Moments for the Newsletter

When crazy, outlandish, or gross things happen around here we often joke about them being “the things that don’t make it into the newsletter.” I mean, our life has plenty of semi-gross elements in it, and if I were to document all of those normal, every day moments for you, I’m pretty sure everyone would immediately unsubscribe- and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. There’s only so many poopy conversations one newsletter can handle. But the other night was just too good. It was a little over-the-top, even for us. I think you need to hear about it.

Tuesday was a scorcher. We had all been lamenting the fact that the rain would never let up, and then all of a sudden we traded in rain for stifling heat. But, like I mentioned last week in the newsletter, our friends at Hands of Hope bought us a pool, so the heat has been manageable, as long as you don’t try to go into our upstairs bedrooms. #suffocation

It was nearing dinnertime and all of a sudden our power went out. Now, that’s not all that uncommon. We lose power every so often, and more often in the summer time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and no one to call when it happens. We just have to plod through until it comes back on. It happens with the internet too. It just goes away sometimes and there’s not a thing to be done. That unpredictability comes with Ukrainian village life. It is what it is. The duplex must be on a different power grid than us or something (I’m so not an electrician…😜) because often when we lose power, they don’t. or vice versa. Anyway, this time we all lost it. In fact, our whole street lost it, and the cell service also went down. It wouldn’t really have been a big deal except that it was time to start making dinner for 15 people and the duplex has no gas stove. So that meant we were all going to need to use the two gas burners on our stove for cooking. Plus it was blazing hot inside and out and we had just gone grocery shopping the day before, so our fridges were stocked with perishables galore. In moments like that I can be heard threatening my children with all manners of punishment if they even so much as consider opening the fridge. Not a finger!

Another thing is that we have wells for water, and when we lose electricity we lose our well pumps, so that means we lose running water. I think that’s the hardest part of power outages. Lugging in water for dishes and toilet flushing for a family as big as ours is no small feat. Not to mention that Anton’s evening routine includes about 2 hours of sitting in the bath and if he doesn’t have that time it’s not pretty at all. Anton needs his bath and we all need Anton to be in the bath. He doesn’t understand lack of running water, so we knew we needed to do whatever we could to make sure bath time still happened, rather than risking his wrath if it didn’t. 😂

Our neighbor told us she heard a rumor that the power was going to be out for two days, so right away Morgan and I went into problem-solving mode. It’s kind of our sweet spot. Haha. Morgan started lugging water up from the well and filling all her pots so we could start to heat them on our stove, and then proceeded to carry buckets and buckets of the well water across the property to start filling the bath for Anton. Our friend Betsy is visiting from Indiana and she had the brain child to buy pizza for everyone so we wouldn’t have to cook. Great idea! I got on the phone to call or order online and realized our cell service was down. It’s kind of hard to order pizza without a phone, so we decided I would need to go find cell service so I could place our order. I drove down the highway a bit to find a signal, quickly ordered the pizza and then drove back home.

Our water fetching and pizza ordering was running like a well-oiled machine, and then we heard that a certain man-child, who shall remain nameless, decided to wait till there was no running water to have a massive poop blowout. We’re not talking about a little baby blowout. We’re talking adult diaper blowout. Those are intimidating in the best of circumstances, but in the blazing heat with no way to wash, they can bring a grown man to tears. So that happened. Welcome to our life. Always so romantic. 😆 Laugh or cry, folks. Laugh or cry.

About an hour after ordering pizza we decided Jed better take a phone and drive down to get cell service because the pizza delivery people can never find our house without calling us. So, he went down the highway to await their call while Morgan and I kept working on filling the bath for Anton. The goal was to get Anton fed and into the bath before the pizza arrived since he can’t have pizza and would be more than a little upset to see us eating something he’s not allowed to have. (Not that I blame him. Pizza is a wonderful creation.) We had searched and found a flashlight, since we had forgotten the duplex bathroom has no windows and it wouldn’t do to have Anton in the bath in a pitch dark room…🤷‍♀️

Jed was just arriving home with the pizza and Morgan was just walking into the duplex with the final bucket of water, sweat pouring off of her, when low and behold, the power came back on. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. It was cruel of me to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. Of course the power came back on right after the tub was filled and the pizza was ordered and delivered and the blowout poopy diaper was dealt with. Of course. Because that’s just how life works around here! But oh my word, we had some big laughs about it, and I have to say that our problem-solving skills were on point. We were in the zone, gettin’ things done.

