Category: Village Life

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On Star-Gazing and Homesteading

I didn’t grow up close to nature. Sure, we would go camping as kids, and those times are some of my fondest memories, but I wouldn’t say we were a “nature family” by any stretch of the imagination. We were more of an after-school activity, church, sports, Saturday-morning cartoon family. We had a couple cats when I was little, but they either ran away or we had to give them away when we moved…I can’t remember. And I had a few guinea pigs over the years. Fun fact: my first guinea pig’s name was Hudson Taylor. I was a weird kid, but I knew where my life was headed, I guess. What I’m getting at, is the extent of my childhood knowledge of farm life was limited to my heavy consumption of Little House on the Prairie (the TV series, not the books, thankyouverymuch).

When we lived in the US, before we were aware of Ukraine at all, Jed and I talked and dreamed about having some land, homesteading a bit. It wasn’t anything we were ever ready to seriously look into, but we dreamed of it someday in the future. I’m not even sure what sparked that dream. I guess we liked the idea of planting and growing things, of having space for our kids to run, of getting our hands dirty and caring for animals. Jed had a bit more experience with all that than I did, but not much. For whatever reason, it just sounded cool and it sounded very “us”. I liked to cook from scratch. We were always kicking our kids outdoors. We had backyard chickens. Baby steps toward the dream…

Then came that fateful night in the summer of 2010 when our eyes were opened to the horrors of institutional life in Ukraine for people with disabilities and all other dreams flew out the window. There was the agonizing time of not knowing how to respond to the new information we had discovered. Then the decision to adopt. Then when that fell through, the first visit to Ukraine. Then the founding of Wide Awake and the selling of almost all our worldly possessions. Gone was our beautiful craftsman on a quarter acre (huge to us), our backyard chickens, our bunnies, our cook-from-scratch, grain mill-using, kefir-making kitchen. The homestead dream took a backseat to the urgent need to get to Ukraine and DO SOMETHING to relieve the suffering of those languishing in institutions.

Now we’ve been in Ukraine for almost ten years (pinch me) and this past week a thought hit me like a ton of bricks. Our homestead dream is coming, has come true. Say what???? Our land here in the village has slowly become the thing of our dreams. And it has happened so slowly, in the midst of so many more important things that I somehow seemed to have missed it, or forgotten that we had once, long ago dreamed of it.

When we decided it was time to buy land here, that it was time to start getting people out of institutions we debated about what was better- to be in the city or in the village. We didn’t want to hide our friends with disabilities away, out of sight, like they always had been, but at the same time, we wanted them to be able to touch nature, to walk freely outdoors, to have space to breathe. We eventually decided the village would be better suited for deinstitutionalization, so we bought a little bit of property and the Homestead took its first breath.

The day we bought the Homestead land

I always thought that we were in the village because it was better for the boys. And I do believe it is. I can’t imagine trying to do what we do in the middle of the city. But now I am starting to notice a sneaky truth, that God placed us in the village not just for the boys, but for me and Jed too. I truly believe that God remembered that long laid down spark of a dream and in his kindness he has made it a reality.

Living on the Homestead, working in our massive garden, caring for our chickens, goats, and dogs- it brings me so much life. It’s like therapy for me. For reals. Sure, with Jed gone it can feel a bit overwhelming, but I still love it so much and I know Jed does too. Many of our Facetime convos, while he’s in the US, consist of me showing him the garden and the animals. 😆 I like learning new things, trying new things, planting, growing, harvesting, and preserving our own food. I love watching baby chicks grow and change. Our one little chick that recently hatched has two mama hens and the three of them are just the cutest little trio there ever was. Now we have another mama hen brooding on 4 eggs and I can’t wait to see what will happen with her. She’s an aggressive one. Ain’t nobody gonna mess with her babies! One of our hens, Kelly Cluckson, broke her leg and I thought we were going to have to put her out of her misery, but after a few weeks of making sure she could be left alone with food and water, I’m happy to report that now she can walk and jump and kinda/sorta limp-run. It’s so great! I’m so proud of her! 😆. Soon we will have horses and that will take everything up a notch. I have no idea what to do with horses, but I’m eager to learn. Dajana and I have a plan to take the horses to the forest after she teaches me to ride. Can you imagine? So cool.

