Timeline of Adoption Trip for Aviva, June - July 2005

Aviva's home page

Wed, Jun 15

Moved our house before traveling.

Thu, Jun 16

Dealt with last minute visa problems.

Fri, Jun 17

Traveled to Almaty, Kazakhstan

Sat, Jun 18

Continued traveling...

Sun, Jun 19

Traveled to Petropavlovsk

Mon, Jun 20

Met Aviva for the first time!

Tue, Jun 21

Some relaxed playing

Wed, Jun 22

Learning to feed Aviva

Thu, Jun 23 Fri, June 24 Sat, Jun 25 Sun, Jun 26

Reflections on the week

Mon, Jun 27 Tue, Jun 28 Wed, Jun 29 Thu, Jun 30 Fri, Jul 1 Sat, Jul 2 Sun, Jul 3

Reflections on the week

Mon, Jul 4

Court day!

Tue, Jul 5 Wed, Jul 6 Thu, Jul 7 Fri, Jul 8 Sat, Jul 9 Sun, Jul 10

A week of waiting

Mon, Jul 11 Tue, Jul 12 Wed, Jul 13 Thu, Jul 14


Fri, Jul 15 Sat, Jul 16 Sun, Jul 17

Another week of waiting

Mon, Jul 18

Tue, Jul 19 Wed, Jul 20

Took Aviva from baby house

Thu, Jul 21

Flew to Almaty

Fri, Jul 22 Sat, Jul 23 Sun, Jul 24

Enjoyed 3 days in Almaty at a 5 star Hyatt

The whole story of our adoption of Aviva started 5 1/2 years ago when we adopted Dana from Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan. That was such an amazing experience, we decided to go back to the same baby house Dana came from to get a new little sister for her.  Of course there are a lot of details that brought us to the present, but we'll start with Wednesday, June 15, 2005 when the complexity of this whole process really started...  (read starting from the bottom, and click on photos for larger images).

Sunday, July 24, 2005

What a difference 3 days makes.  We have simultaneously been getting to know Aviva and stepped forward about 40 years to a 5 star Hyatt hotel from Petropavlovsk which felt so much like living in the 1960's Soviet Union.  First Aviva - it is a world of difference to be responsible for a child and take care of her 24 hours a day compared to visiting her twice a day after she's slept and eaten.  We've done this before with Dana, but it still is an exciting challenge to get to know her and her habits.  Living in the baby house has taught her to eat fast - like Dana did.  Half a second delay between spoonfuls of food evokes a shriek. They were very efficient feeders at the baby house, and you ate when it was time, or you didn't eat.  She is also used to such rich food - the "formula" was made of sour cream and sour whole milk among other things - that she's not too happy with our wimpy formula which apparently seems pretty watery to her.  She also insists on eating every 4 hours or so - which means getting up at least twice each night :(  Anyway, we've begun to figure out how to feed her so that she's happy.  The rest of the time, she's as happy a baby as we've seen.  All smiles and googly "talking".  She falls asleep easily and is great fun to play with.

We've had a little fun exploring Almaty.  We went to the zoo - which was quite large and had many animals (which Aviva slept through :).  But Dana loved it - especially the 2 humped camel that she and Ben got to ride!  A little scary and first, but pretty exciting - especially as camels were the animal that traditional Kazakh's used before they became master horse riders.  Dana also rode a pony - which was a bit more her speed. 

Today we went to an amusement park just next to the hotel.  Along with the tickets we got for the entrance fee, we got some other card.  The security guard showed us to scratch off something and was excited at what it said.  It was all in Russian, and the guard didn't speak a word of English so we had no idea what to do.  Eventually, the guard got someone to take his place and he walked us over to a prize booth filled with hot pots, toasters, and hair dryers.  We thought we had one of those.  They needed to see our passport and wrote down all of our information - a lot of work, we thought, for a hot pot.  Then the woman disappeared and we waited for about 10 minutes.  She came back carrying a big box - and we found ourselves the proud owner of a Samsung microwave oven!  We were in hysterics - somehow the idea of us winning a microwave oven in an amusement park in Kazakhstan with our newly adopted sleeping baby where we no conceivable use for it made everyone laugh.  Especially because Ben had to carry the huge box back to the hotel while we tried to think of what to do with it - perhaps we'll try and give it to a local orphanage.

