Thursday, December 29, 2011

My son can see!

Tuesday, December 27th, finally came. It was a day that I had dreaded for over a month ever since our optometrist had made the appointment for Yuli with the Vanderbilt Eye Institute back in November.  I knew this day could hold news that I was not ready to hear in regard to Yuli’s vision.  When we began the adoption process, our paperwork from Bulgaria stated that Yuli had slight strabismus, which is a disorder in which the two eyes do not line up in the same direction, and therefore do not look at the same object at the same time.

When we received more extensive medical information on Yuli prior to our first trip to Bulgaria in December of 2010, the paperwork stated that he had “dim vision,” which naturally concerned us. I consulted with a specialist at that time who looked over the information on Yuli’s eyes and informed us that he could have damage to his optic nerve, which could not be repaired, however, the specialist could not be sure until Yuli was examined by him in the states. The paperwork also stated that Yuli needed surgery to repair his eyes and would require glasses post surgery.

Friends kept assuring us that many children born in the United States and elsewhere had strabismus, which could easily be repaired in many instances by surgery, so there was hope for our son. We were also reminded by our agency and other adoptive parents that the medical information sent from Bulgaria was not always reliable. Rob and I decided long ago that none of this mattered as we had already committed to being Yuli’s parents and would do whatever it took to help our son.

When Rob and I met Yuli on December 6, 2010, during our first trip to Bulgaria Yuli had a patch over one of his eyes as the orphanage doctor had decided to use patching to strengthen his eyes in preparation for surgery.  Rob and I also noticed during that visit that Yuli sometimes held his head in an awkward head position when trying to look in the direction of someone’s voice or other noise. We were not sure if the awkward movements of his head had to do with the patching or something else.

When we returned to Bulgaria in June of this year to bring Yuli home, his eyes looked much better and the orphanage had ceased patching.  The medical paperwork that was sent home with Yuli stated again that we would need to have surgery on his eyes and that Yuli would need glasses.

Once we got home with Yuli and began to become more comfortable as a family, Rob and I had to prioritize Yuli’s healthcare needs. Thankfully, our pediatrician was a great help in that area, and he emphasized to us that repairing Yuli’s palate was our first priority. As you know from my previous post, Yuli had that surgery in September and has now begun speech and feeding therapy after getting the green light from the surgeon.

Next on the priority list was Yuli’s eyesight. Rob and I made an appointment with our family eye doctor who, after examining Yuli (or trying to ----Yuli was not very cooperative) , determined that Yuli had no lateral vision in his right eye. Our doctor then called the Vanderbilt Eye Institute and set up an appointment for Yuli with one of their pediatric eye specialists.

Over the last six months since Yuli came home, Rob and I noticed that his right eye would wander, especially if he was tired. I also noticed that he seemed to bump into things more often than normal so I wondered if he simply could not see items that were in his peripheral. However, I also noticed that he would pick up the tiniest speck of something off the floor to show me. Sometimes these things were no bigger than the top of a push pin. Needless to say, we were getting mixed messages on the quality of Yuli’s vision.

During Yuli’s appointment at Vanderbilt, Dr. Donahue ran a large battery of tests on Yuli’s eyes, and within minutes, he had answers for me and Rob. Our son has a congenital disorder that is called Duane Syndrome in which the sixth cranial nerve that controls the lateral muscle does not develop properly.  Yuli displayed all the classic signs from the strabismus, to the awkward head position and the narrowing of one of his eyes. People with Duane Syndrome often maintain a head posture or head turn to keep the eyes straight. The affected eye, as in Yuli’s case, may appear smaller than the other eye. The affected eye is also unable to turn outward to see items in the peripheral because the nerve which would tell the eye to turn outward is missing. It all fit. But, what about Yuli’s vision? Well, according to Dr. Donahue, my son can see very well out of both eyes. He has a little far-sightedness, which is common with Duane’s Syndrome, but he can see! Rob and I were elated!

Dr. Donahue also informed Rob and I that the surgery, had it been performed in Bulgaria, would likely have made Yuli’s disorder worse. To say that I am glad the surgery was not performed in country would be an understatement. Dr. Donahue wants to monitor Yuli over the next few months mainly to keep a check on Yuli’s head position and his ability to keep his eyes straight. The doctor stated that Yuli

Words cannot express how happy I am to know that my son can see his mommy and daddy’s face with clarity and see all of his surroundings in his new home. I have said it before, but it bears repeating…God is good!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If You Give a Pig a Pancake and other bedtime stories

Julia, Rob, Yuli and our puppy Ghost

My eight year old daughter Julia has always loved books and being read to by her Mom and Dad. I have a very vivid memory of laying on the bed with her when she was around the age of six months and reading Dr. Suess' "Hop on Pop" to her. She would giggle and coo at the sing song sounding words that would emanate from my mouth as I read each rhyming line of verse on the page. When she became three or four, I would read at least two or three books to her at bedtime. She could never get enough. One of her absolute favorites was a book called "Good Night Moon." I must have read that book over a thousand times, but she would never tire of that sweet story. Now her brother, Yuli, is beginning to see all the wonders of the world through books, and "Good Night Moon" is also one of his favorites.

For months, I wondered if Yuli would ever take an interest in books. When we met Yuli on our first trip to Bulgaria last December, no one had ever read to him, and because of this, he had no interest in the books that I brought for him. He would not even look at the pictures on each page. Instead, he would take the book, quickly flip through the pages without looking at anything, close the book, and repeat. It was very ritualistic and methodical in the same way that he would open and close the door of the social worker's office at the orphanage over and over again during our visit.

We have come a long way since that first visit over a year ago. Yuli now enjoys me reading a book to him each night before bedtime such as "If You Give a Pig a Pancake."  He listens intently as I point out things in each picture such as an animal or flower, and when I am finished, he takes the book and tries to read the book to me as he points to the same items that I showed him on our first run through. He will also look at books now when we are riding in the car, in addition to playing with his toys.

What else has changed since our first meeting or since we brought Yuli home almost six months ago? Well, quite a lot! In the middle of September, we went to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, TN, where Yuli underwent surgery to repair his soft and hard palate. The surgery was a success, however, we did end up in PICU for two days because of bleeding caused from scar tissue surrounding the muscle in his palate. Apparently, some doctors in Bulgaria had attempted to repair the muscle some time ago without success. At any rate, Yuli did really well in the hospital and had all the nurses falling for him. The surgery and healing process that came after was a positive bonding experience for our family, especially for Yuli and me. When he awoke from surgery, Rob and I were the first two people he saw, and we never left his bedside.  Every time that he opened his eyes, Mommy or Daddy was there. Every time the nurses would come to give him medicine through his IV (which upset him), Mommy or Daddy was there.

Yuli leaving the PICU for a normal hospital room

When we arrived home from the surgery, we did have a short period of adjustment. Our little boy could no longer feed himself because he was wearing arm boards to keep him from putting anything sharp in his mouth that might tear his stitches or open up his newly repaired palate. Rob and I had to feed him at every meal. His diet also changed drastically for about three to four weeks, which he was not very happy about. Prior to surgery, Yuli had fallen in love with tortilla chips with salsa and queso. After the surgery, these items were forbidden because the sharp points on the chips could injure his newly repaired palate. Yuli also likes crackers and other crunchy foods. These were out as well. It was a soft food diet for our little guy for the next month. He ate mostly oatmeal, applesauce, pudding, mashed veggies or fruit, and soup. Our family gave up Mexican food for a month because it just seemed cruel to go to one of his favorite places, like Blue Coast Burrito, and not let him eat anything on the menu.... just the soft foods that we had brought for him.

During his recovery period, Yuli also had to sleep with the arm boards on each night so that he would not put his fingers in his mouth to feel his new palate and possibly pull out his stitches. He was not very happy about this either, but I cannot say that I blame him. I am sure this was not the most comfortable way in the world to sleep. But, again we got through it.

After a month, the pediatric plastic surgeon gave us the green light to gradually re-introduce hard foods back into Yuli's diet. I think our little boy put on five pounds that first week. He seemed to want to eat everything in sight!  Drinking from a cup became a much easier task for him as well with his new palate. He quickly realized that he no longer had to take tiny sips and keep them on the side of his mouth until he swallowed. He could tilt his head back and take a big gulp of milk or water if he so desired. Yuli also learned to finally drink from a straw after the surgery. When we would go out to eat before the surgery, he always wanted to have a straw in his drink to be like everyone else at the table. He would try so hard and come so close to actually succeeding with the straw on so many occasions, but he just never quite made it. I think that he never really had a strong sucking reflex because he never had to use it, even as a baby. His cleft lip was not repaired until he was a toddler so when he was fed a bottle as a baby in the orphanage, the orphanage workers used a bottle in which the tip of the nipple had been cut off so that the formula just gushed from bottle. No sucking action on Yuli's part was required.

