Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Please allow me to introduce. . . .




Several weeks ago we received word that the Ministry of Justice in Bulgaria had officially placed "Jesse," "Sam," and "Bowden" on hold for our family!

"Jesse" and "Sam" are both 12 years old. They are best friends and have been together since they were very young. 

 Sam and Jesse in 2012

They have watched countless friends come and go over the years, wondering when it would finally be their turn. 

 Jesse and Sam with Alexis and Lily in 2010

A year ago, it was discovered that they had never been registered for adoption, that they had never even had a chance! Thanks to several amazing advocates, that problem was rectified and soon they will know that it is finally their turn to go home! 

"Bowden" is 5 years old and was our "wild card," the missing piece to our puzzle. As we moved forward with our commitment to Sam and Jesse, we still felt that someone was missing. We began to review the files of waiting children and when Richard saw Bowden, the final piece clicked into place. 

All three boys have special needs (limb differences, cerebral palsy, craniofacial abnormalities, hydrocephalus and sensorineural hearing loss) and we feel pretty confident that all three of them will fit right in with this big, crazy family!

We feel incredibly blessed to have been chosen to welcome these boys into our family and look forward to having them home!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

And the winners are. . . .

I woke up this morning feeling disheartened that we had only raised $100 in a weeks time.

So I did what any mature adult would do.

I threw a tantrum on Facebook.

But instead of being sent to my room as I ought to have been, I sat back and watched an outpouring of love, generosity and support that left me feeling truly humbled.

And so it is with deep gratitude that I thank you for putting me in my place today!

And now, without further ado, I would like to announce the winners of the "Back to Bulgaria Giftcard Giveaway". . . . . . . .

 Kierra Burns - $50 Amazon Giftcard

 Suzanne Monnett- $50 Fandango Giftcard

 Rachelle Casbeer- $50 Stella & Dot Giftcard

Kim Davis- $50 TC Survival Bands Giftcard

The "Back to Bulgaria Giveaway" will officially come to an end on Friday. If we reach the $800 mark by then, we will draw a winner for the Vizio 32" Plasma TV so please continue to share! 

Again, we thank you all for your generosity, love, encouragement and support and invite you to stop by again tomorrow. . . . .we have three, incredibly handsome young men we are just dying to introduce!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Back to Bulgaria Giveaway

Would you like to "meet" our boys?

And win some fabulous giveaway items in the process?

Our "Back to Bulgaria Giveaway" begins NOW and thanks to several generous donors, we've got lots of fabulous items to giveaway just in time for Christmas!

For every $200 donated, we will draw a winner AND introduce you to one of our boys!

Giveaway items include:

 $50 Amazon Giftcard

$50 Fandango Giftcard

$50 Stella and Dot Giftcard/Store Credit

 $50 TC Survival Bands Giftcard

Vizio 32" Plasma HDTV

Want to know how you can get your name entered to win one of these amazing prizes and find out WHO will be joining our family?!? It's simple!

For every $5 donated, your name will be entered into our drawing. At each $200 milestone ($200, $400, $600, $800, $1000), we will randomly draw a winner and introduce you to one of our boys (your name will remain in the drawing until all winners are chosen and our giveaway closes). Additionally, EACH time you share our giveaway through your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. your name will be entered into the drawing (please be sure to contact me via
comment, Facebook or email to let me know that you have shared). To donate, simply click the "Back to Bulgaria" button at the top left-hand side of our blog or click here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Please join us. . . . .

. . . .for one LAST journey across the sea!

Yes, my friends, we are heading back to Bulgaria one last time.

This journey began over three years ago while we were in Bulgaria visiting Lily and Alexis. It was a beautiful summer day and, as Alexis and I were laughing and playing together in the courtyard, I noticed two little boys watching us longingly from the window. I asked Alexis if she knew who the little boys were. She responded that they were her best friends and with a big grin, waived to them enthusiastically.

I would later learn just how close these three children really were; that they were not simply the best of friends, but more like siblings without actually sharing genetics.

On several occasions during our visits with the girls, one of these boys would run to the front door of the orphanage to hold the door for us as we were leaving. With a smile, he would always wish us a good day and tell us to come again soon. He absolutely captured my heart.