This whole experience has been so much easier because the Hyatt we've been staying in so much like being the U.S.  The food is good, enough people speak English so we can communicate directly and not have to depend on our translator for everything we need.  Being used to being pretty much in control of our lives, it was getting pretty frustrating and tiring having to spend over a month tiptoe around, avoiding bringing attention to ourselves (adopting is a bit of a sensitive topic, and we were told to avoid even telling people what we were doing there).  So now that that we can be free about our purpose, in control of our food and daily activities, we are much calmer.  Of course, living in one room with a baby that needs 2 naps a day and 2 night-time feedings isn't that easy.  Yesterday, Dana and Allison ordered "hall service", that is food delivered to the hall outside the room so they could eat while Aviva napped.  The delivery person thought they were completely crazy!  But there is a fantastic pool, excellent food, and Dana is happy sleeping in her "bunk bed" with little sister Aviva.

Tomorrow we go to the U.S. Embassy and get a visa for Aviva's Kazakhstan passport so she can travel back to the U.S. with us (she'll eventually become a naturalized citizen and get a U.S. passport).  Then we try and get home.  We have a ticket for the 31st, and are on the waiting list for the 27th, 29th and 30th - but the flights are all overbooked, so we may end up spending another week here...

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

We flew to Almaty with Aviva!  I never thought I'd like a 5 hour journey on a very old prop plane - but it was twice as big as the jet we took on the way up.  It was so big, that the 40 passengers actually had seats high enough to put ones head back!  Aviva is showing herself to be a good traveler and promptly fell asleep.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

After a very nearly unbearable wait, we brought Aviva "home" this afternoon to our hotel room.  We signed the papers at the baby house (below), and put her to bed for her the first time in our makeshift crib in the hotel room (between furniture we moved around). We have her birth certificate and adoption certificate in our name, and she is now 100% Aviva Druin Bederson.  Tomorrow we fly to Almaty, get her passport and U.S. papers in order then try and get a flight home.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Well, we knew that this last week of waiting would be hard - and it has been!  We've all been tired and a bit cranky and eagerly waiting to take Aviva home with us.  Fortunately, she continues to be an incredible charmer - funny, very active, sometimes funny looking!  We've seen her start to learn incredible new things this week.  She can sort of crawl - well, more like worm.  But anyway, she can move across the floor to get to something she wants.  She started to learn to make raspberry noises.  And all the while, she has tons of teeth coming in.  The first 3 came in since we've been here, and the top two big ones are just starting.  So when she's not bothered by her teeth, we think she'll be even happier!

This week there were two main events.  The first was a tour of the baby house.  That was interesting, but the main thing was that we all visited room 2, the room that Dana stayed in when she was here in 1999.  Allison and Ben remember the room of course.  Dana has seen pictures so she feels like she remembered it.  When we actually saw it, we all felt pretty overwhelmed and there was not a dry eye among us.  Somehow, seeing how Dana started and seeing so clearly what her life has become compared to what it could have been was inspiring and terrifying at the same time. We remember so clearly watching Dana get fed in the little wooden 2 baby highchair.  We watched in horror as the caregiver stuffed food in the children's mouths as fast as they all could move.  It was at that moment we realized what was really involved in caring for 80 babies, and how the 6 feedings per day with matching hundreds of clothing changes, and putting to beds is a nearly overwhelming challenge.  Even the most loving caregivers became experts at efficiency and, well, it just is no substitute for a loving parent.  We are thankful every day that this baby house exists and does as good a job as it does - and twice as thankful that we have been able to take Dana and soon Aviva home with us.

