Monday, April 21, 2014

KEVA Structures and American Express Gift Card Giveaway

Three weeks ago Sean got to meet our little Abraham for the first time.  The trip went so well, and we thank you all who have kept us in your prayers during this process.

Now that the first trip is complete, we need to raise $4,000 to be fully funded for this adoption!  I remember seeing that number in the quintuple-digits not too long ago, and it’s truly amazing and even miraculous that it’s been chipped away at the way it has.  What a privilege to witness first-hand this multiplication of our "loaves and fishes"!

Our next fundraiser is a giveaway of a set of 400 KEVA Structures Building Planks and a $25 American Express Gift Card.  
The set of KEVA Structures building planks retails for about $100 and includes a zippered storage bag.  These planks are excellent for open-ended play and creativity for children and adults.  They are made out of natural wood and cut in precise dimensions so that five widths are equal to one length of a plank.  

How To Participate: We are giving our donors one entry/chance at winning this set of Structures Planks and the $25 American Express gift card for every $1 donated to our tax-deductible Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Grant (FSP):

Just e-mail (b a i l e y a k @ b e l l s o u t h . n e t) or send a message or comment below letting me know how much you donated so that you can be entered accordingly.  Please also let me know if you share this giveaway, because that will earn you one free entry per person.

Once our FSP account reaches $1,000 we will draw a winner!  And to add a fun little incentive to this giveaway, once we reach our goal, we will release a completely adorable video of Abraham that was taken during Sean's trip.

Thank you so much for your support, and even if you can’t afford to donate monetarily, your prayers for success for our adoption and this fundraiser are priceless!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Heading Home!

Pre-Scriptim – I wrote most of this this on the day it happened, but I got distracted before finishing, what with being out of the office for over a week and having all manner of things to catch up with at work.  So, lets go back to April 5, 2014:



“Your wake up call”

“Yeah thanks,”  I laid there for a couple of minutes but I knew that I had better get going.  The time was about 3:45ish (more like 3:50 because I laid there for a little bit).  All I had to do was get my clothes together and go.  So I did.

When I came down to the reception desk, a dude greeted me at the front desk, ready for me to check out.  I handed in the agency cell phone and paid for the night.  A little care package was ready for me to take along since breakfast wouldn’t open at the hotel for another 3 hours.

Just a quick aside – breakfast at the BudaPest (oh yeah – that is how it is capitalized) is the best breakfast that I have had on continental Europe.  Now my memory is a little fuzzy about my prior visit to Europe in my teens, but that one breakfast last Sunday was so magical that I cannot believe that anything else could compare.  They were so nice to give me some of that magical goodness to go.

I got packed in the taxi and was off to the airport at a little after 4:00.  For some reason, I felt that the taxi driver went out of his way to find the bumpiest roads in Sofia.  Well, actually almost all of the roads in Sofia are bumpy, so I think that it may have been my perception as I was waking up.  I’m glad that it was dark.

I ended up safely at the airport ready for my day of jetsetting to get back home.  First surprise was that the airline that I was flying, Lufthansa, was not open yet.  They opened at 5:00.  It was 4:25.  The only thing I could do was stand and wait.  I busted out my (rosary) beads and prayed.

Once the Lufthansa line opened, with me playing caboose, it slowly whittled down.  Once I got to the front, the following occurred:

“Oh here’s my flight thingy…oh's…” I stammered.

“Oh, I can just scan your passport,” says Mr. Lufthansa.


“So, you going to Frankfurt?”

“Uh, no.  No I’m not.  I’m headed to Munich.”

“Oh that one’s been cancelled.”  

CANCELLED!  I thought that the little strike was going to end on Friday?  This was Saturday morning!  So now what?  I think that I kept the stuff out of the quotes in my head….who knows, 'cause it was around 5:00 am.

Well, for all of the inconvenience that Lufthansa caused by cancelling my stupid flight, they actually made up for it in booking me on alternate flights.  Furthermore, no charge – makes me think that maybe it was a cheaper route.  Well anyway, instead of Munich, I was rerouted through Rome.  From Rome, I would go to Charlotte, my proxy for home.  I would fly Bulgaria Air on the way to Rome and then sail the unionized skies (wait, they are unionized right?) with US airways.  What fun!

