Village Life

We’ve been living in the village for almost 2 months now, so I thought I should give a bit of an update on life here.

We FINALLY got our gas turned on last week, so that makes village life much happier!  I know many of our neighbors live without indoor plumbing, and therefore without hot water, but…yeah…I’m super thankful we only had to do that for a short while. I guess we’re a bit (a lot) spoiled.

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Our garden is MASSIVE, so much of my time and attention these days is directed toward managing the garden and all that it produces. Almost every day we try to can something so that we can make the most of the garden. So far we’ve put up several liters of pickles and several liters of cherry compote (a popular Ukrainian fruit drink). I’ve never done pickles before, so I’ve just picked out several different recipes from books and online and we’re trying them all! We’re labeling them with the recipe name so this winter we can decide which recipes are keepers and which aren’t. Figuring out how to can in Ukraine has been quite a challenge! Most people here don’t water bath their canned goods, and you can’t get the two piece lids we use in the US. So…we’ve had to compromise. The USDA might be horrified at our methods, but I’m sure all will turn out okay. (Fingers crossed!) Don’t worry, canning pros, we won’t attempt to can anything with low acidity.

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Village life for our little ones has been fantastic so far! Seth, Vladik and Havalah are outside basically every day from sun up to sun down. Seth and Hava both have little friends their same age that live right across the street and two houses down. Kids in the village have free reign and basically just run free all day long. It reminds me of what I imagine life was like in America a couple generations ago. The kids go from house to house, riding bikes, walking to the store to buy candy, and basically just running wild being kids. I LOVE IT. This is what we wanted for our kids, for their childhood. It just makes me happy that they can have that freedom here in the village.  Vladik spends most of his days watching the guys who are working on the house (they’re working on siding right now) and “building” his own special projects with scrap wood. Addy and Ez have a couple village friends, but they are around the house more than the Littles. They are good about helping me with the garden and taking care of our growing animal population (now including a dog, a cat, a hamster and the occasional neighbor cow who pastures in our back property).

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Our neighbors are kind, hardworking people. We don’t know them well yet, but most of them are parents of kids who are at our house all the time, so I’m sure over the coming years we’ll get to know each other well. We’re still quite a curiosity around here. I’m not sure that will ever change. 😉 The neighbors right next door butcher pigs, and the ones directly across the street butcher cows. Oh the sounds that come from those properties! Yikes. But, it sure is convenient when we want to buy meat! Also, the neighbor whose cow pastures on our property gives us fresh milk in exchange for letting his cow on our property. Village life has it’s perks, for sure!

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It’s not as convenient for our church friends to get to us as it used to be when we lived in the city, but oh man, this house is a far better gathering place! People love to be here. The house is cozy, the deck is perfect, and the air is fresh. We absolutely love our house. We can’t wait to bring our boys here! I can’t imagine how much they will grow and change in this environment. It’s going to be just awesome.

Village life is the life for us. We’re so happy here! THANK YOU a million times over to everyone who helped us get to this point. Our guest room is waiting for you. 🙂

family Johnson -21family Johnson -36family Johnson -42Thank you to our friend Andrey for the awesome photos of Vladik’s birthday!  

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What’s Making Me Smile

I have about 3,462 things I could write about today, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by that thought. I could write about the plans for this summer (it’s gonna be a doozy), or the progress on the Homestead (also a doozy), or about Sara our wonderful massage therapist friend who is visiting (I won’t call her a doozy ’cause that just seems weird…), or about the fact that school is almost out (now that has been a doozy). But instead I decided to write about what is making me smile right now. Because I want to. The doozies can wait.

(“Doozy” is a really strange word when you really think about it)

THINGS THAT ARE MAKING ME SMILE:

Podcasts.  Everyone who has talked to me in the past several months has probably discovered my love/addiction to podcasts. I feel like I’m constantly trying to share my podcast recommendations with friends because I so want them to learn to love podcasts like I do. I love a good podcast! I download them and listen while I walk the dog, while I’m on the bus, while I’m walking to wherever I’m walking (if I’m kidless), while I wash the dishes, while I clean the house. I felt kinda burned out on the music I’d been listening to so I started podcasting. Now I can’t stop! Here are a few of my favorites if you want to join me in the podcast love.

