Happy Birthday, Randall!

What do wine + appetizers + 5 Peace Corps Volunteers + 3 colleagues + 5 friends make?  A smashing birthday party!  On Saturday, we threw a wine-tasting party for Randall's 29th birthday.  What a hit.  Half of the wine brought to the party was homemade.  Delicious.

Randall led us through the wine evaluation process, enjoying each as we went.  Some were fruity, some were flowery (a first for a lot of us), and some were especially for dessert.  Mmmm...

It was fun, throughout the night, to mix each of our birthday traditions... Randall handed out chocolates to his guests as they arrived (this is the Bulgarian "Cherpi" tradition), we wore snazzy party hats (American), we toasted several times throughout the night to Randall (mostly Bulgarian, somewhat American)... 

... we sang happy birthday in both languages...

... and Randall made a wish before blowing out his candles (Bulgarian + American).

And, as you can see, this party involved more than just delicious wine.  We enjoyed some Wii...

... and we also enjoyed our little Liza!

Take away from this birthday party: There's no better time or place for a wine-tasting party than a winter birthday in Bulgaria! :)


Good News, Everyone!

Liza's tumor was benign! We just found out this afternoon. We are so thankful she's going to be fine!

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts!

Joy, Randall, and Liza


Liza made it!

For those of who knew about it and for those of you who didn't, Liza came through surgery like a champ.  The doctor ended up wanting to take the whole mass out today, since it was easy to get to.  We were in agreement.

Now, a few hours later, here we are pampering our little Liza :)

Thanks for praying for her and her parents!


A "Sparse" Christmas - Part II

Well, our lovely Christmas saga continues... if you didn't receive the first part of this post series, go here.

After Borovan, we only had two more days with Paul :(  So, we decided to make the most of it.  Randall's boss, Ivan, was nice enough to take us to the 2nd-most-popular monastery in Bulgaria: Bachkovski Monastery, just outside of Plovdiv.  It's in the Rhodopi mountains (we have a view of them from our 18th-floor apartment).  We both had been there before, but were to excited for them to see it, too! 

We didn't get to take many pictures, as they are not allowed.  But, this group picture of us is pretty cool!

Conveniently, the night before Paul took off, we were invited to Randall's work Christmas party.  Another "на гости!"

We wish we would've taken more pictures of the homemade food, but, alas, we'll just have to tell you about it...
Stuffed cabbage/grape leaves, banitsa, grilled chicken nuggets, lamb, pork, sirene, yellow cheese, Russian salad, Snow White salad, and we must stop... too delicious to go on.

Randall really has some amazing colleagues.

The next day, Paul, with instruction & a Bulgarian sim card, made it to the Sofia airport himself (via taxi, train, and another taxi)!  Take note, future visitors: it is possible to navigate in Bulgaria!

We were sad to see him go, and, as you can see, Liza was pretty bummed, too :(
Especially since he didn't get to stay for all the New Year's Eve events!

To celebrate the New Year early with our same Christmas-Eve buddies (Vania & family + another family-Chris, Ilka, Stanimeer, and Mila, who went to the skull race with us this past summer), we had sushi and pizza at Chris and Ilka's a few days before New Year's Eve.

We know... a very interesting food combination... but, Chris is a cook and made quite a delicious spread.

They even got to use one of Randall's Christmas gifts: "The Sushezi."  Works like a charm!

The night was filled with family fun, including the kids & pets!

Looks like Karen really enjoyed Dida, the mini pinscher :)  And, vice versa!

On New Year's Eve, we did some restaurant hopping (Irish Pub for some Guiness, first) with some of our Borovan/Peace Corps buddies (in the picture below, from left to right: Randall, Mikey, Dani, Joe, and Joy), and ended up at our local Chinese Restaurant.  They were awesome, because they didn't have anymore room for us, but they found a spare table + chairs.  It was delish.  When we were all stuffed to the gills, we headed back home to play one of our favorite charades games (boys won 106 to 105) and watch fireworks.

For the record, watching fireworks from the 18th floor is amazing.  But, watching fireworks from the 18th floor in Bulgaria is more amazing.  Why?  Because everyone in the entire city had their stash of fireworks sitting on their balconies, ready for midnight.  And, when the clock struck 12, the entire city lit up in every color imaginable.  There were fireworks, as far as we could see, East to West.  Indescribable.  Just try not to think about how dangerous this might be :)

Our apologies for not having pictures, but if you've ever tried to take pictures of fireworks, you know why we didn't.

For the next few days, we just hung out with Joe & Mikey, who spent a few days in Plovdiv with us.  Lots of relaxation and fun!

After they headed out, Ivan, again, decided to show us more of Bulgaria, this time, on our wedding anniversary!  Our first stop was a local hot spring town, Hisarya.  And, from one of their a hot-spring fountains, we tasted some very delicious warm water.

Also in Hisarya, we visited the "The Camels."  This is the entrance into Hisarya, through an ancient Roman wall (the best preserved in Bulgaria).  Again, it's just amazing how rich Bulgaria is with history and archaeology!

Along those same lines, we ventured just a little bit further outside of Plovdiv to see a few Thracian Tomb hills (see left picture).  When these tombs were excavated within the last century, various little towns and villages in Bulgaria became big attractions.

For instance, Starocel (the village we visited after Hisarya) has, thus far, a famous tomb and a temple tomb just outside of town.

These are a few pictures inside the above hill.  It's just amazing that this tomb is from the 3rd century.

