Category: Home

On Going Home

Why would refugees decide to return home to a war zone? It’s a good question that I myself would have probably asked just a year ago. Now we are those refugees returning home to a war zone and it feels like the most obvious thing to do. It feels like the thing that makes sense. It feels right. It’s time. Yes, we and our team have decided to return to our home in Ukraine. Our Board of Directors is in agreement and have voted to that end.

There are so many reasons why people who have fled from war choose to return and I can’t pretend to know the mind and heart of every refugee. I can only speak for myself and the people closest to me. We have rehashed this a bazillion and one times and there are many reasons why we could stay in Germany, but there are so many more reasons why we should go home. We are blessed beyond measure that we even have a home to which we can return. When we left I wasn’t sure it would be the case. But as of today, our home still stands and awaits our return. We’ve explained here on the blog and in recent Youtube videos why life here in Germany has become unsustainable for our group, but that is not the only reason we have decided to leave. I know that returning isn’t the right decision for everyone, but it is the right decision for us, so I thought I would try to explain it to you.

Regardless of War, Home is Home. We have lived in Ukraine for coming up on nine years. Our children consider Ukraine their home in every sense of the word. As a family, we don’t really belong in the US anymore. Jed and I can feel more at home there than our kids because we both lived there for more than 30 years, but still, every time we return it feels more and more foreign. We moved to Ukraine when Obama was still president! So much has changed in the US, but also so much has changed in us. We are not the same people who left Portland, OR with 9 suitcases all those years ago. (For one thing, now Jed has less hair and I have gray hair…πŸ˜…)

Our little piece of the world, the Homestead, is the only place on earth where our family truly feels at home. We have lived a hundred lives in Ukraine, brought Ukrainians into our family, our kids call themselves Ukrainians, yet we know we will never truly be Ukrainian. Those closest to us, our team, don’t see us as “The Americans”. We are simply their family. But I know other Ukrainians don’t see us that way. There have been so many times here in Germany when I have been out and about in town and have heard Ukrainians around me. I always wanted to walk up to them, to talk with them, to feel that closeness with them, but the few times I tried they were only confused. Why was this American acting like she was one of them? Like she understood their plight? We will never be Ukrainians, but we don’t feel much like Americans. Yes, I know, heaven is our home. But here on earth, our plot of land in our village in Ukraine is our home, and we desperately want to be there again. It is where we are known, where we are understood, and where we are accepted as one of the family. We simply want to be home.

We Want to Stand With Our Country. I know there is such a thing as compassion fatigue and that it is real. There is only so much one person can actively care about day in and day out. I know the attention span of the world is incredibly short and Ukraine’s moment in the spotlight has just about run its course. But while the rest of the world can move along to the next big thing, while most people have the luxury of putting their phone down or simply turning off the tv and forgetting for a while, we don’t have that luxury. Every hour of every day we are thinking about Ukraine and the war. It is all-consuming. But we live in a country where life moves on like normal. That is no slam on Germany! Of course, life moves on. My life has always moved on regardless of wars happening in other countries. I get it. But now our lives don’t get to move on. We go through the motions and watch the seasons change, but our hearts and minds are stuck on February 24th- the day when the world fell apart. We don’t want to be in a world where life goes on like normal and we are mute spectators with our feet stuck in the muddy mess of things. We want to be in a place where we are standing strong in solidarity with others. We want to be in a place where people understand. We want to show up for our country.

The Work Must Continue. The vision of Wide Awake International is to bring hope, love, and dignity to people with disabilities in Ukraine. That vision is lived out through deinstitutionalization. Guys, we have to get back to work. The need for this work didn’t stop because Putin decided to invade. The plight of people with disabilities who are wasting away in institutions hasn’t changed or gone away simply because it has become less safe for us to go to them. The reality is actually quite the opposite. Our boys at Romaniv and others like them need rescuing now more than ever. Our work has always been a frontline work and now is a frontline time. We must not retreat. Ukraine needs helpers and our team is full of them. There is no way for us to continue our mission while in Germany. Yes, we brought Yaroslav and Vova out of Romaniv to us in Germany, but that is the limit of what we can do from here. We simply must get back to work in Ukraine. There is no other way. This is hands-on, boots-on-the-ground work, and our boys can not wait alone for the war to end. We must go to them. While the eyes of the world are on Ukraine and while more people are becoming disabled each day we have to be in there, helping, advising, lending experience. We feel the urgency in our bones. This is what we were created for and the work must go on.