  1. The Daily Audio Bible. We’re still going strong on our daily Bible reading with good ol’ Brian. We listen to the Old Testament during breakfast, and the New Testament in the evening after dinner. I love the rhythm it brings to our life right now in all the crazy.
  2. This American Life. They have interesting stories every week that grab my attention. Sometimes I learn new stuff and sometimes I’m just entertained.
  3. God Centered Mom Podcast. This one is encouraging and informative. It helps me be a more intentional mom.
  4. Two Fat Expats. LOVE IT. Two Australian women host this podcast about the expat life. They talk about all sorts of things from boarding school to keeping long distance friendships alive to social media and the expat child…tons of interesting and applicable info for expats of any sort. Plus they make me laugh. 🙂
  5. The Podcast With Knox and Jamie. This one is just purely for the laughs. I laugh out loud every single episode, which can make things kind of awkward if I’m listening on the bus! Knox and Jamie talk about random pop culture stuff and it’s just stinking’ funny. Their episode about misheard song lyrics is the ultimate. I think I love this podcast because it’s just a little taste of America when I’m so far away. FUNNY.

There are many more I listen to that I could add to that list, but those are the ones that are making me smile right now.

Sara. Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to write about Sara, but I just have to. Sara makes our whole family smile countless times every day. She is just full of joy and life and spirit and God did an amazing thing when he joined our hearts together.

If you don’t remember Sara you can read about her in this post. She came here two years ago, never having met us before, and spent a few weeks teaching massage at Romaniv. The work she did was beautiful and incredibly meaningful to the boys and they had been consistently asking for her since she left. We are so happy she’s back for the whole month of May! She is working at Romaniv Monday through Friday, and when she’s not at the institution she is loving our family and making us laugh non-stop.

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In the mornings at Romaniv Sara is teaching the interns specific massage techniques for the individual boys on each of their caseloads, and then she is spending the afternoons massaging the older boys. It’s not just a physical work that she does, although that is important and super healthy for the boys, it’s also a spiritual work. Before the massage and during the massage Sara is praying over the boys. There is peaceful music playing and lovely essential oils. The Sensory Room becomes an oasis of peace for each boy who enters. During their massage they get attention and love and dignity. They are told in that time that they are special, that they are beautiful, that they matter. It’s an important work that I believe is truly life-changing for the boys.

Thank you dear Sara. We love you!

The New Floors at the Homestead. I LOVE how the house is turning out! The downstairs floors were finished last week and they are bringing me loads of joy. They are beautiful and they brighten up the room. I absolutely adore how the house is coming along. Yay! We might be able to move in at that beginning of June. Now that’s something to smile about!

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Dance Class. Oh my word. Romaniv Dance Class makes me smile from ear to ear. I wish with all of my heart that you could each come visit our class. You would leave changed forever.

A couple of months ago one of our team members, Olya, Addy and I started doing a Friday afternoon dance class with the higher functioning boys at the institution. They love and it and we love it equally as much- maybe even a little more! We gather in the sports room with our music and water bottles and white t-shirts and socks and dance our hearts out. There’s this one part of the class when we all sit down and each boy takes a turn dancing solo in front of all of us. You guys, it is the best thing EVER. I seriously want to bottle up those moments and treasure them for the rest of my life because they are just so darn precious!  To see the boys so free and alive, it’s just incredible. We conga line till we’re exhausted and it’s the highlight of my week.

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Honestly, there is a lot that is hard about our lives and work here in Ukraine right now. Sometimes Jed and I look at each other and we wonder out loud if we are going to spend the rest of our lives fighting, or if there will ever be a time when we can just rest. We get weary of fighting for the boys, fighting injustice, fighting broken systems that are designed to beat people down, fighting corruption, fighting heaviness in the culture, fighting to do things that have never been done before. Fighting and fighting and fighting. It’s wearisome, folks. But then we have to choose to lift our eyes up and see all the joy.  There is also a ton that is going right. There is evidence all over the place that God has his mighty hand on this work and that He is going before us. And of course there’s no question that the boys are worth fighting for! But we have to choose to see those things that are right and good. Today I choose joy. I choose to look around me at all the things- big and small- that God has given that make me smile. So.many.things.