Ice crystals forming on my window on the way into Rome
Cool thing was that for my flight to Rome I was seated in the emergency exit aisle.  Seriously, SCORE!  Not only was I getting to go to the Eternal City, but I got extra leg room.  I napped on and off on the way over.  They served a nice mystery meat and cheese roll with a very nice Bulgarian chocolate.  Sure beats the little biscottis in the US.

The Rome airport feels very much what you would expect an Italian airport to feel like.  The security lines were pretty much a free-for-all.  It was a crowd of people slowly parsing themselves into the lines for the metal detector machines.  But once I got through security it was a non-issue.

I was at my gate in plenty of time, so I did what I did best – get lost.  Well, more like meander aimlessly.  I was thinking since I was here that I might as well pick up a few Roman souvenirs.  I found a store, “Discover Rome”, that looked promising.

I would say about half of the stuff was stuff about Rome (Coliseum/Ancient Rome stuff), the other half was about popes, in large representation was Papa Francesco, Pope Francis.  It made me smile thinking that I was in the home town of the Vicar of Christ and couldn’t help but to buy a few little things.

Other than that, it looks like most other airports.  We’ll see what happens in the next flight (yeah, I’m staying up to date on this).  I think that I’m going to try to find an ATM and get some Euro money.  I think that it would be cool….I have some leva that I’ll set aside for the next trip.

OK this part is written over two weeks later, so details are a bit fuzzy, but I’ll hit the high points.
The first thing was a security issue.  Really!  I had my boarding pass that was printed in Bulgaria with me all ready to board the flight.  When I gave it to the lady by the gate for boarding, it caused a small kerfuffle.  Apparently, I must not have gone through the “proper” security before heading back to the US.  I got siphoned off from the rest of the crowd boarding the plane and was presented to Italian security personnel who briefly interviewed me as to where I had gone and what I was doing.  Once I said that I was on a trip for an adoption, he softened up and we were finished up pretty quick-like.

The flight was hell.  For 10 hours I alternated between studying, praying, napping all in the wonderful sensation of gastric discomfort, but not the kind that a turlet would help with.  I found the US Airways/American Airlines attendants less attendant than those on the other airlines.  Not terrible, but it wasn’t as friendly.  The whole thing was purgatory and a blur at this point.

I have to admit that I am most concerned about the long plane flight on the way back for Abraham.  I don’t know how others have done it so, I’m going to be researching vicariously through Sammy’s Facebook reconnaissance.
There's no place like home!
Anywho, we landed in Charlotte, and boy did it feel good to be back in the US.  I mean some parts of Bulgaria I miss (like the food), but there is something to be said about being back home.  I was quite surprised to see that my luggage made it back in mostly one piece.  After a quick run through customs, I was out of the airport to find my ride.  Within five minutes, Sam and kids found me!

I know that it is going to be a long four to six months before I can head back to Bulgaria, but I know more than ever that Abraham is my son.  It is tough to wait knowing that he has to stay in the orphanage during this time, not knowing his family in the US.  I do wonder if he knew that I would have to leave.  For all I know he thinks that I came to play for a week and then I was gone.  It is tough to think about it at times, but then again, in four to six months, he will be home, forever. 

Praise God for looking after me, and guiding us to our son.  May God bless us all as we begin this Easter season.

God bless,

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Finale

Every good television show (with more than one season) has a season finale.  Sometimes the ending feels good as it brings full closure.  Others just leave you hanging, wanting more in the next season.  When I last left you all, Abraham had a sort of hit-or-miss kind of a day where he had tantrums and he had fun times.  As a penultimate chord in this musical phrase, it had some uncertainty; how was this going to resolve?

We were up earlier than normal this morning as our appointment at the orphanage was at 8:15.  And to top it all off, we had to finish packing up our stuff as we would be leaving straight to Sofia after the visit.  Bus-sy, Bus-sy, Bus-sy.  Luckily I got everything together nice and quick, and we were out the door early.  I wanted every little bit of time with Abraham that I could get because this would have to last us for a few months.   

Also, today’s visit: 1 hour.

We got there about ten minutes early and there was no one there to help get Abraham ready, nor was the social worker there who was our designated overseer, at least that’s what I think.  So, we had to wait.

In the meantime, I got everything together for our last visit.  I had some goldfish crackers (baby size for easy eating) and some other toys that I had forgotten about.  I also had several things to leave behind for his newly re-hired Baba to help him with!  That’s right, he now has his Baba back; she starts next week.  If you don’t know what a Baba is, its like a grandmotherly figure to play and look after the little ones, a nice personal, and loving interaction.  The Baba program at this orphanage was discontinued last November due to funding issues, so we are very grateful that someone will be spending 1:1 time with Abraham on a daily basis again.

