The BIG Grocery Shopping Post

My friend Crystal and her husband moved to England just a couple weeks before we moved to Ukraine and she wrote a blog post about what grocery shopping is like in the UK. It was so fascinating that I was inspired to tell you all about my grocery shopping experience in Ukraine! Are you ready for this? Let’s do it.

One thing you need to know is that there are several different types of grocery shopping experiences available here in Ukraine. It all depends on how how much you want to dive in to the culture and how much you want to try out your language skills. 🙂 First there are the old Soviet type stores that are on just about every corner. They are always close by and often times are even in the first floor of apartment buildings! The majority of Ukrainians don’t have a car, so it’s extremely important to have grocery stores close by. The Soviet stores sell milk, bread, eggs, water, candy, mayo, salami, and cheese…you know, the basics. People refer to them as the old “Soviet” style because back in the day of the USSR these were the only types of supermarket stores around. When you walk in there is generally one big counter, or two counters with an aisle in the middle. The employees stand behind the counter and get you whatever you ask for. You can’t just browse and fill your cart. Each section of the counter has an employee responsible for that section and that certain employee is the only one who can help you with those products. You pay each employee separately, even if you are buying several things from different sections. Stores were set up in this way during the USSR to control how much of each product was allotted to each family.

These stores get an A+ for accessibility, but a D- for American ease of use. I mean, I have to know what something’s called to be able to ask for it…right? Luckily our corner store ladies are getting to know us and they know the things we like. Also, we are getting better at asking for what we want. These stores are good for us, but also a bit intimidating. 🙂 I didn’t take pics of these stores because they are tiny and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to be that discreet. You’ll just have to use your imagination! These are the stores we go to pretty much daily for the basics that go bad quickly.

The second type of grocery shopping available we affectionately call “You know those Babushkas on the side of the road”. Ha! On our main street there are several grandmas who bring in produce and homemade canned items and they sell them on the sidewalk. I’ve bought pumpkin from them a few times. That one’s a little difficult because you need to pretty much have exact change for what you want. But, the food is fresh and good!

Babushkas get an A+++ for accessibility, but a C for ease of use. (Bonus points for extreme cuteness)

The third type of grocery shopping is shopping at the big open market. That shopping deserves a post all it’s own. I’ll get right on that!

The Market gets a C for accessibility (we have to take the bus to get there), and a C for ease of use (much Russian required), but an A for freshness and quality of food. It’s worth the hassle at least once a week. 🙂

The fourth type of grocery shopping is the one I’ll describe in detail for you today. This is your basic supermarket shopping. This is most like American shopping, and the type of shopping we do at least twice a week. Food goes bad more quickly here, and like I told you before, we have to carry all we buy, so we shop a lot more frequently here than we did in the US.

This is the supermarket we shop at the most. It’s like a 5 minute walk from our house. Jed’s dentist is on the second floor. BONUS!

This is the biggest grocery store in town. It’s located in the mall. Look at all those checkouts! Sweeeeet.

Every store, wether it be an electronics store, a pharmacy, or a grocery store has lockers at the entrance where you MUST lock up any bags or backpacks. They also have security men who stand at the entrance/exit to check receipts and make sure you lock up your bags.
Let’s tour the store, shall we? (prepare for picture overload)
Ukrainian stores have LOADS of bulk type items. In some stores you find an employee to weigh your items for you, and at some stores you weigh them and put in the code yourself.

Apples, all sold by the kilo

MASSIVE cabbage! Ha! They’re on sale too. 🙂

Most carrots, beets, and potatoes are sold SUPER dirty. But, you can pay a bit more for clean carrots. I don’t understand if there’s any other difference other than one type is clean and one is dirty. I usually buy the dirty, unless I’m in a hurry and know I won’t have much time to scrub.

You put the plastic gloves on your hands when you’re picking through produce.

At the big mall grocery store you weigh your item yourself, push the little button for that particular item and a sticker pops out that you put on the bag. I like it!

