The Next Big Leap

Tomorrow is a big, big day around here. Tomorrow Ruslan and Anton, two more of our friends from Romaniv will come to live with us forever. Jed has legal guardianship of them, and now we are taking the next big leap to bring them into our family.

I’ve been posting updates about the process on our Wide Awake Facebook page, but I haven’t really had the time to write all about it on here. So, here goes!

The plan all along has been for us to be a pilot home for deinstitutionalization here in Ukraine. The family-style homes that we dream of don’t exist here (that we know of), so we are taking the leap to do it ourselves and see if we can be a model that Ukrainians can replicate. We don’t pretend to be, nor do we want to be THE great hope of Ukraine (that would be Jesus). This issue of institutionalized people is an issue that Ukrainian people need to solve. We are just called to be a spark. We are called to model a different way and encourage others to follow. To that end, we remodeled the Homestead house with the space to bring 3-4 boys/men from Romaniv to live with our family, to become members of our family. We already took guardianship of Boris back in December, and now Anton and Ruslan will round us out as a family of 11. We would technically have room for one more, but we feel that with Boris’ needs, plus the added blessing of our Evie, two more will pretty much bring us to capacity. πŸ™‚

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Jed with Ruslan and Anton a couple weeks ago πŸ™‚

Just like with Boris, we are now the legal guardians of Anton and Ruslan. We did not adopt them because they are already adults, so it’s not legally possible to do an adoption. Our Vladik is adopted (he was 15 when we adopted him, so legally still a child), but in our minds and hearts they are all the same. It’s just different in legal terms. In our minds, once they enter our home they are our family till death do us part. The intensity level rises a tad when you are bringing in a 30 year old, instead of a 15 year old, but if this is what God is asking us to do our answer still needs to be yes.

People have asked how we chose Anton and Ruslan out of all the wonderful boys that we know and love at Romaniv. Wow, that’s a good question with probably kind of a vague answer. I guess we just knew! With Boris it was no question. Jed and I both had a really intense attachment to him and it was just a “duh” that he would be the first. He needed out desperately and we knew he was meant to be with us. Then we started to pray and ask God who would be next. At first we thought we would take the men who were going to be first to age out of Romaniv, but right now in our region no-one is being transferred in to the institution, and no-one is being transferred out. So age doesn’t really matter. We knew we wanted to take men who were too old to be adopted and we wanted men who had no family to go back to. In our minds, reunification with birth family is the most amazing plan ever, and we want to advocate for that as much as possible. So, it was important for us to take men who would not have the opportunity for reunification.

Three years ago Anton and Ruslan were taken to a camp for children with special needs that our friends atΒ Mission to Ukraine provide each year. I was on the “Romaniv” team with them and got to know them a bit. I’ll be honest that before that camp I had never noticed either of them at Romaniv.Β I absolutely fell in love with Anton at that camp. He has such a sweet spirit and boy oh boy, he is so abused at Romaniv. He is a whipping boy for the aggressors and spends most of his days rocking on a bench, probably attempting to disappear. At camp his precious spirit came alive and it was such a joy to behold. I’ve had a special love for him ever since that time.

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Anton and me at camp (2015)

Jed and I both also recognized at that camp the awesomeness of Ruslan. He is so smart and full of joy. Then in the spring of 2017 Jed and I both had encounters at Romaniv with Ruslan that firmly placed him in our hearts. We each had encounters when we were present when he had been hurt by another boy/man and were able to be at his side to comfort him while he cried. We had the gift of holding him and giving him the compassion that he has lacked for so many years. When it came time to choose our guys, Jed and I both eventually, in discussion and prayer, narrowed it down to those two boys. And we have never swayed since. There are many guys that, for safety reasons, we could not have in our home with our children, and then there are many that we absolutely adore and wish so much could come be a part of our family. But, we just don’t have space for everyone. We really needed God to speak to us, and we believe He has.

