Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Double Dose of Simon

A two year old can't be counted on to have two good days in a row, so we arrived for our visit this morning with hopeful, but not high expectations. Simon was about to have breakfast and he wasn't in the mood to let Mommy or Daddy help--he preferred to show us cars and play. So he was a little moody until Ana got him to eat. We had a good visit in the morning and we had fun showing Simon videos that Grandma Mary sent of Scout and Aunt Claudette sent with messages from Aimslee and Ryker.

We did change two things in our approach to Simon that seem to be helping some, though it could be he is just in a better mood. The first is that we started calling him Nijat ("nee-jaht") more rather than Simon (we still use Simon a little, but not as much). We'd been using Simon because his foster family was trying to help him learn it, but we found he wasn't really responding to us calling him Simon so thought maybe it was too many changes at once. We'll have plenty of time to gradually shift to Simon in the future, but for now it is more important for him to feel comfortable. And he has responded better to us the last two days when we call him Nijat.

The second change in approach became possible because we are more able to recognize his mood changes and escalations now that we know him a little better. Thus, when he is starting to get sad, mad, anxious, upset, etc. we are able to back off and give him space. And we were able to communicate with Nana that this is ok with us, that he needs time and space to calm down. As such, his outbursts are a bit shorter the last two days.

Before nap time, Simon, Daddy and I rode along with Ana and Nino to take Nika to daycare. When we got there, Nino and Nika got out of the car, while we waited in the car. This triggered a Nino-Tantrum, with Simon crying so hard for his Nino. I held on to him tightly, sat him so he could look out the car window, turned on songs on my iPhone and then just talked to him, hugged and kissed him and tried to reassure him. He'd almost calm down, then get upset, then almost calm down, then get upset, but gradually he did better and got to where he wasn't fighting to get away and then to where he had just hints of sobs. I even got him interested in watching lego trains on the iPhone for a little bit. Triumph, especially given that it was right before nap time. Also it was reassuring that we will be able to comfort him in the future when it is time to say goodbye to his wonderful and loving foster family.

We left Simon to take his nap and Misha dropped us off near liberty square (aka freedom square). This square has Tbilisi City Hall, a bust of Alexander Pushkin and a tall monument of St. George slaying the dragon.
Monument of St. George (not use what the building in the background it)
St. George Slaying the Dragon
City Hall
We walked around this area looking for lunch and found a brand new restaurant that has only been open for one week called Amqari. We decided to give it a try. The waiter brought us shots compliments of the bartender and we decided for a change to have pasta. Ben had bolognese and I had mushroom and both were quite good.

We walked for a bit after lunch, and decided to visit Jvaris Mama Church, a small, quiet chapel. A small temple at this site was destroyed by Mongols in the 5th century and the church wasn't rebuilt until the 16th century. The current church was rebuilt in 1825 and the interior frescos were recently restored.

Jvaris Mama Church
Crosses in the brick wall around the church
Inside, there was a fresco of Jesus on the cross with a rock with a skull on it below, all of which was echoed at the front of the church in a 6 foot cross and rock with skull. I assume this references Calvary, the place of the skull.
Fresco of Jesus with Rock with Skull
6 foot cross with rock with skull
Close-up of skull on rock
Another interesting fresco was of a saint on a white horse slaying a man with a spear. This was somewhat bewildering because the saint usually depicted on a white horse is St. George, but he slays a dragon. There was a fresco of a saint on another wall slaying a dragon, but this saint was on a red horse. I was so confused, so after our afternoon visit with Simon, I did some research and found out both frescos were St. Demetrius--on the red horse slaying a dragon and on a white horse defeating the gladiator Lyaeos.
St. Demetrius slaying gladiator Lyaeos
St. Demetrius slaying a dragon

Simon was pretty lively and in a great mood during our afternoon visit. He is communicating more and more with us and as we learn his Georgian, we can respond better to him. Nana sat nearby for awhile, but then gave us some space (and she did laundry) while we played. Simon was totally cool with this arrangement and the only time he asked for Nana was when we didn't understand him. He'd pushed all his cars behind the sofa and was back there with them and told me something in Georgian that I didn't understand. He cried, Nana came and figured out that he wanted me to come back behind the sofa too (she motioned this to me as her English is limited, though better than my Georgian). As soon as I went behind the sofa with Simon, he was happy again. He motioned for Mommy or Daddy to pick him up, came when we called him in Georgian, told us to "wook" (look), called me Mommy many times...It was a great visit! When it was time for us to go, he even wanted to go with us, so Dato (Nana's son who is studying to be a doctor) rode down in the elevator with us and Simon waved as we drove off (into the sunset no less)!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Super Simon