I left a photo book of our family and an audio-recordable book where the book plays back a pre-recorded reading as the child turns each page.  Sam, Joey, Rosemary, and I took turns reading to get him used to our voices.

I also left two disposable cameras that can be used to take photos of the little guy while I’m away.

Oh, here comes Abraham now!

He was full of life when he came into the play room.  That’s right, we were in the same venue as before, but he seemed very happy.  I heard that they were feeding him breakfast, and I have a feeling that had something to do with his good mood.

Today was a tour of the toys and going through all of the fun times that we had that week.  I started by feeding him goldfish crackers.  Oh, boy did he love those goldfish!  I gave him as much as he would take; I only have this hour left with him and the rest of his life to unspoil him.

Real food meets pretend "play food" he repurposed from various toys
We blew bubbles and we played with some silly putty.  He played his waiter game this time with live food in his new play dish, my empty can of nuts.  Oh we played our little spinning game on the floor and I tickled him.  It was a really great time with Abraham.

One touching moment happened when he decided to go off on his own to eat the goldfish in one of the cups while walking around the room.  I took that opportunity to play a little ditty that I wrote about a year or so back.  I really didn’t have any meaning for the song when I wrote it.  They were notes, but that was about it.  For me, that’s incomplete.  But it came to me that I should play this melody for him today and see how he reacts.

Just writing about this is choking me up.  So, I started playing and I looked at him.  The melody is rather tender and I thought very fitting for saying good bye or as a lullaby.  He was standing still, looking out of the window eating his goldfish.  He was listening closely to what I was playing.  And then he looked right at me, eye to eye.  I can’t explain, but it was something deep that happened there.  I knew that this was his song – I just didn’t know it at the time I wrote it.

Gosh dern it – I’m glad that I’m writing this now and not at the Munich airport.  People would think that I’m nuts!  My eyes are just leaking water for some reason.

Anyway, I knew that this was my boy and that he would be home before too long.  As soon as the visit began we had to say good-bye.  We hugged and I kissed him and told him that I love him (in Bulgarian and in English).  It was one of the toughest things to say good-bye to him and leave him behind.  I still don’t think that I’ve fully gotten over it.  

Once we left the orphanage it was a 3.5-4 hour ride back to Sofia.  I didn’t write about the drive over, because I wanted to get into the writing of the visits with Abraham, but it was a very interesting drive across Bulgaria.  We drove through mountains and flatlands (not Flatland) and saw all sorts of vegetation.  Yavor was great company on both drives – I almost think that I need to put up a post of all the things that I learned from Yavor on this trip.  But anyway, from time to time, I would ask him what this tree was, or what are those flowers, etc., and he was kind to illuminate my ignorance.

When we arrived in Sofia, Yavor took me to a very nice Italian pizza place: Leo’s Pizza.  Yeah, no joke, no Cyrillic.  It was very nice and I am sure that I’m going to make use of them in the future when I come back for Abraham for good.  Leo’s Pizza had a lot of the same pizzas that I had previously seen when overseas (like the Margherita) and was genuine Italian style.  Very tasty.

We followed that up with some sort of Italian gelatinous cream that was also really nice.

Yavor then drove me the rest of the way to the hotel to drop me off and say good bye.  I have to say that he helped make the trip so much easier.  Not only in bridging the cultural divide, but in helping with the play times.  Even though Abraham doesn’t speak, he does respond to Bulgarian and understands what is being said to him.

Ciao, Yavor!  Thanks for your invaluable help on this trip!
After we said our goodbyes, it was time to get lost again.  Well, not really--I was on a mission... well, a series of missions:
  1. Folk Art Store--Time to get some souvenirs!  I got various little things that I knew the family would enjoy.
  2. St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral--I wanted to go and pray in thanksgiving to God for helping me through the week.  I got there in the three o'clock hour, on a Friday of Lent, to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  I really couldn't have thought of a better "coincidence" for my stop there.
  3. St. Alexander Nevsky Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral--OK, I didn't have a map (that I knew of--little did I know that I bought a map from #1 above), so that means that I picked a direction and just started walking.  I kept walking in a straight line because I knew that I did not have the energy to get TRULY lost again.  I made it all the way to a park that was in the middle of the city before turning around.  I did enjoy taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Sofia before returning to the hotel.

