Monday, December 6, 2010

What a precious sight...

Today at 4:00 pm, my life and Rob's life changed forever. In a small upper room, outside of the social worker's office at the orphanage, Rob and I finally met our little boy. He was napping when we arrived, but someone was sent to wake him and to tell him that he had guests. He came into the room holding the social worker's hand and then looked around in amazement at all of the toys in the room. He seemed to barely notice me and Rob because he was so curious about this new room and all of the toys.

The social worker then asked our little boy to sit in a small chair pulled up to a glass table in front of us. Rob and I tried to get him to play with the stuffed dog that we brought for him or the small fire engine, but he was not interested. I also tried to get his attention using some mini m&ms. He did not know what to make of those either even with Rob demonstrating how yummy they were. Finally, he took one but instead of eating it he pulled the red candy coating off the m&m.

Rob and I then decided to pull out a small soccer ball that I had purchased only the day before our trip. That was the ticket! Our little boy loved the game of catch that he played with Rob. We actually got to see him smile and even hear him laugh. He got especially excited when Rob dribbled the small soccer ball on the floor and when I spun the ball on the floor like a top.

He also enjoyed playing with a Doodle-Pro magnetic drawing board that the orphanage had. At one point, he let me trace his hand on the board. I also think he enjoyed erasing things on the board just as much as he liked scribbling on the board.

Tomorrow, Rob and I will get to go to the orphanage again to visit our little one. This time our visit will be about two or three hours in the morning and one hour later in the afternoon. And yes, the soccer ball will make another apearance tomorrow.

We have arrived in BG!

Rob and I finally made it to Sofia, Bulgaria about 2:00 pm Sunday after almost 21 hours of travel time and not a lot of sleep. Our driver, Julian, took us to our apartment for the night, helped us to exchange some money and also took us to a great little pub for dinner. After dinner, Rob and I headed straight back to the apartment for some much needed sleep. Even though it was only 6:00 p.m., it was dark outside, and we were two very weary travelers. Both of us slept well until about 3:00 a.m. and then we got up to have a snack and read a book. I later went back to sleep for another hour or so, but I was worried that we would miss our driver coming to get us at 7:00 so I did not sleep well.

Our driver, Ettie, arrived at 7:00 a.m., and we joined her and another couple from Oregon in the car for the three hour journey north to the town where our son is located. We arrived before our room was ready at the hotel so Rob and I were on our own for a while. Our translator and driver took the couple from Oregon to meet their daughter who is at a different orphanage in town than our son. We will not be able to meet our son until later this afternoon when the director of his orphanage will be available.

While our translator was gone to the first orphanage, Rob and I decided to take a small walking tour of the city. Our hotel is very close to a park, the mall and several historical churches. We took several pictures of the park, the churches and some monuments, and then we decided to return to the hotel for lunch. The hotel has a very nice restaurant with very reasonable prices and more importantly, a menu in English.

Rob had a large skewer of grilled chicken and lemons while I had a skewer of pork loin and vegetables with a green salad that was tossed with a lemon juice and olive oil mixture. The food was very good, and the restaurant also fed our caffeine habit by having Coca Cola and Coca Cola Light (Diet Coke). Our translator and our driver returned to meet us in the restaurant and informed Rob and I that we would be able to see our son for the first time in about three hours.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

We have our referral!

We got our referral last week with updated medical information on our little boy and a new(er) picture. This latest photo was taken in June of this year, and my, how our little man has grown! The chubby little cheeks and rounded face of the early baby/toddler years have changed into more of the face of a little boy. He has also gotten taller even though he is still on the smaller side for his age. Basically, there is only one word to describe him. Beautiful! And, I get to see this beautiful, little boy up close and in person in a few short days!

Rob and I are in a mad dash at the moment to finish up our to do list and to make sure that we have purchased all of the needed items for our trip. I have also been busy making preparations for our daughter while we are away such as talking with her teachers. Julia has been very excited about Rob and I traveling to meet her brother, but now the reality is setting in that while Rob and I are with little brother we will be away from her. She has begun telling me that she does not want me to go, and I have had to explain that little brother cannot come home soon unless Daddy and I make this trip. I have never been apart from Julia longer than 48 hours since she was born, so this will be a new experience for both of us. And, I know that I am going to miss her like crazy. We are taking our laptop and the cell phone, so hopefully we will be able to skype with our daughter while we are away and get in a short phone call or two.

Other items on my to do list include stopping the newspaper (I have already stopped the mail) and contacting the bank about our upcoming debit card usage in a foreign country. I don't want any of our purchases to be declined because the bank thinks the card usage is fraudulent. I also need to order some euros from our bank since we will be in Paris on a long layover during our trip.

Then there are the things that I need to take care of at our house before we leave. It is the Christmas season after all, and our house could use some decorating before we leave. Rob got our large tree up in our bonus room on Sunday, but Julia and I still have to decorate it. We also managed to get our smaller potted trees out on the porch along with our life size Santa and snowman. Eventually, we will also need to tackle the garland and stockings on the fireplace mantle. It will only be two weeks until Christmas when we return from our trip so I cannot imagine waiting until that time to get the house decorated. Besides, this will be one more thing for Julia and I to do together before Rob and I have to leave.

 Sofia at Christmas

Speaking of Christmas, I am very excited about seeing how Christmas is celebrated in Bulgaria. I often peruse the Bulgarian news articles on www.novinite.com, and last week they featured an article about how the Christmas lights in the capital city of Sofia will be lit on December 1st. The traditional Sofia Christmas tree, the 50-year-old pine near the Rila Hotel in downtown Sofia, will be lit by the mayor, and that will be preceded by an open concert of dance and song groups. The ceremony will also feature fireworks. I plan on taking lots of pictures of Bulgaria at Christmas time so that our son can have the photos to remember his homeland at this special time of the year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What to pack?

We are just a few short weeks away from meeting our little boy for the first time ever. Of course, it is a moment that I have dreamed about for many months, but now, Rob and I must actually make some sort of preparation for our voyage across the ocean.

Our airline tickets have been purchased, VESTA is supposedly making our hotel arrangements, so now Rob and I begin the packing list and begin collecting all of the things that we will need for when we go to Bulgaria. Some great friends of ours who have been home two months from Bulgaria with their little girl have been so kind to let us pick their brains about the trip and ask a million questions. They have even given us some leva (Bulgarian currency) for our first night in Sophia, since we are arriving in Bulgaria on a Sunday afternoon and may not be able to exchange any of our money until Monday morning. They are also letting us borrow a travel guide, a phrase book and a converter/adapter for our trip. We can't thank them enough for their generosity and their friendship.

Another parent who has been to northern Bulgaria in the last year to get her daughter has also been giving me tips and ideas on things to bring with us when we go to the orphanage to visit our son such as bubbles, finger paints and balloons. She also suggested a package of baby wipes for keeping his little hands and face clean. These were all great suggestions that I had not thought about before her emails. I especially love the finger paints idea. What a great way to get some hand prints for his life book.

A very important item that I would like to get finished this weekend is the photo album that we are taking to our son. There will be pictures of me and Rob (aka Mommy and Daddy), his new big sister Julia, his grandparents, our house and his room in this album. Each of these photos will be labeled with our names in Bulgarian so that his caretaker can read the names to him after we have gone home. And, no I don't know how to write using the Cyrillic alphabet that is used in Bulgaria, but a parent of a little girl who takes karate with Julia does. He was born in Bulgaria...fifty miles from where our son is currently. Small world isn't it? Back to the photo album...while we are in country, Rob and I are planning on taking some more pictures of our son and of the three of us together. We will than have them developed while we are in country and add them to the photo album for our son.

I really wish that I could post his sweet picture on my blog today so that you can see his adorable face and big brown eyes. But, until we have passed court in Bulgaria and a new birth certificate has been issued with me and Rob listed as his parents that is not possible. However, someday in the not so distant future, when he is legally ours, I promise that this blog will be covered with photos of our handsome little guy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's your favorite amusement park ride?

