Thursday, May 24, 2012

Biking to Bulgaria

Okay, maybe the title is stretching things a bit, but I really did consider doing a fundraiser where I bike all the way to Bulgaria.  (No, not literally.  I know there's a bit of water between here and there.)  I finally decided that I didn't have enough "good years" left in me for that, and I certainly didn't have time to use it as a fundraiser before the kids get here.

So, here's my compromise.  To keep the numbers simple, we'll say it took us 15 hours to get to Bulgaria earlier this month.  (It was actually a little longer.)  Now, let's figure it's another 15 hours back home.  If you take that 30-hour trip and multiply by 2 trips, you have a 60-hour journey from start to finish.  That means my newest hair-brained brilliant fundraising idea is to see how many of you are willing to sponsor me on my 60-hour bike ride to Bulgaria.

I have created a special Mii (on our Wii, of course) named BGBiker.  (That's Bulgarian Biker.)  Wanna meet him?

I know.  It's not a great picture, but that's what happens when you take a picture of your TV screen.  I'm hoping that I don't have to do this alone.  I want the kids to each take a turn and help me progress faster than I can alone.  If you want to drop by and go for a spin, I'm open to that, too!  I'm using him ONLY for biking in Wii Fit Plus where it will keep track of the total time I have biked.

I actually started this on Monday, and I hope to provide visual updates like these....

You can sponsor me for any amount you like, but here's an example.  If you sponsor me for $1 per hour, then at the end of this, you would send in $60.  Pretty simple.  I figure it will take us at least a couple of months to do this -- maybe 3 or 4.  So you can consider that when you pledge.  If it takes 2 months, that's only $30 for each month.  If it takes 4 months, that was only a $15 a month pledge for 4 months.

What do you think?  Will you sponsor my unrealistic virtual ride to Bulgaria?  I'll try to post my visual updates about once a week.

Let me leave you with a recap of our current fundraisers.

  • Biking to Bulgaria
  • Team Up (Forming a team with friends to send in $100 together)
  • Adoption bracelets ($5.00 and I can mail them.)
  • Puzzle Piece Sponsor ($3 per piece or $2.50 per piece if purchasing 10 or more)
  • Order coffee through our Just Love Coffee store (see link on the right)
  • Order anything through our store at Olive Tree Promise (see link on the right)
  • Out-of-the-blue donations are always welcome.  Checks are preferred, but PayPal may be easier for you.  Just click the DONATE button on the right.
Finally, you may notice a change in the fundraising thermometer.  We came up short on the last push, and we  have already had to raise the expected total for the final trip.  So putting all of that together, I'm setting our new goal at $25,000.  This is the amount I would LOVE to raise by September but at least before we travel...whenever that may be.  The amount raised so far will reflect any money that we have received starting with May.

Thanks to all of you who followed the blog during our trip.  I've really been encouraged by all of the positive comments.  Please stay with me and keep reading.  Hopefully we will travel again soon, and then I'll be able to post those long-awaited pictures.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The New Wait Begins

First, a quick update.  I figured out why my glasses case was stolen.  They needed somewhere to keep the clip-ons that were made for my prescription eye glasses (the ones left loose in the suitcase).  Didn't realize they were missing until I went to put my glasses in a new case and noticed it looked awfully empty.

Moving on.......

So now, we begin a new kind of waiting.  The kind of waiting that has two precious faces attached to it.  Some have said that at least we have an end in sight now.  And that's true.  But it feels a lot more urgent than before.

Once we were back, we started the paperwork by going for fingerprints -- since those change so frequently and require us to have them checked often.  This was my 9th time to be fingerprinted.  These were the ink prints, and if you have been following this blog for a REALLY long time, you might recall that in 2010, I had a terrible time with these.  There is only one place here that even does ink prints -- most have moved on to electronic. Anyway, last time I sent them in, I waited roughly 12 weeks to find out they couldn't read them.  I redid them, resubmitted them, waited again, and found they still couldn't be read.  Just so you know, the second time is free, but the third time, they conveniently charge you again.  So, after 3 attempts and 33 weeks, they finally were able to read my prints.

This time, I thought I had a foolproof plan.  The officer that took that last set of prints did a really thorough job and told us to ask for him if we had to do it again.  I called for him and he was gone.  You DID see that coming, didn't you?  Through some miscommunication and bad timing, we made two unsuccessful trips to get fingerprinted before we left for Bulgaria.  Afterwards, we finally made it there and got fingerprinted.  For some reason, the people on duty this time were not personable or friendly.  They could not have cared less about our adoption and the inconvenience we were causing them.  I wanted to ask the officer to please do a very careful job with my prints (like the last officer had done), so I told him that I have very difficult to read prints.  While quickly and half-heartedly doing my prints, he informed me that he doesn't read them.  In other words, "that's not my problem."  We knew as we left that there was no way the FBI would be able to read this set of prints.  So, we now have a back-up plan for more prints this Thursday (not at the same place).  But time is ticking!  I'm braced for a 12-week wait just to find out if they are read.  We don't really have time after that for another try.  If we have to redo them, then the kids will be waiting for me.  I don't want that.  I want to get everything done quickly, and then I will wait for them.

