Monday, May 31, 2010

May 2010 Book Review

Three To Get Deadly
- Janet Evanovich- I reread this book. It was on my nightstand and within reach one evening when I wasn’t quite ready to sleep. This isn’t me saying that Janet Evanovich puts me to sleep. No. That would be Jane Austen. Maybe I should keep her books on my nightstand. Hmmm…that might lead to a pretty severe dust problem though. Maybe not.

The Graveyard Book- Neil Gaiman- There were parts of this book that I really liked but more parts that I felt were just tedious. It took me entirely too long to get through this book and I am sad about that.

Grub- Elise Blackwell- A book about writers and the publishing world. I probably shouldn’t have read this book when I am so up in the air about my own writing future. It’s not a bad book by any means but kind of makes me want to run screaming from traditional publishing. I also don’t like that the two biggest jerk characters in the novel end up doing really well. But, sometimes, that’s life, right?

Kiss of Midnight- Lara Adrian- A vampire romance novel written by a local author and recommended to me by my boss. Not the worst book I’ve read but not the best either. It’s a perfectly fine Popsicle book. If you're not opposed to vampire on human action, then go for it. I took issue with the slang the vampire warriors used. They’re hundreds of years old so it was strange to read them calling each other “Dude” or saying things like “let’s stop jerking each other off and blow up this mutha” And, in classic romance novel style, the heroine is kind of an idiot. But, what are you gonna do? That said, I’ll be reading the next one in the series. It sounds like it’ll be crazy similar to this one, just a different warrior guy screwing a different unsuspecting human girl.

Kiss of Crimson- Lara Adrian- The second in the vampire romance series. Did I mention before that the vampires aren’t the undead but rather descendants from blood craving aliens who crash landed on earth centuries ago?

Midnight Awakening- Lara Adrian- The third vampire romance novel. I do hope that the vampire warrior Sterling Chase finds a nice girl soon because he's had a rough couple of books. Anyway, must read some classic literature now.

The Awakening- Kate Chopin- I really do adore this woman's work. I think I might start re-reading all the classic novels I was supposed to have read in high school and college because I know I'll get much more out of them now than I did then.


May Books: 7
Year To Date Total: 45
Books Remaining: 55

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Best of the Rest

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip that didn't make it into the trip blog:

As you can see, we packed light.
Sunset over the Atlantic
Found in Terminal One

Also found in Terminal One...looks just like my psycho hell cat, Fat Cat

A Fashionista from the start
Teaching Jupiter the Maine Stein Song (drink, drink, drink!)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Homeward Bound

May 29, 2005

Homeward Bound

(warning...this is a long one.)

Hip Hip Hooray! We're on our way home.

First stop? The breakfast buffet. Gotta load up while we can. Who knows what we'll be offered on the plane. This time, the hostess checks the list for our names and can't find us anywhere. She asks if we ate here yesterday, which we did, so we say yes. She eventually gives up and lets us go.

After breakfast, we go back to the room for the final packing flurry. We've decided that all things not vital will be left behind. Gotta cut weight from our packs (Thank goodness we ate all the goldfish crackers. We wouldn't have stood a chance then.) so say good bye to the toiletries. I keep my deodorant though. You never know.

Jupiter amuses herself by playing with my flashlight. It stopped working back in Ekaterinburg (and somehow still made it to Moscow, go figure) so I'm not worried about it. When we've checked and double checked and triple checked everything (yes, the purple book has been my carry on, of course. Think I would risk putting it under the plane?), we attempt to leave the room. Wendy has the baby bag, her Tommy document tote bag, and oh yeah, that's right, the baby. I get the suitcases. I have one. Wendy and Jupiter have two. I connect Wendy's two together and connect my own Tommy document tote bag to my suitcase. My backpack, fittingly, is on my back.

It takes some maneuvering to get out of the hotel room as it's quite narrow and two suitcases don't exactly fit side by side. I take the first one out and leave it in the hall so I can go back for the other. Jupiter says good bye to the housekeeping staff. We thank them and then thank them again as they hold open the doors for us so we can get down the hall to the elevators.

We don't make it very far when one of the ladies comes chasing after us. We look at each other, unsure what we could've possibly forgotten. She hands me my flashlight. Looks like it'll be making the trip home after all. I thank her and put it in my Tommy bag as it is the most accessible.

Some nice people hold the elevator for us and we stumble our way inside. I have a feeling it's going to be a clumsy day, which is fantastic because there's nothing like being clumsy while traveling half way around the world. Well, across the Atlantic anyway.

Boris meets us in the lobby. He comes down from the casino upstairs when he sees us. He takes the suitcases. I go to the front desk to check out. They're busy and Boris doesn't like to wait so I drop the keys off and say thank you to anyone within earshot and go catch up to the rest of my group.

Wendy and Jupiter sit in the back and I sit up front. Boris plays the radio and we sing "Puttin' on the Ritz" together. No, seriously. We did. It was great. It took my mind off being able to see the working speedometer and my abject terror of what it said. Sergei's speedometer didn't work and when we rode with Viktor, there was so much traffic, speed really wasn't an issue. Not so in Boris's car. And I'm not exactly known for driving the speed limit either.

But we get to the airport. Boris hurries us along. "Let's go!" he says. "Let's go!" He finds a luggage cart and loads everything on it. Stuff falls out of the baby bag, including the all important stacking cups, but we recover everything. The stacking cups end up in my bag. Any port in a storm. Once we get through the first round of security, we give him 2000 rubles and go find the Lufthansa desk to pay our change of ticket fees and pick up our new tickets. There are two hours before our plane leaves.

The ticket agent lady is very nice but not nice enough to waive our change of ticket fee. The machine doesn't seem to like Wendy's card so we give her mine. She gives us tickets in return and we thank her.

We have to check in next. We're practically first in line. I ditch the luggage cart and we wait. Jupiter decides she's hungry which is understandable because we didn't have the opportunity to have any lunch or tour the duty free shops like we thought we would. Wendy placates her with a cookie. All is good again so Jupiter flirts with everyone around her. They smile at her in that way that screams, "Man, I hope I don't have to sit next to you, kid!"

While we wait, we watch the poor suckers flying home on Delta. Their security check is much more invasive than Lufthansa's. I don't know whether to be worried or glad about that. I decide to be glad because I don't really need anything else to worry about at the moment. Or maybe even ever. Who knows. Ever's an awfully long time.

When we finally get to check in, we get seats at the back of the plane. She's given us an entire row to ourselves which will help immensely. We thank her profusely, take our boarding passes and everything else and move on to passport control.

The magic of traveling with a baby strikes again as an attendant waves us through the special short line and puts us through passport control before everyone else trying to get out of the country. They barely look at my stuff and focus more on Wendy and Jupiter. Which makes sense. I'm not complaining. They clear the three of us and we get to move on to the next waiting area.

Our first priority is to find something for the baby to eat. There's a cafe upstairs that has milk but nothing else really useful. Wendy puts the milk in the sippy cup and we move on. There's a sandwich stand selling well, sandwiches, amongst other things so Wendy gets a chicken sandwich, hoping Jupiter will eat some of that. They sit near our gate and work on the sandwich. I go to the ladies room and then wander around the other side of the waiting area, foraging for more food. I find a bar that sells yogurt. It's kiwi flavored, odd and not my first choice, but it's better than nothing and something the baby might eat. And if she doesn't eat it, then Wendy will.

When they announce our flight, we move through security. It's a little more involved but nothing like flying home on Delta last time (For anyone not aware, the last time was November 2004, on our first trip to Ekaterinberg and Serov. Russian adoptions require families to make two trips.). The waiting area here is much smaller and much fuller so we're lucky to be able to claim one seat. Wendy tries to sit with Jupiter but Jupiter doesn't want to sit so they walk around and around. I sit with all the luggage. They walk around and around some more. Jupiter doesn't want to hold Wendy's hand and screams when Wendy tries to redirect her out of a group of people. Everyone watches and probably thinks, "Please don't let me be next to them."

When Wendy's tired, they come back to the chair and I take Jupiter around and around the waiting room. She doesn't want to hold my hand either and screams when I try to stop her from running directly into people. I hang in there as long as I can but soon I get tired too and have to force Jupiter back to our chair. Wendy's turn.

We swap off until they announce our flight is now boarding. I gather up the luggage; Wendy gathers up the baby and we wait. They don't announce the boarding by row here like they do in the U.S. so it's every man, woman and child for themselves and everyone is standing in one large mass, waiting to get onboard. We're standing near the back of the pack when a representative from Lufthansa comes and pulls us out of the line and brings us to the front. Man, traveling with a baby is awesome. I've gotta get me one of them for my next trip!

Our seats are near the back of the plane and we're fortunate enough to have the entire row to ourselves. Wendy takes the window, Jupiter gets the middle and I take the aisle. We arrange our carry-ons so the necessities are within easy reach (stacking cups...check!) and then fasten our seat belts. Jupiter's in a fantastic mood and I'm not being sarcastic either. We figure she'll go right to sleep after the lunch trays come around and she's eaten.

Take off is easy. We play with Jupiter's toys while we wait for lunch. Jupiter throws her purple duckie in the seats behind us. The kind gentleman sitting there returns it to us only to have it land in his lap again. We apologize and tuck purple duckie away for the moment. We try the stacking cups. These seem to be working out wonderfully until Jupiter decides to throw them at the people sitting across from us. I catch a couple but not all of them. I then get out of my seat to retrieve the rest. Some have fallen on the floor under people's feet. I say, "Excuse me" in English and Russian, figuring they'll likely understand one of those, and duck down to get them. Everyone's so helpfully not moving their feet (yeah...that was sarcasm) but as this month had proven, I am scrappy and I persevere.

Lunch is a choice between beef or pork. Wendy gets beef. I ask for pork. Wendy drinks water and I drink coke. The pork dish comes with tomato sauce. I don't like tomato sauce really. My family will tell you how I stubbornly refused to eat any red foods for a long long time growing up and some of that (all right, most of that) has stuck my entire life. Tomato sauce is one of those things. So you know I was hungry when I inhaled my meal and then actually wanted more. Unfortunately, there was no more to have. The beef dish is lo mein. Jupiter loves the noodles. When Jupiter's full, she loves to throw the noodles. Everywhere. We apologize more as we pick lo mein off of...well, just about everything. Sorry nice Lufthansa people. We didn't mean to trash your plane. Really.

