- Elephant Foot Yam. We just had some delicious Elephant foot yam for dinner the other night. The root can be found in some produce stands here and it really is giant. A decent-sized pumpkin is comparable. And it lasts for a long time without refrigeration.
- A sink in our dining room. There is a perfectly good sink in the kitchen. And one in every bathroom. But there also is one in the dining room. Why? Because south Indians eat with their hands. Yep, rice and curries scooped up with bare fingers. Just the right hand. The left is usually positioned on the table in front of you with the forearm resting along the edge of the table. You use your thumb to push food onto two or three fingers and then the thumb pushes the food off your fingers and into your mouth. If there are flat breads you tear them with just your right hand by pinning the bread down with some fingers and pulling it with the thumb and index finger. So washing before and after meals is very important here.
- Eight ceiling fans. Eight! And five rooms have air conditioners!
- A massive generator. The power here goes out — regularly. Sometimes for a few hours. Sometimes for a few minutes. The generator we have is capable of running air conditioners and everything else.
- A puzzle table. Not just a table that Pepper uses for puzzles. This is a specially designed table with wings that fold out and store panels that you can position pieces on . The wings then can fold over the puzzle so that curious cats won’t scatter your hard work.
- LOTS of light switches. Here are three photos to show an example… and these three are just from our bedroom.
- Fruit trees – two different coconut, mango, and sweet lime. We also have a wonderful smelling jasmine plant which seems to blossom every few weeks.Here are some small limes I’m grabbing from our rooftop patio.
- Dwarves and giants. Our kitchen counters are 5 inches shorter than normal. That makes every kitchen task uncomfortable because you stoop. Most of the cabinets above the counters are 2 feet higher than in most US kitchens!
- There is a large flat-topped stone just behind the house. It is there to do the wash on. Next to it are hot and cold water spigots. The washing machine we have installed was clearly not planned for in the house design. We have no clothes dryer – just lines on the roof, outside, and at the top of our staircase to dry the laundry.
- A pooja room. The pooja room is a sort of alcove or cabinet to store idols of gods. Check out these guidelines for pooja rooms. Our pooja room has served duty as storage for the ironing board and iron in the past but now functions as my recycling sorting area.
I found a few pictures of the “shed” that we built behind our house back in ’11. I have a LOT of catching up to do on this blog and since I’m sick today I plan to get a few posts written. Far from catching up though.
We’ve been working in India for just over two months now. It seems like the weeks fly by incredibly quickly. Jordan has been playing badminton in the mornings so our alarm clock starts going off at 5 AM. We’re to the school by 6:30. Classes and meetings (frequent meetings – Pepper had six meetings last Friday!) keep us occupied through the school day. Then I’m coaching volleyball until about 6 PM on every week day except Thursday which is set aside for staff meetings. Eleven and a half solid hours at the school – probably 12 often enough before we get out of there. It takes us close to an hour to get home in the evening. 45 minutes is probably the norm. We try not to do much other than go home where Jordan works on homework and we generally put in a bit more time on work items.
Our weekends have been busy too. For five weeks we have been taking a beginner’s yoga class which starts at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. After it ends at about 9:30, we usually get some grocery shopping in. We’ve also been at the school often on the weekends. I helped conduct a first aid and CPR class last weekend and we went to the school Cabaret performance yesterday. There have been TGIF socials and other gatherings for the last three Friday evenings. Packed in there have been haircuts, dental appointments, dinners with new friends, other school and community events…
This coming week our school is hosting seven other teams for the girl’s volleyball tournament. We’re housing two coaches at our house and will be involved in all of the aspects of the tournament. Then on Sunday I depart for a four night trip to the Himalayas for one of the high school week-without-walls trips. I’ll be one of three chaperons on the trip with 18 students. We’ll be rafting, climbing, birding and “discovering” India.
One of the jobs we turned down partially because they told us we’d be spending our nights and weekends at the school… I didn’t realize how natural that really can be until recently.