Our Goal is Not to Stay Alive. A dear friend reminded me recently of an important truth: “Our greatest goal in life is not just to stay alive.” If our goal is to keep our bodies alive, then we will all eventually fail because every one of us will eventually die. Our goal is not just to stay alive, but to LIVE. Yes, here in Germany our bodies are safe and they are alive. But in a way, we are not truly living. And while we are here not doing the things we are passionate about it feels like we are slowly withering away. Of course, there have been many beautiful, precious, wonderful moments in Germany. We have lived here, but we have not lived to the fullest. It’s like we’ve been stuck in a waiting room. Waiting for the next meal or the next news story or the next distraction. We have been busy caring for our boys, but we know we can do so much more. Our spirits are so much more alive when we are fulfilling our mission when we are creating something beautiful together when there is redemption and light moving into dark places. Of course, it goes without saying that we don’t desire death. I don’t want to die anytime soon and I don’t want that for any of my loved ones. But keeping our bodies alive is not the highest goal. Because at one time or another we will all die. In the meantime, let us be doing the things we love.

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things β€”praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of dartsβ€”not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

– C.S. Lewis Present Concerns

We would really appreciate so much your prayers as we make the move back to Ukraine. So many of you absolutely flooded the heavens with prayers as we were leaving Ukraine and since we’ve been in Germany. We are very, very thankful. Thank you for standing behind us. I know not all of you will understand this decision to leave physical safety and return to Ukraine, but I hope you will stick with us on the journey home. We are excited to get back to work in Ukraine. Your encouragement and support mean a lot to us, even though we can’t always reply to each one of you individually. This community is truly the best.

If you would like more details about our decision-making process, please feel free to check out these notes from our board chairman. For those of you who like details, it might help you understand how we and our board reached this decision.

Love to you, dear friends. Thank you for trusting us and loving us through this time.

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Three Months of War: On My Mind

Caution: Stream of consciousness post ahead. This is my brain vomiting into my computer. Read at your own risk. 😊

I’ve always liked old churches. I like to imagine people worshipping there over the centuries. I like to think about the people who built them and the incredible imaginations and skill they had. These days I think more about the function of the old churches in times of war. Churches have been places of sanctuary, where thousands of ordinary people over thousands of years have cried out to God for protection, for peace, for wisdom, for a way out. 

Yesterday I sat in an old stone church in a European village and I felt the most at home I’ve felt since leaving our little Ukrainian village three months ago. That little church was no stranger to grief, to war, to pain. My prayers joined the prayers of villagers from the time of Napoleon’s invasion, from the days of the Great War and World War II. My prayers of “Why us? Why our country?” and “God, how can you let this happen?” were not the first of their kind uttered in that place, and sadly, won’t be the last. As I sat in the stillness and the quiet I considered the centuries of war all over the world and how war has always been. After the garden, there has not been a moment in time when the world was absent of war. Somewhere someone is always suffering at the hand of war. I just never imagined that someone would be me and my family, my boys. I never in a million years imagined my children would be refugees from a brutal and devastating war. I never dreamed the sound of an airplane overhead would be, to them, the sound of fear and trauma. But why should we be the exceptions?  Why shouldn’t it be us?  In a world full of evil men with imperial ambitions, why should we be immune from the reality that men will always be at war?  Before Putin started encircling our beloved Ukraine with his troops war was always something that happened “over there” to “those people”.  We never considered the possibility that it would be right here and happening to our people – to us! But it has happened and it has changed our lives in every possible way. Our life has become the stuff of nightmares or the stuff of movies. You pick. 

