To Remember

How to begin?  My heart is full to bursting with emotion, yet I feel almost embarrassed to write.  We are Ukrainian babies.  We’ve only lived here for a little over 3 months.  We only just started falling in love with Ukraine and her people in 2010.  What do we know of Ukraine?

There are missionaries who have lived here for decades.  They’ve given years and years of their lives to the Ukrainian people.  They’ve loved Ukraine for almost as long as I’ve been alive.  What do we know of Ukraine compared to them?  Not much.

Then there are the Ukrainian people themselves.  So many lived through the fall of the Soviet Union, were present when Ukraine found it’s independence, had their hopes built by the Orange Revolution, then hopes dashed when things did not improve- but only got worse.

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They know what it is to expect corruption.  They know what it is to live without hope of change.  They know what it is to be stolen from and oppressed over and over and over.  What do we know of Ukraine?  Nothing.

We know practically nothing of Ukraine compared to these, yet our hearts yearn to know.  God has planted us here and He has given us an overwhelming love for these people.  I know I will never understand like those others, so I can only share what I do know, with a humbled heart.  I simply have to write it down because I never want to forget these days.

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Yesterday we took a walk with the kids to the site of the fallen Lenin statue here in Zhitomir.  We attempted to explain to the kids why these days are significant.  As we walked we talked of history books yet to be written and revolution and lost lives.  We talked about what it means that the people of Maidan were willing to give their lives for freedom.  We talked about those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  We have several friends who spent significant time at Maidan in the past few months.  It could have been any one of them.

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When we reached the statue our hearts swelled and our eyes filled with tears.  Photos of some of the fallen were on the front of the monument.  Candles and flowers were at the base.  Where Lenin stood for so long was a lone Ukrainian flag.  People were constantly streaming to the site.  Some took pictures, some talked with each other, some simply looked and were quiet.

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What struck Jed and I the most was that the crowd was almost solely made up of the elderly.  Old men hobbled up with canes and snapped pictures.  Babushkas looked at the photos on the monument, lips moving silently.   Oh, what I would have paid to know what they were thinking.  These people who have endured such hardship and pain, what do they think of this time in history?  Do they hold hope for their beloved Ukraine, as we do?  What can they tell us of life and suffering, hope and fear?  Oh, what I would pay.

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Today the president was impeached and fled from Kyiv.  Today Ukraine began to build it’s new future.  This is the stuff of the History Channel, yet we are here, living it alongside our neighbors and friends.  We are here trying our best to understand and support.  And we have to wonder, why did God place us here for this time in history?  He knew when we boarded the plane in Oregon that a revolution would begin a week after our arrival.

Perhaps He placed us for this time so we would understand just a bit more what it means to be a Ukrainian.  Perhaps it was so we would know better how to pray, and others who may not have noticed before would be prompted to pray as well.  Perhaps there are people here that we are specifically here to encourage at this time.  God only knows.  I will just say that I am 100% thankful for it.  There is nowhere else we would rather be at this time.  Our hearts are simply exploding with love for our new countrymen.

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We pray that as Ukraine builds it’s new future that men’s hearts would be turned toward the Lord.  May the sacrifice at Maidan never be in vain.  As the thousands stood, and even now stand for justice, may they not forget their most vulnerable who desperately need justice as well.  May government leaders’ hearts be softened for the fatherless.  May their eyes be opened to the value of every single life in this country.

Ezra said it best: “I know, Mom!  Let’s pray that the new president will love orphans!”

Amen.  So be it.

There is a long road ahead in building a new Ukraine.  Much wisdom and courage will be needed.  May God bless Ukraine and may His Spirit flood this land like never before.  May many, many hearts and eyes turn to Him as the real Hope for this country.  May Ukrainians live lives wide awake to the Father and His never-ending love for them.

