Our Ukrainian Birth Story

Can you believe our sweet Evie Joy is one month old today?! In the past I’ve not been a fan of the newborn phase and have wished it away in search of more sleep. But these days I find myself wishing for time to slow down. Our precious Evangeline is just the sweetest little thing and I know she needs to be our last, so I want time to sloooooow down so we can savor every bit of her baby-ness. Sometimes it feels like no one in the world could ever love their baby the way I love this baby. She is such an incredible gift.

I promised I would share about the experience of our only Ukrainian birth, so here I am, as promised, attempting to write it out. This is a tricky one. I don’t want to sound at all like the US system is SOOOOO much better, or like the way it’s done in the US is the only right way. Because honestly, I don’t believe that. I think the US medical system has a lot going for it (ie…money), but I definitely don’t think there is only one correct way to do things. So, even though I can’t pretend the US is the only right way, it is the only way I know. It’s where I was trained.  It’s where I worked for 13 years. And it’s where all my other babies were born. You only know what you know. 🙂

The following is my experience. It’s what I felt and saw and lived. It may be different than another’s experience, but it’s mine. So take it for what it’s worth.

Evie’s entrance to the world was planned for a Monday.  It was a scheduled c-section, and my fourth (which is pretty rare here), so the doctor had me spend the last few nights of my pregnancy in the hospital in case I were to go into labor in the night. We had previously purchased all the supplies for the c-section at the pharmacy across the street and had them in a duffle bag at the ready. A nurse came in to my room the night before the c-section and said “Okay, you have a c-section tomorrow.  Tonight you need to give yourself an enema, and then give yourself another one in the morning.” Uh…hold the phone. Things were about to get real. Hehe. I’m no stranger to enemas (never thought I’d write that! Ha!). I’ve given a lot of enemas in my day. But I’ve never given one to myself– especially when the only toilet available was a communal toilet down the hall! Yeah, that was tricky. Let’s just say I don’t wish a shared bathroom enema experience on any of you.


The list of anesthesia supplies for Jed to buy the morning of surgery

The next morning Jed arrived around 8:30 and we waited for the party to start. Unfortunately it didn’t start out too great. A grumpy nurse was on duty and was telling us all these instructions that we didn’t understand.  Something about Jed taking all the surgery stuff somewhere and me waiting in my room, but we were sure the doctor had told me to go with Jed… We were all confused and she was annoyed at our lack of understanding and I started crying and it was a bit of a mess. To be fair, I was totally freaked out and hormonal and it probably wasn’t a truly cry-worthy scenario. I’ll own that. 🙂

So Jed was gone to who-knows-where with the supplies and I was sitting on my bed, crying, waiting for someone to come and tell me what to do. After a bit, a super kind lady came and took me through back hallways and staff elevators to where the surgery would take place. The staff elevators are so interesting! Each elevator has an older lady sitting in it whose job is to operate the elevator and make sure no unauthorized person uses it. Each tiny elevator has a chair and a little table in it where the operator sits and drinks her tea, waiting for the next customer. Fascinating. Anyway, my guide saw I was crying and did her best to calm my fears. “I’ve worked here 30 years!  Everything will be fine. Don’t cry or your baby will cry! Everything is fine. Today you meet your baby!” She was a sweetie, but I could not stop crying! Geez Louise. I think all the worrying of the last 9 months had just built up and spilled out in that moment. I was a mess until I saw my wonderful doctor. She is the mom of our dear Kenny, and her presence totally calmed me.  Instantly. She put her arm around me and the familiarity of her just made all the difference.  I was never so thankful that we had chosen a non-stranger to deliver our baby.

They brought me to a room with a bed and a changing table. Jed was there! They had Jed change into clean, comfy clothes and laid out all the supplies we had brought for the baby. Directly across the hall was the operating room. The plan was that as soon as the baby was delivered they would take her across the hall, assess her, and then put her on Jed’s chest, skin to skin, while they finished operating on me.  I can’t tell you how it eased my mind to see where Jed would be with the baby and to know he would instantly be with her.  I absolutely loved that plan. High five Ukraine!


Everything laid out and ready for Evie’s big debut

Then they sorted through our duffel, digging out all the supplies we had bought for anesthesia and the operation and took them across the hall to the OR (YIKES…good bye sterile field…I tried to not think about that too hard…).  Then it was goodbye Jed, and off I went to have a baby! It was so strange that he couldn’t be with me. It was the only birth I’ve ever experienced without him.