They have lots of cookies sold in bulk

Just right out there in the open without a cover. Ha! This is like the worst temptation for Seth. He doesn’t understand why he can’t just grab one!

All stores have bulk pelmeni and vereniki (dumplings) that are sold frozen in bulk

You can even buy eggs in bulk! You can put as many as you want on a flat, or you can put several in a bag to take home. The eggs sold this way instead of in the carton are sold individually by egg.

All kinds of yummy bread for sale. Just beware…sometimes you randomly find a hot dog in your roll. :/

How in the world do you choose your cheese?? So many options!!!

Pieces of cheese are sold by the kilo.

Every store has a massive sausage/kielbasa/salami/hot dog aisle. Friends have told us what brands are good and we’ve been a bit nervous to venture out from those brands. We’re learning that you definitely get what you pay for. So it’s important to make sure you don’t buy the cheapest cheese and meat. 🙂

It’s funny how much you can learn about a culture just by browsing around in the grocery store. A couple obvious things you should know about Ukraine: Ukrainians have a love affair with mayonnaise and all things dairy. The mayonnaise aisle (yes, aisle) and dairy product aisle is quite an impressive affair.

Behold, Mayonnaise, the King of Ukrainian condiments!

Check out all the spreadable cheese options! And these are just the squares, the rest of the aisle is full of varying sizes of tubs of spreadable cheese. Maybe I need to dedicate 2014 to trying out all the spreads. Hmmmm

…More spready cheese…

Here lies some milk choices. Ukraine, the land flowing with milk and mayo…

Kefir is a big thing here too. Nice! Good for the ol’ tummy.

Lots and lots of products here are sold in bags, rather than in bottles or jugs. Like milk, mostly all condiments, spices, yogurt…It’s super helpful when you have to carry all your groceries home. It also helps cut down on waste since most homes don’t have the ability to recycle, and like at our house, many people have to walk at least a block to take out the trash. Bagged goods make a lot of sense! I like it!

Ketchup, ketchup, and more ketchup.

Crystal, here’s our Mexican food aisle! 😉

Ketchup, mustard, and mayo

Some spices at our house: Rosemary, basil, thyme and parsley, paprika, cloves, and baking powder. This is the only way I can find baking powder. Why so tiny??? WHY???? Waaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh 🙁

Even ice cream is sold in a bag! (This brand rocks, BTW. It’s a Zhitomir brand and it’s so tasty it makes me proud to live in Zhitomir) 🙂

We have this handy-dandy little pitcher to hold our bag of milk once we’ve snipped the corner open.

Here’s just some other random things I thought you might find interesting. All my Ukrainian friends are laughing their heads off at me at this point. Sorry guys, we Americans are really easily amused.

Soy sauce is easy to find. There is also a surprising amount of pad thai rice noodles. Strange, because I don’t know anyone who buys these things…except us.

Canned corn and peas are sold like they’re goin’ out of style. Super popular!

Right near the jerky you can find tons of dried fish. No thanks.

The amount of liquor found in the stores is pretty astounding. At the big store in the mall there are 4 full aisles (both sides) dedicated to alcohol, that doesn’t include wine or beer. One full aisle (both sides) is dedicated solely to vodka. Think of all the homemade vanilla I can make! 😉 There is almost just as much dedication to chocolate. Now THAT’s more like it.