Next, I completed my I-800 (immigration paperwork).  I rushed through it and got it mailed off as quickly as I could.  Today, I got an email that my agency received it, but I didn't include the I-864W.  Silly me.  Some people dream in color, but it's a wonder I don't dream everything in fingerprints and numbers!!  Okay, so I started on that one this evening only to get stumped and have to send off an email of questions.  Probably won't hear back until tomorrow because it was so late.

I did manage to get the budget updated this weekend, so perhaps I can get the next grant finished.  I'm also working on a new fundraiser idea, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Day 9 and Home

The day we left Sofia started slowly. We were up and ready with about 3 hours to spare. We decided to take a walk and found that early Saturday morning is almost deserted. We were used to the hustle and bustle of later in the day. 

 We were picked up about 10:30 to go to the airport. Riding with us was a mom from Indiana who was heading home with her new 4yr old daughter.   We learned that we would be flying together until Chicago, so it was nice to know there would be a familiar face around. 

 As the plane was just about to take off, I almost teared up. I suddenly FELT like I was leaving my kids behind.  Even now I'm thinking often about what time it is there and what they might be doing. 

 Our flights were thankfully uneventful. The only possible problem we foresaw was catching our plane in Chicago. We had our shortest layover, had to get through customs, and had to take a train to our terminal. As we arrived, so did another international plane or two. The place was absolutely packed. We had only 30 minutes until our plane was supposed to start boarding. We finally made it through the line, claimed our bags, got in another line, gave more paperwork, checked our bags back in, caught the train, and found our gate. As we approached the counter, we noticed the door next to it was closed, and we feared they had already closed it to any more boarding. Then the guy tells us that our flight is loading 5 gates further away.  Not what was on our tickets printed that morning.  But we also learned that it was leaving later than originally planned. We finally reached the right gate 55 minutes after we originally arrived and just before they opened the door for boarding. Tim graciously let me run to the restroom first.  Trust me.  I was fast, but when I came back they had already called our zone for boarding. So we went ahead and boarded. It was only about an hour's flight or so, but we did stop at the first available bathroom in Nashville's airport.  We went to claim our bags and waited and waited. While we were waiting, they announced the current local time as 10PM.  I told Tim that marked the point at which we had been up for 24 hours. Finally, Tim went to the counter to ask.  Sure enough, our luggage had missed the flight.  We gave all the necessary information to have our things delivered Sunday about 3 or 4 PM.  We then called the hotel where we had parked and let them know we needed a ride. 

 We went straight to get the boys, went home, and made it to bed about 12:30 AM -- just 26 1/2 hrs since I got up!  Yes, we dozed a little on the big flight but not a whole lot. 

 Sunday was busy.  We actually did make it to church on time. After lunch, we thought we should wait for our luggage before returning to Tim's parents house for the rest of the boys' things and to show pictures. Besides, then we could give them the gift we bought them. Again we waited and waited.  Our luggage finally arrived about 7:30. We opened the small one to get out the gifts.  We had bought 6 coffee mugs, and they were all in bubble wrap.  All 6 were broken.  We had taken 4 picture frames to give as gifts and only used 2. So we brought 2 back to return to the store.  One of those was broken -- not just the glass, but the frame itself.  We also had a power converter smashed, a large can of Lysol had three huge dents in its steel can, and the three candles the monk gave us were all broken in multiple places. I don't know what they hit the suitcase with, but it couldn't have been simply dropped. There was even a hole torn in the top cover of the suitcase. This is maybe the second time it has been used. 

 This made us go take a look in the other suitcase.  Here I had packed our dirty clothes bags in a small suitcase then loaded that into the big suitcase and finished packing around it. At first glance you could tell someone had been through it.  No big surprise.  I knew searching was a possibility. The small suitcase was open, etc. Then Tim found them little vinyl zippered case that he keeps has razor in. It was open and empty. We searched everywhere, but it was gone. In our search, I found my glasses out loose.  My hard case for them was gone. Tim had also had filled an old film canister with sand for a friend who collects sand from around the world. It was gone as well.  I haven't finished putting everything away, so I'm not sure if anything else is gone or broken, but it really makes me mad that people do this way.  Puts a black eye on what would have been  a really awesome travel experience. 