The anesthesiologist numbed me up and then, before I knew it, we had a baby! They pulled Evie out and the anesthesiologist, who spoke a little English said “Gel, gel!”  I was like “Girl?  Did you say girl?” Then my doctor announced in Russian that we had a girl and the tears started flowing again. A girl!!!  Wahoooooooo!  We totally wanted a girl but were afraid to get our hopes up.  Evie cried right away.  They showed her to me super briefly and then took her straight to Jed. I just laid there crying tears of joy and wondering about Jed’s reaction to our perfect little baby. Jed said that he was pacing back and forth outside the operating room waiting for news when he heard a cry.  Then some random lady came out into the hall and just matter-of-factly said “Girl” in Russian and walked away. Hahahahaha. Hilarious. I have to say that the surgery itself seemed no different to me than my previous c-sections in the US. Everyone was very professional and I felt like I was in really good hands. Again, high five Ukraine!


Light showing a surgery in progress- eeeek!

Evie (who had no name at the time) was with Jed and I was moved up to a recovery room. After about an hour there they brought Jed and Evie up to me. I was to stay the first night in that room with Evie, but Jed wasn’t allowed to stay.  There really wasn’t any room for him there anyway. There was just a bed and then some old equipment stored in the corner. I’ll be honest, that night was the most miserable of my life.  It felt about a million hours long. I was in a bed that had to stay totally flat (it didn’t raise anyway) with zero pillows and no side rails, and Evie with me in bed.  Try breast-feeding a few-hours-old newborn while lying flat on your back with no pillows and no help. Yeah, tricky is putting it lightly- and this wasn’t my first rodeo! A few hours into the night a nurse came in and said “You need to start turning from side to side.” I knew I needed to start moving a bit.  I knew it was important and I didn’t want to lay only on my back. But I had just been cut open and now I was supposed to get over onto my side with no pillows and no side rails and no help and with a baby in my arms! It was quite a feat, but somehow I managed without dropping baby on the floor. Hehe. I think I deserve a prize. Another strange thing about that night was there was no call light. Soooo if I needed help I just had to wait for someone to come check on me, or yell. I preferred to just wait and silently will them to come by my room.  Luckily I had no emergencies. 😉 There was also curtain and my door was open wide to the hall all night. Hello world! No high five for that experience. It was kind of terrible.

The next morning I had to show I could get up out of the bed and then once Jed arrived they allowed me to be moved to a regular room. Hurray! We had paid for a private room so that Jed could stay with me and Evie at night. I’m so glad we did! The room had an entry area with a couch where Jed slept, a little mini fridge and a microwave. Then through a doorway was a changing table, a bed for me, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower. It was a really good setup. A nurse and doctor would come see us in the morning and in the evening and that was it, unless I asked for pain medicine. No one ever came in at night. So interesting! They really kept a much looser eye on us than after a c-section in the US. They took my vital signs twice a day and had me take Evie’s temperature twice a day.  They would just ask me if her temp was normal, if she was eating, and what color her poop was- the basics. 🙂 Since I knew what I was doing I actually really appreciated being left alone. But, I think if I had been a first time mom I would have been a bit freaked.

The food situation was interesting.  We learned that I needed to have my own set of dishes if I wanted food. Every morning, midday and evening someone would come along, knock on the door and say “Breakfast!” or “Dinner!” and I would need to take my dishes to the hallway where a lady with a cart would give me soup and tea. Each day, three times a day it was like a chicken broth with carrots, potatoes, and a little buckwheat or other grain in it. Jed would bring me food from home to supplement the meals. Each day a doctor would tell me what different foods I could add to my diet.  But she was clear on a few things: No fresh fruits or vegetables (only cooked), no fried foods, nothing sweet the first two days (not even sugar in my tea), and nothing red. My doctor was so sweet. She brought me homemade soup from her house, compote (stewed fruit juice) from her home, and some tea cookies that I could have on the third day. Her thoughtfulness really meant so much to me. I’ll be honest though, I totally didn’t stick to their food rules. I just did what we do in the US and ate what I felt like eating. Shhhh…that’s our secret.

