Sunday, November 30, 2008

our boys are amazing

I can't really imagine how this whole situation is for them . . . Stefan and I have spent time with Nastja (not lots, mind you) and have been able to develop a bond with her already. She knows who we are, she calls us Mama and Papa, she gives us hugs and lots of kisses, she wants to hold our hands whenever we walk somewhere (even down the hall) and she smiles when she talks to us. We love her so much already!

Now, how is it for our 3 guys? How do they feel about all this? They haven't actually said, so the best I can do is describe their reactions.

I'm not sure how to explain the feeling I get from watching them, other than to say that it fills my heart with warmth to see how they have reacted to her (the pictures, video and stories). Our oldest is turning 14 in a couple weeks and he talks about her like a proud big brother. He's very interested in seeing the pictures and hearing about everything that's happened on our trips. He keeps putting aside things he's going to give her when she gets here (one of his advent calendars, for example).

Mattias, almost 11, is super-interested in anything to do with the adoption. Yesterday his cousin was here, and, by himself, he got both the camera and video camera and hooked them up to the tv to show her the photos. At the same time, he was able to tell the same stories about each picture that Stefan and I told (he pays so much attention). When he tells it, it's almost like he had been there with us! Also, he has gathered all our wordbooks for both Swedish and English so he can help teach his little sister our languages.

Joel, soon to be 8, just lights up when we're showing someone the photos. He'll even stop playing with something to come over and look at pictures and listen to our stories. I think he is really looking forward to being a big brother. He, too, keeps saying things that start with "When Sofia gets here . . ."

There you have it. 3 proud boys who are so excited to hop on a train on Sunday, meet their little sister for the first time and bring her home!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

please rise

Okay . . . lame title for the post, but I couldn't think of anything catchy for this one, all about court . . .

We left the medical facility shortly after 11, and our court time was 12. We made it there exactly at 12, but were told not to worry because our judge is always late. We were really nervous because EVERYONE was telling us about how difficult the judge was. "Very precise", was the catch phrase. However, we were also warned not to worry because all our papers were in order and there was no legal reason for her not to grant the adoption petition. Stefan’s Swedish translator (S) said, “She just wants to mess with you.” I figured that it couldn’t be too bad because the other couple was scheduled for 1pm so she would only have us in there for one hour max (I was wrong about that . . .) My English translator (J) told me what to expect will happen, what questions might be asked and that she will let me know when I need to speak:).

The courtroom was in a run-down old building, on the second floor. There were 2 courtrooms there, and the narrow corridor was packed with people waiting.

We were finally called in about 12.45. In the courtroom was the court reporter, the prosecutor (wearing what looked like a marching band uniform with a very short skirt and tall black boots), a social worker from the city, the social worker from the children’s home, Stefan and I and our 2 translators. Once the judge was on the bench, we took turns to introduce ourselves and then Stefan began with his speech. He would read one or 2 sentences at a time and then S would translate. During this, the judge was flipping through our huge file, bookmarking pages and highlighting parts. Sometimes she would yawn , roll her eyes, or look around the room. She hardly ever made eye contact with us. At one point, she interrupted Stefan and asked J why she wasn’t translating the speech to me. It was explained to her that I understood Swedish and what Stefan was saying but that I had an English translator due to the legal nature of the proceedings and wanted to ensure that I understood everything. She seemed satisfied with that answer. When Stefan was finished the speech he had to remain standing and endure a barrage of questions. First, she started in on our financial situation. It was awful. She kept referring to an old financial document that had been sent to our agency in the summer. For some reason, a large portion of our income had been omitted. Two new updated budgets had been submitted since then with the correct numbers. She kept saying that according to her calculations, our expenses were more than our income, and she kept throwing numbers out which started to become really confusing because Stefan didn’t have any of these papers in front of him. Finally, after repeatedly being told she was referring to old documents and that the numbers in the speech were the correct ones, she dropped that bone. Next she had questions about the language . . . How would we manage with a Russian speaking child and what plans we had for helping her? These questions, Stefan was able to answer to her satisfaction. She had a few more basic questions, but nothing else surprising or difficult.