 Moving forward from here, we must now get back to finishing our school year (Tim included), get those fingerprints done, complete the I-800, update medicals, apply for the grants that wanted a formal acceptance first, and get the house ready.  Oh, and be prepared for more fundraiser announcements. We came up at least $8500 short on the last push, and we need at least the $13,500 again for this last leg of the journey.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Day 8

Friday, May 11, 2012

 Not much to tell about today. We met a lady downstairs at 9:00 this morning. She walked us to the notary's office several blocks away.  There we met a lady from Sweden who has also been on her first visit this week. Another lady from the agency here read all of our documents to us in English (since they are written in Bulgarian). We signed them and had them notarized and headed out. Back on the street, there was one other couple arriving to sign papers. Turns out they were from Rhode Island. We barely got their names and what region they had visited before they were taken in. I hated that we did not have a chance to talk.

 We ventured out on our own to find our way to our apartment. They offered to drive us, but we were pretty confident we could find it. And we did. Even with all the walking, it still wasn't 10:00 yet when we returned. Fatigue has definitely caught up with us. We rested and took a nap, went out for another round of the Italian ice cream, came back and rested some more. Tim, of course, spent some of his time working on school work he brought with him.  We have Skyped more with Colton and Eli today since their cousins have headed home. Now they are ready for us to get back. They REALLY wanted us to come home WITH  the kids. We have repacked the suitcases. So far we have been able to pack a smaller one and put it inside the big one.  That way we can check the 2-in-1 and one other bag and only take one small bag on the plane instead of two like we did coming here.  Please pray for safe travel and that we won't miss the plane in Chicago where we have a fairly short layover.   Next week more fingerprints, more government paperwork, and more grant applications.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 7

Thursday, May 10, 2012

 Our last day.  As usual, we went to get V first. As I came through the orphanage doors behind our translator, V ran past her (for a change) saying "Mama!" and threw her arms around me and kissed me.   She gave us some mini roses she had cut that were orange and yellow. A great start to our last day. We left the gifts for her caretakers and headed for M.  He was not as sad as we had feared today, although he did have moments where he got kind of quiet. He asked our translator again how long it would be before we came back for them.  She told him that it would be after summer.  Hopefully it won't be much beyond that for his sake and ours.  

 First we took in the gifts for M's caretakers. Then we gave M & V their gifts for today.  M got a sketch book, colored pencils, and a pencil sharpener. (Did I mention he loves to draw?)  Not to be left out, V got a coloring book and colored pencils. (We gave them each some crayons on the first day.)  We stayed in the director's office while the kids completed one picture apiece.  Then we went to a couple of nearby playgrounds and spent the whole morning just playing and walking.  We did find out that V wants to be a doctor when she grows up, and M wants to be a policeman.  

 We found yet one more restaurant not too far away for lunch.  After lunch, we went back to M's. Our translator told them we could stay for about 10 more minutes to play a new game on my iPad that I had downloaded for them, but V chose to color in the coloring book we gave her.  

 M took our departure quite well, but in my worry for him, I had to hold my breath a few times to keep from crying myself. After several rounds of hugs and kisses, we got in the car with V and waved goodbye. Thankfully, V was her usually smiley, playful self on the way to her orphanage, so that lightened the mood. There were several more rounds of goodbyes and more kisses and more silliness. Unlike the other days, she didn't run off to her friends. She stayed right with us and even walked all the way back out to the car with us.   

We drove back to the city for a quick errand.  (We had already checked out of our hotel early this morning.). Then we started the drive back to Sofia. That's when the adrenaline ran out. I crashed and dozed on and off all the way back. Tim said he thought he nodded off a few times, too.    

 We settled in at our apartment and headed back to The Pizza Palace where we ate our first meal here last Saturday. Now that our visits are over, I can't wait to go home. I miss Colton and Eli so much.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 6

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Today when V greeted us, we could sense a subtle change. She was a little more open with us; she wanted to be beside me; she would reach for my hand when we were walking; she would give spontaneous hugs; and she was ready to pick at Tim first. She had definitely warmed up to us a bit more.  We didn't go straight to M this time. Instead, we went back to the city to have her picture made for her visa and passport. We didn't have room in the car for everyone for that long of a trip (about 20 minutes?), so we had to take them separately.   She and Tim continued their game of picking at each other on the way.   She giggled when Tim would just look at her.

 When we were finished, we went to M. He had a bit of a change, too.  He wasn't smiling like usual. He didn't greet us with hugs like yesterday. He didn't play or even talk. He was really just sitting quietly with us. Our translator soon told us that he was already sad about the fact that our visits would soon be over.  He had asked her how long it would be before we came back for them.  As soon as V saw him, she asked him if he wanted to play the memory game like yesterday and see if he could win this time.  He said no.