So, there you have it! That’s grocery shopping, Ukrainian style, in a nutshell. We are slowly learning more and more about what products are good, how pricing works, and how shopping happens best for our family. I’m working on evaluating prices in grivnas instead of trying to convert every price to dollars in my head. My brain can’t handle all that division. I just need to get used to what things cost here and get over it. 🙂 In the long run that will be much easier. We’re doing more shopping from the outdoor market these days, so I can’t wait to share that experience with you. It’s a whole other level of Ukrainian culture of which I have MUCH to learn.
I would be remiss if I didn’t show you the most important tools of the shopping trade. Every good Ukrainian has an arsenal of these babies ready at a moment’s notice. I give you, the shopping bags:

Big green plaid is my personal fave. 😉

When you go up to pay the cashier will always ask you if you want a bag. You have to answer if you want a big bag, medium bag, or small bag, and then tell them how many bags you want. You pay for each bag, so it’s a good idea to bring your own. I like that method. Yay for less waste!
Okay, that’s all I got. I hope you found this at least mildly interesting, because I did risk life and limb to get these undercover photos. You better appreciate it! 🙂
Yay for Ukrainian shopping!

A Christmas Miracle: Part 2

To fully grasp the awesomeness, read Part 1 here.

On Christmas morning Jed and our friend Oleg headed over to Pastor Pavel’s office to start working on the invitation letter.  The goal was to get that letter written and submitted to the Ministry of Culture before December 31st so our letter *hopefully* wouldn’t end up on the bottom of someone’s stack once the offices opened back up after the New Year.  Like I said before, the Ministry of Culture “generally” takes about 3-4 weeks to write their letter of approval, and January is FULL of holidays in Ukraine.  New Years is the big deal here, then they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, then there is some other kind of celebration on the 13th…so time was not really on our side.

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Havalah turned 5! (She liked her present) 🙂

Jed and Oleg sat down with Pavel and got started on the letter.  Then Pavel remembered he has a friend at the Ministry of Culture.  “Let’s call him and make sure we’re doing this right.”

Well, he called up his friend and the friend tells them to just come on over right then and he would help with the letter.  In Ukraine, if you get an invite from a government office to “just come on over” you better snatch it right up because it might never come again!  😉

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Christmas Eve program at a church in Zhitomir

They got in the car right then and drove over to the office.  Remember this is the office where our invitation letter would be be submitted for approval (which could then take several weeks).  Pavel’s friend proceeded to help them rewrite the letter to make it worded the best way possible,  and then decided to just write the approval letter right there and then.  I mean, they were sitting right there…why not?  HA!  He wanted to make sure he got it all right so he called in the man who provides policy clarification for the Zhitomir region.  Every region interprets the laws differently here, so this guy is key to our visa success.  Policy-clarification guy comes over and helps them finish the letter of approval.  While that’s being written he suggest they just write all the letters we’ll need when we come back from getting our visas.  Remember once we leave the country to get our visas and return to Ukraine we have 45 days to “register” with the local offices.  That registration includes lotsandlotsandlots of documents.  Well Pavel’s friend just sat right down and proceeded to write every single document for our registration that could be made ahead of time.  WHAT THE WHAT???????????  I’m gonna estimate that that act right there saved us approximately 57 trips to the office + 58 hours of headache.  Jed was sitting in that office holding back tears, astounded at the goodness of God.

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Once all the letters were written and stamped Pavel’s friend said he would hand-deliver them to the lady in the office who gives the final approval.  “Otherwise it may take weeks.  I’ll just ask her to approve them today.”  He walks out of the room to her office, but she wasn’t available.  No worries, he left the papers with her with her word that she would inform us as soon as they were signed.

All of this took several hours and several cups of tea and coffee in the government office.  4 Ukrainian people spent their whole day going above and beyond to help us.  Our friend Oleg told Jed “This just does not happen.  All the right people being available and in the same place, willing to help is like a one in a million chance in Ukraine.”

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Our biggest blessings

Two days later we got a call that ALL the letters were signed, stamped, approved, and ready to be picked up.  A process that should have taken 3-4 weeks took exactly 3 days.  Not to mention all the documents we’ll need later on that are already done.  That will help us tremendously when we return with our visas!  God’s care for us is astounding.  I don’t even know why we were shocked by this, I mean this has been His way with us along this whole journey.  He has been over the top faithful at every point.

