Sunday, February 28, 2010


It appears as though the exhaustion of the past few years finally caught up with me yesterday! I went to bed at 10 pm Friday evening and didn't wake until 1 pm on Saturday. I cannot recall a time in my life where I have ever slept for so long, but it was a very much needed, much appreciated rest! Fortunately yesterday was a rainy and windy day, not very conducive to exploring the city, so I didn't feel quite as guilty for not getting out to explore!

It is a beautiful day in Sofia and, this morning, I had the chance to go to the city's center and see some of its most popular attractions.

The following is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. My pictures certainly do not do it justice (if you click on the link above you can see more pictures and read more about its history)! The inside of this church is absolutely breathtaking (unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside the cathedral so you will just have to take my word for it). The choir was singing while I stood inside and their beautiful music filled the cathedral. Every wall (and ceiling) is covered in beautiful paintings depicting the life of Christ and the atmosphere inside is one of complete reverence.

This is the St. Sofia Church, one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox churches in Bulgaria:
Next is the Russian Church, also known as St. Nikolai (again, much better pictures and history if you click on the link). This church was built in 1914 and was named after the Patron Saint of the Emperor who ruled Russia at the time (Nicholas II).

The following statue depicts Russian soldiers who helped to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. On March 3rd, Bulgarians celebrate Bulgarian National/Liberation Day. The day they were finally freed from Turkish rule.

This is the St. Cyril and Methodius National Library.

In front of the library you will see many vendors. These vendors are selling Martinitsa (red and white yarn adornments, given to family and friends to wear as a way of sending off Winter and welcoming in Spring). Tomorrow, March 1st, is Baba Marta (the official name for the holiday. . .its translation is Grandmother March). People wear the martinitsa until they see the first signs of Spring at which point many people hang them in the trees (I saw many martinitsa from previous years hanging in the trees as I walked around). This is a tradition that we hope to implement in our family as well!

Sofia is a beautiful city, rich in culture and history. Although my time in the city is limited, I have greatly enjoyed drinking it all in! We will be leaving Sofia early tomorrow morning to head to Lukovit, where I will meet Little Lady #2! It has been a year since I first saw my sweet little girl's face in a picture and I cannot wait to finally hold her in my arms and get to know the amazing little person behind that picture!

Friday, February 26, 2010


Today was my last day with sweet Lily. Our time today was bittersweet. Today was the birthday of a little boy in her group and there was going to be a party to celebrate. She didn't want to miss it and so she came to me this morning crying. She cried for most of our visit (she thought she was missing the party), but the sweet part of our time together was that she came to me and allowed me to hold and comfort her while she cried. Generally I do not like to see my children sad or hurting and Lily is no exception, BUT it was wonderful to be the person she came to for love and comfort. I held her, rocked her and rubbed her back while she cried and, despite her unhappiness, it was a wonderful bonding moment for both of us.

Fortunately, Lily did NOT miss the party! When it was time, her caregiver came and invited us all to join them for the festivities. They sang to the birthday boy, gave him hugs, kisses and some small gifts and then enjoyed sweets from the bakery, music, dancing and even sparklers. The smiles and excitement radiating from these kids was infectious and I had such a wonderful time playing, dancing and laughing with them. How wonderful to see that these children are loved and celebrated on their birthdays (that is not the case in SO many orphanages). And how wonderful to know that, when Lily turns 7 in a few weeks, that she will be celebrated as well (in her current home at the orphanage AND across the ocean in her new home)!

Once the party was over it was time for us to go. I hugged and kissed Lily goodbye and left her with her bear and photo album until I return to bring her home. It was hard to walk away and leave her there, but knowing that she is in a good orphanage where she is well loved and cared for made it easier (while I will miss her everyday at least I will not have to worry as much about her). I can't wait to get started on the next step to bringing her home.

We started on the road to Sofia as soon as we left the orphanage. Bulgaria really is an incredibly beautiful place and I was like a little kid with my nose pressed against the window trying to take everything in as we drove back to the city. We stopped at the half-way point to get something to drink and to put air in the tires. While we were at the gas station we were accosted by Gypsies (Roma) who wanted to tell us our fortunes. It was very interesting and, while Marty was being informed of all that his future would hold, I took the opportunity to ask Toni a little more about the Roma culture (I will share more about that in a later post).

