Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Home :-)

You know what I hate? Following someone from "homestudy to home" and then having them fall off the face of the earth ;-) I have probably sat down at my computer and started at least a dozen posts only to find myself in a puddle of drool on my keyboard minutes later (EW, I know! But it's the truth!). I AM EXHAUSTED!! Happily exhausted however, and now that I seem to be able to hold my eyes open past 8 pm, I feel that it is time to turn some of my attention back to the prayer warriors and cheerleaders who have helped me to get to this happily exhausted state!

The trip home went as smoothly as can be expected when you are traveling halfway across the world with two children whose worlds have been turned upside down and inside out. Honestly, they both did much better than we expected them to. Alayna proved to us once again just how adaptable she really is. Aside from asking to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes and refusing to sleep (she was so excited to finally be going to America, I think she was afraid that if she closed her eyes, she would miss it), I think it is safe to say that she was having the time of her life! Fortunately, Lily appreciated the opportunity to curl up on mommy's lap and get some sleep, allowing mommy and daddy to get a little rest as well. Unfortunately, sleep was the only thing Lily appreciated about our time in the air. When she was not sleeping, she was begging the stewardesses for juice (which, we have learned the hard way, is not kind to her system) and trying her hardest to lead me to the nearest exit :-) Take-offs were especially difficult for Lily. On top of being terrified of the loud noises, warp speeds and the sensation of lifting into the air, poor Lily was in pain! Although she has had surgery to repair her cleft palate, it did not heal properly and there is still a hole in her palate making it nearly impossible to keep her ears from popping. The look of fear, confusion and pain in her eyes still haunts me.

Officially US Citizens! Sitting in the Chicago airport watching the planes as we wait to board our final flight.

We made it home without incident and we were lovingly greeted by family at the airport (and, thanks to my step-mother, Tina, we have photo documentation)! I wish there were words to describe just how incredible it was to fall into the arms of loved ones after such a long journey! Although I know that the girls were confused, exhausted and overwhelmed, they hardly let it show. Alayna immediately began talking up a storm to anyone who would listen and Lily could not wait to finally get into the car (her absolute, favorite thing) after a long day of flying.

Our family waiting to greet us at the airport!

I honestly expected the first few days home to be somewhat chaotic, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case! This was, in large part, due to my amazing brother and sister-in-law, Ben and Lauren, who did an incredible job keeping the kids on the schedule/routine that I had worked to establish before we left (have I mentioned that they VOLUNTEERED to take two weeks out of their own busy lives (less than two months after getting married) to take care of our five, very active children, without compensation!?! We are blessed)! Because they had run such a "tight ship" we were all able to fall into a beautiful routine from the beginning and it has been WONDERFUL!

The kids are all getting along beautifully. It is as if they have always been together. In the beginning, several of the kids were a little shy due to the language barrier, but it didn't take long for all of them to realize that the language of play is universal!

The Magnificent Seven playing in the dirt in the backyard!

Lukas, Alayna, Jacob and Joshua enjoying some bounce time

Maren and Alayna helping mommy "make" chocolate chip cookies

Alayna has adjusted well from the beginning. She is an absolute wonder to me! At 8 years-old, I expected her to come home with a lot more "baggage," but, aside from the occasional waves of sadness from missing "home" and friends and a few "orphanage behaviors" (a separate post that is currently "in progress") you would never know that she spent the first 8 years of life in an orphanage! She is loving, compassionate, smart, funny and absolutely NUTS (Lukas has finally met his match for the title of "Class Clown")! She could spend hours playing in our play kitchen and/or with her baby dolls/stuffed animals (which really just blows my mind as, knowing how to play is something that a majority of post-institutionalized children must be taught how to do). I absolutely LOVE watching her hold, love, kiss, rock, sing to and tuck her baby dolls into bed! She LOVES peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches and would probably eat them for every meal if I let her and she is a girl after my own heart when it comes to chocolate! She wants to be wherever I am (which is another reason I haven't had much time to update) and I think it is safe to say that Alayna and I are firmly attached!!