After returning home with the girls, I would often find myself browsing the lists of waiting children in Bulgaria hoping for a glimpse of their sweet faces, or better yet, to learn that they had been adopted. But no such news ever came and more than two years later, I had never seen them listed anywhere.

Alexis spoke of these boys daily, sharing stories and memories and asking me often if they had found families. She missed her friends, her "brothers," dearly and I wished that I could reconnect them somehow.

In the summer of 2012, my good friend returned from Bulgaria with her daughter from the same orphanage. This little girl had also been good friends with Alexis and with these boys. It was through them that we learned that both of these boys had been transferred to the orphanage for older children in the same city and that both of them were still awaiting families. 

It was at this point that a quiet voice whispered to my heart, "These are YOUR children."

But the timing wasn't right.

We soon learned that neither of these boys had ever been registered for adoption. Fortunately, they had many loving, dedicated and passionate warriors fighting for them on both sides of the ocean; willing to climb any mountain and weather any storm to make adoption possible for them.

And that is what it took.

After a year of scaling impossible mountains and weathering some ugly storms, the boys were finally registered and available for international adoption.

And the timing was right!

This week our commitment paperwork was filed with the Ministry of Justice in Bulgaria.

We are bringing these boys home!

And we hope that, by this time next year, they will be reunited with their "sister" and friend FOREVER!

We are also blessed to be bringing a third little boy home.

That's right friends! Our adoption journey will end with THREE wonderful additions to our family, bringing us to lucky number 13!

We look forward to sharing this journey with you and hope to share more information about our boys once our commitment paperwork has been officially accepted and approved by the Ministry of Justice in Bulgaria.

In the meantime, we hope that you will celebrate this incredible blessing with us. . . . because it really is INCREDIBLE!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Discovering Ohio: Bicycle Museum of America

As many of you know, we homeschool. Rather than keeping to an August/September-May/June school schedule, we have chosen to do school year-round (with a long break in December and shorter breaks throughout the year to accommodate our frequent trips to Philadelphia for medical care).

In addition to our regular schoolwork, I recently purchased a book entitled, "Kids Love Ohio," with the intent to spend much of our summer visiting different historical, natural and educational sites within our state.

Today we traveled to our first destination:  The Bicycle Museum of America!

It was an overcast and rainy day here in Ohio so the museum was a perfect place to visit. Lukas helped me chart our course and, when given the option to take the highway or the back roads, he chose the scenic route. The drive was beautiful and we made note of several other places that we would like to visit along the way.

The Bicycle Museum of America was FANTASTIC! Located in a small town in western Ohio, there were very few visitors at the museum while we were there, which meant we didn't have to fight crowds (because, let's face it, we are a crowd all on our own)!

We started our tour by watching a video demonstration of several vintage bicycles.

The kids were mesmerized.

Our guide then took us through the museum and showed us bicycles from the very first bikes all the way through the present day.

(First bicycle- powered by foot)

Learning about bicycle snow tires

The "Triple" and "Quintette" 

The kids were able to sit on a high wheeler and even "drive" a pedal-powered car.

The "high wheeler" (the phrase, "taking a header" originated with this bike)

 Pedal-powered car

At the end of our tour, each of the kids chose a postcard to send to friends and family (so if you are participating in our letter-writing campaign keep a lookout. . . .you might just be one of the lucky ones to receive a postcard sporting a very neat bicycle).


Although the museum was relatively small, we spent several hours there and had such a great time that the kids were still talking about it as we tucked them into bed tonight!

"Walking Legs"


Needless to say, the book was well worth the $15 spent for a summer of priceless family adventures!

Back in Action

I know, I know.

It has been 10 months.


Now that you have recovered from the shock, you can pick yourselves up off the floor and close your gaping mouths. This blogging hiatus is officially over and I am back in action.

Why the disappearing act? Honestly, there just comes a point when you need to disconnect in order to reconnect with what is truly important and I desperately needed to "pull some weeds" so that I could truly focus on and enjoy my beautiful "garden."

The past 10 months have been filled with countless ups, downs and in betweens, accented by many joys, triumphs, struggles, adventures and major medical dramas along the way. I will do my best to fill in the gaps as I work to slowly update the blog. For now, I am happy to report that we are happy, healthy and incredibly blessed.