One of my favorite movies from the 80s' is "Parenthood" starring Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen as Gil and Karen Buckman, the parents of three children who are dealing with the pressure of daily life and then suddenly realize that baby number four is on the way. In one particular scene, Gil and Karen are discussing the children and how the new baby will affect their already hectic lives when Grandma walks in the room. Grandma then relates a story from her childhood days when she went to an amusement park. She tells how everyone wanted to ride the merry-go-round, but "it just goes around." Grandma then relates that she liked the roller coaster best because it went up and then down..up..down..up..down. Some people thought the roller coaster was scary, but Grandma found it exciting.

Today, I know what Grandma meant. I am on that roller coaster in some ways. Our tickets are booked, and we are still leaving for Bulgaria in a few weeks, which makes Rob and I very excited (think top of highest peak on the roller coaster). But, today we found out that we will not be able to get our grant money until our second trip to Bulgaria, which will probably take place in the spring of next year (think still at the peak but looking down).

What does all this mean? Basically, that we are still going to be short between $6,000 and $7,000 on the fee side, which will be due upon acceptance of our referral. However, I am not worried. I do not know at the moment how the money will come, but I do know that it will. God has provided for our family all through this journey, and I know that he will continue to do so. So what are we going to do in the mean time? Keep getting excited about seeing our little boy, keep praying and definitely enjoying the ride!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Here We Go Part II

Have I ever mentioned that part of my job as an editor is to do research? I have to do lots of verifying and checking of information on a daily basis so you can only imagine that this has a trickle down effect into my personal life. I am the type of person who researches items that I am going to purchase meticulously on the Internet. I read customer reviews and trade magazine articles when necessary before committing to purchase a big ticket item. Travel arrangements and plane tickets definitely fall into the research category.

Late yesterday afternoon, I finally found tickets flying to Bulgaria over the Thanksgiving holiday that were not going to financially break Rob and I. A good friend gave us a tip on flying out of a gateway city rather than flying directly from the closest airport to our home, which is not in a gateway city. However, something was holding me back from purchasing those tickets even though that I knew there were very few seats left on those flights and the price was likely to go up again the closer we got to our travel date. I needed another confirmation from Vesta that those dates were correct (back to the checking of info thing). The requested information came today with a twist.

Yes, we are still going to Bulgaria, but it will be a week later than originally indicated by Vesta. While many would look at this as a little discouraging since it would be delaying meeting our child for another week, I choose to look at this as a blessing. Rob and I will have more time to raise the needed money for the trip and to actually prepare for our trip. Also, did I mention that I just purchased our tickets online and the cost was almost half of what it was going to be if we had to fly out the week of Thanksgiving? It was indeed a blessing in disguise!

We were also notified today that our referral will be here before we travel. This news makes us very happy for several reasons. As I mentioned before, we will get updated information on our son with our referral prior to travel, including new photos. I am sure that he has grown a lot since the photos taken last year, which adorn the desktop of our home computer. With our referral should also come the release of our grant money...just in time to pay some of our remaining fees and help with the trip. God is good!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Here we go!

I was driving to my hair cut appointment at lunch on Friday, and our coordinator, Sheryl,  from our adoption agency called. Sheryl said that she had some news. Her tone of voice led me to believe that Bulgaria had questions or needed some more paperwork from me and Rob. I was steeling myself for this news when she said, "Are you sitting down?" I explained to her that I was sitting down, but I was sitting in my car as I was driving to an appointment. She then said, "You might want to pull over. Bulgaria has called and they want you to come in two weeks."

Yes, TWO WEEKS! Remember how I said that I think God has a since of humor in my last post? Maybe this is an example or maybe it is an example of how when you give things up to him and hand them over, then God takes the reigns and does what you think is impossible. I was finally coming to peace with the fact that we were probably not going to meet our son until after the new year. I had been praying about this daily and knew that there was a purpose in delaying our first meeting until after the new year, which might not be made known to me until a later time. Rob and I had begun researching the weather in Bulgaria for January, and we had even been to REI to look at snow boots and heavy duty winter coats.  But now, it appears we will spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our little boy!

I have so many things to do in the next 12 days so if you have any good travel tips, especially regarding Bulgaria, please send them my way. Luckily, we will not need the snow boots or the ski parka in November as we would have if we had traveled in January. The weather in Sofia today and for the next few weeks is amazingly like the weather in Tennessee during this time of year. The high today in Sofia is 61 degrees and the low is in the 40s....just like here. I am thinking that laying with a shirt, cardigan and jacket is the way to go that way you can add or subtract as needed.

I did buy our little boy a winter coat over the weekend to take with us as was suggested by some friends in Bulgaria. I plan on buying a few other items of clothing for him over the next week, in addition to the stuffed animal and other items that I have already bought him. We also have the customary gifts to buy for the the attorney in Bulgaria and other important people involved in the adoption. I plan on getting a very special one for our little boy's surrogate grandmother. I am very excited about the prospect of finally meeting her!

Amidst all the joy and excitement of planning our first trip, Rob and I do have a couple of concerns. Our referral did not come with our travel dates meaning in adoption terms that we did not get our official match with updated photos and medicals.  After speaking with friends who went on their first trip to Bulgaria without their referral, we have decided to continue on without it. Our agency believes that we will probably receive the referral shortly after returning from our first trip.

Our other concern is of course the finances. We are still in the process of raising money through our puzzle fundraiser, and Rob has been trying to pick up a new coding class to teach on the weekends, which he hopefully will start in December. We also received a grant very early on in the adoption process that can be used for our first trip if we are able to get the money released in the next two weeks. In order to get the grant, we need travel dates and our referral. We are praying that the foundation will go ahead and release the grant money since we have the travel dates and the referral is coming soon. Please pray that we will receive our grant money in time for our travel and that we will be able to raise the rest of the money needed for our trip.

I know that everything is going to work out for this trip. It's just the fixer/planner part of me that is having a hard time dealing with all of the unknowns. I keep thinking about something one of my good friends said to me last night at our church's annual chili supper...."Money is nothing to God." In other words, this will happen. God will make it happen.

That is the way it has been all along through this process. As I have said many times, He would not lead us this far to fail!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The cost

When you decide to adopt a child, so many things must be taken into consideration, including the cost. One question that I get asked a lot by people who are curious about our adoption is "Why does international adoption cost so much?" In a nutshell, international adoption, besides being a loving decision to bring another child into your family, is also a very complicated legal process. During the adoption process, the adoptive parents are working with a multitude of governmental and nongovernmental entities, including the adoption agency of their choice. Other entities involved include foreign governments, the US Department of State,  USCIS, the FBI and county and state offices. Criminal background checks are needed, in addition to medical and psychological evaluations of the adoptive parents. In other words, there are many people who spend a lot of time working to adequately prepare the legal procedures for the adoption process, and this preparation and times costs quite a bit of money.

People also want to know in real numbers what is the actual cost of our adoption going to be, so I am including in this post a brief explanation of our fees.

1. Our US Adoption Agency Fees                                                                          $7500 - $8200     
These fees include:
Formal Application-fee due with application
Home study-due at home study completion
Program fee/Administrative fee-due at home study completion
Post Adoption services-due date varies by branch

2.  Dossier & Post Adoption Reports Shipping Fee:                $200
Payable to Bethany Christian Services with dossier submission    
3.  Bulgaria Country Fee:                   8500 Euro ($12,077 USD)                                        
(Dollar amount varies according to current exchange rate) 

The Country Fee includes the following:
Review, translation, legalization, and submission of documents
Bulgarian Ministry of Justice and Court fees
Bulgarian Notary and Courier fees
Representation of the family to the MOJ, courts, municipal authorities, etc.
Child’s medical examination, medical tests, and consultations
Child’s passport, photo for passport, new birth certificate
Administrative and office expenses

4.  Bulgarian Travel Costs (two adults, two trips):            $8,200 – 12,200
            (this includes flights, hotel, etc.)

5.   Miscellaneous fees:                                                            $1,250 – 2,030
USCIS filing of orphan petition (I 800A)                                    $670
Plus fingerprinting ($80/person over 18 in the home)  $160
Dossier Preparation - in USA                                                 $100 - 400
US Embassy Bulgaria – Child’s Visa                                         $400/per child
Citizenship & Finalization (if IH-4 visa)                                 $400/per child (approx.)