While the judge was questioning Stefan, J was translating the questions for me, but also Stefan’s answers when she heard them in Russian through S. Interestingly, sometimes what she translated to me was not what Stefan said . . . Don’t know if she said it wrong, or S changed things to what he knew the judge would want to hear . . .

Then it was my turn. She only asked me a few questions . . . Did I agree with the things my husband said, for example. I think I only had to answer “Dah” a few times. Then she asked about my residence permit - what kind it was. I explained that it was valid until October 2009 at which point I could apply for a permanent one. Then she asked if it was in my passport and I said it was. Well, she started rifling through our file and then exclaimed that she couldn’t find a copy of it. She sent J to fetch our representative (G) from the corridor and asked her where it was. G said it was there in the file. With a look of disgust, the judge told G to look for it herself. In the meantime, I was standing there whispering to J that I had it there in my hands in my passport. So I was told to show it to the judge who passed it to the court reporter. G couldn’t find it in the file, so she went out in the hall and called the office (they eventually found it there, and had it couriered to the courtroom). At some point, the judge had told G to sit down, but she refused (spitfire that she is - a woman in her early 60’s who pours herself into these adoptions).

Next the children’s home's social worker gave her speech. She also got chewed out by the judge for the way she had phrased something. J whispered, “She (the judge) just keeps saying the same thing over and over . .” And one more rebuke for having referred to us as visitors on the first trip . . .she went on about the psychology of it for the child. The city’s social worker said her bit. The judge treated both of them like they had never done this before. The prosecutor only had a question for the city social worker regarding why they were unable to find a Russian family for the child.

The judge left for a few moments and came back to read her speech, proclaiming the petition to adopt granted. Then there were just a couple questions about the spelling of her new name and we were able to leave that stifling room, an hour and a half after we went in!

In the hall, G gave us hugs, and S said, “It was a bit rough, but it went relatively well. It could’ve been even worse.” The other couple went in next and were done in 50 minutes - I think we tired out the judge!

It was rough, but in the end it was worth it because now Sofia Anastasia Violet is part of our family!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

doctor, doctor, gimme the news

We are home safe and sound . . . the house is freezing and the snow is deep. The boys were so excited to hear how things went and to see pictures and video.

This is a very detailed description of what happened Monday morning when we went for our required medical exam, which cost 500€ per person. I don't know if you can appreciate how ridiculous it was, but we can't help but laugh at the series of events (in fact, Stefan was laughing through his EKG). At the same time, I know I need to be respectful of the people who work at the facility, and I don't mean to show any disrespect to them as people, at all. Here it goes . . .

This morning the alarm went off at 05:45 . . . After a mostly cold shower, and the regular morning routine, we were ready for our 7:15 pick up (Vlad). We got to the medical centre just in time for our 8am appointments . . . Both couples were together. At reception, we checked our coats and, in return, we got paper booties to wear over our shoes. The foyer looked quite nice . . . New tiles on the floor, nice leather couches along the walls and the records room looked new and well-organized. Our representative led the four of us, along with our translator, through the foyer to the director of the facility’s office. All of a sudden, the surroundings were completely different. While her office was nice, the ward was old and run down - the linoleum in the corridors was bumpy, the lights were not all working, the wallpaper was peeling and pipes and wires were visible.

I was completely confused at first by the situation in the director’s office - there were 3 people sitting on the couch eating cake and drinking tea {we were fasting for our blood tests:)}, there was a man and a woman sitting on chairs in front of the desk and the director was sitting behind her desk (with a mink coat hanging on the back of her chair). While chairs were being organized for us, another man came in without booties and left again. After the director explained the purpose of the facility and the day’s visit, we quickly began our first medical examination, with the man in front of the desk - turns out he was the doctor for contagious diseases. He began with the other couple, asking them questions about childhood diseases, etc. We had the same battery of questions (childhood diseases, if we work with blood and if we’ve traveled to tropical destinations, or Africa) and then he deemed us healthy. Then we began our exam with the doctor for respiratory diseases - the woman in front of the desk. She asked questions of both couples about breathing issues, coughing, bronchitis, pneumonia, TB, if we’ve had TB tests, etc. During the exam, we found out that she had an aunt who lived in Jakobstad (moved there around the time of the Revolution) so she had many Swedish-speaking relatives, and understood our Swedish but couldn’t speak it. If you’ve been paying close attention, you will have noticed that the 3 strangers were sitting on the couch this whole time (I thought they were maybe other doctors but later on we realized they were an American couple with their translator. Btw, I later found this family's blog on the internet - they were from the DC/Virginia area), and both couples were examined together - so much for privacy!!

