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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. ūüėč

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…) ūü§∑‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ

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? ūüėÜ

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What’s Up With School

It’s been a while since I’ve written about school in this space. Over on Instagram @thetravelingacademy I have the fun opportunity to be on a team of expat mamas living all over the world. Together, we are hoping to create a great resource about all things educating kids overseas. There is a great mix of experience there! Some homeschool, some send their kiddos to international school, some do local school and some (like us) use different methods for different kids. We also discuss parenting “Third Culture Kids” and parenting kids with special needs outside your home culture. So far, it’s a lot of fun.

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Being a part of the team has me thinking about our kids’ education nonstop. I’m constantly thinking about what we’re doing and reconsidering if it’s working or not. It’s been a breath of fresh air and inspiration for my mama brain. ūüôā

Since I’m thinking about education a lot these days, I figured I’m waaaaay past due in sharing with you what we’re doing these days for education. So here ya go!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you might remember that it took us quite some time to find our groove in Ukrainian school. We’re actually still finding it…actually, we’ll probably always be searching for it, but at least each year we’re getting closer. Hehe. We moved here in November 2013 and put Addy and Ezra into Ukrainian public school in February, after realizing it was probably the only way they were really going to learn language and be a part of the culture. It was actually a great experience for all of us. It was super hard, for the kids and the parents, but all in all, we considered it a success and decided to stick with it.

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They were so little!

The next fall we decided to try a Ukrainian private school, simply because we were searching for smaller class sizes. Addy and Ezra were a little lost in the shuffle in the big public school classes and we thought a private school could offer them more support. We ended up only staying at that school for a semester because the director of the school didn’t really understand our situation. She insisted that the kids should keep repeating first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian! Ummmm yeah…we weren’t really into that idea. So, at Christmas break, we brought them home for school.

Finally, in the Fall of 2016, we found the RIGHT school for our family. Our current school is also a Ukrainian private school, but the administration is very open to our family. They believe in our kids and they truly want them to succeed and to be integrated into school life. At our current school, our kids aren’t “The Americans”, they are just students- like everyone else.

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Addy, Ezra and Hava all attended that school full-time for 2 years, and Seth attended first grade there last year. Overall, it has been a pretty great experience. There were (and are) major difficulties and roadblocks, but that is to be expected anytime you are fully immersed in a cultural situation different than anything you’ve ever known. Our kids are the only foreign kids in the school (actually, I don’t know of any other English-speaking kids in our city…) so the learning curve has been steep for the staff and for our family.

We are learning, like all parents, that constant revaluation and adjustment is necessary for spiritual, educational and social success. Because of that, we’ve made some pretty big changes in schooling this year. Addy and Ezra are homeschooling full-time, Hava is still in Ukrainian school full-time, Seth is part-time at Ukrainian school and part-time at home, and Vladik is doing private lessons at his teacher’s home 4 days a week. It’s a little crazy, but it seems to be working!

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We realized that as the kids reach the upper grades (Addy is in 9th and Ezra is in 7th) it was a better use of their time and energy to study at home. The struggle then, has been finding meaningful ways for them to engage with others outside the home. For Addy, it’s attending a weekly youth group at another church in town, and taking twice-a-week sewing lessons from a church friend. For Ezra, it’s attending a twice-a-week class where he’s learning to make videos. I wish there were more opportunities for them to be with their peers, but it’s pretty hard to find something to engage in here that’s not sports. So, we’re trusting God that He will show us what they need. I easily take on a lot of mom guilt concerning their social lives, so I just can’t let myself go there. Their lives are rich and full in other ways and it’s okay if theirs look different than my life did at their age. Comparison is not helpful or healthy (preaching to myself right now).

Hava adores school and is as happy as a clam there, so that’s a no-brainer. ūüôā

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Vladik’s situation isn’t ideal, but we’re going to finish out this school year as is, and probably make significant changes next year. His teacher is great, as always, but he’s loving being here at the Homestead more and more, and when construction starts on the next homes he’ll want to be in the thick of it. So, next year I foresee him spending more time working on his building skills and less time doing “seat work”.

Seth. Oh, my sweet Seth. Seth and Ukrainian school don’t mesh super well. ūüôā He attended first-grade last year and it went okay, but not great. This year he started second grade at the school, but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to work out. We brought him home for homeschooling in October and just recently decided to ease him back into a bit of local school. He really is a social guy and missed his friends, plus he really needed more language exposure. He’s now attending school for 4 hours, three days a week, and then is home for the rest of it. I hope this plan works for our guy.

That’s our current school situation. Every child is different and every year is different and we have to just keep being flexible, holding loosely to what we “think” our kids need for happiness. ¬†Our first job is to point them to Jesus, and as long as we’re doing that I think they’ll turn out okay.

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Back to School 2017

September first came and went and Ukrainian schools are back in session!

Let me just tell you, the feeling that came with not being the new people was such sweet relief. We’ve been the new people at school for the past 4 years, and we were so over it. How wonderful to be known, to not be gawked at (mostly), to belong! Moving to a new culture has cured me forever of taking belonging for granted. Belonging is so hard to come by, and so amazing when it’s found. We found it for our kids and I’m beyond thankful!

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This year promises to be quite challenging, as full immersion can’t help but be, but we already feel the successes of last year’s hard work, so that’s encouraging.

Our goals for putting our kids in a Ukrainian local school are:

  1. Ukrainian language fluency.  This is our home and we want our kids to be able to communicate in every situation. While they are young, and their brains are growing so rapidly we feel it’s in everyone’s best interest for them to be immersed in Ukrainian language. I wish I had the opportunity! Their language has already far-surpassed mine.
  2. Integration into Ukrainian society. I’m a homeschooler in my heart. I adore homeschooling and I miss it like the dickens. BUT, I realize that homeschooling our kids here is not what is best for our family right now. It would be easy for them to stay home and live on our sweet little American island, but…they would be totally isolated. They need peer relationships. They need to learn how to function in Ukrainian society independently. They each need to find their place here, and as much as I want them all home with me, I know that I know it’s not what is best for them right now.