This miracle has a second part that is just icing on the cake.  So, way back when, in like August of 2012 some friends and I were advocating for an orphan here in Ukraine named “Heath”.  Remember that?  Heath is now home with his family in Texas (AND I got to meet him in person in Kiev last month!) but during that advocating time I “met” another woman, Sandra,  who was fiercely advocating for Heath.  Funny thing is, she was advocating for him all the way over in Switzerland at the same time as us in Oregon.  We became online friends bound by our mutual love for Heath and the fatherless.  Sandra has been a big encourager to us as we prepared and moved to Ukraine.  One time she mentioned how awesome it would be if we would come to Switzerland at some point to share about Wide Awake at her church.  I thought “Oh yeah, that would be cool, but it’s not like we’d ever just randomly be able to pop on over to Switzerland!

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Heath (now named Boden) and me. This cuddle was one of the highlights of my year…maybe of my life.

Fast forward to this past fall.  Sandra emailed and said that she talked with her pastor, and the leadership of the church was interested in hearing more about Wide Awake and they would pray about supporting us as a church!  We gave them letters describing Wide Awake and they voted to take us on as a ministry to support!  Well, guess what just happens to be in the same city in Switzerland as Sandra and her church?  A UKRAINIAN CONSULATE!  Soooooo, with documents and passports in hand we will head to Switzerland in a couple of weeks to obtain our visas, visit Sandra, and share Wide Awake at her church!  Are you kidding me????  God you are too ridiculously amazing.  Why are we your favorites?????  😉

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Excited to receive our first piece of mail from dear friends

Did you know that you’re His favorite too?  My dad taught us that we are each God’s favorite.  If there was no one else in the entire world He still would have sent His Son JUST FOR YOU.  Maybe 2013 was a really hard, painful, and trying year for you.  Maybe you ended 2013 feeling forgotten by your Father in Heaven.  Maybe you have no clue what I’m talking about.  Let me just tell you that 2014 is a time for you to discover or re-discover God’s great love for you.  You are His favorite!  You are not forgotten.  Consider the children in Ukraine that He sent us to love.  They lay in cribs, limbs stiff and contorted, lame from lack of use.  Some have never felt the grass on their feet, never felt the sun on their face.  By all appearances they have been completely forgotten by God.  How could a good God allow that kind of suffering?  Guess what?  He’s not allowing it.  He loves them and cares for them so deeply that He uprooted our family, comfy in our middle-class wealth, and planted us right here to devote our lives to their care.  We are no great gift.  I’m not saying we’re are the answer or that we’re super special, I’m just sharing how we get to be a part of God’s demonstration of love to them.  Each of those are His favorites- NOT forgotten.

You are not forgotten.  God has good plans for you.  All you have to do is say Yes to Him.  Living for yourself will only bring disappointment.  Let 2014 be a year of YES.  You will not regret it.

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The Gift of Advent in Ukraine

I can't even believe Christmas is just a week away! I'm a Christmas junkie. I looooove me some Christmas. I may, in fact, be the friend that calls her other Christmas-lovin' friends the minute Christmas music is first heard on the radio, “K103 is playing Christmas music!!!” Mmmm I love it all.

I love the decorations, the music, the smells, the fooooood, the special Christmasy outings that involve mittens and hot cocoa (except if you live in Oregon don't do the Polar Express…lame-o), the movies, the family togetherness…ALL OF IT. Havalah was born on December 22nd and that was the best Christmas ever. We had snow that Christmas! My Grandad had to go pick up my parents to get them down their hill so they could make it to the hospital. I remember laying in the hospital bed with my sweet little Hava-bundle, snow was falling outside, Jed and I were watching reruns of A Christmas Story non-stop. It was a sweet deal becauseTBS was doing a marathon, so each of the times we woke to feed Hava in the night we caught a different part of Ralphie. Pure bliss. 🙂

Best Christmas EVER

So, how does a Christmas lover handle her first Christmas away from family and all things cozy and familiar??? Very carefully.