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Jed and Ruslan at camp (2015)

Anton and Ruslan are both more independent than Boris. Boris needs help with every aspect of life. Anton and Ruslan can feed themselves, go to the toilet independently, dress themselves, and walk. Ruslan has some mobility issues, so when we are out and about in town he’ll need to use a wheelchair, like Boris. Ruslan can speak, Anton only has a couple of words. Anton will need more assistance with daily life activities than Ruslan, but in general they will require less “hands-on” than Boris.

We understand the gravity of what we are about to take on. Well, I should say we understand it as much as we can at this moment! In reality, there is zero percent chance that we can predict what this transition will be like. We know that it is no small thing to take in two thirty year olds who have lived in hell for 20 years. We know they have been neglected and abused beyond belief and the path to healing will be long. But, we also know for certain that these two are meant to be with us. We have put safety precautions in place. We have had discussions with our kids. Our interns and Jed’s assistant, Kenny, will be helping us several days a week. Now all we can do is see how it goes, modify the plan as needed, and trust God to give us the wisdom we need. It seemed right to take Anton and Ruslan both out at the same time. Ruslan is a helper, and we hope he might be a comfort to Anton. Also, our family has been through A TON of transition over the last year and we just feel like we need to do this big transition and then be done with transition for a bit (if that’s even possible). We are eager to settle in as a family of 11 and get on with it!

I’ll be honest, this YES is the biggest yet for me. Yes, it was a lot to commit our lives to Vladik and Boris, but this feels even bigger to me. It feels scarier. Maybe that’s because now we have lived the reality of our commitment to Boris for several months and we are knee deep in the challenges and reality of what that looks like. Life with Boris is not without joy, but it is a hard, hard road. I know that Anton and Ruslan will have their own challenges and sometimes I worry about what that will look like in day to day life.

BUT

We know that we know that this is what God has asked us to do, so we have to put our trust in Him and keep on trusting. Β Just like before, the only thing required of us is the next YES. We don’t need to worry about the future, because we’ll have the grace for it when it gets here. πŸ™‚ I’m so excited to watch Ruslan and Anton become the men that God created them to be. I’m so excited to shower them with love. I’m so excited for our family to be complete.

Please pray for us as we take this big step. Pray for grace and peace and safety and health and most of all that God’s Kingdom would come and His will would be done in our home.

Thank you, Friends!

(This little snippet of Anton at camp a few years ago makes me smile)

Follow Wide Awake on Facebook and Instagram to get more frequent updates about our new additions! Β 

June Happened.

Hello July!

What in the world? June was a tornado. It was a tornado of awesomeness and craziness and life-changingness. But yeah, it was definitely a tornado.

Recap:

May 31: Our sweet Sara left after a month of massage and intern-training. We miss you Saramama!

June 7: We celebrated our kids’ completion of one year of Ukrainian school and our precious Seth’s birthday at a water park in Kyiv. Yay!

June 10: We moved to the Wide Awake Homestead! MONUMENTAL DAY.

June 11: Tara and Christiana arrived! Tara and Christiana are both American girls who came to bless our boys and our team. Their presence was so refreshing. They served and smiled and brought every one of us so much joy. Internet friendships can turn out to be real-life awesome!

June 12-16: Tara and Christiana started going to Romaniv with our team and interns, getting to know the boys. Addy went to a day camp at school and made new friends. πŸ™‚

June 17: The team from Hands of Hope arrived! Hands of Hope is our wonderful partner in Indiana. They have poured much love and support into Romaniv and Wide Awake over many years. They came to help with a Romaniv Day Camp that was put on by Mission to Ukraine and Wide Awake. They also brought an awesome builder with them who served us by building a deck at the Homestead!!!!

June 19: Day Camp begins and a team of medical professionals from Germany arrived to help at the camp and observe our team.

June 22: Sydney, an American friend and long-time Wide Awake supporter was “in the neighborhood” and arrived to visit, help, and see all the craziness we are up to. ALSO a crazy awesome American arrived to begin the in-country process of adopting our sweet Stephan!!! His presence was just the hugest encouragement to our team. We were so blessed to see him open his heart to Stephan and say YES to what God has for his family. Just wow.

