Mrs. Kovacs' Class

Riga Latvia 

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Day 5 - Thursday, 3/11/10 

 Today Jamie is taking the day off from writing. I have decided that I will write. Today we played "America in Riga". We went shopping at the mall and had lunch at McDonalds.                

(She could have made this take five pages. I got it all said in four sentences).

McDonalds 

Shopping Mall 

To the left is the view I have in Riga, Latvia.  I would like to submit this as exhibit A for my case that I did NOT taka a day off from writing but rather was unble to write as I had no access to a computer.  Turns out the reason John doesn't want me to write so much is that when I do I have to use his computer for too long.  Hmm... I would title this picture 'monkey see, monkey do'.

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To the right is a chat box widget that John added during his compter time.  Click and talk to us!!  Enter your name where it says "edit nickname"

 Day 5 revisited:  As John stated, yesterday we walked through Old Riga to downtown modern Riga where there was a McDonalds, a mall, and some movie theaters.  A couple of interesting things happened along the way.  First, it was beautiful weather and a very enjoyable mile or so walk.  The streets in the area were bustling and people were moving fast.  We walked down into a tunnel that took us under the major road that separated us from the shopping center. There were some little shops under there. The shopping center looked huge from the outside and was called Origo.

   We went in. Inside it looked more like the City Center in downtown Mpls. There was NOT a place to stand where you could get a view of the whole space.  There were 2 floors in the first section, then a hall like (think skyway like only double decker) section and then a 3 floor section that looked like City Center in Mpls and by that I mean a narrow atrium with just enough room for the escalators and a walk way. There were mostly clothing and shoe and accessory stores.  One thing that was different was that there was a grocery store (a big one) on the ground floor.  We were book shopping for Vlad's two friends in Florida who wanted books in Latvian and for Vlad who wanted books in Russian.  I bought a picture book that Vlad and Anthony can read to my class.  I even bought a book in English which I will read after I finish Kennedy's grandpa's book.

     Vlad had the endurance and patience of a 14 year old boy at the mall.  Fun!!  We did see a police officer pulling a man onto the ground and hitting him with his club as the man fought and tried to get away.  A 1/2 package of cookies was strewn on the ground so we guessed he'd been at the grocery store but forgot to pay.

     Next we went to McDonalds.  They had a limited menu--hamburger, cheeseberger, double cheeseberger, big Mac and nuggets.  Also fries and ice cream treats and a side salad.  The ketchup is very different--way more like tomatoes or tomotoe paste.  The pickles are different too--sweet not dill.  It was still good to eat things that were familiar.  We might have to eat there again one day.  On the way home we stopped at a bakery and John and Vlad got treats and we bought a loaf of bread.  We were so excited about having bread and butter but when I cut open the bread it had black olives sliced in it--yikes!!  I cut the bread the long way and we ended up throwing out the black olive half as none of us wanted to eat it.  The other half of the loaf was amazing with a wonderful crust and soft insides.  The butter is my new favorite thing here.  It is amazing!!  I also had a really good roll and that's my second favorite thing.

     Yola is acting up today so I'm just about done.  A couple closing thoughts:  I have this picture of John mowing the lawn where two year old Johnny is following behind him with a toy lawn mower.  There's another one where John has on a tool belt and so do 4 and 2 year old John and Jim.  Everbody is poised to use their hammer.  This week has been full of those kinds of pictures.  John says, "I'm going to order a peach malt," and Vlad says, "Me too."  John says, "I'm going to have a Coke Light," and Vlad says, "Me too."  John says. "I'm going to go on Yola," and Vlad says...you get the picture.  Vlad has no doubt been craving a male role model and he just wants to be like John.  Good thing John is a good role model!!

    We've noticed that Vlad really has no idea about so many things.  He's lived in this culture but has been separate from it as he has no resources to buy things, eat out, etc.  He and his friends just wander around looking for free things to do and missing out on things like going to the bank, shopping for groceries, paying the bill at a restaurant, and more.  He's hungry to learn though and I'm sure he will.

 

   

Day 6:  We were all exhaused after staying up late to skype Jake and Joe.  They are having car troubles.  First, Jake broke his car key and can't find the spare.  Of course, the car is at school in the 2 dollar a day lot and no he forgot to go pay again today or tell anyone that he can't move the car. Then, he was driving my car because he had no key for his and he hit a bump (I didn't even ask about the speed he was going because I don't want to know) and my windshield wipers came on and wouldn't go off.  They reached under the hood and "disconnected" them. Joe is feeling stressed because being in charge isn't as fun as he thought it would be.  Jim will be there soon.  We're banking on Jim!