Next stop - blood work. The other couple had already been taken there by our representative, so we were following our translator, who got us lost. During our wandering around the facility, we quickly realized that they were in the process of renovating the building. Some parts were new and pristine, while others were falling apart. The lab took 6 vials of blood from each of us and most of them were the big ones (you’ll be happy to know it was announced publicly that we’re all HIV and Hepatitis free - again, so much for privacy). Then we were taken back to the director’s office to eat and drink a bit of tea. Next, we had our chest x-rays. Interesting situation. It is difficult enough to disrobe in an unfamiliar medical facility, but imagine that the people are not all medical professionals - one of them is your male translator! At least we got to go in one at a time, not the 4 of us together! The Russian equipment is a little different - the part you stand against is taller than a person, so once you are shoved up against it, your chin is forced up as well because there’s no place else for it to go. While we were waiting in the hall to get the all clear that the pictures were okay, a lady came walking down the hall in a bathrobe and slippers. Was there a spa here, too? At the EKG, we had to wait in the corridor for quite some time - not so sure if it was coffee time or . . .? Anyways, as a side note, we began to notice that the same old man kept showing up at the same location as us - bad luck for him he always had to wait for us. The EKG was exactly as had been described to us by another couple who had been here in July - first, 4 things that looked like jumper cables were attached to the ankles and wrists, then a set of 5 or 6 suction cups with blue “ping pong” balls on top were attached to the skin along the chest - of course, one is bare-chested for this, and the translator is there too, to help. “Breathe deep. Hold it. Breathe out. You’re done.” And that was it. 30 seconds.

Just when you think it can’t possibly get any better . . We go see the shrink. Thankfully, a little discretion was used, and we got to be one couple at a time. We were first. Stefan was his first victim. He asked lots of strange questions, but was mostly concerned about our siblings! Oh yeah, when he started grilling me, I nearly began to cry because he asked such a strange question that took me by surprise that I couldn’t answer in Swedish - my words were getting all mixed up. So, from then on, I spoke English, Stefan translated to Swedish for the translator who then relayed it to the shrink (who had no booties on). Of course, the near tears was just more material for him to work with . . . Our exam went on for quite some time, during which he also answered a call on his cell phone. In the end, he signed off that we were mentally healthy. The other couple’s exam lasted 5 minutes . . .

From there, we went down the hall to an office where there were 3 doctors - an oncologist, a dermatologist and an internist. The internist (who must’ve been 10 years past retirement) took our BP, listened to our chests, and had us lay on the couch while she probed and prodded our unclothed torsos. The dermatologist asked if we had skin problems or family history of skin problems and the oncologist asked if we had a family history of cancer or any history ourselves with it. Then she performed a breast exam. Afterwards, Stefan said that our translator must have the best job - he gets to see lots of boobies.

Our last exam was the neurologist who deemed us healthy after testing our reflexes, watching us move our eyebrows, smile big, touch our nose and stick out our tongue. She also asked about headaches, but I was too afraid to tell her that my head felt as if it was going to explode at that moment.

Back in the director’s office, we got more tea and cakes as well as chocolate bars. We signed papers that said we believed everything the doctor’s wrote about us and then it was time to go. Earlier, we had been given our chest x-rays to take home as souvenirs.