Isn't she gorgeous!?

Lily is a whole new ballgame for me and I will save most of my update on her for a separate post (because there are many things I feel are important to share and I want to be sure to give those things the time and attention they need). Lily has had a much harder time adjusting and has a lot of emotional hurdles to conquer, but we have already seen HUGE progress in the week+ that we have been home. When we first arrived home Lily completely shut down emotionally and it has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and love to draw her out, but we are finally starting to see the "real" Lily! She LOVES being in the car and this is one place where she lets all of her walls down (and we get lots of smiles, laughter and even singing!). She also loves the bathtub and playing in the water (though she isn't a fan of the pool) and she could spend hours and hours digging (and she is literally covered from head to toe in dirt when she is done. . .so it's a good thing she loves the bath!). She could live off of oatmeal with homemade strawberry jam and milk, pizza (soaked in water. . .gross, I know) and. . . . .pot roast (this kid is serious anemic! I'm afraid that, if I live cow walked by, she wouldn't think twice about devouring it on the spot!). This beautiful little lady is a fighter (in every sense of the word) and, although it will take some time, I know that she will eventually blossom into the incredible person that the Lord intends for her to be and we will be here to help and love her every step of the way!


Covered in dirt from head to toe. . .Lily's favorite fashion statement!

All-in-all, this transition has been much easier than it was with the boys almost three years ago (can you believe they have been home from almost 3 years!?!) and I find myself grateful for all of the extra time we had to prepare ourselves this time around. Though there have been many "surprises" nothing has truly been unexpected and that has made dealing with those "surprises" much less overwhelming. There is still so much to tell and I hope to have the opportunity to share all of our experiences with you, especially those that will benefit all who will follow in our footsteps.

Friday, August 6, 2010

So long, farewell, DOVIZHDANE, goodbye. . .

With passports and visas in hand, in just a few hours, we will finally be on our way home. The girls medicals and visa interviews went well yesterday. Lily had a bit of a meltdown while at the polyclinic. She gave it her all for about 15 minutes and, once she realized it wasn't getting her anywhere, decided it was no longer worth the effort!

We spent our last morning in Sofia exploring the market, enjoying ice cream and taking in the sights of the city one last time. This afternoon we received the girls passports/visas and said goodbye to Toni.

Both of the girls are very excited about our trip home. So excited that Lily insisted upon wearing her shoes to bed :-)

This girl is the craziest sleeper I have ever seen! I don't think she stays in one position for more than a few minutes and could cover the entire surface of the bed in the duration of one night!

Jacob will be happy to know we have another thumb sucker in the family!

Now we are just praying that their excitement will translate into a smooth and uneventful trip home (I know. . .wishful thinking)! We leave Sofia at 6am (11pm EST/Friday) and touch down in Dayton at 6pm (Saturday). We are so excited to get home and finally have all of our "babies" together (well, almost all of them. . we are certainly carrying Alexis with us in our hearts).

We have very much enjoyed this week in Sofia with our girls. Some things that we will miss:

1. The Backstreet Boys CD that plays in the hotel restaurant every morning at breakfast :-) It always gives Richard and I a good laugh and what better way to start the day than with laughter!

2. George, the hotel concierge. We LOVE George and wish we could pack him in our suitcase and take him home with us (unfortunately we are out of room). He is the nicest guy you will ever meet and goes above and beyond to make sure we have everything we need. He is also wonderful with the girls (and I'm pretty sure Alayna wouldn't mind packing him up and taking him with us as well)!

3. Bulgarian food!! The food here is amazing and just about everything is FRESH!! My stomach and my palate are really going to miss this cuisine!

4. The History. It is always fascinating to visit a country whose history dates back THOUSANDS of years. We have enjoyed visiting many of Bulgaria's historical sites, as well as a history museum, during our stay and we are happy to be bringing that knowledge and experience home with us.