We decided to go ahead and give them today's gifts while we waited to go into the city again with M.  I gave V her bracelet that matched the one I was wearing.  She loved it. Then I gave her several other bracelets I had brought.   Finally, I gave her a new hairbrush and a pack of colored pony-tail holders. She loved them, and I was told that she really needed a new brush right now.  Tim gave M a bracelet, too.  This one was a paracord bracelet made by one of Tim's students. She made one for Tim, Colton, and Eli as well.  M had been admiring Tim's since we got here, and we had made sure Colton and Eli had been wearing theirs in the family photos we left them.  Then Tim also had an MTSU hat for him and one for himself. So, they had two matching items.   Despite his mood, he was obviously happy with the gifts.

We eventually did make it to get M's pictures done.  He was still very quiet during the trip. On the return trip, we decided to go ahead and give him the iPad to play with. We thought it would distract him from thinking too much about our week ending. We also thought that he could practice the memory game before playing with V. This finally put a smile on his face!  He played the memory game and a little bit of Angry Birds, watched a few moments of a couple of cartoons, and then found the music I had stored on it.  Thankfully, he stayed perked up the rest of the day.  But I have a feeling tomorrow will be hard since it is our last visit.

We picked up V and went to eat at a restaurant we had seen on the side of the road just before reaching the first village. M's director joined us again.  Now, some restaurants have English translations for each item on the menu. At this one, the "menu" was just a sheet of paper with no English. Tim has discovered that he likes something called a Shepherd's Salad, and they had that on the menu, so he was set. I hated to have our translator read the entire menu to me, so I settled on fried fish and French fries because she read that early on.  While we waited, M turned the tables on Tim and tried to teach him some Bulgarian.  Let's just say everyone was quite entertained.  We've got some work to do this summer.

When my food arrived, I was quite surprised to see the plate set before me.  At first it looked like a pile of black fries.  Then I noticed eyes looking back at me.  It was a pile of little, whole fish. Each one was about as long as one of your fingers. (I found out later they were European Sprats.  I'll try to post a picture later.)  I wasn't sure what to do because it looked disgusting, but I was afraid of offending someone.  Each of the kids reached over and got one and popped it in their mouths.  Tim and I joked that at least they were fried -- and anything has to be good fried. Tim also said, "It probably tastes like chicken."  finally I tried one. It actually tasted like fried catfish. So, I managed to eat about half of the plateful before the taste of grease got too heavy for me.

Later back at M's orphanage, we talked to them about names. Because of their ages, we decided to keep their given names. His sounds less American than hers, but we found out that first part of his name means kindness, and the second part means little one. So he is a little one full of kindness, and this suits him perfectly.  We did explain, though, that in our country people usually also have a middle name, and we had chosen middle names from our family since we had done that for Colton and Eli. We told V hers, and everyone seemed to like it. Next we turned to M, and he jumped in with "Ben!". This kid loves Ben-10!  We laughed, said no, and told him the named we had chosen.  He was okay with that one.   We played a few more games on the iPad before it was time to leave.

Tomorrow we must pack up everything and check out of our hotel before going to see the kids. After our visit we will be heading back to Sofia.

1)  Please pray that our last day would be a happy one.
2)  Pray for strength, especially for the kids, that they will feel a certainty that we will be back rather than a sadness that we must leave for awhile.
3)  Pray that the remainder of the process would be swift. We are told that it can take 4-5 months, and that all government offices shut down for the month of August.
4)  As usual pray for our fundraising.  We need to make up the deficit we had when we left for this trip plus raise the rest. There are a few grants that I can apply for when we return since we will have officially accepted our referral.

Several of you have mentioned being anxious to see pictures. Unfortunately I still can't post anything until the second trip.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day 5

Sorry the formatting won't hold. I'll fix the paragraphing when I get home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

 Today, we picked up V and M and took them to a nearby monastery.  A monk came and gave us a very thorough tour. I was surprised when he told us to take as many pictures and video as we liked. With all the very old paintings and things (besides the fact that it was a church), I thought that would not be allowed.   The kids also surprised us by being very attentive and quiet whenever the monk was talking...'cause it was a LONG tour. It was quite interesting, though.

 After this we went to a small playground for a while. Once again M & V got my camera to play with. There is no telling what I will will find when I upload my pictures. At one point I told Tim I really hated to go home with a ton of pictures of myself!  : )

 By this time we were all getting hungry, so we went to the one restaurant in the village.  They didn't have a menu but told us what they had. I believe they had three salads, two soups, and two main plates. I must say, it did keep things simple.  We had quite the crowd: the two of us, the two kids, our translator, each kid's social worker, and one of the orphanage directors. M & V ate very well and were least until Tim started aggravating V.  He would pick at her and she would giggle.  Then she started repeating everything he said.  Once she tried to sneak my camera out of its case, which was clipped to Tim's belt loop. He caught her with a funny look and called her Sneaky. She repeated that several times and may have a new nickname.  