We left the medical facility shortly after 11. Court was scheduled for 12.

our princess

Today, we got to sleep in, and boy did it feel great. We set the alarm for 8:45 so we wouldn't miss the hotel's breakfast buffet (yesterday we did not get to partake . . .). After breakfast, we did a little souvenir shopping in the hotel and it the small mall that is part of the hotel. There was a toy store, a perfume shop, a few souvenir shops, a grocery store (Prisma), a cafe and about 7 shoe shops. Then we hung out in the lobby on our floor while we waited for our room to be cleaned (by the way, it's about 240 metres from the elevators to our room).

We were picked up along with the other couple at 2pm (we ate some chicken nuggets before we left). Traffic was so bad - it took 90 minutes to get to the children's home. This time, we were all ushered into the director's office. The other couple's 2 boys were fetched, and then they all headed off to make blinis, translator in tow. Stefan and I were left there not really understanding what was going on, except that the director wanted us to sit on the couch. Shortly after, Nastja came in and climbed onto our laps with kisses and hugs. I pointed to her backpack, so she went and got it and pulled out all her new surprises. While we were waiting for whatever was going to happen, she worked on the puzzle- and she is really good at puzzles! While the 3 of us are doing this, the teacher came in and sat at the computer, and our representative came in and was talking with the director. Every once in a while, someone would say something to us in Russian. Of course, only Nastja understood . . .

Eventually, we ended up in the hallway and someone brought Nastja's coat and hat. The Social Worker was ready to go, and the translator and rep as well. The 6 of us were going on a field trip. Remember that smile I wrote about? It turns out that while the adoption process was taking so long, the social worker was doing some work on Nastja's behalf. She is the sole heir to some property in a suburb outside SPB. If the adoption had been completed before some court hearings that took place in October, she would have had no right to it. Anyways, they took us out to see it this afternoon. Don't get too excited. Our princess's castle is a real fixer-upper. In fact, we couldn't even go inside . . . wasn't recommended. I did get a couple pictures (in the dark) and will post when I get home. Apparently, she remembers living there, but I'm not so sure . . . It will be several months before we can do anything with it - still lots of legal work to do . . .

Funny side story - on the way to the "castle" we were stopped for awhile in traffic - that's nothing new - but after awhile we noticed that cars were starting to honk - which is not so common here. Then we saw LOTS of police cars driving on the overpass in front of us . . . they were taking the exit and yielding onto the road in front of where we were stopped. Can you guess who it was? Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Were the drivers honking because they were happy to see him? Njet.

Back to the children's home, then immediately back out to get passport photos taken. When we got back to the home, again, we were told to take her to her group and then say our goodbyes. Her group was outside, so we dropped off her stuff in the playroom and then went out and met up with the group and nanny. I got pictures of the other children in her group and all their names. When we saw the others come out of the building, we said goodbye to Nastja. She asked if we were coming back tomorrow. Stefan showed 13 fingers and the nanny tried to explain what he meant by drawing figures in the snow. So cute. Many kisses and hugs later, we were gone.

The drive to the hotel took forever. We had dinner with the other couple again. Really nice people. It will be nice to be able to get together with them from time to time since we live fairly close to each other.


Well, I'm blogging and Stefan's sleeping. We have a 6:20 pickup tomorrow, so I should get to bed.


Monday, November 24, 2008

and then we were six

Yeah! We made it through this very stressful day. And yes, our request to adopt was granted! I am trying to put together a post describing the day's events, which will be very long and detailed. I will post it once I'm done. We'll be heading out for a celebratory dinner with the other couple that is adopting from the same children's home (we've pretty much done everything together today) in about an hour.

Tomorrow we are free all morning and then will go to the children's home in the afternoon.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

we're here

Ohhh, there's so much to say . . . but only so much time on the Wifi card I had to buy . . . .

We got on the train last night at 10 to one and then tried to sleep for 5 hours. That didn't work out so well, but at least we got to rest. In Helsinki, we met the other couple adopting from the same home and got on the next train together (same car, opposite ends). When we were heading to the dining car for breakfast, we had to show our tickets and passports to the conductors, and they gave us some piece of paper to fill out (I can't remember the name right now, and our passports are in reception right now waiting for registration). Back in our seats, we had to show our passports to Finnish customs officers - mine got stamped. At the last stop in Finland, Russian border patrol got on the train and collected our passports. Then more came through and asked if we had anything to declare. Between the last stop in Finland and the first in Russia (Vyborg) is the area called the Customs Surveillance Zone and the train moves rather slowly through there (about 45 minutes). Just before Vyborg, our passports were returned, and then we went to the dining car for lunch with the other couple. The couple at the table behind us was eavesdropping . . . turns out they are on their first trip here to meet their referral.