Things like that happen all the time around here. Sometimes it feels like a whole day was wasted, just fighting fires. But, it’s all just a part of daily life. Living life with our boys in a little village in Ukraine is never ever boring. Sometimes it’s so bad you have to laugh, and sometimes it’s so good you can’t help but cry. 😆

Also, yesterday I just wanted to drive down the road and it was blocked by cows. #thisukrainianlife

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What’s Bringing Joy

Life at the moment feels especially full. I’d love to take the time to be reflective and self-aware, but I just don’t have it in me. Life is just happening and I don’t have the time to think much about the deeper things. But, what I can think about is what is bringing me joy!

Pinky Malinky. A couple of weeks ago our sweet Wendell dog died. We don’t know why. We don’t know what happened to him. He was neutered on a Tuesday and all seemed well and good, but then on Friday he was found in the trees behind our house and he had died. Oh, our poor Seth. He was so devastated. Wendell was his dog and Seth had found him as a small puppy on the streets of our village. He was a naughty, but sweet dog. Seth’s little heart was broken.

Enter…Pinky Malinky! Seth had a puppy-shaped hole in his heart, and it needed filling. We found a local ad about a puppy who had been found in a dumpster on New Year’s Eve and needed a home. So, we brought that little pup home and Seth named her Pinky Malinky. 🙂 She is so sweet and the perfect addition to our family. She’ll be more of an inside dog than Bluebell. Bluebell is a worker, but Pinky is happy to cuddle. She’s good for us.

Survivor Night. Friday night at the Homestead is “Survivor Night”. We all look forward to it in eager anticipation. 🙂 Around 8pm Max and Morgan make their way over from the duplex and we cozy on in for our weekly dose of Jeff Probst and island drama. There’s usually some sort of treat included (of course). I think we started watching Survivor when we were trying to survive jet lag, and then it became a tradition. Seeing as how there’s like 40 seasons of Survivor out there, it’s a tradition that should carry us for a good while. You can read Morgan’s thoughts on Survivor Night here.

Garden Dreaming and House Plants. The snow has melted (for now) and we’ve got the garden on our minds. During the long, snowy wait I decided to try my hand at house plants (everyone who knows me in real life is shaking their head and laughing at me right now). In the past I’ve been pretty vehemently opposed to house plants, simply because I was so overwhelmed with keeping the humans and animals in my life fed and watered, I couldn’t imagine trying to add needy plants to the mix. I have one house plant that has survived for like 3 years here in this house and I honestly have no idea how that is even possible. I don’t even remember where that plant came from, but it is one determined plant! This year, as the snow lasted on and on and refused to melt, I started thinking I had the mental capacity to try out some plants. Annnnnd so far so good! Our friend, Christiana, who is here visiting, has helped me a ton, and I’m finding joy in seeing my plants not die. Haha. Jed and I are beginning garden talks and scheming how we want to switch things up this year. So exciting! Bring on the sun and the dirt. We’re ready.

The Fence. What a glamorous life I lead. When things like a finished fence bring you immense joy you know you’re deeeeeeep in country livin’. Oleg finished our fence and we now have a fully enclosed back yard. The reason this makes me unreasonably happy is because we have approximately 226 stray dogs in our village and they were all making our back yard their personal playground. Poor Bluebell was working from sunup till way past sundown, chasing them out of our yard. I was throwing shoes at them. It was super annoying and super loud. But now, thanks to a finished fence, they are no longer making a party pad out of our back yard. Thank the Lord!

What’s been bringing you joy lately? Do tell!

How to Fly a Family of 9 Overseas During a Pandemic: Johnson Style

Having flown across the sea a number of times with any number of children, I’d like to think of myself as a veteran child/luggage/passport wrangler. I’m not easily phased by the prospect of 24 hours of travel with multiple dependents. At this point in life, traveling with less than 4 children is basically like flying solo, in my book. And if Jed is with me and we can tag-team? Oh baby, Amazing Race has nothing on us. We are unstoppable.