The lo mein...pre-flight

Then lunch has come and gone and Jupiter's showing no signs of sleeping. The stacking cups hold no interest nor does purple duckie. I give her my sunglasses and these work for a while but then they too become airborne. We try the iPod next. I hold onto it just in case. It doesn't work and Wendy starts walking up and down the aisle with Jupiter. We know you're not supposed to do that but no one says anything. Wonder why.

It's not a long flight from Moscow to Frankfurt, which we appreciate. The plane doesn't pull up to the airport and we disembark from the back exit and get onto a bus. Wendy and Jupiter sit near the door and I stand next to them as there are no other seats left. The drive to the airport is a considerable one and it is here that Jupiter finally falls asleep. We wonder if they could possibly keep driving around the tarmac until our next flight. When we get to our gate, I pick up all the carry on luggage and Wendy carries the baby.

We're scheduled to leave from Gate 87A which is on the other side of the airport so we start heading in that direction. Everyone else's plane seems to be leaving from the other side of the airport too because there's a mass exodus heading for the escalators. We work our way on. We're about half way up when someone starts screaming bloody murder. It's crowded and chaotic and no one knows what's going on and no one wants to find out. The people ahead of us try to back up while the people behind us are trying to push forward. My primary concern is preventing Wendy and Jupiter from getting trampled which is hard when you're only one person.

We get to the top of the escalator and the scene isn't much better. The escalator lets off right in front of the passport control line, which is currently enormous. The people waiting in the passport control line are irritated and concerned that the escalator people might be butting in line, and I'm sure some are, so they're pushing and everyone else is pushing. I start pushing too. When in Rome, right? Or rather, when in Frankfurt. I imagine myself a blocker in football and try to clear a path as best I can. I like to think I'm mildly successful. I'm not saying the Pats would draft me but they should consider it at least.

We make it through the major crush and find ourselves able to take a breather. We check a map to find out how to get to Gate 87A. We're on the right track. Bonus.

Jupiter's amazingly still able to sleep and we slow it down and take our time getting to our destination. We're now the only people in our particular hallway. But not for long. Another group, not so interested in taking their time, come and invade our nice quiet walkway. They're also not interested in moving to one side of the large empty hallway and come close to trampling Wendy and Jupiter. I want to yell, "Hey! We're walking here!" but decide against it.

To get to gate 87A you have to take a train. We go up another escalator to get to the train platform and wait for it to show up. Wendy says she hopes they don't decide to change our gate number as they did when we were here the first time because she's gonna be pissed if we have to go through all this again. I hope they don't decide to change the gate number either because I don't want to have to tell Wendy we have to go through all that again.

Checking out the view

The train is quiet, clean and not crowded. Wendy sits with the baby. I stand. We make small talk with an American standing near us who thinks Jupiter's a beautiful baby. We have that in common. We're all headed toward A gates. Guess where all the America bound flights leave from! The pushy group is also on our train. They're going to the A gates too. We hope they're not on our flight. Or if they are, we hope they see us getting to board first. Ahead of them. At least I do. I know my maturity's always in question anyway so I'm not worried about seeming petty.

We get to the A gate terminal, which I guess is called terminal A if you want to get all technical. We check the departure board only to find our flight isn't listed at all. This does not make Wendy happy. We walk down the hall looking for a ticket desk or any sort of Lufthansa desk where someone might be able to tell us where we need to be. We find it and I go to ask. The gentleman tells me we're still in the correct location. It's just too early for them to put the flight on the board. He points us in the direction of the gate and off we go.

On our way, Wendy sees a group of lonely luggage carts. She looks at them longingly.

"Will you get one of those carts and push me the rest of the way?" she asks.

"Why bother with the cart," I say with only mild sarcasm. "Just jump on my back."

Before you get to the gate, there's security. This is the take your shoes off we're going to confiscate this nail file kind of security. I hand off all the tickets and passports to the first lady and then start loading our bags and outerwear onto the belt.

"Do you have anything in your pockets?" the lady asks, handing the tickets and passports back to me.

I check. I have crumpled up tissues and chapstick in my pockets. She indicates that I should put those in a bin and send them through the X-Ray machine. Seems weird but I comply. My shoes are next and, after being patted down by Security Lady, I am free to go through the metal detector.

Meanwhile, Wendy is trying to get the security people to let her go through the process with Jupiter still sleeping in her baby carrier. It's a losing battle as the security people want the baby carrier to go through the X-Ray machine so they take Jupiter out. She's suddenly cranky and screaming. Wendy's suddenly cranky too but she doesn't scream even though I'm sure she wants to. I throw my shoes on and tell Security Lady to give me the baby and she does, which helps abate the crying.

"Are you sure you don't want me to undress the baby?" Wendy asks.

Security Lady shakes her head, not realize Wendy was being more than mildly sarcastic.

While Wendy's getting felt up, I try to collect our bags. Security Man is holding my Tommy tote. This cannot be good.

"Is this your bag?" he asks.


"There's something metal in here."

I really want to say, "No shit. Really?" or "Yeah. There's a lot of metal in here. Want to be more specific?" but once again, I say neither of these things and open the bag, the carefully arranged for easy accessibility of vital things in a small cramped space bag, and start pulling stuff out.

Digital camera? No.

Alarm clock? No.

Cell phone? No.

Game Boy? No.

The other Game Boy? No.

Soon I have taken everything out of the bag and find, at the very bottom, the flashlight that was nearly left behind. I pull this out and Security Man nods.

"Do you need to open it?" I ask. "Turn it on? Anything?"

"No," he says.

I smile because I'm so happy that I've taken everything out of the bag so he could discover the metal flashlight at the very bottom of it and then not even care enough to check anything on it. But it's all right. We're going home.

"But we do need to do a special test on something," Security Man says.

He pauses. I wait.

"Anything in particular?" I ask as I shove all my belongings back into the bag. Which is, by the way, not easy to do one handed.

Jupiter is being fantastically good through all this. Wendy's still going through security. Fortunately, she's also being fantastically good through all this. Especially when you consider how much and how hard she probably wants to kick the security people.

Security Man holds up purple duckie who had been clipped to my backpack. "This," he says.

"The duck?" I ask.

He nods.

"You have to test the duck?"

He nods again.

This strikes me as hysterically funny. They don't care about all the metal and electronic stuff in my bag but they have to test purple duckie. What the hell. If it gets us home, you can test whatever you want. Wendy gets through security by this time and takes Jupiter back from me. I have a feeling she's going to love the purple duckie thing.

"They have to do a special test," I tell her.

"On what?" she asks. She's still not happy.

"Purple duckie," I tell her.

"Tell them to keep the damn duck," she says.

"It's fine," I tell Security Man. "Test away!"

Loading up in Frankfurt

I gather up our bags and we go to the special testing area. A woman swabs purple duckie down with a cotton ball and then puts the cotton ball in a machine. While we wait, another passenger is sent over with a teddy bear. Hmmm....anyone else see a pattern here?

Purple duckie is cleared for take off and we high tail it out of there. Wendy tries to put Jupiter back in her carrier but the security people seem to have mangled it somehow and rendered it useless. We make for the family changing room up the hall so we can regroup and put ourselves back together.

I repack my bag. Wendy changes Jupiter into her fleecey pajamas. We both work on the problem that is the baby carrier. What did they do to it? We have no idea. We ultimately have to undo every strap as much as possible and start over completely. Go team.

Food's the next priority. Our only option, without going through security again (no, thank you) is a small cafe that sells sandwiches, drinks and baked goods. We're happy to see they'll accept payment in American funds as we have only have that and rubles. No Euros. I have some at home but since we're not there, it's not that helpful. Wendy orders milk and a muffin as they are out of all the sandwiches on the menu board. I get a coke and a muffin. We go to the end of the bar to eat. There Wendy sees a container of yogurt and returns to the counter to buy it.

Jupiter's tired of sitting and wants to run around. She's not much interested in eating either. This stresses out both of us, Wendy more so than me, because we don't want her to be starving and screaming on the plane. The next ride's a little longer than the first two.

But Jupiter moves through the airport, smiling and flirting with everyone she meets. One of them is the young lady whose teddy bear was considered to be suspect back at security. She's a college student who's been vacationing in Germany and is now on her way home. She'll be on our flight and doesn't seem to be frightened by the prospect of Jupiter. Neither is anyone else who's sitting at the cafe with us. We hope everyone will be this nice.

When we've given up on the food thing, we go to the gate and get in line to get into the waiting area. There's quite the crowd growing around us. Most people like Jupiter even though she's getting slightly fussier. Wendy puts her down and they walk. One lady actually says, "Keep her away from me!" which irritates Wendy greatly.

The Lufthansa people check our tickets and passports and we get through to get our seat assignments. There seems to be a problem here. Or maybe there isn't. They keep saying there isn't a problem but their furrowed brows don't much reassure us. They direct us to chairs near the ticket counter so they know where we are while they work on the non problem. We sit there and wait, trying not to explode with anxiety. We're so close. We just want to get on the plane! I prepare myself to tell them to just get Wendy and Jupiter on the plane. I'll take the next one.

College Girl comes and sits near us. We chat continuously. I keep checking the ticket counter to see if I can divine what's going on. Nope. Seems my powers of premonition aren't working today. Or any day really. The Lufthansa representative finally returns to give us our boarding passes. She explains she was trying to get us an extra seat. She can't guarantee it, but she's going to try. We're just happy to know we're getting on the plane and thank her for that. Next she tells us to go with the man with the red button on his jacket. He'll take us to the plane now so we'll have plenty of time to settle in. We thank her again. I'm almost sad that the baby privileges will be running out soon.

Red Button Man takes us and two other passengers into a special elevator where you need a special key and a special code to go anywhere. It leads us to the jetway which takes us to our plane. Our big beautiful plane that's going to take us to Boston.

Our seats rock. First of all, there's a television right in front of us so if there's a good movie playing, no one will be able to block my view. They're also the bulkhead seats, the kind where you have some serious kick ass leg room. I almost cry when I see it, recalling how much I wanted to cut my knees off on the last trip. We take out the essentials and store them in the cargo nets in front of us and put everything else in the overhead compartment. The flight attendant comes by to say hi. She tells us she will bring us a bassinette for the baby once we've taken off. I think Wendy wants to hug her but restrains herself.