There was no wifi at the hospital and I don’t care for Ukrainian TV, so I listened to a lot of podcasts, read some, and mostly just rested and marveled over our sweet baby.  The hospital was on quarantine because of a lot of sickness in our city, so no visitors were allowed- only Jed. He spent a few hours at home (mostly to help care for Boris) every morning and evening, so I had a lot of time just alone with Evie.  It was a completely different experience than my previous births when we had loads of visitors and family members and American TV and wifi and all that.  It was much quieter and simpler. I missed my parents so bad, and it was a little sad at times, mostly when Evie was so cute and I had no one to show her off to, but it was mostly really beautiful and special. The simplicity of it was peaceful and I needed that. We had 5 days in the hospital and it was just the right amount of time.


Hurray! One month old!

The main differences I can point out between my birth experiences on both sides of the ocean:

  1. Pain Control. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The big push after a c-section in the US is to get the mom on oral pain meds as soon as possible. At the hospital I worked at that usually included a combo of Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Oxycodone. That has worked like a dream for me in the past. But, alas, it was not to be in Ukraine. From the first day post-op I was only given pain meds via a big ol’ shot in the behind. Oral pain meds were not an option. The only med I was given after the first day was a med similar to Toradol (kind of like a shot of Ibuprofen). It was given every 8ish hours, when I asked for it (not scheduled), and not at all at night. Did I already say ouch? ‘Cause, ouch. 😦
  2. Call Lights. The Recovery Room and our regular room had no call lights. It was fine for me, but I always wondered what would happen in case of emergency???  The nurse in me kinda wanted to freak out over that.
  3. Security. In the US, in the hospital I worked at, every patient has a name band and every baby has a name band and the numbers match each other.  Each newborn also has a security band that alarms if they are removed from the postpartum floor.  Before giving any medications the nurse has to scan the armband and then scan the barcode on the med and all of that jazz.  In Ukraine I had no armband, no patient identifier at all.  Evie had a little paper band on her ankle the first day. No one ever checked my identity or anything. I imagine that’s how things used to be in the US, but I never experienced patient care like that as a nurse. Interesting.

There’s so much more I could write, but those are the main things that stand out. My only real complaint is regarding the pain control. My recovery could gotten a much quicker start if I had better pain control, but such is life. I survived. 🙂 I will say that in general, I had a great hospital experience. It far surpassed what I imagined it would be. The staff were kind, and reassuring when I had freak out moments. They were waaaaaay more hands off than in the US, but when I did need something they were quick to respond. My doctor was fantastic and I have nothing but good things to say about her. Sure the conditions weren’t as fancy-shmancy and there weren’t any amenities to speak of (ie. room service, massages, lactation consultants, wifi), but I had what I needed, and besides that first night I never felt like I was lacking care.

Thanks everyone who prayed for us throughout the pregnancy and on the day of delivery.  We are truly blessed by our sweet girl and I’m super relieved to have all that surgery business behind me!


My Ukrainian Maternity Experience, So Far…

Folks, we’re gettin’ close. Only 5 more weeks and we’ll have another little Johnson in the house! OMG. At 34+ weeks I’m at the stage in pregnancy when you are just ready to be DONE. My body is done. But, I’m also not quite ready for the baby to be out. Right now he/she is very easy to take care of and demands zero amount of my time. That’s convenient when I have six others that demand all my time and attention. So, as much as I’m ready to be done, I’m also not quite ready for a newborn. Make sense?

Lots of people have asked what the medical care has been like here in Ukraine, so far during this pregnancy, so I thought I’d share. It has been one gigantic learning curve that’s about to become reeeeeeeal steep here in a few weeks. I’ll start out right now by saying that nothing I’m writing here is meant to bash Ukrainian healthcare. I have felt very well taken care of over the past several months. I have zero doubt about the skill of the doctor I have been seeing. It’s not about that. This is all about the differences between my experiences in the US and my experiences here.  I’m not speaking to others’ experiences, only my own. I’ve birthed three biological kiddos in the US and am also an RN with many years of experience in postpartum and infant care and 13 years of hospital work experience. We’ve also been foster parents in the US to 10 newborns/young infants with special needs. In other words, I’ve been around this mountain before and am quite a nerd about it. I also have loads of opinions about it all…but I’ll try to spare you some of that. The differences between the cultures and medical systems here in Ukraine and the US are vast and the topic interests me endlessly. So, yeah, there is no bashing at the heart of this post- only interest combined with  some amusement, confusion and fascination. 🙂


In Ukraine the public healthcare is provided by the government. There are many free public clinics in our city. There are two free public maternity hospitals. The care is meant to be free, but the funding is sparse and the doctors are paid so little, it is expected that patients should tip as they are able. You also need to purchase many of your own supplies. I have a big ol’ list of supplies to buy and bring to he hospital for delivery. There are also private clinics here in our city, but no private hospitals.