We arrived in Sofia this afternoon and I am now settled in my hotel. The hotel is wonderful and the food, of course, is amazing (you were right Kelly, the chicken soup with lemon was FABULOUS!). Sofia is a fascinating city and I am looking forward to getting out and exploring this weekend. The following pictures were taken from my hotel balcony. The mountains surrounding the city are amazing. I wish I could get a better picture of them, but my camera just cannot do them justice!

Flat Stanislav offers his greetings from Sofia!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Today's visits brought a mixture of emotions, the most prominent being frustration. The morning visits are always difficult because there are constantly people coming in and out of the room to"check on us" (we really don't need to be checked on. . .Lily doesn't speak much, instead she uses gestures and those are generally universal. . if she needs something, I recognize it and can help her, or she helps herself. . she is very independent). Whenever someone comes into the room to "check on us" she thinks it is time to go and, once she gets something in her head, she wants to follow through. She will start waiving goodbye and packing my bag and tries to head back to her group. Trying to convince her otherwise or distract her is a difficult task and it leaves us both a bit frustrated. This happened no less than 10 times during our 2 hour visit this morning.

The most frustrating interruption was when the head nurse came in. We met her yesterday and she informed us that she was Lily's favorite (doesn't think much of herself does she!?). Today she wanted to illustrate that point so she bounded into the room about halfway through the visit, grabbed Lily (we were in the middle of playing a game) and started tickling, hugging and kissing her. I immediately got the feeling that she was trying to prove that Lily liked her better than me and that she was happy here in the orphanage (though I tried to tell myself that she really just wanted me to see that Lily is well loved and cared for. . .that interpretation at least made me feel less frustrated in the moment). When I shared my feelings with Toni, she agreed that she had gotten the same vibe and I appreciated the validation.

The afternoon visit started wonderfully. Lily was very interactive and we were enjoying playing together. She LOVES to look out the window at the cars and this afternoon it was raining so there was even more excitement for her out the window. I picked her up to let her look out and she allowed me to hold her for about 30 minutes (she doesn't normally stay in one place that long, so I cherished the opportunity to snuggle her for awhile). While I held her she rested her head against my shoulder and we shared some kisses and snuggles. It was pure bliss! While we were standing at the window the head nurse walked into the building. She saw us and she waved. I had a feeling that we would be in for another visit and sure enough, 15 minutes before the visit was over she bounds into the room again, pulls Lily onto her lap and begins to hug and kiss her (Lily climbed down as soon as the opportunity presented itself). She started telling us all about how they take the kids to the zoo and the playground when the weather is nice and that, on their birthdays, they get to go to the bakery and eat sweets. Normally I would think that she was sharing this information so that we would know how wonderfully the kids are cared for (and I am VERY grateful that they are. . .that fact alone will make it easier for me to sleep at night knowing that Lily is so well loved and cared for while we wait to bring her home), but with this woman, it was obvious that she was trying to send the message that Lily was doing just fine right where she was and that she didn't need to be adopted. Very frustrating.

The orphange in Stara Zagora is WONDERFUL and the caregivers really do love these children ,BUT. . . it is still an orphanage and, even if the children there are wonderfully loved and cared for, at some point they will be sent to institutions or will age out of the system and then what?? An orphanage is an orphanage and it is no substitute for a loving and PERMANENT home and family.

It is obvious that this woman truly loves Lily and I am sure the thought of her leaving saddens her, but I hope that she will rejoice in knowing that Lily will be equally loved and cared for in our family and in knowing that her future is secure. Lily is an incredible little girl and it is obvious that she has already touched MANY hearts with her sweet, spunky spirit. I really do feel it a privilege to have the opportunity to be her mama.

Tomorrow morning will be my last visit with Lily before we head back to Sofia for the weekend. I am sad to go, but anxious to get started on the next phase of this process so that I can get her home. Before I left home, Maren and I made bears at Build-A-Bear for each of the girls that say "I love you," in Bulgarian and English. I will be leaving that with her (hopefully it will remain with HER) along with a picture album and I do hope that her caregivers will tell her often that mama will be back for her soon.