So, we press on with local school and all of it’s blessings and challenges.  It’s cool to look back on the first week of school last year compared to this week. We have come so far! Our kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds. They have much more of an understanding of how Ukrainian school works (completely different from American school, if you’re wondering), and they’ve pretty seamlessly picked back up where they left off. Last year we had buckets of tears. This year we have kids who feel successful. My heart is full.

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Seth entered first class, so now all the kids are at the same school together. He seems to be ready, and three days in, so far so good. We anticipate some learning difficulties, due to his history, but we’ll just have to take each day as it comes. Socially and emotionally, he is ready, and for Seth that had to happen in order for him to have a chance at success. His teacher was Ezra’s teacher last year and she’s great. She knows our family and we “get” how to communicate with each other. I’m hopeful for my baby.

Hava is in second class. She has her same class of kids and same teacher (they keep the same teacher for the first four years) so she’s all set to go. She adores her teacher and already has friends, so we’re golden. ūüôā

Ezra skipped a grade and is now in sixth class, which is appropriate for his age. We really wanted him to have a fresh start this year in a new class and with new confidence. He’s going to have to work hard to catch up, but he’s motivated, so I think he’ll be okay. Ezra’s our introvert, so Ukrainian school is pretty challenging for him. I’m so proud of how far he’s come!

Addy is the one who’s probably going to have the biggest challenges this year. She skipped two grades and is going to give eighth class a try- the appropriate grade for her age. Due to being the only foreigners and then spending a school year in the States, then entering a new school as the only foreigners again, poor Addy has been held back FOREVER! Last year she was two grades behind her peers and it was starting to be a big problem for her. I know that in the whole big scheme of life, it doesn’t really matter, but when you’re thirteen and you’re in a class with eleven year-olds, it matters a heckofalot. ūüėČ She’s a super smart girl, she has just never been given the opportunity to try to catch up and prove herself. We fought hard for her and Ez to be moved up, so hopefully we made the right decision. For Addy it was very important to have this chance, so she is super motivated to work her tail off to be successful.

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Vladik has the same set-up as last year. Our friend is teaching him individually, and then he will be integrated into some lessons with the same class as last year.  Our goal for Vladik this year is to be integrated a bit more into the fabric of the school. Socially, he’s ready for it. Academically, we are limited on what he is able to do, but we are working to give him opportunities to be included at the level he is able. Right now we’re hoping to have him join the sixth class in P.E., music, art, and handicrafts. He adores his teacher and he LOVES school. I’m so thankful he has a place there.

That’s the scoop on school! It’s a lot of work and a lot of figuring out what the heck is going on, but we’re ready. When I was first researching putting our kids in local school the stuff I found talked about how the first year would be super challenging and the progress would be slow, but then the second year was when you would really see progress and the fruit of all the hard work. I’m trusting that will be the case for our kids this year. They are all so brave. I’m so very proud of them.

Here’s to a new school year and a new year of growth. Let’s do this thing!

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Parenting Overseas: When Kids Become Partners

Benefit #33 of our kids’ school: Extended Easter Break. Three cheers for Catholic schools! The kids are off today (Thursday), Good Friday, and the Monday after Easter!  It’s like Spring Break #2 and we couldn’t be happier.

I’ve been thinking lately about how my parenting has changed by us living overseas. I think it’s hard to differentiate between the changes that come from living outside our native culture, and the changes that come just by having older kids. I think one major difference that comes with our location is the freedom and independence our kids can experience at younger ages.

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Back when we lived in the US I used to read about “Free Range Parenting” and wish that was more possible for my kids. I’m pretty sure no one could have ever accused me of being a helicopter parent, but I did always wish for more opportunities for my kids to learn independence at a younger age. That sounds great, but is stinkin’ hard to do in American suburbia! It’s hard to teach independence when the city bus routes are super inconvenient and expensive. It’s nearly impossible when the city plans are made for driving and not for walking. Cell phones are expensive and pay phones are nearly non-existent. In my humble opinion, the culture of ultra-protection of kids also makes it really difficult for well-meaning parents to provide opportunities for their kids to learn and make mistakes and recover without repercussions from outside sources. It felt like for our kids to learn their way out and about without adults they would need to wait until they were 16 and could drive! I know there are creative workarounds for parents who are really intentional about teaching independence, but it just never felt quite natural like I wished for. You know?

I didn’t realize how moving to Ukraine would make it easier for me to be the kind of parent my heart longed to be, in that regard. In Ukraine we have opportunities a’plenty for our kids to explore and learn and even be forced into situations where they have to think for themselves and be independent. It’s just built into the culture! There are some parts of Ukrainian culture that I imagine are similar to American culture back when my parents were kids. I like that.

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Public transportation in our city is cheap and super easily accessible. Our kiddos come home from school by themselves on city buses most days. It’s totally normal to see a kid Hava’s age (8) on the bus alone or walking alone down the street. Hava and Seth can go to the store by themselves and get me a few grocery staples. No one bats an eye that my 6 year old is at the store by himself (unless he’s not dressed warmly enough..hehe). It’s AWESOME. I love it because I KNOW my kids can do it, and they feel so proud of themselves when they are successful.

The little store down the street from our house is an old Soviet type store where you have to go up to the counter and ask the cashier for what you want. The thing is, there aren’t really lines. Whichever customer is the quickest or loudest gets their voice heard first.  Our Seth is super shy. The first time he went by himself to get me bread he must have been gone for more than 20 minutes.  I kinda started to worry a bit, but I knew he was fine, so I just waited. When he finally came home I found out he had been too embarrassed to pipe up and ask for the bread so he just stood there and waited until the store was completely empty and the cashier finally asked him what he wanted. ūüôā  But he learned that day and he was so proud of himself when he came home with the bread!

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Our Addy is 13 and is off right now with two friends from school, out and about in the city. She took the bus to meet them and later they’ll find a bus that will take them to youth group. She has a cheap little phone that she uses to call me and let me know she’s okay. It’s AWESOME!  She has learned which buses to use and how to get where she wants to go most places in the city. I’m so happy for her that she has that chance to be independent and I’m also happy that we don’t have to drive her all over town so she can see her friends! Ha!