Now, flying during a pandemic with this many dependents, two of whom (I’m looking at you Bmo and Evie) will keep masks on for approximately 3 seconds before sending them shooting across the room, is pushing our skills to the next level. If it wasn’t for the fact that we haven’t been back to the US as a family for 2.5 years, and have in-person-Wide-Awake-business that needs to be done, I’m not sure we would attempt it. Am I nervous? Maybe a little. But, you see, our whole married life has been preparing us for this. When we were newlyweds we were taking teams of teenagers on short-term trips to work with Jed’s parents in Kosova. Flying with 15 teens and a 3 month old Addy during our second year of marriage was good prep for our current situation. 😉

You’d think with all my gloating confidence I would be uber-prepared with laminated checklists and labeled passports…but, I have to confess that that is not the case. Jed and I are more “fly by the seat of our pants and pray everything gets done in time” type people. Somehow we manage to check everything off the lists (which we scribble on the back of receipts and lose 5 times before we actually check everything off), but I’m not sure our method is for everyone.

A few of the passports. I guess I should go find the others…

One week Till Go-Time

  • Decide to host a Thanksgiving feast for 25 people. Be sure to include everything on the menu and don’t cut any corners! Erect a tent outside to keep the feast pandemic-friendly. Make everything from scratch, as all the conveniences can’t be found in your host country. Spend 2 days in your kitchen totally destroying the deep-cleaning you did the week before while you were thinking you were “ahead of the game”.
  • Contact your brother to ask to borrow his van while in the US. You know, since you’ll be in the US for almost two months, it might be good to have a vehicle to drive…(face palm).
  • Check travel requirements and the lockdown situation in the states you are headed to. Search the internet for COVID testing sites that don’t require a physicians order. Make sure Boris can still enter the US on his visa and keep your fingers crossed that the world stays intact for just a few more days till you all cross the border together.

5 Days Till Go-Time

  • Stress about how you’ll keep a mask on Bmo and Evie for 20 hours. Lay awake at all hours of the night thinking about that instead of sleeping. You wouldn’t want to go into the travels too rested! Also, don’t forget to worry about Anton and Ruslan and if they’ll understand that you’re coming back. Sleep is for the weak.
  • Stock up on groceries for the next several days so you won’t be running to the store constantly and can focus on preparing for the trip. Make sure to forget TP and milk and at least three other items, just to insure you do have to, in fact, run to the store constantly.

4 Days Till Go-Time

  • Get all the suitcases out of the old house on the property where they’ve been stored for the past couple of years. Make sure to open them outside, as last time you opened one inside the house a mouse ran out and emotionally scarred you for life. You’ll never trust a suitcase again. Also, they’re covered in dust and nastiness. Employ teenage sons to give them a thorough cleaning. Argue with Jed about how many suitcases you will actually require for a family of 9 to spend 7 weeks away from home. Jed argues you can get by with just a couple of carry-ons- or maybe just a backpack for each? You argue that you would like to be able to change your clothes more than once during the 7 weeks and ask for checked bags. Jed considers…you drop it for the time being. (But you know you’ll win…hehe)
  • Check travel requirements and the lockdown situation in the states you are headed to, again. Double check that Bmo will still be able to enter the country (assuming he’ll wear a mask long enough to be allowed on the plane…)

3 Days Till Go-Time

  • You have your team over for the day to work and plan for your absence. You drink a lot of coffee and make another batch of homemade egg nog…because this day is a wash anyway. Nothing is getting done. The day might as well be tasty if it’s not going to be productive.

2 Days Till Go-Time

  • You venture, tentatively, into the pits of despair, aka dumpsters, that are your children’s bedrooms and sift through empty chip bags and wet towels and Seth “science experiments” to search for dirty clothes. I mean, if you’re going to fight with Jed over checked bags, you might need actual clothes to fill them. You then come to your senses and remember that your children are capable human beings and they, are in fact, the ones who should be sniffing through the piles of clothes on their floors. You come up out of the fog of teenage boy smells and instruct your children to do their laundry, if they intend on spending their time in the US clothed.
  • After much debate, you convince your 10 year-old son that it really is better to clean up the “science experiments” before travel. Yes, it could be fun to see what grows in them over the next 7 weeks, but it would be less fun to come home to a room full of mold. You assist him in cleaning his room. You want to poke your eyes out.
  • The house sitters come over for instructions. You share all the idiosyncrasies of your home and about how to care for your approx. 527 animals. When you get to the part about which drawers in the kitchen are prone to mice and which aren’t, you see their eyes grow wide and wonder if you should just stay home after all. On Instruction #182 their eyes kind of glaze over and you all just agree to text each other if questions come up. You never realized your house had so many idiosyncrasies!
  • You do laundry non-stop while the toddler destroys the house.