For those who are wondering how Benjamin and Thomas are doing and how they have transitioned into the family, let me illustrate with a conversation I had with my 8 year-old son Lukas yesterday.

As I was preparing everyone for an afternoon in the pool, Lukas ran up and threw his arms around me. With a wide smile on his face, he looked up at me and declared, "Mom, you are my fifth favorite person!"


I could easily guess who had beaten me out for first and second place. Jacob (his triplet brother and best friend) came solidly in first place. No surprise there. Daddy had come in for a close second. But who could have beaten Mommy out for third AND fourth place? Lukas smiled again and announced that Thomas and Benjamin held those positions in his heart! And, at hearing those words, this mama happily accepted her position of fifth place!

These "babies" are a gift, a blessing, and a treasure to our family. They are loved, cherished and spoiled rotten by every last one of us. In short, they have the entire family wrapped around their crooked, little fingers!

Thank you for your patience with me over the past 10 months. Thank you to those who left comments or sent messages with words of encouragement and concern. Though the process will be slow, I promise to do my best to fill in the gaps and to keep you updated on the ups, downs and in betweens of life and in so doing, I hope to offer encouragement, support and inspiration in the process!

Stay tuned. . . . .

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hand, foot and mouth, anyone!?

When we picked the boys up from the orphanage on Monday we were told that Benjamin had a sore throat and that the doctor would be writing a prescription for some medication that we could fill at a local pharmacy. We filled the prescription, but he seemed to be feeling fine so I decided to hold off on giving it to him (these were not antibiotics, just "cold" medicine and I did not want to medicate him unless he was showing symptoms). The next day, we noticed a rash and, what appeared to be bug bites, on his arms and legs. It has been extremely hot and humid here all week (and my brother and I are covered in mosquito bites as well), so we chalked it up to heat rash and a sensitivity to mosquito bites. Yesterday he started running a fever and we noticed that his hands and feet (soles and palms included) were covered in this rash. I suspected that it might be hand, foot and mouth disease, but, having never experienced it before, I decided I would ask the pediatrician at the polyclinic the next day.

This morning, Thomas woke up with a high fever.

We went to the polyclinic to complete the boy's medicals required for their visas and the pediatrician confirmed my suspicions. Benjamin does indeed have hand, foot and mouth (though he appears to be on the upswing today) and it looks as though Thomas will be following in his footsteps. According to the pediatrician there has been an "epidemic" of hand, foot and mouth throughout Sofia and the surrounding areas over the past month and she was not surprised to see it (and actually diagnosed it before I even had the chance to ask). Unfortunately, because it is a virus, all we can really do is treat the fever and wait for it to run its course. It also means that there is a good chance that we will be bringing this little souvenir home with us.

While my sweet, little boys have had a difficult day, there have still been lots of smiles, giggles, snuggles and loves. The highlight of my day was watching the boys become more interactive with each other. I brought a container of organic puffs with me for the boys to snack on. Thomas loves them, but Benjamin isn't a fan. Thomas brings me the container and does the sign for "more" whenever he would like one. Benjamin usually sits with us and likes to shake the container, but doesn't eat them. Today he decided that he didn't want to be left out and asked for them as well. . . . .then promptly hand-fed them all to Thomas. It was a win-win situation for all parties involved!

Shortly before we went to dinner this evening, Thomas fell asleep on the bed. When Benjamin saw him there he climbed up on the bed and began stroking Thomas' head and kissing him, then tried to lay down and snuggle with him (though I am not sure Thomas interpreted it that way. . . toddler snuggling can be a little rough). It was incredibly sweet and left me with very little doubt that these two will go through life the best of friends.
Benjamin "snuggles" (as you can see, Thomas was not thrilled, but it was a sweet moment)
Kisses and loves for Thomas
Despite the difficulties of the day, it was a blessing for me to be able to love, nurture and care for my little ones in their illness and to witness their sweetness, joy and resilience despite how miserable they were feeling.
Uncle Keenan is barrels of fun

Please pray with us that this virus will run its course quickly and that Thomas and Benjamin will be feeling better by the time we head home on Saturday morning. Also, please pray that this virus will be past the point of contagion so that we do not pass it along to all of our brothers and sisters waiting for us at home (while we Riebens certainly like to keep things interesting, transitions are hard enough without introducing illness into the mix).
Not even hand, foot and mouth can keep us down!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

International Family

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile may recall that, when we picked Alayna up from her orphanage in 2010, we were able to meet her mother and her maternal grandparents. Over the past two years we have maintained that relationship through pictures, emails and social networking.