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About the Snow

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Welp, I officially feel like we moved to Siberia.  Sure, our address is in Ukraine, but I’m still pretty sure we’re actually in Siberia.  …Or maybe it just seems so for the girl who comes from a town that gets maybe 2 snow days a year.  Where I come from, school is canceled if there is even a chance of a snowflake hovering.  If the ground is white, forget about it.  Life is canceled and snowmen are attempted out of the inch of snow that barely reaches the tips of the grass.

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Not so in Ukraine.  Life goes on and it is quite the adventure!  It snowed quite a bit here last week, and now it’s been snowing for about 3 days straight.  It’s beautiful!  I’ve never had to live in snow before so I have a lot to learn.  Add not having a car to the mix and you learn pretty darn fast.  🙂

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After one of the children (who shall remain nameless) laid down in the middle of the sidewalk in the middle of town to make a snow angel we realized that we probably needed to teach the kids about “snow play time” and “snow errand time”  The two snow times are not created equal.  When we are on “snow errand time” we don’t make snow angels in the middle of the sidewalk and we don’t throw snowballs at each other as we walk down the street.  There are at least two reasons for this: we don’t want to get chewed out by babushkas for getting cold and wet, and we don’t want to enter stores and shops cold and wet.  Oy.

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“Do you see anyone else making a snow angel in the middle of town????  Get up right now!!!!”

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When it’s below freezing it’s imperative to pay close attention while on the bus.  The windows of the buses are covered in ice and the inside of the bus isn’t cold enough to thaw them, so it’s pretty much impossible to see out the windows at all.  Riding the bus at this point is like crowding in to a icy cave full of fur-clad strangers.  You must remain on close lookout for neon light landmarks along the route that help you see when you should get out.  Another method would be to count how many stops it is from one place to another, but I haven’t mastered that yet.

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I’ve learned to properly bundle my children and it feels like a strange form of child abuse.  I basically render the little ones incapable of independent movement by the amount of clothing they’re wearing, but it can’t be helped!  I’m becoming a Ukrainian.  There’s no such thing as too much bundle.

First undies, then thick Ukrainian tights, then regular pants, then wool socks, then long-sleeve shirt, then short-sleeve shirt, then snowsuit, then Ukrainian wool vest, then coat (with attached shell), then mittens, then scarf, then hat.  It may seem like overkill, but when you’re in waaaaaay below freezing weather, and you have to wait for the bus you don’t really care about the mobility of your arms, you mostly care that your arms don’t freeze off.  Bundling in Ukraine is like an art form.  Everywhere you go you see mom’s breathless as they stuff and pull and wrap and tug.  Who needs a gym membership when you have 4 kidlets to bundle?

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 Though it FREEEEEEEEEZING outside, our house is warm and cozy.  We have plenty of yummy food (and warm coffee) to fill our tummies, and we are happy.  Though things are in upheaval in this place we love, our hearts are full of peace.  We’re finding joy in experiencing a snowy Ukraine for the first time.  Snowy Ukraine is beautiful 🙂 

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 1

*Photos courtesy of the extreme cuteness found at an MTU Christmas party*

Upon coming to Ukraine there was one thing that was hanging over our heads: VISAS. We'd heard nothing but nightmare after nightmare about the process of getting visas to live in Ukraine. It's kind of like when you're pregnant with your first baby. Suddenly every woman with a bad, or extra difficult birthing experience comes out of the woodwork to let you know their horror. Every gruesome detail is recounted, as the squirming Mommy-to-be tries to gracefully escape the clutches of the bitter birther in front of her. Terror fills the preggo's mind and she can't imagine how she will survive the inevitable. Yeah, that pretty much sums up our pre-entry feelings about visas. “So and So was denied at the border…So and So had to pay x amount of money to FINALLY get their visas after traveling to 52 different government offices in one day, trudging through the snow uphill both ways….and so on and so on.” You catch my drift. The visa process was not something we were looking forward to, per se. BUT, like a birth, painful as it may be, it had to happen.