Fast forward to about four weeks ago. Our family was having lunch at Firehouse Subs, another favorite spot of Yuli's. He was trying so hard to use his straw to drink his lemonade, and we were cheering him on as we watched the tart liquid inch up the straw and ever closer to his tiny lips. Then, he did it, and he has not looked back since! He has also learned to drink from a Nuby sippy cup, which is great for when we are at a friend's house or in the car ---- no spills! Yeah!

Yuli at Firehouse Subs wearing his favorite shirt that he picked out at Target

Yuli has also started going to the daycare/pre-school program at our church since his surgery as I have had to return to work. I am happy to report that he enjoys school, and he is learning so much each week. The school works with him on his colors, counting, and his letters and the sounds each letter makes. These are things that I have also been working with Yuli on while we are at home so it is great that we are coordinating on his education. Yuli has also made several friends at school and has continued to learn how to play, which was a skill he did not have when we came home from Bulgaria.

Those first few months were difficult when it came to Yuli playing with toys or with another child. He simply did not know what to do. The children at his school really helped where that was concerned. They modeled play for him. They showed him what to do with toys. Now, he loves toy cars and trucks, and he also loves to play with anything musical or anything that has a lot of buttons and makes noise. The firetruck that Santa is bringing Yuli that makes sounds and has working lights with lots of buttons should be a hit on Christmas day. Another change is that Yuli and Julia have learned to play together. At first, I believe that Yuli saw Julia as competition. He was very accustomed to having to fight for attention in the orphanage so he would constantly push Julia away, especially if she was hugging Rob or myself. Now, they chase each other around the house laughing all the way. If he sees Julia hugging or kissing me or Rob, he simply runs up and joins in the fun. Don't get me wrong. It is not always a bed of roses with those two, but their relationship has definitely improved by leaps and bounds.

My relationship with Yuli has also steadily improved, especially over the last few weeks. We have had several bumps in the road, but I feel that we have finally turned a corner with our bonding. In the beginning, Yuli would always want me to pick him up, but then he would immediately ask me to put him down. He wanted affection, but he always wanted it on his terms. He would kiss and hug me, but he did not always want me to hug or kiss him. If he let me hold him for more than a minute, he would never get comfortable enough to lay his head down on my shoulders. His head and body would always be stiff as he was on high alert. Over time this has changed dramatically. This last month he began laying his head down on my shoulders and almost going to sleep in my arms as I rubbed his back. He now wants me to hold him, and he fights to stay in my arms rather than let me put him down (which I need to do sometimes because my little guy is not so little anymore). One of the biggest changes in this regard, came only two nights ago. Yuli came home from school and seemed like he could be getting sick. He did not want to eat or drink. He just wanted Mommy to hold him, and I did just that. I held him for the longest time as he lay in my lap on the couch. He let me stroke his hair and comfort him. He even held my hand. I loved that time with my son, and I never wanted that moment to end.

Yuli and Mommy at a Christmas party with friends
What else do I love about being Yuli's mom? I love tucking him in every night and having him beg for more hugs and kisses, which I happily oblige. I love hearing my son's excited voice as he returns from his first Christmas party and shows me all the neat things he got or made. I love seeing his smiling face first thing in the morning as he walks down the stairs to climb in bed with me and Rob. And, I love that my little boy sings all the time. "Jingle  Bells" seems to be his current favorite!

Julia, Santa and Yuli

Daddy loves Yuli's Jingle Bell Rocker shirt!
These first six months have been a mixture of joy and sadness, but I would not change a thing. The next six months will also probably have moments of frustration and moments of immeasurable happiness. That is the nature of life, especially the life of a parent.  My job is to live in the moment and enjoy every success Yuli has and to also be there to wipe away the tears and comfort him in the moments of grief. So please stay tuned for our future adventures!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Changes and progress

Seven weeks ago, Rob and I were in Bulgaria with Julia to get our son Yuli and bring him home.  I can't believe that we have been home over six weeks, and I am constantly amazed at how many things have changed where Yuli is concerned in the short time that we have been home.

Rob holding Yuli when we arrived at the airport in Nashville

Yuli at Rob's office working on being a medical coder like Daddy

I have to admit that the first four weeks at home were difficult, but not for the reasons that we had prepared long and hard for after our first visit to Bulgaria. When we had shown video of Yuli to several adoption specialists after our first trip in December, the specialists were all in agreement that Yuli had great potential, but that it was going to be a difficult road because of his developmental delays, the orphanage behaviors that he had acquired, his inability to give any eye contact, and the way he did not want Rob and I to touch him.

Well, what we brought home was a child who gives more and more eye contact every day, who loves to be hugged and kissed, who loves to give hugs and kisses, and a child who does not like Mommy to put him down some days.  So, how was this difficult? He also did not want Mommy more than an inch away from him for the first four weeks and would sometimes wrap his arms around my leg if I were to put him down for a minute. As you can imagine, this would cause difficulty if Mommy wanted a shower or needed to be alone in the bathroom for other reasons. Yuli would also want to be halfway in my my lap and halfway in his chair while eating a meal or a snack. He would wolf down his food and then would either start grabbing my food or pointing and touching all of my food to let me know that he wanted to eat it as well.

Food was also an issue if we had visitors in our home, if we were at a restaurant, or if we decided to visit family or friends. Yuli would finish his food and then go to the nearest person who was still eating and start pointing or grabbing their food. Keep in mind, that this would happen even if Yuli had eaten three meals that day and three snacks. When visiting my sister or Rob's parents, he would also try and open all of their cabinets and the fridge immediately upon arrival to determine where the food was and if he could have it. If I so much as entered the kitchen for any reason, he wanted something to eat.

I realized that our son's behavior in regard to food was typical for many children who had lived a significant portion of their lives in an orphanage. I also knew that I needed to help Yuli to understand that food was always going to be available to him while at the same time trying to help him understand what a full tummy feels like.  We were told by our translator in Bulgaria that the food was rationed at Yuli's orphanage to make sure that there was enough to go around. Because of this, Yuli would literally eat until he was sick if Rob and I let him since he felt as if he did not know when his next meal was coming nor did he understand the concept of a full belly.

I am happy to report that our little boy now is beginning to understand that there will always be food at our house and that he will never go hungry. I keep healthy snacks such as bananas and other fruit on the kitchen counter and readily available to him throughout the day. He also gets to look inside the fridge and the pantry several times a day to see the food that is stored there. I have also tried to make his meals with fiber dense foods so that he will begin to understand the concept of satiety. At most meals, he still cleans his plate, but several times recently he has decided that he had enough and pushed his plate away after declaring to me "all done."  In the beginning, he would also eat anything. This is no longer true as well. Green beans and broccoli are on his "I don't like that" list as well as carrots. It's funny how progress looks sometimes isn't it? Who would have ever thought that disliking a food was a good thing?

When we are eating dinner at home or elsewhere, he will usually eat his own food and not worry about anyone else's food. If he wants more of a food, he will get my attention and say "more." If I feel he has had more than enough, I might say "no" to his request or offer him a healthier option like fruit if he is asking for something not as healthy such as more mac'n cheese. If he declines the fruit, then I have a pretty good idea that he is no longer hungry. So, what is the little man's favorite food? I would have to say bananas. He eats at least two a day on most days and would eat three if I would let him.

Besides food, another issue that we have had to deal with in regards to Yuli has been the way he reacts to strangers. When our adoption agency coordinator came to our home for our first post-placement visit, Yuli immediately ran to her and threw his arms around her leg trying to hug and kiss her. He had never met her before. She was a complete stranger to him, yet he was trying to be affectionate with her in a way that was only appropriate for Mommy and Daddy. Our coordinator took his hand and pulled him away from her and then led him over to me. As she did this, she told Yuli that she was not his momma and that I was his momma. She then told me that this was an issue that I would be working on with him for the next several months, which I had already determined.

Since that time, when Yuli meets a person that is a stranger to him, I ask him to shake hands with the person and to say "hello." We also talk about how hugs are for Mommy, Daddy and Julia and not strangers. Sometimes, I can tell when a visitor is over to our house that he is wanting to get in their lap and snatch a hug. He will begin to stand very close to them and then begin inching ever closer. When he does this, I simply pick him up and put  him in my lap for a hug and kiss from Mommy. At that moment, he gets what he needs from me, begins smiling and goes on his merry way.

The innapropriate contact with a stranger situation is definitely much easier to control in one's own home than when the family is out and about. Two weeks ago, I took both kids to the local Stride Rite store to get them fitted for new shoes. The sales associate at the store was bent down on one knee measuring Julia's foot. At this moment, Yuli jumped off of his seat and before I knew what was happening had his arms wrapped around the sales associate giving her a hug and patting her chest with his hand. After picking up my jaw and being slightly mortified, I pulled Yuli away and sat him on my lap to hug him and again go through our discussion about hugging strangers. This is a difficult lesson to teach a four year old who acts like a two year old and who has a limited English vocabulary, but I am doing my best.