And, here are some pictures of the Temple hill.  It's so humbling to think of how old these ruins are and that we are just a fleeting moment in such a long stream of visitors.

There are still various other hills off in the horizon, waiting to be excavated.  Have we communicated that Bulgaria is swimming in ruins? :)

That night, after we returned to Plovdiv, Karen took us out to a delicious dinner & bought us an anniversary cake!  It probably was the most unique anniversary we've had: ancient Thracian Tombs and a Bulgarian hot spring all in one day!

Thanks, Karen, for celebrating us!  We are so blessed!

We don't think we couldn't fit anything else in our Christmas vacation.  It was just right; not too much, not too little.  Thanks, Paul and Karen, for visiting us!  It would have been a tought Christmas without you guys, and, instead, you made it richer than we could have imagined!



A "Sparse" Christmas - Part I

So much to say, so many pictures, and no way to capture it all. That's what comes to mind while writing this blog post. Thankfully, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.

As many of you know, Randall's parents came to Bulgaria for two weeks over the Christmas break. Needless to say, we had a fabulous time! We actually got to show Bulgaria to someone from America!
Throughout their stay, we all kept joking about how "sparse" this Christmas was. Besides the fact that they played "Santa" for all the gifts (numerous as they were) sent from the rest of our family& friends in America, the four of us were able to visit so many parts of Bulgaria/Plovdiv that even the two of us hadn't yet! Definitely "sparse."

Just see for yourself... :)

Warning: This post series is more like an entire scrapbook.
So, get a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable!

Here we are, setting out to pick up Karen and Paul from the Sofia airport on the 21st.  It was a beautiful day, just after a blanket of snow a few days before.

The train-ride through the mountains was gorgeous...
And, since we got there a few hours early, we set out to find a local Starbucks. It was wonderful to enjoy some good ol' American coffee... Starbucks was our go-to date location in the states :)

With a little caffeine fix and a bus ride, we made it to the airport, found Karen and Paul, and hailed a taxi to catch our train back to Plovdiv.  Everything went off without a hitch.  We were amazed.

Then, on Thursday and Friday, since school was not yet out for the holiday break, Paul (Thurs) and Karen (Fri) went with Joy to her school for the day.  They were great!  They answered many questions from the kids and her colleagues, though insanely jet-lagged :)

We sang Christmas songs to them and some of them even colored some Christmas pictures for their guests!  We learned that the last few days before Christmas break are the same no matter where you are - plenty of excitement, short attention spans, and a lot of fun :)

On Christmas Eve, we ventured out to see the city!  The three of us (including Liza!) love to show off where we live!  First, we went to the "Old Town" of Plovdiv.  Here are remnants of Roman rule.  These Medieval-looking houses are still inhabited, and in order to build in this area, one must have the blueprints for the original house.  It's beautiful.  Some Peace Corps volunteers call it the Paris of Bulgaria.

Also in the Old Town, we visited the Ancient Theatre, which was discovered after a landslide in the 1970's.  Really, truly, this city (and most of Bulgaria, for that matter) is swimming in ancient ruins.  During warmer weather, this holds performances most evenings.

That same day, we introduced Paul and Karen to one of
Plovdiv's mosques.

Paul and Randall went inside for a little while, took some beautiful pictures, and even met the Imam.

Islam is a significant portion of Bulgarian culture due to the former Turkish rule.  In fact, Joy's students are Turkish Romi Muslims.

Before the five of us headed back home, we had to get a picture on top of "Nebet Tepe," the hill on which the Old Town is located :)

Little did we know, later on that night, we would have one of the richest cultural experiences yet!  Joy's best buddy, Vania, invited us all over for a little Christmas Eve dinner.  Christmas Eve is the most important part of Christmas for Bulgarians, so this was a huge honor for us.

We also learned that Bulgarians make, on average, 9 different dishes on Christmas Eve.  This is to empathize with Mary's pain of childbirth (9 months).  The dishes are also vegetarian.  So, we had a lot of beans, salads, peppers, and delicious soup.  We also really enjoyed the homemade wine!

Sparse Christmas, eh?  And, this is only Christmas Eve!

Like we said, Paul and Karen hauled many presents from our friends and family in the US.   Some of the presents we received probably wouldn't be as awesome in the US, but we were and are so thankful!

For example: peanut butter and syrup!  This is Karen's suitcase filled to the brim with it.  And, as of Christmas morning, our pantry is now filled with it!  Woohoo!  Thanks, God, for all your blessings, including peanut butter & syrup!

But, most of all, we are thankful for God coming to earth to save humanity - the reason for this holiday.  
We are so undeserving and so blessed!

After we opened presents, we had a Turkey dinner!  It was really cool to celebrate Bulgaria style on Christmas Eve and then to celebrate American style with family on Christmas Day!

We're just so blessed to have had turkey for Thanksgiving and also for Christmas!  It was definitely a family effort and it was delicious...

Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.

Then, or a couple of days after Christmas, we got to visit our host families in Borovan!  It was awesome for Randall's real parents to meet his and Joy's Bulgarian host parents!

Here we all are with Mama Lili (Randall's host mom) and her daughter, granddaughter, and their snowman!

And, here we are with Joy's host mom, toasting for Christmas :)

Before we headed out, we also got to meet up with Amy, a volunteer who also was in our training group in Borovan :)  At our favorite cafe, nonetheless!

More to come, soon...