The big ol’ language issue also changes our parenting, and I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. ūüėČ Back when we lived in the US and I worked as a nurse on the pediatric floor of our hospital it was extremely common for us to treat Spanish-speaking families.  I remember so many times when the parents couldn’t speak much English and they would have their child translating for them. We would use a medical translator for official communication, but for just basic conversation I remember always feeling relieved when there was a school-age kiddo in the room who could help us communicate with mom and dad. I also remember thinking in the back of my mind “Why don’t these parents learn English?  Certainly they don’t want to live their lives with their kids better understanding the world around them and translating for them!”

Yeah, I can give a definitive answer on that one. Those parents didn’t want their kid in the driver’s seat of communication, but guess what? You get desperate and it happens. And in those important moments it’s better to have your kid there to help you rather than no one at all.  Guess how I know?  Yep. Been there done that. Last week.

We’ve gotten to the point where our kids’ language is better than ours. NOOOOOOOO!  I swore I wouldn’t let it happen, but it has. They are immersed in Ukrainian 5 hours a day and I’m not. It was bound to happen. I guess I just didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Now when we’re out and about and I need to understand something I’ll make sure all the kids are listening too, so that if I miss it I can know that somebody will understand. Addy has the best language and I find myself looking to her for help way more than I’d like to admit. The other day I had the kids at the dentist and the dentist actually looked at Addy and said “I want you to listen really good so that you can help your mom understand.” OMG. Low point. I made sure Addy knew, after the fact, that I had indeed understood the dentist (well, at least 70% or so…). Ahem.

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It’s funny how that lack of understanding, or handicap in communication kind of changes your relationship with your kids in small ways. Adults will look to my kids when relaying information, assuming they will understand better than I will. And sometimes they’re right- especially at school. In some ways, and in some moments it changes our role to more like partners with our kids, rather than us moving in the more traditional roles. We’re all working together to make sense of a strange new world, rather than us adults understanding the world and teaching our kids how it all works.  It can be a bit unnerving, especially when we’re talking about partnering with a first-grader, but I think I like it. It causes the kids to take more responsibility for themselves, rather than all the responsibility being on us parents. I know I like that.

All of this learning and growing and digging in roots in a different culture that we are still learning to understand is a heckuva lot of work. It’s stretching and confusing and painful much of the time. But, there are also beautiful parts of it that are unexpected blessings. The partnership with our kids and family teamwork is one of those unexpected blessings. The natural independence training is also an extra blessing. Sometimes it’s mind-blowing to consider how extremely different our kids’ childhoods are than our own, but I have to believe that there are things they are learning by living this curious life that they absolutely need for their futures.

So, steady on, my friends. This parenting gig is no joke, but God will give us everything we need for our specific children. We can trust Him on that one.

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Shoe Debates, Friendly Pack Mules, and Spring is Here!

I’m happy to report that THE SNOW IS GONE. The streets are (mostly) dry(ish) and the debate over which shoes to wear has simmered down a bit. ¬†In my previous life, in Oregon, the debate over which shoes to wear was mild and was simply a matter of “is it raining or not.” If it’s raining, you can’t wear Toms. ¬†If it’s not raining, Toms it is! I mean, I was most likely just going to be dashing across a parking lot if the weather was less than optimal, so making the best choice in footwear was not the end all.

In Zhytomyr in the winter, the shoe debate is real. ¬†It is intense. ¬†One does not simply throw on a pair of shoes and prance out the door without a care in the world! ¬†No, no, no. ¬†One is most likely going to be walking a fair distance out in the elements and waiting at bus stops. One must consider the level and freshness of the snow, the amount of ice, the wetness or dryness of said ice and snow. ¬†On some days we have rivers for sidewalks, and on others we have ice skating rinks for sidewalks. ¬†Rivers and ice skating rinks call for different shoes, different strategies. ¬†One must also consider the distance to be walked and the condition of the sidewalks en route. ¬†If I’m taking out the trash and heading that direction, I need to prepare for mudslides (and dead cats, apparently). ¬†If I’m walking¬†down our road in the opposite direction there will be less mud, but a lake or two to be traversed, so that must be taken into account. We’ve become quite adept at deciphering the sheen on the ice and navigating the sidewalks in the safest, non-broken-hip-est manner. Skillzzzzzzz.

My favorite boots for walking in mildly cold, non-snowy weather currently have a break in the sole, so my right foot is bound to get wet. ¬†I keep forgetting to take them for repair, so if I want warm, dry feet my only choice are my snow boots. ¬†But snow boots without snow are a little more Napoleon Dynamite than I’m willing to go, so I usually opt for the wet foot. ¬†Why not just get the shoe repaired you might ask? Yeah, I know. It’s a mixture of forgetfulness, procrastination, and fear of doing new things and not knowing how or what is expected of me. ¬†I guess in the end I just opt for the wet foot. ¬†Don’t judge.

All that to say, soon warmth will come, summer will come, and along with it, fewer and fewer shoe debates.  We will happily pack away the snow boots and non-snow boots.  Multiply that by 7 people and it equals 28 fewer shoes in my entryway and 500 times more peace in my heart.  (Shoe clutter is my nemesis.)

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Beautiful dry, snowless, puddless sidewalk!

You know what else comes with warm weather? ¬†Visitors! ¬†We’re preparing our summer schedule and are excited to welcome several friends, old and new. ¬†The boys and our team are going to get so much love and encouragement in the warm summer months!

I’m super excited to have all the visitors too. ¬†I’m excited for English conversations and the joy that comes from seeing our boys through the eyes of others. ¬†It’s a lot of work to host people, but it’s also refreshing, encouraging, and just plain fun. Guess what else gets me excited for visitors? ¬†All the stuff we have them carry over to us from the US! ¬†I’ve been out of brown sugar for over a month and my baking is SUFFERING. Peanut butter and chicken-flavored Better Than Bouillon have also been sorely missed. I’m filling my Amazon cart in preparation. Yes, we totally and unashamedly use our visitors as pack mules. Come on, summer! Hehe

The kids are all doing really well. ¬†In a couple of weeks, we’ll have Spring Break, and then they only have like 2 more months of school! ¬†I can’t even imagine the feeling of accomplishment they will have when they walk out the doors of school on that last day. ¬†We are so close to completing a full year of Ukrainian school!! ¬†There have been many good days, and also many days when we have all been in tears, ready to throw in the towel. ¬†Many days of wondering if it is worth it, but as we round the final corner I think we are all seeing that it has totally been worth the blood, sweat, and tears. ¬†The kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds. ¬†They never could have grown like that just here at home. ¬†I am so incredibly proud of them.