I think my father-in-law described it best when he told my mother-in-law that Yuli knows that hugs and kisses feel good to him. Therefore, when Yuli decides he wants to feel that feeling again, he will try to get it from the closest available human to him, even if it is a perfect stranger. My father-in-law is right. Yuli has a need to be held and touched. He was very deprived of touch at the orphanage. However, he now has a Mommy and Daddy, as well as a sister, to fill up his love bucket anytime he wants to be hugged or kissed. Hugs are for Mommy, Daddy and Julia!

The stranger situation is improving, day by day and week by week. The more stranger practice we get to have with Yuli the better the situation gets.  Also, as he becomes more attached to me and Rob, he does not seek out others to fulfill his need for love. When we go to church now, he will give someone a high five or shake their hand, but he does not try to jump in their arms for a hug. Gotta love progress!

Other things that have changed have to do with water. Remember how Yuli hated to take a bath while we were in Bulgaria and usually stood up and cried in the bath water for the whole event? Well, now he loves taking a bath, sit downs while in the tub, and even enjoys splashing in the water. Sometimes, he will still cry and whine a little when is hair is getting washed, but what young child enjoys having their hair washed! He has also discovered that taking a shower with Daddy can be fun. The biggest surprise, however, is that he loves the pool! Rob and Julia take Yuli to our neighborhood pool several times a week, and sometimes, he will go get his swimming trunks and wait by the door to let them know that he wants to go to the pool.

Julia and Yuli ready to swimming in the pool

Julia and Yuli playing in the fountain outside the mall

Well folks, that is all that I have time for right now as my little man just woke up from his afternoon nap and wants to proudly show me where his belly button is on his little tummy. He is too funny!

Yuli sitting in my lap watching as I type up the latest blog post (still a little sleepy from his nap)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Has it really been a week?

It's hard to believe that we have only been home a week. It really does seem like much longer, but our flight arrived in Nashville a week ago Saturday at 9:35 p.m. We had a wonderful group of family and close friends who stayed up late and drove to the airport to meet us. What a wonderful sight! Yuli got to meet his grandparents (Rob's mom and dad), his Aunt Trina, Aunt Elizabeth, Uncle Luke, two of his cousins and of course, Uncle Corey who came to pick us up and drive us home. While we were waiting on our luggage, Rob's dad sat on the floor in the baggage claim area, and Yuli decided that he would sit in Grandpa's lap for a minute. This made Grandpa very happy, and Yuli gave Grandpa a big smile.

That is how it has been for the most part since we have been home. Our little guy smiles all the time. He is happy and singing in the morning when he wakes up. He has become very cuddly and wants to be held or hugged all the time. He is even learning to give kisses. Yesterday at lunch, he pulled my face down to his and gave me a sweet little smooch.

Sometimes, I think that adjustment has been harder for me and Rob than it has been for him. Julia is eight years old so it has been a while since we had a toddler, especially a toddler who is fascinated by everything from light switches, to doors opening and closing, to the toilet flushing. With Julia, we were eased into the toddler world as she grew, but with Yuli, we have been thrown into the arena of a toddler who Rob likes to joke is on steroids. He wants to open everything, see everything, do everything, but he also wants all of this to happen with Mommy in his eyesight. He follows me from room to room and is usually right next to me -- underfoot so to speak. If I open a cabinet door, he wants to see what is in the cabinet. If I shut the cabinet door, he reopens it and then shuts the door himself.

Yuli also thinks that every time I go into the kitchen I must feed him. Sometimes, he will pull me into the kitchen and point at a box of cereal on the counter to let me know that he wants some. Rob and I have to be very careful that he does not overeat. We were told that the orphanage "rationed" the children's food so Yuli probably went hungry a lot. His natural awareness of when he is full or satiated was done away with because of the rationing. He could literally eat more than Rob and I both if we let him. He especially loves mashed potatoes so I have added that to weekly menu items. Julia does not care for them so we rarely ever ate them until Yuli arrived. We discovered his affinity for them while we were in Bulgaria and eating dinner at Pizza Roma. The potato puree (mashed potatoes) was one of the only soft things on the menu so I knew that he could eat them. At any rate, let's just say my boy has a healthy appetite.

Yuli enjoying the swing at the park

This week will be a busy week for our family as Rob returns to work, and we have our first post placement visit on Tuesday.  We will also have Yuli's first trip to the pediatrician on Thursday. I have been told that our visit to the doctor will be over two hours long. I should probably bring snacks to keep my hungry little man occupied!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Last full day in Bulgaria and then time to pack

Friday was our last full day in Bulgaria so we tried to get up and out of the apartment early to wander the streets of Sofia one more time. After breakfast and baths for the kids (Yuli still hates having his hair washed), we headed down the street to a quaint art shop near our apartment that we had been passing daily on our walks. There were several pieces of beautiful pottery in the window and some other items that had caught our eye. However, we did not stay long in the store as the prices were extremely high. We decided to try and hit the underground shopping area near the subway later if we could because the prices on the pottery there were much better.

After leaving the art shop, we headed down Vitosha Boulevard again. Vitosha is a great place to do window shopping because there are so many stores and so many interesting places to see. On a previous day, we had seen a really interesting children's store, but we could not go in that day because they were closing. Now, they were open. We went in and found lots of cute clothes and fun toys for the kids, but I resisted the temptation. Well, almost. They had Ben 10 crocs in Yuli size, and the sandals I had bought at Target were just a little too big on him. How could I not get him a pair? Julia also found a most precious stuffed baby snow leopard. It only seemed appropriate to buy it for her since we had been watching Animal Planet at bedtime all week (It was one of only two English channels on our TV).

We also had lunch while we were out. Julia had to have McDonalds again because she wanted another Kung Fu Panda toy, and Yuli seems to really enjoy the french fries. After lunch, we all decided to head back to the apartment and to put Yuli down for a nap. It was also in the 90s that day with no wind. I know all of you Southerners are saying well it probably felt like home. Yes, it did which is why we wanted the air conditioning in the apartment and a nice cold glass of mineral water that had been chilling in the fridge.

While Yuli was down for his nap, I started packing for our flight home on Saturday. Rob and I also decided to try and wash a couple of loads of clothes. This is an adventure within itself. The apartment has what is called a combo washer and dryer, which is basically a washer and dryer that is one unit. It is about the size of a washing machine that you would find in a stackable washer and dryer here in the states or maybe smaller. All, I know is that it only holds about 4 towels and is supposed to dry the clothes after the wash cycle using heated condensation rather than hot air as in the dryers in the U.S. This combo washer and dryer is usually found in the kitchen in many European apartments, and it takes up the space next to the sink where we would normally put a dishwasher. And, just in case you are wondering, there was no dishwasher in the apartment unless you count me. We also did not have a stove...only a microwave that had a grill feature. This made cooking a frozen vegetarian pizza one night very interesting. At any rate, we got the washing machine going, but we could never figure out the dryer feature so we just used a drying rack and put it out on the little terrace outside the kitchen.

While we were continuing to pack, our translator and driver Petkco called to say that he was about to come by the apartment to bring Yuli's passport, visa and other documents, including the court decree and the Yuli's new birth certificate. After he arrived, he went over each of the documents in our packet. Something interesting that Rob and I found out that day was that Yuli's original birth certificate was destroyed when Bulgaria issued the new birth certificate with mine and Rob's name on it. For some reason, this made me a little sad. Rob and I owe his birth mother so much. She gave us a precious gift, and I did not want her memory to be erased. I also thought about Yuli. Some day, he might want to find her or his sibling, and with the birth certificate being destroyed, this would be difficult.

Petko also gave us a packet of documents that we were to take with us to the United States and which were to remain unopened until they were given to an immigration official at the airport in Newark when we landed. Petko must have told us three times to not let any of the documents out of our sight, especially the immigration packet. He also told us to have the court decree ready when we got to Passport Control at the Sofia Airport because the agent would probably ask for it in addition to Yuli's passport. Rob and I assured him that we understood and then he left after telling us he would be by in the morning to take us to the airport.

By that time, Yuli was up from his nap and hungry as usual. We decided to head down to Pizza Roma for one last hurrah. Rob and I again decided to try something different. Rob got the chicken shaslik, which was large pieces of grilled chicken and vegetables grilled on a skewer. I chose a dish that translated into English was a vegetable satche

After dinner, we said farewell to our two wonderful servers who had been so nice to us all week and then headed back down Vitosha to exchange our Bulgarian Lev back to USD. Most of the exchange places stay open all night, but all of the shops close up at 8:00 p.m. So, after we exchanged our money, we headed back to the apartment to finish packing and get a certain little four year old in the bed. We were all going to have a big day on Saturday, especially Yuli.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two very busy days

Wednesday and Thursday have gone by rather quickly and have been very busy for me and Rob as we are now the parents of two. We have quickly gotten into sort of a schedule here in Bulgaria, which works out rather nicely for everyone. Meals times are rather consistent as is nap time and bed time. Yuli is responding very well to the routine and seems more than willing to go with the flow if need be.