The difference between private clinics and public clinics are vast. In a private clinic you make an appointment, come at the stated time, and with little wait you see the doctor you were meant to see, or get the test you were meant to receive. In the public clinic you just show up, ask who is the last in line, and then take your place behind them.  There are no appointments. So….as you can imagine, you can end up waiting a long time…but such is life. The waiting rooms are not what you would imagine if you have only been in US clinics. They are simply chairs in a hallway- bare minimum (or zero) lighting, concrete floors, no tv, no music, no magazines, no coffee machine, no nothing. Just people waiting. Fun times.

When I first discovered I was pregnant (Holy moly. The shock was intense.) I called a dear friend in our town who speaks great English and asked her to help me. I knew the system had to be so different and I had no idea even where to begin! Bless her heart, she said yes, and has been a big help to me ever since! Thank you, dear Olya! We first went to a private clinic for an early U/S, just to confirm the pregnancy because I’ve had a tubal pregnancy in the past and wanted to make sure we weren’t going to have a repeat of that sadness. That was a great experience and very similar to what you would experience in the US.

After that, around 10 weeks or so I needed to register with a doctor at a public clinic here in town. I decided to go with the doctor who Olya had seen during her pregnancy. In Ukraine you see one doctor throughout the pregnancy, and then when you near delivery (around 36/37 weeks) you choose where you will deliver and register at the hospital. A different doctor delivers the baby- not the doctor you have seen for the pregnancy.

The doctor has been very kind and pretty much laid back. At each appointment she weighs me, measures my belly, and listens to the baby’s heartbeat. Just like in the US. Major difference: the doctors here use Pinard Horns (a wooden horn thing) to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. I’d never even seen one of those in real life!  Think “Call the Midwife” and you’ll be spot on. Can you believe I’ve never heard my baby’s heartbeat? Only the person with the horn can hear the heartbeat. Old school. In fact, I’ve been watching a lot of Call the Midwife lately and feel like there are many similarities to the resources here and there.

I had an U/S at 12 weeks and then again at 19 weeks. I think that’s pretty similar to my experiences in the US. The 19 week U/S was much more brief here. It lasted maybe 10 minutes? I didn’t get to watch, but Jed did. 🙂 We requested to keep the gender a secret, so we’re still waiting on that big surprise! My doctor doesn’t do any ultrasounds but they’re done in an office right next to hers.


One massive difference between Ukraine and the US during pregnancy is the PAPERWORK and TESTING. Holy smokes! So much paperwork and so many blood tests! Wow. I feel like I’ve been poked more times here than in all of my previous pregnancies combined! Basically every 3 weeks, before my appointment, I need to have some sort of test done. At my appointment my doctor will give me little slips of paper that are for the next round of tests. She writes my name on it, her name on it, the hours you can go for testing (normally like M-F 07:30-09:00) and the room number where the test is done. Before my next appointment I need to show up at the different little rooms, stand in line, and go in to do my test. It’s customary to give a few griven (Ukrainian money) to the lab person, along with the little orders slip. For some tests I need to buy my own syringe and needle and bring that along, but most blood tests have been finger sticks. The finger stick tests are done in one room and the blood draws from the vein are done in a different room. I have more than 3 kids, so technically, I don’t have to pay for any of the tests.


The next round of tests I need to do before my upcoming appointment.

In the room where you get your finger sticks there are several different women sitting at desks with a bunch of little glass vials sitting in front of them. They take a metal, almost needle thing, out of a manila envelope and prick the end of my finger. Then they use a glass pipet to collect the blood and smear it on a microscope slide. When I look in front of them at the rows and rows of collected blood in different vials I can’t understand their system at all. There are no patient labels, no lids, no plastic (all is glass)…how do they keep it all straight? How do they separate dirty from clean? How do they not always mess up people’s blood work? I have no idea. It’s so fascinating to me.