1 Day Till Go-Time

  • I guess it’s time to pack. You really do try to fit it all in the agreed amount of luggage, but there’s just so.many.people. The teenage boys fetch a couple more suitcases out of storage and Jed dies a little on the inside.
  • Run to the kids’ school to sign them out for the next couple of months. Oops. You actually should have done that last week. Better late than never!
  • More laundry, because it never ends.
  • You remember your children still need to eat today, but you didn’t really plan for that. Hmmm…haphazardly feed your children whatever is left in the kitchen: pickles, cheese, oatmeal, eggs? Never mind. You’re on your own, kids. Mom’s up to her eyeballs in laundry. Candy for lunch? Whatevs. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • Clean and pack and wash and launder and pick-up and clean and pack and wash till the wee hours of the morning. At some point Jed runs to the store (again) for snacks for the plane. You heard they won’t feed you much on the plane these days, but teenagers and Bmos are hungry all the time, so you better stock up.
  • Pack the passports and check them 20 times to make sure you have 9 of them. Obsessively check travel sites to make sure Bmo will still be able to enter the US. Read up on airport rules and pray everyone wakes up healthy and ready to mask up.
  • Pack the suitcases in the van in the dark of night. Jed remarks more than a few times on the amount of luggage. You remind him that this isn’t a backpacking trip, and yes, you really do need more than one pair of shoes for a 7 week trip. You call truce and drink some egg nog.

Go-Time

  • Wake the troops in the middle of the night and check the passports 15 more times before groggily heading out the door.
  • Pat yourselves on the back for successfully exiting your life for the foreseeable future. You’re sure you forgot something, but you’re headed to the US! Anything can be replaced. -Except passports. You better check them just a couple more times…

See you on the other side! We’ll let you know how the Bmo-in-a-mask-for-20-hours goes down. If anything, it’ll make for good writing material. 🙂

My McDonalds Alter Ego

Yesterday I had McDonalds for lunch, and it was delicious. Big Mac Meal with Coke, thank you very much! Don’t mind if I do. 😋

Something interesting has happened to me over the past (almost) seven years of living in Ukraine. I have developed an alter ego when it comes to McDonalds. This change came upon me almost immediately upon moving to Ukraine, and while for some years I was embarrassed to admit it, I now fully embrace the McKrainain version of myself. No shame. No hiding. This is me- with ketchup.

Let me explain.

I feel like the US has this thing going on where everyone publicly denies their love for McDonalds, and yet McDonalds thrives and thrives. Last year they reported a revenue of more than 7 BILLION dollars…in the US alone! Soooo…as much as we might hate to admit it, someone’s gotta be eating all that McD’s…

I get it, I get it. It’s not necessarily the cool place to be seen at. I mean, if I was at McDonalds in the US and someone I know walked in, I’d feel like I kinda owed them an excuse. “Ummm Jed just really loves McDonalds. Of course I think it’s gross, but he’s just gotta have his McRib! I much prefer Chipotle, but you know…anywaysss…” (It’s so much easier to throw Jed under the bus, since he’s literally impossible to embarrass. Not that I take advantage of that. Ahem…) 🤷‍♀️

I have a friend who lives just up the hill from McDonalds in our home town in Oregon and I feel like I would do just about anything to make sure she never saw me in the drive-thru. Is it just me? Why all the McShaming? You gotta admit their fries are the besssssst. Come on, don’t be shy!

So yeah, when we lived in the US I was totally on the bash-McDonalds-bandwagon. But then, something about moving 6,000 miles away from everything familiar made me shift my perspective. Can’t imagine why.

