Monday, March 31, 2014

It's Adventure Time!

"Come on, grab a friend!  Its time to go to a distant land with Sean the man and flash the camera, its….something somethin’..blah…Adventure Time!”

That is my new theme song for the blogs this week.  But uh….you would need to have watched the Adventure Time cartoons to get the full effect.  But anywho – on with the show!

So, yes, I landed in Sofia around 1:00 pm local time.  Which was about 24 hours ago as I type.  After getting my luggage, which I absolutely cannot believe didn't get lost, I headed out and saw the quite famous Yavor holding the name Bailey.  If I had any sense I would have captured that on film, but as I was running on little sleep and had less sense, I didn’t.  Poo….hopefully I’ll get a photo of him before I go.

Well anyway, Yavor was my ride to the hotel and will be my guide/translator along the way to the orphanage.  It was quite a different experience driving in Bulgaria than being in the USA.  USA driving I think tends to be more regulated and structured than in Europe.  There are these crazy multilane traffic circles that folks weave in and out of. 

Considering that Yavor will be picking me up any second, I’m going to add that bit a little later….
Anyway, I made it to the hotel and I have to say the staff was really nice and Engleski friendly.  I don’t know if that is how you say English in Bulgarian, but it is in Croatian.  But since I’m not in Croatia…oh never mind!

Once checked in I took my bags up to the room and decided to check for damage and get myself organized.  Within 10 minutes, the contents of my bags had vomited all over the place.  I was very happily surprised to see both candy packed in and two little handwritten notes from Joey and Rosemary.  It was such a breath of fresh air to see those little ones’ handwritten notes.  The notes were telling me that I needed to give a peppermint to Abraham and one for me.  There were two mints taped to the picture.

Oh, I also did a video of the room to show the kids back home where I'm staying.  They are quite fascinated with hotels.

One kind of funny thing was that there was a notice on the desk left by the hotel management.  Basically, that the night of March 29th is the night that Bulgarian time goes forward one hour: Spring forward.  Dang it!  I just did that back home, and now I have to do it again.  I wasn’t fully recovered from the last time that I did that!  Well, I was fighting jet lag too so….just put it on the pile!

At this point I was tired, but not too bad off, and I wasn’t hungry.  So, I decided to go on and try the free Wi-fi, and try to engage in Skyping with Sam.  Once I logged on and got Skype rolling, I saw that Sam was on too.  It was such a wonderful thing to be able to see Sam and the kids.  The kids started going ballistic jumping over each other to try to see the screen with Sam having to bear the brunt of the dog pile.  Sam looked really good and the kids were quite spritely.

 After we skyped I embarked on my adventure.  I had two missions: I had to find a Catholic Church for Mass in the morning (ah ha….tell you about that in the next post) and I wanted to buy some paper so that I could do some problems for my actuarial exam prep work.  So I stopped by reception, asked where these things were, was given a map with a couple of X’s and off I went.

I stepped out the door and promptly walked the wrong way!  I eventually figured that out when I saw that I seemed to be walking around a more residential area with plenty of auto shops.  Nothing looked like I was walking toward the center of town.  So, I consulted the map.  Yep, the wrong way.
Once corrected, I followed the path a while until I got bored and started walking almost any which way down these little alley roads.  I kept an idea of where I was, generally speaking, but I had NO clue about where I was exactly.
It was kind of scary in a way.  There were many people just loitering.  More than I expected and especially in the little alley ways.  So I just kept my head up and tried to look like I know what I was doing.

Once I had my fill of trying to blend in with the natives, I tried to figure out where I was and get back on track to my missions.  I eventually ended up on a very busy road with some landmarks.  This is good.  I took out my map and tried to figure out exactly where I was.  Well….there were a couple of spots of where I could be, but I couldn’t tell based on the pictures.  I would need the road names to really know where I was.  The map was in English, and the road names are in Cyrillic (Bulgarian).  That just meant that I had to flex my translating muscle.  Through a little bit of deductive reasoning and reading Cyrillic I found out where I was on the map.
I then oriented myself towards the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, which wasn’t too far away.  There apparently is a subway system under the city.  The entrance and exits serve as a risk free way to cross busy roads.  Jay walking is a huge hit over here, and wherever possible I tried to fit in.  But the road that I had to cross was way too busy for me to try walking like Jay, so I used the public subway route.