5. The people and the culture. The people of Bulgaria are wonderful! Everyone we have met here has been helpful and hospitable. One of the things we have loved most is the opportunity to be out among all of the people during our daily "excursions" in Sofia, to exchange smiles and greetings and to observe daily life in the city.

6. The language. As nice as it will be to hear people speaking English (though many do here), I will truly miss hearing Bulgarian spoken everywhere I go. I have enjoyed learning the language (and will continue to do so) and the immersion has really helped my understanding and fluency. Fortunately I have at least one more trip to look forward to and some time to practice in the meantime (Alayna and I have enjoyed teaching each other our different languages)!

6. Team Vladimirova. What we will miss most about Bulgaria is our amazing friend and attorney, Toni, and her wonderful family. Toni is one of the most inspiring and Christlike people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She works hard to have a personal relationship with EVERY family she works with and she loves these children with her whole heart. Finding homes for Bulgaria's orphaned children is her life's work and she is an amazing instrument in the Lord's hands, always, ALWAYS giving the glory to our Heavenly Father. What a gift she has been to us (and our children) and what a blessing it is to be able to say those things about our agency/attorney!

And now, as we close this chapter in our journey, I must also give all of the glory to a loving Heavenly Father who has seen us through every step in this process and who has ultimately entrusted us with the loving care and guidance of two of his most precious and beautiful daughters. We are humbled by the trust that He has placed in us to lead and guide them back home to Him and know that it is only through His continued guidance that we will be able to meet all of the challenges that come to us as a result of that responsibility.

One journey is ending, another is just beginning. . . . .we will see you on the other side!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Family Fun

We have had an enjoyable few days as a "family of four!" On Tuesday we enjoyed our routine walk in Sofia. As we walked down the street we ran into three missionaries from our church outside of the immigration office. We enjoyed talking with them and I am sure that they enjoyed being able to speak English for awhile (especially Elder Jones, who just arrived in Bulgaria a week ago).

At times it was difficult to navigate Alayna's wheelchair in a city that is not very wheelchair accessible, but eventually we made it to our destination and the girls enjoyed playing at the playground for a while. While at the park we met two other American families (both couples with two young children). One family just arrived in Sofia two weeks ago and is here working for the Embassy. The other family is in the Peace Corps and has been here for two years (we were excited to learn that this family also lived in Uzbekistan for 5 years). It was neat talking to them about their experiences living abroad with their families.

This was the first time that Alayna was with us for our walk and she really enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. I was also pleasantly surprised by how few people stared as we walked down the street, played at the playground and ate our lunch (don't get me wrong, people definitely stared, but no more than we are used to in the US). It is extremely rare to see people in wheelchairs out and about in Bulgaria (and the few we have seen are usually begging) so it was nice to be able to take Alayna out, without being the focus of everyone's attention, and hopefully change a few perceptions in the process.

This morning we took the girls to the Sofia Zoo and a great time was had by all. Unlike the zoo's in the US, this zoo was much smaller and very low key (there were very few people there and I have a feeling this is the way it is most of the time). So, for those of you following in our footsteps, if you need a low key and inexpensive activity to do while you are here, I highly recommend the zoo.

It's almost scary how close you are to some of the animals!

Hmmm. . .I could be wrong, but I doubt this tiger would be handing out big, slobbery kisses if you got close enough to touch!

People feeding the animals is a big problem at this zoo. We saw people throwing cheese puffs, pretzels, etc. to the animals at most of the exhibits. We thought this sign was particularly amusing :-)

Alayna enjoying some ice cream at the zoo (please excuse the dress. . .we are still working on modesty)!

Lily enjoying her ice cream. This is the first "sweet" thing I have seen her eat since I've known her.

Swinging!! There are little playgrounds throughout the zoo and we stopped to play at this one on the way out. Not a very flattering picture of me, but I love the look on Lily's face. Both the girls love to swing!

We generally keep our afternoons very low key and yesterday and today were no exception. We spent both afternoons in our hotel room napping, coloring, doing puzzles, painting nails and taking baths.