Did I mention the snowstorm? It was so windy and cold when we got off the train!!! Vlad was waiting for all 6 of us and took us to the cars. The newest couple got the minibus to go to their hotel, and Vlad was to take us other four directly to the orphanage. However, we had to detour by the hotel first because his car was not big enough for all our luggage - we had a full size suitcase across our laps since the trunk was full!

Did I say anything about driving in SPB in the snow? Vlad doesn't have snow tires, but they're new tires!!

Next stop - children's home. The social worker led us all upstairs to the area outside the director's office where we could leave our coats and gifts for the home. We decided to all be together in the big drama room so it was easier for Vlad to help translate with both couples. When the children came running in, it was a little funny at first because they were a little confused who was who - both dads are tall and blond. Guess who got the first hug? - Stefan.
She looked so cute! She had a pretty dress on, and we got to see how LONG her hair is! We had brought a backpack with small gifts for her - a puzzle, some candies, a keychain, balloons, girlie chapstick, and a shirt. She loved the chapstick and kept trying to get Stefan to try some. We did the puzzle a few times, played with the balloons, etc. We took LOTS of pictures this time because we did such a lousy job of that on trip 1. Nastja even got ahold of the camera and took lots herself. She whispered the names of her new brothers in my ear. She knew that Mama is Barb and Papa is Stefan.

When I had out my notebook (we were discussing things with the Social Worker), she used it to draw some pictures of us. First me, then Stefan, then her beside me, then another her beside Stefan! She also wrote her name (well, she said it was her name!).

Before we left, we took her down to her family room. There, her nanny told us that she has really missed us, she talks about us a lot, she's been waiting for a very long time, and that after we were there last she had missed us so much she wouldn't eat properly.

On the way back to the hotel, we found out that it will, in fact, cost for our medical exams tomorrow - something we had not been told and had not prepared for. Vlad made some calls and now everything is sorted out. At the hotel, we just went to McDonald's for dinner (trying to get the cholesterol up for the bloodwork tomorrow:)). I didn't iron my blouse for tomorrow because on the internet it said our room would have an iron. NOPE. And, it costs to have them take it to iron, but I'm more worried I wouldn't have it back in time for our 7:15 departure tomorrow morning. Stefan says I should just pretend it got wrinkled during the medical exam . . .

So, tomorrow is Medical exam at 8 and then court at 12. Wish us luck. We keep hearing that our judge is very strict. The social worker said there will be LOTS of questions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

leaving soon

In about 16 hours, we'll be getting on a train heading southeast! Before that, Stefan and I still have full days of work. Also, we're not packed yet . . . just a hockey bag full of donations for the children's home. Last night, we had a test session of our clothes for court and I have laid out what needs to be ironed (after I get home from my workshop). Hopefully, Sam will pack his bag today while we're out so that I can drive him to his uncle's house this evening (he's staying in Nykarleby with Daniel, Jenny and Kasper). I can help the other 2 pack later. They're staying with Fammo and Faffa, just 200 metres away.

We get on the train at 00.40 and have booked a sleeper. However, we know from our trip in May that we won't get much sleep. We get into Helsinki at 06.54 and the train to SPB leaves at 07.25. We'll arrive there at 14.15 and go directly to the children's home with another couple.