       Daina called and could stop by today and pick up her money so FINALLY we got rid of the biggest chunk of our cash and could stop worrying about that.  Vlad asked her why we had to give her so much money--she told me this.  That stinker really has decided he needs to watch out for us.  I tried to expIain to him that this is her job and she needs to make money to feed her family and put gas in her car.  Still he asked her. We ate breakfast bars, drank some juice and then Vlad and John sat tied to their computers and I read.  We talked to Jake at 7:00 a.m. his time and then decided we'd better head out and do something or we'd pay for it later with antzy behavior by Vlad.  We headed out through Old Riga again as Vlad wanted to go to an Internet Cafe and knew where one was in Old Riga.  It was snowing big wet flakes and the roads and sidewalks were completely icey.  The temperature was mild though so it was kind of fun to walk. 

     We grabbed a quick bite to eat at McDonalds (a breakfast bar held each of us until 4:00--impressive) and then walked Vlad to the internet cafe.  I was not at all happy to just leave him there but of course, that didn't make any sense since he is used to going there by himself all the time.  For 1 lat and 35 santims (that's like about $2.50) you can use a computer and the internet for 3 hours.  John and I left and walked to the grocery store. We slipped and slided and were soaking wet by the time we got there.

     The grocery store was packed and everybody was in a hurry.  We really just felt like we were in the way.  We bought some good wheat rolls, juice, milk, chips, cookies, and laundry detergent and headed back to get Vlad.  On the way, 4 different people asked us for money.  Yesterday and the day before when this happened Vlad told them to go away and again tried to "save us" from these people.  Then he told us to walk faster.  Maybe that's why everyone is hurrying about so much.  Another good idea is to NOT make eye contact.  Either we look like tourists or sound like them.

Here are a few observations John and I made and talked about today:

1.  The girls/women are very tall and really beautiful.  The men, not so much.

2.  The girls/women (in this part of town anyway) dress to kill--short skirts, leggings, skin tight legging style jeans, and everybody wears knee high boots of some kind or another.  Their coats are cute and flirty and they eek style.  The men, not so much.

3.  Everybodys jeans and pants are as tight as tights.  Short, tall, skinny, not skinny, women, men, old and young, everyones jeans are painted on.

4.  We have seen some unusual hair colors as well as a lot of dyed black hair.

5.  They use umbrellas and hats--everybody.  We were the only bare heads.

6.  Everyone is in a hurry, they make New Yorkers look relaxed and calm.  I am NOT kidding.  They must all have really high blood preasure.

7.  No one looks before they cross the street and more than once we gasped and were sure we were about to witness a death.  Oh my, the combination of fast manic drivers and faster, more manic walkers seems to be the recipe for disaster.

8.  No one ever taught Vlad to look both ways before he crossed the street.  He simply never looks.  We started to notice that no one else does either and it just seems reckless disregard and is frustrating.  John and I each grabbed Vlad a couple times and pulled him back onto the sidewalk out of the way of a car he didn't see.

9.  They don't have shovels.  They seem to just scrap at the snow with a flat board nailed to a wooden handle.

10.  The sidewalks, cobblestone and otherwise, are unlevel and often slope which makes for tough going on ice.

11.  Everything is really small--napkins (even at McDonalds), paper towels (I measured them and they were about 8" by 9", toliet paper, bowls, cups, everything.  Weird.

        So that's all I have for today.  I'm going to end with some pictures we took near Vlad's school the day we went there and ate at the Lido.  Vlad told us that when he lived with grandpa and grandma and mom and dad it was in an apartment near his boarding school.  So this is the neighborhood. He says he doesn't know where the apartment is because "Jamie, I just little little boy.  I no where I lived."  The picture to the left is where we headed to pick up the bus/train a block away from Vlad's school.  The picture under it is a picture of a bus like the one we were on.  They run on rails like a train.  And the last one is just a cool old building--notice that their street signs are on the buildings.

 

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Day 7:   We got a really late start as the staying up to 2 a.m. finally caught up with us.  When I woke Vlad up at 1:00 he couldn't believe it was so late.  We ate a quick breakfast of Frosted Flakes (mmm, they were good) and then I opened my birthday presents.  I really couldn't believe John had gifts for me but he had gone to Northwestern Bookstore and there were gifts.  Fun!!  John mentioned how lucky I was to have such a cool husband who took me to Europe for my birthday.

     

     Vlad called Arturos x 2 (this was the day we were meeting up with the 2 boys who are both named Arturos.  One is 16 and one is 17) and said we were running late and would be there by 3:00 instead of 2.  We walked up our usual path past Old Riga to the mall.  It was snowing again and I took the cool pictures of the park. As we passed the beautiful theatre I snapped a few pictures of that for Joe.  John spotted an old woman sitting on a park bench feeding the birds--it was so classic that I had to take a picture.  Vlad got mad and said it wasn't nice to take a picture of an old lady.  Hmmm...