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It is totally NOT ice cream weather, but we got a little excited about the sunshine.

Yesterday we were at the hospital getting Addy, Ez, and Hava mandatory check-ups for school and I realized that I have started to rely on their ears when we are out and about. ¬†I tell everyone to listen, and if I don’t catch what was said, most likely one of them will. ¬†It’s awesome! ¬†All communication outside the home used to fall on Jed and me completely, but now the kids can understand for themselves, and actually, truth be told, they have much better comprehension than I do at this point. Grrrr… the competitive side of me hates that! ¬†But, I love that they can communicate and function so well in society. ¬†That was our hope in sending them to school.

So, here’s to dry feet, American pack mules friends, and Spring Break. ¬†The snow is gone, the sun is out, Brian Adams radio is playing (again, don’t judge), and my heart is full. ¬†Happy Tuesday to our friends near and far! ¬†BeLOVE[d].

PS: You will not believe this! I was typing this post when I had to pause to go get Seth from kindergarten.  On the way home we stopped at the post office and guess what was waiting for us???

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Our wonderful Tom and Emma sent us a package with brown sugar, Better Than Bouillon, peanut butter, jalape√Īos and many other special treats. OMG. Can you believe that timing? ¬†THANK YOU, Tom and Emma. ¬†We love you!

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Welcoming a New Year!

Happy New Year! Yeah, I know I’m late to the New Years party, but time to write is scarce these days. Better late than never, am I right?


2016 was a DOOZY. Surgeries and goodbyes and re-immigration and last-minute-border-runs and house buying and destroying and rebuilding and a new school and new friends and new boys and wow. Good job, 2016, you definitely gave us a run for our money.

Upward and onward!  Welcome, 2017!

I’m one of those people who loves the fresh start of a new year.  I’m not super disciplined. I’m not terribly organized. BUT, I love the chance to start again.  I like making New Years Resolutions.  I know that I’ll fail at some (or most) of them, but why not give them a go?  At least I’ll do well for part of the year…and that’s better than not doing well at all…right?  And sometimes the resolutions stick, and then our whole family is better for it.


For me it’s not so much about making a set list of resolutions, as much as it is reprioritizing and rebalancing the craziness that is our overseas life. It feels like there is so much of our lives that is out of our control in every way: residency documents, government officials, new laws, cultural differences, blah blah blah.  I think it’s good to find a balance and try to do better with the things in our life that we DO have control over: how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we raise our children….and on and on. I love the new year for a fresh look at those things.

This year I have two personal goals that I really want to focus on: Improving my Ukrainian language (spoken and written) and faithfully spending time in God’s Word.

I have other goals involving mothering and being a wife, but I won’t go into those at the moment.


Ukrainian Language.

Oh Ukrainian language, why do you haunt me so?  Why you gotta be so dang hard?  Why you gotta have so many endings and conjugations?  Oh Zhytomyr, why you gotta be so linguistically confused? Why can’t everyone in this city speak the same language?  WHY????

Those are the questions I ask myself approximately 473 times per day. You have no idea how often I yell out in anger: “Why can’t we live in some place like France where all the people SPEAK FRENCH?????”  Ha!  This post makes me sound like I have anger issues…and when it comes to language learning, maybe I do. Don’t judge.

You see, we live in a region of the country that is linguistically “in-between”.  You can travel to Eastern Ukraine  or Southern Ukraine and find many people speaking Russian.  You can travel to Western Ukraine and find many people speaking Ukrainian.  You travel to our region (the middle’ish’) and get a mix of it all (I can’t vouch for that website, I just linked to the map as a visual).  Well, no matter where you go in Ukraine you will find a mix, honestly, it’s just not very cut and dry anywhere.  On any given day I will hear conversations in full-on Russian, then full-on Ukrainian, then, most of the time, in full-on Surzhyk.  Surzhyk is the name of the mix of Russian and Ukrainian together. It would be extremely rare to hear someone speaking clean Ukrainian in our city.  Most people who speak Ukrainian around these parts actually speak a form of Surzhyk. So, in all actuality, we need to learn two languages, and then learn to mix them. Shoot me now.

We study Ukrainian instead of Russian because our kids go to school and school is taught in Ukrainian.  Our team mostly all speak Russian to each other, so that stinks, but as a family we all have to be learning the same language.  We just have to. After some hit and miss lessons over the past couple of years I have decided to really dig in to language studies with my whole self. I have found the most amazing teacher that I love love love.  I love her as a person and as a teacher.  She ‘gets’ me and my learning style.  She thinks outside the box and really challenges me.  I ADORE our lessons together.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of my teacher!  A good language teacher is the best thing ever.  My language has exploded since we started our lessons and I’m just so happy. I go to lessons twice a week and then am committed to study for at least one hour 5 days per week. It should be more than that, but I also go to Romaniv and have five kids and we’re building a house and yeah, let’s not shoot too high.  I so desperately want to be able to share my heart with people.  I want to be known, and language hinders that so much.  Language is everything and when you don’t have it…well your quality of life really suffers. Wish me luck!


Bible Reading.

Let’s be honest: I have always stunk at reading my Bible.  I know the Bible.  I know so much about it.  I was raised in a Christian home and went to Christian school. I know all the stories, I know tons of verses, I know who wrote which book and all that jazz.  I’m well versed in the Bible. (did you catch that one? hehe) BUT, as an adult I have never gone for more than a month or two at a time of faithfully reading my Bible.  It has been hit and miss for years. I never know what to read. The Bible is so big! There are lots of boring parts and lots of parts that I’ve read lots of times so my eyes just kind of glaze over.  I’m always unsure so I usually end up in James because I like him the best. He’s a straight shooter.  ūüôā

Enter, The Daily Audio Bible!  Yeehaw!