Time is ticking, so I better get ready for the day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the joys of boys

Our boys have reached a new stage in their life - the one where we can go out without having to arrange babysitting. It's great, but at the same time . . . one must exercise a little caution. I've learned something important along the way:

Make sure the rules are clear.
  • Bedtime is the same whether we're home or not. I don't want to hear "Oh no! She's home already!" as soon as I come through the door and then hear scampering towards the bedrooms.
  • Don't phone me repeatedly, interrupting my class, to ask if you can bake when I'm not home. The answer will always be no. The phone is on for emergencies.
  • Put the seat down after you're done, Mattias.
  • The house should pretty much look the same as when we left - not as if a stampede came through.
  • No open flames . . . of any sort . . .No, you can't roast marshmallows while we're out. No candles. No firecrackers. No, you can't show your younger brothers how high the flame is on your nifty lighter (why he has a lighter is another post).
  • Sharpie pens are not intended to be used for face painting (if you must draw freckles and a mustache on yourself, use a Crayola Washable, please).
  • Don't lie about daring your brother to eat gross concoctions from the fridge. The little ones will rat you out every time:)
This gives you a little glimpse into our life. Never dull, anyways!

Friday, November 14, 2008

favourite photo friday

I like this picture I took of Joel the other day while he was doing his math homework.
I wondered why he looked so happy while he was doing homework . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

this just in

Our travel agent called today to let us know there had been some Visa problems (only mine)- but that everything was now sorted out. The consulate in Helsinki declined mine . . . turns out they're no longer processing Canadian ones there (they were in May!) with regular processing time - it would take 14 business days!. So mine has to be sent to another consular office in another city (I forget the name) for express processing at a hefty fee.

At least we'll have them back in time for travel.

BTW, I'm still grinning from ear to ear but I can't say anything now about why for legal reasons - so you'll just have to wait:)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

wow

It's been a good day on the adoption front. We got a couple of emails from T in SPB and with them came some really good news.

The first bit of good news was about "Gotcha Day" - the day we get to take Sofia from the orphanage. To give you a bit of background, we have heard from other families here in Finland who have adopted from Russia that Gotcha day can be a bit harried. One family said that it was a 3 hour drive to the home, they had to quickly dress the child and then leave just as quickly to get back to the city to do official paperwork business. Well, T told us that the home we are adopting from "is very special". They see Gotcha Day as very important, and therefore have a big party. We've been told to expect it to last at least 2 hours. There will be singing, dancing, etc.

Oh yeah - remember I said there was another family adopting from the same home? Actually, it's 3 Swedish-speaking families.

The other bit of good news . . . I can't actually say what it is. But, just know that it's really, REALLY good news, and explains for us why we have waited so long since trip 1 (although I'm sure this was not masterminded by people).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

were you wondering about travel plans?

If you remember, we found out last Wednesday that there were no trains running between SPB and Helsinki on the 23rd (as it turns out, there won't be any service on that route for all Tuesdays until the end of the year). On Thursday, I returned to the travel agency to bring in our proof of travel insurance and new visa applications (because we're staying one day longer, we need visas that reflect that). At that point she hadn't received confirmation from the hotel regarding an extra night, so we still had no visa support (in order to get a visa, you need support - usually a hotel stating they have reservations made for you).

On Friday . . . still no news.

Monday . . . still nothing, so I called the travel agent. She had heard from the hotel that they didn't have the same kind of room we had booked for the third night, so we could downgrade for all 3 nights or change rooms after 2 nights.

Today we got an email that the hotel has confirmed our 3 nights, in the class of our choice (yipee) so we have our visa support. Our applications (and passports) will go to the embassy tomorrow and will be ready for us to pick up next Thursday.

Now we have to make a decision about train travel. We can choose the cheaper option: board the train at 2am and change trains twice in Finland or the more expensive: board at midnight and change once (Helsinki). I suppose we could also consider another option - taking the train earlier on the 22nd and sleeping in Helsinki, but it's already the worst time of the year for Stefan to be away from work and he could probably use that extra 12 hours here. The thing is, we'll be going straight from the train station to the children's home on the 23rd, so we'll want to be rested, right? I'll keep you updated. (Footnote: we are to be on a specific train from Helsinki to SPB, it's the connections we can decide about ourselves).