We sit. I sit in the third seat, the seat the ticket agent was going to try and keep open for us. I want to look like I belong there. We put Jupiter in the seat between us but she opts to play on the floor. Since we're not going anywhere, we let her do it. The flight attendant brings Jupiter a Lufthansa kid's pack and gives her a rattle. Jupiter takes it, plays with it a moment and then throws it at her. We apologize and tuck the rattle away for later. I just hope they're not serving lo mein for dinner.

Everyone else is boarding now. People hesitate when they get to our row. I worry that they all want my seat but no one does. It's just "Great. There's a baby on this flight" stuff. A man comes and sits next to me but no one comes for my seat. Wendy and I are much pleased by this.

Wendy holds Jupiter during take off because the seat belt won't tighten enough for her to stay in her seat. She comes and sits with me for a while and then goes back to Wendy. She's starting to get tired but perks up again when the first round of snacks comes by. It's a package of cheesy crackers. Think elongated cheese-its. They're good. Jupiter thinks so too. She eats Wendy's bag and then most of mine.

I check the movie listings and find out the in-flight movie is In Good Company with Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace. It's a movie I actually want to see, I tell Jupiter, so if you could sleep during that, that'll be great.

She's apparently in an accommodating mood because as soon as the attendant sets up the bassinette and Wendy lays Jupiter down in it, she's asleep.

Dinner's a choice between beef and turkey. I'm torn. The flight attendant asks what I would like and I can't decide. The man next to me gets turkey. He asks if I would like to see his meal before I decide. I tell him yes and he laughs and then doesn't show me his dinner. Tease. I take the turkey and hope for the best.

It's BBQ turkey tips with some kind of potato like thing. It's all right and I eat most of it. My seat buddy asks why I don't eat more. Obviously he doesn't know what a big deal it is for me to eat food with sauce on it. I forgive him his ignorance as he's never met me before.

Jupiter's still sleeping when the movie starts. Wendy opts for a nap. I put my headphones on and watch. I'm the only person laughing. Seat Buddy looks at me funny. Wendy looks at me too only I think she's annoyed. I try to be quieter. Jupiter sleeps on.

Our seats are located near the bathrooms so there's a constant stream of people walking by. They all stop to smile at the baby. I watch them like a hawk. I hope I am giving off a "if you wake her up, there will be hell to pay" vibe. They see me watching them like a hawk and they all tell me how good she is and go on their way. No one wakes her up.

Jazzy DJ Jupiter

We are about five hours into the flight when Jupiter does wake up. Wendy wakes up with her and they cuddle together. They're currently showing a documentary on chimps. Jupiter's fascinated by the monkeys and doesn't take her eyes off the screen. When it ends, we listen to music. She's drawn to the ballads station. I keep pushing the rock and roll channel, but she's just not interested.

We're close enough to home now that the in-flight entertainment is over and has been replaced by the map that shows where the plane is in relation to your destination. The next screen tells you how much longer it'll be. It's not long now. Wendy and I are beyond excited. Jupiter goes back to sleep.

She officially becomes an United States citizen the moment the plane touches down. Jupiter sleeps through it but I snap her picture anyway. It's an important moment, even if she won't remember it. We don't hurry to get off the plane. There's no point really. We put all our things back in the appropriate bag and leave behind the disposable sippy cups. We thank the flight attendants for being so wonderful and step off into Logan airport.

Jupiter's first photo as an official U.S. citizen

The line at customs is huge. Wendy gets pulled aside because of the baby. The official tries to herd me into the impossibly long you'll be here 'till you die line but we beat her at her own game. When we filled out our customs paperwork on the plane, we only filled out one for the three of us. Ha! She has no choice but to send us all together into the special Advance to Go line. Woo Hoo!

Our customs man is nice. He looks over everything, flirts with Jupiter and then walks us down to the next counter where Wendy has to go. He gives me the task of waiting for our luggage. I get a cart and stand by the carousel to wait.

Since we were the first to check in back in Moscow, our luggage takes a while to come out. I'm forced to keep moving around because the baggage area attendants are pulling unclaimed suitcases off to make room for the rest trying to come out. Everyone's still stuck at passport control, so there's quite a back log of baggage. I find an unclaimed spot and make it my own and wait. Wendy and Jupiter come back and still, I'm waiting. The first suitcase shows up and I grab it. I can see the second one coming so I stand close by and wait. A woman is struggling with getting her own suitcase off the belt so I help her. Ever the good Samaritan. I claim our second suitcase and we wait now only for the third. It comes and I grab it. I arrange everything on the cart and we head for the exit.

As you can tell, she's thrilled.

No one looks in our bags and we're free! We walk out into the waiting area where people are waiting for their loved ones. We know Omar's driving around, waiting for our call, so we go past everyone and claim some empty chairs so we can make some phone calls.

We love our cell phones. We've missed them. Wendy calls Omar and tells him we're here and ready to be picked up. I call Joe to tell him we're in Boston so he can meet us in Windham to pick me up.

"Did you bring the dog?" I ask. "Not that I didn't miss you too, of course."

"Right," Joe says.

Wendy calls mom to tell them we're home safe and sound. Jupiter and I walk around the airport and greet everyone who was on the plane with us and is now going home. They wish us luck.

We go outside just as Omar is pulling up. He pops the trunk and I start dragging the suitcases over. We manage to fit them in. Wendy sits in back with the baby who doesn't seem to care about her car seat and just wants to go back to sleep. I sit in the front. Omar has brought me Poland Spring Water and Chips Ahoy cookies. He's so good. He's also brought Wendy Evian.

On the way home, we stop at Taco Bell because I am having a taco craving. We get tacos and burritos. I get a Sprite because I swore I would quit caffeine as soon as we got home and well, here we are.

Thanks to the Taco Bell detour, we get slightly lost trying to get out of the city, but eventually find our way. I manage to stay awake a lot longer this time than I did on the first trip. Jupiter sleeps the whole way.

We're back in Windham before Joe. We unload everything from the car. Wendy and I are now wired. Excited to be home and wide awake because hell, it's 8am Moscow time. I dig through my bags and find Omar's gifts. I don't want to leave without giving them to him. We get the cameras out and show some of the pictures. There's a lot so we don't get through them all.

I run out the door as soon as I see Joe pull in the driveway. We don't bring Sebastian inside because we don't want to overwhelm the baby so I hug him outside in the rain. Then I hug Joe. I swear I missed you, Joe. Really.

We put Sebastian back in the car and go inside so Joe can meet the baby and we can get the suitcases. I apologize to Wendy because I'm sure in his excitement, Sebastian peed all over her driveway. But she doesn't care. She has a new baby.

I give Wendy a hug and accidentally step on her foot in the process so I apologize for that and tell her we'll get out of her hair so they can settle in. I give Jupiter lots of hugs and kisses, suddenly finding myself struck with a severe case of separation anxiety. I wonder if Wendy will let me move in with them. I promise to see her soon and we go.

I miss Jupiter already.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Painting the Red Square Red

May 28, 2005

Painting the Red Square Red...figuratively speaking, of course.

Wendy and Jupiter posing in front of St. Basil's Cathedral

We wake up early on Saturday morning, mostly because Jupiter doesn't know what it is to sleep late. Someday she will. But that day is not today so we're up and making plans.

First, there's breakfast. We go to the buffet room from yesterday. I have my card out and ready this time. The gentleman manning the host podium doesn't even look. He just waves us through. We're old pros at the buffet line today and move through quickly. I get the usual: cereal, pancake things, hot dogs and juice. I pick up some stuff for Wendy too as I know she's going through the line for Jupiter's food first and it is now our custom to eat as much as possible at breakfast because we have no idea what lunch will hold. Today I am really missing big fluffy pancakes and crispy strips of bacon and lots of maple syrup. Soon enough, though, I'll be headed home for those. And, of course, all the people (And German Shepherds) I missed too. I swear.

There are no empty tables so we join an older couple at theirs. They are from Sweden and speak excellent English. We talk about the view, mostly, as it's a nice one. The buffet overlooks St. Basil's Cathedral. Unlike our hotel room which overlooks the pine tree filled courtyard thing and the other side of the building.

Speaking of hotel rooms, we have to extend our stay for another night because we're not going home until tomorrow.

After breakfast, Wendy and Jupiter go back to the room and I go to the front desk to ask about another night's stay. I am told this is fine but I need to go to the tourism desk in the north block lobby to pay for it. And, by the way, I need to give them more rubles for the telephone. I give them the rubles and get directions to the north block.

I manage to find the north block with amazing ease. Guess I retained something from my travels the day before. However, I can't find the tourism desk. I find the cafe, I find the bar, the casino room, the pharmacy and everything else, but no tourism desk. No tourism office. Nothing that resembles what I'd be looking for. So I go back to the room, figuring I'll get another handy letter under my door telling me where to go.

On the way back to our room, I run into a couple who is looking absolutely lost. They comment that I seem to know exactly where I am going. I ask them what they're looking for and they're looking for the east block. It just so happens that I now know the east block very well so I am able to give them easy to understand directions.

I'm feeling much better about Moscow today. It helps when you actually know your way around a place. Friday made me miss Ekaterinburg where I always knew exactly where I was and where I needed to go to get what I wanted. So far I haven't had that here in Moscow, but we're getting better. I can get breakfast, warm milk for the baby, Evian for Wendy and coke for me. What else do we need? Well, lunch and dinner, maybe, but at this point, I'm willing to take what I can get.

Back in the room, Wendy is putting eye drops in her eyes. I take a bath in anti-bacterial lotion. I love anti-bacterial lotion. I think I would marry it if I could. I take another stab at the television while I wait. The remote is quite difficult and I have to keep taking the battery out and putting it back in to make it work. It gets stuck on the Hallmark channel a lot which is just as bad here as it is at home. I know some people enjoy it but I'm not one of them. I try to make it get stuck on the BBC World network because it's my first contact with world news that I can actually understand more than every tenth word. We also stand a chance at hearing a baseball score once and a while. The BBC however, doesn't seem to care about the Red Sox because they never report on them. They seem to be Devil Rays fans which doesn't make much sense at all. But once again, I'll take what I can get.