So, Happy Wednesday!  What is making you smile today?

 

 

 

Parenting Overseas: When Kids Become Partners

Benefit #33 of our kids’ school: Extended Easter Break. Three cheers for Catholic schools! The kids are off today (Thursday), Good Friday, and the Monday after Easter!  It’s like Spring Break #2 and we couldn’t be happier.

I’ve been thinking lately about how my parenting has changed by us living overseas. I think it’s hard to differentiate between the changes that come from living outside our native culture, and the changes that come just by having older kids. I think one major difference that comes with our location is the freedom and independence our kids can experience at younger ages.

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Back when we lived in the US I used to read about “Free Range Parenting” and wish that was more possible for my kids. I’m pretty sure no one could have ever accused me of being a helicopter parent, but I did always wish for more opportunities for my kids to learn independence at a younger age. That sounds great, but is stinkin’ hard to do in American suburbia! It’s hard to teach independence when the city bus routes are super inconvenient and expensive. It’s nearly impossible when the city plans are made for driving and not for walking. Cell phones are expensive and pay phones are nearly non-existent. In my humble opinion, the culture of ultra-protection of kids also makes it really difficult for well-meaning parents to provide opportunities for their kids to learn and make mistakes and recover without repercussions from outside sources. It felt like for our kids to learn their way out and about without adults they would need to wait until they were 16 and could drive! I know there are creative workarounds for parents who are really intentional about teaching independence, but it just never felt quite natural like I wished for. You know?

I didn’t realize how moving to Ukraine would make it easier for me to be the kind of parent my heart longed to be, in that regard. In Ukraine we have opportunities a’plenty for our kids to explore and learn and even be forced into situations where they have to think for themselves and be independent. It’s just built into the culture! There are some parts of Ukrainian culture that I imagine are similar to American culture back when my parents were kids. I like that.

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Public transportation in our city is cheap and super easily accessible. Our kiddos come home from school by themselves on city buses most days. It’s totally normal to see a kid Hava’s age (8) on the bus alone or walking alone down the street. Hava and Seth can go to the store by themselves and get me a few grocery staples. No one bats an eye that my 6 year old is at the store by himself (unless he’s not dressed warmly enough..hehe). It’s AWESOME. I love it because I KNOW my kids can do it, and they feel so proud of themselves when they are successful.

The little store down the street from our house is an old Soviet type store where you have to go up to the counter and ask the cashier for what you want. The thing is, there aren’t really lines. Whichever customer is the quickest or loudest gets their voice heard first.  Our Seth is super shy. The first time he went by himself to get me bread he must have been gone for more than 20 minutes.  I kinda started to worry a bit, but I knew he was fine, so I just waited. When he finally came home I found out he had been too embarrassed to pipe up and ask for the bread so he just stood there and waited until the store was completely empty and the cashier finally asked him what he wanted. 🙂  But he learned that day and he was so proud of himself when he came home with the bread!

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Our Addy is 13 and is off right now with two friends from school, out and about in the city. She took the bus to meet them and later they’ll find a bus that will take them to youth group. She has a cheap little phone that she uses to call me and let me know she’s okay. It’s AWESOME!  She has learned which buses to use and how to get where she wants to go most places in the city. I’m so happy for her that she has that chance to be independent and I’m also happy that we don’t have to drive her all over town so she can see her friends! Ha!

The big ol’ language issue also changes our parenting, and I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. 😉 Back when we lived in the US and I worked as a nurse on the pediatric floor of our hospital it was extremely common for us to treat Spanish-speaking families.  I remember so many times when the parents couldn’t speak much English and they would have their child translating for them. We would use a medical translator for official communication, but for just basic conversation I remember always feeling relieved when there was a school-age kiddo in the room who could help us communicate with mom and dad. I also remember thinking in the back of my mind “Why don’t these parents learn English?  Certainly they don’t want to live their lives with their kids better understanding the world around them and translating for them!”

Yeah, I can give a definitive answer on that one. Those parents didn’t want their kid in the driver’s seat of communication, but guess what? You get desperate and it happens. And in those important moments it’s better to have your kid there to help you rather than no one at all.  Guess how I know?  Yep. Been there done that. Last week.