    When we got to the McDonalds Vlad took us off in another direction to catch bus 11. This was a new part of the city for us and very fun to be going new places.  There were lots of clothing shops and we even saw a Baby Planet. 

     We got on bus 11 and rode it for about 15-20 minutes.  There is a lot of graffti.  We noticed that really swanky shops with fancy windows would be next to empty store fronts that had broken windows.  Most of the buildings looked old.  We went past this HUGE and way cool cemetery that looked like something out of a scary movie--thick trees, crooked crosses and old grave markers.  It looked overgrown in places and the headstones seemed to be really close together.  With the big mature trees full of fresh snow it looked like something from a movie.

     We went past the road to Vlad's orphanage which I recognized by the mansions on the corner where you turn.  We took the 11 all the way up to the turn around and then got off.  We walked about 3 blocks to the house where the 2 Arturos live.  This was a beautiful area with some wonderful mansions that were well maintained and restored and some that needed the restoring part.  The mature trees, winding, narrow side roads and the gates around the homes made it feel like Minnetonka or Lake Avenue in White Bear Lake. 

     The house the boys live in is beautiful.  It must be some kind of group home you graduate to after the orphange.  The kids who live there are all teenagers.  The house had recently been restored and looked great.  There are currently 13 teenagers and a house mom living there.  They each do their own laundry and chores and she cooks and oversees the community.  There was a girl bathroom and a boy bathroom, two living rooms, a computer room, a kitchen, big eating room with several tables and then bedrooms that held 3 kids.  We were taken to a tiny room (about the size of our bedroom closet) that had 2 chairs and an end table in it.  The boys made us tea and we waited there while Vlad visited with kids and rounded up the 2 Artorus.  The house mother took us on a tour and I was wishing I had a small gift for her.  Maybe we'll run back up there and I can bring her something.

    The missing Arturos finally showed up and we were on our way.  We got back on the 11 just past it's turn around point and headed back down town as Vlad wanted to take the boys to a movie.  They wanted to see Shutter Island and I couldn't remember what it was rated and I knew Vlad wanted to be cool and I wanted to see that movie and it was my birthday and their rating said 12+ age and it was in English and...we went but now I think I remember that it was R rated.  We had poporn, my favorite, though they didn't have butter for it and when you bought your tickets you chose your seat like a real show.  The theater was huge and the screen was amazing--bigger than the Omni Theatre.  John and I loved the show but I think it was over the boy's heads.

    After the movie we had to exit straight outside and we all had to use the restroom so back in we went.  The boys got stopped and had to show tickets and it made me sad to realize how little respect they got in their culture.  Did they have the word orphan branded on their forehead?

    We took the boys to TGI Friday's and the menu was in English so they were lost.  We odered them chicken and they ate it all.  John told them it was my birthday--watch the video above.   I shared the ice cream and then we left for home.  We walked the boys back to the bus stop but Vlad insisted we NOT ride home with them as "they not babies, John."  It seemed sad and wrong but we slipped them a few lats and off they went.  We turned in the other direction and walked home.

     When we got back John asked Vlad to call the Arturos to see if they got home ok.  He said, "No. They are no babies."  Power struggle.  We won but it was not pretty. We made him put our Sim card back in the phone (he keeps taking it out and putting his card in) but he couldn't find it.  "Jamie threw it away" he said.  Hmmm...he had put it on the kitchen counter in the kitchen.  I made him go through the garbage and it was there.  Now he had to make the call.  "What I say?  You babies home?"  I told him to blame us and say his new parents who are stupid and don't understand anything made him call.  He said, "No, you call."  The long and the short of it is, he called (I just read in Parenting the Hurt Child to pick your battles but once you picked one, win. We did that with our other kids as consistency and not backing down are key),then he stomped around and pouted and after about a 30 minute cooling off period he is now playing cards with John--winner gets the internet.  They are on game 3, each having won one, and he's back to his old self.  Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  Happy Birthday to me.

 Day 8:  Home Sweet Home

We slept in again today as the late nights (last night I was up until 3 a.m.) are taking their toll.  John and I ran across the street to the gas station and got water, juice, apple turnover pastry things and juice.  When we got back we got Vlad up and all had cereal and the apple things.

       We really were lazy today and just played Kings in the Corner and laid around.  It was cold and snowy outside and today a bit more windy.  Since we spent the bulk of the day in the apartment it seemed like a good day to put on pictures of the old home sweet home.