I made my way back to the hotel for some Skyping with Sam and the kids before heading for my last meal at the hotel’s PECTOPAHT.  I had some seafood risotto, excellent as usual.

And now, I am writing this blog.  Wakey time is 3:45 am for me for me to catch my 6:30 flight outta here, so I thought that it would be good to knock this out early before I go to sleep.

Thank you all for coming along on the journey.  I might write some more after I get over the jet lag on the way back.  I didn’t write about Sunday and I’m really really considering the “What I learned from Yavor” post.

I thank God that he looked after me and my family so far in this adoption and thank Him for our many blessings both here and soon to be here.  I know that He will see us through to the end.  And, at the end, I have no doubt that God picked little Abraham to be our child, and I am so thrilled that we found out.  The next couple of months will be tough, but we’ll get through it.

St. Christopher, pray for us!
God bless,

PS – Exactly 10 years ago I performed my senior music recital as a music major in college.  Is it a coincidence that music had a part to play today?

Until we meet again, little guy...

The Penultimate Meeting... For This Trip

The penultimate chord of any musical phrase can be the most important chord of all.  It sets up the ending.  (OK, ok, ok…..penultimate = next to last, good?).  If the chord is sour or strange, then it can leave the listener confused until the final chord is played.  Sometimes, there is no second guessing what the final chord is.  But you never know until it is played.

Today was Abraham's and my penultimate playdate.  This would set us up for the last visit for this trip.  For me, I had no doubts prior to the trip that I would love this child and if we had only one trip to come and pick him up, I would be happy.  But, since Bulgaria has a mandatory “try before you buy” policy of doing a first trip and then the second pick up trip later, we know that our first trip must end.

By the way, I think that the two trip policy is good particularly with children who have special needs.  Nothing on paper can give you as accurate a picture of your child's needs as seeing him in person.  Medical reports are often inaccurate, either overstating or understating their needs.  This time I have spent with Abraham will help us to prepare that much better for his arrival this summer.

OK, so now the music begins:

Breakfast, done.  Got dressed… before breakfast, and done.  Ready to go?  Just got to wait for Yavor… Here he comes… ok let’s go!

Today Abraham seemed a little more tired and emotionally worn out than he did at the previous play times.  We started the day in the play room.  He would play with his cups for a little bit and then he got bored and threw them down.  He would try something else (like the toy saxophone that he started to get attached to) and lose interest very quickly.  I tried to engage him, but he didn’t seem to like anything.

Until I gave him a cookie.  When I took a cookie out, I would pat on the chair beside me to tell him where to sit to eat, and he would climb up and sit down.  He would be calm and still as I fed him the pieces of the cookie.  When he was done with the first, he wanted a second.  So, I gave him a second cookie.  But when that one was done, he was ready to climb back down.

No more than five minutes later he wanted to leave the play room.  I asked the social worker who was present if there was another room that we could play in.  I knew that he really wanted to go outside, but the temperature was cold and Abraham had a slightly runny nose so any other play areas would be preferable.

The social worker opened the door and we walked Abraham down the hallway to the next play room.  Abraham was fine until he saw the front entrance.  He then collapsed on the floor in a tantrum.  I tried to console him, but it was of no use.  He did not calm down until he got a piece of bread from one of the staff.  I then scooped him up and made our way to the elevator.

The elevator was small.  Yavor, the social worker, Abraham, and myself were about as much as it could handle at one time.  And this was one of those residential elevators where the elevator car is open on the “door” side and you can see the cross section of the building as you went up.  Kind of creepy looking.

Eventually, we made our way to our new play room on the fourth floor (actually it’s floor "3"; ground floor is numbered "0"). To be honest, this was something that I would have absolutely loved as a kid.  Heck, I wouldn’t’ve minded having one now!

It had a ball pit!  Oh Yeah!

Along with the ball pit, there were various pieces of large foam building-block-like materials and maybe gymnastics type mats and things of that sort.  Abraham seemed excited, but was a little slow in trying things out.  I showed him the ball pit and he kind of liked it, but preferred to resume the game of climbing back and forth over the wall of the ball pit over and over again.

Abraham started getting restless again and heading toward the door.  Then I remembered that I had an ace up my sleeve – bubbles!  Oh, wow!  Did he love that or what.  For a long time I would blow bubbles and he would smile, grin, and giggle as the bubbles would come and fly around him, sometimes landing right on his face.  I was glad to see him happy.