I saw the Daily Audio Bible a couple years ago when searching for a Bible reading plan (’cause I never know what to read!), and I gave it a try.  It was okay, but I thought the guy who read it was a bit cheesy, and I just never stuck to it.  Surprise, surprise.  But, this year I knew something HAD to change, so I decided to give it another try.  I’m always listening to something as I wash the mountains of dishes that come with a family of 7 and no dishwasher, so why not let that something be the Bible?

I’m in love.

Okay, at first I was feeling again like the guy was cheesy, but I was determined to give him a fair shot. It only took about a week, and I grew to really like him!  Brian is endearing and I really can tell that he loves God’s Word. He reads with feeling and I like that.  When I’m listening I’m more prone to actually take in every word because I can’t just start skimming when things get boring.  (guilty)  I like that Brian introduces each book before he starts to read it, to give it a bit of context, and then at the end he does a little devotional.  It’s great!  They also have people call in at the end and pray and stuff, but honestly, I skip that part.  ūüôā


We started listening to the Old Testament portion in the morning during breakfast, and then we listen to the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs portions in the evening before we do our family read-aloud.  It has been awesome!  Our whole family is getting God’s Word every day and I am just so blessed by it.  I usually listen to the whole reading another time during the day so I can hear the devotional as well.  It’s really been beautiful for our family so far.  Brian is our family friend now, even though he doesn’t know it- cheesiness and all. The kids will remind me “We haven’t listened to Brian today!” We’ll see if the enthusiasm continues when we get into some of the more intense books…but hopefully we’ll have our routine down by that point and we can just charge on through.


So, those are my New Year goals and how I plan to work toward them.

What about you?  Do you like New Year Resolutions?  Have you made any this year?  Do tell!

The pics are of the kids’ school during the holidays. Sweet, right?

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More About School

Yay December! ¬†Pandora comes to life in our house around Christmas time. ¬†We’ve got the “Peaceful Christmas”, “Ray Conniff Singers Christmas”, “Amy Grant Christmas”, and “Frank Sinatra Christmas” stations on heavy rotation. It’s a beautiful thing. ¬†I’m smiling just typing it out!

Life has been a bit non-stop around here, but it has also been good. ¬†We’ve found a smidge of a rhythm, which is more than I could say for many months before this, so I find joy in that.

The kids are really doing awesome at school. ¬†They have passed through the season of merely surviving (thank God!) and have moved into a season of growth. ¬†God has been so faithful to our kids. ¬†I have done more than my fair share of worrying about them since we very first moved to Ukraine, and all along God has spoken the words “Do not worry about your kids. ¬†I am with them.” But of course I still worry and worry and worry…because I guess I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I’m now seeing some of the fruit of His watch and care over them. ¬†Things are still challenging in many ways, but we aren’t drowning anymore, and there are a whole lot less tears. ¬†Things are looking up!

Addy is in fifth class and is just fantastic. ¬†She’s really growing into a lovely young lady. ¬†Can you believe she’ll be THIRTEEN in February???? ¬†What the heck? She is so kind and so joyful. ¬†If you knew her as a little bitty girl, she is just the same, only taller, and with some maturity added in. ¬†By age, she should be in 7th class, but the school really thought it was best for her to do 5th this year. ¬†She’s feeling the age difference in a pretty big way, but has found one sweet friend, Vika, that she really loves.

Addy is hoping to talk with the school and work hard to skip a grade next year, in order to get her closer on par with her peers. ¬†We’ll see if they are open to it. ¬†I’m proud of her for having the guts to try! ¬†Addy also goes to a middle school youth group at the church where a few of our friends go. ¬†She enjoys that a lot, and it’s just the right thing for her to spread her wings a bit.

Addy LOVES Bluebell and helps take such good care of her

Ezra is in fourth class and is coming right along. ¬†He has a couple little friends, Mark and Nikita, that he really loves. ¬†I’m so thankful for them! ¬†School is harder for him than it is for Addy, but he is really working hard and doing well. ¬†Our friend who helps him with his homework is just fantastic with him, and step by step he is improving his skills and understanding.

Last week Ezra’s class did a dance for all the parents and other students and Ezra rocked it! ¬†He was amazing! ¬†We were shocked because he was dreading it so much. ¬†You know, he had to hold a girl’s hand! ¬†NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! ¬†He warned us that he would probably be sick that day and not be able to participate. ūüėČ But, lo and behold, he gathered the courage and did amazing. ¬†What a brave kid.

Ezra and his buddies at his birthday outing

Hava is in first grade and is just rockin’ it. ¬†She is so blessed to be able to start out from the beginning with her appropriate age. ¬†She’ll have a much easier time than Addy and Ezra because of it. ¬†She’s learning to write Ukrainian cursive and is coming right along with her Ukrainian reading. ¬†She has lots of little girlfriends in her class, and her biggest complaint is that they all fight over who’s going to hold her hand when they have to pair up to walk down the hall to lunch. What a hard life! ¬†Hehe.

School in Ukraine is generally much more serious than in the US. ¬†There is not a lot done with fun in mind, and the standards for work are extremely high. ¬†Despite that, I think Hava’s teacher does her best to understand that her little students are very young and need extra grace. ¬†I appreciate that.

Hava and her little school friends. CUTIES!

Vladik is attending the same school as Addy, Ez, and Hava and he LOVES it. ¬†Oh, my word. ¬†He gets absolutely giddy when it’s time to go to school. ¬†Our friend Tamara teaches him and she is just the right fit for our special boy. ¬†She is not a trained teacher, but she is an experienced mom and she loves Vladik. ¬†She sees his value and sees his potential. ¬†That makes her the perfect choice. ¬†Four days a week she comes to our house, picks up Vladik, and takes him on the trolleybus to school. ¬†He does PE and art with Addy’s class, and the other time is spent in his own little classroom doing individual lessons with Tamara. ¬†Then she brings him home after lunch. They are working on learning about months, days, seasons, weather, numbers, counting, personal hygiene, and appropriate social interactions….all the stuff you would teach your toddlers and preschoolers.

Vladik has many big gaps in his knowledge, so we decided to start at the very beginning and make no assumptions about what he does and doesn’t know. ¬†He is eager to learn and is soaking it all in. ¬†Tamara speaks no English, so Vladik has learned to speak English at home and Ukrainian at school. ¬†His language is EXPLODING! ¬†It’s really the ideal situation for him and we are so thankful that God made a way for him to get the education he needs.