I also need to bring a urine sample from home every time I have an appointment. You can bring your urine in a jar of any kind, or you can buy little plastic specimen containers from the pharmacy. Urine needs to be dropped off the day before the appointment, so Jed usually does that for me, bless his heart. 🙂

Another MAJOR difference between here and the US is that everything is done on paper and there is not a computer to be seen (hence the lack of patient labels in the lab). Private clinics have computers, but public do not- at least not in our town. Everything is written on paper. My doctor has a shelf of active patient records in her office. Because there are no computer systems linked between different clinics and hospitals, and you have no electronic chart following you, your patient record literally needs to stay with you. Everything needs to be written twice. My doctor writes notes in her chart for me (like a notebook) and then writes them again in my own personal chart/notebook that I take home and bring back and forth to appointments. There are two copies of every lab result and one copy is stapled into her chart and one into mine. That way, when I change to the delivery doctor, I have my chart in my hands. At this point in pregnancy my little notebook is just jam packed with notes and results and such. The lab where they do blood draws has a big binder where they write patient information- just like the Call the Midwife logbook. 🙂 It’s really interesting.


My personal patient chart and one of the lists of things I need to buy at a pharmacy to bring to the hospital for delivery.

For me, the big looming decision was where to deliver the baby. I have to have a c-section (huge bummer) because I’ve had three previous c-sections. My babies all love to position themselves bottom or feet first. Grrr. Anyway, because of that, I felt really nervous about where the surgery would be done. My options were delivering here in our town, at one of the public maternity hospitals, or in Kyiv, at a private maternity hospital. It would cost about $4,000 to deliver at a private hospital. The main question wasn’t money, but where we felt safest and most comfortable.

Again, I’m not saying I think Ukrainian doctors lack skill. C-sections are done here every day and everything goes just fine. It’s not like my situation is so unique (except 4 c-sections is actually considered very unique here in Ukraine!) that I need some special treatment. It’s not that at all, it’s just that when you are in a situation where the system is totally new, you don’t understand everything (medical terminology and such in Russian and Ukrainian), and you know you’re already going to be stressed, you want to feel like you made the best decision for you and your baby. It was a difficult decision for us! I would say I understand 85-90% of what my doctor says to me. She speaks great Ukrainian and I’m super thankful for that. But, that is rare in our city. Most of the lab techs and others I encounter speak Russian to me and I don’t always understand them as well. I know when I’m stressed and in surgery my mind is not going to want to think in Ukrainian or Russian. I will need to be able to trust and know that I’m in good hands.

In the end, we decided to deliver at the public hospital here in our town. It’s 10 minutes from our house, as opposed to 2.5-3 hours away in Kyiv. Especially with having Boris home now, it’s important that we stay close to home. It’s convenient, for sure, but the biggest deciding factor was the doctor. One of our closest friend’s mom is one of the head doctors of labor and delivery at the maternity hospital near our house. She has over 20 years of experience and has agreed to do the c-section for us. I feel great about this decision. She knows us, she knows our family. We matter to her- we aren’t just random people. She speaks no English, but I know that she will do her best to make sure I understand what’s going on and that means the world to me. Also, she is very skilled at her job. I know she’ll watch over me closely and I need that reassurance, being so far away from everything that seems normal to me.

I’ll for sure write about our delivery and hospital experience after the baby comes, but I can tell you now some things that I already know will be very different. I’m slowly coming to grips with these differences, even though I don’t like them one bit! For one, Jed doesn’t get to be in the operating room. This one absolutely kills me. He’s always been present for the births of our babies and I can’t imagine being in the OR without him! I know I’ll be an emotional wreck. But, we have no choice in the matter. They told me that he’ll be in a room next door and as soon as the baby is born and they show him/her to me they’ll take him/her straight to Jed and he will have the baby with him while they finish me up and take me to the recovery room. I can’t believe we won’t be together when we find out if it’s a boy or girl! I’m so sad about it. 😦

The doctor told me it will be about two hours before the baby gets to be with me again, and during that two hours he/she will be with Jed. The first day and night I will stay in a special post-op area with the baby and Jed doesn’t get to stay. But the next morning, if everything is going well, they will transfer me to a regular room and then Jed will stay with me the rest of the time. We will pay for a private room so we can be by ourselves, as opposed to a ward room. No thanks!  Eek! The doctor reassured me that the baby will be with either me or Jed 100% of the time. At no point will they take him/her away. I’m really glad about that. They do a TB vaccination here while the baby is still in the hospital, so we need to decide if we will do that or not. I’m not big on newborn vaccinations, but I also know that TB is a real threat here and I want to be wise. We need to do our homework on that one.