As I sat in the cool of that little stone church, enveloped in the prayers of saints past I felt a tremendous solidarity with the human story. I felt a kinship with refugees all over the world who are clawing their path forward in a new life they would have never chosen. I felt unity of heart with the mothers all through history who have crouched in the dark with their children, covering them with their bodies as the enemy flew overhead, bent on destroying all they held dear. I felt a oneness with all the saints who have cried out to God to have mercy and to deliver them from their enemies. 

I am that clawing refugee. I am that crouching mother. I am that pleading saint. Come Lord Jesus. Save our land. 

These days I think we should just go home. The longing for Ukraine is something solid in the pit of my stomach. The longing for home. The longing for what was. The longing to be understood, to be able to make my own way, to be in a place that makes sense, a place where we are moving forward, building something beautiful together. 

In Germany our bodies are safe, but that is all. We don’t understand and we are not understood. We can’t make our own way but are at the mercy of bureaucracy and the kindness of others. We are in a holding pattern where nothing makes sense. We aren’t moving forward, building something beautiful together. We just are. We are frozen in place- uprooted and undecided. To move forward here would require a massive investment of time and energy- for what?  To build a life in a place where we don’t intend to stay?  So we stay on the fringes of society. Here, but not here. Home is always in the front of our minds. 

But what do you do when your world has been taken from you?  How do you choose next steps when the enemy is as unpredictable as Russia?  Do you stay away, in a holding pattern, hoping against all hope that this ends quickly? Or do you risk it and just go home because no other life makes sense?   

No decision feels right and I’m so angry at Russia for forcing this impossible decision on mothers like me. 

I remember when the biggest mothering decision I had to make was whether to let my baby cry it out or not.  Pacifier or no?  Do we give sugar before the first birthday?  Screen time before age 3? Public or private school?  From the small to the big, all those decisions now feel as simple as pie. Cuddle that baby. You 100% can not spoil a baby. But if sometimes, for your sanity, you need to let the baby cry and go eat some ice cream? No harm done. Sure, give your baby a pacifier if they like it. They won’t suck on it forever. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ Give your baby a cupcake. It’s hilarious to watch them eat it and they will be so happy and messy. If you have just one baby it’s easy to keep them off the screens, but if you have more and the baby watches a movie with their big brothers and sisters it’ll be fine.  All in moderation. Cartoons can be an amazing tool when wielded wisely.  Private or public school?  As long as your kids know you love them and are in their corner, any kind of school will be okay at the end of the day. The goal is to create lifelong learners and that happens mostly at home anyway.

I would give just about anything to be wrestling with those decisions now. These days I think about if it’s possible for us to go home and if my children will be safe there. There is no future for them in Germany so I know we can’t stay here, but are they too traumatized to go back to Zhytomyr?  What will they think of a childhood filled with the sounds of air raid sirens?  And what does it mean if they become accustomed to the sound?  You do all you can to protect your children from the evils of the world, but sometimes that evil comes too close to home and all you can do is try to help them live through it with their eyes on Jesus. My body can’t shield them from the reality that their beloved home is at war. But maybe they don’t need that shield from reality. Maybe they just need to be able to learn to move through it with bravery, with courage, and with their hearts set on Jesus, their shepherd and protector. Many of you have written and told us “Just go home” but I don’t think you understand that this a question that can never be answered with a “just” at the beginning of the sentence. There is no such thing as “Just stay in Germany” or “Just go home”. To stay in Germany means unwillingly giving up all that is dear to us- giving up our dreams. But to “just go home” means willingly moving our children to a war zone. One of those answers is right for us, but neither of them are “just”. They both come with a lot of baggage. War is never simple.

This week we will make a decision, to stay or to go. We are out of options here, so I think the decision is becoming more and more clear. Now we just need the courage to make it and to not turn back.