Vladik at his class that he attends once a week at Mission to Ukraine

Seth. ¬†Seth was and is our biggest mystery. ¬†ūüôā His needs are different than our other kids and much more difficult to decipher. ¬†We have struggled since September to find the right educational fit for our Sethers. ¬†He just wants to stay home with Mommy all day, which would be fine, except that then he gets zero Ukrainian. ¬†He will go to first grade next year, and it will be 500 times harder for him if he doesn’t get a better handle on the language. Because of that, we knew we had to find some sort of kindergarten/preschool for him to attend, at least part-time.

We tried a few places and just never felt peace about it. ¬†FINALLY, last week we found our landing place for Seth. ¬†Ivanivka, the village where we are building our Wide Awake Homestead, opened a kindergarten at the public school there and we started to send Seth. ¬†There are 7 kids there right now, but more will come when the weather warms up. ¬†(It’s super cold in the classroom…like kids wear their snowpants the whole time…) It meets for 4 hours a day, and we send Seth four times a week. ¬†They do some pre-K stuff in workbooks but mostly play. ¬†It’s perfect for Seth. ¬†He’s not ready to do a bunch of seatwork. ¬†He mostly needs to interact with other kids and gain some confidence in the language. ¬†We’re only in week 2, but so far so good. He’s only refused to stay one day so far, which for Seth is pretty good! ūüėČ ¬† Hopefully, things will only get better from here!

Ivanivka School

I took a pic of the math book I needed to buy for Seth’s class

¬†School has been a HUGE help in bringing some stability to our lives here. ¬†Our kids know what to expect and where they belong. ¬†It is definitely a super challenging road to walk, but so far any issues that have arisen have been able to be worked out with administration. ¬†They love our kids there and really want to work with us. ¬†I’m thankful.

Thank you to all of you who pray for our kiddos.  It means so much to us!

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The Big School Question

It’s that time of year again! ¬†School is on the brain. ¬†School uniforms can be seen in every shop, little tents can be seen on the sidewalks selling school supplies at a discount. Here we goooooooo!

School is about to start and the Johnson family has (yet again) the big question looming over our heads: “What will we do about school???” I gotta tell you, I’m am SO OVER asking that question. ¬†I’m over it! I have to admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who stays in one place and without much thought or debate knows exactly where their children will go to school each year. ¬†I’ll admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who knows what to expect and what supplies to buy how to communicate with the teachers and what is expected of them and their children. ¬†But, pity party over. ¬†I realize that we will never be those people. ¬†Time to suck it up and move on. ¬†ūüôā

Uniform shopping!

There are several variables that make schooling a big challenge here. ¬†First of all, we seem to be the only foreigners with kids around here. ¬†If there are others they must be hiding because no one knows about them and no one has ever seen them. ¬†Because our kids are, seemingly, the only foreigners and are not fluent in Ukrainian the schools have no idea what to do with them. ESL-type programs are nonexistent here because everyone is from here! I know that kids learn quickly, and will eventually catch up, but it’s not like Addy can just enter 6th grade here and on day 1 write an essay in Ukrainian. ¬†There’s just no way! ¬†Addy and Ez will absolutely need help and assignment modification, but if schools have never done that or considered that before, then their answer is usually just to put the kids in first grade over and over so that they don’t fail. ¬†Hava will be fine because she’ll do first grade, and Seth will be fine in preschool/kinder, but we are pretty adamant this time around that the schools find some way for Addy and Ez to be with their peers.

There are four schooling options available to us:

1.  Local Public School.  PROS: Free, great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to go to school with neighbors. CONS: Big class sizes, no ability to modify assignments for our kids, our kids would go to the village school which does not have a good reputation, a public school would not accept Vladik.

We sent Addy and Ezra to our neighborhood public school for a semester in 2014. ¬†It was a fine experience. ¬†They both did first grade and all went fine. ¬†It wasn’t amazing, but it was okay. ¬†I would be very hesitant to send them to public school in the upper grades. They are just not equipped to work with us.

2. ¬†Local Christian School. PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to get to know other Christian families, smaller class sizes. ¬†CONS: No desire to modify assignments for our kids, unsure if they would accept Vladik, they have a waiting list right now, so most likely we wouldn’t get in anyway.

We sent Addy and Ezra to this school for a semester in 2014 and it was just okay. ¬†They wanted them to continue to repeat first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian…so yeah, probably that’s not the best option for us. ¬†NO WAY are we making them repeat first grade again. ¬†NOPE.

3. ¬†Home School. PROS: We know how to do it. ¬†ūüôā No language barrier or cultural barriers, they will not fall behind in study content and English reading and writing, more time together as a family, and more time to be involved in ministry as a family. ¬†CONS: Social isolation (NO ONE homeschools here), far less exposure to Ukrainian language.

My heart longs for this option. ¬†I love homeschooling my kids and I believe in homeschooling 100%. ¬†It is cozy and wonderful and would be BY FAR the easiest option for us. ¬†But, we know that we know that is not the option God has for us. If we call Ukraine our home, then we must give our children opportunities to be a part of Ukraine. ¬†They will be absolutely isolated if we homeschool, and in a very closed culture, we must provide them with opportunities to be with other children and develop language skills. We are already the oddity everywhere we go. ¬†We can’t just keep our kids at home. ¬†We just know we can’t.

3. ¬†Local Ukrainian Private School. ¬†PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, smaller class sizes, a desire to integrate our kids and modify assignments for them, open to Vladik. ¬†CONS: We don’t really know anyone there so it’s starting all over.

This is the obvious choice for us at this point. ¬†ūüôā

We met with the director of the private school this last week and the meeting was super positive. ¬†She was full of energy, and right away it was obvious that the director and the teachers were excited to have our kids. ¬†It was like they were excited to accept the challenge, which is a huge blessing to us. ¬†We don’t want to feel like our kids are a burden to the school. ¬†They are open to putting Addy and Ezra with their peers which is a HUGE blessing to us! ¬†Maybe the most miraculous moment in the meeting was their reaction to Vladik. ¬†There was not one moment when they debated if they would accept Vladik into the school. ¬†They looked at him and were like “Okay, now let’s ¬†decide where we should place Vladik.” ¬†Not “if”, but “where”. ¬†Miraculous. ¬†We were almost positive that by bringing Vladik back to Ukraine we were basically deciding he would never get more education at a school, because Special Ed does not exist here. What a big surprise and blessing that they are willing to take him, and WANT to take him. ¬†YAY!!!