In related news, we found out that a family that is travelling on the same train as us from Helsinki to SPB has the exact same schedule as us. They have their doctors' appointments at the same time, court the same afternoon. We are even adopting from the same home. How cool is that? They live about 50km from here, so I think that will be great for Sofia to have someone she knows relatively close (unless it's her worst enemy . . . )

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ahhhh . . . the best laid plans

This just in - no trains are running on November 25th from SPB back to Helsinki. We can take the bus, fly or stay one more night. We are choosing the latter option. Made a just-before-closing call to the travel agent so that everything can be in order when I go back to town tomorrow. We'll have to do new visa applications to be there another day. Good thing the applications had not gone to the Russian embassy yet.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

so many things to do

Well, I meant to write an update yesterday, but I simply ran out of time . . . I was able to take the day off work Monday so we could go to town and arrange our trip to SPB. Before we left the house, however, we waited until 10am so we could phone S in Helsinki and ask a few questions. First, I wanted to ask if she thought it was possible for us to ask for the 10 day waiting period to be waived, but at the same time I was afraid she was going to think I was an idiot for asking (you know . . . "swimming against the stream", not doing things the usual way, etc.). This is how the conversation went:
Me: "Sooo . . . we were wondering . . . do you think . . . does it ever happen for Finnish families that the judge will waive (insert extremely mispronounced Finnish translation here) the 10 day waiting period?"
S: no direct quotes - only in medical cases where the child is gravely ill and needs immediate attention in a Finnish hospital, or if there is some sort of sickness in the orphanage and it is healthier for the child to leave

So, we have decided at this point not to pursue asking for the 10 days to be waived. We know it would be extremely difficult, anyways, as far as our visas are concerned.

About the visas. It was suggested by S that we try to get a 30-day double entry visa so that we can go back for the Gotcha trip on the same visa. The processing time for that kind of visa is 3-4 weeks. We don't have enough time for that before we leave. There is a possibility to get express processing of the double visa - but not for residents of Finland (as well as several other countries). I wonder if they're still upset about Finland's Independence? Anyways, the single entry visa takes about 10 days to process, so we'll have it in plenty of time. It just means that we'll have to apply for the next visa immediately when we get back from this upcoming trip.

We are in and out of SPB very quickly - arrive Sunday afternoon and leave Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, we can't be there any longer because there are 8 Finnish families at court during that last week in November and only 2 drivers for the organization, so they have all our schedules worked around each other.

Did I mention we have to go see 8 Russian doctors during the morning before court? Despite having had medical certificates issued here? Fun times.

A bit of news that brightened my day during yesterday morning's phone conversation - all 6 families who have the same judge as us, had to have a report written by the social worker about their religion and belief system. It wasn't just us. (huge sigh of relief) We thought we were being singled-out.

I think I said last week that we had a list of about 14 more things to get done by next week, as per the judge's request. I was wrong, but you have to forgive me because the original list was in Finnish (with some Russian letters) and I was just going by the number I saw. We now have the list translated to Swedish. It is in fact 8 things we have to do/get (some items are broken down into smaller bits - thus the 14). But, 2 of them will be looked after by the agency. Of the 6 things left, we already have 1) given an interview to the SW about our faith, 2) gathered more photos with detailed descriptions (ready to be mailed to SW tomorrow so she can write a cover letter and authenticate the photos) and 3) got a new photocopy of my passport (apparently the one sent earlier is too dark for the judge to see my face) - the magistrate was miffed that it was an issue because a) the judge will see me in person and b) the magistrate already declared that it was, in fact, a copy of my passport. Oh well, C'est la vie!

One last thing. Poor Joel . . . he has a floorball tournament the day Stefan and I are on the train to SPB. His very first official sport competition and his parents can't be there. Thankfully, he's more excited that his little sister will be here soon! His brothers are, too.

I'm gonna go watch some election coverage now, even though we'll be sleeping by the time it's known who the next American president will be (the first polls close about an hour from now).

The Holms

Denmark Road Trip

The outskirts of St. Pete

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, Saint Petersburg was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The reverse of the coin features a view of Saint Petersburg, with the Peter and Paul Fortress and its three turrets. In the coin the words "St. Petersburg 1703-2003" can be seen.