One of my favorite moments of the day is late at night when I go out to the barn to lock up the goats and chickens for the night. It’s suuuuuuuuper dark. Our village doesn’t have street lights so the only light is from the moon. On clear nights there are so many stars. It’s incredible. I love to stand out there, look at all the stars, listen to the bazillion barking dogs. It’s like my soul can take a deep breath in that moment. In the midst of dealing with the trauma our boys carry, hard parenting moments, and living in a country at war, our little Homestead brings me life and joy. It steadies me a bit. I’m thankful that God placed that kernel of a dream in our hearts all those years ago and that he brought it to fruition in a way we could never have imagined. He is so good and kind to us.

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A Garden Update + Wide Awake Moments #19

A Garden Update + Wide Awake Moments #19

Making our garden accessible, and fun moments from the past couple of weeks ❤️

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New Barn Tour!! Jed gives a bit of a homestead update and all his projects.

A New Barn and Homestead Tour With Jed

For everyone following the journey, we’ve done a lot of building during the last 6 years. Jed gives a tour of the new barn, cargo bikes, walkways, and his best attempt at keeping the chicken eggs clean. Enjoy.

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A Homestead Tour

A Homestead Tour

Here’s a little tour of the Wide Awake/Dim Hidnosti property for you. ☺️ I think it helps to see the bigger picture of the Homestead and how it has changed and developed over the years. Plus, exciting new developments are underway! 👏👏
PS: Sorry my voice sounds annoying and Jed’s is so quiet. I’d redo it, except it’s raining…so…no. 😆

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What’s Bringing Joy

Life at the moment feels especially full. I’d love to take the time to be reflective and self-aware, but I just don’t have it in me. Life is just happening and I don’t have the time to think much about the deeper things. But, what I can think about is what is bringing me joy!

Pinky Malinky. A couple of weeks ago our sweet Wendell dog died. We don’t know why. We don’t know what happened to him. He was neutered on a Tuesday and all seemed well and good, but then on Friday he was found in the trees behind our house and he had died. Oh, our poor Seth. He was so devastated. Wendell was his dog and Seth had found him as a small puppy on the streets of our village. He was a naughty, but sweet dog. Seth’s little heart was broken.

Enter…Pinky Malinky! Seth had a puppy-shaped hole in his heart, and it needed filling. We found a local ad about a puppy who had been found in a dumpster on New Year’s Eve and needed a home. So, we brought that little pup home and Seth named her Pinky Malinky. 🙂 She is so sweet and the perfect addition to our family. She’ll be more of an inside dog than Bluebell. Bluebell is a worker, but Pinky is happy to cuddle. She’s good for us.

Survivor Night. Friday night at the Homestead is “Survivor Night”. We all look forward to it in eager anticipation. 🙂 Around 8pm Max and Morgan make their way over from the duplex and we cozy on in for our weekly dose of Jeff Probst and island drama. There’s usually some sort of treat included (of course). I think we started watching Survivor when we were trying to survive jet lag, and then it became a tradition. Seeing as how there’s like 40 seasons of Survivor out there, it’s a tradition that should carry us for a good while. You can read Morgan’s thoughts on Survivor Night here.

Garden Dreaming and House Plants. The snow has melted (for now) and we’ve got the garden on our minds. During the long, snowy wait I decided to try my hand at house plants (everyone who knows me in real life is shaking their head and laughing at me right now). In the past I’ve been pretty vehemently opposed to house plants, simply because I was so overwhelmed with keeping the humans and animals in my life fed and watered, I couldn’t imagine trying to add needy plants to the mix. I have one house plant that has survived for like 3 years here in this house and I honestly have no idea how that is even possible. I don’t even remember where that plant came from, but it is one determined plant! This year, as the snow lasted on and on and refused to melt, I started thinking I had the mental capacity to try out some plants. Annnnnd so far so good! Our friend, Christiana, who is here visiting, has helped me a ton, and I’m finding joy in seeing my plants not die. Haha. Jed and I are beginning garden talks and scheming how we want to switch things up this year. So exciting! Bring on the sun and the dirt. We’re ready.