June 23: Final day of Day Camp! Hands of Hope threw our team a party and it was awesome. They encouraged us and blessed us all. Our hearts needed it.

June 24: Hands of Hope headed home.

June 25:Β Our church had a beautiful baptism and picnic at the river. All our German friends and American friends joined in and it was just a really special day.

June 26: The German team provided a training for our interns after observing their work over the past week. Their insight and wisdom, how they saw the boys and the work with fresh eyes was invaluable. They challenged us and pushed us in new ways. Β A little pushing can hurt, but when done in love it can foster so much growth.Β We really so appreciated their hearts and hard work!

June 27: The German team did more training for the interns, and then a training for our team. So much good stuff!!

June 28: Good bye German team! Thank you!! Please come again. πŸ™‚

June 29: Good bye dear Tara, Christiana and Sydney. Your wide open hearts and contagious laughter will be greatly missed. Come again!

So there you have it. Tornado.

It was quite the balance of scheduling and transportation and feeding, but the goodness far outweighed any stress that came along with it. I mean, all those wonderful people came because they love our boys and they believe in the vision of what we are doing here. They believe in God’s dream and they see the incredible worth of our boys. They gave up their vacation time and spent a lot of money to come pour into our boys, our family, and our team. We are forever grateful and super humbled by their giving.

I know I promised you a walk-through of the Homestead and I haven’t forgotten. With all the craziness of June we really haven’t gotten a chance to settle at all, and speaking of tornados…well, you get the idea. I’d like to tidy up a bit before sharing with you. πŸ˜‰ Hopefully this week I’ll have something to show you. Thank you for your patience!

Now for pics.

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Camp theme for the Isolation Hall: “Fun in the Sun and Shade”

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We had stations for each of the 5 senses. For some boys every station became the “taste” station. Ha!

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Thank you Barry and Tom for all your hard work on the deck!

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Americans at work, picking Colorado bugs off our potatoes. Welcome to Ukraine. hehe

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Village life is gross sometimes.Β 

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The German team arrived! (plus Ava, not pictured)

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Thanks Hands of Hope for the great party!

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Sweet Friends. Thank you for refreshing my soul!

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Taking a break from training πŸ™‚

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I can’t believe they finished the deck! Photos will follow in the next post.

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Team training: Respect, appreciation, safety

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So much love entered the Romaniv gates over the past month. We are so immensely grateful for all the sweet moments our boys experienced. May they hold those moments in their hearts forever. I know we will.Β 

All About Vladik: One Year Free

Two days ago we celebrated one year of freedom for our sweet Vladik.  Our miracle boy spent the day at a Hungarian water park (long story…for another post) discovering his great love for enormous water slides.  He ran and played and splashed, yelling “Mom, look!  Dad, watch me!” He watched his brothers and sisters do things he was nervous to do, then conquered his fears and tried for himself.  He ate ice cream and pizza and laughed and asked “Blue slide again?”  

He truly lived.  


On one hand I can hardly believe a whole year has passed since Vladik came out of Romaniv forever, but mostly it feels like a lifetime ago.  When I go to Romaniv these days I can hardly picture him there.  He is truly a different child.  

It’s interesting because if you ask anyone who visited Romaniv and met Vladik there they would all tell you how happy he was.  He was always laughing and smiling.  ALWAYS.  But now that we truly know him we can see his behavior then for what it really was.  Yes, he was smiling, and yes he laughed a lot, but he was also afraid- ALL THE TIME.  His body showed his fear in the way he held himself; his shoulders scrunched up, his head down, full-on protection mode at every moment. His laugh seemed happy, but now we know that laugh as the nervous, afraid laugh that shows up when he is unsure. If you asked him for a hug he would sort of back up toward you and lean a shoulder in. You could see he was compliant but he didn’t feel comfortable and he didn’t enjoy it.  He was afraid of physical contact and always on guard.  He had a bright countenance that I believe came from the Lord, but it was just a dim flicker compared to how he shines now.  

The boy we knew at Romaniv was a shadow of the boy we know now.  And the boy we know now is amazing.  