Simon was in a great mood today, so we had a super Simon day! When we arrived, only Nana, Tatia and Simon were home. Nana said when Simon heard the doorbell, he knew it was us and acted shy for a minute, but this didn't last long. Simon enjoyed having Daddy help him climb the ladder of the bunk bed that the older kids sleep in. Then he brought a couple cars and legos and showed us how they can be passed along the wall behind the headboard of one of the other beds. He peeked behind the bed from one side and I looked from the other, playing peek-a-boo and growling at each other when Simon said Mommy again! Even once Nino and Ana arrived, Simon still played happily with us. He let Daddy help him wash his hands and he let me help a (very) little with a diaper change.

Misha took us (Mommy, Daddy, Simon and Nino) to a new park today called Vake (vah-kay) park. There were lots of Simon-sized play structures, which he loved, and a lot of little boys his age. A couple of the little boys were speaking English and one of them had cars and let Simon borrow one. They loved sending the cars down the little slide and then sliding down to catch them and Simon was very good about sharing. He got a little fussy when it was time to leave and didn't want to give the car back. He cried all the way to the car, but when we got in, I turned on toddler songs on my iPhone and that seemed to help calm him down. His favorite song is Baa Baa Black Sheep, but he also knows Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Old McDonald. I also had the Lego train app on my phone, so he played with that for a bit.

Our next stop was the doctor's office because Simon's cold hasn't gotten any better. Climbing out of the car, Simon saw a tobacco shop, so Daddy gave him 5gel and he bought a kid gum and handed Daddy back the change. This put him in a good enough mood that I got to carry him. It was his nap time and he was a little sleepy, so he put his head on my shoulder, which is about the sweetest feeling ever. It didn't last but a second, but I'll take it!

Simon does very well at the doctor. He stood to get his height and took his shoes off to get weighed and let Ana lift up his shirt for the doctor to listen to his lungs. Then while the doctor and Ana talked, he gave Mommy and Daddy stuffed animals that were perched on top of a tall bookshelf (Nino helped him reach them). When it was time to go, Daddy lifted him up to put them all away with no tears (apparently stuffed animals are not worth the tears that cars are worth). We then dropped Simon off at Nana's and went to the pharmacy to pick up his medicines--antibiotics, nebulizers, cough medicine, and Nino and Ana showed us which diapers, wipes and soaps he is use to so we can get some to ease his transition. He may still be taking medicine when we get custody, so they said we can borrow their nebulizer.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat, then Misha took us to meet Marina to sign some documents for the court. We then walked around and stopped at a Georgian bookstore to buy some Georgian children's books for Simon and then to a department store (similar to Ross or TJMaxx, but without clothes) and bought a few toys to have at our hotel for when we get custody. We will leave most of these toys with Marina when we come back to the US and she will take them to the orphanage to donate for us.

Tomorrow we will visit Simon at some point, but Marina also wants to take us to the court office for us to put in some kind of request/appeal regarding the court date. So we will see what the court office is like and we'll also see if Simon is in a good mood two days in a row.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tbilisi at Night

After a day off yesterday, we were excited to get back to visiting our Simon! He showed off some of his 2 year old antics, getting his fleece from the closet and convincing us to go to the park for a short time.  On the way back from the park, Simon took us by the store, where Daddy tried to buy him a candy, but the store owner wouldn't take any money. It was super cute when Simon put his candies in his pocket.

We had a few sweet, quiet moments today as well, Ben with the iPad and me with a truck. I could play legos and cars all day with Simon! Nana also made us a Georgian pudding-like dessert for snack. It is made from grape juice and flour and involves a lot of stirring. It is then topped with hazelnuts. Delicious! While Nana was cracking the hazelnuts, Simon was eating them almost as fast as she could crack and peel them. He brought some to Daddy and Mommy too and put them in our mouths, which he found funny. He even psyched Daddy by pretending to put one in Daddy's mouth, then putting it in his own mouth.
Nana stirring and stirring
Ben and I also met with out POA Marina today. She told us that Simon's social workers submitted their "conclusion" to the courts already, so she plans to take our paperwork to the court on Wednesday and we might find out our court date on Thursday, which will probably be sometime during our 3rd week here. It could then take about 5 days to get the VISA, but it sounds like we are still on schedule. Over the next week, we are going to try taking Simon to new places to get him out of his normal environment.