And, of course, these fees do not include the cost of a notary, county certifications, apostilles, photo copies and several trips to FedEx. 

It all seems a little overwhelming doesn't it? It can seem that way when all you dwell on is the money, but this adoption isn't about the money. Yes, money is required to complete the legal procedures of the adoption process, but the adoption is not about money.  It's about a three-year old boy that needs a home, a family, a place to feel safe and loved. It's about a little seven-year old girl who has always wanted a little brother. It's about a mom who had a large whole in her heart waiting to be filled with  love for another child. It's about a couple that has been called to grow their family in the way that God sees fit.

God put adoption on our hearts a long time ago, even before our daughter was born. Rob and I talked about adoption so many times over the course of our first ten years of marriage. Our plan was to have two biological children and then the third child we would adopt. That was our plan, but it was not God's plan. He does have a sense of humor like that doesn't he? It's also funny how he began revealing his plan to me and how long it took me pay attention, but now our adoption gets most of my attention. And as far as the money goes, I believe that God will continue to provide.

In recent days, we have received several donations toward completing our fundraising puzzle, and we are applying for some more grants. Rob is also looking at taking another Saturday class for the next six months as well. In one way or another, God will provide.

Philippians 4:19
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 25, 2010

While we wait

As the end of this month draws closer without any news from Bulgaria, Rob and I have begun to realize that there is a very real possibility that we may not get to see our son before the end of the year. The holidays are quickly approaching in Bulgaria as they are here in the U.S., which means that the approval of our paperwork could potentially get delayed with the MOJ because of government offices being closed for the holidays.

While this realization has made us sad, we cannot dwell on it. Doing so does not help us or our son. Instead, Rob and I have chosen to fill our days with reading more books on adoption, praying for our son and making preparation for our first trip to Bulgaria. On when we will see our son, I know that God's plan is perfect, and He has directed us through this entire journey. He will see us through the next few months, and we will meet our child when the time is right. That being said, I also need to heed my own advice that I frequently give to my husband, which is that God would not have brought us this far to then see us fail. This verse come to mind:

"When I was waiting quietly for the Lord, His heart was turned to me, and He gave ear to my cry." Psalms 40:1
Rob and I have also decided that we should spend our time while we are waiting to hear from Bulgaria by cherishing every moment with our sweet daughter. Julia has been an only child for over seven years, and while she wants her little brother home as soon as possible, Rob and I realize that this will be a huge adjustment for our little girl who is not accustomed to sharing her mommy and daddy with anyone. So, we have begun planning some extra special adventures with mom and dad.

For our latest adventure with Julia, we decided to take her for her first ever session of painting pottery this past weekend. Julia loves to write stories and "illustrate" her stories with wonderful drawings so Rob and I decided that her love for art might be extended to painting pottery.

The studio that we decided to take Julia to for the pottery painting session is next door to the dojo where Julia takes karate two or three times a week so every visit to the dojo last week made her more excited about our impending visit to the pottery studio. Finally, the time had arrived. Julia looked over all pottery in the studio several times to pick out her perfect piece. She decided on a dog which looks very much like a labrador retriever puppy (Julia adores her cousin's lab), and then Rob and I helped her pick out paint colors for her dog. She decided to make him a chocolate lab with green eyes and a blue collar.

At the pottery studio, we learned that our pottery piece needed to have a least three coats of paint in order to have the dark, rich colors show up after the glazing and firing process. In order to get three coats of brown paint on our little pup, Rob and I quickly realized that we would need to get in on the painting action as well. I have to say that a good time was had by all, and we are all looking forward to picking up Brownie (yes, she named him!) on Friday. Rob even painted a "B" on our pup's tag so that no one would forget Brownie's name. Julia then told Rob and I that even though we all helped to paint Brownie that Brownie was going to stay in her room! That's my girl.

We have also decided to make a second trip to the pottery place. This visit will be for Julia to pick out a piece that we can all paint for her little brother's room. Something tells me it is going to be that ceramic airplane I saw her checking out!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Puzzle Fundraiser

As many of you already know, we are in the process of adopting a precious little three year old boy from Bulgaria. Our son will turn four in March, which means that he and Julia are four years apart in age. Julia has been asking for a baby brother for over three years, and now she is going to get her wish. We know that they will be best friends!

We are desperately trying to bring our son home from Bulgaria before his fourth birthday. In order to do this, we need your help. As you can imagine, international adoptions are very expensive, and all of our fees, both US and Bulgarian, must be paid prior to our first trip to Bulgaria (Bulgaria requires two trips). It looks like our first trip to meet our precious little boy will be in December of this year. In order to help pay our fees, we have had yard sales, worked extra jobs, held a Chick-fil-A fundraiser, and we have applied for several adoption grants. To date, we have paid over $15,000 in fees, but we will need another $9,000 before our first trip to Bulgaria.

So, we are "selling puzzle piece." Yes, puzzle pieces! Rob and I have selected a 3,000 piece puzzle that reminds us of the mountain region in Bulgaria where our little boy lives, and a donation of $3.00 is the cost to sponsor one piece of the puzzle. Of course, you can sponsor as many pieces as you would like!

On the back of each puzzle piece that you sponsor, we will write your name and the date the puzzle piece was purchased. When the puzzle is completed, we will frame the puzzle and hang it in our home so that our son can see the names of all the people who loved him and who helped to bring him home. Julia is very excited about putting the puzzle together!

In the future, I will give regular updates on our puzzle fundraiser here on the blog so please check back to see how we are doing.

To sponsor a piece or pieces of the puzzle, please send your donation to:

Robert or Angela Pachciarz
3801 Masters Dr
Smyrna, TN 37167

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Additional paperwork needed

On Sunday night of this week, we received an e-mail from our caseworker in regard to our dossier. The coordinating agency in Bulgaria, VESTA, had contacted our agency to request that Rob and I resubmit our initial application to the MOJ containing language specific to our son. Apparently, the new application to the MOJ which we sent with our dossier did not contain this specific language and that three paragraph little section hidden in the four page application would help the MOJ quickly match us with our son. VESTA was a also requesting a quick turn around on the application to the MOJ. The e-mail had been marked "high priority." The resubmitted application would also have to be notarized, certified and apostilled.

As I said, the e-mail came on Sunday night...about 10:30 p.m. to be exact. My loving husband chose not to wake me from a restful night's sleep to tell me about the e-mail. This was a very wise move on his part. We have been married for over 14 years, and he knows me well. I would not have been able to go to sleep that night because I would have stressed about getting the application done quickly, and there was not much that could be done on a Sunday night when all local government agencies are closed. So, Rob let me sleep and then told me about the e-mail on Monday morning.

Luckily, I had Monday and Tuesday off from work as I had intended on taking Julia to visit my mother in West Tennessee. Instead of packing, I found myself feverishly looking for the application to the MOJ with the correct language. After tearing up several rooms downstairs in my search, I realized that I might have saved a copy on our computer. I rushed upstairs to our office and opened My Documents to find the needed document, and then I filled out the document for what felt like the tenth time. International adoption documents must be perfect in regards to the information being filled out on the form, and no abbreviations can be used...not even for a street address. If you make a mistake in filling out one of the forms, you must start all over again. In other words, there was a real likelihood that I had filled out this form numerous times.

After finishing the application to the MOJ, Rob and I agreed to meet at the county clerk's office at 1:00 p.m. Rob and I signed the application in front of a county employee who then notarized the document. We then walked down the hall to another office where someone else certified that our notary was a true notary, and after that we were off to the Secretary of State's office for the apostille. While en route to that office, I contacted our caseworker to see what else we needed to do with the application.

Our caseworker requested that we send the completed application by FedEx to the agency's corporate office in Michigan. It would need to be in the hands of the International Services Coordinator by 10:00 a.m Tuesday morning in order to be sent to Bulgaria the same day. After leaving the Secretary of State's office, Rob, Julia and I headed to the closest FedEx location where we paid $26.00 to have six pieces of paper delivered to Michigan by the next morning, and we were grateful. I have to say that I think FedEx does a great job! The package arrived exactly when it was supposed to on Tuesday morning, and by noon the application had been sent from the Michigan corporate office to Bulgaria.