We’ve been busy! A few weekends ago we decided to get dirty and do some planting. We bought the big bag of soil below for about $8. We had a number of empty planters and used some of the local soil and stones in the bottom of the pots. Then we planted a wide variety of plants. Mint, cilantro, basil, peppers… Some of those are quite available but we just love having things growing around us so it was about time that we started planting. We hope to be able to grow all year since the coolest weather here will still be quite a bit warmer than the hottest in Alaska and there isn’t much change in the daylight during the seasons.
Then on the following Tuesday, I took a little bit of personal time off of work so that I could receive our shipment. It took the moving crew less than an hour to unload all of the boxes and furniture into our house. We had three piles of dozens of boxes because we combined our shipment with two others.
Our collection was nearly 70 boxes, crates, and wrapped furniture. We spent the next few days unpacking and trying to get the house set up. Nearly two weeks later the room that we stacked everything in still has items strewn about.
It is great to have our things filling this house though. Now, with our art, furniture and other items around us we really feel at home.
Since my last post about our journey to adoption, we have spent a lot of time waiting. Our home study approved, our agency sent that in with our application to the Department of Homeland Security for their pre-approval for us to bring an “immigrant” into the country. Earlier this week we received notice that we’re essentially pre-approved to import a child.
This is a strange process. It reeks of the hoops you jump through to pre-approve for a mortgage, health insurance, or any loan. Strange when you think about it as admitting a child to the most privileged country on the planet.
This involved us both having federal fingerprinting done, scheduled for Juneau. Our appointment date for the fingerprinting turned out to be the day we planned to leave the US for India. So while we were in Seattle we stopped into a Department of Homeland Security center – without an appointment. We were anticipating the worst. Having to explain our situation and being forceful… but in the end the employees were incredibly kind, supportive and accommodating.
While that process was moving along, we had our social worker do an update to our homestudy. She visited our new home in India (on our dime) and updated our employment information, benefits, and even was able to stop by the school during the back to school picnic.
Now we’re waiting for our dossier to China (DTC) which should take another couple of weeks which should then turn into our log in date (LID) in the Chinese system. Then we’ll have to go back to the Department of Homeland Security application process to request permission for our specific child to become a US citizen.
I have spent the past few weeks applying for adoption grants that we are eligible for, however many have requirements we do not meet. Some are for fairly small amounts compared to the total cost of adoption, but every little bit will help.
If you would like to help us with our adoption expenses you can click on the button below. Thank you to our previous donors!
Our school has been remarkably supportive. I’ll be posting about some of the swag that we have been given. This one is extra special…
Pepper and I signed up for Stepathlon which the school is supporting. On Friday we received this athletic bag, hat and a really nice pedometer. I’ve tried pedometers in the past but this one really works nicely. We’re signed up individually or in teams and it looks like there are nearly 100 staff members signed up. I saw security staff picking up their kits so the school is supporting all staff being more healthy.
I will say that we noted that Pepper’s pedometer did count a few hundred steps during our commute home on Friday so it sure isn’t foolproof.
We’re looking forward to the event!
We’re not particularly happy about it, but we own a car again. Our home in Chennai is about 15 KM (around 9 miles) from the school. That’s too far to walk or ride bikes regularly and the area our home is in makes snagging an auto rickshaw really difficult. More importantly, it is about 25 minutes to the school in the morning and getting there dry and comfortable is key. One of my co-workers rides a motorcycle to work and on the rainy days he has to shower and change after his ride.
This is it – a Mahindra Scorpio. We were able to buy it from another teacher and the school provided us with a 9 month interest-free loan. So unfortunately, we’ll be paid a little less than we were hoping for during the first 3/4 of this first year, but we really need a reliable way to get to the school and home.
We have to budget for diesel now too. Insurance for a year will cost a little over $150. We will also spend about $25 a month on a pass for the toll road between our home and the school. Regardless, eventually this will be a good choice! We will be able to vacation to a few spots in India and only have to pay for gas and additional toll roads. We can drive to Bangalore, Ponducherry, Kerala, and many other places in southern India.