 We went back to M's orphanage and sat down to look at the photo albums we had brought them. Our plan was to go through all of the pictures and then talk to them about becoming a part of our family. This was going to be our way of telling them that  kwe did, in fact, want to adopt them. Our translator was making labels for each page as we went, so it wasn't going as quickly as just flipping through an album. At one point she told us that M had asked her how long it would be before we came back to take them with us. What?  This kid is not letting us get away!  First he announces that he is going to call us Mama and Daddy. Then he wants to know how soon we can go. He is not going to waste time beating around the o,,ok bush. He is so excited to be getting a family. The last child adopted from his orphanage of 7-18 year-olds was 2 years ago.  See, once you move to this place for older kids, your chances of getting a family are greatly reduced. He fully understands what this adoption means. I don't think V gets it as much, but she is going anywhere her brother goes.  

After pictures, we gave them the other gift for today.  M was so excited about his Ben-10 t-shirt, he jumped up and gave each of us a hug and kiss. V was tickled with the dress we brought and followed her brother's lead by giving us a hug and kiss.  Although our little "talk" had been blown, we still felt we needed to say something official. So Tim (and the translator) got their attention and asked them...

Tim:  "Are you sure you want to become a part of our family?"
M&V: "Da"  ("yes"  Although they might just as well have said "DUH".)    
Tim:  "And move to America?"
M&V:  "Da"
Tim: "And learn to speak English?"
M&V: "Da"

And that was that. While we were doing the pictures, I had also gotten the iPad out to show them some video clips of Colton and Eli. Then they saw all of their referral pictures.  They really liked seeing themselves. So after our very brief "talk", I showed them that I had a few cartoons on there. This opened us up to our first dispute!  (Isn't that sweet?  They already feel enough like a family to argue.)  She wanted to watch Bugs Bunny, and he wanted to watch Phineas and Ferb.  Then he asked if I had any Batman. Finally to settle the dispute, I asked if they would like for me to show them some games on it.  M tried out a version of Simon (where you follow the pattern of colored lights).  Then I showed them a memory game, and we had them take turns flipping two cards for a match.  V surprised everyone by being quite good at this game. I would say that if we had kept score, she would have won. M was just as sweet as could be. He didn't get upset when he missed or when she succeeded. He just enjoyed playing. 

 When it was time to go, he gave V a hug and kiss...then us. This kid has got so much love to give and just needs a family to receive it. There were times when he would just hug Tim out of the blue as if he were just spilling over with affection and had to either let it out or burst.  During our travels today, we had two kids and 5 adults in a 5-passenger car. M sat in Tim's lap, and V sat in mine. When we took V back to her orphanage, we were back to having plenty of room, but she still wanted to ride in my lap.  Awwww.  

 The trip back to the city was interesting. Each of the directors had asked our translator for a ride back. (They both live in the city.)  I ended up sitting between them in the back seat. The ride back began to make me very sleepy, and I was so afraid I would fall asleep between them and end up snoring or drooling on one of them. Yikes!  But I didn't. Don't worry.  

 A little shopping and a lot of dinner later, I'm ready for bed.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Day 4

Monday, May 7, 2012

 Today we met.   First, we went to meet M (the brother). He was waiting outside for us. He shook our hands and introduced himself.  Then we all went inside to meet with the director. Tim and I sat down on a couch, and M sat down very close beside Tim -- like close enough to touch.  He started out very quiet and shy.  He showed us his drawings we had seen in the video we received.  He is very proud of his drawings.  We gave him one of the gifts we had brought -- a mini Pillow Pet...a shark -- which he promptly named Tony.  He would answer questions but was noticeably nervous.  We decided to go outside to play, but first he wanted to show us his room. He shared a room with 2 other boys. He got out a photo album, sat between us on his bed, and began telling us all about all of the pictures.  Next, he took us downstairs and showed us the room where they watch TV, the room where they do their homework (and showed us his desk), and the room where they eat.  Finally we went out to play.  We had brought a frisbee, but he had never seen one. After a few tries, though, he was getting pretty good.   At one point he asked our translator if we had been to see V (his sister).  She told him that we were going there next. He asked if we would tell her he said hi.   : (

 We stayed about an hour and then went to V's orphanage.  We had to wait for her to finish an activity she was in.  When she came in, she sat down beside us, smiling but very quiet.  Like M she would answer questions but was otherwise quiet. We gave her a mini Pillow Pet also, and she seemed to really like it.  Later when I was holding it, I pretended it kissed her, and she looked up at me and giggled.  Our translator talked a lot with the director.  Finally, she told us that V was going to go eat her lunch, but when she was finished we could take her to see M.  Wow!  We had hoped to meet them together, but since we didn't, this was quite a surprise.  She seemed perfectly content to sit between us in the car. 