 

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Stream of Consciousness

Yesterday I tried to get up the gumption to make a video, and then again today, but I just can’t seem to do it. The war rages on. So many lives lost. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight and we are just hurting so deeply over it all. Words can’t express it. It’s a deep, deep ache at the core of me. I don’t know how it will ever heal. I only read Ukrainian news because any news from the west makes me want to scream and cry. Does anyone truly have Ukraine’s best interest in mind, or are all the people who hold the power only interested in preserving their own self-interests?  I think we all know the answer to that by now. Ukraine continues to defend the free world, at the cost of so many innocent lives. How can this be? I’m tired. 

It’s been seven weeks since we left our home but it feels like a lifetime has passed. The 5 months when Jed lived in the duplex with Anton and Sasha and I lived across the yard in our house with our family were hard. It was one of the most challenging and exhausting times of our lives. But I would go back to that life in a moment- in the blink of eye. We were tired but so happy. We were at home, in the place we love. Our kids went to school and youth group. We walked in the city and went to church. We dreamed about the summer garden and prepared the soil. We planned for the future and looked ahead with hope. Life in Ukraine was not without its challenges, but those challenges feel like nothing in comparison to what life has become.  

Now our hearts are broken. We have survivor’s guilt and we mourn what was, knowing it will never again be the same. I hope and dream that we will go home, but it will be different. Will we feel safe there again? Will Ukraine ever truly be “safe” again? How will we even know when to go back? We lived in Ukraine for 8 years while the country was at war..but now things are different. German lessons are offered to us and I refuse to go because something inside of me feels like trying to learn a new language is accepting the fact that we are here for a long while and I don’t want that to be true. So I stumble along with my smattering of German words and mostly get by using English. I don’t want to ingrain myself into the culture here, not because I have anything against Germany, but because my heart longs for everything Ukraine. It feels like a betrayal to accept a life here while Ukraine fights to survive.

I see others going into Ukraine, delivering humanitarian aid and volunteering and I feel jealous that they are there and I am not. I also feel guilty that they are there and I am not, although I am a mom of (now) 11 and my obligation is to my children. Living in a church in Germany isn’t as sexy as being in Ukraine, at the heart of things, and I run out of things to say about life here. I change diapers. I take our boys to the doctor. I cook food. I buy groceries. I mourn for what was and worry about what will be. It’s not exciting or necessarily helpful to the cause of Ukraine, but it’s where I need to be. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

I am thankful to our friends here in Germany who have helped us so very much. I’m thankful that we have a place to all live together because living apart would never work. I’m thankful that my children are safe and have food to eat. I’m thankful that our two new boys, Yaroslav and Vova, are doing so well and that we have the opportunity to give them a life worth living. There are joys in the sorrow, and for that I am thankful.

Some days I feel God’s smile and his joy and some days I wonder where He has gone and how He can allow this to happen. My faith in His goodness is being severely tested and I don’t understand how to communicate with Him right now. Everything feels too complicated and I’m afraid to dig too deep into my own emotions. So, I change the next diaper. Wipe the next nose. Drive to the next appointment and wait. For peace? For home? For an answer? I don’t know what I wait for, but I feel too unsettled to call this life anything but waiting.

I know a house is just a building, and buildings can be made again. I know people are more important, and of course I would choose people over a building any day. But today I just want to see my house. Our house, to me, is so much more than a building. It represents the reason we live in Ukraine. It is an oasis of hope. It is the place where our boys first felt the love of a family. It is the place my children call home. It is a place of joy and beauty and hope. I’m so thankful it is still safe and standing. I wait, with longing, for the day we can return.

Please, don’t forget Ukraine. πŸ’”

Home sweet home, from the garden
Snowy home
This picture is so peaceful…
Grant took this pic when he visited last summer
Evie riding down our street, the day before Russia attacked Ukraine
I took this photo right before we left our home to flee to Germany πŸ’›πŸ’™.

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On Being Comforted

On Being Comforted

This one is a little longer, so stick with me. πŸ™‚

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Five Things That Are Bringing Me Joy

Yesterday we had our first snow πŸ‘πŸ‘. A lot of it melted off, but still, tis the season! I love the first snow. It’s always so pretty and magical. Come February I’m more than ready to never see snow again as long as I live, but December snows are always welcome.