Pepper and I arrived in Rochester, NY late on Sunday. We took the cats to my parent’s home and crashed. Over the next few days we did some relaxing, introduced the cats to their extended feline family, took care of some cat transport issues, helped my dad set up some workshop tools, and started to celebrate our anniversary. Started. Then suddenly I had to fly to San Francisco. We hadn’t even been in Fairport for three full days.
We were becoming increasingly concerned about our lack of a visa for India. Pepper sent a note about it to the personnel director of our school and she told us to immediately go to San Francisco to deal with it in person – they would pay. Three hours later I was on a flight from Rochester to San Francisco. We bought a one way ticket – not knowing how long I might be there. I brought clothes for three days.
While on the ground in DC for my connection to San Francisco, I made a few calls using Skype to track down a hotel. This sudden trip was going to be expensive. The cab to the hotel was almost $50. I hunkered down at the hotel – arriving pretty late – and mapped out my walk to the visa processing office.
I need to back up.
We tried to apply for our visas in Mongolia. The Indian embassy in Ulaanbaatar was nice, there was no line, we got in to see someone right away. But he said he couldn’t help us because we hadn’t lived in Mongolia for at least two full years. We were a few months short. So we had our documents ready to mail out as soon as we arrived in the US. The Indian consulate contracts out for all visa pre-screening. Because of the US requiring that a US-owned company be contracted to do a similar service in India, the Indian government required an Indian-owned company to do their processing. And the shift happened just as we arrived in the US. So our applications were among the first to arrive at the new company. It arrived in San Francisco on July 1st. We had tried the phone lines for contacting the company for days and the few times we got through we were told that our case would be elevated and that we would be contacted in 24-48 hours. In short, there was a new company processing visas before they went to the embassy and they had call centers in India that had no idea what was going on.
So 50 minutes before the BLS office in San Francisco opened on that Thursday, I was standing in a line with 9 other people with similar woes. None had appointments. (You could make appointments for in-person applications but the first available time was a week and a half away.) People traded stories about the problems they had. One woman in front of me had been there 8 days earlier and still wasn’t sure if she was going to get her visa.
By the time they opened their doors, we had over 20 people ready to find out what was going on. One of the first people in had been there the previous day and kept us organized. She had us line up in the chairs in the waiting room in order so we could be served in the order we arrived. BLS threw a wrench in that orderly approach when one guy announced that “absolutely no walk-ins would be seen. Appointments only.” Chaos slowly erupted as people realized that they might not be seen. People with appointments got numbers which were called. Others tried everything possible to get numbers. A few people skipped the number system and just went up to the counters. That ended up being the best option for people like me with different needs. I got to the front of that line and gave them my tracking number and the arrival date. A half hour later someone pulled our envelope and went through it. She said we needed a letter from the school for Jordan’s application and his application also needed our signatures on it along with copies of our passports with our signatures on those pages. So I popped into a cafe, grabbed a breakfast and sent a message to the school that we needed an acceptance letter for Jordan. Then I trompsed up five blocks and finally got a SIM card for my phone… there were other staff that also were having hangups with their visas and I offered to act on their behalf in San Francisco. There was a FedEx store just another block away from AT&T so I printed out the passport copies and the letter for Jordan (our school can move really quickly!)
I got the papers together, found a place to work on the signatures and got everything ready to resubmit. I went back to BLS to submit the new materials and after a while had someone else flip through my application. She found a few other problems – primarily that I listed my parent’s address in NY as our current address and not our Alaska address (which was listed as our permanent address). I explained to her that we were currently in NY visiting family but she said the Indian consulate in San Francisco wouldn’t process our applications with an address listed that was out of their jurisdiction. She said if I had the materials in to them by 2 PM that they could get them in by first thing in the morning. that was only 40 minutes away. I ran the six blocks uphill to the FedEx place and had to enter entirely new visa applications for all three of us with the correct address (and details about the countries we had visited in the last 5 years, contacts in the US and India, employment/school information and our passport numbers, birthdays and other information). I sprinted back down the hill, pausing every now and then to sign our applications. I made it with just minutes to spare.