Glimpses of Christmas at MTU

So far we've been doing really good! I got a bit weepy when I saw my mom post pics of my 2 nephews helping her and my dad get their Christmas tree; I felt sad my kids weren't there. But other than that moment, it's been A-OK. I know a HUGE part of that is because Jed's awesome parents arrive here on Saturday and will spend Christmas with us!!! Woot! They live in Kosovo, so it's just a short little jaunt for them to get to us. They won't even be jetlagged! It will be so great. The kids are super excited to show Grammy and Papa their new digs.

MTU classroom- best snowman!!!

The other night we had our friends Oleg and Tanya over and introduced them to A Christmas Story. They loved Ralphie, and it was fun to watch them watch it. Classic America right there folks. I made cinnamon rolls (that didn't rise, ahem…) and thumbprint cookies. We drank coffee and tea; it was cozy and festive and perfect (Until Addy started throwing up. Oy. Let's just make sure to get that bug through the whole fam before Christmas Day, mmmmk?).

Thtuck, thtuck...THTUCK!!!!!

A couple years ago we started celebrating Advent with our kids. Celebrating it here in Ukraine has been such a sweet experience. I'm really not exaggerating when I say I think our Advent “Family Time” has been key to our kids transition to life in this faraway land.

Every night we gather at the table with kids in jammies, pour our tea, light our candles, and turn out the lights. We listen to a piece from Handel's Messiah and either Jed or I read a portion of Scripture that goes along with the music. We got that plan here.

Then we read from our most favorite Advent book ever: Jotham's Journey. If you have grade-school age kids I highly recommend Jotham! We first read it 2 years ago at Advent (thanks Lanny!) and then again this year. The kids didn't remember the plot twists and turns, so it's been super fun. It's awesome how the little devotional at the end of each chapter lines up with our Handels pieces.

Then after Jotham we listen to/review our memory verse for the week. We started using an app from Children Desiring God for Scripture memorization and I'm in love.

The kids thrive on our nightly “Family Time”. They love the tea, the togetherness, and the routine of it all. I'm oddly comforted by it too. Tonight Jed and I were talking about how sweet our Advent time has been and the fact that Family Time will definitely continue after Christmas. We've never been a family of nighttime routines, mainly because with work schedules and church and friend committments we were often away in the evenings. Now that we're in Ukraine, especially with these early winter nights, we are rarely gone in the evening, so we actually have some consistency. It has been beautiful. Many people thought moving in the winter was a pretty difficult choice, but I think it was actually a gift. God knew our family would need a bit of a hibernation period as we enter this new life. It's hard to hibernate in the summer! 🙂

So, that's how we are preparing our hearts and our home for Christmas. It looks far different than any other Christmas season we've had, but it's sweet in different ways as well. We don't have any Ugly Christmas Sweater Party to go to, but we have each other. As our new country is in upheaval and people stand in the freezing streets longing for their voices to be heard, we long more than ever for God's Kingdom to come here and now. In this Advent season we thank Him for coming that first Christmas Day, and we look with longing and expectation for that day when He will come again. On that day all will be made right. No more pain, no more injustice. Come Lord Jesus, we wait with expectation for You!

Merry Christmas dear friends! May your hearts be filled with joy this season as you say YES to Him.

 

 

The First Month: The Hard and the Awesome

One month ago from almost this exact moment we touched down in Ukraine. One month ago all 6 of us + 12 suitcases + 8 carry-ons + 1 guitar touched down in our new home. Has it only been one month??? It feels more like one year! Not in a bad way, but in a really strange way it feels like we’ve been here a whole heckofalot longer. I guess kids do that to you; they make you settle in real quick like. 🙂 Our new reality set in fairly fast and we’ve been on a ginormous learning curve ever since.

This is my take on the past month. Jed doesn’t do much blogging here (ahem…) so these are my thoughts. He’d give you a different perspective, and it would probably be more profound, but I’ll share mine just for the fun of it.