At this point it looks like Addy will be in 5th class, Ezra will be in 4th class, Hava will be in 1st class, Seth will be in kindergarten, and Vladik…we’re still up in the air about him. ¬†He will need a one-on-one who will help him in the classroom, and then take him out part of the time for individual instruction. ¬†The school needs to find and hire a teacher for him, and then they will need to figure out which classroom is the best fit for him. ¬†If you could pray that they find the best person for him that would be great! ¬†It needs to be someone who will treasure Vladik and love him for who he is, yet not be afraid to push him to meet his full potential.

They are basically having us fill out a form that says Addy and Ezra have special needs, as well as Vladik. ¬†This will enable the school to legally modify their assignments and give them their grades based on modified work. ¬†We explained to the staff that our desire for our kids is language acquisition and social integration. ¬†We don’t really care about their grades. ¬†Seriously, grades are the least of our worries! ¬†It is a battle to get educators here to realize that for Addy and Ezra, this is not a problem of intellect, but completely a problem of language. ¬†They are smart! ¬†They do amazing at school! ¬†They just don’t have the level of Ukrainian they need to be able to function like the other students. They don’t need to be in second grade at 10 and 12 years of age, they need to be with their peers where they are socially motivated to reach their potential.

I have no idea how it will all pan out, but at least for now, we have a plan and a school that is welcoming us with open arms. The learning curve will be outrageously steep, especially for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah. ¬†We’ll also need to figure out how they can get content and practice in English language stuff without burning them out…yikes. I’m super nervous for them, well for all of us, but trusting God that He will give them everything they need.

I’ll keep you posted as we go!

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Valiant

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Welcome, 2015!

2015 sounds so futuristic like we should all be wearing shiny suits and ordering our meals from a robot or something. I wouldn’t mind the robot thing. Less time spent in the kitchen? Yes, please.

Last year I gave myself a theme to live by for the year: “Let Go”. ¬†Ooooh that was a tough one. ¬†It seems like as soon as I thought I had let go of something in my life, I would turn around and pick it back up just as fast as I could. ¬†I think I grew some in that area of letting go of expectations and letting go of what I thought my life should look like, but I’m not sure I did a very great job of grabbing onto Jesus with that empty hand. ¬†It’s so easy to try to fill our cups with other things- the approval of others, entertainment …whatever. ¬†I’m still on the letting go journey, and probably will be till Jesus comes back. ūüôā It’s a daily decision, to let go and grab Jesus. ¬†Steady on, steady on.

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This year I have a new theme! ¬†This one scares me a bit, but I know I need it. ¬†So…here goes…

VALIANT.

adj. “Possessing or showing courage or determination”

VALIANT.

I like the sound of that, but I’m a little afraid of what the doing of that will mean.

Check out the amazing synonyms of “valiant”: courageous,¬†fearless,¬†gallant,¬†gutsy,¬†heroic,¬†indomitable,¬†intrepid,¬†noble,¬†plucky,¬†stout,¬†strong-willed,¬†adventurous,¬†assertive,¬†audacious,¬†bold,¬†dauntless,¬†gritty,¬†magnanimous,¬†nervy,¬†spunky, stalwart,¬†steadfast,¬†stout-hearted,¬†undaunted,¬†undismayed, lion-hearted, fire-eating.

FIRE-EATING?????  Bring it. Ha!  LION-HEARTED?  Wow.

It’s so much cozier to go the safe route, to do the comfy thing. ¬†Valiant sounds cool, but it seems hard.

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There were so many times during this past year in Ukraine when I knew I needed to be brave, I needed to possess and show courage and determination, but I wimped out.  I wimped out because I was afraid, because being determined and courageous was inconvenient because I relied on myself and my own strength.  I regret those times, and I regret the outcomes of those times.

If I truly believe that God is a good Father; if I truly believe that His ways are higher and He has called me to this life, then what do I have to fear? ¬†I want it to be only by His strength that I go. ¬†One of the roots of the word valiant is from a Middle English word meaning “well-built”. ¬†This mission, this dream for our Boys here in Ukraine is not a Kim dream. ¬†It’s a God dream- my valor, my courage, my determination, my bravery only exists because I am representing Him. ¬†I need to be well-built in Him. Strong in God alone. I’m only valiant if I represent the King.

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I need to speak Ukrainian more- even though I know I’ll make mistakes and sound like a child.

BE VALIANT. Speak out.  The only way to learn is to make mistakes and learn from them. Dauntless.

I need to study Ukrainian more faithfully, Even though at the end of the day I’m tired and it’s the last thing on the planet I want to do.

BE VALIANT. Possess determination.  It will be worth it.  Gritty.

There are things we need to address at Romaniv that are not pretty.  They are issues decades-long in the making.  A few feathers may be ruffled, but it is necessary.

BE VALIANT. The Father of the Fatherless goes before us.  What do we have to fear? Fire-eating.

Jed and I both know that God is asking some pretty huge things of us this year. ¬†He’s been stirring our hearts and whispering in our ears and nudging our shoulders. ¬†We are excited but afraid. ¬†Is God truly good enough to catch us as we step off a massively high ledge?

BE VALIANT. BE BOLD. HAVE COURAGE. SHOW DETERMINATION. STEP OUT. SAY YES.

What’s holding me back? ¬†What’s holding you back? I don’t want to look back on this life and regret what could have been if I had lived valiantly- if I had courageously said yes even when I was afraid.

Join me! ¬†Don’t be held back any longer. God goes before you and His love never fails.

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*The pictures are of Romaniv in the snow. ¬†So pretty ūüôā

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The Hard Stuff.

Hello!…gasp…choke…sputter…(that’s me coming up for air)

We’re alive! Oh my, it’s been a doozy of a summer. Awesome? YES. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the dooziness of it. Wow.