      

   The apartment is really pretty nice.  It is a little stark and in the pictures looks kind of space age modern. Let me point out a few things.  First, the kitchen, did you notice there is a fold out couch?  Also, there is no oven.  Apparently they do all their cooking on the stove top and in the microwave.  John and Vlad bought me red tulips at a little store in the park.  They add some color.  It really has been nice to have the kitchen as we've eaten all our breakfasts here and at least 1 other meal each day.  The fridge is the taller of the college dorm style fridges.  Weird.  It's ok because then we need to go to the grocery store everyday and that gives us something to do.  Since the nearest one is about 6 blocks away, it's a good walk.  Also, with the gas station near by we can send Vlad on little errands to buy milk etc. and he needs that too.

    The fish aquarium is a nice feature, don't you think?  Who feeds these fish when no one is staying here?  Weird.  The coffee table is really short but otherwise the living room is comfortable.  The floors are not really hard wood, they are kind of cushy tile wood look floors.  But they're not bad.  The place really was neat and clean--notice I said was.  We are taking a toll on it.

     John wants to be sure you know our bed is the one that's made and Vlad, who reported to the social worker that he is neater than his new brothers, maybe was exagerating. 

     At about 5 pm we walked to the close grocery store and got some good hard rolls and butter and some more cereal and fruit.  We are craving fruit and the oranges are fantastic.  John and Vlad each bought a potato pancake at the deli and I fried them up when we got back.  John's brother Steve makes potato pancakes for family get togethers and John said Steve's are best.  Vlad has been online and watching cartoon network while John and I watched episodes of How I Met Your Mother.  Tonight we need to go to bed at a reasonable time because we are being picked up for court by Daina at 9:15 tomorrow morning. Good night!

Day 9:  We started the day in court. Daina and Edgars picked us up at 9:15 and we were off. In court they asked us if any problems had arisen.  We said no.  They asked if there were any behaviors that concerned us.  We said no.  Daina then said we had told her of some typical teen boy stuff but we could handle it.  That seemed to make them happier.  Maybe they know Vlad?  Just kidding.  Anyway, they asked if we still want to proceed now that we've had the chance to spend a week with Vlad.  We said...dum dum dum... yes. Again we had to step out of the room while they decided and about 10 mn later they call us back in and say YES!!  We have Vlad until the final adoption is done which has to be by Sept. 15.

So, Wednesday to the Embassy, Thursday back to get Vlad's visa and Friday we are on our way home + 1!!

     This is a shot of the cool bridge across the Daugava River.  The bridge is right outside the front of our apartment building.  We have yet to cross it to see what's on the other side.  Should we go for it?  I know it's more of Riga, but what???  It's so tempting, but we'd have to take the train.  I'll let you know tomorrow what we decide.  Tomorrow is our last free day and we are thinking of trying to go places we haven't yet been.  Still, it's so tempting to just keep returning to the places we now know so well.  Hmmm

    We are a little jealous of the Minnesota weather as it was COLD still again here today.   BRRRR.....

 After we got back from court we called Mrs. Vedoy, my sub (oh and chatted with Zach R. and Makayla via the chat box) and got SKYPE up and running in my classroom.  We have been using SKYPE to check in our own kids at home.  John's mom and dad also have SKYPE and my brother John so we have talked to them all.  John also has used skype just as a phone to call people.  Way cool.  But I'm getting sidetracked. What I want to report is that at 9:16 we SKYPED my class.  It was so good to see everybody.  They are all so cute and were so excited to talk to Vlad and me.  How amazing is it that I could video talk to them from Latvia?  Way cool.  We got to tell eachother how much we miss eachother and then they had to go to science. I miss those kids!!  Aren't they cute?!

    After we said good-bye to my class, 9:31 their time and 4:30 our time (no daylight savings time here yet, April I think, so now we are only 7 hours different) we ate lunch--fried spam sandwiches with fantastic Latvian bread and butter and MN grown (or raised or processed really) Spam, a rice and pasta and broccili just add water thing I brought from home and some oranges from Maxima grocery store in Latvia.  Mmm, mmm, good.

    After lunch we headed out to the movies.  Vlad wanted to go to an Internet Cafe and see a new Naurto (sp) movie and John and I wanted to see Leap Year since his birthday is on Feb. 29.  As a side note, don't you think it would have been cooler if that movie had come out in a year that actually was a leap year?  Just a thought.  But I digress, again.  We walked our usual path up to the Freedom Monument at the park where Old Riga meets the modern city.  Vlad wanted to try a different internet cafe as the one he went to before wasn't as nice as the one he is used to.  Nothing is too good for that boy, don't you know.  We bought him 3 hours and gave him strict instructions not to leave there and headed across the street to the mall for our movie.  It was cute but we did discover that Latvians have a very different sense of humor then we have.  They laughed out loud over things we didn't think were funny and then we'd chuckle over things they didn't.  Also, they sell beer at the movie theatre.  Weird!!  We just had our usual, a large popcorn and large diet--I mean Coke light. 