The Fence. What a glamorous life I lead. When things like a finished fence bring you immense joy you know you’re deeeeeeep in country livin’. Oleg finished our fence and we now have a fully enclosed back yard. The reason this makes me unreasonably happy is because we have approximately 226 stray dogs in our village and they were all making our back yard their personal playground. Poor Bluebell was working from sunup till way past sundown, chasing them out of our yard. I was throwing shoes at them. It was super annoying and super loud. But now, thanks to a finished fence, they are no longer making a party pad out of our back yard. Thank the Lord!

What’s been bringing you joy lately? Do tell!

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About a Dog (Or a couple of them, rather)

Way back before COVID was in our lives (the beginning of last year, or 5 lifetimes ago…I’m not even sure anymore) our family made a plan to visit the US in the summer. We had this great idea to buy ourselves another dog, and then bring him back home with us to Ukraine when we returned in the fall. 

Our dog, Bluebell, is an English Shepherd and the best dog on the planet. We felt like she needed a companion, and was also the perfect age to teach a new pup how to behave. Our friend Paige, breeds English Shepherds and gifted us our Bluebell 5 years ago. She had a new litter of pups that would be the perfect age to travel to Ukraine at the end of the summer. Paige even had a sweet, sable pup that she thought would be a perfect addition to our family and he hadn’t been claimed yet. The stars were aligned- it was time to get ourselves a puppy! 

Bluebell

We purchased our puppy, Auggie, and Paige graciously agreed to keep him until we arrived in Oregon in June. 

Then COVID. (How many times have I written that sentence in my storytelling over the past few months??) 

The borders closed and flights were canceled. It quickly became apparent that we were not going to be heading to the US for the summer. But what about our Auggie?  Well, a wonderful family that are also English Shepherd owners stepped in and agreed to care for Auggie till we could come to the US this winter. Problem solved! We were bummed to miss out on puppy time, but knew he was being well-cared for, and that the time would fly by quickly.  

Then came time to buy our tickets for our winter visit. And…surprise, surprise…COVID! 

Come to find out, many airlines have suspended pet travel during the pandemic, so our options for getting Auggie back to Ukraine dwindled and dwindled till we realized the only way to get him home would be by paying a pet shipping company like $1500. Needless to say, our “pet budget” doesn’t extend that far. Yikes. We were so sad to finally admit to ourselves that Auggie wasn’t going to be coming to Ukraine.

In the meantime, another pup had entered the picture. Our Seth, the saver of all strays, brought a puppy home off the street. This wasn’t the first time Seth has tried to adopt a stray, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. His soft heart can’t bear seeing an animal all alone. We told Seth that we didn’t need another dog because Auggie would soon be coming home (we were still fighting that battle). We tried to turn the pup out, but he wouldn’t go away. He stuck around, sleeping on our porch and even barking at strangers who would pass by! I guess he felt he had found his home. Pretty soon we started feeding him, giving him soft blankets to sleep on, and…it all kind of snowballed from there. At one point I told Jed “If we’re feeding this puppy we need to decide if he’s ours.” There are too many stray dogs around our village to start randomly feeding them all!

We were still tossing around the idea of keeping the puppy when we came to the conclusion that it was literally impossible for us to get Auggie to Ukraine this winter. I asked Auggie’s foster family if they wanted to keep him and they were more than happy to comply! They loved Auggie and had become quite attached to him. Our hearts were at peace. Auggie was with a loving family, and “the puppy” was an orphan. He needed us. The whole situation seemed pretty “on brand” for our fam. Hehe. 😉

That’s the story of how Wendell joined our family. Life in the times of COVID- you just never know which strange turns it will take. Am I right? Our little Wendell will always be a reminder of our strangest year yet.