We decide to go out and look for the mall and the foot court Stella swears exists here. I hope it's not like the Internet Cafe in Ekaterinburg. To cross the road, you have to go into an underground crosswalk thing which is lined with different kiosks selling pretty much everything you can think of. Several of them are devoted to souvenirs for tourists just like us. They're lined with matryoska dolls. We're hoping to find a Star Wars themed one for Omar because he was so nice about calling the airline and helping us get home. And he's going to pick us up in Boston when we get there. Plus, we just like him so why not? We save the browsing for our trip back to the hotel so we don't have to carry everything with us and get to the other side. St. Basil's is now right in front of us. The square surrounding it is completely empty so we stop and pose for pictures. It's hard to take a picture with both us and the cathedral in it. I need my panoramic camera for the task. Unfortunately, the panoramic camera is back in the U.S. so we have to settle for what we can get. It seems to be the theme of the day.

We see the Kremlin and the State Historical Museum which is apparently a popular place for wedding photographs here. There's a large wedding party hanging out there all watching the bride and groom pose in front of it. We go around them. We're considerate like that. We don't see Lenin's Mausoleum which is all right because the idea kind of creeps me out. We cross the street again (above ground this time) and go into the mall.

Get your wedding photos taken here!

The mall is huge. It's huge and bright and airy and did I mention it's huge? It goes on and on and on. All the stores are big names in fashion so we can be sure we won't be spending much money here. There are some kiosks selling souvenirs and we scan over them looking for Star Wars but not finding anything. We walk further down and find out and it connects to more mall on our right. And that then connects to more store on its right. This is a never ending mall. I almost feel like we should be dropping bread crumbs behind us but the birds hanging out in the bright and airy atrium above us would probably eat the trail. We walk by a big fountain (a good landmark in place of bread crumb trails) and see it. The food court. Right there on above our heads. There's pictures of fried chicken (or what at least looks like fried chicken) and a sign for Sbarro's. Sbarro's. I can't even tell you how excited we are. Here it is, lunch time and here we are, in reach of an honest to goodness food court complete with accessible food!
Baby's First Sbarro's

We restrain ourselves and don't run to the escalators. Then we walk the length of the food court, surveying our options. We pause and look at the bilingual menu of a small cafe. There isn't really anything I would eat but I figure I can make due however Wendy determines there's also nothing Jupiter can eat so we move on.

We end up at Sbarro's where you can order by number. We know our numbers at least through ten and there are only eight meals to choose from so we're feeling good abut our chances. The good thing about this whole experience (you know, apart from that whole baby thing...) is that you get less picky about what you eat. Like the McDonald's from the other day. Fast food is now the high life. We manage to order food and drinks for everyone. We get a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a slice of pizza, some garlic bread, and some seasoned potatoes. Jupiter gets a special child's pizza plate. No doubt another souvenir to go along with her Baskin Robbins cup.

We sit down to eat and Jupiter enjoys her first pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread. The birds enjoy fluttering around waiting for us to drop something. Obviously they've heard about us. Guess Aeroflot told them.

After lunch, we wander around the mall a little longer. We don't shop anywhere but the kiosks. We pick out some Christmas ornaments and Wendy buys Jupiter a Russian doll that will likely never be played with (Good gift there, mom! Just teasing...relax!). We take our purchases and start wandering back to the hotel. Someone (or someones because, let's face it, we're all pretty tired) is ready for a nap. We go back to the underground walkway and I see, out of the corner of my eye, the most perfect souvenir for Jupiter's Uncle J. A Red Sox Matryoska. I go and get it immediately. While we're there, I pick out a Winnie the Pooh Matryoska for Heidi. In the next kiosk, we find more cool matryoskas including the Star Wars set we were looking for. There's also a New York Yankees matryoska that Omar would get a kick out of but we leave it. We're Red Sox people after all. Don't want to be caught at customs with that in my luggage.

The doll with which Jupiter shall never be allowed to play

So we pay for our items and take all our new purchases (saying, "How are we going to fit this in our luggage exactly?") and actually make it back to the hotel. We go upstairs and since Jupiter is asleep by this time, I try to unlock the door. It doesn't work. I try again. It still doesn't work. We go back downstairs and Wendy sits with Jupiter on a bench in the lobby while I go to the front desk to ask about the key thing.
Jupiter checking out Uncle J's souvenir

Turns out the clerk I spoke to in the morning didn't extend our stay like she said she would. But the clerk helping me now does just that and, as an added bonus, I get to pay for the room there. No more excursions to the other side of the hotel! She updates our hotel cards and our migration cards and then our room keys. While I'm there, an English gentleman comes down from the restaurant upstairs and starts yelling at the poor clerk. She's very nice to him even though he's mean to her and yelling at her about something that isn't remotely close to being her fault. I feel bad so I thank her extra nice (and in Russian!) and give English a pointed look before I go back to Wendy. Wendy's not alone on the bench anymore. A nice lady and her cigarette have joined her, which I'm sure thrills Wendy. I show her our new room keys and we go back upstairs.

We're actually able to get through the door this time, which is very nice. Wendy puts Jupiter down for a nap and I start working on the packing conundrum. Just how many souvenirs can I fit in my suitcase? Well, it's time to find out. I seem to do rather well and still have room for more so I suggest we go back to the matryoska kiosk when we go out this evening to forage for dinner. I really want to get Omar the New York Yankees Matryoska even if it means putting it in my suitcase and running the risk of being seen at customs with it.

Jupiter, post ice cream experience

I go downstairs for drinks and snacks. I show my hotel pass to the lobby guards upon exiting the elevator and then go into the little store to make my purchases. I get coke and Evian and ice cream. They have M&M ice cream cones in the freezer so I buy two of them. I have to show my hotel pass to the guards in order to get back to the elevator even though it's not been ten minutes since I last saw them. Two men join me in the elevator. They look at my bag of goodies and then look at me as though I am some kind of goddess.

"How did you get those?" they ask.

"I went into the store and bought them?" I reply, wondering if it's a trick question of some kind.

"Store? There's a store? Where's the store?" they want to know. "There's a store!" they tell each other. "Where is it?" they say to me.

" the lobby? Around the corner from the elevator?"

"Is it expensive?"

"Uh...a convenience store in the lobby of a Moscow hotel? Yeah. It's expensive," I say. "But where else you gonna go?"

They recognize this as truth and make plans to build a monument to honor my greatness. All right, I made that last part up, but the rest is true. They are impressed with me. It's funny what this hotel seems to do to people but I'm loving the fact that I am now in a position to share my knowledge with others. The elevator stops at my floor and I wish them luck as I depart. They fall to their knees and cry, "We're not worthy!" repeatedly. All right, so I made that part up too.

More of Moscow

When I get back to the room, Jupiter's up and we all enjoy our ice cream before heading out yet again in search for more souvenirs and dinner. We try the grocery store next to the pharmacy we went to with Olga. It's a fancy grocery store and doesn't really work out for us so we move on.

We're walking away from Red Square, in hopes of finding something new. We pass a cafe with a bilingual chalkboard menu. Hey, we could probably eat there. We note its location and keep walking. We go into another underground walkway to get to the other side of the road. There's a nice looking park up ahead. We're aiming for that. On the other side of the street are more shops. One of them is a sword store and I want to in and buy everything I see but Wendy won't let me.

"But they're pretty!" I say.

"There's not pretty," Wendy replies. "What's wrong with you?"

Hard to say, really. But we move on.

Not far from the sword store is a baby pharmacy. We are very happy people. We might even be the happiest we've been this entire trip. Well, maybe not quite that happy, but we're still pretty happy. We go inside. I have to leave my bag in a locker. It takes me a while to get the key out to take with me. I think the ladies behind the counter are having a good laugh at my expense. It's all right. I'm used to it by now. I finally get the key and go and join Wendy and Jupiter.

They're standing in front of the baby food display. That's right, people, honest to goodness baby food with which Wendy can feed her daughter!! There's is much rejoicing and we do the dance of joy. The ladies behind the counter call security. Just kidding about that last part. Wendy picks out some jars and we move to the register where we find a display of baby cookies, just like the kind we had in Ekaterinburg and just like the kind we were lamenting we had to go on a very long plane ride without. So, as you can probably guess, we bought them. Jupiter screams when she sees the bag so we have to open it and give her not one, but two. One for each hand. I comment that maybe we should get another bag. Just in case.

We leave the pharmacy and walk up the road to another underground walkway and this time, end up in the park. There's a lot of glass on the ground when we first exit the walkway so Wendy doesn't put Jupiter down until we've cleared it. Jupiter drops her cookie and then screams when we won't let her pick it up so we get her another one. It's hard when you can't explain to someone that the food isn't going to run out and it's really going to be okay. But I think we're doing all right so far. Well, Wendy is. My job is really to hold the cookie bag. But I'm really good at it.

The park is pretty and is filled with people and even a cafe in a tent. Jupiter's fascinated by the pigeons. She drops her cookie again and we give it to the pigeons. This too is hard to explain. It doesn't go over as well, especially where it isn't followed the replacement of the lost cookie so we cut our leisurely park walk short and head back to the hotel.

When we get back, Wendy talks to Stella about tomorrow. We're leaving at 10am, which is nice because it means we'll have time for breakfast. Boris will meet us in the lobby then and take us to the airport. We won't have a translator with us. We didn't last time either so we're okay with that. Then Wendy talks to Omar. I go forage for food for us while she does. I go to the cafe downstairs and get coke and evian and pringles. It's a feast. We top it off with one of the last Lindt milk chocolate bar for dessert. We're leaving the last one for the housekeeping ladies. The milk chocolate bar is better than the dark chocolate one we tried to enjoy when we arrived. It didn't go over well and caused Wendy to coin the phrase "Moscow...where even the stuff you brought from home sucks."

We're much happier people now.

Fed and packed, we all go to bed happy because tomorrow, we're going home.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The East Block

May 27, 2005

An Addendum. The East Block...Melissa's Story

While Wendy’s waiting for the doctor, Stella gives me the task of faxing the clinic receipt to the clinic itself in hopes of getting the much needed test results to the people who need them in order to get us (a) a visa and (b) home. We also have to find Room 312 in the East Block to pay for our room (We received a special letter under our door addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jordan informing us of this). So I take a bunch of rubles, my room card and key, credit card, the hotel map that was in the guest directory and my handy dandy phrase book and head off.