Alayna and Lily enjoying some splash time

The girls are both doing well. Both have "orphanage behaviors" that we are working on (and will likely be for some time), but nothing that we are unfamiliar with or unprepared for (I will go into more detail about these things once we are home and settled because I think they are important to discuss). The days are long and we are all ready to head home, but I am grateful that we have been able to spend this time in Sofia with the girls. Obviously because it is nice to be able to focus our attention completely on them for a few days before we get home and have to divide our attention seven different ways, but also because I feel that, in a way, having the girls with us in Sofia for a week puts us all on common ground. We are all in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, speaking an unfamiliar language and it certainly makes it easier to understand even a fraction of what the girls might be feeling.

Tomorrow morning we will take the girls to their medical appointments and, in the afternoon, we have our visa interviews at the US Embassy. It will be a long day for all of us. Please keep the girls in your prayers, especially Lily as, the last time we were on "official business," she had a major meltdown and I am worried (more for her than for me. . .at this point in motherhood, I am seasoned veteran when it comes to meltdowns) that tomorrow could bring more of the same for her.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Today was a WONDERFUL success! After spending half the night awake changing Lily's diapers (I'd say we changed at least 10 absolutely awful diapers during the night. . .poor baby) and starting the day with Lily throwing up over breakfast (she ate WAY too much yesterday and her poor digestive system just couldn't handle it), I was a little nervous about how we would all make it through this day and live to tell! Although, we definitely had our rough spots, for the most part, everything has gone very well.

We drove to Lukovit first this this morning where Alayna's mother, grandmother and grandfather were waiting for us. Aside from Lily throwing a tantrum throughout most of the meeting, it was an incredible experience for all of us. Alayna's birth family is wonderful. They love her dearly and, although they are sad that she will be so far away, they are so happy to know that she will be loved and cared for and have the opportunity to reach her full potential. I was deeply touched when Alayna's grandmother took me in her arms and told me that, she had been blessed with two daughters and now she had three and when Alayna's mother kissed my cheeks and told me that I would forever be like her sister. It was an emotional meeting for us all and I will be forever grateful for the blessing of having these wonderful, loving people in my life (and Alayna's). What a truly incredible gift.

Mama Valerie, Mama DiDi (Dimitrina), Diado Mitko (grandpa), Baba Violeta (grandma) and Tatko Richard.

Alayna met with her birth family to say a final goodbye before we arrived this morning and her mother explained to her that she was blessed to have two mama's that love her and that today she would be going home with Mama Valerie and Tatko Richard so she was ready to go when we arrived. While we were meeting with her family. her caretakers were preparing her to leave. All of the children from the orphanage were playing outside when we arrived and were still out there when we left. As we walked to the car with Alayna, everyone followed us yelling "Goodbye" and "We'll miss you" (in Bulgarian of coure).

Leaving the orphanage

Alayna did fairly well as we drove away from the orphanage, but about 10 minutes in to our drive back to Sofia, she broke down and began to just sob. My heart ached for her as I watched her grieve the loss of her friends and family. She cried on and off for most of the trip home, but by the time we arrived in Sofia she was fine.

Before returning to the hotel we had to stop by the immigration office to apply for the girls passports. As soon as we left the car and walked into the building Lily began to wail (one thing we know for sure. . .there is absolutely nothing wrong with this girls lungs!!). She screamed and cried and kicked in my arms the entire time we were in the immigration office and she refused to be comforted. I can't wait to pull out her Bulgarian passport when she is a teenager and show all the boys what Lily looks like when she doesn't get her way :-) As soon as we left the building and got back into the car it was like nothing had ever happened. I think she has already given me a few gray hairs!

We spent a low key afternoon in the hotel room. Alayna enjoyed coloring, listening to Bulgarian children's songs on my iPod and talking to her aunt, uncle, brothers, sister and grandma via Skype. Richard and Alayna went downstairs and ordered pizza for dinner. I think this pizza will probably feed us all for the rest of the week, don't you?

