisu! Yum!!
The giant "tortilla" we used to make super in the apartment. It was an attempt at tacos, but it ended up more like cheese quesadillas because the meat seasoning was not so bueno.
And so we some to end of another day here. I hope your day was equally nice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day Sixteen-Half Way Point

Today, as my dad reminded me, is the half-way point for our time in Russia and, well, I'm pretty much ready to come home. Nothing against Russia. I have enjoyed our time here. St. Petersburg is a beautiful city. I have never felt unsafe. There are many things to see, shops to explore, and restaurants to investigate. I'm just ready for my own home. I really think even if I was on a tropical beach somewhere I would be ready to go home after two plus weeks. But we haven't accomplished our mission yet, so we have a few more days to go. Today we slept in late. It is hard to motivate yourself to get up early when you have no real agenda for the day. JJ fixed a huge breakfast. We didn't even finish all the blini he prepared. I did some cleaning and laundry. Staying in an apartment is different than a hotel in that way. I'm actually not sure how much cleaning we need to do before we leave on Sunday. We checked everything on the computer and watched some news videos. We've been watching more of the American news reports since the tornado hit Joplin. It rained off and on all day today, but we decided to walk back to the mall anyway. We wandered through some new stores. We found some cute but expensive kids clothes. We did find some crayons for the plane ride home. We'll get coloring books at one of the bookstores later in the week. We found the cleanest bathroom of the whole trip!! Clean bathrooms is pretty high on my list of important things about a place we visit and trust me when I say that many a bathroom, or WC, has fallen way below my usual qualifications for emergency stops. Ugh! I think some of these things would take a whole post. We had our first meal today that I did not enjoy. Overall the food here has been very good, but this was some sort of oriental restaurant in the mall food court (JJ called it the Turkish Sailor) and I couldn't finish the wrap I ordered. Double ugh! On a better note, we found regular Oreo's at the nice grocery store downstairs and decided at this point it was worth the money to have a taste from home. I plan to savor those cookies right after I finish this blog. We also found some fajita seasoning. Yeah! We came back home to get bags, packets, so we could get more groceries at our local market. You have to pay extra money if you want "packets" at the store. We have learned a few things in 16 days. We visited a nearby DVD store just for fun. By this time our half eaten lunch had worn off, so we ate supper at a Japanese place right by our apartment. I guess it was food from around the world day. This culinary adventure was much better. Then we got groceries for the next three days and dodged more rain drops on our final trip home. We did see a rainbow! I got to call my parents and Skype our friends tonight. So today should end on a nice note. We are one day closer to being a whole family back in Texas!

The one good thing about our lunch, a big cold Pepsi.
Enjoying the atmosphere at the Japanese restaurant.
Pork dumplings with soy sauce.
Some yummy chicken, noodles, peppers, and mushrooms. Oh, and chicken on a stick. Not so yummy, but still better than lunch.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day Fifteen-Happy 8th Anniversary

I don't think we will ever have another anniversary like today. I am so grateful that God put JJ and I together. I got to marry my best friend 8 years ago today and I hope to have many more years with him. Today we had cereal and toast for breakfast. Neither of us was really motivated to cook a big breakfast. I did wash some dishes before JJ woke up. We had our usual morning routines of checking Facebook, blogs, and news websites. Things are still awful in Joplin. It sounds like the President will be visiting at some point. We got cleaned up and ready to face the day outside of the apartment. JJ had directions to a bowling alley. It was a direction we had never gone. Walking this new way was the first time I felt like we might get lost this whole trip. We wandering into one mall, but it wasn't the right place. Finally a nice lady on the street noticed we were looking at our tiny Ipod map and looking around at the buildings. She laughed when we asked "Do you speak English?", but when JJ said bowling and pantomimed she pointed to the building right behind us. We were in the right place but we didn't know it. We made our way upstairs to the bowling alley where we got stopped by a large man I can only describe as "the bowling alley bouncer". I really didn't think he was going to let us inside, but when JJ said English he pointed us toward a counter and a cute girl who said we could pay at the ticket booth in the middle of the bowling alley. Then "bouncer" man let us pass. Whew! Turns out bowling in Russia is very similar to home. On a weekday in the morning there was a large group of kids, probably on a field trip from school, and one birthday party. Oh, and two Americans celebrating their anniversary. They let you pay by the hour and we managed to bowl three complete games in one hour. It was about my worst bowling score ever, but it was so much fun. My last game I bowled the whole game Granny style. We had 10 minutes left, so JJ tried to complete a fourth game for each of us speed bowling. He made it to the 8th frame and he was doing an amazing job. Both of our scores were 100+. We ate lunch at a nearby McDonald's then we made the long walk home. We were super tired. Later in the day we got "dressed up" and went out to find a nicer place to eat. I had brought one extra dress. I noticed on trip one that Russian are not very casual in their dress so I thought it might come in handy. JJ had a button up shirt and jeans. I thought he looked handsome. We got directions at our favorite souvenir shop and ended up at a restaurant serving traditional Russian cuisine. It was very good. JJ got an actual steak. Amazing! I got beef stroganoff. We had a stuffed chicken at our table as an additional dining companion. We each tried dessert. That is the most I've eaten in one meal our whole trip and I was stuffed. We walked back to the apartment, but we made a stop at a lovely bookstore on the way. I found the perfect gift for our new friend Anna. She's going to translate for us again on Thursday. Now it's time to rest. I feel so blessed! Thank You, Father, for this beautiful day.

This is JJ's crazy good bowling score. He bowled both games in 10 minutes.
A steak in Russia!
Beef stroganoff
These were called cottage cheesecakes. I really enjoy them, but JJ was done after one bite.

JJ enjoying ice cream. Again! =)
A cupcake in Russia. It was pretty large and didn't have any frosting.
Standing in front of the Kazan Cathedral.
The bookstore. I've heard this building used to belong to the Singer sewing machine company.