Yuli also continues to amaze us as each day he shows us that he is understanding more of what we are saying and as he shows us how much he truly can do. After finishing each meal, he wipes his mouth and hands me his spoon and bowl without me having to ask him. His big sister could learn a thing or two here. He is also able to put on his own clothes with little or no help from me or Rob (he actually prefers to do it himself) and will put his pajamas away in the drawer each morning without me asking. In orphanage terms, he has very good self-care skills. In mommy terms, he could be the perfect toddler :)

He is getting better with baths as of today and has stopped crying almost completely at bathtime. He really only fusses when Rob rinses the shampoo out of his hair. He does not like the water running over his head and onto his face or in his eyes, but what four year old does? He is also getting good at brushing his teeth with a little help from Daddy. Big sister also lends a hand as she brushes her teeth next to him as he stands in a chair at the sink. She wants to be a good example for her little brother. That's my girl!

Last night, Rob, Julia, Yuli and myself left the apartment to have dinner and explore the other end of Vitosha Boulevard. It's amazing how many different shops from clothing to shoes to jewelry are crammed on this long stretch of road. There are also tons of interesting restaurants, including sushi bars, cafes, and several pastry shops and gelato stands. Apparently, the whole family was in need of a sweet treat after dinner so we went to a pastry shop where I picked up some delicious looking fruit-filled cookies then Rob and Julia got gelato from a nearby stand. They made sure to get three spoons because we knew a certain little guy would want a taste. Julia got strawberry flavored,and Rob got some type of melon flavored gelato, which Yuli absolutely loved. He would have eaten all of Julia's gelato and Daddy's as well if I would have let him.

After our treat, we picked up some donuts at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast in the morning and then we decided to call it a night as the kids were getting tired. We also knew that today was going to be a big day as we had our interview scheduled at the U.S. Embassy.

Our driver came and picked us up for our Embassy interview around 1:15 today, and this time, Yuli was not afraid of the car. He tried to get into the car himself without my help. On the way to the interview, he sat in my lap smiling as Rob and I chatted with our friends who also had their Embassy interview scheduled today.

Security is very tight at the Embassy, and we were told to leave all of our cell phones and cameras in the car. Apparently, we were not supposed to bring any liquids in either. Our friends had a sippy cup full of water for their daughter in their backpack and were asked to remove the sippy cup and drink the water. Yuli had a small sippy cup in the backpack that Rob was carrying, but security did not stop Rob. We are not sure why the inconsistency with the security. We also had a bottle full of bubbles in the backpack, which we had forgotten about but somehow it too made it through security without a problem.

Once inside the Embassy, we sat in a large waiting area until our name was called. We had to present our passports and then answer a few questions. Actually, we only answered one question. "Are you about ready for this process to be over with?" Our answer, "Yes!" Rob signed another document and then as quickly as the interview started it was finished. Our driver took us back to our apartment and informed us that he would pick up Yuli's passport and visa tomorrow at the Embassy and then bring it to us late tomorrow afternoon.

We then put Yuli down for a nap and spent the next few hours relaxing ourselves on the computer and then watching a little Animal Planet on the TV. It's one of the few channels that we get in English. Yuli woke up about 6:00 p.m., and we decided to head out to dinner at a restaurant recommended by a friend. Unfortunately, we left the directions to the restaurant at home in the states and the Internet was not much help. Rob thought it was only a few blocks over (that's what our translator had said), but we never found it. Since we were starving, we headed back to Pizza Roma, which is only a block from the apartment.

At Pizza Roma, Julia had pizza again while Rob and I ventured out a little more on the food choices. Rob tried a ham, mushroom and cheese omelet that is baked in the oven, and I had a yummy salad and pork shaslik, which is pork and grilled vegetables on a large metal skewer with fresh lemons to squeeze on top for more flavor. It was delicious!

Now, we are back at the apartment. Yuli has had his bath and has gone to bed with his stuffed puppy that plays lullabies. The rest of us are relaxing in the family room. Tomorrow is our last day in Bulgaria so we are going to bed early tonight in order to get up early and enjoy the experience. We are hoping to get some souvenir shopping and some more sight seeing in tomorrow. And, we are also hoping that our little boy wakes up again with a smile on his face and a hug for mommy and daddy like when we put him to bed tonight.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What happened to that sad little boy?

What happened to the sad little boy from Monday? He turned into the kid with all smiles and lots of laughter on Tuesday. In less than 24 hours, Rob and I had a different child. I went into his room on Tuesday morning to get him up, and he just smiled at me. I then led him into the kitchen while I made oatmeal for everyone. Yuli ate all of his oatmeal and part of Rob's. Our little guy was starving.

After breakfast and a little play time in the apartment, we decided to meet our friends at the mall in Sofia for a little shopping, some lunch, and a trip to the grocery in the mall. The mall is about a 20-25 minute walk from our apartment, but it felt a little longer as our little guy is not a speed walker and has very tiny legs. I was beginning to wish that I had brought an umbrella stroller for the trip.

When we finally arrived at the mall, everyone was hungry so we decided to head to the food court on one of the upper floors of the mall. We came up to an escalator, which I imagined that Yuli would be frightened of but he stepped right on. However, we weren't so lucky on the next level. He was scared so Rob held him the rest of the way up. Julia was very frightened of escalators when she was smaller so this was nothing new.

Speaking of Julia, she saw the McDonald's sign and immediately informed us of where she wanted to eat. We hardly ever go there while we are home, but it was something familiar and sometimes that is what you need when you are in a foreign country.  Actually, anything at that moment sounded good to me since I had Amy's instant organic mac n' cheese for dinner the night before so Rob ordered a cheeseburger and fries for me as well. I then discovered that Yuli likes french fries with ketchup. He ate half of my order and drank some orange juice.

We then looked around the mall for a bit. At first, Yuli was afraid to go in any of the stores, but that dissipated after a while as he followed Rob into an electronics store. Yes, we are thousands of miles from home, but Rob managed to find the Bulgarian version of Best Buy.

After the electronics store, we went to the bottom floor of the mall to the grocery store. I stocked up on produce and food for Yuli such as apple sauce. It can be challenging deciding what to give him to eat since his palate is not repaired. I also chose some yogurt mixed with fruit. While we were in the grocery store, Yuli had his first ride in a grocery cart. I think that he really enjoyed it. The only problem with buying so much yummy stuff at the grocery is that we had to lug it back with us to the apartment, and we were almost a half an hour away.

Once we got back to the apartment, we tried to get Yuli down for a nap. He laid down with Rob, but he never fell asleep. However, Daddy did! After Rob got up from his nap, we all played for a while in the family room. Yuli likes to bounce balloons around the apartment. He also likes to color. We just had to make sure that he colored only on the paper. The coutch got a new tint of blue once when we weren't looking so thank goodness for washable crayons.

We then met up with our friends again at Pizza Roma, and I realized that Yuli truly would eat anything that I gave him. He loved the Bulgarian feta on my Greek salad, and he even ate one of my black olives after I cut it into small pieces. Previous to this meal, I was having to feed him, but he decided after watching our friend's daughter use a spoon to show me and Rob that he did know how to feed himself afterall. I praised him for his efforts so hopefully he will begin to show me more of his self-care skills that the orphanage taught him.

We then headed down Vitosha Boulevard in search of a pastry shop for dessert. Apparently, we had gone in the wrong direction, but by this time the kids were getting tired so we decided to call it a night. We headed home, gave Yuli a bath (which he still does not like) and put him to bed. Rob, Julia and I then decided to stay up and watch a movie. I paid for that decision this morning when a little four year old came into my room about 8:00 a.m. to wake me up. And again, he was smiling.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gotcha Day

We left Sofia around 8:00 this morning and headed to Pleven to the orphanage to get Yuli (Aleksandar). Our friends from our first trip to Pleven in December were with us again and headed to another orphanage to get their daughter. We arrived in Pleven a little over two hours later (usually a three hour drive) and went to Yuli's orphanage first.

Our translator, Petko, took us to the second floor where we met the director and went over some paper work that we needed to sign before they brought Yuli in to the room. A few minutes later, he appeared and was smiling. I do think that he remembered us, especially when Rob got down on the floor and began playing with a little nerf ball that we had brought for him. Julia quickly joined in on the fun.