The Hard Things:

Language.

Duh. Yeah, at this exact moment Russian is my enemy, my worst nightmare, my insurmountable mountain. Russian is stinkin’ hard y’all.

But, we actually have picked up quite a bit, and when we remind ourselves we’ve only been here for one month we start to feel a little better about our progress.

Everything’s labeled…

Still, Russian hates me. Holy moly. My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Shopping.

Shopping is an interesting beast. The hard part isn’t finding delicious foods. Ukraine has loads of deliciousness available! The hard parts are prices (WAY TOO EXPENSIVE) and lack of car. These things aren’t impossible, just a little harder than in the US. I’m learning to cook like a Ukrainian in order to be able to afford groceries. Cooking like an American just doesn’t cut it here. The foods that would be frugal back in Oregon aren’t really frugal here, for the most part. Lucky for us we all love Ukrainian food! I just need to find out how to cook more of it so we can have a bit of variety in our lives.

The store we walk to most often

We use public transportation all the time, since we don’t have a car. It’s pretty sweet that we live super close to a really busy bus stop. We can easily catch a bus whenever we want one. So, that’s no biggie, except when we want to do “big shopping”. “Big shopping” doesn’t mean Costco Big, it just means we need to buy for more than just today. Like last night for instance, we needed to buy diapers, pull-ups, and some stuff for the house, along with our normal purchases (cabbage, potatoes, beets, carrots, sour cream, milk, coffee, butter, and flour). That’s all fine and dandy…but how are we gonna get it all home??? Oh that’s right…we’re gonna carry it! Ha! So, basically we can only buy what we can carry, and when you factor in slippery sidewalks, kids bundled to the nines, dark at 4:30pm, a bus ride, and little hands that need to be held, you realize you really can’t buy all that much. Jed and I are shopping and debating what’s too heavy and what we can handle. “Sure, we can buy those mandarins, they aren’t too heavy. Oooooh no, we can’t get eggs…there’s no way we’re making it home with those babies still intact!”

On the bus with my sweetie after shopping last night

It’s an often hilarious, and an unexpected hard thing. Big time learning curve there. (And I didn’t even mention label-reading. Forget about it!)

Time Management.

Up to this point we’ve pretty much been in survival mode. Not in a bad way, it’s just reality. Schedules and time management have been a work in progress.

Starting a non-profit from scratch is a lot like starting a new business. We have to account for expenditures, thank our givers, get the word out, stay accountable to our Board, seek God for direction and vision, all while living in a world where every.single.thing is new.

It’s easy to get focused on just living every day and get backlogged on Wide Awake “stuff”. That’s been a hard one that we are far from mastering, but we’re plugging away at it. Again, let’s remind ourselves that we’ve only been here one month, mmmmk?? 🙂

The Awesome Things:

Walking.

I know, earlier I said not having a car is hard, but it’s really only hard when we go “Big Shopping”. Otherwise, I can honestly say that I’m enjoying walking everywhere. It’s so beautiful!!! We have to shop a bit almost every day (that’s the way it works here with a fam of 6), and I love our daily jaunts to the store.

On the way to the store

Usually just Jed or I will head out in the afternoon with a kid or two and pick up the few things we need for that evening’s dinner and the next day’s breakfast. I love walking down the street in the fresh air, holding on to Addy’s hand just enjoying being with her. No radio blaring, no traffic to navigate, just me and my girl or sometimes my boy, walking down the street to our corner market. It’s precious. We’re learning labels together, learning what stores we like for what items, stretching our legs, breathing in fresh air, feeling the sun (wishful thinking) on our faces. I like it a lot.

New Friends.