While I’m cozy here in my village house that I love so much, I thought I’d share some things that are bringing me joy this snowy December. Because, why not?

1. Yummy scented candles. I love love love a good candle. Candles bring me an obscene amount of joy, but in the past I could never find nice scented candle here in Ukraine. Until now. Yay! A local company here in Zhytomyr makes wonderful candles and they are making me so happy! I bought a few and burn them every morning and every evening. They smell like Christmas and forests and baked goods and all the best scents of the season. Hurray!

2. Freshly baked bread. A while back I was inspired to make some bread. I make dinner rolls pretty often, but have never been much for making just a basic loaf for slicing. I’m not sure why. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ Anyway, the basic bread we get at the store here is never very tasty, so I decided maybe I should just start making our own. My requirements for the recipe were basically that it would be cheap to make (ie- uses basic white flour, no milk, and no butter) and would make at least two big loaves. I found the easiest, tastiest recipe and am so happy making our own bread! It takes a while, but that’s mostly just rising time. The hands-on time is maybe like 10 minutes total. I’ve been baking it every couple of days and it’s seriously so easy! Here’s the recipe: https://prairiedogwoodcraft.com/blogs/cooking-baking/basic-everyday-bread (FYI, I use oil instead of butter because it’s cheaper…πŸ˜†)

3. An electronic library. We are a family of readers. I think ever person in our family (except Evie, Bmo, and Vlad) goes to bed with a book at night. We mostly read from Kindles because we have no English library here and reading in Ukrainian is not necessarily relaxing. πŸ˜‚ In the past we’ve had different subscriptions to meet our reading needs. We’ve tried Kindle Unlimited and Scribd and they were fine, but expensive and even then we couldn’t find many of the books we wanted to read. We also electronically check out books from our library back in Oregon, but the hold times are so loooooooooong. It just felt like it was always so hard to keep the kids on a steady diet of books without spending tons of money or trying to figure out how to send them with people who would come to visit (heavy!) But then, we were introduced to this amazing online library and oh the joy it is bringing to us all!!!! We just donate $5 every month and we can download tons and tons of books to our Kindles with zero hold times! It’s a serious Christmas miracle. A definite lifesaver for this book-crazy family who’s been without a library for 8 years!

4. My Teenagers. I’m telling you what: mothering teenagers is so.much.fun. Why did no one ever tell me that?? Right now we have 2 3/4 teens in the house. Addie is 17, Ezra is 16, and Hava will be 13 this month. They are just so wonderful and they bring me a huge amount of joy. They are funny and fun to be around. They each have their own quirks and opinions. They are growing into wonderful people and I just love living with them. I treasure our evenings when we the littles (and Bmo) are in bed and we can sit (with our amazing candles) and just chat or watch stupid SNL videos, or The Office together. I know our time together is growing shorter and shorter so I have this feeling of wanting to steal as much time with them as I can. They make me happy.

5. Π”Π°Ρ…Π°Π‘Ρ€Π°Ρ…Π° (DakhaBrakha). DakhaBrakha is a Ukrainian folk band that I love. ❀️ They sing in the style of traditional Ukrainian music, but with a modern, creative twist. They are so funky and fun and we love them. This past week they did a concert in Zhytomyr and you better believe we were there! They were amazing in concert- so talented. You should give their music a try! You can see a video of them performing in Oregon here.

What’s bringing you joy these days?

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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 its 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 into 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” to 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 on 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.”

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My McDonalds Alter Ego

Yesterday I had McDonalds for lunch, and it was delicious. Big Mac Meal with Coke, thank you very much! Don’t mind if I do. πŸ˜‹

Something interesting has happened to me over the past (almost) seven years of living in Ukraine. I have developed an alter ego when it comes to McDonalds. This change came upon me almost immediately upon moving to Ukraine, and while for some years I was embarrassed to admit it, I now fully embrace the McKrainain version of myself. No shame. No hiding. This is me- with ketchup.

Let me explain.