Aside from the issue of human attention, of course there is the economics of keeping this place going.  All these children eat a lot, and wear through a lot of clothes, toys and other things.  We have been delighted to see many improvements in the facilities since 1999, entirely due to funds related to international adoptions.  The government gives minimal support for the baby house - really just enough for food and salaries.  All improvements, toys, medicine, etc. come from donations and adoption fees.  Durable things like carpets, walkers and beds are improving.  But there isn't close to enough money to buy better quality consumables such as diapers (they use washable cotton towels), soft toys, or the kind of food we are used to.  We found that the "formula" fed to the babies is home-made and consists of some kind of mixture of sour cream, sour milk, and occasionally blended vegetables.  I had thought that Aviva's spit-up smelled so bad because it was partly digested food.  But when I fed her myself this week and smelled the food, I realized it smelled just as bad to start with!  The good news is that whatever it is, the children seem to be growing well and are generally healthy.

The other big thing we did this week was to attend the annual city fair - this year celebrating Petropavlovsk's 253rd birthday. There was music, rides, street food, and even yurts (traditional Kazakh nomadic houses) put up in the street.  We tried to get in but couldn't, so we don't really know what was going on inside.

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Dana loves the pink stairs, so we couldn't resist paying a little special attention to them.  Let's hope we don't have to paint the stairs pink at home!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Noise.  Petropavlovsk is a city where no one experiences quiet.  Every restaurant plays loud music at every meal.  We have stopped eating at the hotel restaurant and now eat in our room to avoid it.  Every car and taxi has very loud music all the time.  The pool has loud music.  The stores all have loud music.  The music is either 1980s/1970s American pop or Russian rock music- roughly the equivalent American top 40 pop music, with many songs repeated over and over.  Something we found out about the summer months here is that it's when they do all their construction. The winters are so severe that nothing gets changed then.  So here we are in July and there is construction in the hotel and in the baby house with continuous banging until early evening.   Even the baby house has construction to renovate a kitchen and while we're happy about it, all visits to Aviva are accompanied by continuous banging.  So it's either banging or music, but rarely quiet.  Now it is evening, 10:30pm.  But there is no chance to sleep.  The hotel is sponsoring a party in the restaurant 2 floors down and the music continues.

 Ok, we're getting tired of waiting.  5 more days to take Aviva from the baby house!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Now that we have legally adopted Aviva, there is a 15 day waiting period before we can finally take her with us.  So we are almost done with the first of two weeks of waiting to end on July 20 - 10 more days!. We follow our regular pattern of visiting Aviva twice a day.  Ben and Dana swim in the afternoons.  The rest of the time, we read, watch DVDs, explore the city, and have camp Kazakhstan.

This week, Allison had an idea to make our visits to Aviva a little more interesting.  After Ben had bought a toy truck and some cups for Dana, we decided to bring it in with some water to play with Aviva.  She has never played with water, or probably ever even been in water.  She just gets a quick sponge bath to get cleaned.  She was amazed by the water after being a little cautious at first.  Not surprisingly, we all got pretty wet!

We also visited a local museum which had all kinds of interesting artifacts from the region.  The building was a beautiful 1800's house, and our favorite piece was the sculpture of an older Kazakh woman.

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Monday, July 4, 2005

Court Day!  Today, we legally and officially adopted Aviva Druin Bederson, our new daughter and sister.  We were all somewhat nervous, but the event went without a hitch.  Dana, Allison and Ben, along with Valentina our translator and Svetlana our coordinator, the other adopting family, and two drivers - went to the court building, dressed up in the special clothes we brought for the day.  The court building looked like all other Soviet-era municipal buildings - somewhat old, dark and creaky.  The proceedings were held in a regular room, but with a huge blue and yellow Kazakh flag.