It has been a wonderful week and I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend and to getting to know Little Lady #2 next week!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A wonderful kind of exhausted!

Today was absolutely exhausting. . . .a wonderful kind of exhausting. . .but exhausting nonetheless! Our day started a little earlier today because Toni's van has been having some trouble and needed to be seen by a mechanic. This van has carried her through many adoption trips, but it is nearing its end and has been having problems for quite some time. She is in the process of purchasing a new, more reliable van, but she is still waiting for the loan to be approved (our fingers are crossed for tomorrow) and so the old van is carrying us through this trip and it has been letting us know that it is not happy about that.

Marty (Toni's brother) dropped us off at the orphanage at 9 am this morning for our visit with Lily and then left to take the van to the mechanic. Unfortunately the van had not been repaired by the time our visit was over and so Toni and I sat on the porch of the orphanage and enjoyed each others company as well as the BEAUTIFUL weather. When it became apparent that the van would not be fixed prior to our next meeting with Lily, Toni's mom brought us some pizza and we sat on the porch of the orphanage enjoying our fine cuisine! As we sat on the porch we joked that we must look like orphanage guards and thought of requesting a days wages for filling the post all afternoon!

Toni (my attorney/facilitator) and I, enjoying pizza on the front porch of the orphanage!

We met with Lily again at 4 pm. Our visits today were wonderful! She is such a funny little girl and she keeps us laughing all the time. I having been bringing along a bag of cinnamon goldfish during each visit, but she has never been interested in eating them. Today she grabbed the bag, dumped them all out on the table and proceeded to feed them to ME (including the ones that fell on the floor. . .YUM)! Later she noticed that her lips were dry and were starting to bother her (she doesn't do much talking, but she was rubbing the dry skin on her lips over and over again). I grabbed my chapstick from my bag and put some on her lips. She immediately broke out into a HUGE grin, grabbed the chapstick and continued applying it to her lips, her cheeks and her fingernails and then walked up to the mirror and gave her reflection a big, approving smile! This girl LOVES her pretties! Speaking of fingernails, mine are now a lovely shade of green thanks to Lily, who "painted" them with a green marker this morning!

"Eat this cookie mama!"

"No really! EAT IT!!"

Lily playing with Toni's brother, Marty


Pretty girl!

I have had several requests to share more about Bulgaria itself. I promise that is on my "To do" list! Truthfully, I have spent most of my time at the orphanage in Stara Zagora, but we will be heading back to Sofia on Friday afternoon and will be there for the weekend, so hopefully I will have a chance to do some exploring and to take lots of good pictures. Until then, the following pictures were taken from the "top of the city" where the orphanage is located. I am fascinated by this scene every time we drive by it. According to the orphanage social worker, most of the people that live in this neighborhood are Roma (also commonly referred to as Gypsy).

It is really hard to capture just how incredible this looks with all of these houses going up the side of the hill, but I am always riveted on this when we drive up to the orphanage each day.

People enjoying the GORGEOUS day!

To the left of this picture was a school and the kids were out enjoying the day as well.

More houses on the hill. What you can't really see in the picture is that many of these are run down or abandoned.

I think Toni would have rather I not posted this picture, but I assured her that we ALL have our trash piles, no matter where we live! According to the social worker, the Roma people in the neighborhood come and dump the trash from their carts in this area. Whether or not that is true, I am not sure, but this is what we were told.

Flat Stanislav at the "top of the city!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

All Kinds of Beautiful

It was a GORGEOUS day in Stara Zagora! The sun was shining and the weather was absolutely amazing! The only thing that could make an already beautiful day even more perfect was tucked away in an orphanage at the top of the city!

We arrived at the orphanage at 10 am this morning. . .an hour later than yesterday (because we did not need to meet with the director today) and apparently Lily noticed that we were "late." Her care giver explained to us that she began to cry and ask for Mama when we were not there first thing this morning. Be still my heart (though I have a feeling she was crying more because mama's magic bag of toys was not there first thing this morning)!! I also learned that she returned to her group from our visit last night and excitedly explained to her caregiver that mama had kissed her cheeks (you bet I did! Those cheeks are absolutely delicious)!