According to the map (which, in my defense is not the easiest thing to comprehend), both the business center and the billing office are located in the east block (our room is in the south block). The business center is on the mezzanine level and the billing office is on the third floor. I have no idea how to get to the east block so I go to the front desk to ask for directions. The clerk’s English is infinitely better than my Russian and she tries to point me in the right direction. I try to do as she says but I get lost. I wander around a lot. I wander into a travel agent office and ask for directions to the business center. The clerk is annoyed that I do not want to make travel arrangements (if only she knew just how badly I did want to make travel arrangements) and yells that I am in the south block and I need to go to the east block. I ask how to get to the east block and she very helpfully points outside of her office. I thank her anyway and wander some more. Next, I try the casino employees (the hotel has several casino rooms…enter at your own risk.). They give me more details than travel agent lady but I am still hopelessly lost. I take the elevator to the third floor and start walking the square, figuring I'll eventually hit the east block.

It's taking a while. I'm worried that Wendy's going to send out a search party to look for me because I've been gone for at least a half hour now and I don't think I'm any closer to finding the business center than I was when I left the room.

I end up outside of the breakfast buffet (and note this location with glee for future knowledge) and ask the man in the coat check room for directions. He says he does not speak English so I show him the handy dandy Cyrillic side of the hotel map and point to my destination. He waves me off and I thank him and wander away.

I jump up and down with joy when I see the first sign for the east block. I get more excited when I see the post office and the bank (this is truly an all inclusive hotel) because these are locations on the map, not far from the elusive business center. I find it down at the end of a hall, thankful that the sign outside of the door is bilingual. I go inside and am hit with a blast of air conditioning. It's the first air conditioning I've experienced since I left home and BOY does it feel good. I'm wondering if the business center attendants will allow us to hang out here all day long when one of the attendants asks (in Russian) if she can help me. I point to my papers and say "Fax?" and then point to the phrase "I need to fax this, please" in my book. The attendant directs me to her English speaking counterpart. I give this new lady the papers to be faxed and the numbers to fax them to. She asks me where they are going. I have no idea really. I know one number is the clinic itself and I think a second number is Stella's office, but other than that, I'm clueless. So I make it up. She asks me where they are going and I start to repeat myself and she stops me.

"No," she says. "Are the numbers in Moscow or where?"

"Oh," I say. "Moscow."

I hope I'm right.

The attendant sets to the task of faxing and I set to the task of soaking up as much air conditioning as I possibly can. I spend some time looking at the computer keyboards. They're English board with red Cyrillic characters in the upper left hand corner. Neat.

When the faxes have all gone though, I am handed a piece of paper with the amount due on it. This is helpful because I don't know my numbers past ten. It costs 70 rubles. I pay and thank the ladies and reluctantly leave the business center. But I have a hotel room to pay for so I have to go.

The billing office is a small (un air conditioned) room. A lady sits behind a desk working at a computer when I come in. I tell her good morning and hand her my letter. She invites me to sit down while she gets everything in order. The room is hotter than hot. I think our room is cooler. Or maybe I'm suffering from air conditioning withdrawal already. The lady asks if we are paying for two nights. I tell her yes because our current plan is if we get stuck here longer than two nights, we're demanding to move to a hotel with amenities that would allow us to feed the baby. And a television that you don't need a degree in rocket science to work (it's really hard, I swear!). Not necessarily in that order. Just kidding. Anyway...the lady tells me the total, first in rubles and then a rough conversion into American dollars. I'm prepared for this as Sam has already paid for their stay and told me how much it was. I tell her that's fine and hand her my credit card (Visa. It really is every where you want to be. Unless you're in Ekaterinburg. Then Visa won't do you much good.). I sign about twelve pieces of paper and then I'm free to go. I thank her and start working my way back to the south block.

When I hit the front desk, I stop off at the little store in the lobby to buy still drinking water, cold Evian for Wendy and a coke for me. Unfortunately, they don't have any coke so I have to get pepsi instead. That's me. Always willing to compromise. Then, after showing the lobby guards my hotel card, I go back upstairs.

The End.

The Russian Eye Clinic

May 27, 2005

The Russian Eye Clinic...not found on the regular Moscow tour...

Wendy's Narrative

Embassy? Or Russian Eye Clinic?

Stella calls us early the next morning. She informs us that the doctor is coming to the hotel to visit Jupiter and Nadia, and will fill out the necessary medical paperwork for the Embassy. I am instructed to tell him that she will have the results of Jupiter's HIV test that morning. I'm also instructed to ask him to look at my eye while he is there. For the first time since last night, I start to take small breaths of hope. Since we can't leave the hotel room until the doctor comes, I mix some water into a bottle of formula powder and offer it to Jupiter in place of milk. She drinks the entire amount, and I mix up some more, until her appetite is somewhat sated. Nadia is having her exam first, and then the doctor will come to us.

When he does, Melissa is in the shower. I let the doctor into the hotel room. I have to strip Jupiter down to her diaper, and the doctor wants to wash his hands. Which is a good thing, but Melissa is in the bathroom. I offer him a small bottle of Purell which Melissa has been slathering on her hands at every opportunity in the last 24 hours. He sanitizes his hands and prepares to look at Jupiter. She screams. Strange man creature alert.

The exam is brief; cursory. He listens to her heart and lungs and pokes briefly; calls her "solid", a baby sumo wrestler. Then he calls her legs floppy. He says that she appears to be very healthy and doesn't seem to be HIV positive. He doesn't ask about the results of the blood test. Then, looking at me, he notices my eye, which looks as though it’s been colored with a bright red marker. He takes half a step back in shock, and I explain that I have conjunctivitis. He tells me to take off my glasses, which I have resorted to because I can't wear my contacts anymore. From a distance he examines my eye, and then dials his cell phone. "Stella," he says, followed by an extensive conversation in Russian, which I assume involves me. He seems much more concerned about me than the small person who he came to visit. After the call, he packages up the embassy paperwork neatly in an envelope, tells me that he has told Stella that I must go to an eye specialist, because he thinks I have moved beyond conjunctivitis to something even more ominous and congratulates me on my very healthy daughter. He takes his payment and leaves the room.

If we hurry, we can make it downstairs to the breakfast. We don't know if it’s included with our room but even if we have to pay, it’s worth it at this point to get food. I'm armed with one of Jupiter's sippy cups, hoping to score some milk. At the hotel restaurant entrance, a woman is standing with a list of room numbers. I am carrying Jupiter and show her the card with our room number on it. She waves me through. Melissa can't find her card with the room number on it, and while she is looking, Jupiter realizes that people in the room are eating food. This makes her frantic with hunger, and she starts to fight and scream and scratch at me, convinced that she is not going to eat like the other people in the room. The woman with the register finally just waves Melissa through. I skip the beginning of the line (I've been in Russia long enough to realize that the entire concept of a line is nebulous) and follow along behind it, hoping that somewhere along the bar there might be a pitcher of milk.

In fact there are several glass pitchers filled with various white beverages. Unfortunately none of them are labeled. Even in Russian, I could have read the words for milk and yogurt. Finally I just pick one at random and pour it into Jupiter's sippy cup. A bit further along the bar, there is a dispenser filled with various kinds of cold cereal, including cocoa puffs. Cocoa Puffs!!! I pour some into a bowl, and add some small plain cereal that I think Jupiter will snack on. Melissa has found the table of hot food and grabbed some pancakes, which here are called blinis. There is no maple syrup for them, but there are a couple kinds of jam. We go to find a table. Almost every table is occupied by someone; finally in a corner we find a table to call our own. Out the plate glass window, St. Basil's looks as though it’s a part of the room itself. Jupiter doesn't like the milk. I taste it, and discover that I chose kefir, a Russian yogurt like drink that lots of the babies get in place of formula, but apparently Jupiter did not. Jupiter eats a few bites of cereal, and then she sits with Melissa while I make another foray into gathering food.

I try another pitcher of white liquid, and in the center of the pancake table I discover porridge. I put that into a bowl and add some cream like stuff onto the top. I've had better luck this time; the white liquid is in fact milk and Jupiter likes the oatmeal. She eats heartily and I eat in-between. When she finishes her milk, I fill the sippy cup up again to take back to the room with us. After we return to the room, Jupiter plays for awhile, entertaining herself quite well, and then falls asleep on the floor in the middle of a "shopping" expedition with the spare Tommy document bag. Her face is stuck to the side of the bag as she lies on the floor. She's fallen asleep next to the door of the room, and when the maid knocks on the door for housekeeping, I have to run to stop her from banging Jupiter in the head, calling "maloush spee!!" I'm not sure if I've made any sense, but the maid withdraws and the door closes.

All purpose tote bag...document carrier and pillow!

The phone rings, and I grab it as fast as possible, lest Jupiter be awakened from her nap. If she wakes up, my placing of wet gauze and mopping of ooze will be interrupted. Stella is on the phone. We have an appointment at the Embassy at 2:30. Before the Embassy appointment, the translator is going to take us to the Russian Eye specialist clinic to get my eye examined. I think back to November, to the 3 hours we spent in the children's specialist clinic in Ekaterinburg for a blood test and an immunologist visit. As much as my eye hurts, if there's any chance we're going to miss the Embassy appointment by going to the eye clinic, we're not going to the eye clinic. I'd rather go blind than miss the embassy visit. I ask Stella, trying to be diplomatic about it, if there will be time to get to the clinic and back before the embassy appointment. She tells me, rather forcefully, that my eye must be seen by a doctor. I wonder if we can just send the eye along on its own and the rest of us can catch up later. Besides, I'm a little leery about the Russian eye clinic. Somehow I doubt they don't have all the fancy computers and things that my optometrist in Maine has. He can take pictures of my eyeball and flash them right up on the computer screen. I'm more afraid they're going to come at my eye with big scrapers and pointy things. I wonder if I can get a prescription FEDEXED from the US.

Stella continues. Olga and Boris will be downstairs waiting; we should head down to meet them immediately. We have to wake Jupiter up, and as an added bonus, she doesn't get to eat lunch before we go out for probably the entire afternoon. In fact, she doesn't even get to have a dry diaper before we go out for the entire afternoon. This is not looking good for the afternoon, but the Embassy visit shines like a lighthouse in the middle of everything. Once we clear the embassy, we can go home.