In the room were the judge, the "prosecutor", the secretary, a representative of the department of social work, a representative of the baby house and Ben, Allison, Dana and Valentina.  The judge asked us each to stand in turn when we were asked questions.  They asked about our interest and ability to take care of another child, any concerns we had about a child that didn't look like us, how others would respond, etc.  Then they asked Dana what she thought about having a new baby sister, and Dana said how much she was looking forward to it.  She also had made the judge a small gift - a sculpture of a snowman lying down made out of clay.  The judge clearly appreciated it, and she didn't have too much to ask after that.  The positive decision was made 5 minutes after we left the room, so we didn't have to wait long.  We're happily now Aviva's new family - but there is a 15 day waiting period before we can actually take Aviva from the baby house.  We asked the baby house if we could take her to spend any time at all with us in our hotel room, but unfortunately they said they'd rather we wait the full 15 days.  So, now we're back to our basic schedule - visiting Aviva twice a day, and eating, swimming and relaxing the rest of the time.

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Life in Kazakhstan this week has been a bit hot, slow, noisy and cramped.

One of our major efforts this week has been to adjust our food.  The food here is essentially Russian - which means a lot of heavy and breaded meat dishes with cabbage.  This would be fine if weren't for the fact that Dana became a near complete vegetarian about 6 months ago, and Allison is allergic to wheat.  At our hotel restaurant, this leaves rice, potatoes and eggs on the menu for them.  While there are nice fresh salads with lettuce and cucumbers, other green vegetables that we are used to don't seem to exist. Plus it seems that every restaurant (as well as taxis, pools and all other places with electricity) play continuous loud Russian pop music. And service is slow. And no other restaurants in town have any English which means we can't eat at them at all without our translator.  For a final challenge to our American palette, it turns out that just about all coffee in this country is instant. Fortunately, as they say, food is the mother of all invention :).  We found out that for a small fee, the hotel restaurant will deliver food to our room.  We found an import food store, and can now buy foods that we can understand a bit better.  We bought a hot pot to make coffee, and a toaster oven so we can heat food up ourselves (but we hide it when we're not using it).  And Allison actually convinced the restaurant to buy frozen green vegetables and cook them for us.  So, now we've got food a bit more under control - which is making everyone a bit happier.

Another challenge which we have not yet completely solved is that it is hot. And our hotel room is especially hot - due to the late sun and western exposure.  We did buy two rotating fans, and we take cold showers before bed, but we're still pretty uncomfortable.  Fortunately, Dana came up with a great invention - she took one of the gel ice packs from the freezer which we brought with us and wrapped it around her head.  (Yes, we have a very nice small refrigerator/freezer in our room!) We quickly discovered the brilliance of Dana's invention, and now we have a negotiation before each bedtime to see who gets one of the two ice packs we brought with us.  The good news is that tonight, a larger two-room suite is opening up on the other side of the hotel - which should not only be cooler, but also give us quite a bit more room.

Now that we fully adjusted to our schedule of visiting Aviva in the morning and late afternoon, we have found a bit more time to explore Petropavlovsk and learn about the region.  Since we were here last in 1999, there has been quite a bit of economic development, and many small shops have been set up in the first floor of the Soviet-era apartment blocks.  The siding has been redone, and the main street entrances are quite nice.  (However, walking down the back alley exposes the unkept parts of the city...)  Stores are almost all very small - with a few display shelves in a 10'x10' or so space.  All items are unpackaged on display, and someone is always there to help. We've also found a few open air markets with even smaller private and continuous stalls.  We have found every single person that we have interacted with to be friendly and honest - making it easy to feel comfortable exploring on our own.

We visited one of the local libraries (without being able to find out too much) and saw how the bottom three feet of the trees on the side of the road get white.  We found a great permanent amusement park complete with all kinds of rides and a moon bounce!  We also visited the incredibly beautiful local birch tree forest.  I have never seen such an expanse of healthy birch trees - with nothing else! 

Of course, the highlight of every day is visiting Aviva - who continues to be a happy, studious and responsive little baby.  She always has a big smile for us when we arrive, never seems to be tired - and amazingly, doesn't ever cry.  Except for the fact that we don't think she ever sleeps, it seems that she is going to be a very fun and easy baby to take care of.  We can see her develop, even in the two weeks we have been here, and her hair is starting to grow in nicely (the baby house keeps all hair short for easy care).  Tomorrow (Monday) is court day when we legally adopt her - so we're quite excited.  Then, there is a two week waiting period where we continue to visit and do more of the same here in Petro...