The rush of adrenalin that pushed us get everything done quickly had subsided. Rob headed back to work, and Julia and I headed to West Tennessee to spend time with my mom. Afterall, the only thing we could do now was wait to hear once again from VESTA or the MOJ, and pray that our referral and travel dates would come quickly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A precious gift hidden in plain sight

Tonight, I watched a video that I have watched at least a hundred times over the last six months. I have memorized every frame, but I still continually search the screen for something new. Tonight, I was rewarded for my efforts by a tiny little smile that lasted no more than a second or two that I had never noticed before until now.

The video is of my son in Bulgaria and was filmed at his orphanage over a year ago. It is the only video of our child that Rob and I have. A woman is holding our son's hands in the video trying to encourage him to walk and play in front of the camera. I do not know for certain who the woman is, but something tells me that she is his baba (foster grandmother - see one of my previous posts about the granny program). My little boy seems uncertain of what to do and a little wary of the camera man whose voice can be heard on the video calling out my son's name to get his attention. He clings to his baba, and when he is put down on the floor he reaches up to her indicating that he wants to be picked up. His face is serious.

At one point, someone rolls a ride on toy over the hardwood floors and into the room where my child and his baba are standing. The toy makes a lot of noise as it is pushed across the floor, and the sound is amplified by the microphone on the camera. At the same time, there is another child off camera crying. All of the commotion off camera is very distracting to the viewer. My son looks toward the toy as it is being wheeled into the room and then back at his baba. As she is picking him up to put him on the ride on toy, she turns him slightly toward her. There it is! At that moment, a very sweet little smile emerges from his face that lasts only for a second.

I look forward to the day when I can see that smile in person and even hear a laugh coming from those sweet lips, but for now, this will have to do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another seminar

As I have said before, I like to keep myself busy as we are waiting for any news from Bulgaria so Rob and I decided to attend a seminar on international adoption this past Saturday. This one was held at a local church in a neighboring county. The seminar was specifically directed at parents who were still in the process and had not brought their children home yet.

All of the people attending the seminar on Saturday were in various stages of the adoption process. Some were just beginning and had yet to complete their home study while others were like us and had already identified their child/children and had completed their dossiers. Several countries were represented as there were parents adopting from Ethiopia, China and Russia. As usual, we were the lone family adopting from Bulgaria.

The seminar was well planned, and the speakers were very knowledgeable. Rob and I chose two break out sessions to attend that day. One session was on adopting an older child, which in the world of international adoption means a child older than two. Since our little boy is three, we would fit right in. Rob and I both learned a lot from this class in regard to studies done on children raised in orphanages and the social and emotional development of these children. Emphasis was placed on meeting this children where they were developmentally and socially, not basing our responses as parents on their chronological age.

The second class that we attended was called "Eyes Like Mine" and was taught by an adult adoptee from Korea who now works as a counselor at an adoption agency and does home studies for families. The class was on transcultural and transracial issues in adoption. It was both fascinating and informative to hear about these issues from an actual adoptee. She really made all of adoptive parents, including me and Rob, think about difficult issues that we are going to encounter once we step off the plane with our child. After all was said and done, I would say that Rob and I came away enlightened but still very sure of our decision.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best laid plans

This week did not start exactly as we had planned in regard to our adoption, but isn't that always the case? A few words from the poet Robert Burns come to mind. "The best laid plans o' mice and men often go awry."

All of the craziness really began at the end of last week when our agency sent us an email to tell us that our caseworker would be going part-time. We were somewhat alarmed by this news but trusted in our agency that they knew what they were doing and that our case would still get the required attention. However, on Monday, we received another email from our agency stating that our caseworker was no longer employed there. The email also stated that a new person would be taking her place beginning on Tuesday.

At this point, I was beginning to get a little nervous because we lost someone with whom we had built a close relationship with over a period of seven months, but also because we still did not have a definitive answer about the status of our dossier. Had it been sent to Bulgaria yet? If so, had Bulgaria received it? What was our next step?

I then realized that no matter what had happened at our agency our next step was obvious. Rob and I needed to trust in the Lord and let him guide us. The Lord has shown us many times over the last few months that this little boy was meant to be with us, and this would not change because of any upheaval at our agency. A verse from Proverbs entered into my mind.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (New International Version)

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

So, we trusted in God to make this situation right, and he did. Rob called our new caseworker the following day to introduce himself and to see if we could get any new information on our status. Within three hours, she called him back with exactly what we needed. Our dossier arrived in Bulgaria on September 13th, and VESTA is now translating and authenticating all of our documents. This process will take four to six weeks and then our dossier will be sent to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Bulgaria where it will be registered. The MOJ will have it approximately four weeks before notifying VESTA of our registration and our registration number. After that, it will only be a matter of time before we receive our referral and our travel dates. Sounds like there is a possibility with the new time line that we may be spending Christmas in Bulgaria!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The reason why

So many people have asked Rob and I why we chose international adoption and in particular, why did we choose Bulgaria. One of the answers can be found in the text of this sobering news article from the Sofia news agency's website, novinite.com.

Bulgarian Orphanages Shockingly Claim 240 Lives in 10 Years
Society | September 20, 2010, Monday

Malnutrition, cold, and deplorable living conditions have claimed the lives of 236 Bulgarian orphans in the past 10 years.

This shocking figure has been revealed through an inspection of the Bulgarian Prosecutor's Office and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committed, a NGO, whose results were presented on Monday.

In some of the cases, the cause of the death is unknown. Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev said his institution has started the investigation of 166 of the deaths.

According to the inspection results, most of the orphans died as a result of systematic malnutrition, pneumonia, and other diseases. Most of the kids died in the orphanages rather than in hospitals, which is taken to show that they did not receive the proper medical treatment.

"I cannot fathom how we allowed the deaths of 236 Bulgarian citizens from this most vulnerable group in the last ten years. In 80% of the cases nobody even cared to notify the police or the prosecutor's office so that the deaths can be investigated," Vlechev declared.

The inspection has discovered that orphans were tied or were given sedatives in order to be controlled more easily in at least 8 of the orphanages.

"We must take urgent measures to make sure there are no more physical injuries or chemical and physical immobilizing of the orphans," said lawyer Aneta Genova from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

The State Agency for Child Protection has pointed out that its role is to monitor the situation together with the prosecutors while it is up to the local authorities and the respective mayors to make sure that the kids in the orphanages are healthy and well fed.

In addition to the 166 deaths, the prosecutors will be investigating 27 cases of physical and sexual violence. They vowed to inspect the existing orphanages again next year.

The Bulgarian government has recently announced a program to shut down all orphanages and find care and accommodation for orphans with host families or with social institutions of a new type that are located in the cities rather than in faraway and almost uninhabited villages.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Keeping busy

Last night, Julia and I had a wonderful mother and daughter dinner at a local restaurant. Sometimes, she seems so much more than seven when she tells our server exactly what she wants for dinner. She also is very thoughtful and had many questions for me when we discussed her little brother in Bulgaria over dinner. Over the last few days, she has also begun praying in earnest to God to watch out for her brother and to bring him home soon.

After dinner, we headed to Target or as my friend Kelly likes to call it, the mother ship. I needed to pick up some things for Rob and Julia for the following week, but I was also wanting to pick out a few items for our little boy. Someone once asked me if you went through a nesting phase when you are adopting as many women do when they are expecting. My answer is a resounding "YES!" But, I must admit that looking for things for our son at Target also serves another purpose. In this time of waiting on news about our dossier from Bulgaria, there is not much to do in the way of adoption paperwork, but I need to feel like I am doing something for our child. Preparing for our first visit with him in Bulgaria and his ultimate arrival home gives me the much needed sense of doing something for him.

Once in Target, Julia and I went to the dollar isle first to see what jewels we could find. Julia found two sets of flash cards (possibly useful in helping a small child to learn English), and I found several coloring books and Winnie the Pooh books for fifty cents each. From there, we headed to the infant and toddler department to look at little boy clothes and other items. I have bought our son some size 4T clothing recently since he will be almost four years old by the time we get to bring him home, but I honestly don't know what size he is currently. I am just guessing. The only pictures we have of him are a year old now, and at the time the pictures were taken, he was only two and half. So for this shopping trip, I decided to forgo another clothing purchase.