While in the US we fretted about our visas. We tried to pursue getting our visas while in the States so we would have them in hand upon arrival, but that didn't work out. In trying to ease our minds and get things taken care of in advance we just could not feel peaceful. We got the feeling that God wanted us to just wait and trust Him. He had brought us this far, so He wasn't about to start failing us now. The visa situation was never out of God's control and that's all we had to go with. So we did!

Here's a simple run-down of the not-so-simple visa process here in Ukraine:

1. US citizens can stay in Ukraine without a visa for 90 days.

2. So, within the first 90 days upon arrival you must obtain the official documents you need for your visa, and then you leave Ukraine to head to a Ukrainian consulate outside of the country to apply for your visa.

3. For the “D Visa” (long-term visa) basically the only way we could go about it was to be invited by a church that is registered here in Ukraine. The church doesn't have to be registered in the city you live in, but it is a considerably easier process if you can take care of everything in the city where you reside.

4. The registered church writes an official letter of invitation, complete with stamps and signatures (stamps are muy importante here). That letter must then be submitted to the Ministry of Culture (a local government office) for approval. Everyone we talked to told us that the office generally takes around 3 weeks to give their approval.

5. After you have both approvals you take those letters, and some other official stuff to another country and apply for your visa.

6. Once you have your visa you come back in to Ukraine and then have 45 days to register where you live and such with the local government offices. That involves awholelotta documents with awholelotta stamps. The end results of all the documenting and stamping is a temporary residency that is good for one year, but may be extended for another year (with rumors of a second renewal???).

All that to say, once we got to Ukraine we knew we had our work cut out for us, and with all the holidays looming right after our arrival, the clock was not on our side. Mission to Ukraine (MTU) has strong relationship with a couple churches here in Zhitomir that said they would consider inviting us. The Vineyard churches here are not registered, so that was never an option. Shortly after our arrival in Ukraine the pastor of the Central Baptist happily agreed to inviting us for our visas, so that was a HUGE answer to prayer! Pastor Pavel is such a kind man with a huge heart. He has already blessed us so much, going above and beyond to help. 🙂 MTU is an amazing service here in Zhitomir and people who love MTU are happy to help however they can. Yay for that! Praise God for MTU's influence and good standing in this community. It really says a lot about the people who work there and the quality of care they give. It even says more about God's Kingdom and it's expansion in to Zhitomir through MTU. He is at work and it's an awesome sight to behold.

So, on Christmas Day (In Ukraine Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, so December 25th wasn't a holiday for offices here) Jed and our friend Oleg headed over to Pastor Pavel's office to work on the invitation letter with the hope of submitting the letter to the Ministry of Culture before the 31st.
And the miracle began to unfold!
To be continued…

I know, I know, how suspenseful can a visa story really be? We've got a real nail-biter here folks! 😉 I just want you to be all fresh when you read the really exciting part, so I didn't want to make this a marathon post. Just you wait. God's goodness is about to blow your mind!


On Cousin-Fetching and Toddler Bribery

This weekend was full.

Full of fun, full of laughs, full of food, and full of lessons learned the hard way. Hence all the laughter.

My cousin Hannah came to stay for the weekend! She arrived on Friday afternoon and we were so excited it was like Christmas Eve on Thursday night. Our first real visitor from afar! Hannah has been in Western Ukraine doing an internship through her University back in Oregon. She arrived in Ukraine in September and leaves in December, so this weekend was our chance to experience Ukraine together. We had a BLAST.


Jed was at Romaniv orphanage with MTU on Friday, so it was up to me to fetch Hannah from the bus and get her back to our house…with all the kids in tow. It might have been a tad intimidating, but I was feelin' good, feelin' confident. I could do this!

When our family travels from Kiev to Zhitomir we take a certain bus that randomly picks up at a metro stop in Kiev and stops really close to our house in Zhitomir. Well, Hannah wasn't taking that bus. She arrive in Kiev via train, so she was going to catch a bus leaving from the official bus station in Kiev. I asked a friend where that bus would drop her and he was pretty sure it would take her straight to the big bus station in Zhitomir.