The maternity hospital

Another big difference here is that the kids will not be able to visit us in the hospital.  They don’t allow children to visit at all. I have to stay for 5 days, so that will be brutal. Thank goodness for FaceTime! I’m certain the hospital has no wifi, but we recently got 3G in our fine city (woohoo!), so I should be able to connect, at least briefly. And Jed will be able to go back and forth and check on everyone. My in-laws are coming from Montana to stay with us and help out when the baby comes, so they can be at home with the kids. I’m so thankful they’ll be here. I don’t know what we would do if they couldn’t come! I’d probably be even more of an emotional wreck. Ha!

That’s my experience so far. It’s been different, for sure, but definitely fine. I’m blessed to have very straightforward pregnancies, so far so good. I’ve enjoyed learning another part of Ukrainian culture- especially as a nurse. We are getting so very excited to meet our little treasure in less than 5 weeks. We sure do appreciate your prayers for a safe and speedy delivery and recovery. Thank you, Friends! 🙂


Back to School 2017

September first came and went and Ukrainian schools are back in session!

Let me just tell you, the feeling that came with not being the new people was such sweet relief. We’ve been the new people at school for the past 4 years, and we were so over it. How wonderful to be known, to not be gawked at (mostly), to belong! Moving to a new culture has cured me forever of taking belonging for granted. Belonging is so hard to come by, and so amazing when it’s found. We found it for our kids and I’m beyond thankful!


This year promises to be quite challenging, as full immersion can’t help but be, but we already feel the successes of last year’s hard work, so that’s encouraging.

Our goals for putting our kids in a Ukrainian local school are:

  1. Ukrainian language fluency.  This is our home and we want our kids to be able to communicate in every situation. While they are young, and their brains are growing so rapidly we feel it’s in everyone’s best interest for them to be immersed in Ukrainian language. I wish I had the opportunity! Their language has already far-surpassed mine.
  2. Integration into Ukrainian society. I’m a homeschooler in my heart. I adore homeschooling and I miss it like the dickens. BUT, I realize that homeschooling our kids here is not what is best for our family right now. It would be easy for them to stay home and live on our sweet little American island, but…they would be totally isolated. They need peer relationships. They need to learn how to function in Ukrainian society independently. They each need to find their place here, and as much as I want them all home with me, I know that I know it’s not what is best for them right now.

So, we press on with local school and all of it’s blessings and challenges.  It’s cool to look back on the first week of school last year compared to this week. We have come so far! Our kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds. They have much more of an understanding of how Ukrainian school works (completely different from American school, if you’re wondering), and they’ve pretty seamlessly picked back up where they left off. Last year we had buckets of tears. This year we have kids who feel successful. My heart is full.


Seth entered first class, so now all the kids are at the same school together. He seems to be ready, and three days in, so far so good. We anticipate some learning difficulties, due to his history, but we’ll just have to take each day as it comes. Socially and emotionally, he is ready, and for Seth that had to happen in order for him to have a chance at success. His teacher was Ezra’s teacher last year and she’s great. She knows our family and we “get” how to communicate with each other. I’m hopeful for my baby.

Hava is in second class. She has her same class of kids and same teacher (they keep the same teacher for the first four years) so she’s all set to go. She adores her teacher and already has friends, so we’re golden. 🙂

Ezra skipped a grade and is now in sixth class, which is appropriate for his age. We really wanted him to have a fresh start this year in a new class and with new confidence. He’s going to have to work hard to catch up, but he’s motivated, so I think he’ll be okay. Ezra’s our introvert, so Ukrainian school is pretty challenging for him. I’m so proud of how far he’s come!

Addy is the one who’s probably going to have the biggest challenges this year. She skipped two grades and is going to give eighth class a try- the appropriate grade for her age. Due to being the only foreigners and then spending a school year in the States, then entering a new school as the only foreigners again, poor Addy has been held back FOREVER! Last year she was two grades behind her peers and it was starting to be a big problem for her. I know that in the whole big scheme of life, it doesn’t really matter, but when you’re thirteen and you’re in a class with eleven year-olds, it matters a heckofalot. 😉 She’s a super smart girl, she has just never been given the opportunity to try to catch up and prove herself. We fought hard for her and Ez to be moved up, so hopefully we made the right decision. For Addy it was very important to have this chance, so she is super motivated to work her tail off to be successful.