Both of our visits today went very well! This little peanut (as referred to by my facilitator's brother, Marty) is simply AMAZING!! Her mind is constantly going and you can just look into those big, beautiful, blue eyes and see the wheels turning. She LOVES trying to figure out how things work and she has already mastered the DVD player, camera and ipod. I have a feeling she may be an engineer some day! She is very observant and NOTHING gets past her. Let me tell you, this girl is one smart cookie. Today's visits were just another confirmation that her delays are strictly institutional (with her speech also being affected by her cleft palate).

Lily does not acknowledge "can't." If you tell her that something cannot be done, she WILL find a way to do it. I brought an I-spy bag with me (a bag filled with poly-beads and objects that you have to find) and she was bound and determined to get it open (it is sewn shut). She kept handing it to me to open and Toni (my facilitator) and I tried to explain to her that it could not be opened, but she did not like that answer. She pulled and pried and, when that didn't work, she grabbed a newspaper from a shelf, rolled it up and tried using that to pry the bag open!! Based on what I have seen, I already feel pretty confident in saying that, there will be nothing that stands in the way of Lily acheiving her dreams!

I continue to be impressed by how nice her orphanage is. It is not just aesthetics (although the orphanage itself IS very nice). She is very well fed, she is always dressed nicely (in well-fitted, matching clothes. . . .Evan was always in clothes that were old, ill fitting and pieced together because that is all they had) her hair is always nicely done and her caregivers are very loving and attentive. All of the caregivers that we have met and talked with know a lot about Lily that would be impossible to determine in they had not interacted with her frequently. This evening, when our visit was over, Toni and I stood in the hall talking to two of the caregivers. Lily was with us and, as we talked, she and one of the caregivers were giving hugs and kisses and being playful with each other. It was obvious that the affection was mutual and not uncommon and that is absolutely fantastic. I am just very pleasantly surprised!

Needless t0 say, Lily has absolutely and completely stolen my heart. I know that it will be incredibly difficult to leave her on Friday (especially knowing now that she will be expecting my visits), but, as several friends who have already walked this part of the journey have reminded me, the sooner I come home, the sooner I can return and take her home forever!

Sorry there are not many pictures today! We did a lot more holding and cuddling today and I just wasn't going to pass up that opportunity!!

"Enough already with the camera mama!!"

This girl LOVES her electronics!

"Seriously mama! Get that thing out of my face!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

I am in LOVE!

Please allow me to introduce. . . .


Today was absolutely INCREDIBLE! Today, the picture that I have looked at hundreds of times over the past few months, finally came to life!

The day started early. We drove to the orphanage to meet with the director at 9 am. The orphanage sits on the top of a hill overlooking the entire city (or, as the director says, "at the top of the city"). It is the biggest orphanage that I have ever seen, but it is also the nicest. The buildings are in pristine condition. It is filled with toys (that are played with often), several therapy rooms (where children were in the process of receiving therapy during our tour) and the groups are small (there are only four children in Lily's group). The director gave us a quick tour of the orphanage and then directed us to the psychologists office where Lily was waiting for us.

When we (my facilitator and I) walked into the room, Lily was engrossed in a mountain of toys (she did not stop working through that mountain until it was time to go). The first thing I noticed was that this almost 7 year old beauty was roughly the size of a 2-3 year-old (29 lbs. 37 in.). I knew that she would be small (in addition to corrected cleft lip and palate, she has also been diagnosed with malabsorption syndrome which effects her body's ability to absorb nutrients properly. . .the cause is unknown at this point), but I was not expecting her to be as tiny as she is. However, despite her size, she is very healthy (she is little, but she does not appear to be malnourished). She is delayed for her age, but those delays seem to be completely institutional. Even the psychologist pointed out that her delays were likely caused by her lack of opportunity. Although she receives several therapies each week, the psychologist admitted that it was not enough. And, although her group is small, it consists of a little boy who is deaf, a little boy with down syndrome who in non-verbal and a little girl with cerebral palsy (so outside of the girl with CP, she has little opportunity for communication (which is where she seems to be most behind). Despite her institutional delays, she is incredibly smart (I mean, INCREDIBLY smart!) and you can just see the wheels turning in her head.