We’ve gotten to the point where our kids’ language is better than ours. NOOOOOOOO!  I swore I wouldn’t let it happen, but it has. They are immersed in Ukrainian 5 hours a day and I’m not. It was bound to happen. I guess I just didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Now when we’re out and about and I need to understand something I’ll make sure all the kids are listening too, so that if I miss it I can know that somebody will understand. Addy has the best language and I find myself looking to her for help way more than I’d like to admit. The other day I had the kids at the dentist and the dentist actually looked at Addy and said “I want you to listen really good so that you can help your mom understand.” OMG. Low point. I made sure Addy knew, after the fact, that I had indeed understood the dentist (well, at least 70% or so…). Ahem.

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It’s funny how that lack of understanding, or handicap in communication kind of changes your relationship with your kids in small ways. Adults will look to my kids when relaying information, assuming they will understand better than I will. And sometimes they’re right- especially at school. In some ways, and in some moments it changes our role to more like partners with our kids, rather than us moving in the more traditional roles. We’re all working together to make sense of a strange new world, rather than us adults understanding the world and teaching our kids how it all works.  It can be a bit unnerving, especially when we’re talking about partnering with a first-grader, but I think I like it. It causes the kids to take more responsibility for themselves, rather than all the responsibility being on us parents. I know I like that.

All of this learning and growing and digging in roots in a different culture that we are still learning to understand is a heckuva lot of work. It’s stretching and confusing and painful much of the time. But, there are also beautiful parts of it that are unexpected blessings. The partnership with our kids and family teamwork is one of those unexpected blessings. The natural independence training is also an extra blessing. Sometimes it’s mind-blowing to consider how extremely different our kids’ childhoods are than our own, but I have to believe that there are things they are learning by living this curious life that they absolutely need for their futures.

So, steady on, my friends. This parenting gig is no joke, but God will give us everything we need for our specific children. We can trust Him on that one.

Shoe Debates, Friendly Pack Mules, and Spring is Here!

I’m happy to report that THE SNOW IS GONE. The streets are (mostly) dry(ish) and the debate over which shoes to wear has simmered down a bit.  In my previous life, in Oregon, the debate over which shoes to wear was mild and was simply a matter of “is it raining or not.” If it’s raining, you can’t wear Toms.  If it’s not raining, Toms it is! I mean, I was most likely just going to be dashing across a parking lot if the weather was less than optimal, so making the best choice in footwear was not the end all.

In Zhytomyr in the winter, the shoe debate is real.  It is intense.  One does not simply throw on a pair of shoes and prance out the door without a care in the world!  No, no, no.  One is most likely going to be walking a fair distance out in the elements and waiting at bus stops. One must consider the level and freshness of the snow, the amount of ice, the wetness or dryness of said ice and snow.  On some days we have rivers for sidewalks, and on others we have ice skating rinks for sidewalks.  Rivers and ice skating rinks call for different shoes, different strategies.  One must also consider the distance to be walked and the condition of the sidewalks en route.  If I’m taking out the trash and heading that direction, I need to prepare for mudslides (and dead cats, apparently).  If I’m walking down our road in the opposite direction there will be less mud, but a lake or two to be traversed, so that must be taken into account. We’ve become quite adept at deciphering the sheen on the ice and navigating the sidewalks in the safest, non-broken-hip-est manner. Skillzzzzzzz.

My favorite boots for walking in mildly cold, non-snowy weather currently have a break in the sole, so my right foot is bound to get wet.  I keep forgetting to take them for repair, so if I want warm, dry feet my only choice are my snow boots.  But snow boots without snow are a little more Napoleon Dynamite than I’m willing to go, so I usually opt for the wet foot.  Why not just get the shoe repaired you might ask?  Yeah, I know. It’s a mixture of forgetfulness, procrastination, and fear of doing new things and not knowing how or what is expected of me.  I guess in the end I just opt for the wet foot.  Don’t judge.

All that to say, soon warmth will come, summer will come, and along with it, fewer and fewer shoe debates.  We will happily pack away the snow boots and non-snow boots.  Multiply that by 7 people and it equals 28 fewer shoes in my entry way and 500 times more peace in my heart.  (Shoe clutter is my nemesis.)