Duh. This one is HUGE. We have some wonderful friends here in Zhitomir. Thank you Jesus!!! Our friends Oleg and Tanya have been so good to us. They’ve ordered water for us for home delivery, helped me buy boots for my frozen Oregonian feet, taken us for coffee, celebrated a birthday and Thanksgiving with us, calmed my nerves when I heard unexpected fireworks and Jed was gone for the weekend (I was a wee bit nervous…), told us which brands of food are better, translated for us with our landlady, translated for us with our neighbors when we got the unfortunate “don’t flush the toilet paper” news hehe, helped us figure out our address, called taxis…and on and on and on. They’ve pretty much saved our bacon way too many times already. They probably feel like it’s been a heckofalot longer than one month too!! 😉

(Insert cute pic of friends…apparently we’re too busy drinking coffee and such for pics. Will remedy soon!!)

Mission to Ukraine friends have been AMAZING too. From the moment we walked in their doors on November 14th we’ve felt so incredibly welcome. They are excited to have us and we are so excited to have them!!! The MTU staff puts up with our blundering Russian with such grace. Bless their hearts!! They invite us to church, find lawyers to help us with our visas, feed our kids cake, hug us and kiss our cheeks, and on and on. One special family from MTU (mom and daughter both work there) has especially taken us under their wing. I feel like they are God’s special precious gift to us. Sigh, God is just too good. And that’s just the Zhitomir friends! Don’t even get me started on the treasures He’s given us in Kiev…


Romaniv.

Oh my precious Romaniv! I was there again today and I am in love. Last week Jed and Nina, the AMAZING volunteer from Zhitomir that comes each week to the isolation room, discussed implementing more structure for the time we spend in the isolation room. Today Nina and I followed the plan the best we could and the boys responded immediately. Our time was so much more peaceful than the last time I was there! At one point we were feeding the boys bananas and Nina and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was SILENT in the room. The boys, for that moment, were content and quiet. It was such a moment of hope. God gave us all a bit of wisdom and then He blessed it. The boys responded fabulously and I can’t wait to see how they do after the structure is implemented week after week. Yay!!!!

On the road to Romaniv

Those boys have our hearts, big time.

Nina helping wash hands 🙂

Today I got to hold Andrei, one of the most active boys, on my lap for a bit. I figured out if I tied a long piece of cloth to a plastic slinky it would catch his attention and he would sit still for a moment. He let me hold him, rub his head, and hum into his ear for almost 10 minutes while he bounced the slinky up and down, up and down. Wow. That may not seem like much, but for a boy who never ever stops- always stimming, always shrieking, always running- this was big. For a moment he was at peace. For a moment his brain was developing a little further up the brainstem. For a moment prayers were whispered in his ear. Magical.

There’s so much more I could share. So many memories made, so many funny and embarrassing stories…it’s rather humiliating to live here, FYI. We make fools of ourselves all the time, everywhere. 🙂

Off to go make some embarrassing Russian blunders!

Just know that life is good, very good. It’s not all sunshine and roses and some days we struggle, but we have not one speck of doubt that we are exactly where God wants us to be. Things are quite crazy in Ukraine right now. We have no idea how it will all play out with the current government and the wishes of the people. Ukraine is at a very critical point in it’s history and we are here for such a time as this. It’s no surprise to God that we arrived right at the birth of a revolution. Who knows why…only God. But we do know that there is purpose in it and we don’t plan on missing out on that purpose.

Would you pray with us for Ukraine? This place and these people have grabbed our hearts. We’ve only made Ukraine our home for a short month, but we are all in. These are our people. Please pray that God has His way in Ukraine and that His Kingdom will come here and now. Pray that many, many hearts are turned toward Him during this unstable time.


Thank you friends! Thank you for your love and encouragement this first month. It has been awesome to journey with you!




What We’re Up To

So, here we are in Ukraine, livin' it up, doing our thing, and you might be wondering,

 

“What are they actually doing there?”

 

That's a valid question with an answer that changes every day. :

When we first arrived, Ira, the Director at Mission to Ukraine (MTU) told us “We have an additional beatitude in Ukraine, 'Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken.'” Ha! Bring it on, we're ready.