The kids and I left early so that we could easily navigate the local buses to get to the big bus station. I knew that I knew where I was going, so it was all good. I prepped the kids (listen to Mommy, stay close to Mommy, pay attention to what's happening around you…blah blah blah) and they were doing great! We arrived at the bus station plenty early; we even had time to get a little bread treat at a bakery next door (which was suprisingly filled with meat…not a bad thing, unless you're hoping for sweet. Hehe) All was well…or so I thought. 🙂

I have no idea what Ez is doing in this pic...we had been waiting at the wrong bus station for quite a while at this point...I think he was delirious.

After about 45 minutes I get a phone call from Hannah:


“I'm here! Where are you guys?”

“Oh, we're inside. We'll come right out! Hmmmm I don't see you…where are you? Maybe stand underneath one of the bus stall numbers so we can find each other that way.”

“Okay, I'm standing under number 7.”

“Ummmm…me too. Oh geeeeeeeez.”


Oops. Hahahaha! We were at the wrong bus station! Apparently the Kiev bus station sometimes delivers to the OTHER bus station in Zhitomir. Wa waaaaah. No big deal, except I totally didn't know how to get from one station to the other. So, I told Hannah to stay put, and in good faith, told her we would find her. 😉

I called Jed, who happened to be with locals who also spoke English and everyone was trying to give me directions…it wasn't happening. So, I got all brave and starting asking directions in broken Russian. And, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, we made it! We found Hannah!!!

It was quite the triumphant moment. Hannah and I were squealing with joy, everyone around was laughing at us, the kids were jumping up and down…it was a sight to behold, I'm sure. 🙂
At that point I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Look at me, all travel-savvy! Errrrr…not quite.
So, I thought I knew the way home from the second bus station, but once we started walking, the street I thought I needed was a one-way. Looking back, we probably should have just returned the way we came, but I think I was too overcome with joy at seeing Hannah to think rationally.
We started walking, and walking, and walking, looking for a familiar landmark. Oy. Struggle. Soon we were quite lost. Ha! The kids were being quite the little troopers until Seth decided he was done walking. He started doing that limp-noodle thing until I was basically dragging him down the sidewalk. If any of you know Seth in real life you know he's a big boy. He's no lightweight. Hannah and I had already taken turns carrying him and Hava quite a bit, and at that point he just really needed to walk. But he wouldn't. He sat down on the sidewalk and started screaming his lungs out. I didn't know what to do, so I did the “Okay, Mommy's leaving..bye bye…” thing (which rarely works with Hava and NEVER works with Seth. He calls my bluff every time) and Seth continued to park it and scream, much to the amusement of everyone passing by. Again, quite the sight to behold, I'm sure.
Enter the Babushkas.
Two little old ladies walked up to Seth and started rattling off in Russian. I'm not sure what they were saying, but they were apparently trying to convince him to stand up. They were tugging at him, pulling at him, talking and talking and talking to him as I stood back laughing way too hard to be considered a good parent. Seth was not havin' it. He only started screaming louder and louder. “Who are these people?? What are they saying? What have I gotten myself in to???” Then one of the Babushkas started digging around in her bag and pulled out a piece of candy. She offered it to Seth- in exchange for him standing up…which worked. OF COURSE! Seth grabbed that candy, stood right on up, wiped his tears, and marched over to Mommy, “I eat my candy now???” OMG.
Hannah and I were dying. We were laughing so hard. Only NOT in the US would a total stranger walk up to your screaming toddler on the street and bribe him with candy. It was amazing. In that moment I was so stinkin' thankful for that Babushka! She saved my life. 😉 I told Seth he couldn't eat his candy till he walked all the way to the bus. Oh yeah, I got some mileage out of that bribe. You better believe it! Oh I love Ukraine.
Eventually we found a bus number I recognized, made it home, and settled in to a cozy weekend of fun with our Hannah.
Stay tuned for the rest of our weekend adventures!