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Beautiful dry, snowless, puddless sidewalk!

You know what else comes with warm weather?  Visitors!  We’re preparing our summer schedule and are excited to welcome several friends, old and new.  The boys and our team are going to get so much love and encouragement in the warm summer months!

I’m super excited to have all the visitors too.  I’m excited for English conversations and the joy that comes from seeing our boys through the eyes of others.  It’s a lot of work to host people, but it’s also refreshing, encouraging, and just plain fun. Guess what else gets me excited for visitors?  All the stuff we have them carry over to us from the US!  I’ve been out of brown sugar for over a month and my baking is SUFFERING. Peanut butter and chicken flavored Better Than Bouillon have also been sorely missed. I’m filling my Amazon cart in preparation. Yes, we totally and unashamedly use our visitors as pack mules. Come on, summer! Hehe

The kids are all doing really well.  In a couple of weeks we’ll have Spring Break, and then they only have like 2 more months of school!  I can’t even imagine the feeling of accomplishment they will have when they walk out the doors of school on that last day.  We are so close to completing a full year of Ukrainian school!!  There have been many good days, and also many days when we have all been in tears, ready to throw in the towel.  Many days of wondering if it is worth it, but as we round the final corner I think we are all seeing that it has totally been worth the blood, sweat, and tears.  The kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds.  They never could have grown like that just here at home.  I am so incredibly proud of them.

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It is totally NOT ice cream weather, but we got a little excited about the sunshine.

Yesterday we were at the hospital getting Addy, Ez, and Hava mandatory check-ups for school and I realized that I have started to rely on their ears when we are out and about.  I tell everyone to listen, and if I don’t catch what was said, most likely one of them will.  It’s awesome!  All communication outside the home used to fall on Jed and me completely, but now the kids can understand for themselves, and actually, truth be told, they have much better comprehension than I do at this point. Grrrr… the competitive side of me hates that!  But, I love that they can communicate and function so well in society.  That was our hope in sending them to school.

So, here’s to dry feet, American pack mules friends, and Spring Break.  The snow is gone, the sun is out, Brian Adams radio is playing (again, don’t judge), and my heart is full.  Happy Tuesday to our friends near and far!  BeLOVE[d].

 

PS: You will not believe this! I was typing this post when I had to pause to go get Seth from kindergarten.  On the way home we stopped at the post office and guess what was waiting for us???

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Our wonderful Tom and Emma sent us a package with brown sugar, Better Than Bouillon, peanut butter, jalapeños and many other special treats. OMG. Can you believe that timing?  THANK YOU Tom and Emma.  We love you!

 

 

 

 

 

Frozen Cats, Injuries, and Parenting Wins

I’m sitting here at the table in a super quiet moment.  Ooooh I love it.  I’m debating getting up and making a cup o’ coffee, but I’m too afraid to disturb the moment. So, I’ll probably just stay put.

Vladik is sitting at the table with me drawing a picture for his special class he takes at MTU once a week.  He stays home from school on Wednesdays so he can go to that class.  Also, he does well with a day off in the middle of the week to spend time with mom and dad.  He really enjoys going out to the property with Jed and seeing all the work the guys are doing.  Vlad has an engineering mind and loves all things electrical  and tools and stuff like that. -Basically everything I hate.  Hehe. He’s constantly drawing pictures of the house for Sasha, our friend and builder.  Sasha is so kind, making a big deal over each and every drawing, discussing the details with Vladik.  I love it.

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Seth is at his village preschool/kindergarten and the other 3 are at school.  Seth only goes to his school for 3-4 hours per day and has finally gotten into the groove.  PTL!  I never thought it would happen.  He has a couple little friends there and that has made all the difference.  He wrestles with them every day and comes home with small injuries most days.  I guess their teacher is fine with it?  Ha! Anyway, he has a good time and is learning, so we are winning there, for sure.