Now we’re here in September, coming up for air, hoping you still remember us and will forgive us for being absent in this space. You will? Thanks!

Addy and Ezra started school last Monday and I’ll be honest, it’s been rough. We transferred them to a Ukrainian Christian school here in town and the school itself couldn’t be kinder and more caring. It’s just all-around extremely difficult. There’s no way around it. We are in the trenches and it stinks. BIG TIME.

After the first couple of days, I emailed a few of my homeschooling Mommy friends from back in the US and basically bawled my eyes out over email. “Please tell me I’m not ruining my kids’ lives by making them do something this hard.” “Please tell me this will get better.” “Please send me multiple boxes of chocolate and can you somehow figure a way to get a DQ Blizzard here intact?” (kidding…)

I was teary-eyed dropping them off the first day, I prayed all throughout the day at home and then cried to their teacher (I know, humiliating…I couldn’t help it! Poor thing didn’t see that coming ON THE FIRST DAY) when I picked them up in the afternoon. Oy.

They want friends. They want to understand. They want to speak. It’s just so stinkin’ hard. They’re in first class again because they don’t speak enough Ukrainian, but the Director said if they begin to speak more, that after Christmas break there’s a chance of them moving up to second class. I know in the US they would be put at their grade level according to age, but that’s not really how it works here. There aren’t other foreigners, so the school is just deciding what to do with us on a minute-by-minute basis. They are so gracious to take on the Johnsons. It takes a village! Hahahaha….waaaaaaahhhhhhh.

The school system and inner workings are just SO different here. No one knows what we don’t know (everything) so we often don’t know what’s going on…or we don’t even know that we don’t know what’s going on. From school supply lists to parent communication to bathroom rules to class schedules- it’s all different.

We realized about two days into the school year that it was absolutely necessary for us to get the kids a tutor. We avoided it last school year because our family was just so much in survival mode, the thought of someone else coming to our house and the thought of making the kids study more after getting their brains fried at school seemed like family abuse. ūüôā But, we are determined to not just survive anymore and we’re feeling like we can start to really dig in in some ways that we hadn’t earlier. It’s time for the tutor.

We had one name referred to us by a good friend, so we contacted that girl and found out she was willing to teach the kids! She will hopefully be able to come to our house after school Monday through Thursday for an hour each day to help Addy and Ez with their homework and get them to speak more. The kids are less than excited, because when they get home they just want to play (I don’t blame them!), but we are trying to explain to them how much this will help them in the long run.

That tutor can’t start until the end”ish” of October and we had no idea what to do in the meantime. We really felt the kids needed help ASAP. Well, guess what? On Monday the kids’ teacher at school asked if she could keep them for an hour after school each day to work with them on their Ukrainian!! Oh, my word. When she offered I almost cried again (but decided it would be best to get a grip). I am so extremely thankful that she cares and wants to help them. Praise God for such a loving teacher!!!! So, she will help them until the tutor can start and we’ll see what happens then. We’re bitin’ the bullet baby. Please pray with us for miraculous results! I’m hoping that this extra time alone with their teacher will really help them get more comfortable speaking out at school.

I started doing some homeschool Kindergarten with Havalah and Seth last week too. Hava is super eager to learn to read, so we’re focusing on that. Later this month they’ll start going to a little private preschool for 1.5 hours twice a week. I think that’s just enough to get them some language exposure and time with other little kiddos. So, they’re pretty excited about starting that! It’s literally a 2 minute walk from our house, so I’m pretty excited about THAT! ūüôā

I’ll tell you what; this parenting-in-another-culture thing is not for the faint of heart. It has shown me and is showing me daily, hourly how much control I like to hold in my own two hands. I like to be in charge. I like to fix things. I like to make people happy. I put my trust in myself and my ability to make things better.

Well, guess what? I can’t control my kids’ happiness. I can’t make kids at school like them and seek them out. I can’t make Ezra bold. I can’t make Addy not lonely for a girlfriend. I can’t demand the school put them with kids their own age. I can’t fix the fact that they want real friendships and have almost zero ability to make them right now. I can’t make them happy that they are here in Ukraine instead of with their cousins in the US. I can’t snap my fingers and make things all better. Things are just hard right now and all I can do is trust.

All I can do is trust that the God who spoke so clearly to us to move our family to Ukraine has not forgotten our children now that we are here.

All I can do is trust that God loves my kids more than I ever could and He knows their deepest needs- and He will meet those needs. I get focused on their wants- but God is able to meet their needs.

He knows them. He created them. He knew when He was forming them in the womb that they would live here in this culture, with these people. He is able to give them everything they need to THRIVE here.

I get so focused on ensuring their happiness that I lose sight of what’s really important.

What is the most important? Sleepovers and sports and theater and homeschool co-op and too many friends to count? No. Those things are awesome, and not wrong, and I miss them more than I can say. But those are not the most important things.

What is the most important thing? The most important thing is to say Yes to Jesus. The most important thing is to listen to the voice of the Father and walk with Him. The most important thing is to seek first His Kingdom. The most important thing is to go where He says to go, to do what He says to do- to know HIM. The rest is gravy.

Our joy is to be found in Him. Oh my, not that we can’t enjoy the fun things available in life! I’m a fun girl. I love to have fun, to do fun things, to be with fun people. God knows that about me and He knows that about my children. He’s a loving Father- He loves to love His kids. But seeking happiness for my kids instead of seeking Jesus with them is second best.

So, I tell myself these things all day while they’re gone at school. I tell myself these things after I tuck them in at night. Saying yes to Jesus is worth it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it can be fairly painful, but it is worth it.

I see how our kids are absolutely in love with the Boys at Romaniv and I get a glimpse of how it is worth it. They adore the Boys and think they are wonderful and beautiful and special. They know little things about them- their likes and dislikes, their habits. When they see a person with special needs out and about in town they get almost giddy, so great is their love for that population. Their eyes have been opened to brokenness in the world and they have felt the joy of being used by Jesus to bring about healing. All of that shapes them and forms them, and I am thankful.

Thank you for loving our kids and praying for them. May nothing stand in the way of them fully becoming who God has made them to be. So be it.

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