Olga meets us in the lobby, and winces when she sees my eye. She takes us to Boris, who also winces when he sees my eye. Maybe I should take to wearing a paper bag over my head. Olga tells me that we will go to the clinic and see how long the line is to be helped. If the line is too long to make the embassy appointment, we will return after the embassy. I find this acceptable, and look out the windows as the car crawls along in downtown Moscow traffic. Boris driving involves lots of gesticulating and shouting at other drivers when they don't clear out of his way rapidly enough. Eventually the clinic is within walking distance, so Boris parks and we follow Olga down a sidewalk to a tired looking building. She asks for information at the desk and then leads us to somewhere. Non Russians check in at a special office, so we have gone there. Then we are directed upstairs to an office. There is a bank of small skinny elevators. For the most part, all the elevators we have seen seem to hold a max of three people. They don't look reputable, much less reputable than the elevator in my office building which gets stuck a lot, but we get in anyway, invoking the same faith in machinery that lets us get on the airplane.

A doctor looks at my eye. She's brave enough to touch it. She asks a few questions, which Olga translates. When did it start, where did we come from, is it in both eyes. By now it is, although the right eye is much less affected than the left one. The vision in my left eye is still pretty much non existent. The doctor says that it is just conjunctivitis, not anything worse. Another doctor comes into the room, and I sit at one of the eye microscope which does look almost like the one I'm used too. The second doctor looks through the microscope and on my own, I run through the directions that 15 years of contact lens exams have made second nature to me. Look up, blink. Look down, blink. The second doctor concurs with the first. Conjunctivitis.

We follow Olga down the hall and around a corner to the right. There are some chairs and two women waiting in the hallway. Olga indicates that we should sit. We sit on the couch next to one of the women. She inspects Jupiter, who is sitting on my lap. "Malchik?" she asks. She wants to know if Jupiter is a boy. She doesn't have enough hair to wear barrettes, and I had to put away all the headbands because she kept putting them around her neck to wear as necklaces. I sigh, and indicate the pink sparkly shoes that Jupiter would wear to bed if I let her. "Dyevochka,” I tell her. She's a girl. The woman talks to Jupiter for a minute, and as always, Jupiter loves hearing Russian. She wants to run around for awhile, so Melissa takes her for a run. Then she returns to me and nibbles on one of the Russian baby cookies, which is all the food we have at the moment. When the office door opens, the lady sitting on the couch indicates that we should go in first; more baby line cutting benefits, apparently. I spasiba her, and go in with Olga, while Melissa and Jupiter run up and down the hallway outside.

The third doctor looks at my eye through the microscope. She asks the same questions and a few more. She wants to know if I've had a cold. I don't think so; and I offer up my theory that the pollution in my contact lenses caused the problem. They think this theory is ridiculous. The doctor says that I have conjunctivitis. She writes some things on a pad; medicines to be filled at the pharmacy. They tell me not to touch the baby, hold the baby, or pretty much look at the baby; because conjunctivitis is contagious. They tell me that when I first start the medicine, my vision may actually get worse before it gets better, but this is normal and I should not worry about it. They tell me that in two weeks, I should go to the doctor again so they can recheck it. This I'm not worried about. I'm going to the doctor on Tuesday. In the US.

Back in the hallway, I touch the baby. I hold the baby and look at her. I'm careful to not let her touch my face, insofar as possible, but I’m not going to interrupt bonding so I can be sick. We go back downstairs (on the stairs this time, to our relief) and locate Boris. He forces the car through traffic, and Jupiter fusses, as she is both hungry and thirsty. The cookies aren't really enough for her anymore. Olga offers her some yogurt that she has bought for herself. It is prune flavored. Jupiter makes a face at it, just like I would have done, in fact, but drinks some anyway. She's too hungry to be picky. We don't have any water, but I assume that the waiting room in the Embassy since it is technically American soil is required by law to have a vending machine.

As it turns out, the Embassy is not far away from the eye clinic. We're there well before our appointment time. In our experience, well before can range anywhere from a half hour to five minutes before. Olga studies the doctor prescriptions and talks over pharmacy options with Boris. She leaves to make photocopies of some documents, and when she returns, tells me that she will try to fill the prescriptions while we are in the embassy, if I can give her the rubles to pay for them. I am fresh out of rubles, having used the last of them to pay for the visit to the eye specialists (yes, plural). Melissa coughs up what's left of her rubles. Then Olga walks us to the embassy entrance, and leaves us to the guards and our US passports. We flash the paper with the time of our appointment on it, give up our passports, and get wanded. Then our passports are returned to us and we are motioned inside.

We have to take a number, like at the deli counter in the food store. The adoption part of the building is upstairs. We follow the signs with large pointed arrows. A medium sized waiting room is filled with families who want to go home. Nearly all these people will be checking in for tomorrow's Delta flight to JFK. A tv/vcr on the wall plays Disney's The Jungle Book. There is no vending machine filled with Poland Spring water. Rats. I pay the fee for Jupiter's US visa at the cash window. I clutch the receipt I am given to the number I took from the machine in the lobby downstairs. Then we wait, wondering where Sam and Diane are and why they're not here yet. A short while later, a man comes into the lobby and introduces himself. He tells jokes. He explains that we'll be called up to the windows by our numbers, and will be given three packets of information. The first is citizenship information from the embassy and contains an application for a US passport which we can apply for when we get home. Our Russian children will become American citizens as our planes touch down on American soil. The passports make their citizenship status indisputable to anyone who is not aware of this fact. The second packet is the Russian documentation that was used to create the visas. This includes our original copies of the court decree and the birth certificates listing us as the parents. He emphasizes the fact that these original copies are the only ones there are. If they get lost, the Embassy does not have copies. The US government does not have copies. If we need new copies, we have to come back to Russia to get them. We repeat this information back to him. The third packet is a sealed envelope which is not to be opened other than by the immigration officer at our point of entry into the United States. In our case, that will be Boston. We're not sure when it will be as we have not had a chance to rebook flights yet.

The embassy officials begin dinging numbers up onto the wall, and the first three families approach the windows. Sam and Diane are still not here. It seems ironic that we were the ones in danger of missing the Embassy, and they're the ones who are not here yet. Finally they arrive, practically running up the stairs. Sam goes to the windows to pay the visa fee, and then I rehash the speech we were just given for their benefit. There was some kind of mix up with the driver and translator and they didn't leave the hotel until it was almost time to be at the Embassy. They are not pleased but we concur that now that they are here, things will be all set. In fact, even though I had expected the Embassy to be quite official and a bit of a nerve wracking process, it is nothing like that. I had thought that Melissa wouldn't be allowed to come with us, or to the interview part, but it's all very informal. When our number flashes onto the screen, it’s the middle window that is free. It’s the funny man who gave the speech. But by the time Jupiter and I get to the window, somebody else is standing there having their interview. Where did the other people come from? And what should I do now? Should I wait right there, or go back to my seat? I decide that I’m this close, and I’m not moving. I stay where I am until the line cutter finishes, and when they're gone the funny embassy man motions me up to the window. He apologizes; somehow that person got skipped before. It doesn't matter to me anyway because we are now officially at the Embassy. Getting our visa. To go home.

He goes over the packets with me. The only questions I am asked are in reference to the little sticky notes pasted all over the paperwork we had filled out the night before. These are placed anywhere there is a blank spot, or a discrepancy. He verifies the spelling of Jupiter's name. I'm not sure if I would tell him if it were wrong. I'll change the spelling of her name before I stay here four more days. He asks me to remove my glasses so I'll look like my passport picture. I remove my glasses, but I still don’t look like the passport picture, since they used the redeye feature when the picture was taken. After checking the paperwork, another official interrupts to ask a question, and after answering, the funny embassy man gives me Jupiter's Russian passport, with US entry visa, and tells us congratulations. I pause for a moment. "I'm all set?" I ask. It feels like there should be more. "You're all set," he answers. So I pile up our paperwork, lift Jupiter off the desk thing where she has been sitting, and tell Melissa we can go. I put the documents into the Tommy document bag. We wish Sam and Diane good luck, and go down the stairs and through the door labeled exit, which comes out to a slightly different side of the building, but we find our way to the front and thus back to the car.

Olga and Boris seem to be having an argument over where best to go to fill the prescription that the doctor has written. The argument takes a long time. Olga wants to take us to one of Moscow's famous parks. While I wish we could see some of Moscow (or pretty much anything, for that matter), I want to get the baby food and I feel like crap. I decline the park, but say that if we see any place to get food for the baby, I want to stop there. While we're figuring out what to do next, Olga's phone rings. I have left important paperwork inside the Embassy, and must return to go get it. Since I don't know exactly what I’m supposed to be getting or how to get it, I'm stressed. Melissa will stay in the car with Jupiter. I go back down the street, hoping that I’ll recognize the embassy building when I half see it. The guards look familiar, and I go through the ID and search process again.

Sam and Diane are still in the adoption room, because they were the last to arrive. They're surprised to see me back. I go and stand in my familiar spot just behind the middle window. After the funny embassy man finishes helping the current family, he waves me up to the window. He apologizes profusely, and hands me the third packet, the one that gets us through immigration in the US. It is certainly important paperwork. I take my sealed envelope and returns to the car. Olga tells me how good it was that we hadn't left the Embassy yet. I agree that it was convenient.

Boris drives to a pharmacy. Olga goes into the pharmacy alone, and returns with a small bag and a bottle of water for the baby. She tells me that this is the absolute best brand of Russian water, filled with all sorts of good extras. Most notably, carbon dioxide. Jupiter doesn't like fizz. Olga seems surprised that Jupiter doesn't like the gourmet water. I drink some, since for the past hour I've been repeating my Monk phrase: I'm so damn thirsty. Jupiter gets progressively fussier. Olga makes Boris drive to yet another pharmacy, because the first one didn't have everything she needed to get. This pharmacy is larger, and Olga returns to the car triumphant. She has everything. As Boris drives, Olga sets to work working out the dosages for the medicines. Plural. When she begins to explain them to me, I’m shocked. I have three different types of eyedrops and two bottles of pills. For conjunctivitis??? I try to listen to Olga, but it’s very confusing. She starts to write on the boxes how often to take each medicine. When she finishes, we’re back at the big square hotel. Boris is relieved, because Jupiter has been screaming for 20 minutes. We haul her up to the room and she has some water and formula to drink, and snacks on anything we have left in the room. I dump out my goodie bag of eye drops and try to focus on what there is.