This afternoon we had the privilege and blessing of visiting with Alayna's mother, Didi, and her grandmother, Violetta (as well as their friend, Natasha, who served as our translator). It was a two-hour drive from their home to Sofia and they were only able to stay for a short time, but it was time well-spent. We exchanged hugs, kisses, pictures and gifts and best of all, we were able to Skype with Alayna (who very proudly showed everyone how well she is walking and going up and down stairs, gave us a tour of her bedroom, introduced all of her siblings, sang several songs and even showed off her prosthetic and her back brace).

Seeing the joy on Didi's face as she watched and talked with Alayna was a priceless gift.

What a privilege it is to know this beautiful woman, who has become my sister and friend, who  sacrificed so much to give her daughter the best possible chance to achieve her full potential.

Baba Violetta and Grandma DD
 What a blessing it is for Alayna to know that she is loved and cherished by BOTH of her mamas.

How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father for orchestrating such a precious relationship.

Mama Valerie, Mama Didi, Natasha, Baba Violetta, Grandma DD, Benjamin and Thomas (with Uncle Keenan as photographer)

A little piece of heaven

First, please allow me to apologize for not updating sooner. The truth is, I have been so completely absorbed in these amazing little people, that it is hard to pull myself away from them! Needless to say, the past few days have been wonderful and I will do my best to paint that picture for you!

My brother, Keenan, and I arrived in Bulgaria late Saturday afternoon. On Sunday we had the opportunity to attend church in the morning and then spent the afternoon walking around Sofia and catching up on sleep. On Sunday evening, we were blessed to have dinner with the Sutton family who are here on their first trip to meet their sweet son, Ben.

On Monday morning, we woke early and traveled to the boys orphanage in Pazardjik. Once the director arrived, the boy's caregivers brought them to her office. It had been long enough since I had last seen them, that I am not sure that they remembered who I was and, consequently, were a bit timid at first, but it was a sweet reunion nevertheless. Once we had taken them from the orphanage however, it was like  the switch was flipped and we picked right back up from where we left off in March!

I have had the boys for three days now and it has been absolute bliss. Honestly, I feel like I have won the baby lottery. They are fantastic eaters, they sleep through the night, the only time they ever fuss or cry is if they are hungry, tired or hurt and, even then, they are easily consoled. They are having the time of their lives exploring their world and making huge messes just as toddlers should. I am amazed at how quickly they have recognized me  as their primary caregiver and how easily they have bonded. Both of them LOVE to be held and snuggled and, of course, I am more than happy to oblige.  Let's just say, their feet have spent very little time touching the floor.

The absolute joy that these little ones have infused in me over the past few days is indescribable and I am feeling incredibly blessed. Because there simply aren't words to describe just how amazing these sweet, little people are, I will give you what you really want. . . .PICTURES!

Happy Mama! (Did I mention that the boys can say, "Mama"??? And that they use it appropriately?! Yep, I am in heaven)
As you can see, Thomas absolutely LOVES the bath! He especially loves having water dumped over his head! (You can also see how VERY thin and tiny he is. I brought size 18 month clothing. . .he is swimming it in)
"Look at this HUGE mess that I made!" He may be tiny, but he sure knows how to leave his mark on a hotel room!
Taking a stroll around Sofia (my mother-in-law, who is serving as a missionary in the Czech Republic, flew in from Prague to spend the week with us. It has been a blast).
Benjamin loving life

Tomorrow morning we will take the boys to their medical exam and, in the afternoon, we have our visa interview at the Embassy. On Friday, we will receive the boy's passports and visas and, early Saturday morning, we will be on our way home! I cannot wait to get these sweet babies home and introduce them to their daddy and all of their brothers and sisters who are anxiously awaiting their arrival. We have truly been unimaginably blessed!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Thank you!

In just a few hours I will leave for the airport to bring Benjamin and Thomas home. Before I do, I want to take a moment to thank all of those who have offered their love, encouragement, support, prayers and donations throughout this journey. We could not do this without you!