Vladik has the same set-up as last year. Our friend is teaching him individually, and then he will be integrated into some lessons with the same class as last year.  Our goal for Vladik this year is to be integrated a bit more into the fabric of the school. Socially, he’s ready for it. Academically, we are limited on what he is able to do, but we are working to give him opportunities to be included at the level he is able. Right now we’re hoping to have him join the sixth class in P.E., music, art, and handicrafts. He adores his teacher and he LOVES school. I’m so thankful he has a place there.

That’s the scoop on school! It’s a lot of work and a lot of figuring out what the heck is going on, but we’re ready. When I was first researching putting our kids in local school the stuff I found talked about how the first year would be super challenging and the progress would be slow, but then the second year was when you would really see progress and the fruit of all the hard work. I’m trusting that will be the case for our kids this year. They are all so brave. I’m so very proud of them.

Here’s to a new school year and a new year of growth. Let’s do this thing!


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!  

Moving Week!

It’s finally upon us!  MOVING WEEK! Be still my heart.

This week we move to the Wide Awake Homestead and my excitement can not be contained. IT’S REALLY HAPPENING. The “2-3 month renovation” that turned into a 9+ month massive overhaul (because, you know, asbestos and Ukraine complications) is finally coming to an end. I don’t think I can adequately convey to you the extent of my joy.

We moved out of our house in Oregon in October of 2012, in preparation for our move to Ukraine. Since then we’ve been a family on the move. From house to house, and from country to country. We’ve packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked…and on and on, never truly settling. But now, our time has come! We’re moving into our home. Home.

The house isn’t totally finished yet, but we have the first of our summer mission team visitors arriving this Sunday and they need to stay in the apartment where we’re currently living…so yeah, we gotta get outta here! Yikes! Good thing the construction crew are our friends, because we’re all about to get real cozy. 🙂


Our furniture at the moment includes a small kitchen table, two chair beds, one set of bunkbeds, and some patio furniture. But hey, we’ll happily sleep on the floor if it means we get to do it at the Homestead. Who cares!

Oh, and one other small detail…the sewer system isn’t all ready yet, so we’ll need to be super conservative with water for a bit…and…we’ll be using the outhouse. But hey, lots of people in our village live with outdoor toilets. That’s really no big deal in village life. Let’s just consider it another lesson in learning to relate to our new neighbors. Ha!

The house is beautiful. Jed gets all the credit when it comes to the design. He chose just about everything in the house and I think he has great taste! I super super love all the wood. Can you believe that going with wood was the cheaper option???  I know. I could be wrong, but I feel like lots of wood would be really expensive in the US. Here, it is much cheaper, and we like the look of it better anyway. Most of the more expensive, popular-in-Ukraine designs are really not our style at all. So, for the most part we ended up with good deals and a great final product. Score!


Also, special shout-out to Jed for managing this enormous project. He had no idea when we moved to Ukraine that his job-title would include “General Contractor”! This house has been his full-time job since September, in addition to all his other responsibilities here. He has been working day in and day out to get this first home done as quickly as possible so we could start getting our boys out. This is only the beginning and we’ll be doing building projects for who knows how many years to come, but this first one just feels really significant. I’m so proud of Jed. He has done an amazing job.

Yes, I’m freaking out excited to move in because my heart is so eager for a home. But the main reason I’m freaking out excited to move in is because once the house is fully finished and furnished we can begin the process to start bringing our boys home! After all, that’s what we came here for. The big dream when we moved here 3 years ago was to build family style homes for the boys. The big dream was to get them out. Deinstitutionalization. That reality is so close. It makes my heart beat fast just thinking of it. Guys, this is really going to happen!


We don’t know who will be first. We are praying about that right now. The Homestead will be a forever home for the boys, so we really need God’s wisdom on who we bring out- especially when it comes to the first few boys who will live in the house with our immediate family.  We have a few boys in mind that we are praying about and deciding between. How do you choose?  They all need out. They all deserve rescuing. God is going to have to choose for us and show us very definitely because we just love them all. Some of the boys are not possible options at this time, while we have small children at home, but many are possible and I can picture so many of them living with us. Please pray for us in this decision-making process.


How can I thank our supporters enough for making this possible? Thank you to each of you who have given towards the homestead project. Thank you for believing in this vision. Thank you for loving our boys and seeing their immense value. Thank you for trusting us to carry this out. We are so humbled in all of this. Humbled and thankful and rejoicing in all that God is doing.

Once we’re in I’ll give you a video tour of what you helped build.

IT’S HAPPENING. Let’s all give a collective cheer/squeal/whoot/holler/happy dance!