She was wary of us throughout most of our first visit (so most of the first visit I spent observing), but she was not afraid. The fact that she kept her distance initially is a very good sign. During the second visit she let her guard down a bit more and she played freely with me and even initiated contact by coming up and leaning on my lap to watch the opening of a Sesame Street DVD over and over and over again (we never got past the opening because opening and closing the DVD player was just a fascinating as the DVD)! Our visit this evening ended by blowing kisses and giving hugs (and my heart melting into a big puddle on the floor)!

In addition to being smart as a whip she is very strong willed (in the sense that she knows what she wants and how she wants it, but in a very calm and subtle away), independent and funny!
And can you believe those eyes!?! Yes, they really are that big and that blue and her eyelashes are at least a mile l0ng. In addition, those cheeks are just begging to be pinched (though I have practiced amazing self-restraint in that matter).

She is an AMAZING little girl and I am completely head-over-heels, in love with her already. She is going to have her daddy wrapped around her finger in no time as well! What an incredible blessing sweet Lily is going to be to our family. How am I ever going to be able to leave her at the end of the week!?!

And now for what you all really came here to see. . . .more pictures!

She has the BEST facial expressions! This is one of my favorites! We saw it often!

Lily LOVED the DVD player. She enjoyed the DVD that was in it as well, but she could not get enough of the buttons or trying to figure out how it worked!

LOVE those amazing blue eyes!!

She also LOVES music and this drum was a favorite toy during both visits today!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I have arrived!

I arrived in Bulgaria just after 1 pm (6am EST) this afternoon and am now in Stara Zagora awaiting my first meeting with Little Lady #1 in the morning! Aside from a slight delay in my last flight from Frankfurt to Sofia (the snow and wind are apparently following me around the globe), my travels were smooth and uneventful. I have not had much sleep in the past 48 hours and so I am completely exhausted, but I am hoping that might play in my favor and counteract the jet lag so that I can get some sleep tonight!

Bulgaria is BEAUTIFUL! As my final flight began to descend I was in awe of the breathtaking scene of small towns and villages, accented by terracotta roofs, nestled in the rolling hills. The drive to Stara Zagora was equally picturesque. Like the rest of Eastern Europe, old and run down buildings remind you of the history of this country, but the history is what makes it beautiful. I am looking forward to being able to experience so much of Bulgaria (Sofia, Stara Zagora and Lukovit) while I am here.

I am exhausted, so I will leave off here for tonight, but stay tuned! Tomorrow I will tell you all about my sweet little one, share pictures from our visit AND I will tell you what her name will be!

Until then, Flat Stanislav and I say "Chao!"

Flat Stanislav at the Frankfurt, Germany airport

Friday, February 19, 2010

Introducing. . . .


(Sorry he's a bit blurry. There was a small person climbing up my leg while I was taking this picture!)

Meet Flat Stanislav! Dressed in his brightest and best (compliments of my lovely little people), Flat Stanislav will be accompanying me to Bulgaria and will help me to document my adventures!

Our journey will begin tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 EST, as we board the first flight on our way to Bulgaria. We will arrive in Sofia at 1:00 pm on Sunday (6 am EST). From the airport, we will drive straight to Stara Zagora. I will meet my first little lady on Monday morning!

Little Lady #1

We will spend the week in Stara Zagora and on Friday, we will return to Sofia, where Stanislav and I will spend the weekend relaxing and taking in the sights. The following Monday (3/1) we will drive to Lukovit where we will meet little lady #2.

Little Lady #2

We will spend the week getting to know her and will return to Sofia on Friday. On Saturday (3/6) we will return home and the final leg of our adoption journey will begin!

Stan and I will do our best to keep you updated every step of the way! We cannot wait to share this journey with you!!

And now. . . some Flat Stanislav photo outtakes :-)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This time next week. . .

. . .I WILL BE IN BULGARIA!!!! I will be leaving on Saturday (2/20) and will arrive in Bulgaria next Sunday afternoon! I received my travels dates two weeks ago (I know, I know) and I have been walking around on cloud 9 ever since. After a year in this process, I will FINALLY be meeting my girls! Preparations are well under way and arrangements for those staying behind (I will be making this trip alone) have fallen into place beautifully! I am so excited I can hardly stand it! I will be spending two weeks in Bulgaria (5 days with each of the girls) and will return home on March 6th. Bulgaria, here I come. . . . . .:-)