How are the Kidlets?

It’s spring break!  Hip hip hurray!!!!  We’ve had such a great week.  We homeschoolers aren’t used to this “getting out of our jammies before 10am” thing.  School is brutal to our lazy morning routine!  But, slowly and surely we are learning.  This week of free play and jammie time has been just what the doctor ordered.  Woot!

So, how are the kidlets?  You’ve been asking and it blesses my heart that so many people love our kids.  I mean, I know they’re pretty fab, but nothing lights me up more than when other people care about my kids.  (Doing the dishes for me comes in as a close second, for future reference)  I would say the kids are doing pretty great.

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My Love

Addy is loving school.  I’m not surprised.  She’s basically my Mini-Me and I LOVED school, all the way through college I loved it.  I loved the friends, the food, the friends…and more time with friends.  Addy is a social butterfly, so she really enjoys her time at school.  She’s made couple of little friends and wakes up each day ready to go.  She’s still doing gymnastics twice a week and also really enjoys that.  Probably her favorite time of the day though, is when all the kids go to bed and she can read with her flashlight.  Addy is a total book-lover.  She always has been.  She doesn’t get as much free-reading time now that she spends her mornings in school, so we let her basically read for as long as she wants at night.  She finished the Anne of Green Gables series a couple weeks back and just informed me that she’s now moved on to Shakespeare.  Ha!  She reads a version of Shakespeare that has been put more in a story form for kids.  Here’s the version, if you’re interested:

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Handsome school boy

Ez Pez.  Oh, my Ez Pez.  Sweet little boy.  School’s a bit harder for Ezra, but he still says he enjoys it.  He would prefer to stay home and Lego it up all day, but alas, he’s learning that he does have some responsibilities in this world.  🙂  He always comes home from school excited about his time and eager to tell me all about it.  I choose to take that as a good sign.  He hasn’t made much progress in the friend department yet, but I think that’s maybe a boy thing.  I wouldn’t know, being a girl and all.  😉 He loves his sister and honestly, if he has Addy he is content as can be.  The two of them have their moments, but in general they are closer than they’ve ever been.  They are each others’ best friend- though they would never admit it!  Hehe.  Ezra is probably the most confident at language out of all the kids and we hear from others that his accent’s not half bad!  Sweeeet.  He has such a tender heart and I’ve noticed lately that when we share with the kids about Romaniv he really takes it to heart.  He thinks about it and it affects him.  I’m so proud of him.

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Big Boy!

Havalah and Seth are doing awesome. They are still so young, they seem to have barely noticed that we don’t live in the US anymore!  Kidding…sort of.  Seth is getting so big!  He’s grown out of his 4T clothes and he won’t be 4 until June.  He is so tall!!!  He’s talking a ton and his personality is coming out more and more.  We celebrated his Adoption Day last week.  I was again reminded of how amazingly blessed we are to be his parents.  He could not be a better fit in this family.  I really can not imagine what our lives would be like if we had said no to the DHS phone call that day in 2010.  Havalah remains a teeny tiny firecracker.  Oh my word.  That girl has got so much personality!  She goes about town, leaving swooning Babushkas in her wake.  Half of Zhytomyr is in love with Havalah.  Ha!  She is thriving and is content to spend most of her waking hours playing make-believe with her Playmobils.  Hava brings unbelievable joy to our home.

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School has been quite the adventure!  I guess that’s the best way to describe it.  It’s actually been less of an adjustment than I would have imagined.  The kids like to go and are happy when we see them at the end of the school time each day.  Their teacher doesn’t speak English and communicates with us by note.  She’ll write notes in this little book and then I go home and spend the next 45 minutes trying to decipher her handwriting so I can translate the note.  Ha!  She thinks the kids are doing great and in one note she said to “Please thank the tutor who helps the children with their homework.”  Ummmm, what tutor?  I wish! This Mommy and Daddy are the tutors around this joint!  Homework is a family affair each night as Jed and I bust out our phones to translate the homework assignment.  Painful with a capital P.