Passport photo 2015

Passport photo 2016


He is funny and loves to make his siblings laugh. He comes up to me several times a day with his arms open as wide as possible, asking for a hug. He adores Bluebell, our puppy, and could play with her for hours. He likes ice cream and potatoes and pizza and soup. He’s a daredevil and wants everything faster and higher and louder. His bike is his most prized possession. He and Seth are still thick as thieves and when they get too quiet I know something is up…typical brothers. πŸ˜‰ He speaks English and Ukrainian and a mish-mash of the two that can only be described as “Vladik speak”. Oh, and he pretty much never stops talking.  Motor.Mouth.

We think Vladik is doing miraculously well.  His transition to our family has been amazingly smooth.  BUT 15 years of institutionalization, 11 of those in a bad place, can not be erased in one year.  We have so many wonderful moments, and we also have so many difficult moments.  Parenting a child who has lived a lifetime of trauma is no joke.  It requires constant reassurance and truckloads of patience (of which I am guilty of running short).  Just when you think you’ve conquered a certain behavior or fear something triggers and you go ’round the mountain again…and again.  

Put your arms down. No beeping. We’re going home soon. Put your arms down.  No beeping. If you want to talk to someone just say “hi”, you don’t need to make strange noises to get attention. No beeping. Put your arms down. And on and on…

It’s no secret that extra struggles come with the fact that we are back in Ukraine.  Most every other internationally adopted child I know leaves their institutional life and it is over and gone for good; new life, new memories, old life gone forever.  That will never be Vladik’s reality.  Romaniv has stayed and will stay a part of his life.  It is our life.  As much as we would love for him to, he doesn’t ever get to fully forget. We will never ever take him to Romaniv again, and we tell him that all the time, but he knows we go there and he hears us talk of it daily. Some people might think it’s cruel of us to bring him back here where he is constantly reminded of his past.  We know that.  We know, and our only response is “God said so.”  Just like our other children have an unusual life because of what God has called our family to, so it is with Vladik.  And just like we trust that God is caring for our other children and giving them what they need, so it is with Vladik.  When we chose to say yes to adopting Vladik we knew this would be his reality and still we knew that we knew God was saying to make him our son.  So we did.  

Annnnnd God is making a way for our boy, even here in Ukraine.  He is surrounded by our team who knew him when he was an orphan and know him now.  In their eyes he is a celebrity.  He is what we dream of for all of our boys, in the flesh.  His presence in our church here in Ukraine brings hope and refreshment to those who work tirelessly on behalf of the ones Vladik left behind.  He brings joy wherever he goes.  πŸ™‚ 


A local private school welcomed all our kids with open arms, including Vladik.  He gets to do PE, music, and art with the fifth grade, while having individual lessons the rest of the day.  I get to make his lesson plans and our dear friend has agreed to teach him.  She loves Vladik and sees him for the beautiful soul that he is.  Their lessons start next month and I can’t wait to see how he thrives.  So far the kids at the school have been kind and accepting of Vladik.  We are thankful. 

He gets to attend a weekly class at Mission to Ukraine where he will be treasured and valued.  Full circle. 


The other day we were visiting a beautiful basilica in Budapest.  We decided to pay the fee and go see the inside of the building. We approached the cashier and when he saw Vladik he smiled so warmly.  He almost pushed us into the church, “You don’t pay!  Please, please go for free” he exclaimed with a kind pat on Vladik’s back, and a look of tenderness in his eyes. I could see there was no pity there, only love. Oh man, the tears were flowing.  That man, he saw the beauty of our boy.  There was no look of disgust, no disdain, no mouth-hanging-open staring.  There was love.  For me that moment was a gift from God.  It felt like God was whispering over us “See, I see your boy, and I’m watching over him.” 

Vladik’s healing is a long road, but he is definitely well on his way.  He is absolutely flourishing and growing and LIVING.  We will never ever be the same because he is our son.  He is our gift and I pray we never take him for granted. 

Hands of Hope to Romaniv

This is a post that has been in the works for many months, but I think you’ll find it worth the wait.  (Even though you didn’t know you were waiting for it…I did.) πŸ˜‰ 

We are so excited to introduce you to…drumroll please….
ROMANIV CHILD SPONSORSHIP!!!