When I arrived at St. Joseph’s, it was such a comforting sight.  This is my first encounter of the true universality of the Catholic Church.  I recognized a large statue of St. Joseph on the outside, and on the inside, the Church looked as if it could have been in the USA.  I stopped in and prayed for a bit before heading on.
I kept my eyes peeled for paper….but to no avail.  I found an office shop and was looking around but I didn’t find a nice pad of paper.  I’m pretty sure that I looked rather odd in there and I was looking for that first opportunity to use Bulgarian currency, the lev.  So I would have to wait for that.

Along the way there were some interesting looking pizza shops where you can buy pizza by the slice.  Tell you what, if I was hungry, I would have taken one (they were huge slices off of like an 18 inch pizza….maybe even more).

When I arrived back, I felt exhausted.  I had planned to do a Skype date with Sam around 7:00 my time.  When I got back, I worked on organizing myself a little more and decided to just see if Sam was on Skype at around 6:00 or so.

I have to say that Skype really does make life easier when I’m this far away.  We had a good talk with the kids coming in and out of the screen and I can tell you that I really miss them.  I would rather deal with four rambunctious kids than to be by myself.  But, I soon will have a little one here that I get to hang out with.  As I type this, I am within two hours of meeting Abraham.

Sam talked me into eating supper because I was threatening not to eat anymore – I was tired, a little lazy, and had found my Nerds candy.  Nope, don’t want to go anywhere.  But with Sam’s help I mosied on down to the “PECTOPAHT” (one of the few Bulgarian words that I can write without Cyrillic characters) and ordered the roulade….Bacon wrapped chicken.  I then settled in for the night.  

St. Christopher, Pray for us!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Shortest Night

I know that I’m going to be feeling it today, but I’m going to try to stay strong!  Jet lag is going start hitting me pretty soon.

When I last left y’all I was just about to board the plane to Frankfurt.  I don’t know if I mentioned Frankfurt or not, but that was the next stop on the journey.  I just finished my sandwich, chips, and coke and I was ready for the next round – bring it on!

Hello Canada!
The next flight was about 8 hours long, but it moved me ahead in time by, I believe, 5 hours more.  Leaving around 7:00 and landing at 7:50 in the morning.  All in all the flight was nice, had good food (for airplanes) and very good service.  They had these little monitors on the back of the seat ahead for you to watch movies during your flight.  That came in handy later on.

Now, I don’t exactly know why I drink ginger ale on the airplane….it might have something to do with an “Oatmeal” cartoon that I read a while back.  But anyway, turns out that they didn’t have it this time!  Bummer!  Well, I settled for Coke.  And…it is true, Coke from other places tastes different than the American version.  It’s weird, but after I tasted it I remembered how it tasted when I last went to Europe.  Main difference is that it has sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

After eating, I tried to get some sleep so I wouldn’t be bushed for the day ahead.  Well, that didn’t happen.  I suffer from an undiagnosed case of restless leg syndrome.  The middle four hours of the flight were the hardest.  Every time that I would slightly saunter into slumber, my leg would start shaking uncontrollably.  Not only that but it is actually painful when I’m tired.

After a while, I said forget it – I’m going to watch a movie.  Well, I didn’t say it ‘cause I didn’t want to wake up my seat mate.  So, what movie did I pick to watch?  Cool Runnings!  If you have not seen it, you should.  It is a family favorite (at least for Sam and I….Joey and Rosemary got upset with the crash of the pushcart at the beginning the first time we watched it together.  I think that they at least tolerated it the second time).  It was such a blessing to see something so familiar in such a foreign (pun intended) environment.  It made the humor and funny stuff all that much funnier.  It was chicken soup for my soul.

My ride across the pond
I did keep a careful watch of how close we were to our scheduled stop in Frankfurt.  I had heard that Frankfurt airport is a tough one to move through quickly because it is so huge and I had only a two hour layover before going to Sofia.  There was a monitor in the middle of the cabin that would display every so often the time until arrival and the current local time.  So I would add the two together to get the proposed arrival time and mentally keep track of how that changed over time.  I think that we may have shaved a minute or two, but otherwise we were right on time.