I am very glad that I took the time to learn enough Bulgarian to be able to effectively communicate with the girls (and, of course, I continue to learn more each day as I talk to them). Alayna is a social butterfly and it has made bonding and attaching much easier because I understand what she needs/wants and can respond to those wants/needs without a lot of frustration caused by the language barrier. There have been a few times when I have not understood her (and I pretty sure she cussed me out in Bulgarian at one point), but for the most part, we have been able to communicate very effectively.

Alayna is an amazing girl. She gets around without a wheelchair VERY well (although the orphanage did allow us to take one with us (neat story about that later) she hasn't used it much). She absolutely LOVES the bath. She took two baths tonight and wanted to take a third, but we eventually talked her into waiting until tomorrow morning! She has also tried on just about every article of clothing (including every pair of socks and every pair of underwear) that we brought for her! She is destined to be a daddy's girl. She loves hanging out with her daddy and I am pretty sure the feeling is mutual. They have already developed a "secret handshake" (okay, it is just an "exploding" fist bump, but it is hilarious to watch). She seems to enjoy her mommy time as well, but for the most part, I am just the translator for her and her daddy (which is actually very good because Lily still needs a decent amount of my attention).

Alayna and her daddy! Two peas in a pod!

Both of the girls (and Richard) are now sleeping peacefully. Your thoughts and prayers were heard and we have been blessed with a truly amazing day! Tomorrow and Wednesday will be "down days" as we wait for the girls passports to be processed (they should be ready to pick up on Wednesday afternoon). We will make up for those low-key days on Thursday which we will spend at the polyclinic in the morning (in order for the girls to be issued Visa's, the US requires a medical exam) and the US Embassy in the afternoon. The visa's should be ready by Friday and our flight departs on Saturday morning at 6 am.

We are overjoyed to FINALLY have both of our beautiful girls with us and we cannot wait to get them home! Please continue to keep the girls in your prayers. They are doing well, but they still have a long road ahead of them as they process through all of these changes in their lives and transition into our family.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Unique Situation

Tomorrow is Alayna's "Gotcha Day" and we are so excited to finally have our girl in our arms! We have not shared this with many people but, when I met Alayna for the first time in March, I learned that her birth mother and grandmother still write/call/visit her several times per year (every birthday and Christmas as well as various holidays throughout the year). This revelation brought with it many different emotions as well as some stress in regards to how this might effect Alayna's adoption.

Once the adoption was finalized I asked Toni if it would be possible to contact the birth mother to let her know that Alayna had been adopted so that she would have a chance to see her daughter and say goodbye before we brought her home. For this to happen, the local social services had to approve the contact. The day before we left for Bulgaria, Toni contacted me to let me know that social services had approved, the birth mother had been contacted and that she and the grandmother had been to visit Alayna that day. To my relief, they were very happy to learn that Alayna had been adopted and were excited that she would finally receive the medical treatment she needs. They also requested to meet Richard and I. We gladly accepted!

We are very happy to have this opportunity to sit down with Alayna's birth family and get to know them, ask questions and continue our contact with them once we return home so that they can continue to watch Alayna grow and reach her full potential as the beautiful daughter of God that she is. We know that this relationship between two families that love her with also be beneficial to Alayna.

Tomorrow will be a very busy and emotionally charged day. Please pray that our meeting with Alayna's birth family will be positive and that we will be able to share our hearts for Alayna with each other despite the language barrier. Please pray that this transition will be smooth for Alayna and that she will be able to understand what is going on. Pray that we will be able to help her process through the change to the best of our abilities. And please, please pray for Lily. She is making great strides, but tomorrow will be a big day for her as well and we are a little nervous about how the events of tomorrow will effect her.

Today was another wonderful day and we feel that Lily has taken some very positive steps forward already. There is much to tell and I promise that those things will not be left unsaid, but it is going to be an early morning and a long day tomorrow and my bed is calling my name (oh, wait. . .I think that was Richard!).

Thank you all for your prayers and also for your encouraging comments! Those things are what keep us going when the going gets tough!