PS: When we were choosing a name for Auggie, Jed was really pushing the name “Wendell”. No one in the family agreed with him. None of us were fans. Then when the pup started hanging around our porch he started covertly calling him Wendell. I guess Jed came out as the winner on this one.

Bluebell and her new buddy

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A Call to a Small Life

Our life and world here in Ukraine is quite small. There’s a simplicity about it that I have grown to love and cherish. Sure, there are things about it that are far from simple. The emotions are not simple. Dealing with trauma is not simple. Speaking Ukrainian is not simple. Navigating local school and raising kids outside of our passport country is confusing and without simple answers. Figuring out how to help our guys become human after living all their lives as animals is about as unsimple as it can get.

And yet, our lives still have a sense of simplicity. Our lives are simple because we have a very singular focus. We aren’t trying to accomplish a bunch of different things in a multitude if different spheres. There are different facets to our work, for sure (family life, internship, building project, funds management, donor relations, legal stuff, budgets, medical care, advocacy, education…and on and on) and much of that is more complex due to where we live. But still, it all revolves around the one focus of building a community of love, dignity and hope for our friends with special needs.

Because of the nature of the work we do and the people God has brought into our lives to love, our world is quite small. Logistically, almost everything happens at.our.house. This house is the hub of everything. The duplex is being built right outside our back door. It’s a little more complicated at the moment because Anton and Ruslan are in apartments off-site, but still, the majority of life happens right here at our house.

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Also, because of our guys and their needs for structure and order and consistency, our lives have a very “small” nature to them. We can’t do all the things and go to all the places. We can’t be out late at night and running our kids to lots of activities and spending all day on Saturday at the soccer field (that’s not a thing here anyway…). Not that those things are bad, they just don’t work in this context. We all need to be home for dinner. Our guys need that. Boris needs to be in bed at 8 each night. He does best that way and so we give him that early bedtime nearly every night. Living in the village makes a busy life inconvenient, so the reality is we are just home more. Our relationship circle is also much smaller here than it was in the US. Our friends are mostly our team members and that’s okay. They are the ones who understand this life we’re living. They’re the ones who are with us day in and day out. They are our “people”. They are our Ukrainian family. 🙂

I resented that need for routine and “homebody-ness” at first, but now I see it as a wonderful gift. Having our team here every day means big group lunches every day at 13:00, and B-mo’s need for an evening routine means family dinner together nearly every single night at 18:00. It’s rare for someone in the family to not be at the table for dinner. Our team has spent countless hours at our table eating and laughing and just being together. What an enormous gift.

I’ve been reading a lot these days about the monastic life and I see a lot of similarities to our life here. The rhythms of morning worship and meals together and working together, giving ourselves to each other is reminiscent of some sort of “Order”. God has called us to a kind of simplicity here, a cutting out of the extras, and even though I don’t always love it, I am growing to appreciate it and how He is using it to shape us. My desire to pull back a bit from the digital world this year is a response to this call to a simpler life; it’s a desire to focus on the main things.

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As the duplex construction draws nearer to completion we are beginning to think more about who will join us in this life. We don’t want to just look for warm bodies to fill the needed spaces, but we want people to join us who are looking to answer that call for community. We are looking for and praying for people who desire to give their lives to this vision of hope, love and dignity. We don’t necessarily mean give your life away, like the rest of your life, but to give your life away for a season. Though some may decide to give the rest of their lives away, and we will be glad if God sends those people our way. 🙂 To do this life well, this life of living with people with disabilities, you have to die to yourself daily. You have to be willing to serve and live a “small” life- one in which you are not applauded and the sacrifices are rarely seen by others, but you do it anyway because you love the One who has called you to it and you love the one right in front of you.

I know “simple living” and living a “small life” are kind of trendy topics as of late. It can sound really romantic, but we have to remember that in order to live a small life we have to say no to quite a few things. It can be a painful thing to cut out the excess so we have time and energy for the mains, but if we look with an eternal perspective I’m pretty sure we’ll find that pain worth it. It’s not a romantic life here on the homestead in Ukraine, but it is a full one, one that will change its inhabitants forever. I know it is changing me.