Instead, Julia and I went to look at the baby blankets and sippy cups. Our teacher at one of our adoption training classes at our agency suggested buying our child a blanket and then sleeping with the blanket for weeks before giving it to our son when we arrived in Bulgaria. That way, my scent will be on the blanket and will help keep me in his memory when we have to go back to the states to continue the adoption process. I found a very precious and very soft blanket with a little puppy on it that I think will be perfect. Julia asked me why we were getting her brother a baby blanket even though he was a toddler, and I reminded her of how much she loved Soft Blanket (yes, she named it) and of how even though she was seven and Soft Blanket had lots of holes in it, she still kept it in her room and would not allow anyone to throw it away.

The puppy blanket will also go nicely with the little plush dog that I got for our son as a sleeping buddy. I am actually going to get him another one of these dogs just like the original in case the first one gets left at the orphanage. I will probably sleep with the plush dog for the next few weeks for the same reason that I will sleep with the blanket.

The thought of actually being there to give our son these items makes me both happy and sad at the same time. I am happy thinking about meeting him and seeing him with my own two eyes, but I am also saddened because I cannot touch him or hold him now. Sometimes, my heart actually aches with the desire to hold his little hand and to wrap in him in my arms. From looking over his pictures for these last six months, I have memorized every nuance of his sweet face. Now, I just long to hear his voice, see his smile and hold him close. I take comfort in knowing that his foster grandmother is giving him lots of hugs and kisses in the mean time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Empowered to Connect

Our dossier was sent to Bulgaria on Friday of last week so now we are waiting to hear from VESTA in regards to the referral for our little boy. We are praying daily that no errors or problems will be found with our paperwork and that Bulgaria will work quickly to translate everything and send us our referral. In order to make the wait less stressful, I have decided to keep myself even more busy than usual. This is somewhat easy to do since I have a seven year old who has karate two to three nights a week, who always has homework, who in constantly hungry because she is growing, and who is happiest when playing games with Mommy.

To keep myself busy on this past Saturday but to also give me the much needed sense of actually doing something to help with our adoption, I attended the "Empowered to Connect" conference in Nashville. Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of the best selling book on adoption entitled "The Connected Child", was the main speaker at the conference. Other adoptive parents also spoke and shared their struggles and stories of hope found on their adoption journey. It was so great to be in a room with so many people who were adoptive parents or who were in the process of adopting and who shared our desire to be the best equipped parents to raise these precious children who sometimes come from very hard places.

Dr. Purvis had my complete attention and respect after she spoke her first few words. She told the audience that in raising these precious children "love was not enough." I cannot count how many times well-meaning people have said that to me while on this journey, but it is difficult to explain to them in a few short sentences why their comments are sweet but simply not true. Rob and I have learned through the various adoption books and through our adoption training at our agency, in addition to speaking to other adoptive parents what the reality is for our children.

I have to admit that when I first started seriously considering international adoption I was very naive about many things, in particular what life was like for many of these precious children growing up in orphanages. Dr. Purvis' book was one of the things that really opened my eyes and what she said at Saturday's conference only reinforced what I had already learned.

I guess the best example would be to use my own daughter. From the moment of her birth, Julia has been cared for by two loving parents. In the first few days of life, she realized that if she was hungry and she cried then mommy would feed her. If she cried and needed comfort, mommy or daddy would be there to hold her and to rock her. If she had a soiled diaper and cried, someone would come to change it. All of these simple things built a connection between Julia and me, in addition to building a sense of trust within Julia that I would always provide for her needs. The act of her crying also gave Julia a voice even as an infant. She would cry, speaking her needs by her cry, and I would answer by meeting her needs.

For an infant in an orphanage, this is a completely different story. Infant rooms in an orphanage are said to be some of the most eerily quiet places in the world. Why you ask? Because the baby learns very quickly that when he cries no one is coming to feed him, change him or rock him so he then stops crying. There are simply not enough caregivers for all of the children to be given large amounts of individual attention. His voice, in effect, has been silenced.

My son will need love and lots of it. My heart is bursting with the love that I am ready to lavishly give my little boy. But, he will need more, so very much more than that from me and Rob, and we need to be ready to provide for him in every way. That is why I am using this time to read more on adoption and go to as many adoption events as I can. If you are adopting and haven't read Dr. Purvis' book, I highly recommend it. She also has a great website, http://empowerdtoconnect.org, which has lots of resources and tools to help adoptive parents with issues from attachment to sensory processing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get Her Done!

Wow! We have had one busy and fruitful week, although it did not start out that way. On Monday, Rob took our remaining dossier documents to the Williamson County Clerk's office once again to be certified, and once again, we were denied. Apparently, the notary we used did not know the correct month or day that her commission expired and what she had put on our forms did not match with what the county clerk's office had in their records. I was at a co-worker's baby shower when Rob called to give me the news. My mind was swirling with thoughts of all the work I had put into those forms and how I would have to fill out all of them again. I could hear him saying over the phone,"It's going to be okay. Please don't cry." I don't know how many times he had to say this before I actually pulled myself together enough to agree with him.

The fixer in me began formulating a plan to get everything done and done correctly as quickly as possible. After all, a little boy in Bulgaria was depending on his mommy. A certain quote from Dumbledore in "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" kept seeping into my thoughts. "You have no choice. You cannot fail." For those who don't know me very well, I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. The words were true. Indeed, I had no choice but to start over and trudge through, so that is exactly what I did.

That night, I took our daughter to karate and then we came home to do homework. While our daughter was working on her spelling words and reading at the kitchen table, I sat across from her and worked on my dossier. By the time Rob came home around 11:00 pm from teaching his last class, I had finished them all and had gone over the dossier checklist at least twice to make sure that I had everything that we would need.

On Tuesday, Rob had to go to Carthage for work, so we decided that we would go to the notary on Wednesday when he got back. This time, we decided to use a notary at the Davidson County clerk's office and then all we would have to do to get the documents certified after the notarization would be to walk across the hall to another department. I cannot tell you how wonderful everyone was to us at the clerk's office. They were all very nice, helpful and expedient after learning that we had to go to the Secretary of State's office that day as well. Less than an hour later, we were on our way to downtown Nashville to the Secretary of State's office to get all of our documents apostilled.

In all, we had 21 documents that were apostilled. Later that evening after dinner and another karate class, we went to our local Staples store to make four copies of every document. The originals would go to Bulgaria, and the copies would be for our records and for Bethany Christian Services. We had no idea how long it would take to copy all of the documents with the apostilles stapled to them (we are not supposed to remove the staples). Therefore, we had sorely underestimated the time, and the store was about to close. Rather than gather up all of our paperwork and drive 25 minutes to a 24-hour Kinko's, Rob politely asked the store manager if we could stay to finish. The manager generously agreed, and we were done 20 minutes later. All I can say is "Thank you Staples. You have got a customer for life!"

The mission continued today. On my lunch hour, I laid the paperwork out on my desk and checked and rechecked the documents for the dossier. Then I was off to the Bethany office in Nashville to hand deliver our precious cargo to our case worker. When I walked out of Bethany's office after delivering our dossier, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I also knew that we were one giant step closer to meeting our little boy. A few hours later, our case worker emailed me to let me know that our dossier would be overnighted to the main office in Grand Rapids tonight, and after approval, it would be on its way to Bulgaria early next week.

Once this happens, I am hoping and praying that our referral will not take long, especially considering that we were told last week that Bulgaria had informed our agency that it was very anxious to get our dossier. I am excited about getting our referral for obvious reasons, but also because we get to see new pictures and possibly a new video of our son. Everything we have now is a year old, and I am sure that he has grown and changed a lot in the last year.

So, what do we do now besides wait? We begin working on our grant applications and on our next fundraiser. Details to follow soon!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's all in the timing

As mentioned in a previous post, we are very close to having our dossier finished for our Bulgarian adoption. As of mid-week, we only had a few more documents to notarize, certify and apostille, and of course, the still outstanding FBI clearances which we believed to be at least four or five more weeks out. It would have seemed that we had more than enough time to tie up any loose ends while we waited on our clearances.