In our city, McDonalds is the only American chain restaurant to be found. It’s also the only drive-thru, so there’s that. A couple hours away in Kyiv you can find KFC (but no biscuits or coleslaw, so yeah, not the same), Dominos, and maybe a small Baskin Robbins? But I think that’s it. And in our town, McDonalds is all we’ve got.

Upon our arrival in Ukraine with 4 littles and zero language skills, those Golden Arches spelled “HOME”. Once the jet-lag wore off and we kinda began to realize we were here for good, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Anytime we felt homesick or sad or helpless or stupid, a double cheeseburger and fries was what the doctor ordered. The food tasted the same. The menu was super similar. We could order basically in English and they could “mostly” understand us. In those early days, McDonalds not only filled our bellies, but it reminded us that we were not just the dumb Americans who couldn’t even grocery shop without feeling stupid. We were smart people with friends and family who loved us and a whole history of not-stupidness behind us. Seriously, Guys, nothing brings on humility stronger and faster than moving to a foreign country where English is not the official language. It’ll bring you down about 50 notches in the first 10 days. Ouch.

Evie and Daddy on a McDonalds Date

Over the years we’ve come to rely less on McDonalds to ease our pains, and it’s become more of a special treat. We take our kids there on dates. On the rare occasion when Jed and I are in town together without kids, we go there and it feels like our special secret. It tastes like home, even though we rarely ate it till we moved away from home. Oh the irony.

Another thing to note is that McDonalds is a totally legit place to eat in Ukraine. You would never be embarrassed to find one of your friends at McDonalds in our town. McDonalds is always a good idea here. It’s something special and it’s different than any other restaurant in our city. I feel zero McShame while in Ukraine. Bring on the burgers!

But, the minute the airplane touches down in the US, all that changes. I instantly become a person who wouldn’t even consider McDonalds. I am so high above McDonalds I can’t even be bothered to watch their commercials. All that grease! Why I never!

Is it because I don’t want to waste my time eating food in the States that is readily available in Ukraine? Is it because I’m surrounded by so many much tastier restaurants in the US and McDonalds isn’t special there? Or does the high schooler in me so readily succumb to peer pressure that I slide back in to my old prejudices as soon as I return to my old stomping grounds?

I could dive deeper into how all the parts of my personality shift from one continent to the other, but I’m not in the mood for introspection today. Let’s just say, that my McEgos are just one facet of the confusion that comes with living cross-culturally. What is widely acceptable to me in one place, does not always make the cut in the other. We’ve all become part chameleon over the past 7 years, I guess.

What about you? Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you have a hankering to eat at places that were familiar to you? Did the Golden Arches beckon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on food as “home” and on McDonalds in generally. Because, why not? 😆

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Changes for Good

January ended up being a pretty great month. To start with, Jed’s mom brought Vladik home to us. Yay! Then she stayed for a month to spend time with us and help with the kids so Jed and I could go to the Vineyard UK National Conference in Nottingham. One of our partner churches flew us out there for the conference and a few days of rest and man oh man, we didn’t even know how much we needed it until we were in it.

When you’re knee deep in a project or work it’s helpful to get away and regain some perspective. We’ve been neck deep for the past year and a half, so our perspective in some areas was severely lacking. Time away spent with friends who love us and speak into our lives was a precious treasure that came just at the right time. I’m so thankful we had that opportunity.

While we were away we had good news and not so good news. The good news was, our precious “Preston” flew home to Indiana with his new family to begin his new life! The bad news was, our “Aaron” who was just adopted from Romaniv (the last child who was available for adoption!) failed his medical exam and therefore wasn’t issued a visa to the travel to his new home in the US. Noooooooo!!! Failing that exam is every adoptive parent’s fear. Additional testing had to be done, and now there is an 8 week waiting period for those results to come back. Obviously, Aaron’s family couldn’t wait 8 additional weeks in Ukraine, so a different plan had to be formed.

Part of our team with Preston before he flew to his new home

I shared that story on our social media and invited people to help cover the expenses of caring for Aaron for the next 2 months, as he requires full-time care, and the Wide Awake community rallied! In less than 24 hours all of the expenses were covered, plus additional funds that the family can use for airplane tickets when they travel back at the end of the waiting period. Thank you so much to all who gave so quickly and so generously! The family was blown away by your love.