On March 8th we celebrated International Women’s Day at the school and the kids each had to memorize a poem to recite for all the moms.  They were given the poems on Monday to be memorized by Friday!!!  Panic ensued as we frantically translated and rehearsed and stumbled and cried.  But, by Friday our whole family knew both of the poems and Addy and Ezra rocked it.  They did SO AWESOME.  I think when I was sitting there listening to them recite their poems I was the most proud of them I have ever been.  They are just so stinkin’ brave.  Really.

They say they don’t understand what their teacher says, but they are doing well in school, so I think they must understand more than they realize.  They still can’t say much at all in Ukrainian.  My friend Alexis, who encourages me by email about language (thank you!!!), says that everyone who is learning a new language has a “silent phase”.  In that phase you may not be able to produce spoken language, but you are still learning.  I think our whole family is in one big “Silent Phase”.  Alexis said she spoke to a man who moved his family to Japan and put his kids in Japanese school.  He said it took about 6 months and then they really took off.  I’ve heard many language promises that point to that 6 month mark.  Oh please Lord, let it be so!  🙂  Addy and Ez write beautifully in Ukrainian and can read, they just don’t know what they’re reading and writing.  But, all in good time.  Step by step.

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It’s not all lollipops and roses.  The kids have their hard days, for sure.  They miss their friends and cousins.  They miss Grandparents and church and English.  On a rare occasion one of them will mention that they wish we could go back to Salem, but it’s not something they dwell on.  Even Jed and I have our lonely times when we think how much easier it would seem to just go back, but that’s not every moment.  Same with the kids.  They are being stretched and challenged for sure.  I wish I had someone to talk to who has “been there done that”.  I have no idea how to parent through all this transition, and in a second culture.  Still, the kids are happy and thriving in so many ways.  They are so brave and we trust that God knew what He was doing when He made each of them how He did.  They were made for this, just like Jed and me.  I’m so proud of them I could burst.

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In fact, I’m so proud I just have to show them off a bit.  Here’s some video lovin’ for your enjoyment.  Thanks so much all of you who love my babies and pray for them.  It means the world to us!!

And just for fun, here are Hava’s outtakes. Enjoy the silliness!


The First Week

We’re nearly done with our first week of Ukrainian public school.  Whew!  We made it!

All in all I would say the week has gone well.  It’s a pretty huge life adjustment for our family, so it’s definitely going to take some time to adapt, but really, so far so good.  I guess I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better.  The kids are happy and they love it.  The teacher is kind and made a point today of having an English teacher meet me in the classroom when I dropped the off the kids just so she could have a translator to help her find out if the kids are happy and okay.  The fact that she cares and wanted to check in made me so happy and relieved.

The process of getting them in to the school has been pretty easy, but also pretty interesting.  Yesterday I went to the Ministry of Education office with the school’s Assistant Director and an English teacher to get the kids registered with the region.  Then today I had to fill out another application thingy to go to the Director of the school, plus I filled out an info sheet for their teacher.  My Cyrillic writing probably looks like a kindergartner’s…so I hope they could read everything okay.  🙂  We had to give the school notarized copies of their passports and vaccination records.  Unfortunately our vaccination records are all in English, but fortunately, with the combo of the school nurse and me + a friend helping to translate + sign language of diseases + common brand names of vaccines we were able to figure out if they had all the required vaccines.  Apparently our kids are waaaaay more vaccinated than Ukrainian kids, so the nurse said they were A-OK.  Haha!  All they need to be fully registered is TB tests.

Here is their school schedule, in case you’re curious:

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Every day their class walks down the street to the school building where the older kids study and they eat a free meal in the cafeteria.  It’s no big surprise that that’s my kids’ favorite part of the day.  🙂  They usually eat at like 9:30, but the meals are like full on lunch/dinner foods. The first day they had salami, corn, and pasta; another day they had meatballs and rice; yesterday they had fish and potatoes, and then today they had some kind of porridge and meat.  Tea with milk is served every day with the meal.  There’s a little counter in the cafeteria where kids can buy treats with their own money.  Addy and Ez said that usually a few kids will buy snacks and share them with all the other kids during breaks.  So, today they made sure to pack some grivna in their backpacks so they could get in on the treat time.  🙂

The kids wear uniforms, boys in suit jackets and slacks, girls in black dresses or skirts.  The Director said we don’t need to worry about uniforms yet…but he didn’t say when to buy them…I guess someone will tell me when it’s time.  All the kids wear snow boots to school, and then when they arrive they change in to slippers to wear in their classroom.