Once we landed, we got one of those stair treatments for the plane and were put in a bus to go to the terminal.  Every chance I could I pushed myself so that I wouldn’t be late.  Then, once I got through security to get to my gate, I noticed that I had over an hour before they were to board my flight!  I was quite pleasantly surprised.

So, at that point, I logged onto the Wi-Fi and started writing this post.  I also downloaded the entire Actuarial Exam 9 study manual…..I was having trouble conceptualizing Gaussian Copulas in terms of Credit Value at Risk measures.  If that meant nothing to you, you are not alone….It meant nothing to me either!

The boarding for the flight was similar to the unboarding of the flight into Frankfurt: take a bus and hop in.  This flight was only two hours but it felt much longer.  The plane was bigger than the commuter, so I was able to store my carryon in the overhead bin (but I wore my camera religiously from that point on!).

The plane ride was uneventful and rather comfortable.  I slept most of the way over trying to catch up on the sleep I lost coming from Toronto to Frankfurt.

Then I landed in Sofia safely.  One of the first things I noticed was that signs were bilingual, Bulgarian and English.  I found the Cyrillic somewhat comforting.

Alright….that is it for now.  I’m going to write next about meeting Yavor my guide, getting lost in Sofia, finding St. Joseph’s Church, Skyping with home and more….

St. Christopher, pray for us!
God bless,

Saturday, March 29, 2014

And so the Journey Begins

Well, actually, the journey is at halftime, but the first half we didn’t go anywhere.  Now, here we are (actually here I, Sean, am) on the way to actually meet our fifth child!  This will be the first of our children who I will meet first, and I feel so honored that I get to have this chance.  Not many fathers get to have that chance, so I hold onto this opportunity with an amount of gravity reserved only for the most profound of life’s moments.

On the way to the airport
But alas, I’m not there yet.  I’m hanging out in my first layover of two.  I started this morning in Columbia, SC, drove with the family up to Charlotte, NC to catch my flight to Toronto, ON.  Charlotte airport was a rather easy airport to navigate; it wasn’t anything compared to my usual port of call, Atlanta, GA.  Things went smoothly without a single problem.

Since this is the first time that I have traveled internationally in over 16 years and first time by myself, I am constantly playing the game of “Where’s my passport?!”

“Oh, its in my carryon.”

“Oh, its in my jacket.”

“Oh, its in my butt pocket….wait, why is it there?!”

First bit of advice to myself – find a place to park the passport.  For me, I found my front pocket to be quite handy.  I also relocated my credit card and immediate boarding pass there.  Makes life a little easier.

Oh, and on the subject of carrying stuff on your person, I abso-freaking-LOVE my jacket.  Not only does it have a slight shabby professorial feel to it, but man I have pockets galore.  It's like a free carry on!  Currently, its housing my calculator (yeah, I’m a nerd…get over it), my Bulgarian phrase book and my little St. Therese statue and…hhmmmm, room for lots more.  Oh well.  I did have more but it got moved to my carry-on (the real one).

Well, the flight to Toronto was not too bad.  The plane was a small commuter plane so that meant that my carry-on got stored on the plane elsewhere.  So I had to say adios to it while I took my actuarial exam materials and a book, The Search for Saint Valeria, into the cabin.  They didn't offer a single bite to eat on the plane, not even a biscotti!  But drinks were provided, so it wasn't a total loss.  I sipped my ginger ale while reading my book whose main protagonist is a ginger ale connoisseur.  Perfect!

Rosemary took one last shot of Mom and Dad together
As I said, the plane was small and not very comfy, but I managed to catch a few winks before landing here.  For some strange reason, I had Weird Al's song, Canadian Idiot, stuck in my head as we landed.  It was kind of cool coming off because they had the staircase with wheels come over to the door for us to come out.  I always found that to be the “proper” way to come out of a plane…probably comes from watching The Rescuers Down Under.

Anyway, after landing in Toronto I had to muddle through customs and found that I was completely lost!  I can usually navigate my way through most American airports, but I didn’t find the usual plethora of check-in counters.  At this point I noticed that my cognitive abilities were considerably impaired and couldn’t problem solve my way out of a paper bag with a cat in it.  Then I remembered that I should look for departures.