     When the movie was over we ran back to the cafe and Vlad was still there and still had minutes left so we went downstairs to McDonalds to wait for him.  I had a salad and man did that taste good.  The fries and caramel Sunday were'nt too bad either.  About 10 mn later Vlad arrived, ate a HUGE chicken salad that I am definitely getting tomorrow (yes, that's right, we're past trying to find Latvian food we like and just giving in and eating McDonalds) and we walked home.  Then we sat down to blog and that, Mr. Doebler, just about accounts for every minute of yet another day in Latvia.

p.s. John's been doing laundry and we've discovered why the jeans are so tight and so small--they have to be to fit into the washing machines!!  Also, the people are very thin and I think that's from lack of caring about food because they don't seem to be people who cherish and relish a great meal.  They eat to survive only.

Day 100:  That may seem like a typo but we decided to list this day as the number it feels like rather than the actual day.  [day 10]

This was a rough day, all in all.  We are all getting a little testy and ready to move on with our lives and have real things to do rather than making  

 up or manufacturing things to do.  We went to a movie, on a bus trip, upgraded from McDonalds to TGI Fridays and went home early.

        So Vlad announced last night that he wanted to go to Toy Story 2 in 3-D and it is only at 10:45 in the morning.  John said we would go if Vlad would wake us up and get us going.  Realize it would take us about 1/2 hour to walk to the theatre.  He said, "yes yes I will john" and we went to bed at 2 a.m.

       At 9:00 I woke up and realized Vlad wasn't up yet.  I started making noise and trying to wake him up but no luck.  Finally at 9:30 I simply woke him up and told him he should get John up if he wanted to go to the movie.   All you mothers out there will understand this--I saved his butt yet I was in trouble.  "Why you no get me up sooner?"  then as we walked fast, "Why you walk so slow.  Jamie, you wake up sooner.  Why no?"  I ignored him but really, it's getting harder and harder as saint John can do no wrong.

       On the way to the movie John snapped this picture of some big happening in front of the Freedom Monument.  All the yellow vests are policija.  When we got home John went on the internet and found out that today is the day that Latvians honor, get this, War Veterans who fought with Hitler and the Nazi Army!  A city board ruling cancelled it but the court overturned the ruling and today was the parade as usual.  If you're interested in reading more about this click on this link "Daily News"     .  One veteran reported "We were fighting for the lesser of two evils," stating that Russia and communism were worse.  Russia killed more people than Hitler is the argument.

    We couldn't stick around for the parade as we had a movie to get to.  As I'm sure you can guess, we were at the 10:45 movie by 10:25--I guess we made it.  The movie was fun and cute and I thought we'd be good.

    But not yet.  John and I wanted to buy a 24 hour pass for the transit system--ride the bus, trolley or tram all you want for 24 hours.  "No such thing."  We walked to the station anyway and surprise, there was.  We bought them and got a map, paid 20 cents to go to the bathroom and started looking for a method of transportation to take us across the river and out to the Baltic Sea.  "I no.  This stupid.  I no help."  Now to be fair, I don't think he really knows anything but his usual path.  He hasn't even been across the river himself.  So I told him to put a smile on his face, this was an adventure and as long as we all stayed together it didn't matter where we ended up.  I very clearly said, "The only rule for today is STAY RIGHT BY US."  I bet you can guess where this is going.

    We hopped on a bus and rode it until the end of the line.  We crossed the river.  We saw many industrial docks and boats and cranes and factories but all still on the river.  When the bus driver told us to get off, it was the end of the line, we were still too far away from the Baltic Sea to get there.  Oh well.  I snapped some pictures of apartment buildings and a residential street, we crossed the street, and got back on the bus going the other way.

 All along the way the buildings were NOT in great shape.  The homes were needing HGTV and the yards were small and fenced in.  We saw packs of dogs, maybe wild?  The buildings need paint and work but there are many TV dishes. Clothes are hanging out to dry. We drove through some country side to get here and there were some falling down little shacks clustered together along the way--not sure what they were and our tour guide was in no mood to share.

  I was disappointed that I wasn't going to get to the Baltic Sea so I requested that we stop in a little burb about halfway through the country side so I could take some more cool pictures of real life in Latvia.  John said sure and Vlad was cheerful now so it seemed like it was a go.  We jumped on the bus and headed back to Riga proper. 

   Now remember our rule of the day.

   Since we were at the start of the line the bus was not too full when we got on.  We had seats (we stood the whole way out there) which was an upgrade and Vlad's was a hot one--high and for elderly/handicapped. 