We were able to ask the director a few questions regarding his care and then it was time to go. The director and Rob led Yuli down the stairs and toward the door. The smile quickly turned to a frown as our little guy realized that we were leaving and he did not want to go. Tears quickly followed as his main caregiver ran out to kiss him and tell him goodbye. He really became upset after that and finally I just took him from the director and carried him to the car. He became calm for a few minutes and then began crying again as soon as the car started to leave the parking lot. On the way to the other orphanage, he would cry periodically, but he finally settled down as we neared the building.

While our friends were in getting their daughter, we took Yuli for a walk around the building. The orphanage where our friend's daughter was at was also the same orphanage that Yuli spent the first three years of his life. We wondered if he would remember it or not. We soon got an answer to that question when we met two women on the sidewalk who were walking two children back to the orphange stopped and asked us if this was Yuli. I said "yes" and the women were very excited. A few minutes later, Yuli pulled my hand trying to get me to take him up to the stairs into the orphanage. I think he might have thought that we were bringing him back there.

A few minutes later our friends came out with their daughter and then we were on our way back to Sofia. Yuli was very quiet as he sat in my lap, but a few silent tears fell as he lay his head against my chest. He later fell asleep for part of the drive. When he woke up he seemed a little agitated, and I quickly learned why. He needed to go potty, but he did not know how to tell me so we had our first accident in the car. Luckily, I had brought some pull-ups, so our driver pulled over and I changed Yuli clothes and put the pull-ups on. He is supposedly potty trained, but I don't know if we will put in big boy underwear for the rest of the week since we are not sure when he needs to go.

When we arrived in Sofia, our first stop was the police station where Yuli had his picture made for his passport. After that we went to see a pediatrician who gave Yuli a checkup. He did very well at both of these appointments considering that we had to wait a lot at both places. He is truly a very calm little boy for the most part. As we waited for our driver to return, we took Yuli downstairs and got him some juice at a little store in the medical building. He did not want to drink from the straw out of the juicebox so we asked for a cup. He drank the whole cup! It takes a while for him to drink because of his palate issues, but I am hoping that will be repaired soon after we get back to the states.

After this, our driver took us back to our apartment where Yuli ate some Gerber yogurt snacks. He really loves the strawberry ones. Then he went down for a nap. We are hoping he sleeps throught the night since he did not get to nap until almost 6:00 p.m.

Rob, Julia and I then had some macaroni and cheese that I had brought from the states. We are all exhausted so I think we are going to turn in for the night as well.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We are here!

We arrived in Sofia today around 1:00 p.m. Our translator met us at the airport and then drove us to our apartment which is in the city center. We have a really nice apartment this time with two bedrooms, an American style bath complete with a tub, and a roomy kitchen that has a small terrace overlooking the street. There is a grocery in the downstairs of the building next door, which is very convenient, and Pizza Roma, a favorite destination, from our first trip to Bulgaria is right down the street.

We had dinner at Pizza Roma tonight, and we are going to be early as our driver is picking us up around 8:00 a.m to drive to Pleven to get Yuli (Aleksandar). It is shaping up to be a long day. The drive to Pleven is about three hours. After we get Yuli at the orphanage, we will drive back to Sofia and then we will go to Yuli's passport appointment and finally his medical appointment.

We are praying tonight that God had prepared our son for his new family and that this transition will go well.

Hopefully, I will get some time to post some pictures of our apartment and the area tomorrow, and of course, our newest family member!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Let the packing begin!

We finalized our travel arrangements last week for our second trip to Bulgaria, including the purchase of our plane tickets. Julia's passport arrived last Monday so we were happy we could move quickly with getting the airline tickets once our travel dates were confirmed. Now, we begin what adopting families do best which is counting the days until we leave for Sofia, Bulgaria.

We are very excited that our friends that we met on our first trip will also be traveling on the same dates as we are to Pleven to pick up their daughter. I am hoping that Vesta rents a van this time to take the five of us up into the mountains and then bring the seven of us back down to Sofia. I can't imagine all of us fitting in our driver's compact car again. We definitely would be like a pack of sardines.

This week is going to be very busy for me as I begin making the lists of things to do prior to the trip, buying any items that we will need while in country, and of course, packing! Today, I begin washing all the adorable clothes for our little boy that we received at our recent shower held at our church (pictures from this event should be forthcoming soon) and picking out what toys to take for both our son and Julia.

I also need to call Julia's pediatrician and set up the appointment for our son after our arrival home. I understand it will be a lengthy appointment, and we will have much to discuss. However, I am going to try and schedule it for several weeks after we are home as I would like to give our family and our son some time to adjust to what is going to become our new normal.

Our little boy's room is also coming together nicely as we were able to purchase a headboard and rails and a new nightstand for him last week. Now, I need to wash the sheets and put the rest of his bedding on his new bed. Did I mention it is in an airplane theme? Very cute! I also have some nice plaques that I am going to put  up in his room which spell out his name. And, finally whatever else I need, I am sure that Target will have. Rob and I received several Target gift cards at our shower, and I intend on putting them to good use. I will definitely post pics of the room when it is finished.

I still can't believe that this part of the journey is almost at an end, and the most exciting part which is having our son home is about to begin! Twenty-five days and counting until we see you again Yuli Aleksandar Pachciarz!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Amazing news from Bulgaria!

As you might have surmised from my last post, we have been trying to find out any information in regard to our court date in Bulgaria. Our documents had been at the courts for over four weeks so we knew that we probably already had a court date scheduled in the near future. We just did not know exactly what day it was.

Our coordinator from our agency called me yesterday around noon to say she had some news from Bulgaria. Then she asked me if I was driving or was I at home. When she had called back in November to say that Rob and I were finally going to meet our son, I almost drove off the road in my excitement. I have limited my cell phone usage in transit ever since. I told her that I was working from home and not behind the wheel. She then told me that she had some news that would knock my socks off. I sat down on the sofa as my heart raced wondering what the news could be. And, then it came.

Vesta had emailed our agency that morning to say we had a court date. As a matter of fact, we had already had our court date, passed court and were now legally Aleksandar's parents! Vesta also stated that Aleksandar's birth certificate was being re-issued with mine and Rob's names on it as his parents! And, oh by the way, can we travel in TWO WEEKS?

I was speechless to say the least. After 15 months of waiting, Rob and I were parents again!

Please watch the video to see our precious little boy - Yuli Aleksandar Pachciarz!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The questions I cannot answer

It's been a while since I have posted anything, but I am afraid that could not be helped. Several times I wanted to write something, but in the end, the thought of trying to put my feelings into words seemed too overwhelming. It has been a little over five months since we saw Aleksandar in Bulgaria, and as of today, we still have no confirmed court date or travel dates.

Some days I am fine with that knowledge as I tell myself that God is using this time to prepare us for the new addition to our family. At other times, my feelings are much different. Emotions begin to build up inside of me and swirl and change like the tide. One minute, I am sad because I know I am missing time with my son. A few minutes later, I am fearful that something has gone wrong with our paperwork. In the same instant, I am also anxious about the future and what it holds for my growing family.

These feelings have been compounded over the last week as Rob and I have been trying to get new information from our agency regarding our documents that are supposedly at the Bulgarian courts in Sofia. Our caseworker called today about this, and unfortunately I was covering a state House of Representatives hearing for my job and could not take the call. After listening to the message that our caseworker left on my voicemail, I was in no better state of mind. She stated that she had not been able to get any info from Bulgaria in the last week, but she said that she sent another email requesting information today. She then asked on the voicemail, if Rob and I had received our I-800 approval yet. This shocked me as we had received it February 28th of this year, and she had also received a copy because she told me so over the phone in February. She then went on to say that she wanted me to give her a call and let her know how we were doing as this part of the journey can be a particularly trying time for adoptive parents. No truer words were ever spoken.

Sadly, by the time I received the message, our caseworker had already left the office for the day to do a home study. However, I know that she checks her email regularly so I plan on sending her an email tonight and following up with a phone call when she is back in the office on Thursday. Hopefully, Rob and I will have some answers by the end of this week if not sooner.

I remember reading another adoptive mom's blog not long ago who was at the point in the journey where Rob and I are now. She posted how she could not bear for people (albeit well meaning people) to keep asking her what was going on with the adoption and when was she going to get to bring her daughter home. She did not have the answers to their questions. She did not know her court date. She did not know when they would travel again to Bulgaria to get their daughter. I remember how my heart ached for her after reading that post. I now fully understand what she was saying.