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Click for larger photo Click for larger photo Click for larger photo Click for larger photo Click for larger photo We bought some flowers at the market here, and Dana was thrilled to find the amusement park!  We happened to walk by the tree painters - all the trees on the side of the roads have the bottom three feet or so painted white.

The birch forest.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

This is what we do on our visits to the baby house - we play with Aviva.  She smiles and laughs a lot.  Dana likes the picture where Allison is holding Aviva because Aviva looks like she's talking.  Allison likes the big one where Ben is reading a book to Aviva - we were all impressed by how closely she examined every page of the book.  Dana likes the one where she is holding Aviva because Dana looks so grown up in her ballet leotard (which she was wearing because she put on a performance for all of us). Dana looks like a real big sister.  Ben likes the one with all four of us together because he is so happy to see his family growing.

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We've been spending time here with another family who is adopting at the same time as us.  Lynn (in the middle with Dana) is adopting baby Aisha.  She and her brother Aaron along with her to help are both here from California.  Aviva and Aisha are in the same room in the baby house, and we go to visit the babies together every day.    Dana likes the picture of her wearing Aaron's hat - which he just bought.  She thinks it looks like a raccoon. Valentina (in the top right photo with Dana) is our translator, guide, and general trip coordinator.  She takes us around town, helps us buy things, and takes us to the baby house every day.  We first met Valentina over 5 years ago because she was also one of our coordinators here when we adopted Dana, so it was great to see her again!

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Every morning before we go to the baby house, we have Camp Kazakhstan.  We have a schedule with several special times where Dana can pick from an envelope what activities she wants to do.  She puts them on the schedule, and then after meeting time, we get started.  One day, Dana made a calendar with Ben so we could see exactly what we were doing every day, and when we taka Aviva home.  Dana is becoming quite a fish.  After swimming every day, Dana can not only swim across the pool, and can not only do a flip under water, she can do three flips under water with one breath!  We also go on field trips to explore the city, and of course, do lots and lots of art projects.

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We've been able to spend some time exploring Petropavlovsk (which means St. Peter St. Paul).  Most of the city was clearly built by the Soviets and consists of remarkably similar apartment buildings constructed with what looks like pre-fab square sides.  So the entire city looks like the buildings in the top three pictures.  The top left one and the big one in the middle are the views from our hotel window.  The babushka was sitting there on the stoop for a long time.  The cars are mostly very old, like the truck on the street - but there is also a smattering of new Western imports.  The city was built in 1752, at about which time the Russian Orthodox Church (below right) was built.  In that part of the old town stand several blocks of old houses in poor condition. But they are beautiful with brightly painted shutters.  Between the lack of visual landmarks, and our inability to read Russian or even decipher most Cyrillic signs, it is pretty difficult for us to navigate, so we are enlarging our circle of awareness slowly.

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There are approximately 70 children in the baby house, aged 0 - 3 years old.  Most children are available for adoption, but some are also there temporarily because their parents need extra help.  Parents are allowed to put their children in the baby house for up to a year if they visit once a week.  The children usually go outside once per day if it isn't raining, and their heads and feet are always covered.  We've already been reminded several times to put the socks or hat back on Aviva when they fall off - even when it is quite warm and poor Aviva is sweating.  Dana seems to be old enough so she does not have to follow those rules - phew!  The caregivers clearly care a great deal about the children. They are continually feeding, washing, pinching cheeks and making noises to entertain the children.  The children are well fed and kept clean. However, there is only so much attention to go around...  

The baby house hasn't changed too much since we were here in 1999.  But now that the outside isn't covered with snow, we can see that there is a playground which apparently has some new gazebos.  And the inside has been kept up well with the same heart-warming murals throughout.  And our favorite addition is the bright pink steps.