But, things are not always what they seem, and as anyone who has ever been through an international adoption can tell you, things can change on a dime. For all of my Star Wars loving friends (myself included), our adoption was put into hyperdrive this week when we received an email forwarded to us from our caseworker. Bulgaria had contacted our agency's home office regarding our progress on our dossier, and the email stated that they were "very anxious" to receive it.

Before replying to our caseworker, Rob called the FBI to get a best estimate of when the clearances would arrive. The FBI office in West Virginia informed him that it would be another two to three weeks, which was actually several weeks shorter than we had originally been told. Our agency, at the behest of our caseworker, began trying to contact the office in Bulgaria to see if they would accept the dossier with the FBI clearances pending. If they would, then we would need to have everything else completed, notarized, certified and apostilled in the next two to three days! Yes, I said days!

And, did I mention that we would also have to have our home study amended in that time as well? Rob just took a great new position at a new company which meant that all the work information on the home study and the work references were old. His new boss would have to fill out the reference forms and then our caseworker would do the amended home study. Finally, the amended home study would have to be notarized, certified and apostilled.

So, what do I do? What I know best of course. I am an editor by trade which calls for paying close attention to the details. I sat down with a co-worker who is also an editor and went through the dossier check list. Together, we devised a color-coded system for what was outstanding on the list and what government body needed to put its stamp on each document. I then planned out my day as follows: drive to downtown Nashville, pick up last minute documents from agency, drive to Davidson County clerk to certify documents, drive to Brentwood to notarize more documents and then drive to Williamson County clerk in Franklin to certify more documents. If there was time, I would go to the Secretary of State's office in Nashville to apostille said documents. My plan of action would take place on Friday. In the mean time, I prayed that God would somehow speed up the FBI clearances.

On Thursday night before my adventures were to begin, I came home to find a package from UPS on my doorstep and a door tag from FedEx on my front door stating delivery of another package had been attempted. The UPS package was part of a Home Depot order that I had made a week earlier, but what was the FedEx package? At first, I assumed that it was the remainder of my Home Depot order and that the company was probably sending it by FedEx because the boxes were so large. I had ordered some patio furniture on end of season clearance. But, the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that the package could have been from someone else. Rob thought so as well, and on Friday morning, he called FedEx and the company confirmed that the package was coming from West Virginia and it was from the FBI!
It was our FBI clearances and not a moment too soon!

It has only been three days since Rob had called the FBI to inquire about our status and they had said two to three more weeks. What timing! Once again, God answered our prayers, and once again, he proved to Rob and I that he is and has always been in the driver seat on this one.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mail call

Wow! I can't believe that it has been over a month since my last post. Hopefully, I will not have such a long break again. All I can say is that my family's life has been very hectic over the last month and a half for several different reasons, but we seem to be settling into more of a routine now.

Part of our daily routine, as is the case with most families, is to go the mailbox and retrieve the day's mail. I asked our daughter to go to the mailbox on Saturday to get the mail before we headed out to dinner, and as usual, she was less than enthused about the task. Julia just sees a trip to the mailbox (a much shorter trip that I had growing up) as another chore. However, I must admit that I have always thought of the trip to mailbox as much more of an adventure, and I have always been eager to see the treasure in the box that awaited me.

In my senior year of high school, the treasure in the mailbox was my acceptance letter to college and then later a sweet letter written by young woman from Virginia who would be my roommate in the freshman dorm and my first friend on campus. During the college years, the treasure would come in the form of letters from my mom and dad to my campus P.O. box. I still have almost all of those letters and since the passing of my father in my senior year of college, his letters have become some of my most prized possessions.

Today, I love receiving catalogs from my favorite store in my mailbox. It sort of reminds me of the days when my sister, Sheila, and I sat down with the Sears Wishbook and made out our Christmas list for Santa except that now I am planning the perfect date night ensemble from Eddie Bauer or Coldwater Creek. I also love getting unexpected cards and notes from friends. These have become so rare with the advent of email and Facebook.

As of late, however, the cards from well wishers regarding our adoption have been the treasure in the mailbox. One particular card recently that was sent by one of my husband's aunts and uncles had an adorable picture of a little boy and a little girl swinging in an old tree swing and a donation to help bring our son home. I have put the card on my refrigerator at home because it reminds me of Julia and her little brother. The card will also go into our little boy's lifebook someday so that he will know of these wonderful people and what they did to help bring him home.

On Saturday, Julia unknowingly retrieved another treasure from the mailbox...our USCIS approval! Our appointment with Homeland Security was last Wednesday for fingerprinting and scanning so imagine our excitement when we received our approval only three days later! Now, as we wind down the retrieval of documents for our dossier, we are waiting on another treasure to show up in our mailbox...our FBI clearance. Hopefully, the wait will not be much longer...it has been seven weeks and counting, but it just gives me another reason to go to the mailbox!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The importance of grandmothers

I have very vivid memories of my grandmothers, especially my Grandmother Hampton. In the summer, my sister and I would spend a lot of time with my grandparents while my parents worked in the restaurant, which our family owned. Each week my grandparents would go on an excursion to a small town called Buena Vista to visit a country store there for groceries. My grandparents would load me and my sister into my grandfather's old turquoise blue and white pickup truck for the short three or four mile drive, and my sister and I would sit between my grandparents on that ride. Grandfather would always wear his summer hat and a pair of freshly pressed overalls on this trip, and Grandmother would always don one of her better dresses. When we arrived at the store, my grandmother would instruct me and my sister to go and pick out a box of cereal or other breakfast item, something special that we would like for lunch one day (usually Spaghettios) and then finally, we were to pick out some candy from behind the glass case for a treat. My sister and I truly looked forward to seeing all of the new items behind the glass, in addition to getting some of our favorites such as Sugar Daddy caramel lollipops, pixie sticks and those truly awful candy cigarettes. No matter what we picked out from behind the glass, I never remember my grandmother saying "no" even when saying "yes" to the candy cigarettes would get her into trouble with my mom.

Isn't that why we love our grandmothers...for saying "yes" when our parents would say "no"? Grandmothers dote on us and spoil us. They regale us with stories of days gone by and listen to all our tales of childhood life with earnest interest. Grandmothers always have a hug for us when we have fallen off of our bicycles and skinned our knees. And, after we stop crying, there is an outstretched hand holding our favorite shortbread cookie because the cookie jar is always full at Grandma's house.

I can't imagine how different my childhood would have been without my grandmother, and I am glad that I don't have to. I am also thankful that my daughter has a wonderful grandmother who takes her swimming, who loves playing games with her, and who always has a full cookie jar. But, there is another grandmother that I have never met for whom I very thankful. I don't even know her name.

In Bulgaria, the orphanage where my son currently lives participates in the surrogate granny programme. My son has a wonderful woman who he calls his "baba" or grandmother who comes and provides care and education to him on an individual basis five days a week for four to five hours. She feeds him, plays with him, sing songs with him, holds him and encourage him. She is teaching him to love and be loved, and I will never be able to thank her enough. I pray for my son's caregivers daily, but I especially pray for his baba. And when the adoption is official, I want to help him keep fond memories of her because she has been a very important part of his life.

"If a child is given love, he becomes loving...If he's helped when he needs help, he becomes helpful. And if he has been truly valued at home...he grows up secure enough to look beyond himself to the welfare of others." ....Dr. Joyce Brothers...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dog days of summer

Even though summer can be excruciatingly hot in the South, I still love summer. It's a time for life at a slower pace with lots of grilling, frequent visits to Sonic for something cold and refreshing, and lots of days spent at our neighborhood pool. It is also a time when our daughter is out of school, Rob's class load is a little lighter, and my schedule is more predictable. In other words, it is more family time.

I particularly enjoy the Fourth of July holiday. My father owned one of the only fireworks stands in our county when I was growing up, and me and my sisters helped him sell fireworks during June and July. After we sold out of fireworks on the fourth, my dad would take us back to our house where we would put on our own gigantic fireworks display for the family and usually enjoy some homemade ice cream. I have very fond memories of those times so it is no wonder I enjoy the fourth still today.