On one hand, I want people to ask me about Aleksandar and how our adoption is going. I want to share our story so that others might consider the blessing that this journey brings. On the other hand, I cannot answer the questions regarding the court date and travel, and sometimes it is painful because I do not have the answers...because I so desperately want to know the answers. So, if I tear up a little when you ask, please forgive me. My heart is full of love and longing for my son, and my impatient, logical thinking mind wants dates on a calendar so we can begin counting the days until we see Aleksandar again. Here's praying for some good news this week.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Great surprise from our agency

This week has been full of surprises and more blessings. The best happened on Thursday when we received an email update from our agency on the progress of our adoption. The email included over ten new photos of our son taken this week by Vesta, and several of the photos had Aleksandar holding the family photo album that we sent him over a month ago. He was smiling in several of the photos, and it appears that he has actually gained some weight since Rob and I saw him in December.  All of this made me and Rob very  happy. I wish so much that I could share his photos with you, but until he is legally ours in court that is not possible. However, with a little luck that will not be much longer.

Our agency also informed us that our dossier has been sent to the courts so we should be getting a court date in the near future. This was good news as well as we had no idea what was happening with our case in Bulgaria since we received our provisional I-800 approval over six weeks ago. If we can get a court date before the end of April, we would still have a good shot at traveling sometime in June. This is would definitely be my preference rather than July as I have been scouting out the airline sites for prices on flights in June and July. June is bad enough at around $1,600 per ticket, but the July prices are even worse at around $1,900 per ticket. Of course, travel in June would also mean we get to bring Aleksandar home sooner!

Our agency also informed us of some new training requirements that they have instituted since we started the process. There were three new training requirements for families adopting internationally, but Rob and I will only be required to meet the final one since we are so far along in the process. This new training will center around the needs of our specific child, which I think is a great thing for our agency to offer. I can't say enough good things about our agency, Bethany Christian Services. We would definitely use them again.

Bethany also gave us some good news this week in the form of a bill, believe it or not. We received the bill for the remainder of our Bulgarian fees which was in Euros. With the exchange rate on Friday, our bill was significantly less than we had anticipated.  I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on the financial end of this process. Once we pay this bill, we just need to have enough money to pay for our travel, which includes 3 round trip tickets to Bulgaria, one one-way ticket to the US for Aleksandar, our apartment in Bulgaria, and money for meals, etc. while we are in Bulgaria. We have a great head start on this as well, since Aleksandar had a $5,000 grant attached to his file on the waiting children's list to be used for travel for the family who chose to adopt him.

Speaking of travel, Julia is very excited today because Rob and I are taking her to the post office near the airport in Nashville today to get her picture made for her passport. She is so excited about meeting her little brother that she would hop on a plane today if she could.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blessings and salsa

Our yard sale was a success! We raised about $400 to put towards the adoption in about three hours. Thank you so much to the friends and family who donated items to the sale and who helped price items for the sale on Friday night. We could not have done it without you! I want to say a special thank you to our friends, Jeff and Lisa, who drove a long way to come to our sale and brought beautiful handmade necklaces and bracelets (courtesy of Lisa) which they donated to the sale. We were very touched by your generosity and kindness.

With the success of our yard sale and an anonymous donation from someone at our church last week, we have blown the top off of our adoption fundraiser thermometer. Prayers have truly been answered. I remember reading a story on another Bulgarian adoption blog about a family needing more funds to pay for their travel and how a young man came to their door one day and said that God had told him to give them some money. The amount was what they needed and when they needed it.  I remember thinking then that this family had great faith and that the young man had not only great faith but a strong desire to follow God's will. However, I never dreamed that Rob and I would be the recipients of a similar donation. Yet, that is exactly what happened last week when the anonymous donation came in to our church. We are extremely grateful to this unknown person for their generosity and kindness towards us and our son. I know that God is blessing this person, and in turn, this person has blessed us.

While adoption can be a difficult journey fraught with a huge paper trail and endless days of waiting, it also brings untold blessings that stretch far beyond bringing your child home. Rob and I have met so many wonderful people during this process and have made several friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. Jeff and Lisa are two of those people. We met them at our first fundraiser at Chick-fil-A. They had recently come back from meeting their daughter in Bulgaria on their first trip and had heard about another family at our agency adopting from Bulgaria - us. They drove almost an hour to come to our fundraiser to give us support and to share pictures, stories and information about their first trip.

I have also gotten to know several people through the wonderful world of blogs that I probably would not have ever known if we had not all been blogging about our adoption journeys. These women are a great source of information and support. We are excited for each other when one of us takes another step along the way in the journey, and we encourage one another with our posts when times are difficult and the wait can seem unbearable.

And, how can I forget our friends CeAnne and Paul who we met on our first trip to Pleven, Bulgaria. I know that God put them in our lives for a reason, and I thank him for it. I can still hear CeAnne's voice over dinner at Pizza Roma in Sofia telling me that she knew that I could handle all the issues that had come up with my son while we were visiting him at the orphanage. I was having serious doubts at this point, but she explained to me that she knew Rob and I could do this because she and Paul had done this before, not once but twice. This was a great comfort to me, and she continues to be a source of inspiration.

Then there is my dear friend Kelly who in my darkest hour in our apartment in Sofia was emailing me back and forth from the states with words that I so desperately needed to hear. And, I listened because I knew that Kelly would be honest and that she would have prayerfully considered every word that she was writing to me. She is an adoptive mom herself and a friend who always gives good counsel. She is the person who I shared Aleksandar's referral papers with over dinner and helped me comb through all the medical jargon. She is the person who knew that I would decide to adopt even before I knew myself. She is also my favorite person to have dinner with and the one person I would take to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter :)

Rob and I are also members of a wonderful life group at church as well. We actually were introduced to our life group by my friend Kelly and her husband. These wonderful people have cried with us, rejoiced with us and prayed over us during this whole journey. I can't imagine making this journey without each and every one of them by our side.

Two of our friends from our life group, Celeste and Jorge, have offered to make the most amazing salsa for us to sell as a fundraiser for our adoption over the next six weeks. Trust me when I say that this salsa is the freshest and most wonderful tasting salsa that I have ever had. It will be difficult to have it in my possession and not be "tasting" it all the time. Rob feels the same way. This is such a loving and wonderful gesture from our friends and hopefully a sure fire hit. If you would like to buy a jar, please post a comment on my blog or email me. The cost is $10 per jar, and you can order mild or hot. I promise that your taste buds will thank you!

The money raised from the sale of the salsa will help pay for our apartment on our next trip to Bulgaria and our daughter Julia's plane ticket as she will be traveling with us this time. The money we have already raised will be used to pay our remaining fees and for mine, Rob and Aleksandar's plane tickets.

As you can see, we have truly been very blessed in so many ways by our adoption!

Monday, April 4, 2011

I see a yard sale in my future

In March of 2010, we began the adoption process and the pursuit of raising enough money to bring our son home from Bulgaria. The large amount of money that would be required for our adoption fees and two separate trips to Bulgaria seemed so daunting at that time. How would we come up with $36,000 in the next year? Rob and I prayed about this many times and believed because we were doing what God had called us to do that the money would be provided. He has not let us down.

Every time a fee was due, a donation would come in at the last minute to help us meet our goal. We had a  Chick-fil-A fundraiser last year, my company held a bake sale, and Rob and I had a very successful yard sale last March where items were donated to help raise money.  God also blessed my husband with a new job in August, which increased his salary beyond our expectations, and he blessed my husband again with an unexpected bonus from that new job last month. All of these things have contributed to our adoption fundraising thermometer going higher and higher.

We are now on what we hope is the final leg of this journey as we wait on our Article 5 letter and our court date in Bulgaria. We are also getting ready on Saturday, April 9th, to have what will probably be our final fundraising event before we travel to get our son. We are having another yard sale.

The yard sale date coincides with the date our subdivision has its neighborhood garage sale so we should get a lot of free advertisement and traffic for our sale from that. However, we are still trying to gather items from anyone desiring to donate to the sale. The more items we have to sell, the more money we can make towards our goal. We also need to borrow some extra tables from anyone who has some to help display items for the sale. If you can help out with any of these things, please leave a comment on my blog, and I will contact you.

It's hard to believe that we are only $3,000 away from reaching our goal. While that still sounds like a lot, it is no where near the original amount of $36,000 total that we needed to bring Aleksandar home last year. God has been good!

Here's to a successful yard sale on Saturday and hoping that the April showers stay away this weekend!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Today is my daughter Julia's eighth birthday, and it is also her last day of spring break. Rob and I decided to take the day off of work and spend it with Julia for her birthday. This included letting her decide where we should go and what we should do for the day. First, she wanted to go to Snappy Tomato for pizza and then she decided a trip to the Jumpers Playhouse for an hour of bouncing on giant inflatables sounded like fun. Rob and I gladly took her to both.