Inventory: Four bottles (very small bottles) of Eye Drop 1. Take 2-3 times a day.
Two bottles of eye drop 2. Take 4-5 times a day.
1 bottle of eye drop 3. Take twice a day.
One box of claratin. I know this because one side is in English.
One box of Centrum vitamins.

It now takes me a half hour to put in eye drops, as I have to wait five minutes after putting in one kind of drop before putting in the next one. Melissa entertains Jupiter while I sit at the table playing with eyedroppers and trying to replace the lids on the bottles by touch without knocking all the other bottles on the floor. I take a claratin (I've been meaning to try it anyway in case it helps with my cat allergies. Here's my chance!) but skip the vitamins. I'm still convinced it was the pollution. Omar calls and I tell him we have the visa, we can come home, and can he please call Lufthansa to see if we can fly out tomorrow. He puts the regular phone down on the counter and calls Lufthansa on his cell phone. I don't expect that they're going to let him change the flight, but he comes back on and says that the next flight that has two seats is on Sunday, and do I want them to change the reservation? I'm floored that they're just going to let him change it, but I'm still holding out for leaving on Saturday, so I don't have him change it. I'll try to call the Moscow office of Lufthansa directly. After we hang up, Stella calls. She asks me to come to the lobby of the hotel to speak with her. I find my way downstairs, and Stella says goodbye to the parent she is with, and takes me a short distance to a bench. She wants to know if my eye is any better; if I have gotten some medicine. I say yes to both. She tells me how upset she was when she found out I had called the agency in the US, because she really was trying her best to get the blood test results in time. I’m surprised by this, and I try desperately to reassure her that I knew that; it was the Embassy and the US government I was upset with, not her. I’m not sure she believes me, but she moves on to the next topic, changing plane reservations. I tell her I haven't been able to contact Lufthansa yet. She calls her office and gets a number which she then dials, but the local office is closed for the day now. She gives me another number and tells me to go back to the room and call them to change the reservation, and when I know what flight we're on, to call her so she can arrange for a driver.

Sign found in the hotel's elevator

I find my way back upstairs and call Lufthansa. The first flight out is still on Sunday. This time I book it. Melissa suggests that a nice restful day before another long day of traveling might be a good thing. We throw food options out into the room. Supposedly there are a bunch of restaurants and an entire mall around Red Square, but we have no idea how to get there. Finally we go to the cafe at the end of the hallway. As always, I'm obsessed with getting milk for Jupiter. I ask the woman, "ooh vas yest malako?" with a terrific Russian accent. I know this because she answers me immediately, also with a terrific Russian accent. Unfortunately, since the answer consists of more than Da or Nyet, I have no idea what she said. Finally she switches to limited English. Do I want the milk warm or cold? We take it warm. The attendant won’t let us take the glass, so she pours it into a paper cup for us. Jupiter and I walk up and down the hotel hallway. Up and down. Up and down. A bus tour starts to move in onto the floor. The group is from England, so Jupiter gets attention from lots of English ladies as she makes her rounds. Tonight, before she goes to sleep, I give her a bath in the hotel bathtub. She still hates baths, and cries throughout, so I try to make the torture end as quickly as possible. Eventually she falls asleep. After another half hour of eyedrops (they feel like sulphuric acid but I'm pretty sure it’s the infection causing that, not the eyedrops) I go to bed with hot washcloths. I've used up all the kleenex and now am using rolls of travel charmin to mop my eyes. When I look in the mirror, I discover an entire layer of toilet paper lint all over my eyelids. Where's Halloween when you need it?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Leaving Ekaterinberg, Part Two

May 26, 2005

Leaving Ekat part 2- The one with Conjunctivitis

Today's entry is brought to you by
My Pet Blog's one and only guest blogger, Wendy.

St. Basil's Cathedral

Across the aisle, Sam is videotaping Ekaterinburg as the plane takes off. We chose not to bring the video camera this trip, so I hold Jupiter on my lap so she can see out the window, as the city of her birth, as it is listed on her new birth certificate, grows ever smaller in the window. We pass through the cloud deck into bright sunlight, and then we have to close the window shade. After only a few minutes the pacifier I gave Jupiter seems to have disappeared. We play with plastic links and purple duckie, and hope that the food service will come soon. I'm desperate to feed the baby, although she's behaving very well considering the upheaval and long delay. When the plane finally leaves, it’s after 10am. It will be noon in Moscow before we arrive there. Because of the time zone difference, it will be 2pm for us. Sitting in the airport has taken a lot out of us, made the day significantly longer.

The breakfasts are delivered. Melissa and I get one each; Jupiter doesn't get one. I hold Jupiter on my lap in the window seat and open the middle tray table to set things on. I inspect the tray to see if there is anything on it Jupiter will eat, and try the yogurt. She tries a few spoonfuls, but it’s an odd flavor that she doesn't care for. She eats some of the roll and a small bite of meat. I accidentally hit the tray with my hand and the fork (an actual metal fork utensil) falls to the floor under the seat. I contort myself to try to retrieve it. Later, Jupiter hits the tray and sends the entire thing on the floor. Both Melissa and I contort ourselves to clean up what we can. Sorry, Aeroflot. We didn't mean to trash your plane. And even later, Melissa, trying to pour milk into a sippy cup, spills it. Into her bag. At this point, there's nothing to do but laugh, and wonder how in our ineptness we're going to manage two flights home to Boston from Moscow. Long flights. The flight attendant returns with an extra breakfast for Jupiter. It contains the same things as our adult breakfasts, but it gives me something to nibble on as I gave Jupiter first dibs on my food. Skipping breakfast in the apartment was a bad plan. Note to self: anytime on an adoption trip that an opportunity to eat presents itself, take advantage. And if at all possible, grab extra for emergencies. The flight attendant takes the trays, and Jupiter settles into my lap. With at least some food in her stomach, she's ready for a nap.

The air on the plane has become refreshingly cool, in fact I think it’s the coolest I've been since the freezing ice trip TO Ekat on Aeroflot a few weeks ago. I've unbuckled my seat belt and snuggle into the seat, draping a fleece blanket over us. I sing a couple rounds of an Irish lullaby, and Jupiter closes her eyes. Across the aisle, Nadia is fretful. Diane has taken her to the back of the plane, and Sam leans over and says something to Melissa. Melissa, in turn, reports to me. Nadia is teething, and the infant Advil is in the cargo hold, in the carryon they were made to check in. I tell Melissa I have baby Advil in the document bag, and she routs it out and hands it to Sam, who brings it to Diane. After the Advil takes effect, Nadia falls asleep as well. A chance to relax for the parents and Tyotyas. My eye continues to worsen, and I ask Melissa for so many tissues that she finally gives me the entire package.

Our Hotel...some rooms offer an unparalleled view of St. Basil's Cathedral

The flight seems to take a long time. Turns out the flight really is longer than 90 minutes. Forgot about the time zones. For the first time in my life, I ignore the seat belt sign when it is illuminated as we begin our descent into Moscow. If I try to buckle my seatbelt, it’s going to wake the baby up. At the moment, I'd rather risk death. And apparently I've experienced enough smooth Aeroflot landings by now to trust them. The flight attendant scrutinizes my position for a moment as she passes, trying to use x-ray vision through the blanket, but doesn't pursue the matter. The plane touches down without incident, and we taxi to a stop in an airplane parking spot. I wait until the plane empties before trying to get organized and deplane. The bus will not leave without us. And any extra moments Jupiter can sleep will help. A short bus ride later, we enter the Sheremyetevo domestic terminal (Melissa’s Note: This is the same Terminal One where we were before).

Baggage claim carousels are on the other side of a Plexiglas wall. Melissa and Sam go to retrieve luggage, Diane and I stay behind with the carry-ons and baby carrying apparatus. Diane decides they have too many bags for Sam to handle alone, and goes after him, with Nadia strapped into a front pack, while I guard all the carry-ons. I can still see out of my right eye, but the left one is by now almost completely obscured. Like obtaining food, there's nothing I can do about it at the moment. Finally all the luggage is claimed, and we drag it through the exit where hopefully someone is waiting to meet us.

It is Boris. Because Boris can speak some English, there is no translator. His best phrase is Let's go, although it seems to mean hurry up. We all try to hurry up as best we can with our assorted paraphernalia. Just shy of the exit doors, we stop. Boris makes a cell phone call, and then hands the phone to me. I wonder who I'm talking to. It's the Moscow coordinator, Stella. Stella informs me that Jupiter needs to have yet another blood test before we can go to the Embassy. A driver and translator will pick us up at the hotel at 1pm to take us to the lab for the blood test. This test needs to be completed before the Embassy will process Jupiter's visa. This is the first I have heard of another blood test. I don't even know which hotel we're going to stay at. I agree to Stella's plan, hoping that it's really all going to work out they way she says it will. Boris goes out to find the other driver and pull the cars up somewhat near the doors. Sam goes to try to find the restroom quickly. I'm paying attention to Jupiter, and blinded, and very tired, when suddenly Melissa hands me a bottle of Evian water. A COLD bottle of Evian. It’s so cold that it is dripping condensed water in the hot humid room. I gulp water as though I've been wandering the desert for 40 years, then have the presence of mind to thank Melissa and ask where she got the water. I don't really hear the answer, but I think it has something to do with Sam (Melissa's note:: Yes, Sam was buying cold soda and when I got all excited when I saw the cold Evian, he bought me a bottle. Thanks, Sam!).

The view from our room

Boris has returned. Lets go, he says. Anxious to do my share, I grab the handle of one of the wheeled bags and head for the exit doors. Boris has gone through the door, but doesn't hold it. It swings back, and I wait for it to come close enough to lean against, but the door doesn't stop. It swings back through into me, crushing my hand and nearly braining Jupiter in the head. It swings back out, and I try to get out of the way, but I can't back up. A Russian pushes past me but doesn't help at all, just leaves the doors swinging. They are very heavy doors, and Jupiter almost gets whacked again. Finally we run the gauntlet, and emerge safely outside. Boris points us to the car behind his own, to the driver we've never seen before. He speaks to the other driver (Melissa's note: his name is Viktor and his car doesn't like to idle), and I understand enough to hear the word for hotel and the word Roissya. I rack my brains to remember everything I read about the Hotel Roissya in the Russian adoption guide. I park the suitcase next to the car and sit in the backseat without being told to do so. Jupiter settles on my lap and I study my hand, which is now bleeding, out of the one eye from which I can see. We are a mess. Melissa gives me more kleenex, which I hold to the top of my right hand.