I feel like the US has this thing going on where everyone publicly denies their love for McDonalds, and yet McDonalds thrives and thrives. Last year they reported a revenue of more than 7 BILLION dollars…in the US alone! Soooo…as much as we might hate to admit it, someone’s gotta be eating all that McD’s…

I get it, I get it. It’s not necessarily the cool place to be seen at. I mean, if I was at McDonalds in the US and someone I know walked in, I’d feel like I kinda owed them an excuse. “Ummm Jed just really loves McDonalds. Of course I think it’s gross, but he’s just gotta have his McRib! I much prefer Chipotle, but you know…anywaysss…” (It’s so much easier to throw Jed under the bus, since he’s literally impossible to embarrass. Not that I take advantage of that. Ahem…) πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ

I have a friend who lives just up the hill from McDonalds in our home town in Oregon and I feel like I would do just about anything to make sure she never saw me in the drive-thru. Is it just me? Why all the McShaming? You gotta admit their fries are the besssssst. Come on, don’t be shy!

So yeah, when we lived in the US I was totally on the bash-McDonalds-bandwagon. But then, something about moving 6,000 miles away from everything familiar made me shift my perspective. Can’t imagine why.

In our city, McDonalds is the only American chain restaurant to be found. It’s also the only drive-thru, so there’s that. A couple hours away in Kyiv you can find KFC (but no biscuits or coleslaw, so yeah, not the same), Dominos, and maybe a small Baskin Robbins? But I think that’s it. And in our town, McDonalds is all we’ve got.

Upon our arrival in Ukraine with 4 littles and zero language skills, those Golden Arches spelled “HOME”. Once the jet-lag wore off and we kinda began to realize we were here for good, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Anytime we felt homesick or sad or helpless or stupid, a double cheeseburger and fries was what the doctor ordered. The food tasted the same. The menu was super similar. We could order basically in English and they could “mostly” understand us. In those early days, McDonalds not only filled our bellies, but it reminded us that we were not just the dumb Americans who couldn’t even grocery shop without feeling stupid. We were smart people with friends and family who loved us and a whole history of not-stupidness behind us. Seriously, Guys, nothing brings on humility stronger and faster than moving to a foreign country where English is not the official language. It’ll bring you down about 50 notches in the first 10 days. Ouch.

Evie and Daddy on a McDonalds Date

Over the years we’ve come to rely less on McDonalds to ease our pains, and it’s become more of a special treat. We take our kids there on dates. On the rare occasion when Jed and I are in town together without kids, we go there and it feels like our special secret. It tastes like home, even though we rarely ate it till we moved away from home. Oh, the irony.

Another thing to note is that McDonalds is a totally legit place to eat in Ukraine. You would never be embarrassed to find one of your friends at McDonalds in our town. McDonalds is always a good idea here. It’s something special and it’s different than any other restaurant in our city. I feel zero McShame while in Ukraine. Bring on the burgers!

But, the minute the airplane touches down in the US, all that changes. I instantly become a person who wouldn’t even consider McDonalds. I am so high above McDonalds I can’t even be bothered to watch their commercials. All that grease! Why I never!

Is it because I don’t want to waste my time eating food in the States that is readily available in Ukraine? Is it because I’m surrounded by so many much tastier restaurants in the US and McDonalds isn’t special there? Or does the high schooler in me so readily succumb to peer pressure that I slide back into my old prejudices as soon as I return to my old stomping grounds?

I could dive deeper into how all the parts of my personality shift from one continent to the other, but I’m not in the mood for introspection today. Let’s just say, that my McEgos are just one facet of the confusion that comes with living cross-culturally. What is widely acceptable to me in one place, does not always make the cut in the other. We’ve all become part chameleon over the past 7 years, I guess.

What about you? Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you have a hankering to eat at places that were familiar to you? Did the Golden Arches beckon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on food as “home” and on McDonalds in general. Because why not? πŸ˜†

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Birthday Cooking in Ukraine 101

Saturday was Ezra’s birthday!

