Saturday, 8/20/22

I don’t have a witty title today. Not that my other blog titles have been necessarily “witty”, but today I just have no thoughts of what to name this post. My mind is racing, my heart is hurting. Russia has waged a war of nightmare and terror on Ukraine for nearly 6 months now and they appear to have no intention of stopping any time soon. They bomb people’s homes, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, city centers. They rape, pillage and torture- like Vikings of old. They threaten the safety of an entire continent by using a nuclear power plant as a shield. They are trying to exterminate an entire nation, an entire culture, and the world grows weary of watching. Some even dare to say this war isn’t even really happening. While Ukrainians lay down their lives to protect the freedom of the Western world, Russians cry because they might not get to vacation in their beloved European resorts anymore. What.Is.Happening. Is this really the year 2022? Is the world really letting this continue? What.Is.Happening.

The other day we went to our kids’ school to register them for the upcoming school year. We drove down the usually quiet road in the forest and were surprised to see loads of Ukrainian soldiers on the premises. Apparently the empty building right next to our little school in the forest has been turned into a military facility…which means our kids will no longer be able to attend school. Our plan for them to be secluded and safe in the forest doesn’t really apply now. A few days later we returned to the school to discuss distance learning options and I had a moment of weakness. “Come on Jed, maybe we should just send them to school. The chances of anything significant happening here are low…” We went to a cafe in town to think and talk about it and heard a lot of airplane activity overhead. One does not simply ‘hear an airplane’ in Ukraine anymore. Any sound of an airplane means all heads are up, all eyes are fixed on the sky, all hearts beat a little faster. The sound of an airplane is the sound of terror these days. We tried to ignore the sounds and kept our discussion about school. An hour later we were at home and heard two big explosions. Something in town had definitely been struck. Never mind. The kids won’t be going to school anytime soon. Russia steals everything.

Air raid sirens are a daily occurrence here. There have been 4 just today, and it’s still only late afternoon. We hear them out in the village only when it’s very quiet at night and we’re standing in our backyard. They tell us the latest rockets strikes were launched from Belarus- our not-so-friendly neighbors to the north. No thank you very much. We tell the kids to go to a safe place when they are in town and they hear the sirens. I hope they do. Sometimes I can’t believe the conversations we have with our kids; conversations about air raid sirens, where to find the closest bomb shelter, if the sound we just heard was the rock quarry down the road or a missile strike, a sports car speeding down the highway or the roar of a jet. They are brave. They were brave before, but war has made them even more so. It changes us all- in good ways, and in ways I’m not ready to talk about yet. One thing is certain: war definitely changes a person.

Ukrainian Independence Day is August 24th and everyone looks ahead to this week with trepidation. Surely Russia doesn’t plan to let that day pass quietly. Russia is a terrorist state and it seems like they will want to mark that day in their own special way. We will celebrate quietly at home. I remember the Independence Day we spent once in Lviv. It was beautiful. Who could have imagined what was to come? Ukraine deserves its independence just like every other country. Ukrainians deserve to celebrate without fear and without a foreign power occupying their lands and decimating their cities. Ukraine deserves to be free from Russia and if other countries want to stay free they better step in and make sure Ukraine wins this terrible war.

My cousin married a wonderful man, Misha, who is a proud Ukrainian. He recently wrote this truth (the words in bold are mine):