Jupiter wants to eat. As we're driving into the city on the expressway, we feed Jupiter Russian goldfish crackers in her Baskin Robbins cup. She eats them daintily, and when she's down to one cracker, takes little bites, so it will last even longer. Smart girl. I apologize to her for all the times in the apartment when I worried about her behavior. When the chips are down, my daughter is an absolute trooper. Today I've complained a whole lot more than she has. We zoom along on the expressway, and then, after exiting the freeway to head into the city proper, we slow to a crawl. Slower than a crawl. This gives us plenty of time to study the surroundings, i.e. stores, which might prove useful. We recognize the baby store, but don't have a clue how to get back to it after it passes. We drive past McDonalds. It is literally mobbed.

The hotel is at the top of a hill. It is across from St. Basil's cathedral, which looms large and imposing nearby. I never really realized that the onion domes on St. Basils were actually different colors; I always expected them to be bright gold, like the ones on the Cathedral of the Blood in Ekat. But we don't have time to linger; in fact, we probably don't have time to check into the hotel before we leave again. Melissa and Sam head up to the desk. Melissa, fortunately, is armed with a credit card which will work here; I don't think I have enough cash left after Ekat to cover the hotel. They return with room keys; payment is actually handled somewhere else in the vast hotel. The desk has kept our passports to register us in Moscow. A porter loads up bags for both families onto a cart, and we head upstairs in the elevator. Our room is first, Sam and Diane are two doors down. Our luggage, of course, is on the bottom of the cart. Melissa and I have a quick discussion about how much to tip the porter. At this point I'd give him $50 to get out of the room so I can use the bathroom.

We have to leave again in 7 minutes. I change Jupiter's diaper and clothes, and Melissa is still in the bathroom. I yell that I need to use it, and she yells back that she knows that, but she needs to use it too. I immediately feel bad for yelling, and retreat to the bathroom, where after flushing the toilet I cry and try to scrape my eye clean. I know my contacts need to come out, but I don't have time now, as we are off again. We take Jupiter and the diaper bag and run. I have baby biter biscuits (whoever invented baby biter biscuits should be sainted) but no water or milk for her. This is alarming, but again, things are not in my control. We run back downstairs to the lobby and wait just outside the doors for a new driver and translator. We're about to head outside into the streets of Russia without passports. If I had time, I'd be terrified.

We stand at the hotel entrance and look for somebody resembling a translator (Melissa's note: her name is Dasha). She approaches us, recognizing us by the baby and English language, and leads us to a car parked a short distance away. We look out the windows of the car as we crawl, and then cruise, back across town. A half hour later, we stop in front of a building with a large grassy courtyard. We follow the translator through a doorway and up stairs to the lab entrance. She converses with the nurse on duty, and then has to call someone on a cell phone. Meanwhile, Jupiter fills up her diaper, and it requires immediate changing. I ask the translator if I there's any place I can change the baby's diaper. The nurse doesn't look thrilled, but they direct me to a small bathroom, where I spread a blanket on the floor and wrap up the messy diaper, replacing it with a clean one. I pack up the dirty diaper to take with us; the lab staff didn't seem like they wanted to have a dirty diaper in their nice clean bathroom. When we're finished, the lab tech is waiting. She's a friendly young woman, and we follow her to a modern lab area. She tells me to sit in the chair (a word I can understand); indicating that I should hold Jupiter on my lap. I do, and the woman ties on the tourniquet, tests for Jupiter's vein, and rapidly fills a vial with Jupiter's blood. At the needle prick Jupiter screams, loudly. She tries to turn into me for a hug but I have to hold her steady until the vial was full. Since I'm not hugging her properly, Jupiter shows her displeasure by trying to remove the needle herself. Quickly, I grab for her hand. After the lab tech removed the needle, she placed a band aid on the wound. I was surprised by the band aid, expecting only the gauze that we got in Ekaterinburg. I'm even more surprised when the woman offers Jupiter a lollipop. Maybe we really did go home after all or maybe I'm just hallucinating from hunger.

Looking down from our room...and no screens on the windows.

On the way back to the hotel, we stop at McDonalds to get food. Melissa and I comment on our current perspective: McDonalds seems like four star gourmet to us at the moment. I try to decide what Jupiter might eat, and decide I can best break up a cheeseburger into small pieces for her; and therefore order her first official Happy Meal. I get the cheeseburger meal. Melissa gets chicken nuggets. Everyone gets French Fries (Melissa's Note: Dasha does not know what French Fries are...I can't seem to describe them properly so I end up having to point to a sign). We get 5 packets of ketchup for something like 2 rubles each. Because the restaurant is currently and probably eternally mobbed, we get the food to go, and the driver and translator drop us off at the hotel. We show our hotel cards to the guard at the elevator, and ride back up to the room. Now we have time to catch our breath for a few minutes.

The room has two twin beds, and a floor to ceiling window without a screen. Since we're on the 11th floor, this terrifies me and I'm prepared to not open the window the entire time we are there, despite the fact that it's 90 degrees in the room. In our absence, a rollaway bed has also appeared in the room. Apparently this is for Jupiter. How am I going to keep Jupiter from rolling off the bed in her restlessness? I take the food over to a small round table next to the television and begin to break up the cheeseburger into small pieces, pondering the problem of the bed. Jupiter doesn't like the cheeseburger. She does like the Happy Meal box. I, on the other hand, inhale the cheeseburger and fries.

After a short rest, we are called to a meeting with Stella in Sam and Diane’s room. We take Jupiter and the document bag and go down the hall. Stella is waiting. She moves to shake my hand, but I apologize profusely. I'm afraid of contaminating her with my eye and try to explain. She studies my eye and says that this is a bad thing. After the meeting, we will do something about it. She speaks to Jupiter in Russian, which Jupiter loves. Jupiter and I sit on the bed with Sam. Melissa and Diane sit at the table with Stella, filling out the Embassy paperwork according to Stella's directions. I explain that I can't see well enough to fill out the papers myself. Jupiter crawls across the bed and Sam tries to hold her, but Jupiter screams louder than she did in the blood lab. I take her in my arms, and Sam moves across the room. Jupiter isn't fond of men yet, since she's never really known any men. Strange creatures, in her eyes.

Stella also explains in more detail about the blood test. The Embassy wants to see further proof that Jupiter is HIV negative before they issue the visa. If the blood test results are not back from the lab in time for the application to go to the Embassy tomorrow morning, we won't be able to go to the Embassy until the next business day. Since Monday is Memorial Day, we wouldn't be able to go to the Embassy until Tuesday, in that case. I imagine six days in a very small room with no crib and no microwave and a baby, and almost completely lose my grip. It's like a big crash; we were going to the Embassy in the morning; and now we might not be going for days. The lab has said that they cannot get the results until tomorrow afternoon, which is too late. This, it turns out, is the reason for the cell phone call that was made when we arrived at the lab. Stella assures me that she will do her best to give the lab incentive to get the results sooner; she will keep calling them. I believe her wholeheartedly, and I know she understands how much I want to go home. I also am convinced that, in this case, there's probably not much she can do. Instead, my frustration is directed at the Embassy's policy. Even if the test were positive, it wouldn't affect Jupiter's being admitted into the United States. So why delay the visa process to wait for the results? This makes no sense to me.

Jupiter playing dress up in the hotel

Stella calls Olga, who is dropping off another parent at the hotel, and asks her to take a few minutes to bring us to the pharmacy down the street to see if they have anything for my eye. We follow Stella to the lobby; she has to rush off to a meeting, but leaves us with Olga. As we walk the length of the building and turn right along the side of the hotel, I'm a bit dizzy from my vision being so bad, and Melissa takes over carrying Jupiter. We pass the hotel and cross a small side street, and then reach a few shops. A gourmet food shop is first, next to the pharmacy entrance. The pharmacist looks at my eye and converses with Olga. They seem to be discussing the fact that she can't dispense medication without a prescription, but finally suggests some anti-allergic eyedrops. We purchase them and a box of gauze. Olga demonstrates to Melissa how to put in the eyedrops. I don't bother to explain that I'm actually quite good at putting eyedrops in myself. Then she walks us back to the hotel. She had to ask her boyfriend to wait while she took us to the pharmacy, and now leaves with him.

Back in the room, Jupiter snacks on whatever food we can find, which mostly consists of cookies and other junk food. I shove the rollaway snugly between my bed and the side of the bathroom wall, where she's protected on the two long sides. I put a suitcase and some pillows behind the rollaway so she's protected on the third side. Melissa, meanwhile, has reobtained our passports and paid the front desk enough so we can make phone calls. The phone calls cost something outrageous like $3 a minute. The buttons on the phone stick unpredictably, so that it’s almost impossible to dial a 14 digit sequence of numbers correctly. We make one phone call that lasts about five minutes, and then discover that the phone deposit has run out. Melissa goes to pay them some more. I call Donna in the States and ask her to call me back in the hotel. She does, and I cry into the phone, that the Embassy wants some stupid blood test before they'll issue the visa, and it doesn't make sense, and I want her to call the Congresspeople on my list and make them contact the Embassy and tell them to issue the visa so we can go home. She promises to find out what's going on and to call me back later. Jupiter is running around the room, while Melissa sits guard next to the slightly opened window. After we hang up, I lie on the bed some more, creating a pile of oozy kleenex on the bed stand. I'd never realized how completely debilitating untreated conjunctivitis could be. And while I considered having a cold, motion sickness, all manner of physical issues while in country, having conjunctivitis was a possibility that never crossed my mind. I would pretty much kill for antibiotic eyedrops. Jupiter climbs on the bed with me and falls asleep, and I ease her onto the rollaway. Before going to sleep, I spend more time in the bathroom, soaking washcloths in the hottest water I can stand to put on my face. It helps. On the bright side, the water doesn't smell like sulpher. Just as I'm ready to fall asleep, Donna calls back. She reiterates what Stella said earlier, that they're trying very hard to get the results of the blood test sooner, that there's another person Stella is going to call, that tomorrow, if my eye still hurts, I should go to the American medical center to get it checked. She doesn't feel that calling the Congresspeople will help. I hang up the phone and give up the battle, until morning.