Since her birthday usually falls during spring break at her school and most of her friends are not in town, we decided to throw her a little party at the house this Sunday and invite members of our extended family. Julia has decided that this should be a birthday party for two and that I need to make two cakes on Sunday, one for her and one for Aleksandar. I agree with Julia. You see Aleksandar will be four next Wednesday, March 30th. I am saddened that Aleksandar will spend another birthday without his family, but I am hopeful that this birthday will be the last one in which we will not be together. There will be a place at the table for him on Sunday as if he were here because he is here in our hearts. I will bake him cake and place four candles on it, and I will let his big sister blow them out for him and make a wish. However, I already know what her wish will be. It will be the same as her bedtime prayer every night...."Dear God, please let my brother come home soon." Yes, Dear God, please let us our little boy come home soon.

It seems like so long since I have seen my little boy's face. I would give anything for an updated picture or some news of his progress, but I know until our adoption has been finalized that will probably not happen. I have asked repeatedly. The director at his orphanage is very strict or at least that is what I was told while we were in country. I was also told that she would not reply to an email from us so Rob and I have labored for three and half months without any news. I remain hopeful that we will hear some news regarding Aleksandar's surgery next month. He is scheduled to have the hole in his palate repaired again. I am praying that he will not be left alone at the hospital this time as he has been for his previous three surgeries. I am also praying that the surgery will be successful this time and that he will heal quickly. Lastly, I am praying that he has not forgotten Mommy and Daddy. Hopefully, he received the photo album that we sent him a few weeks ago, and the pictures will remind him of the two people who have loved him from the first time they saw him and longed for him ever since.

On Sunday, I am going to get out our videos of Aleksandar from our first trip and watch them in honor of his special day. Happy Birthday Aleksandar!

Monday, February 28, 2011

USCIS approved!

I was speeding home from work as usual on a rainy and cold Monday afternoon to pick up Julia and get her ready for her karate class tonight. The last thing on my mind was the possibility that the USCIS provisional approval for our I-800 might actually be waiting for me in our mailbox. But, there tucked in the middle of the junk mail and bills was the letter for which we have anxiously been waiting over the last three or so weeks. Funny, it seems longer. I had barely opened the envelope when Rob arrived home, and I could not contain my excitement as I showed it to him. It was finally here!

Earlier in the day, I had driven to our adoption agency on my lunch break to give them the notarized and apostilled copies of our new medicals and our latest local criminal background checks. I also included a few things for Aleksandar to be sent on to Bulgaria as Vesta has promised to get them to him. All in all, it was a good day on our adoption journey. I realize that another long period of waiting on a court date is now ahead of us, but  for the moment, I am enjoying the progress that we made today.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One step closer

Last week, I had our medicals updated for Bulgaria and then notarized at our doctor's office before I left the building. This process took five minutes. I had actually expected it to take much longer since the original medicals that we had done for our dossier took over a month to get completed due to the fact that mistakes were made (meaning there had to be a do over) and it was difficult to get our doctor who is very busy together with the notary.

Today, we went to our local police department to get our criminal background checks updated. When we did this last year for our home study, the process took five minutes. Today, the process took most of the day. I had contacted our local police department yesterday to make sure that we could get the background checks done this morning and to make sure that they had a notary on staff who could notarize the documents. I was assured that they could do both. However, after Rob and I arrived at their offices this morning, I was told that they could do the background check but they could not notarize it. Yes, the notary was there, but the police captain had told the staff not to notarize the document. We were told instead to try and get a TBI (Tennessee's state version of the FBI) background check and they would notarize it.

The TBI background check could take weeks, and as always is the case with international adoption, we don't have weeks. Rob and I were determined that we were going to get this done today no matter what it took. First, we called the sheriff's department in our county to see if they would do the background check. They said they would, but they did not have a notary on staff. We then called our county clerk's office who told us that the police department should do notarize the document. A woman at the clerk's office put Rob on hold while she called the police department and discussed the matter with them. Rob was told to return to the police department to get the background check and to then get the document notarized at city hall after the police department affixed its stamp to the document. So, off Rob and I go to the police department again. I am happy to report that we now have our criminal background checks done and notarized. I am sad to report that I think if I had been a criminal who committed a felony that I would have gotten better service today at the police department.

Rob and I grabbed a quick lunch after this and then Rob headed to downtown Nashville to get the medicals and background checks certified at the county clerk's office and then apostilled at the Secretary of State's office. This packet of documents will go to our agency tomorrow morning who will then FedEx them to Bulgaria.

In addition to sending our documents to Bulgaria, our agency is also allowing us to send a package to Aleksandar for which I am very grateful. Vesta has assured our agency that they will make sure Aleksandar gets the package. In the package, I am putting a photo album, a new outfit and a small toy for Aleksandar since his birthday is coming up in March. We also plan on celebrating his birthday at our house even though he is not with us. Julia and I are going to bake a cake and invite Grandma and Grandpa over for the festivities.

March will be an exciting month for us for many reasons. March is also a time of celebration in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria, the people mark the sending off of winter and welcoming of spring by the holiday known as Baba Marta. Baba is the Bulgarian word for grandmother, and Marta is the Bulgarian word for March. One of the ways this holiday is celebrated in Bulgaria is by people wearing Martenitsa bracelets. The bracelets are made of red and white cotton or wool yarn twined together. These bracelets are usually worn and exchanged by Bulgarians beginning the first day of March until the first bud of spring is seen on the trees.

Rob, Julia and I will all be wearing our Martenitsa bracelets this March thanks to our friends Lisa and Jeff who made them for us. Jeff and Lisa were in Bulgaria last year during March and got to see this celebration of spring first hand.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where we are now

Rob and I have been busy settling back into the normal routines of daily life at the Pachciarz household since we arrived back from Bulgaria, but a certain little Bulgarian boy is always on our minds and hearts. We have had more adoption paperwork to do since our return to the states, which has also been keeping us busy such as our USCIS form I-800 (immigration approval) and new medicals and background checks. USCIS sent us a letter yesterday stating that they had received our paperwork earlier in the month and are processing it. Our agency and other friends who have gotten this receipt letter have stated to us that it usually takes another two weeks before the approval arrives. After the approval arrives, a copy of it will be wired to the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria and then begins our wait for a court date.

In the meantime, Rob and I will be taking Julia to the main post office in Nashville to get her passport paperwork done. She is so very excited about traveling to Bulgaria and seeing her brother for the first time. I am hoping that Julia's presence will help with the bonding between us and our little boy and will help him to feel more at ease after we leave the orphanage. Julia is also great with kids younger than she is so I know that she will be teaching her little brother all sorts of new things as soon as they meet. I also wanted Julia to go for another reason. I want her to experience what life is like in another country. I want her to see the similarities between our country and Bulgaria and the differences. I want her to be a part of our son's story.

In other news, I am excited  to report that some very dear friends and my younger sister are planning a "baby" shower for me in the near future. I have begun registering at Target for all the things that I think we will need once our little one gets home such as sippy cups, toddler feeding utensils and clothing. The clothing did make me a little sad when I realized that according to the height and weight charts our little boy who will be four next month is probably wearing 18-24 months since he only weighs about 21 pounds and is 30 inches tall. But, I know this will change quickly after he is home in a loving and nurturing environment and after we have his palate repaired.

The last thing I wanted to let you know before I end this post is that our little one now has a new name and it is Aleksandar! It is from the Greek and it means "defender of men." Rob and I have always loved the name Alexandar, but since my husband is Polish we decided to use the Eastern European spelling of the name. We also thought that was fitting since our little boy is from another Eastern European country. We have also decided to keep our little boy's Bulgarian first name, which I will be able to share with you after we pass court.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thursday night and then Friday

After having dinner at Pizza Roma in Sofia on Thursday evening with our friends Paul and CeAnne, the four of us made our way back down the boulevard towards our apartment building. The wind had become bitterly cold, and we were walking right into it. Also, all of the shops that we had passed earlier on our way to dinner were now closed for the evening, even the pastry shop. CeAnne and I would have to wait for our sweets.

I spent most of that night in the apartment sending emails back and forth with my younger sister, who is such a source of strength and support, and also sending emails to my close friends about how our visits at the orphanage had went.  Earlier in the week at the hotel, the free wifi provided at the hotel turned out not to have very strong signal so I had been unable to stay on the internet long enough to get an email out to anyone. I was definitely making up for lost opportunities in that department now that we were at the apartment.

Rob and I also got a chance to talk to our daughter that night. I literally cried with happiness at the sound of her voice. She wanted to know when Daddy and I were coming home, but more importantly, what kind of presents we were bringing her. I remember being the same way when my parents went out of town as a child. She did ask a few questions about her brother like whether or not he liked the ball or the stuffed dog that we had brought him.