Addy and Ezra tell us that the kids are really kind to them, and they’re learning some of their names.  They say they don’t understand much at all of what their teacher says and I’m not sure the best way to help them with that.  Will it just come in time, or is there something we should be doing at home to help them?  Jed and I are studying Russian, but the kids’ school is all in Ukrainian.  Oy.  I have no idea what we need to be doing to assist them…I’ve never done this before and don’t know anyone else who has.  Anybody have any ideas?  This is uncharted territory for our family, and honestly is pretty overwhelming.  I know, I know, one step at a time.  I wish we were all learning the same language.  Jed and I debated for a long time before we moved here on if we should learn Russian or Ukrainian.  We really felt like we should focus on Russian.  Pray for us, would you? We just need a lot of wisdom in this situation, and we all need loads of supernatural language abilities.  Thank you!

Thank you everyone for all your prayers and encouragement as the kids started school.  On one hand this is so exciting because it really plants us here in Zhitomir even more.  We are learning more about the culture and everyday life for Ukrainian people.  We’re dropping off and picking up along with loads of other parents and interacting with a lot of people who are super curious about why we are here.  There are many opportunities for Jesus’ name to be made great.

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On the other hand, I feel like I’m in a bit of a mourning phase.  Having our kids always together has been our way.  It’s all we know as a family.  Homeschooling them has been a MAJOR focus of my time and energy for the past four years.  Addy and Ezra being gone during the day EVERY DAY is huge.  It changes everything and I just need an extra dose of peace during this time.  I’m missing them like crazy and often during the day I wonder if this is the right thing to do.  We’re asking Addy and Ezra to do something very, very difficult and I wonder about their little hearts.  Are they scared?  Are they confused?  But, then they come home happy and I know we can make it another day.  I guess this is just a “yes” that is pretty hard for me right now.  Praise God they are loving it a lot and I know He is super close to them while they are away.

Do you have any questions about school?  Ask away!  It’s a pretty fascinating thing to be up close and personal with a situations so foreign to us.  I still can’t believe this is my life.  Ha!  So cool.

A School Story

Big news folks.  My sweet Addy and Ezra are starting school on Monday.  Hold me.

How did this come about?  Wanna know?  Okay, I’ll tell you.  🙂

During Christmas time my friend Tanya told me about a gymnastics class at our neighborhood public school.  The daughter of one of her family members attends the class and she knew we were on the lookout for some sort of activity for our kids where they could hear language and interact with other kids, so she asked if we were interested.  Sure! Natasha, the mom of the girl attending, asked the coach if some crazy Americans could try out her class and she said yes!  So we did.

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Oh the hilarity that ensued.  Seriously, to be a fly on the wall.  It is VERY entertaining.  I think Tanya and I laughed nonstop during the first class.  Picture a very old gym with bare wall, barred windows and dirty mats.  Picture flexible Ukrainian kids flipping and cartwheeling and doing the splits and the bridge like they were birthed on to a balance beam.  Then picture the Johnson children (minus Seth) entering with all their clumsiness and lack of coordination (I’ll take all the genetic responsibility for that); not understanding a lick of the language, not able to cartwheel, but doing their very darndest to follow along.  Then picture the coach calling out orders in loud Russian.  It’s like a three ring circus I tell ya.