This was the first birthday celebrated away from family, so I think Jed and I were both feeling the need to make Ezra’s birthday extra special. As in, Ez was convinced Hannah came to visit JUST for his birthday. We let him believe that. After all, it’s not every day you turn 8!

We asked Ezra what he wanted to eat for his birthday and he said he wanted pizza. Woohoo! I can make pizza! No big deal. He also said that instead of birthday cake, he wanted cherry vareniki. Really??? Okay, buddy, anything for you on your birthday.

So, Friday night, right after her arrival, I roped Hannah into helping me make some vareniki. It’s a time intensive job, but much more fun when you have company. πŸ™‚ Vareniki are little dumplings made from butter, flour, salt, and egg. They can be filled with potatoes, cheese, mushrooms, cabbage…or cherries. Mmmmm. That’s how we like them best! You top the cherry ones with sugar and sour cream. They really are delish. Jed and I had them the first time we came to Ukraine and I’m pretty sure I experimented cooking them the very day after we arrived home. πŸ™‚

Vareniki/PJ party

Β 

We rolled out the dough, cut out little circles, then put a spoonful of sugar and a couple cherries in each circle of dough. Then we ran into problems. You have to crimp the dough around the edges to seal it so the cherries don’t leak out when the vareniki is boiled. Well, I always just set my cherries in a strainer and work fast. BUT the only cherries we could find were frozen, and as they thawed they leaked like crazy. We had some funky looking vareniki on our hands!
While we worked we listened to the Phil Collins station on Spotify. In my former life (2 weeks ago) I did all my best work (and card-playing) to Phil Collins station on Pandora. Jed, Tom, Emma, and I have worked for years (literally) to perfect our Phil Collins station. It’s seriously like a work of art. Occasionally a Coldplay song will get thrown in and one of us will rush over to thumb it down, but that’s a rarity. It’s pretty spot-on in awesomeness. It’s been faithfully tended and nurtured to perfection. Let’s just say, when it comes to Spotify radio we have our work cut out for us. No Pandora in Ukraine = starting over. Boo.
BUT, Jed had just mentioned earlier in the evening (can’t remember why) that it felt like a Top Gun music moment. And while we were in the deep throes of vareniki-making, guess what song came on???

Cool, right?? PS: not sure why the vareniki look hypercolor yellow. Hmmmm

Nothing lifts the spirits like a good 80’s mix. πŸ˜‰
Saturday dawned and Ezra was up with the sun. He was so excited for his big day!!
Hannah and I got busy on the pizza dough fairly early since we had guests coming to celebrate for lunch. As we let the dough rise we walked down to the grocery store to see if, by chance, we could find some parchment paper for the pizza baking. We were doubtful we would find anything, but it was worth a shot! Imagine our surprise when we found just what we were looking for!
We hurried home, rolled out our dough, and got ready to preheat the oven. Then we actually took a good look at the oven and found this:

Ummm this is our oven control. Any idea how to decipher this?? Only three temp choices. I guess we better invest in a thermometer πŸ™‚

We spent some time googling for a way to use the oven and eventually decided to just wing it. The dough baked perfectly! Yummmmm!!!! Praise The Lord!
I took it out, ready to slide it off the pan….and at that point realized we didn’t actually buy parchment paper. It appeared we bought some sort of paper that stuck like glue to the dough. Hahahahaha

Pizza with a side of paper

Time to clean the dough off the paper in the other pans before the other crusts suffered the same fate!
In the end, the pizza and vareniki turned out delicious and all was well. This adventure is so hilariously fun!!!

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Our House!

So, I’m just sitting here in my little Ukrainian house, the kids are asleep, and Jed is off to watch soccer at a friend’s house (He doesn’t waste time with the man dates! Hehe) Life is good. We are blessed and happy.

Wanna see our house? YES! I’m pretty proud of us because we actually accomplished quite a bit today, despite the fact that the kids woke up at 4am. Oh, you say that just gave us more hours to work, so of course we should have gotten a lot done? Well, I say it was evil and instead caused us all to take a three-hour nap at noon. We couldn’t help ourselves! Jet lag is a beast.