Rob and I finally crashed somewhere in the wee hours of the morning completely exhausted from our busy day. When we awoke in the morning, I prepared some oatmeal that I had brought with me from the states for breakfast and then we decided to leave the apartment for a few minutes to look for souvenirs of our trip. Rob and I found a great little, and I mean little, shop near the apartment in a group of underground shops near the subway station. The shop was so small that once Rob and I were inside with the sales woman, no one else could enter the store. We purchased several pieces of pottery there, some small dolls, and a beautiful wooden carved plate. Our sales woman could not speak any English, but we managed. And, I think we got some really good deals in the process. We headed back to the apartment with our purchases to meet our coordinator from Vesta.

After our meeting with Rosie, Rob and I hooked up with CeAnne and Paul again, and we decided to head down the boulevard to do some more shopping and sightseeing.  As we began walking down the boulevard, we noticed a trolley going down the street covered in Christmas decorations. To our delight, the trolley stopped and who should walk out of it to greet some children in front of us, but Santa Claus! This definitely put us in the Christmas spirit. We soon found a small shop that had lots of Christmas linens, ornaments and other holiday fare. Rob and I bought a few Christmas decorations, including a snowglobe for Julia, and then the four of us headed out to find a restaurant for our empty stomachs. We ended up eating at Pizza Roma again for our next meal, and once again, it was delicious. After we ate, we continued down the boulevard looking at shops and then finally toured a 10th century church.

We stopped in a few more shops and then began making our way back to the apartment. But, CeAnne and I were keeping our eyes peeled for the pastry shop. We were not going to miss our opportunity again! Can you blame us?  Let's just say we all had a hard time making a decision!

After leaving the pastry shop, we walked back to our apartment building. CeAnne and Paul were leaving for the airport on Saturday much earlier than Rob and I (5:30 am) so we said goodnight to our friends so they could get some rest. I really wished that we could have stayed up all night and chatted together over coffee and pastries, but I also knew they needed sleep. However, Rob and I did set our alarm so that we would get up in time to see our friends off even though our flight was not leaving until 2:00 p.m that afternoon.

We were sad to see our new friends leave. It is hard to explain the bond that we formed through our shared experiences that week. We were truly glad to have gotten to know them and spend so much time with them.  After they left, Rob and I suddenly felt very alone. We began packing all of our things, including our souvenirs and waited for Ettie's call to say she was downstairs to take us to the airport. Ettie arrived at noon, and we said goodbye (for now) to Sofia.

Three hours later, Rob and I arrived in Paris, France where we stayed the night. Our flight back to the states left at 8:30 the next morning, and by Sunday night around 7:00 p.m. we were back home in Tennessee.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday in Bulgaria

On Thursday morning, Rob and I got up early to pack our bags as we knew we would be leaving the town in which our son was located in Bulgaria and heading back to Sofia after lunch that day. Both of us seemed to be dragging our feet by the time we made it downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. I know a great deal of this had to do with lack of sleep the night before, but part of it was dreading what was about to happen that day. It was hard to tell over my cold crepe with jam that morning which was the more prominent reason. Lack of sleep can affect one's cognitive abilities as well as physical response time, and basically, my brain was a little fuzzy that morning.

Rob and I had a difficult time trying to get to sleep the night before as I was missing our daughter in the states terribly, and there was a great deal of noise on the street outside our hotel room for most of the night. We had been told by our translator that the town where we were staying was having a big festival over the weekend, but apparently, the locals had decided to start celebrating a little early. People were laughing and talking loudly on the street below and an incessant car alarm kept going off on the street below as well. One would think that being on the seventh floor of the hotel would shield a person from such street noise, but we had no such luck. Neither did our new friends, Paul and CeAnne, in the hotel room down the hall. We would find out later that they were also up until about 4:00 a.m. because of the street noise, and at one time, they counted over 20 cabs lining the one-way street in front of our hotel, picking up and dropping off new fares.

At any rate, by 9:00 a.m. all four of us were down in the hotel lobby with our luggage ready to check out of the hotel and head to our last visit with our children at the orphanages. Our driver and translator, Ettie, then asked us to pay for any charges that we had acquired in addition to our room rate as Vesta had already paid for our rooms. Rob and I had drank a large (32 or 48 oz) water from our fridge and a box of green apple juice (yes, it was green in color and made from Granny Smith apples), which ended up being about $2.00 USD. The water alone would have been about $10.00 USD in many American hotels. What a bargain!

After settling up with the front desk at the hotel, we headed out to the car to cram all of our luggage in the small compact sedan that we had been traveling in all week. The car also had a luggage carrier on top, but on this day it did not want to completely close or lock. Rob and Paul climbed up to get a better look and finally managed to get it closed and locked after rearranging the luggage several times. Then, we were off to drop CeAnne and Paul off at the orphanage where their little girl was, and by 9:30, Ettie was dropping us off at our son's orphanage across town.

Ettie came in only for a few minutes that morning before our son was brought into the room, and then she left to take pictures and get information of other children available for adoption in the orphanage where Paul and CeAnne's little girl was located. This was the first time all week that we had been left with our son at his orphanage without a translator for the whole visit, and this was our last visit with him on this trip.

I am not sure if he sensed that we would be leaving that day or if for some reason he too had not gotten a good night's sleep, but his demeanor was different that day. He did not interact with Rob and I as much as he had in the previous visits and gave us very little eye contact. He did not seemed interested in playing with any of the toys and items that on previous days had made him burst into laughter. He seemed mostly interested in opening and closing the doors to the social worker's office that day, and Rob and I could not seem to change his mind about that.

And, then as quickly as it had begun, our visit ended abruptly without any warning. A teacher from downstairs came to take our son away for lunch before we could even try and hug him goodbye. Our translator had not returned yet from the other orphanage so we were unable to stop the teacher or make her understand that we were not coming back later that afternoon. There we sat in stunned silence.

Ten minutes or so after son disappeared with the teacher, the social worker for the orphanage came back up to her office. She knew only a few words of English, and we knew even less Bulgarian. However, she was doing her best to try and communicate with us. Finally, she looked at me and said "Four o'clock?"  I knew then that she was asking if we were coming back later for our usual afternoon visit, and I also realized that the staff had not known that this visit was our last. I said, "No." She then said, "Sofia?" and, I knew that she was asking if we were going back to Sofia that day, and I said "Yes." She then motioned for Rob and I to follow her downstairs toward the door where we would wait outside for Ettie. Rob handed her the gifts that we had brought originally for the director of the orphanage, but we had decided the night before that we would give them to the social worker since she was so kind and we had not met or seen the director of the orphanage while were were there. We also handed her the toys and blanket for our son. We then proceeded down the long hallway leading to the stairs and eventually to outside.

After we were standing at the bottom of the steps outside the orphanage, the social worker turned to us and said in broken English, "Bulgaria and back to United States. United States and back to Bulgaria." Rob and I nodded to tell her that we would be back. She then disappeared inside the orphanage, and Rob and I stood in the cold waiting for Ettie.

Ettie arrived a few minutes later with Paul and CeAnne and then she drove us back into the town to have lunch at the the Vanilla restaurant in the mall again before we headed back to Sofia. For whatever reason (maybe stress relief), we all decided that today would be a perfect day to have dessert. Ettie had creme brulee, Rob had strawberry ice cream, Paul had a fruit plate, CeAnne had a dessert crepe with fruit and chocolate, and I decided on apple pie with ice cream. Now the name of the restaurant was Vanilla and the picture of my dessert showed a white colored ice cream with the apple pie so one would assume it was vanilla. In Bulgaria, never assume anything. It was pistachio!

After stuffing ourselves on dessert, our weary band of travelers got back in the car and began making the three hour journey back to Sofia. We were all full and exhausted so no one talked. The guys napped, CeAnne snapped some great photos of the countryside as the car sped down the highway, and I just stared out at the scenery trying to take it all in and wondering when our next trip to Bulgaria would be. The trip seemed to go much faster this time, and we arrived back in Sofia before nightfall.

We were all staying in the same apartment building as we had been in during the earlier part of the week, but we were in different apartments. The four of us decided to meet up after an hour or so of rest and to do a little exploration of Sofia and grab some dinner. The weather had gotten much colder that day, and our translator had told us that the weatherman was forecasting snow for Friday or Saturday so we all bundled up for our little outing.

We headed around the corner from our apartment building and down Vistosha Boulevard. Rob and I were amazed at all the high end clothing stores and other boutiques on this street, including Versace, Emporio Armani, Boss and LaCoste. Every now and then these posh stores would be accented by a small currency exchange place or a small liquor store on one side.

As we traveled down the boulevard, CeAnne and I spied a delicious looking bakery and made a mental note to come back and find some yummy things for dessert tonight or breakfast in the morning. We then began looking for a restaurant for dinner, and finally spied a sign for a place called Pizza Roma down a side street. The sign led us through a small alley and into a courtyard where we found the restaurant at the far side of the courtyard. To our delight, the restaurant had English menus and the staff spoke very good English. We spent dinner in deep conversation about our experiences at the two orphanages and the challenges that we knew we and our children would face together in the future.