After resting at the hotel for a bit, Ben and I walked around downtown and did a little shopping. We bought a chokha (traditional Georgian outfit) for Simon and a few other little things to bring home. We then had dinner downtown for the first time--an delicious chicken in garlic-milk sauce and some "Mexican potatoes," which are seasoned potato wedges (not sure why they are Mexican, but they are yummy and were great for soaking up the chicken sauce).
Old Town restaurants alive at night
"Mexican potatoes"
Chicken in garlic-milk sauce
It was nice and cool out after so many hot days, so we enjoyed walking the 2+ miles back to our hotel. The city is lit up at night and very beautiful!
The Bridge of Peace with the Full Moon
Opened in 2010 and crosses the Kura river in Tbilisi.
Lights up at night with over 1200 LEDs.
There are 4 different light programs that run every hour, as well as
the periodic table of elements in Morse code across the 2 parapets.
The light show is suppose to symbolize life and peace amongst people.

Kura river boat and the Presidential Palace

Narikala Fortress high above the streets

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Borjomi Mineral Springs and Surami Fortress

We've now been Georgia for one week! We settled into a routine and so much has happened that it feels much longer than seven days. Today we gave Simon a break and Misha took us outside Tbilisi for a day trip to the mountains. We noticed on the way out of town that flags were at half mast. Misha said this was for remembering the War in Abkhazia which involved ethnic cleansing of Georgians (peaked when Sukhumi was captured on September 27, 1993).

We drove a little over 150km (90+ miles) to the Borjomi region to go to the Borjomi natural mineral springs. We made a quick stop first to fill up on CNG (compressed natural gas). The tank is kept in the trunk. Misha's car and most cars in Georgia run on CNG and some, like Misha's, can switch between CNG and petrol depending on the road and driving needs (Misha has a switch in the car to change between fuels). CNG is compressed methane that is unleaded, not very flammable and burns cleaner than other fuels, but takes up more space and doesn't provide as much power as gasoline.
Filling up the CNG tank in Misha's car
Tbilisi on the lower right to Borjomi on the left
Driving to Borjomi, the landscape was very similar to Southern Oregon--low, dry hills, small towns, farms, etc. It was very relaxing with the windows down and the sun shinning after the morning rain. Ben and Misha talked cars, music, media and other such things, while I closed my eyes and daydreamed, imagined Simon with us on future car trips and zoned out looking at the landscape pass by. Before reaching Borjomi, the landscape changed to higher hills covered in trees very much like the coast range, but where there are mostly conifers with some deciduous in Oregon, here the trees were mostly deciduous. It is still summer weather here, so the leaves were not yet changing colors. Borjomi mineral water park is a partially landscaped park, with trails branching out into the national park (first national park in Georgia and Europe's largest national park).

The park was established in 1850. In the high tourist season, there are amusement rides and the park is very busy and the line for the water from the spring is very long. The volcanic spring is over 1500 years old. Natural carbon dioxide pushes the water up from 10km (6.2 miles) underground so quickly that the water comes out at the surface at 38-41C (100.4-105.8F). Minerals from the mountains enter the water on the way up, so the water emerges mineralized and carbonated. It is bottled at two plants in the town (1 plant for glass bottles, 1 plant for plastic bottles). The water is known to have curative effects (both drinking and bathing) and stone baths and clay pipes have been excavated, suggesting the spring water was used as early as the 1st century BC.

The spring is currently within a pavilion with taps for filling bottles. The water itself has a slightly salty-sulphuric taste that is less noticeable once the water is chilled. It reminded Ben and me of tasting the Lithia water in Ashland, but with less of a sulphuric taste making it more potable. Misha loves the water and filled a bottle to drink while we sat in the shade of the park (and refilled before leaving to bring home to his family).
Spring Pavilion

Two little boys guarding the water with toy rifles

Spring water
Ben filling out bottle
Not too bad, but I prefer it cold

Creek going through the park (different than the spring water)
For lunch Misha too us to one of his favorite restaurants in the area where we had the best Imeruli khachapuri (round flat version) of the trip so far, qababi and "lemonade." We sat looking out a window to the hills and between the food and the view, we could have stayed all day.