Wahooooo!!!

You asked for it, and we are so happy that you are getting what you asked for!

Here’s the deal. Wide Awake is super blessed to have an awesome partnership with a non-profit in Indiana called Hands of Hope Adoption and Orphan Care Ministry.  I wrote about them before, here.  Hands of Hope has been involved in helping to improve life at Romaniv since March 2012, after Suzy, the executive director, and Lois, the Romaniv liasion first visited our Boys.  

 

Suzy and Lois with Romaniv Administration

 
Hands of Hope provides the money that we use every week to buy bananas for the Boys.  They give money for special projects around the orphanage, like outfitting a sports room for the Boys that they can use during the long winter months when they are cooped up inside for hours on end.  They pay for Leysa, one of our awesome team members to go to Romaniv three days a week to teach the boys music, and lessons about Jesus.  They have also partnered with Wide Awake and Mission to Ukraine to pay for the two new teachers who have begun to teach our Boys 5 days a week.  They let us know how much money has been given by sponsors, and we, Wide Awake, work together with Hands of Hope and Mission to Ukraine to decide the best way to use it to most benefit our Boys.

Hands of Hope has poured a ton into our Boys over the past three years.  And how do they pay for all of the awesomeness?

CHILD SPONSORSHIP!  

Hands of Hope is no new kid on the block when it comes to child sponsorship.  This is their deal.  They rock at it. We have been working hard with Hands of Hope to update many of the profiles of our Boys and we are so excited to share this opportunity with you.  

Want a way to tangibly change the lives of the Boys?  This is it.  100% of sponsor support goes toward improving the quality of life for our Boys.  100%!!!!


Here’s how it works on your end:

1.  Go to Hands of Hope website and choose a boy.  (I know, how can you choose?  They are all amazing!)

2. Click on your adorable choice and set up your tax-deductible monthly sponsorship of $35/month.  You can give by debit, credit card, or check.

3.  Hands of Hope sends you a welcome pack with more info about Romaniv and your special boy.

4.  You literally become “hands of hope” for our babies.  THANK YOU!!!! 

Here’s how it works on our end:

1. Hands of Hope sends the sponsorship money to Ukraine, to Mission to Ukraine (the fiscal agent), and lets us, Wide Awake, know how much money was sent.  

2.  We use the money to buy bananas three days a week, pay for teachers, and collaborate with the orphanage director, Hands of Hope, and Mission to Ukraine to pay for special projects around the orphanage that directly improve the Boys’ quality of life.  

3.  We update Hands of Hope on the Boys, give prayer requests, and keep them posted on any significant happenings and needs around Romaniv.

 
That’s the scoop!  Cool, right?  This is the real deal.  Suzy and Lois, our friends at Hands of Hope love the Boys so much.  They visited in March and for us it was like love at first sight.  They are AWESOME.  I can also guarantee you that the money donated is used with only the Boys’s best in mind.  No money is ever in the hands of the orphanage administration. We are the ones who do all the paying and purchasing. We try to use the money prayerfully and strategically so we aren’t just throwing money at need, but we are truly using it change the culture of Romaniv.   And it’s happening.

God is doing big things .  Won’t you join us? πŸ™‚

A Love Story, Part 2

This is the second part in a series about our adoption story. You can read Part One here

After God turned our hearts to Ukraine, and orphans with special needs there, we knew we had to go check it out for ourselves. I remember the first time we visited Romaniv in 2012. We saw Vladik there and our hearts were touched because we saw that he had Apert Syndrome like Jonah, the boy we had loved. I even wrote a bit about him here. Then, as you know, we ended up moving to Ukraine in November of 2013. YAY!

After our move we began to visit Romaniv every week with MTU (Mission to Ukraine) and grew to love all the boys. The boys in the Isolation Hall were our main focus and every week our love for them deepened as we came to know them more. 