He slowly got tired of it and so I tried to show him the ball pit again.  He seemed more keen to play with the balls this time, but still not as excited as I would have been.  So I jumped in with him to show him how it was done.  And he learned pretty quick then.

He particularly liked falling back onto the balls.  He would go to the edge of the pit with his back to the center and then he would fall back.  Now, unlike most kids I would see, he did not flinch at all when he fell back into the balls – it was like a perfect trust fall from some sort of corporate team building exercise.  He would smile and grin and had a good old time with the balls.
We then had a cookie or two, and then he started to get upset.  Abraham would go to the door and kick at it to show that he wanted to leave the room.  I had the realization that the poor kid had cookies and bread, but not a drop to drink.  I get thirsty pretty quickly, so I asked if it would be possible to get some water for Abraham.

The social worker came back with some water for Abraham.  He took a couple of sips and then got really upset.  When offered the cup again, he grabbed it and flung it behind him.  The water flew after it.  

We took him out into the hall to see if we could figure out where Abraham wanted to go, and he lead us back to the elevator.  We went down to the ground floor, and then he took us towards the front door.  We couldn’t go out, so we went back into the play room on the ground floor.

Abraham was very upset and was crying and fussing about wanting to not be in the play room.  It took a while, but he soon realized that he was not going to get his way by crying and fussing and he eventually calmed down.  Yavor made the quite astute observation that Abraham reacts like a typical kid; he could reason well.

For most of the rest of the play time, Abraham sullenly played his waiter game, but with a new addition.  A couple of days ago, I finished my hotel snacks that I kept in a little blue nut container.  I brought it with for the visit and showed it to him like it was a drum.  Abraham decided that it was not a drum but some sort of serving vessel for his little cups.  It was very good to see him playing with nontraditional toys. 

And then, as quick as it began, the visit ended.  It was a little tougher saying good-bye to Abraham today knowing that tomorrow will be shorter and the last one for many months.
When we left, I wanted to get some photos of the orphanage and of the play yard so that we could have these pictures available to him when he gets older and might want to see where he spent the first years of his life.  As I was taking photos of the play yard, I heard a commotion on the orphanage side of the fence.  Apparently, they don’t like having pictures taken of the place.  Yavor spoke to them to calm them down while I finished up, and then we were off.
Along the way, we passed the hospital.  According to the reports we have, this is the most probable birthplace of Abraham, so I took some pictures.  It looked old and soviet; a great place for a Stephen King miniseries to take place.

Without the second daily visit, we had more “free” time in the afternoon.  We went to lunch at the same place and this time I had the fried chicken with corn flakes – a traditional Bulgarian meal, which came highly recommended by Yavor.  It tasted really good, but I have to admit that I was a little taken aback by the idea at first because I think that I automatically though of frosted flakes, not corn flakes!  Now that would be one for American fair food!
Fried chicken with cornflakes and a side of sirene cheese covered fries
After lunch we picked up some chocolate and then headed out for a little sight-seeing.  There was a particularly interesting Bulgarian national heritage spot that we could drive to that looked really interesting.  The road was windy with plenty of hairpin turns to keep me glued to the door.

Now there was another reason that I wanted to go to this spot – geocaching!  In case you don’t know, geocaching is like a treasure hunt where you can hide things and find things (AKA caches) by using GPS coordinates.  I didn’t have a GPS device handy, but I did my homework with Google Earth and was able to see where the cache was hidden.

Now, just because you know the coordinates doesn’t mean that you will get it right away.  Usually it takes several minutes even for the easiest ones.  Considering that I did not want to waste too much of Yavor’s time looking for the cache, I used the supplied hint and prayed for St. Anthony to help me find it.  And….
We found it!  Yavor seemed impressed that I found it so quickly.  And to be honest, so was I.  It was one of the quickest finds I've ever made.  Thank you, St. Anthony!  Now once you find a cache, you have to log your visit in the little log book, and usually there are many trinkets in there that you can take.  But if you take something, then you have to leave something.  I found some Asian currency, maybe Chinese, that was in there.  So I put in 2 leva and I took the Chinese money. 

Back at the hotel, I skyped with Sam and the kids, took a nap, studied for a little bit, and then went out for supper.  There was no concert so it made for an early night.  Tomorrow is an early visit and I have to get my bags packed, so it was good to get some sleep.

St. Christopher, pray for us!
God bless!