So, the house is still a work in progress, but I’ll let you have a peek at our new digs. We feel quite comfy here and are so super thankful. Here goes nothin!

This is our street, headed toward our house- the white building on the right.

Here’s the front of our building. I think there are like 4 houses (flats) that are all a part of this building…not quite sure though. We enter around the back.

This is the path to walk around to our pad. πŸ™‚

These steps lead to us! That balcony right above is our balcony. Everyone come on over!

Welcome! Here’s what you see when you walk on in. (Minus the huge grins on our faces, so happy to have you! Also beware of tiny, leg-grabbing people ready to jump out and grab you…they’re vicious I tell ya)

Oh, you like the purple kitchen, do you? Well, we girls like it too. The boys aren’t so sure.

Too bad we don’t have a microwave manual…not that we could read that either…hmmm

Here’s the place where all the goodness happens. When you come over we’ll eat loads of deliciousness at this big ‘ol table! That’s assuming I figure out grocery shopping and can buy the right ingredients for the deliciousness. Seth wants me to tell you he has his eyes closed. FYI πŸ™‚

Here’s the view from the dining room table of Jed leaving me to go on a man date. πŸ˜‰

So, to the right of the front door is the kitchen, and this is what’s to the left. There’s the bathroom, and the living room.

Here’s our AWESOME bathroom! This is the biggest bathroom we’ve ever had. For some reason I find it very cute and bright. Is that weird that I love my bathroom so much?

Our little washing machine is in the bathroom. When Addy saw it she said It’s just my size! Yep, that’s about right. Ha! We don’t have a dryer so this girl’s gonna have to learn the art of hanging clothes to dry. Sweeeeet.

Here’s another time when a manual would be helpful…

This is the room that we’ll use as a living room. I think we’ll move out one of the beds to make more space, throw some cushions on the others, and call ’em couches.

The view from the other side of the room, complete with Jed looking creepy. He makes me laugh. I just love him!

Still with me? Now let’s head upstairs so you can see the guest room. Hint hint…

This is the biggest room, so it will be for the kids. We can’t fit 4 beds in it, so we need to buy some bunk beds. Until then, just the girls will sleep in here.

That white door leads to a shower.

THIS, now THIS is the guest room! Isn’t it fantastic? πŸ˜‰ The boys will sleep in here until we get the bunk beds.

Here’s our cute little upstairs bathroom. So itty bitty!

Here’s our enclosed balcony. Pretty sweet eh? Right now we’re storing empty suitcases here. Yeah, when we brought 12 SUITCASES we didn’t really think through what we would do with them after we were done traveling here. Anyone need a spare suitcase? Emma- notice my sweet hanging skills???

Our view during the day…

And now for the armpit of the house…

Our bedroom!!! Yep, we’ve still got some work to do…

Isn’t the house SO GREAT??? It’s a miracle. It’s so clean, plenty big, under our budget, a three-minute walk to MTU, and furnished. We are so happy!
When we knew we were going to live in this house we were excited, but I had one worry. I was worried for my kids. There are no parks nearby, and I was so concerned about how we would find friends. Do we just walk around until we hear kids and then head in that direction? It was a worry for me, but we really felt like this house was God’s gift to us, so we knew He had/has our kids covered.
So, yesterday morning we woke up, looked out our balcony window to check out our view, and you’ll never guess what we saw.

A PLAYGROUND!!!

Would you believe they installed a playground right behind our house on our first morning here?? INCREDIBLE. We were laughing, and I’m pretty sure I cried. Now THAT is God’s gift to my kids, but also a gift to this mommy’s heart. Where there is a playground, there will be children. It just goes to show us that God has gone before us and taken care of every single detail.
One of our friends felt like God showed her that this move to Ukraine would be like Christmas Day for our kids. Like they don’t know what they are getting, but that God has great gifts here for them. Well, gift #1 was delivered on our first morning and I am in awe.
It just keeps getting better and better. Saying yes to God is so much fun!!!!!

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