If this resonates with you, please send us a note at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org. We are currently finishing up role descriptions and will share them when they are ready. 

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Homestead Happenings- April 2019

I think “Homestead Happenings” is super cheesy, but I can’t think of anything better to write, so I guess we’re stuck with it.

What’s happening on the Homestead?  SO MUCH!

VISITORS. A couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday and ushered in the season of visitors! From now till mid-August we’ll have pretty much constant visitors around here. I feel a tad bit overwhelmed by it, but mostly really excited about it. Jed’s parents AND my parents are both visiting this spring/summer and we are so ready to see them. My parents haven’t been here for 5 years and so much everything has changed since then! We live in a different place. We are in a different church community. We knew basically none of our friends at that time. And we have 5 new family members since their last visit! Yeah, life is a bit different now than it was 5 years ago.  I’m very ready for them to see our life in action and to know all the people here that we love.

BUILDING. The construction team has been hired and the land-use has been approved by our village. Next week ground will be broken for the next home on our property! This is a huge next step. The home will be a duplex, that will be two forever homes for more of our friends from the institution. We don’t know yet which of our friends will live there and we don’t know who will live there with them, but that’s okay. God knows all the details and when we need to know He will make it clear to us. We are praying for God to put it in the hearts of the ones who will join us in this work and give their lives away, and that they will be ready the the time comes. Please join us in prayer about that!

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Evie exploring the building site 🙂

ADDITION. I mentioned before that a couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday. They came to help us build an addition on to our house! I say “us” like I’m doing the building…haha. We all know that I’m not lifting a hammer. They’re helping “us”, as in Jed, and I’m just trying to keep everyone fed.

Our house has 4 rooms upstairs: our room +baby, the girls’ room, the boys’ room, and an “office”/guest room. The downstairs currently has 2 bedrooms. One room was Boris’ bedroom and the other room was for Anton and Ruslan.

After Anton and Ruslan arrived it was quickly apparent that they would not be able to share a bedroom. They were both so full of fear at night and the presence of another person just made things worse. It took us many months to get Anton to sleep at night and his many night-wakings kept Ruslan awake. They would play off each other and amp each other up and it was a recipe for disaster. They were both not sleeping and they were both grumpy about it. Jed and I were pretty grumpy about it ourselves (to put it lightly). Ugh. That was a painful time.

For safety and healthy boundaries’ sake, Ruslan and Anton do not go upstairs at all. But we needed to separate them, so we put Ruslan in Boris’ room and moved Boris up to the office. The problem though, is that Boris is not safe on stairs. He can’t go up or down stairs without significant help, so he can’t access his bedroom during the day. We have a video monitor in his room so we can see when he wakes in the morning and go help him down the stairs. Each morning he waits for us, since he knows he can’t do the stairs alone, but we’re always afraid that one day he will just decide to exit his room alone. He is right at the top of the stairs and he would fall so fast. His bedroom situation is totally unsafe, but so far there has been no other option.

But, that’s about to change! This week our friends are here helping build an addition to solve that problem! The addition will expand our living room and create a bedroom for Boris downstairs. It’s noisier and crazier than usual around here (if that’s possible…hehe), but it’s all for a good cause and I can’t wait for the end result. We will all rest better knowing our B-Mo is safe at night and that he can get up in the morning whenever he wants.

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Thank you, Friends!

SCHOOL.  In the midst of it all, we’re trying to wrap up the school year around here. Hava and Seth should finish up local school sometime toward the end of May, and Addy and Ezra should finish up their curriculum in June. I’ve been researching which curriculum we’ll do next year and it’s been really fun. It was very last minute when we decided to homeschool Addy and Ezra and of course, homeschooling Seth part-time was a total surprise, so I didn’t get the benefit of doing much research. I’m excited about what I’ve planned for next year and have already done all the ordering so our many visitors can pack-mule all our books here for us. 🙂

So there’s a little peek into what’s happening around the old Homestead. I promise to share photos of the finished addition and of the progress on the new home. Stay tuned!

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