The plan we came up with was that Max, one of our team members who is currently on a break from university, would live in an apartment with Aaron for the 2 month waiting period. When Jed and I arrived back in Ukraine after our England trip we picked up Aaron in Kyiv and brought him to our house for the weekend because Max wasn’t available to start caring for him till Monday. Aaron did SO WELL in our home. He obviously loved the stimulation of all the people, the space to move around, the toys and balls. It seemed like a no-brainer to all concerned that he would be better off in a family environment instead of one-on-one in an apartment.

Aaron knows he’s not allowed in the kitchen so he sited riiiiiiight at the edge 😆

That left the question of how to make it all happen. Aaron on his best day still requires full-time supervision and assistance. There was no way we could simply add him to our family and not change things up. The money had been donated to care for him, we just had to find the best way to use it. Then we had an “Aha!” moment and we made a decision that was better for all involved. Andriy stayed with us in our home, and Ruslan moved into the apartment with Max. Not what you were expecting to hear? Yeah, it took us a bit by surprise too, but sometimes the most obvious answers are the hardest to come by. 🙂

For several months we had been mulling over the idea of moving Ruslan to an apartment, even before Anton moved. There are several reasons that made this the right choice for this moment. First, Ruslan has a great potential for independence. He will never live alone, but he has great potential to learn to care for himself in many ways. He wants independence. He sees all his friends (our team) live in apartments with friends so the concept was interesting to him. In an apartment setting there will be more time and space for him to learn skills necessary for independence.

Second, Ruslan is highly anxious and quite obsessive. Anton did not thrive in the large family environment, and Ruslan, although he managed it better than Anton, also had big struggles. Ruslan wants to control everything and everyone in his environment. He’s been learning that when you live in a family it’s not possible or necessary to control everyone and everything, but in the large family context it was causing him a lot of angst.

My fave pic of Ruslan ❤️

Third, there were some personal matters that made it necessary for the health of our family that Ruslan move to a different space. To protect the dignity of all of us I don’t want to really expand on that. Everyone is safe, no one has been physically harmed, but you just can’t predict how interpersonal relationships will develop when you bring new people into your home, specifically people who have endured 30+ years of trauma and abuse. We have learned much from having Ruslan in our home, and we love him dearly. It is just healthier for everyone if he lives separate from us. I know it might seem like I’m glossing over this, but I hope you can trust that this is not a decision we came to lightly. We have been agonizing how to make it work, interpersonally, with Ruslan in our home, and the reality is, it just can’t work for the long term. If you have more questions about this, please shoot me an email. I’m happy to talk.

This move, even though we had considered doing it for a long time, was unexpected, but it feels 100% right. When Anton moved out it was traumatic and sad and felt like a loss (at the time). This does not feel like that. Ruslan was excited for the new adventure of living with Max, and Max is the perfect person to lead Ruslan into a more independent life. Anton’s leaving felt like failure, at the time, because Anton is developmentally much younger. He was confused and it felt like getting him out of the house ASAP was the only option in that stressful situation. This move feels like a next step. Aaron’s coming into our home for this time caused everyone to rethink how we are doing what we are doing and shook us up a bit. But we feel confident God used that situation for all of our good.

Bmo-Olaf

At church on Sunday Ruslan was happy, loved and well-cared for; Anton was happy and loved and content. They arrived at church with different people, but were still surrounded by so many who love them. God is so faithful to provide the people to love our boys. Every one of them is in a good spot right now and we couldn’t be more thankful.

I don’t know what the future will hold for Ruslan and Anton. Possibly they will stay in apartments, possibly they will live in the duplex, we’re tossing around the idea of tiny houses on our property. We want to do what is best for them and we are committed to them, so we know God will show us in his timing.

I wanted to share with you so you would know how to pray and also so that those who gave toward Aaron’s care would be fully informed on how the money is being used. Max is being paid to care for Ruslan, so that we have the ability to care for Aaron in our home. Same use of funds, just a “change in seating”, if you will. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. We always want to be open and honest. Thank you for your love and encouragement, as always!

“Aaron” living large in the village