Last week I began an "emergency" fundraiser to raise the funds necessary to cover the cost of food and lodging while in Bulgaria. I was humbled as I watched friends, family and strangers come together to help us raise those funds in LESS THAN 48 HOURS! The Lord ALWAYS provides and He usually does it through the kindness, generosity and love of others. Thank you to each and every one of you who acted as instruments in the Lord's hands in helping us to reach our goal by donating, sharing and praying!

Before I go, I would like to announce the winners of our "Stitched Together by Love" giveaway.  They are:

Jessica Tschudy
Bulgarian/European Chocolate 

Michelle Buhler
Bulgarian/European Chocolate

Karen Davison
$25 Amazon gift card

Lori Schumaker
$25 Amazon gift card

CeAnne Kosel
$25 Amazon gift card

Viviane Martini
$25 Amazon gift card

I will be mailing all giveaway items once I have arrived home. If the mailing address linked to your paypal accounts are not the same as your current address, please send me a message! 

In just a few days my sweet boys will FINALLY be in my arms to stay! Thank you all for being part of this journey! Your kindness, generosity, love and support will, quite literally, always be etched upon our hearts!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stitched Together by Love

When we began the process of adopting Benjamin and Thomas 15 months ago, we were thrilled to realize that we had enough money in savings to complete their adoptions WITHOUT fundraising. This is a phenomenon and a blessing that we have never experienced before. Recognizing this great blessing, we decided to focus our fundraising and advocacy efforts in November/December on a little boy with Down syndrome waiting for his forever family in Eastern Europe (He is STILL waiting by the way, with almost $5000 in his grant fund! Where is his mama!?).

Of course, when we started this process in the beginning of 2011, we never could have imagined that it would take as long as it has (this has been our longest process by far) and, when estimating the cost of our airfare for our second trip, we never dreamed that we would be traveling to Europe in the middle of the summer. . . . .during the Olympics! Unfortunately, the combination of these two things drastically changed the cost of airfare and our flights were $1500 more than we had budgeted; $1500 that we had planned to use for food, hotel and the boy's medical examinations required to issue their visas.

Our savings are depleted and our time is short. Next Friday, July 27th, I will leave for Bulgaria to bring my boys home. We have little more than a week to raise the money necessary to complete the process. In the past five years (and five adoptions), we have seen the Lord's hand work many mighty miracles when it comes to raising the necessary funds to complete our adoptions and bring our children home and we know that He will provide a way for us to do so now.

Two years ago, when we were working to bring Alayna, Lily and Alexis home from Bulgaria, we did a fundraiser we called, "Pieced Together by Love." This fundraiser featured a 500 piece puzzle with a picture of the Savior surrounded by children. Friends, family and even strangers donated to our adoption, prayed for our success and shared with others, and their names were written on the backs of these puzzle pieces. This puzzle/picture is a priceless keepsake to our family and especially to our girls as they read the names of the many, many people who came together to help bring them home.

We would like to do a similar fundraiser now. We will be calling it, "Stitched Together by Love." The kids and I have worked together to make quilts for Benjamin and Thomas. Each quilt features squares with appliqued hearts (designed by our kids). For every donation made, for every prayer said on our behalf and for sharing this fundraiser with others, your name will be written on a heart on a coordinating piece of artwork that will hang on the wall in the boys' bedroom and will, once again, serve as a reminder of the many, many people who came together to help us bring our boys home.

 Benjamin's completed quilt 

 Appliqued hearts designed by all of the Rieben kids

In addition to having your name forever etched upon our "hearts," we will also be offering (4) $25 Amazon gift cards and a delicious assortment of Bulgarian/European chocolates (to be acquired while in Bulgaria and shipped upon our arrival home). For every $5 donated, your name will be entered to win one of the gift cards/chocolates. Additionally, every time you share our fundraiser through your blog, on Facebook, Twitter, etc. your name will be entered into the drawing (please be sure to let me know that you have shared). To donate, simply click on the "Stitched Together by Love" Chipin on the sidebar.

Any funds that we raise beyond what we need will be donated to the adoption fund of the Van Nice family who is also working to bring two sweet little ones with Down syndrome home from Bulgaria.

We thank you in advance for all of the encouragement, support, love, donations and prayers that have helped us to bring our boys home!