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The baby house has a very nice play room where we usually spend the time visiting Aviva.  One day, Dana brought her recorder and put on a concert for all of us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Today we got to feed Aviva for the first time.  She loves her bottle of formula, but still has a bit to learn when it comes to eating from a spoon.  Dana has been finding nice paintings and pink stairs in the baby house!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

We are getting into a routine. We play with Aviva in a big room with lots of toys if it is too hot, or take her outside to the playground and Dana pushes her in the stroller.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Today was the first day we met our sweet new girl, Aviva.  Today was the first day we saw her laugh and smile when we pinched her cheeks.  Today was the first day she got pushed in her stroller by her big sister. Today was the first day she played peek-a-boo, bit mommy's finger, rubbed daddy's rough face, and pulled Dana's hair. Today was the first day Dana and Aviva had matching mosquito bites. We also found out that back when we adopted big sister Dana, we were among the first American families ever to adopt from the baby house in Petropavlovsk.  And today we also found out that big sister Dana was the first Petro baby ever to return to the baby house to visit.   An amazing day of firsts!

First meeting baby Aviva in the morning

Dana finally getting to push
her real sister in the stroller
after practicing for so long!

Dana seeing Dr. Rimma again - the orphanage
director that took care of Dana when she was
at the baby house - an emotional meeting!

We are now settling into a schedule.  We eat our meals at the hotel, and will visit Aviva from 10-11:30am and then from 5:30-7pm each day.  The rest of the day is our own to have fun at "Camp Kazakhstan" as Dana calls it.  The court date for the official adoption is scheduled for July 4th, so that will be our next milestone.

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Sunday, Jun 19, 2005

Sunday morning, we flew on a Kazakhstan Airline flight to Petropavlovsk.  It was a very old 40 seat jet plane.  A little exciting, but pleasantly uneventful.  We got to the Skif, a very nice hotel.

Aboard the little jet

Unloading the suitcases down the stairs.
We were happy to get some unexpected help.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

We were pretty tired, but excited to be in Kazakhstan.  We dragged our hundreds of pounds of luggage to the hotel down the street from the airport, and squeezed into the tiny elevator - and slept for a few hours in the steamy hot hotel before getting up early for the final flights.

Dana in our hotel in Almaty

Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday morning, we got all of our things together, did some last minute organizing and took off on a Lufthansa flight from Dulles to Frankfurt Germany, and then after a 4 hour connection, continued on to Almaty, Kazakhstan, arriving Saturday around 11pm. 

Dana & Allison in the taxi on the way to the airport

Thursday, June 16, 2005

We thought that we had all our paperwork in order and were ready to go.  But we had a little visa trouble.  One of those things that doesn't seem like too much trouble in retrospect - but during the problem, Ben was pretty nervous.  Ben, Allison & Dana were all planning on traveling for the full 6 week trip on U.S. passports.  We got visa's to enter Kazakhstan over a week in advance - but Dana's came back with a note saying that she didn't need one since she was born in Kazakhstan, and that was indicated in her passport.  I was nervous about this and called the Kazakhstan embassy many times to confirm - but couldn't get through.  Our adoption coordinator, Lana from World Child, was also trying and finally got through Wednesday evening and gave me a call to tell me to meet her at the embassy Thursday morning. 

It turns out that  it wasn't that Dana didn't need a visa in her U.S. passport - it was that she couldn't use her U.S. passport.  Since she was a Kazakh citizen by  Kazakh law, they couldn't give her a visa.  And she couldn't travel on a U.S. passport without a visa!  The solution was to use her Kazakh passport - but that expired 1.5 years ago. I was envisioning the complexity of delaying our travel, or even worse, traveling without Dana.  But after much negotiating in Russian, Lana was able to save the day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

For some reason, we decided to move, renovate the new house and adopt a new baby all at the same time.  So, on Wednesday, movers came and we worked from 5am getting things ready for them until 8pm until the last box was unloaded from the truck.  Fortunately, our generous friends Mike, Cathy & Dana's schoolmate Jordi took on our 3 cats while we traveled.  The cats took it all in stride.

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All text and photos Copyright (c) 2005 Benjamin B. Bederson