Mmmm Khachapuri

Lunch view
We made a short stop along the Mtkvari river (same river that flows through Tbilisi) following lunch. Ben skipped rocks, while I enjoyed walking along the river in the wind.

Next Misha took us to the Surami fortress. Surami guarded the road from east to west Georgia and was critical for protecting the area in the 12th century. The fortress was most recently rebuilt in the mid 1700s during the Russio-Turkish war.

St. Nino's cross on a lower level of the fortress
Inner wall

Prayer room within the fortress

Ben with The Mother of God church in the background

Playing with some of the settings on my camera
Georgian flag on the top of the fortress
The climb to the top was fairly easy except for the strong winds, but the beautiful view of the town and surrounding hills. From the fortress we could see The Mother of God church. We had the fortress to ourselves save a few lizards, a calf and some chickens, so it was quite peaceful and a perfect end to our day outside the city (minus Simon :( ). Or so we thought--Misha bought us nezuqi (sweet bread) on the way home! Yum!
Misha buying nezuqi at a roadside stand

Nezuqi! Soft, chewy sweet in the middle with crispy sweet
crust (tastes like Challah/French toast with raisins). 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Are 5 kids ≥ 5 adults?

Ben and I had a calm and lazy morning, sitting on the porch and in our hotel room, with a late breakfast. Ben watched some kittens climbing on pipes and I read and caught up on the news. We try to get a little such quiet time in everyday.

In the afternoon we went to visit Simon. We arrived just after his nap, so he was still waking up a little and it took him a bit to warm up to playing. But we had plenty of entertainment in the meantime! Since it was Saturday, Ana's two children (3 year old Elene and 4.5 years old George) were home from school and they were so surprised that we spoke English, that we became friends right away. They loved asking us questions and showing us things. Elene decided she wants to come visit Simon at his house with us! It was actually very helpful for Simon to see us with Elene and George, because he could see that other kids are ok with us, so we must not be scary horrible people :) Another foster boy was also home, so when he and Tatia woke up, we had five lively kids. Two little monkeys (Simon and Elene) we jumping on the bed, while the others were running to and from the living room. Ben eventually corralled 4/5 kids in a corner with the iPad to watch musical videos and sing songs. We snuck in a few moments with Simon alone too, while the other kids were in the other room. We played put-the-blanket-over-Simon's-head-and-then-find-him-and-laugh. We love his surprised face and his little dimples, and his laugh is precious and contagious.

But then Simon cried "shoes!" and pointed. He loves his shoes because he gets to go outside when he puts them on. So he made Ben put his shoes on, then went to the hall closet and started getting out shoes for everyone. Soon all the kids wanted to go to the park, so we all piled into the elevator (it's about 4x4 feet) and 5 adults took 5 kids to the park, 3 of us plus 5 kids in one car and Ben and Misha in the other car. Unfortunately, with all the kids talking loudly, Ben and Misha didn't catch which park we were going to, so they went to the wrong park first before figuring it out. Five adults and 5 kids at a park is pretty good odds and we had good teamwork, switching between the kids and counting them every few minutes, but it was definitely a workout! Our parenting Georgian is also getting better and more instinctual. A couple times I had to quickly tell one of the kids "ara" ("no") or "modi" ("come"), and surprised myself when I was able to communicate quickly without thinking.

We did have a fun time at the park, and enjoyed getting little moments in with Simon. He has such good focus--in the midst of all these kids playing in the sandbox, he'd sit there quietly filling up a toy dump truck with sand or rocks and driving it around. Ben and I got a couple shy sweet smiles as we handed him rocks, or when Ben fixed the wheel of the dump truck when it fell off. Ben and I feel like we could stare at him forever and not get tired of looking at him. While he's fairly comfortable with us during rambunctious times, he's getting slowly more comfortable with us during quieter, closer moments. It is an amazing feeling to have him sit next to me, or to watch him sit next to Ben, and just enjoy being close for a few moments. It is hard not to give him kisses or rub his head or back too much, because when we do he remembers that we are still mostly strangers and he runs off to find Nino, Ana or Nana. But we are getting fractionally longer moments together each time, so feel we are progressing well with bonding.