They looked over my application and noted that our money order was for too much money – by a few dollars. I told them it didn’t matter. Then they told me that the expedited processing system at the embassy was down. I asked if it might be up by the next day and they said if I checked by 10 that I could pay for the faster service. I asked about a couple of the other applications that were held up. But they closed before I was able to find out what was going on with them.
I went back the next day. Nope. Just regular “3-5 business day” processing. I was recognized about the other applications and one was brought to the top of the pile. The other they couldn’t find. That wasn’t a fun call to make to my future co-worker. I told her I would try again on Monday.
I spent the rest of that afternoon down in the dock area at the Instructables headquarters and checking out the Exploratorium. I ate out. I drank beer. I walked all over San Francisco. I then imposed on my cousin and her husband. I hadn’t seen Rachel in 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t ever met her husband, Brian. I had to try and relax over the weekend. There wasn’t anything I could do about the applications but wait and hope we were on the 3 day and not 5 day end of the timeline.
Monday came and I went to the BLS office. I was able to check on my coworker’s progress. Another employee had popped up with a snag. I did what I could. I wandered San Francisco more. I went to Betabrand. Days seemed to crawl by with me compulsively stopping by the office and checking the website for updates on our applications. The school rebooked our flights from Newark to India. Finally the site said mine was available. I rushed there and picked up mine. Pepper’s was ready too. Jordan’s had a problem. They needed his biological dad’s signature on his application – not mine.
I rushed up to FedEx again and printed out the divorce documents showing Pepper having custody. They accepted them but said they needed a court order. I got it back the next day – the divorce documents were not good enough. Jordan’s dad got a notarized letter to us granting permission for Jordan to leave. I resubmitted. another weekend went by. I went to movies. I went to thrift stores. I shopped at Betabrand. I walked part of the Golden Gate Bridge. Monday came and the application was rejected again – this time we were informed via a phone call directly to me from the embassy. Pepper’s signature on Jordan’s application wasn’t good enough. Pepper emailed a document to the embassy within 30 minutes of us being contacted. I picked up Jordan’s passport the next afternoon. I went straight to the airport, bought a ticket there and headed back to Rochester.
Dad, Mom, Pepper, Jordan and the cats picked me up at the airport where we immediately drove the 5 hours to Newark. It saved us, and in turn the school, money but more importantly I had five more hours with my parents. I missed out on a planned trip to Pennsylvania. I missed a week with my parents. We missed all of the new teacher orientation. We missed a lot.
But we made it.
When we arrived in Newark we checked in, paid for the cats, got through security and then made it to the gate with about 20 minutes to spare for our six plus hour flight to Frankfurt where we connected to our more than 9 hour flight to Chennai.
It all worked out. Not the way we wanted, but it worked.
While it didn’t really influence our decision to go to India, we were pretty excited that bringing our cats was a possibility. We knew it was going to be difficult. In Mongolia they needed to be up to date on their shots. We had to find soft-sided carriers to transport them. And we had to pay about $100 and give the vet clinic our passports and a letter we wrote, had translated, and had notarized by a Mongolian notary (which only cost a few dollars). The vet clinic then handled getting the federal veterinarian approval documents for us. It was pretty easy, although we didn’t really think so then. Everything is relative.
Then at the Ulaanbaatar airport we had to pay $200 for each cat for their flights to Seattle. It had to be cash, local currency, and exact change. Of course, we thought we could just charge it. So we had to exchange some USD for tugrik one last time. Going through security entails pulling the cats out of their carriers and carrying them through the metal detectors. Then you usually get your hands swabbed and the swabs tested for explosives. We had a few hour flight to Seoul and then a 14 hour layover. We found a place to hunker down and let the cats out of their carriers into a corral made of our carry-on bags and the benches we could sprawl out on. There are free showers available at the Icheon airport and Pepper took the opportunity to let the cats really stretch their legs in one of the private showers which includes a toilet and sink. Then we loaded them up for the long flight to Seattle.