Which leads me to the sad part of the story.  I had to take an elevator to the top floor for the ticket counters.  Knowing that Joey is an absolute elevator geek, I wanted to get a photo of the elevator for him.  Well…I took the camera out, and I turned it on and….the camera was broken!  The camera would turn on, but the display was all matter of messed up.  That really upset me; got me in a funk.  I just had a hard time thinking of how I was going to do this trip to meet our Abraham without having photos to share.

I was in this funk when I made my way to security and I sort of fumbled through getting my stuff onto the conveyer.  It must have been how they packed the carryon in the commuter plane that caused the problem….What about my computer?  How was it?  I had all of these questions going through my head at security.

At about that time, I was told to wait as they did some sort of security thing on the other side of the metal detector.  So as they were doing that, and in between my dark thoughts of compy doom, I slowly put the rest of my “metal” in the little bins.

“Crap…better put this broken camera in there.”

“Oh yeah….my belt….can’t forget that….”

And some other stuff.  Once they got that cleared up, they had my bins and carryon go through their detector and I was good to go. Except that….

I won the PRIZE!  I was hot enough for an enhanced pat down!  Actually they said that I was “randomly” chosen (wink-wink) for the enhanced pat down.  Well, either that or a full body scan.  I wasn’t feeling frisky so I decided to do the body scan.

Once I got my stuff together, I found my way to the gate.  It was around 3:40 by then and I wasn’t to board until 6:30, so I decided to walk around a bit.  That’s when I saw it!

To be honest, I hate Best Buy…well, it doesn’t excite me.  Can’t really say hate.  Nope….trying to teach Joey not to say that. So no, not hate.  But this time, I was absolutely happy to see it.  It is one of those self-serve automated things with a touch screen menu.  I decided to take a look for digital cameras….any one would suffice!  Well, within reason.

Out with the old (blue) and in with the new...
So for the next five minutes I’m standing there trying to decide on what to get.  All of the ones that I wanted to get (read “inexpensive”) were sold out.  But there was one rather decent, slightly higher priced camera that was available.  Not knowing what was ahead as far as availability, or compatibility to US stuff, or….trying to feel better about killing the other camera, I decided to get it.  Was it the best decision?  We will wait until the end of the week on that one.  I tried it and it looks slick and is mucho mucho mnogo better quality than we had before, so….looks promising.

After a tuna sandwich, some chips, and a coke, I wrote this.  I’ll be boarding in a bit heading for Allemagne!  I mean Germany, before landing in the great land of Hristo Stoichkov: Bulgaria.

St. Christopher, pray for us!  Oh dude….I just saw one of the planes and they are HUGE.  Lemme go get a photo!

God bless!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What to Ask the Orphanage?