 Seeing them together was so sweet.  First M was off doing something. While we waited, they gave her a piece of paper to draw.  When M came in they gave him a piece.  They sat quietly just drawing for the longest.  M drew a house with two people on one side and two on the other.  When asked, he said that two were him and V. The other two were his mother and father (hmm.  Hint hint!). They were both very detailed about their pictures. When finished we started outside, but M wanted to show his sister around. They went down the hall holding hands. In his room, he showed her the picture album, but he started taking some of the pictures out and giving them to her.  He said he wanted to give her some so she could see him. Once she said, "You're so sweet."  They were so cute together!

 As we went outside, M announced that he was going to call us Mama and Taty (Daddy).  (They had introduced us as Tim and Libby.)  We started to teach V how to play with the frisbee. M tried to help her, and when she would throw (even a bad throw), he would tell her "good job".  After awhile, M wanted to kick the soccer ball with Tim like they had done earlier. They did, and V and I went off to play. I was impressed when V took me by the hand and led me to something she wanted to do.  Then Tim outdid me, M had given him a kiss to thank him for something. He said something to V about "Mama and Taty" then asked, "Did you hear me?"  He asked if we were going to come back tomorrow. We said yes, and he responded with "Yesssssss!"  They both smiled and laughed so much!  At some point we learned through our translator that he had said he was a little shy because he could not understand us. I told her to be sure to tell home we were shy too because we couldn't understand him. Another time he said we spoke English really fast.  I said I thought he spoke Bulgarian really fast!  Those kinds of remarks seemed to make him feel at ease. He became very interested in learning English. He had Tim name all the crayons in his box and tell him the numbers to ten. He was also overheard telling V that "Mama and Taty would help her learn English."

As we left, M gave V a kiss goodbye.  We told everyone bye and M that we would see him tomorrow.   Then we drove V back to her orphanage.  She was quick to tell us bye (but smiling) because she had friends to go play with. I can just imagine each of them spending time later telling about their special visitors. Tomorrow we will be telling them that we are, in fact, going to adopt them. We then spend tomorrow and two more days with them. Friday we will be back in Sophia signing papers.  Then we leave on Saturday.   

Now, a footnote about the sights. So many of the villages we passed were very poor looking. Most buildings looked like stucco with red tiled roofs. The buildings also looked quite old and dirty. Some looked abandoned until you noticed a few items hanging out to dry.  Our kids' villages were no different. V's orphanage was accessed by one-lane dirt roads with large holes in them. Once we had to stop and wait for a man to get his cow to move out of our way.  And the buildings were right on each side of these narrow roads.  The poverty was really troubling to see. The orphanages themselves were not fancy, but they were okay and the best buildings in their villages. We didn't tour V's yet, but M's was very clean.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Day 3

Sunday, May 6,  2012

 Today we mostly rested. We slept in a little. Tim went downstairs to breakfast and found a plate already prepared for him. There were about 5 small pieces of cheese (possibly mozzarella or provolone), 2-3 slices of American cheese, 3 slices of cucumber, 1 egg (the kind on a little stand and not cooked as long as we would have cooked it), 4 small pieces of ham, and a wedge of tomato sliced.  Like a good American, he saw some bread, and made himself a sandwich. He also got a banana to round it off.  I, on the other hand, just opted for some snacks we had in the room. Actually, my curling iron wouldn't work (I hope I didn't kill it), and I was trying to figure out how to look human again.

 Later, we headed out for a walk down "main street" and stopped by the Italian ice cream place we saw yesterday. Naturally, it was very good!  Next we walked to the other end of the street to a park and sat awhile just people-watching and talking. Finally we came back to our room and had a good ol' Sunday nap. For supper, we walked back up the street to McDonald's. Yes, they have Mickey D's, KFC, Subway, Burger King, and (I think) Wendy's. We of course had to then sample the OTHER Italian ice cream place. Here, I was proud of myself,  I overheard the man before us asking if one of the flavors was raspberry. The lady had a little trouble with that word, but another worker verified that it was.  I decided that was the one I wanted too, so I actually read the Bulgarian label for it and pronounced it correctly.  Woohoo for me!  I know, it's the little things that make me happy. 