When we landed in the US, an agent greeted us, took the cats and our paperwork, and then met us after we passed through immigration and customs. Brooke picked us up and we headed to the hotel we had arranged near the airport – a place that allows pets. The cats had a night with us there before we had to load them up for the early morning flight to Petersburg. Five hours later they were finally able to be released into our “summer home” – the workshop/storage shed/crash pad we built behind the house. There, they had two glorious weeks of watching birds out of windows, crawling to the tops of shelves, rolling in sawdust, napping in the sunshine, and avoiding the rotation of kids that came looking for the kitties. They did have a trip to the vet to get micro-chipped which was a pretty awful experience – but they handled it well.
Then we took them on a short flight to Juneau, gave them a few minutes out of their carriers in the airport thanks to the collars and leashes we scrounged up, and then a longer flight to Seattle. This time, Holly picked us up and we reluctantly dropped the cats off at a cat boarder – City Cat in Seattle. Mike, the operator met us despite it being a holiday for most businesses, and made us much more comfortable with his clear concern for each of the cats in his care. Pepper and Jordan picked them up a week and a half later, both cats seemed to have had a good time at “camp.” They had flights across the US, getting into Rochester, NY at 11 PM.
My parents had a room set up for us and the cats had their own litter box. I did wake the first few nights and find Cocoa curled up in her carrier. She seemed ready to find her new home and stop being such a vagabond. Mitten eventually made great friends with the kitten in the house, but Cocoa continued to be her introverted self. They both enjoyed the cat habitat that my dad created a while back. They had to hit another vet right after we arrived but other than a general check they didn’t have any major work done and no needles stuck in them.
Then they were packaged up again for a five hour drive to Newark and then a six and a half hour to Frankfurt and finally a nine and a half hour flight to Chennai. Finally, they have been able to really stretch their legs and have a large place to themselves. They still seem to be finding their place here. Cocoa is keeping to herself on a perch in the living room and Mitten makes herself welcome anywhere. They spend much less time with us than they did when locked up with us in smaller spaces, but Cocoa isn’t seeking her carrier.
So I zipped off from Seattle and headed to Boston to take a PE teacher certification test. Lucky for me, one of my best friends lives in Boston.
At about midnight I found myself wandering around the quiet streets of a Boston suburb where a taxi driver had dropped me off. He had pointed across the street when dropping me and my two huge checked bags (with things headed with us to India). The houses were not lit well, house numbers were hard to find… I was creeping up front steps and quietly looking for house numbers. I hoped that in Massachusetts it isn’t legal to use deadly force if someone is on your porch. I finally determined that the number Mike gave me was definitely not there. A guy came out of one of the duplexes and I asked him for help. ”Somerville? You’re in the wrong town. It’s that way a ways.”
So I dragged my bags to the nearest busy street. Well, busy for 12:30 at night. A rickety taxi arrived and took me about 3 miles away. Down the same road where at some point the numbers started all over again. Mike’s place was easy to find then. We did a little catching up (I did just see him during our winter break) and then I crashed on his couch.
The next day (Friday) we went to a coffee shop and I studied more for the test while he did some work. Then we went to his office at Tufts for a few more hours of study for me while he had a meeting. We dined out plenty, I had some summer Sam Adams beer, and after my exam on Saturday, we spent a good bit of time that evening and Sunday stomping around Boston.
I really like spending time with Mike. We’ve managed to keep in touch ever since parting ways after high school. That was more difficult before all the social media stuff. He has visited Alaska a few times and then joined us for our winter break last year. I have spent time with him in Colorado a number of times and now connected in Boston.
Sunday evening I said goodbye and flew to Rochester.