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Waiting for the bus after school

Wanna hear something gross?  Of course you do! When we take out the trash we have to walk down a little path/alley behind our apartment, around behind a kindergarten, and then to some dumpsters behind a big apartment building.  It’s all paths and not really a road, so it is never cleared of snow or ice.  It can actually be a bit treacherous! Anyway, a couple weeks ago I noticed a cat had died and was frozen, mid-stride, right on the side of the path.  EEEEEK!  Disgusting.  It’s mouth and eyes were frozen open and it was just horrible to look at.  Poor kitty. It’s still there.  IT’S STILL THERE.  Still frozen, still horrible looking, STILL THERE.  I keep wondering who will take care of it???? If you’re going to suggest that I do it because I’m so concerned…you can just shut your mouth.  There is no way on God’s green earth I’m taking responsibility for that dead cat.  Nasty.  Anyway, I assume everyone is just ignoring it because everything is still frozen around here and everyone hopes someone else will do it.  But sooner or later everything will thaw. Then what?  Ugh.  Now I just avert my eyes every time I have to pass by it because it’s haunting me.  Make it stop!!!

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Our ice skating rink/street

Last week I had this strange infection in my thumb that became a big ordeal.  The big ordeal included: me googling “my thumb is going to explode”, attempting to treat it myself with Jed and a sterilized needle (yes, I know, not smart….but we were desperate), heading to the hospital and being examined by a surgeon in a dimly-lit, flickery-lightbulb hallway, giving a urine sample in a bathroom with OPEN GLASS BOTTLES (aka specimen jars) ON A WOODEN TABLE, NO TOILET SEAT, NO TOILET PAPER, NO SOAP.  Seriously. Slightly high risk for specimen contamination, dontchathink?  My ordeal included a $0.75 X-Ray, thumb numbing and lancing, blood samples taken using a pipet and a rubber tube, and then some sort of loud electromagnetic treatment with this:

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I don’t even know what to say…

All that said, they took very good care of me and the surgeon was competent and extremely kind.  I do have to say though, as an RN who worked in the hospital setting for 13+ years, it was all very Twilight Zone/Civil War tent medicine’ish.  The lead up to the actual procedure was so strange and foreign and old-school that I half expected to be handed a bullet to bite down on as my thumb was cut open. But alas, it was all done with sterile procedure and ease.  I guess you can’t always judge a book by it’s dimly-lit cover. 😉

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You have to buy booties from the pharmacy before going into the hospital

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Seriozha (aka Kenny) saved my life by helping me navigate the hospital experience 🙂

We’ve recently had some parenting wins that I think you should all know about. Aren’t we parents all too hard on ourselves?  I know I am. Why do we do this to ourselves? Let’s take a moment to reflect on the things that, despite our best efforts to screw everything up, seem to be going right. Here we go:

  1. Every time we have our friend Rosa over to play games we listen to a finely-tuned Pandora station called “Phil Collins Radio”. I’ve been thumbing that station up and down  for at least 4 years, so you know it’s full of gems.  Or, if Jed will allow it, Rosa and I will opt for “Bryan Adams Radio”.  This tradition started back when we lived in the US and would play games with our most special Tom and Emma.  Games just call for music everyone can sing along to, and these two stations are exceptional, in my humble opinion.  Well, lately Addy and Ezra have been joining us in our game play and they can now sing along to at least the chorus of several good songs.  The other night we were listening to music while washing the dishes and Ezra requested “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.  Then the next night Addy requested “Take My Breath Away”.  I know we make mistakes every day, but requests of high caliber, such as those, give me hope. #parentingwin
  2. The other day I asked Vladik to go put his notebook in his backpack for school.  He proceeded to toss the notebook in his bag and then declare “Boom shaka laka!” Be still my heart. #parentingwin
  3. Ezra just completed his very first chapter book without pictures.  He started it.  He read it every night.  He asked to stay up late to “finish one more chapter”. He talked about it at dinner. He read it until the very end.  I thought this day would never come. #parentingwin
  4. There is a little boy in Hava’s class that doesn’t really have any friends.  The other kids don’t like him and often aren’t kind to him. Hava decided that was wrong.  She sincerely likes him and decided to appoint herself as his protector. Every day she reports to me on the kindness level of others and what she did to be a friend to him.  #parentingwin

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Welp, I’m off to take Vladik to class and fetch Seth from Kinder…while averting my eyes from frozen cat.  #jesustakethewheel  Happy Wednesday!