“Let me explain really quick what would happen if Ukraine will not win this war.
Major part of central Ukraine, east, north, and south will be occupied. Russia will become bigger, more aggressive, their borders as well as appetite will expand.
Immediately, all the people on occupied territories will go through filtration camps (This is already happening in occupied areas), where they will be checked how Ukrainian they are. Any past cooperation with ZSU (Ukrainian military), any man with patriotic pro Ukrainian position, any former rear guard volunteers, as we are, – will be prosecuted. People will be sentenced to death, sent with their families to Siberia or just disappear. Russia knows how to do that very well.
At the same time, in their apartments will move another families from poorest and remote parts of Russia, bringing famous
Russian culture’, terror and aggression. Women will work as a teachers of their language and literature, men will be KGB workers, searching for Ukrainian patriots, hating all the locals, but taking their goods. That’s how my my grandma’s family from Siberia appeared far west in Transcarpathia in early 50’s.
During the first years Russia will establish pro-Russian managers in every governmental facility, every school, every public place, police and post office. Ukrainian culture will be suppressed and if that happens long enough – will become extinct, we might be the last generation of the native speakers.
This is the cyclical nature of Russian invasion known for centuries. They always wanted to go west to occupy reacher territories. My grandparents’ generation suffered from that, my parents’ generation lived as a part of regime as well as me, so let’s stop them now so the kids would live free, being who they are – Ukrainians.
Please help as protect our little peaceful nation. We would never raise a weapon if not to defend our people.
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I have recently been brushing up on some of Ukraine’s history and what Misha wrote is 100% how things will go if Ukraine doesn’t win this war. This is what Russia does. This is what can not happen.

So we pray, we mourn, we have days of hope and days of fear. Most days are “normal”. We continue to love our children, our boys, and our team. We celebrate together and try to remember to enjoy the little things: the way the goats nuzzle us like cats, Anton pedaling a bike, the plums from our trees, Sasha singing a new tune that we all recognize, homemade bread, being home and cozy nights with the sound of rain on the roof. When the underlying tension of war comes to the surface we try to remember to give our cares to Jesus. Only He can help.

Please, I beg you, don’t forget Ukraine. I know there are so many things to care about in this world, so many tragedies, so many stories on the news. But I still ask you to remember Ukraine, to pray for Ukraine, to elevate Ukrainian voices and the Ukrainian perspective. We would really appreciate it so much.

Independence Day, 2014

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!

Reflections on Home

The most elusive word to most expats is probably the word “home”. I actually put quite a bit of thought into my use of that word. It’s not one I throw around lightly. When you up and move 6,000 miles away from your home, and suddenly every single thing is unfamiliar and difficult, you wonder if you will ever feel “at home” again, and the word takes on a power and meaning all its own.

For several years after we moved to Ukraine I considered Oregon my home. Oregon represented comfort and familiarity and friendship and family. Ukraine represented frustration and difficulty and loneliness and hard hard hard. Ukraine was where we lived, but it was not my home. I never let our kids know that though. Even though Jed and I didn’t feel the feels, we were always super careful how we used the word “home” with our kids. Right away, after moving to Ukraine, we called it our home. We wanted the kids to recognize that we were in Ukraine to stay and we wanted them to start to put down roots there- physically and emotionally. We may have longed for the US and all it’s familiarities, but we didn’t want our kids to do the same. We didn’t want them pining for their old life. We wanted them to jump in to their new life- and we tried our best to do the same. When it was time to visit the US we told the kids just that- that we were going to visit the US. We never referred to those visits as “going home”. In hindsight, I’m really glad we did that because it helped all of us in keeping a perspective of permanency, regardless of our feelings.

Words are powerful, but they are still just words. The heart feels what it will feel, and no matter which words I used, it still took a loooong time for me to feel like Ukraine was my home. For several years I would just about die of excitement when it was time to leave Ukraine, and cry allllll the tears when it was time to return to her again. I knew that I knew Ukraine was where we were supposed to be. I had zero doubt of our purpose and calling there, but that didn’t make the reality easier. I was dying of loneliness and life was just so.dang.hard. Yes, there were many beautiful moments, but it still just felt super foreign.