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Believe it or not, the kids LOVED gymnastics class and continued to attend all during the school’s Christmas break.  Technically the class is only for the students of that particular school and is free for them.  But, the coach likes our kids (she is so kind) and said she would ask the Director of the school if he would allow them to continue in gymnastics once school was back in session.  She even said Hava could stay in class, even though she’s technically too young.  🙂

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We were in Switzerland getting our visas when Tanya emailed to let us know that the director had agreed to the kids continuing gymnastics!  Woohoo!  He had also asked why they don’t attend school.   Everyone had been telling us that the schools wouldn’t accept our kids because they don’t speak but a few words of Ukrainian and Russian.  As far as we know, our kids are the only foreigners around, so the schools are not at all set up to work with non-native speakers.  The director said that was no problem and that he wanted to talk with Jed and me when we got home from Switzerland.

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A couple days after we got home from the visa trip we went to the director’s office for a chat.  He doesn’t speak any English, so the school English teacher translated.  He asked us the ages of the kids and where we live.  He asked if we plan to be in Ukraine for a long time or just short term and if the kids are vaccinated.  Then he got on the phone and talked about the situation to a higher up at the Ministry of Education.  At the end of the meeting he told us the kids are welcome to attend his school if we want!

We are a homeschooling family to the core.  We love homeschooling.  Addy went to kindergarten at a Christian school in Oregon where my mom teaches, and Ez went to one year of preschool there, but otherwise they’ve only been taught at home.  Homeschooling has just become a way of life for us and we have never thought we would do anything different.  If you’re curious why we homeschool I can talk about that in another post.  I LOVE to talk all things homeschool, so don’t be shy!   All that said, things got a bit tricky once we got to Ukraine.  Our kids’ brains are wired for language learning right now.  Everyone says “Your kids will learn the language so fast!  You won’t believe it!”  That’s probably true, but how can it happen if they are home all day?  They certainly aren’t going to learn it quickly from me!  Ha!  We put them in gymnastics, and they attend Awanas, and Sunday School, all in Russian and Ukrainian.  They have picked up quite a bit, but it’s slow.  They need to be immersed in the language while their brains are in this forming stage.  I wish I had that opportunity! We don’t really know of an option for a tutor that can teach them as many hours as they need here at home, so we were at a bit of a loss.  We were asking the Lord what to do to help our kids with the language.  We considered checking out the two local, Ukrainian Christian schools in town, thinking maybe they would have the ability to be more flexible with us, but they are both pretty far from our house.  Then this school fell in our laps.

On Thursday Jed and I went back to the school to check out the classroom they would be in and meet the teacher.  We asked the Lord to guide us and give us peace if this was the way to go.  What can I say?  It was great.  We decided to give it a go.  The school is about a 5 minute walk from our house.  Addy and Ez get to be in the same class, and school only goes from 8:30-noon.  Totally do-able!  The director wants to put them in first grade because they need to learn to read and write in Ukrainian, and those students are still learning those skills. Most of the students in the class will be 7, so Addy and Ez will be older than them, but we aren’t worried about that.  The main goal here is language acquisition,  and having them with kids younger than themselves will probably help take away some of the social pressures that would distract them from learning.  Plus, first graders get to do more fun stuff 🙂


The thought right now is that they will attend school from 8:30-noon, and then come home to continue plugging along in their normal homeschool work.  We’ll only focus on the basics when they get home, like English and math, since I know their brains will probably be a bit fried when they get home from school.  Their school is taught in Ukrainian and their teacher speaks no English.  This school also specializes in Polish, so they’ll be studying Polish three times a week.  Oh my…this should be an adventure!


Our Teacher

This is the plan that seems most peaceful right now.  We’ll finish out this school year and then re-evaluate for the fall.  I most definitely don’t want to abandon homeschooling, since the reasons why we school at home haven’t changed.  I guess we’ll take it a year at a time and see what God says.

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So, Monday is the big day!  School books have been purchased and the kids are excited to go.  I’m excited for them…but also quite nervous for them.  I’m so extremely thankful they get to be in the same class.  Praise God for His kindness.  He opened this door when we weren’t even looking and totally paved the way.  We are praying that this leads to divine relationships and open doors in our neighborhood.  We are excited to see how God plans to use this for His glory.


If you would pray for us on Monday morning (Sunday night in the US) we would appreciate it so much!!!  I’ll let you know how it goes!