 As we walked around today, it's funny to see so much English in store windows and on signs. Most of the store workers speak at least enough English to help you out.   The money system is easy. All of the bills have their number value on them just like ours, but the coins also have numbers and are based on a hundred like ours as well.  So the smallest coin has a 1 on the front (or one side). It takes 100 of these to make one leva (the type of bill).   Just imagine if our penny had a big 1 on one side; the nickel, a big 5; a dime , a big 10; and so on.  How easy would that be to teach kids?!

 It was also funny to see familiar stores like Clinique/Este Lauder, an Apple store, Samsung, Levi's, etc.  There was even a building for rent with a Century 21 sign on it. 

 The sights that were new to me are probably common in any big city, even in America:  street performers, beggars, people everywhere without any regard for personal space.  I miss our more or less polite folks back home.   I guess I've never been face to face with street poverty, but to see people begging or digging through trash cans is not something I've been trained not to see.  I see it, and it bothers me. Yes, I have taken the advice of others and pretended not to see or hear, but as a Christian that is so hard to do.  The other thing that is difficult is that these extremely poor people are Roma. Roma people are basically ignored and/or despised here.  Our new kids are Roma. Is this the life they would have had if their mother had not taken them to the orphanage. I saw a little girl going through the crowd.  She was about the same age as my daughter.  I guess she was begging, and once she must have been ignored because she made an ugly face at the people eating at an outside cafe.  I thought how sad that she has been taught that this is her only way to make it though life. I saw her again today with a lady. Her mother?  The lady looked like she was giving her instructions. Again I compared her to my kids.  "Is this the life they would have had if they'd had a family?"  Perhaps their mother really did realize that an orphanage was the best way for them to escape the road that would have been ahead of them.   All I could think was, "How fast can I get my kiddos home?"

 Tomorrow we move to a smaller town near our kids' orphanages. I'm anxious to see how a smaller town compares to Sofia.  Might be better for this smaller-town girl.  We will meet with the directors before we meet the kids. Please pray that they are nice and like us.  Pray also that our visits will be with both kids at once and not one at a time. Even though they are in different orphanages in different villages, they are only a mile or two apart.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Days 1 & 2 - Leaving for the First Trip

May 4-5, 2012 Happy Birthday, Tim!!!  (May 5)

 Please pardon the length of our trip posts if you aren't into lengthy reading. This is going to serve as my journal for our trips and as a way to keep the fam updated back home.

 Our trip began with our very first flight ever. The first leg  was a short flight, so it broke us in, I guess. We parked at a place away from the airport and took a shuttle. We were the only two on the ride and told the driver this was our first flight. He said, "You mean from this airport?"  We said, "No, first flight ever."  He was almost speechless. I couldn't count how many times he said "uh" before our 5 minute ride was over.  He even offered to stop on the way to get us a beer to calm our nerves. I almost laughed out loud. I believe that was the first time (except for restaurants) that someone has ever offered me a beer.  We declined, and he commented that we seemed awfully calm for a first flight. The further into this trip we get I know why. I truly believe we have quite a few folks sincerely praying for us. 

 We made it through checking in our bags and getting our boarding passes. We went straight through security and found our gate with about 30 minutes to spare. This first plane was a little tight, but we really didn't have anything to compare it to. The only glitch as we boarded was that we realized our seats were not even close to each other...about 7 rows apart. The flight attendants heard us and asked again where our seats were and said that someone would probably be willing to switch.  (It was a sold out flight.)   Would you believe that the young lady in front of me (making our way down the aisle), turned around and said she would be more than happy to swap with Tim as her seat was next to mine. (Thank you, Lord!)  As it turns out we had the aisle between us, but that's way better than 7 rows!

As soon as we got in the air, they came around offering beverages. Almost as soon as everyone had one, they began making rounds to collect the empty cups. I did grab a snack from our bag since we had missed lunch. Then we began our descent and were on the ground. Quickest 1 hr 19 min I can remember. 

As we got into the terminal, Tim told me I had something on the back of my pants leg. I found a restroom and discovered a large area of a thin layer of white chewing gum on my black pants.  Great!  After much scrubbing and picking, I got most of it off. Later, you couldn't really tell it had been there. We walked to the other end of the airport and checked in. The lady asked if our seats were together (you'd think we would have checked this time).  They were.  She asked if we had boarding passes for the next flight and if our seats were together. They were not. She said, "Let's fix that."  So she changed our seats to be together. (Thank you, lady.  And thank you, Lord.)

We settled in with about 30 minutes again. Time enough for another bathroom break, a couple of phone calls, and a few minutes of charging the phone. We boarded the new plane. This time we had two seats to ourselves...a window and an aisle. As I settled in my seat, I saw that I still had gum on the back of the other leg.  Oh well!  