But, sometime over the past couple of years, those feelings changed. I’ll be honest and tell you that this trip is the first one when I really felt sad to leave Ukraine. As much as I was excited to see our family here in the US, I still cried saying goodbye to our boys, our team, our neighbors, our house and our pets. I felt a sense of loss that life there will go on and we won’t be a part of it for a few weeks. I felt a sadness of leaving my home, my people. And I as sat back and recognized those feelings I felt so much thankfulness and joy. We’ve crossed into a new season, a new reality. My people-pleaser self wanted to immediately feel guilt over that and my “disloyalty” the US, but I decided not to go there. I think it’s good and right to feel at home in the place where you live. I see this new feeling of belonging as God’s gift and I’m only thankful for it. During these past 7 years I’ve learned that it’s okay to have your heart in both sides of the ocean. It’s okay to miss my family in the US, while also being content with our family in Ukraine. It’s okay to be excited to visit the US, but also sad to leave Ukraine. As an expat, that tug on my heart that stretches it across the sea will always be my reality. Like I tell our kids when they cry over leaving someone they love, “We are the most blessed, to be loved by so many people all over the world.”

Are you signed up for our newsletter? I shared all about our flight to the US there. Sign up today!

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Friday Night:Family Night

Last Friday we started a new tradition for our team. We had our first “Team Dinner”. I kinda want to call it “Family Dinner”. I think I will.

We decided that every Friday night our house will be open, and anyone from our team is welcome to come, eat dinner, drink tea, pray, worship, and just be together. I think we all need it. 🙂

When Anton and Ruslan lived here, we were just too in over our heads to invite anyone over. The team was mostly all here during the day every day, and I’m pretty sure when the clock struck 5 they were eager to get the heck outta Dodge. I know I was…hehe. (laugh or cry, laugh or cry) A “Family Dinner” was not something that would have been super enjoyable during those times. We were all mostly just surviving. Then when Anton had to be moved from our home, he wasn’t really able to come back here. He had so much stress associated with this place, and so many emotions he couldn’t (and still can’t) articulate, him even coming near the door turned out poorly every time. So, Family Dinners were out of the question, as long as Anton wasn’t able to participate.

At a team meeting in August, I told the team that it was my dream and goal that by Christmas, Anton would be able to spend time in our house. We all agreed that we would bravely step out toward that goal. But I know it made everyone nervous. We all love him and so want him to heal and succeed-and he’s just soooo unpredictable. Anton is definitely a man of mystery.

We started out with a team party in the backyard towards the end of summer, and although there was stress, Anton did okay! We locked the doors to the house, and just made it completely inaccessible. It was a big step for him just to be here on the territory, and he did well. I’m not sure he really enjoyed himself, but he didn’t hurt anyone, so we called it a big fat win. 😉

Then last month we had a bonfire at the back of the property and Anton did awesome. He was more stressed about the marshmallows than the location, so that was definitely a win!

Last Friday we decided to just go for it and we invited everyone over for the Family Dinner. Worst case scenario, Jed or Oleg would have to drive Anton home, right? He was quite stressed to be back in the house, but he was able to hold himself together, and I think he actually did really great. He even laughed a bit. It was so so wonderful to have almost everyone here, eating together, laughing together, and just being together. FINALLY. My heart was happy and full.

At one point we turned on the boys’ favorite worship songs and Ruslan was standing in the very center of the room, in the middle of everyone, just dancing and singing his guts out. I looked around the circle and saw how much everyone loved him and how they were delighting in him and I thought “This is how it should be.” Ruslan felt free to be fully himself, and he was surrounded by people who weren’t just tolerating him, or “allowing it”, but people who welcomed his tone-deaf singing and appreciated his signature dance moves.

Vlad was in the corner, beating his drum completely off beat. Anton was rocking. Boris was swaying. Our friend Maxim was with us and he was in turn reminding us for the 15th time that he’s now 34, and hiding his head under a pillow. All precious, all known, all appreciated and accepted for who they are, and all loved by a whole room full of people. I’m proud to call that room full of people my team, and I’m happy to also claim them as my friends and my Ukrainian family.

Friday Night:Family Night is here to stay. If you’re ever in our neck of the woods, consider yourself invited.

BeLOVE[d]