  
We loved Vladik very much, but honestly, not any differently than any of the other boys. I guess he held a special place in our hearts because of Jonah, but we weren’t considering adoption at all. I promise! Ha! We had ended up adopting our Seth before we moved and felt that someday we would adopt again, and most likely that would be a Ukrainian adoption, but the idea was far away in the future. We did not even remotely think about adopting one of our boys. I mean, how could you pick just one, when our biggest dream is that they would all know the love of a family? Yeah, not happening.

Then came MTU summer camp. The last two summers our family has had the EXTREME pleasure of serving at camps for kids with disabilities, put on by Mission to Ukraine, one of our non-profit partner here in Zhytomyr.

They have loved our Vladik for many years. Just look at these pictures! 

   
    
   
 MTU actually plays a giant role in every part of this adoption. We came to Zhytomyr to volunteer for MTU. We heard about the work they were doing at Romaniv and longed to be a part of it. They had been visiting the boys for several years before we came along. If it weren’t for God leading us to MTU there is no doubt in my mind- we would not know Vladik. πŸ™‚ THANK YOU MTU!!!!

Anyway, every year Romaniv sends 6 boys to MTU’s camp, along with one of the nannies. This is outrageously amazing for our boys. They never ever leave the grounds of Romaniv. It is their entire world. But, every summer 6 boys get to escape for 8 days and truly LIVE. 

   

They are treasured at camp. They laugh at camp. They play at camp. It’s like Disneyland on steroids for these boys. We were at camp last July waiting for the bus to arrive from Romaniv and who, to our enormous surprise, stepped off the bus? VLADIK! We had no idea any of our boys from Isolation were coming!!!! Vladik had never been to camp before! We were so happy!!!!  

You guys, Vladik did so great at camp. Oh my word. He started out the week with many institutional behaviors (screaming at the wrong time, loud noises at inappropriate times…) but after only 2 days at camp those behaviors were gone. He was trying to sing the songs and do the motions. He was doing his best at the games. He was sitting quietly during lessons. He gained new words every day. It was so beautiful.

   
 
The most unexpected and most beautiful thing for Jed and me was how Vladik connected with our kids. Addy and Ezra had met him at Romaniv before camp, and Vladik had immediately taken a liking to Ezra. Vladik likes most people, but for some reason (God) he really latched on to Ezra during the couple of times Ez came to Romaniv. That relationship only grew at camp- and the feeling was mutual. Ez was drawn to Vladik and really began to love him. 

   
 
One night toward the end of camp, I was putting the kids to bed in our room and all the lights were out. Jed was away and the kids and I were talking about our day. I asked them each what was the best moment of their day and the most difficult moment of their day. That day the camp had held Special Olympics, so there was a lot of great moments to talk about. When it came to my turn to share Ezra piped up, “Mom, I bet I know what your hardest moment was. When the Romaniv boys were getting their medals at Olympics I saw you crying. I bet that was hard for you.” I answered him that that moment was actually my best and most difficult moment all at once. It was the best because I saw all the joy on the boys’ faces and I was so happy to see them so happy. But it was the hardest because they were the only campers who didn’t have a mommy to walk them up to the front to get their medal. I was sad because I knew they were going home tomorrow and I knew that their home was not a good place. 

All of a sudden, in the dark room I heard a weeping, almost a wailing coming from one of the beds. It was Ezra! “Ezra! What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“Mommy, why? Why do the boys have to live there? Why do they have no mommy? It’s not fair. I don’t want them to go back there! Why does Vladik have to live there? He’s my friend. How long is he gonna have to wait till his family finds him?”

  

Pretty soon all four of my kids were weeping. Their hearts were broken for the boys. In that moment they really got it. They really began to understand why we live here in Ukraine. They began to understand why we sold everything and came to love these boys. Ezra said “Mom, we can never leave Ukraine. The boys need us!”  

That camp, that night, our kids fell in love with Vladik. That night my heart began to shift. I began to see Vladik in a new way. I shared the story with Jed and he cried. We could barely stand to see him get on that bus to head back to Romaniv. Something was stirring. God was up to something!!

PS: Thank you MTU for the pics of Vladik when he was little πŸ™‚