Making new baby friends to squeeze

We just want to bless MTU and their vision as much as possible, so we have given them ourselves. They are welcome to use us however they want. We just desire to be a blessing and not a burden. Ira wisely decided it would be best to focus on tasks month by month, reevaluating often where there is the most need and where they can use us most effectively.

Discovering new playgrounds

For the month of December we are mostly helping in different classrooms around MTU. Jed and I take turns going to MTU, while the other stays home and teaches our kids. We're only a couple of weeks into it, but so far so good! One thing I do know is that I've got to get more organized with our homeschooling. Yikes. I'm not used to this “team-teaching” thing! I'm just used to teaching the kids while Jed's off at work and he doesn't really have a hand in it. I love the idea of him teaching the kids! I just am realizing it's going to take a lot more organization to be able to pull it off well. All my Homeschool Mama friends are laughing at me right now. Stop it! I see you and that smirk on your face! 🙂 Let's just say I've not been known to be the most organized Type A homeschooler out there. I'm more of the “let's just do the next thing” type, with a good bit of “We don't need to do that” thrown in there (like worksheets and such). I'm not neglectful, I'm just relaxed. Yeah, that doesn't really work with more than one teacher. I realized that I'm going to have to write out lesson plans or else Jed will have no clue what to do and all the schooling will fall on me…which won't work because I'm not always going to be home. Whew. Pray for me and my relaxed, unorganized, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants self!

Reveling in rickety merry-go-rounds

While at MTU we act as extra hands in the various classes they teach. There is a special needs preschool class that we help at, as well as some life skills classes for all ages and abilities. It is so fun!!! I already have a few favorites (if I'm allowed favorites). 😉 I hope to share their pictures with you soon, I just need permission first. The staff at MTU is stretched very thin, so they really need extra hands in every area.

Posing for Mommy

Jed is working with Natasha, one of the staff members who is in charge of development of MTU's volunteer base. His experience at Family Building Blocks is just what Natasha needs and wants. So, that's cool. He's also helping out Tatiana in the communications department with social media stuff. And of course there's Fridays. Woohoo! On Fridays Jed and I take turns volunteering at Romaniv Orphanage with the MTU team. To say it's a highlight of our week would be an understatement. Just tonight we had our friend Olya over for dinner, she's an occupational therapist at MTU, and were brainstorming with her about Romaniv and what we can do for the boys there. The need is overwhelming, but God doesn't call us to fix all the problems. He just calls us to take one step at a time and daily listen to His voice and obey. Whew!

Eating lots of Borscht!

Last Saturday we took the kids to visit Awanas! Ha! Funny right? One of the churches here in town hosts Awanas on Saturday afternoons and the kids had a blast. It's all in Ukrainian, and the teacher said they did just fine! It felt super strange to leave them there, but when we were in the room they were looking to us too much, so we thought they'd do better if we left. I've gotta say, our kids are pretty stinkin' brave. They want to go back too!

Helping Mommy shop

We're trying our best to study the heck outta Russian. We have a wonderful teacher named Sveta who comes to our house three days a week for our lessons. We're also tackling Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. If one language program is good, 2 plus a tutor must be great, right? Let's hope so.

Making cookies for the staff at Romaniv

 

Other than all that, we're just spending our days learning how to live in Ukraine. It's a new culture, new language, new pace of life, new everything. We seriously feel like babies. I want to scream to people “I'm really not as stupid as I sound! I really am a smart person…I just don't know how to ask for the right kind of cheese at the deli counter.” Haha! Oh dear. We are babies, learning a whole new world, taking baby steps, talking baby talk. It's humbling and invigorating, and humiliating, and frustrating, and wonderful.

I simply would not have it any other way. God is so good it's almost laughable. 🙂

 

Yes, yes, I know, it's a scarf. What can I do?- either choke to death or freeze to death. I choose to not freeze. 😉