     However, at the very second stop people started pouring onto the bus and by the third stop an old lady needed Vlad's seat.  But he just sat there.  So I asked him to move for her.  Also remember how it's going between him and I this day.  He got up alright.  He got up and headed way to the back of the second car of the bus and we could not see him.  In fact, the bus became so crowded that it was elbow to elbow people and I had no idea if Vlad was still on it or not.  Lots of thoughts went through my head from 1. I can't get off and take pictures now becuase he won't know we got off to 2. If he gets separated he will just have to sit outside the apartment building and wait for us (assuming he can find it which is a pretty big assumption based on the skills we've seen) to 3. He'll never be able to find the apartment building, will have no choice but to go to the orphange and they'll never let us keep him because we can't even keep track of him in his own town!!  I was mad.

   When the bus neared the place where we had gotten on in the morning many many people got off and he came running up to us saying, "Why you no get up.  You get off next stop!"  We got off in silence, walked to TGI Friday's for a very late lunch where he proceeded to order the biggest steak, an extra large apple juice, and text on his phone while we ate.  John just looked at me and said, "We have a long way to go."

   With that let me just say we are tired, crabby from too much togetherness with not enough distractions, and ready to head to America.  The poor kid has been antzy to be in America since his return here in January and I can't even imagine how yucky it is for him to have to stay in an apartment in his own town with 2 overprotective parents.  Jake feels his pain and he's not here to support him so....we need to come home.   And I need an ice cold Diet Coke!!

 Day 11:  This is the day we went to the American Embassy.  Daina picked us up at 1:40 and believe me, we didn't do even one thing before that except eat and get dressed. Today one of her 20 something sons was driving her.  They brought us to the embassy which it turns out we've walked past many many times.  It is just to the North of the Freedom Monument.  We had to pass through security 2 time, one right after the other, which was painful.  Daina turned in our paperwork and coached us about what to say and we waited for our turn.  When it came we went into a privacy booth and the embassy guy fingerprinted Vlad and asked us where we are from. We said Minnesota and he said he's from Buffalo, New York and we joked about how we are used to snow and cold and Latvia has nothing on us.  He didn't ask us anything else and we were done.  We go back tomorrow between 3 and 4 to pick up Vlad's passport and visitor's visa that gives him permission to travel multiple times and stay with us until September 15.  We have to get the adoption finalized before September 15.  Jake's birthday is the day Vlad signed his consent to be adopted and Jim's birthday is the date we have to have the adoption done by.  Easy dates to remember anyway.

        The American Embassy

    Just look at that American Flag Fly!!

       A funny thing happened on the way home from the Embassy, or, It's a Small World Afterall.  We walked through the park and stopped to take a picture [Today's featured photo is to the left and is the American Embassy in Latvia] and Vlad saw a little girl he knew from Ziemili--she was in a group of people talking about not liking the flight from America to Latvia.  He said her name and she came over and started to talk to him.  Her mother said, "Oh my goodness, Vlad, is that you?  You are so tall!"  It was Jennifer Diehle and her mom and kids stopped to talk to the Winklers from Annendale, Massachusetes and their daughter.  The Diehle's are on their third trip and are done and flying out Friday, just after us, and the Winkler's just arrived and are headed to the countryside to a remote orphanage for two weeks.  Jennifer Diehle met Vlad when he visited John and Jessica (my brother and wife) in D.C. the summer of 2008.  No wonder the embassy guy told Daina they were going to have to get her her own chair.

     We got a packet of all Vlad's court documents from Daina today.  Included were the termination of parental rights transcripts.  It was sad to read but good to learn more about Vlad.  John feels Vlad is innately good because he left his mother's house where things were not good and just wandered the streets and showed good moral judgment in refusing to return to a bad situation.  The police reported that they found him roving, picked him up, asked him where his home was and he refused to go home because bad things were happening at his house.  He was 8.  He's been in the system ever since.  Turns out he has 2 younger brothers and a younger sister.  None of them were living with their mother--Vlad lived with his paternal grandparents, one brother lived with his dad, and the sister was removed as a baby and adopted.  When Vlad's grandma died the grandpa must have given him to his mother who didn't take care of him.  Since Vlad's been in the system the other brother has been adopted too.  He is the last one left.  They all had different fathers (well the court didn't have paternity established for his sister) and the one boy still lives with his father.  It is so sad to think the 8 year old was the grown up and told police he wouldn't go back.  Maybe his grandma is his guardian angel as he does always seem to land on his feet.  He does seem to have a strong innate moral code and that will be a great asset for us in the future--a good foundation to build on. 