Last night, Rob and his brother, put on a great fireworks display for our families and Rob's parents. Then we watched the City of Franklin's display from some great seats in the back yard. Everyone was filled with wonder at the amazing light show, including me. But, I could not help but wonder if my little boy would have enjoyed the show or if he had ever even seen a fireworks display before. He is never far from my thoughts, but over the holiday weekend, he has been on my mind continually.

In the dog days of summer, I find myself reflecting a lot on our decision to adopt and the journey in which we hope we are now on. It is a decision we have never regretted, but the waiting has become difficult. I long for new pictures or video of my little one to see how he is growing and changing as he waits for his mommy and daddy to come. I long for the concreteness of a date for our travel so that we can meet him for the very first time.

In order to get that place where we can get updated info on our son or a travel date, we must complete our dossier and have it sent to Bulgaria. We made two giant steps toward that goal this week by overnighting our FBI clearance info to West Virginia and by sending our USCIS packet to Texas. Now the hard part begins as we wait for our USCIS approval (estimated six weeks) and our FBI clearance (estimated 13 weeks but praying for less) to be returned to us.

Getting our dossier over to Bulgaria and getting our son's referral afterward will be like the fourth of July, and I just might keep some bottle rockets or roman candles on hand for the occasion!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Home Study approved!

As many of my close friends and family know, my mother has been very sick lately. Over the weekend, I drove to West Tennessee to spend time with her and help take care of her. Thankfully, she is doing better now, but while I was at my mother's house, I was without Internet access...no e-mail, no facebook, no blogger. Anyone who knows me realizes that this type of disconnection from my favorites sources of news and communication would be very hard for me :)

I spent my free time reading adoption materials and fretting over why our home study had not been approved. However, on my arrival home, I found an e-mail from our case worker at our agency saying that our home study had been approved and that we would receive our notarized copies soon in the mail. On Tuesday, the copies arrived! With our approved home study, Rob and I are now able to send off our USCIS paperwork (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and continue working in earnest to finish our Bulgarian dossier.

One of Rob's brothers, who is a police officer, also met us at the police station last Friday to help us with our finger printing required for our FBI clearance. That packet will be sent by express mail to the FBI office tomorrow and then....we wait. Our agency has informed us that the FBI clearance is now taking a minimum of 13 weeks compared to the previous minimum of six weeks. Too bad Rob's brother can't help expedite the processing of our clearance.

Rob and I are also finishing up our second round of adoption training by our agency, which has consisted of lessons and questionnaires delivered by e-mail, in addition to two training sessions held at the agency. We should receive our certificate for this training sometime next week, but until that time, I continue to immerse myself in books on adoption and books on Bulgaria.

Speaking of Bulgaria, I did make a great find yesterday in Nashville. Off of Thompson Lane near 100 Oaks, there is a Russian and Eastern European market called Aleksey's. I went there hoping to find anything from Bulgaria, and I was blessed with a purchase of a pound of kashkaval made in Vitosha, Bulgaria. I can't wait to try this cheese over the weekend. The market also had Bulgarian feta which I intend on using in a Bulgarian recipe sent to me by a friend. I will let you know how this turns out. I am also in the market for a Bulgarian cookbook as I would like to learn how to make dishes that are familiar to my son. Wish me luck!

My next step is try and learn as much Bulgarian as I can by the fall. Luckily, I have found a place online to take lessons and practice my skills since Rosetta Stone does not offer a course in Bulgarian. I am hoping to learn as many common place words and phrases that I can in order to talk to my son even though we will have a translator on our trip. On the other side of the language issue, Julia wants me to purchase "Your Baby Can Read" every time she sees it on television because she is convinced that this would help her little brother to learn English. She is so sweet and convincing in her argument that I may end up buying it. It can't hurt.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where there is a will there is a way?

Today has been difficult in regards to our adoption process. Rob and I have begun working on gathering all of the documents that we need for our dossier when it is sent to Bulgaria later in the year. We have a three page check list of documents that are needed for the dossier, including certified copies of birth certificates, our marriage license and copies of our passports. Those are actually the easy ones.

What remains are numerous forms that need to be filled out by other people attesting certain information about Rob and myself. For example, there is a medical certificate that needs to be filled out by a physician that states that Rob and I are healthy and able to be parents. There is another medical certificate that needs to be filled out by a specialist in psychiatry that states that Rob and I are mentally healthy and capable of being good parents. Our agency also informed us that we will need a letter on the physician's letterhead stating that any medications that we are on does not interfere with our ability to be parents and does not shorten our life span.

Did I mention that all of these documents must be notarized in the same county in which the document originated and then apostilled by the state? In other words, if the physician filling out the form is located in Williamson County, then the notary must be in Williamson County. The notary's commission cannot expire in less than six months from when the document was notarized. There also can be no errors on the document, no cross outs, and no white outs. City and state must be spelled out in all addresses, and our names must be spelled exactly as they are on our passports. If an error is made, the documents must be thrown away, and we must start over.

I actually can handle all of that..I think. What has been frustrating has been getting the physicians to do the documents in the first place. The doctor's office which did my medical certificate did not want to do my letter regarding my prescriptions. Instead, they wanted my hematologist to do the letter. I did not feel good about this, but I called my hematologist's office (who I just saw on Monday) and the nurse never called me back. In the mean time, I emailed our adoption agency who confirmed that the hematologist should not do the letter. The doctor who did the medical certificate should do the letter so I called them back, played phone tag, and finally gave the nurse the news that she did not want to hear. She begrudgingly said that she would get with the doctor and get the process started.

Did I also mention that our dossier has been revised in the last week and now requires us to get another medical certificate from said doctor after our first trip to Bulgaria? Aaagh! It also requires us to get another criminal background check after our first trip as well. The first one we have already done for our home study paperwork. There are more changes, but I won't bore you.

Many other things did not go well today, but a lot of it is out of my control, which is not really good for a person who can sometimes be described as a "Fixer"...think of the lyrics to the Pearl Jam song by the same name. But, I am learning very slowly that I have never really been in control. God is in the driver's seat, and he knows where Rob and I are going on this journey. He also knows what it is going to take to get there, and He has shown us many times over the last few months that He will make it known to us what to do in His time. So what do I do in this situation besides practice my patience? I remind myself of what a precious gift from God is waiting across the ocean for me and Rob...our little boy who needs us to persevere and see this journey to its conclusion no matter how long or hard the road becomes.

In the words of the French author, Comte de Buffon, "Never think that God's delays are God's denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out. Patience is genius."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

It takes a community

Our Chick-fil-A fundraiser was a success in more ways than one. We raised $250 to put towards our adoption fees from the sale of yummy chicken nuggets and waffle fries, and we received another $160 in cash donations while we were there. However, the biggest blessing came in the form of all of the people from our church, our friends and co-workers coming out to support our efforts.

Sometimes, it is so easy to fall into the notion that you must handle everything in your life on your own...that success or failure lies solely in your own hands. But, sometimes God has ways of reminding us that he is there and that he is in control, especially when you are walking down a path in which he has led you.

During the night of the fundraiser, God showed Rob and I in many ways that he was in control, and we were happy for it to be so. That night God placed several wonderful people in our path to help us on our journey to Bulgaria. Was it a coincidence? I don't believe in coincidences. I believe in providence.

Rob and I met a couple that night that we had been hoping to meet and get to know for weeks. This couple drove a long way to meet us because they had heard we were adopting a child from Bulgaria. We had learned about them earlier through an email from our adoption agency. This couple has already gone to Bulgaria to meet their adoptive daughter and is hoping to return to Bulgaria next month to bring her home. They were so warm and friendly and answered all of our seemingly endless questions. It is so wonderful to talk with someone who is on the same journey that we are on. We are hoping to get together with them again soon for dinner and to learn more about the beautiful country where our son and their daughter was born.

That night Rob and I were also formerly introduced to the father of a little girl who has been attending karate with our daughter for more than a year. We see him every week at the dojo, but until the night of the fundraiser, we had no idea that he was from Bulgaria! He was so kind and told us that he would be happy to translate any documents for us. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Two very good friends of mine, Laura and Kim, also worked their hearts out that night and prior to the event making sure that the flyers were distributed and that everyone knew about our fundraiser. Thanks you two! And a big thank you to our life group from church who came out in full force and to all of our friends and church family who showed their support! And thank you to Rob's dad (Grandpa to our daughter and soon to be to our son) for driving such a long way for a chicken sandwich and to support your new grandson!