Tomorrow we are going all day to the Borjomi region. It is a beautiful place and where the naturally carbonated mineral water we buy in bottles comes from. It will be hard to have a day without Simon, but we are excited to see some more of Georgia. So while there are no pictures for today that we can share, tomorrow's pictures should be beautiful!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Simon Smiles, Sioni Cathedral and Narikala Fortress

We had such a good day today! Simon was in a pretty good mood and played with us a lot. At his foster home we played chase, with trains and with the dust mop. We had a little upset with the iPad, but Simon didn't fuss as long as previous.

Today we walked to the park in Simon's neighborhood. Simon let Daddy hold his hand for part of the way (until Nino got too far ahead and he ran to catch up). And he sang a little "Baa baa black sheep" on the way. Today, we had a great time at the park. Simon let us push him on the swing, but we spent most of our time on the slide. Simon does a really good job going up stairs, even with a baby doll under is little arm as he did today. He loved sending the baby doll down the slide first, then sliding down into my arms. We counted "1, 2, 3 go!"  A few times, Simon's flew down the slide so fast that his shoe came off. Today he let me put it back on and said "Madloba Mommy" (Thanks Mommy). This was the first time he really called me Mommy and it was music to my ears! Daddy got in on the love today too. Daddy went up the slide and was waiting at the top for Simon. When Simon got up to the top, he pointed down the slide and said "Daddy," telling Daddy to go first. Such a sweet word to hear from our little boy!

Simon also made friends with a little girl his age at the park. He kept staring at her and following her around the park. He's only 2.5 and he's already into girls! The little girl shared her sand toys with Simon, and Ben and I were dreading a meltdown if the little girl left before us, but when it was time for her to go, Simon helped pick up all the sand toys and put them in the bag, then waved goodbye to his new friend. On the way back we stopped at a little store and Simon picked out a treat and some biscuit cookies to take home for snack. Then he let me carry him home.

After his snack, we got to help with his shower again. Ben got in on the action and got to dry Simon off. Simon got a little worried when Ben picked him up to go to the bedroom, because he thought Nino wasn't coming too, but once he realized she was coming, he was ok. He let me clean his ears, which is usually reserved for Nino, but it is good for me to know how he likes it done so we can be consistent for him. Then we sat with Simon while he ate lunch. He was sitting in the sun a little and his dark hair is such a beautiful brown with a little dark red. He doesn't seem to mind me stroking his hair, which is nice because it so hard to not reach out to him. Its almost like I'm trying to prove that he's real and that I really get to be his Mommy. Ben and I snuck in a little kiss as Simon went down for his nap.

After lunch Ben and I went to Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral, which was originally built in the 6th and 7th centuries. However it was destroyed during various invasions, so the current church is from the 13th century, with updates from the 17-19th centuries. Sioni was the main Georgian Orthodox Church until 2004 when Holy Trinity Church was consecrated. The exteriors of Georgian churches are very simple without the carvings, mosaics, and reliefs that we know from other European churches. So when walked in (me with a head scarf for respect), we were surprised at how magnificent the interior is. There are icons and religious relics around the perimeter and Georgians were walking from one to the next to kiss the frames and pray. While inside, we noticed that there was about to be a religious ceremony, so we stepped to the side and back to observe and listen to the beautiful chanting as incense filled the air.


Next we headed to see Cathedral of St. George, but there was construction outside, so we continued uphill to Narikala Fortress, which was established in the 4th century. We were surprised that it is allowed to climb over the walls, but joined in and found beautiful views of the city. Some of the stairs were quite narrow and very steep. This was a good outing to do without Simon, but Ben and I enjoyed ourselves (and I kept Ben from going too near the edge--all pictures below were taken safely. The walls were a good 4-5 feet wide at the top.). At the very top is a large cross and an incredible view. By the time we climbed back down, the church (St. Nicholas Church) within the fortress walls was closed, so we will have to go back another day.
Cathedral of St. George
Narikala Fortress Wall
Ben climbing the wall (inside of the same wall seen in photo above)
From the fortress wall
Incredible views!
Safer than it looks
Looking north from Narikala Fortress. Metekhi Church is across
the river on the bank (left). The Peace Bridge is on the far right.
St. Nicholas Church
At the very top
Cross at the top