    We sent Vlad for a 2 hour session at the internet cafe and ran to the shopping center looking for gifts for Joe and Jake.  There is a cool hockey jersey from the professional Latian hockey team but it is 30 Lats which is about $60.  Too much, sorry boys.  [Luckily this is too many words to hold Joe and Jake's interest so the odds of them reading this are slim to none.  They might be looking at the pictures.  Joe's new phone came today so he's swamped.]  We talked about how much easier it would be to buy gifts if we had daughters--there is not much for boys and we saw 20 things to get girls.  We will go back to Old Riga for the gift prospects we saw yesterday as there was nothing today.  We quick ran to the "everybody's in a hurry" grocery store and then went to get Vlad.

    A quick note about yesterday's parade to honor Nazi supporters--Daina said she hoped we weren't anywhere near it and asked if we got an e-mail from the American Embassy telling us to stay far away as they told her they sent one to all Americans staying in Latvia.  Cool, but we didn't get it.

    For those keeping track at home, we did eat lunch at McDonalds today and found the Diehle's eat most of their meals at McDonalds too.  I'm not kidding when I say there's not a lot to embrace about Latvian cuisine. 

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 Day 12: Our last day in Riga.  Vlad's favorite color is red so we end in red. The people from the apartment came by to check us out.  They returned our security deposit, confirmed our 4 a.m. pick up for tomorrow morning, and told us where to leave the key when we go tomorrow.  We are all so excited to finally be on our way home.

     After the girl from stayinriga left we headed out for the day.  We walked to Old Riga and purchased some souviners/gifts for our other kids and the grandparents as they helped out a lot.  We found some fun things and had to pass up some other fun things.  The hard thing is, the Latvian people want all things American so to find actual Latvian souviners is hard.  But we did ok.  We bought Vlad a little Latvian flag for his bedroom and then headed off to the embassy.

      Today there were actually guards (armed with big guns) posted by the Freedom Monument.  In this picture there is actually a changing of the guard taking place, though it's kind of hard to see.  They very ceremoniously marched in, did some moves with their guns, and then switched guys who were guarding.  There were flowers and other things placed at the foot of the monument which we are assuming were put there to honor the soldiers who fought against Russia (and therefore with Hitler).  We were there at about 3:00 o'clock as we were on our way to the embassy to get Vlad's passport with it's new visa page.  As we watched the ceremony Vlad ran to a store to buy himself one more Naruto book.

     I was the one chosen to go into the embassy to pick up the passport/visa.  I left my coat and all stuff with John and Vlad as I was going to have to go through security two times.  I got right in, went to the window and said I needed the passport and visa for Vladislavs Lazdans Kovacs and she handed it right over to me.  I didn't have to show who I was or anythings.  Weird, the change money at the bank I had to show my passport but to pick up someone elses passport I just had to ask. 

     This was Vlad's last day and he wanted to meet up with his friend Janis (Yanis).  We took the electric bus up to his school where his friend was waiting on the street corner for us.  We walked the couple of blocks to where we picked up the tram to go to the Lido.  Vlad wanted to skate one more time and then eat at the Lido.  So that's what we did.  Warning for Joe and Jake:  Vlad may be just a little spoiled wrotten after having all our attention for himself for two weeks. 

     We were ready to go home but Vlad wanted one more time at the internet cafe with his friend Janis.  He can really pour it on.  So we took the tram to the shopping center area and they went to the internet cafe and we waited 1 1/2 hours for the movie Valentine's Day.  While we waited we walked through a very Macy's like department store where everything was name brand (Ralph Lauren, Polo, Tommy Hilfigger) and hugely expensive.  The thing that was weird was that there was store security EVERYWHERE!!  Like 2 and 3 people to a section.  Oh my, it sure didn't put you in the mood to buy anything.  We left and walked through the grocery store that is also part of the department store, movie theatre, grocery store complex--quite the combo for sure.  I wish we would have found that grocery store sooner, it was like Kowalski's and a person could stand in one spot and not run through.  Nice!

     After the movie, Vlad was there waiting for us just as he was supposed to be, we hopped on the 7 and headed back to the apartment.  We are currently packing and getting ready to grab a little sleep before we head for home before the crack of dawn.  We are all dreading the travel day but can't wait to be home.  See ya soon.  Oh, and Joe and Jake, please don't forget to pick us up at the airport at 11:00 Friday night.

 Day 13 and 14, sort of:   We traveled for 26 hours straight!

     Our cab guy from stayinriga was outside our apartment waiting for us at 4:00 a.m. as scheduled.  Honestly, I don't know what we would have done for a plan B but there he was so no worries.  We had each taken turns showering and napping for about an hour and none of us actually went to bed.  We were at the airport by 4:30 and spent about 1/2 an hour getting our luggage checked in, our passports and paperwork cleared, and getting our boarding passes.  It all went well.