Part of our preparation for Sean to travel on this first trip to meet "Abraham" entailed creating a list of questions for him to ask the orphanage staff.  We brainstormed and asked friends for input, and these are the questions on our list, in the order in which they came to us.
  •  How long did he have a Baba (grandmotherly lady who would spend a little 1:1 time with him each day, before the program lost its funding last November), and what was his relationship with her like?
  • Is there any way we can re-hire her or someone else to give our son individual attention?
  • Does he have any special caregivers?
  • Does or has anyone visited him in the orphanage?
  • What name does he respond to?
  • What is his average daily routine?
  • What food does he eat, and what is his mealtime routine/schedule?  
  • Does he have any favorite foods?
  • Does he feed himself?
  • What is his bedtime routine?
  • Do you have any extra (medical) information in his file that we could have a copy of?
  • Do you have any baby photos or photos of him when he was younger?  Videos?  And can we get copies?
  • What is he afraid of?
  • What upsets him, and what is most likely to trigger a tantrum?
  • Has he been baptized?
  • What does he like to do?  Any favorite activities?
  • What toys/items is he attached to?
  • Does he communicate nonverbally, and if so, what kinds of things?  Anything dealing with potty/diaper?
  • Does he listen to any music or watch any TV?
  • Does/has he received any therapies?
  • Has his hearing been tested?
  • Who named him?
  • Any details about his birth?  Did his birthmother give a reason for her choice not to parent him?  Did she hold him?
  • What items would the orphanage like for us to try provide as a donation on the pick-up trip?
  • What is the process for picking him up on the second trip?
  • How does he react to other children specifically?  What does he do?
  • Are holidays celebrated, and if so which ones and how?  Birthdays?
  • Does he have any known allergies or drug allergies?
  • Does he have any food aversions?
  • Any sound, light, taste, tactile, or smell sensitivities?
  • Is he right or left handed?
  • What is his bathing routine?  Does he like or dislike the water?
  • Does he have any dental needs?  Any dental records we could have a copy of?  Has he had any dental work done?
  • Would they characterize his recovery from surgery as slow, average, or fast?
  • How often does he get sick (with colds and the like)?
  • Does he have a preference for male or female caregivers?
  • How does he respond to verbal correction?
  • How is he disciplined for bad behavior?
  • Does he ever become aggressive?
  • Describe a typical tantrum (holding breath, biting, hitting himself, breaking things, etc.)?
  • How often does he play outside?
  • Does he ever try to eat things that aren't food, such as sand, paper, soap, dirt?
  • Are there types of clothing he doesn't like to wear?
  • How does he behave for personal grooming such as nail clipping, brushing hair and teeth?
  • Is his bedroom kept cool or warm?
  • How does he react to car rides?  Has he been restrained in a car seat before?
  • Does he have any known siblings?
  • Can Sean leave any of the toys and/or blanket he brought with him?  We are hoping he can use the blanket regularly between the two trips so that it becomes a comforting, familiar item to him to help with the trip home at pick-up in several months' time.
  • If he is attached to a certain orphanage-owned plaything at pick-up, would it be possible for him to keep the item which we will replace with another new toy for the orphanage to keep?
  • How much longer would he have had in the orphanage before being transferred?
  • Does he have any personal possessions?
  • What comforts him?
  • What are his favorites, if known (color, animal, activity, etc.)?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Almost There

Sean will be meeting "Abraham" for the first time in less than a week!  His tickets are booked and came in a good $400 under budget, even with the short notice--praise God!  We have just about everything he needs for his trip, and we are counting down the days and hours till he will have our son in his arms!

Goodies for playing with Abraham at the orphanage

We have heard that there are not many playthings available for use at the visits in Abraham's orphanage, so Sean will be bringing some things to play with.  The things we have packed so far are a Magnadoodle drawing board, an inflatable ball, bubbles, stacking cups, silly putty, crayons and paper, a pull-back plane toy, a stuffed Yoshi, hand puppet googly eyes, and a recordable book so that Abraham can hear us reading to him after Sean leaves.  We also have a photo book we will leave with him, containing photos of our family and home.  I made the tie-dye microfleece blanket with a dark turquoise crocheted border in the background of the picture above last week.  Our priest blessed it on Sunday, sort of a similar idea as a prayer shawl.  I hope the orphanage allows him to keep it and use it regularly, so he has something familiar to bring home with him in a few months.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Verbal Referral and Other Happy News!

We have reached a wonderful milestone in our adoption of "Abraham"!  His country has approved our dossier and issued us a verbal referral for the little guy!  Soon we will be receiving written referral along with travel dates for the first trip!

And we have some more wonderful news and evidence of how God is not being outdone in generosity.  Sean received an unexpected bonus at work, which has boosted our adoption funding to 75% funded!  Thank You Jesus!  We are down to having to raise the last quarter of Abraham's ransom!  It's amazing to see how God has provided so far--through generosity of friends and strangers, through this unexpected bonus, and through utility bills that "should" have been bigger but allowed us instead to save more.  Starting this adventure we knew He would help us.  We've read of this happening to other families on similar journeys.  But still, to see it happen to us has been a wonderful gift in itself.  He is multiplying our loaves and fishes!

We have our next (and final!) big agency fee due next month when Sean comes home from meeting Abraham.  That means we need to raise another $1500 in the next few weeks.  To help do this, we're preparing for a group online auction with some other adoptive families from our agency.  The auction will begin March 30, and I will update with a link when we get closer to time. The auction is now live and can be found at:

If anyone has items (in good or new condition) they would like to donate to our auction to help bring Abraham home, please let me know!  Spring clean, declutter your home, and help a little boy know the love of a family all at the same time!