Rob and I are working daily to bring our son home, but we also know that we could not do this without the support of so many wonderful people, including the people at our adoption agency and our wonderful caseworker. Adoption really does take the work of a community.

JAM 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Best husband and best chicken in TN

Every day I wake up and realize that I am married to my best friend and my soul mate. And over the last seven years, I have also realized that Rob is an amazing father. He was, after all, the first person to change Julia's diapers, and he has completely shared the parenting responsibilities with me ever since...as it should be.

Yesterday, he amazed me many times over. In the morning, we attended Bible study as we normally do on Sundays. Before Bible study, Rob asked if he could address our class with some things that were on his heart. A few minutes later, he stood before our class of men and women ranging in age between their 20s and 40s, and described how God had led us to begin the process of adoption and how we were then led to our beautiful little boy in Bulgaria. At times, his voice seemed to quiver, and to someone who did not know him as well, it would have seemed this happened from all the excitement in his voice. Yes, that was part of it, but I also realized it was in part from the deep love and affection my husband has for our little boy.

Rob told the class about a fundraiser that we are having on Thursday to raise money to help with the adoption, and he handed out a flyer for the fundraiser to every person in our class, In all, I believe he helped pass out more than 200 flyers yesterday to our class and elsewhere. He was a man with a purpose. Rob even drove across town to our old neighborhood and left flyers on the doors of our former neighbors. He then came home and posted the flyer on his Facebook page so that all of his friends and family would attend the event.

In our little one's lifebook, I will be writing about the tenacity and spirit of his father as Rob continues to do everything humanly possible to bring our son home. I will also tell our little one how his father lights up with love and happiness at the mere mention of his name. I will take pictures of Rob on Thursday night greeting our guests at Chick-fil-A, and I will show our son how hard his father worked to bring him home.

If you would like to join us for this event, please print out the flyer found within this post. Chick-fil-A really does have some of the best chicken in Tennessee, and the biggest hearts for allowing us to do this fundraiser. And in the midst of it all will be one very happy husband, father and friend. We hope to see you there!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, and I will be celebrating this time with my own mom, my beautiful daughter and my wonderful husband. Becoming a mother seemed so impossible to me until God blessed us with our daughter a little over seven years ago, and for all of those years, motherhood has been the most wonderful experience for me. I have enjoyed seeing Julia grow from a small infant to a very smart, confident little girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. I have become infinitely aware of the strong bond between a mother and a child, and I have a love for my daughter that grows daily by leaps and bounds.

On Friday, I went to Julia's elementary school for "Muffins with Mommy," which is a Mother's Day celebration where the kids serve their moms muffins and present them with handmade items as gifts for Mother's Day. Julia gave me some beautiful purple petunias that were planted in a small pot, which she had decorated with sweet messages for me. She and her class also sang three songs for the audience of mothers which spoke of how much they loved the treats that their mommies made and the many kisses that their mommies gave. I was proud of Julia for singing out loud and smiling through the whole performance. She is definitely not a wallflower!

At the end of the celebration, Julia's teacher read to us a book that I wish now that I could remember the title. The book was about how time moves so quickly for parents as their children grow, and each day seems to be filled with "lasts"...the last time you change her diaper, the last time you give her a bottle, the last time you are able to pick her up and hold her, the last time she will sat in your lap, or the last time you walked her to class at school. I have already seen several lasts with my little girl. Those moments are beautiful and bitter sweet. They are gone before you even realize that they have left because you have been so into the business of living from day to day. But, I cherish every single last with my daughter, and I look forward to what the next day brings. I only wish that my son were here this Mother's Day so that we could begin the same journey.

As much as I will enjoy being with my family on this holiday, I cannot help but think about my little boy who will be missing from this celebration. Somehow, Mother's Day does not feel exactly the same knowing that my little one is so far away from me. However, with each ticking of the clock and each calendar day that passes, we are brought that much closer to the time we will be together. Your daddy and I think and talk of you often my little one. We can't wait to meet you!

Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Water, water everywhere

Rob, his parents, and his sister have been trapped in his parents' home in Franklin for three days now as Tennessee has experienced what the news media is calling flooding of an epic nature. I have missed my sweet hubby dearly, but I am very happy that he and his family are safe. We are hoping that the Harpeth River behind their house will recede enough that Rob may be able to come home sometime tomorrow. But, do not think that Rob has been languishing idle at his parents house all of this time. He finished the last five modules of his Hague online adoption training while waiting for the flood waters to recede and received his certificate via our e-mail today.

Rob and I were also supposed to begin our second cycle of our international adoption training tomorrow at our agency's offices, but our adoption agency is located in an area of Nashville that has been evacuated due to the continuing rise of the Cumberland River. The training has therefore been postponed until next week.

Now that Rob has received his completion certificate for the online adoption training, we are very close to finishing our home study paperwork. Actually, all we have left to do is turn in our tax returns from last year, some additional financial info, and our medical paperwork, which our physician finished last week. It is hard to believe that we will be finished with this portion by the end of the week, but we are very excited at the prospect. We were also excited to receive my passport a few days ago with our last name spelled correctly!

With these things completed, we are one step closer to meeting our son. I gazed up at the stars tonight and again wondered what our little boy was doing at that moment. I hoped that he was happy and that somehow he could feel my love from so far away.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hague Convention online education completed!

I finished up my 8 hours of online education required by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption today and received my certification via e-mail only a few minutes later. I have been periodically working on the online training, which consisted of videos and lots of required reading, since last Wednesday night. The training was very helpful and included information from pediatricians who work in international adoption clinics here in the U.S. and other professionals involved in the adoption process. I felt the training was very honest in regard to what adoptive parents of international children should expect before, during and after the adoption process.

Rob and I are also required to attend several training sessions at our adoption agency, and those begin next week. I am hopeful that Rob and I can wind up the last bit of our home study paperwork prior to the training sessions next so that we will be ready for the home visits by our social worker to begin. Rob is trying to finish his family survey, a ten page questionnaire required by our agency, this evening and begin his Hague online education courses tomorrow. We still have a few more documents to pick up from varying places as well and get them turned into our agency hopefully by the end of the week.

As many families who choose international adoption will tell you, there are always unexpected delays or hiccups along the way. We experienced a few of those recently. The first problem happened with our criminal background checks. The police department inadvertently put Rob's information on my form and my information on his form. Luckily, this mix-up was easy to fix and involved filling out the same forms again and getting the police department to fill out their portions correctly this time.

The second hiccup will not be so easy to remedy, but we are hoping that it will be corrected as soon as possible since we are nearing the dossier portion of our adoption journey. The second mix-up came only minutes after we received Rob's long awaited passport in the mail. Initially, we were very excited to receive his passport so quickly...it had only been about four weeks since he had applied. However, after a brief inspection of the passport, Rob realized that the State Department had misspelled our last name. Even with a certified copy of his birth certificate, a color copy of his driver license and his passport application (all with the correct spelling), the State Department managed to drop the second "c" in our last name. Anyone who has ever gone through an international adoption understands how vital it is to have this mistake fixed quickly since any error on any document can have your dossier rejected. Also, I imagine that Rob would not even be allowed on the plane to Bulgaria if this error was not corrected. At any rate, Rob awoke early the next morning and called the State Department office almost as soon as it opened. A nice woman on the other end of the phone asked if we could pay $60.00 to have the process of correction expedited since we needed the passport long before our actual travel date. Really...you made the error and we are supposed to pay $60.00 for you to fix it quickly? Rob was then asked how far we are from Miami so that we might drive there to fix the passport....only about 800 or so miles. At any rate, we are now left to send the incorrect passport back with a new form filled out detailing the error by express mail and hope for the best. My passport has yet to come in the mail so we are praying that the same error is not duplicated on my passport.

But, the good news is that we are farther along in the process than we were a week ago, and tomorrow we will be farther still. Thoughts and dreams of our little boy continue to push us onward. We keep his picture on our computer desktop to remind us of why we are working so hard. It's all for you my sweet precious boy.