     By 6:00 a.m we got on a bus and headed out to our super little plane.  It was so tiny that we could barely stand up in the middle aisle.  It really was only about a 6' clearance.  John and I were next to eachother and Vlad was ...wow, I can't even remember but I know it was close by.  We had a chocolate pudding filled croissant and some room temperature orange juice on the 1 1/2 hour trip to Warsaw.  I can remember what I ate but I can't remember where Vlad sat...what does that mean?   I asked John and he can't actually remember either but we both feel like he was just across the aisle from us.  Give us a break, we were on three different planes!

    In Warsaw we got our passports stamped, went through security again, (I still don't know why because we never left a secured area!) and found a place to eat.  The food was good and tasted more like things from home.  We bought John's mom a little gift at the Polish store and set about finding our gate.  It was quite a walk but once we were there we joined the other 4 or 5 people at that end of the airport and lay down on the benches and slept.  We did still have 5 hours to kill.

     A couple hours before our flight they closed off our gate and we had to leave.  After it was empty, they opened one little doorway for everyone to pass through and get their passports checked etc.  We heard Vlad's name and our name over the loudspeaker that we needed to get our passports checked again at the gate so we went to do it.  A very stern lady took the passports, punched a bunch of stuff into the computer and then handed them back to us and said, "It's ok."  We didn't ask what it was, we were just glad it was ok.

    Our plane was to leave at 12:45 but it just started boarding the 300+ passengers at 12:30, so it was late.  John and Jim, it was a 767 and really held a lot of people.  We were finally on our way for this 9 hour flight.  John and I were on a side with just 2 seats and what a huge difference in comfort this was over being in the middle with a 3rd person.  Vlad was right behind us next to a guy who seemed nice.  They gave us luke warm coke light, then some chicken, rice and peas, then more warm coke or juice, and then we napped.  Then we watched like 6 episodes of How I Met Your Mother, and napped some more.  We were way in the back of the plane and noticed that the stewardeses climbed into 6 seats, pulled a "do not disturb" curtain around themselves, and slept for a couple of hours.  It wasn't really night time so this seemed kind of weird.  With a couple hours to go they got up, brought around another round of drinks, some food trays with bread, cold meat, tomato, cucumbers, a kit kat like snack to eat.  It was amazing how much less awful this trip was then the one on the way there.  Was it that it was daytime hours not the middle of the night?  Was it that John and I were in our own little row, no third person?  Was it that we were on our way home and the stress of the upcoming trip was over? 

     With about a 1/2 left we were handed customes cards to fill out to declare what we were carrying in.  After we landed we went throught immigration which was more or less uneventful.  The line was huge but went fast.  We went to the US Citizens line and hoped it was right--Vlad's not really a citizen yet.  They gave us another form to fill out for him but it went well.  Then we had to grab our luggage and carry it through customes.  What a riot.  Another long line, again it went pretty well, and the guy just asked us if we speak English.  We laughed and said yes.  He asked if we had any meat or fruits, seeds, etc. etc. and we said no.  He said just go through, I can tell you don't have anything.  John said he didn't like the Latvian food and definitely would NOT be bringing some home.  Ha Ha, the guy laughed and we were through customes.

     We hauled our luggage up to the fourth floor and the Delta ticketing gate.  An agent helped us and put in we had luggage and the machine charged us $75.  Then she looked at the bags and saw they were already tagged to go to MPLS. so we wouldn't have had to pay.  Yikes!!  She said to call customer service and we can get our money back.  We put our luggage in the stack to go on our plane and headed off to our gate.  We stopped and grabbed some real food--ICE COLD DIET COKE all around.  It was so so so so so so so good!!  Then we went through security again, got on the plane, and buckled up.

     Then we waited.  First the pilot came on saying there were a couple passengers who changed their mind about flying with us today.  Hmmm...a couple middle eastern guys were escorted off the plane.  Then the pilot said he was going to go and personally see that their luggage followed them off the plane.  He came back saying it was all good and we could go now.  This only took an hour!!  Then he announced that we would have to taxi for about an hour because many runways were closed for construction.  We'd already been on the plane as long as it takes to fly from NY to Mpls. but we had yet to leave the ground.

     It was a painful flight though it did involve some Diet Coke on ice so...

     We got in ahead of schedule at 10:30 but still had to wait for Joe and Jake to show up in John's car.  They drove up around 11:15 and the car had, wait for it, a completely, wait for it, flat tire.  (Hmm...maybe too much How I Met Your Mother)  What a super way to end a 26 hour traveling day. 

     Thanks to eveyone who kept us in your thoughts and prayers.  We are home safe and sound.  Vlad was just so excited to see Joe and Jake and the dogs.  It was really cute to watch.  He was finally home!

 

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