This was the long flight: almost 9 hours.  I was surprised to find that I enjoyed looking out the window. We saw Newfoundland, Ireland, and England go by.  We missed most of the rest.  Although long, this flight was the most comfy. We had a snack, supper, and a breakfast snack. All of the food was actually very good. They were also often coming around with more drinks. Besides cokes, I enjoyed some orange juice and a hot cup of tea, and I tried the coffee--a little strong for me.  We watched movies and slept some, but I found I had over-planned my bag of activities.  I especially liked watching the animation on my personal TV that showed where the plane was on the map and how much time was left in the trip.

 We landed in Munich and almost sprinted to our gate. This was our shortest layover, and we had to get from gate 1 to gate 38. We arrived with about 20 minutes before boarding began. During that time we met a guy there from Tennessee. He was part of the national guard and on his way to Sofia like us. We talked a little and he gave us a few suggestions of things to look for, places to eat, etc.

 Our last flight was a much smaller plane but roomier than the first. It took about 1.5 hours to fly to Sofia.  We looked down at the Alps with snow still on them.   Beautiful.  When we arrived, we went through the passport clearance and claimed our bags, no problems.  Then we hit our biggest glitch of the day.  We went through the door to exit into the waiting area.  People were everywhere waiting for someone from our flight. We looked for our greeter who was supposed to be holding a sign with our name on it, but he was nowhere.   We waited and waited.   Then we called our social worker...twice.  We waited 4 hours before he came. Turns out there had been a misunderstanding about our arrival. He thought we were coming in tomorrow like most folks, but we came a day early because we were having a hard time getting a clear answer on whether to arrive Saturday or Sunday. So, we just picked the earlier date because we were running out of time to book the flight.  While we were waiting, we met yet another Tennessean. He, too, was with the guard, and he and his wife work at the US Embassy.  Before he left (and since we were still waiting), he gave us his number and the number at the embassy in case we never got picked up. That was VERY reassuring!  (Thanks AGAIN, Lord!)

 ANYWAY, our contact guy did make it and took us to our hotel.  Then he gave us a quick overview of downtown Sophia. We set out and had Tim's birthday dinner at an outdoor cafe.  Okay, so pizza isn't exactly authentic Bulgarian cuisine, but it was a little different from anything we've had back home.  Before we were finished, two ladies were seated at the table 3 inches from ours.  We began talking, and learned it was their first day in Sophia, too.   They were from Australia.  Then she asked if we were Americans.  I asked if it was that obvious.  She laughed and said that Tim's "ma'am" had been a dead giveaway.  (He called her that to get her attention to ask her a question.)   Then she asked if we were from the South.  Turns out she had been on an "Elvis vacation" to Memphis and also went to Nashville for her dad's love of country music. Afterward, we decided to skip dessert for tonight, but tomorrow we are heading back for some Italian ice cream...that will probably BE lunch.  Heehee.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It's Time!

I've been meaning to blog as we prepare to make our first trip, but this place has been a madhouse of activity.  Now, all preparations must stop where they are because we leave tomorrow!  We are very excited, anxious, and nervous all at once.  The boys want their new brother and sister to come home, but they don't want us to go.  We are a strange lot in that Tim and I have never gone away overnight before.  Oh, the boys have spent the night at Memaw's without us, but we've always been about 5-10 minutes away.  This is new on SO many levels.

We came up short on our fundraising as you can see.  About $8000 short.  AND it seems our original estimate may have been low.  Whatever.  We are on this journey with a fixed purpose in mind.  God is going to provide.  I don't know when, and I don't know how, but I know He is trustworthy.

We have the house being looked after.  The kids are being looked after.  The gifts are purchased and packed.  We have plenty to do on the plane.  We have the right number of luggage pieces and currently come in underweight.  We have our reservations and itinerary.  I left school work for the kids.  We have Memaw ready to Skype.  (That means I set up a webcam for her and showed Colton how to use it.  hee hee)  I think we just have to actually GO now.

Please pray for our journey.  We are still a little nervous (but more excited than before) about our first plane trip.  Pray for Colton and Eli who are sad to see us go.  Pray for our mothers as they worry about us.  Pray for the officials we will encounter that we will find favor with them.  Pray that we don't mess up being in a different culture with a different language.  Pray that the kiddos are ready to accept us.  They do not know that we are coming or even that they have been matched.  I so hope they show excitement at the thought of becoming part of our family.  I hope they are a little sad to see us go but excited about our return to get them.  Pray even that we have free wifi where we are staying so we can Skype the boys every night.

I hope to blog while we are gone because I know how much I have enjoyed reading this part of other people's blogs.  We'll see what kind of wifi is available where we stay.  A LOT depends on that.