Laundry, Thievery, Schooling, and Such

Guess what?  Yesterday I finished our camp laundry!  What?  You’re reminding me that we’ve been home for a week and a day?  Oh, I know.  It’s just that there are 7 of us (our friend Maks stayed with us for a while after camp), our washer machine is the size of my pinky finger, we have no dryer, and my children also had to be fed and stuff like that.  Anywayssss, the joy of the empty hampers was great while it lasted.  😉

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Yesterday my wallet and my phone were stolen.  So sad.  The wallet was not such a big deal, there were no credit cards or anything.  My Oregon license was in there…but a lot of good it does anyone here.  There was about $100 in grivna.  The real bummer is my phone.  We saved up long and hard to get unlocked phones to bring here…and now it’s gone.  It had like 3,000 pictures on it too!!!  Many of the pics were backed up, but all the camp pics are gone forever.  Addy cried about the lost Romaniv pictures.  I cried too.  If you could pray that nothing really rotten, like identity theft, comes out of this we would really appreciate it.  It feels pretty vulnerable to have all my texts and pics just out there in the hands of some stranger.  I don’t like it at all.  Yuck.  Sooooo, if you need to call me you’ll have to go through my secretary.  His name is Jed.  He’s cute, but kind of forgetful, so you might have to call more than once.  Hehe.

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On Sunday we leave for our next big adventure.  We are heading to Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine, for a Ukrainian language intensive course.  Hold me.

In May we started Ukrainian lessons with a teacher in Lviv via Skype.  Our lessons are through the Ukrainian Catholic University there and are specifically for foreigners who need to learn Ukrainian.  Oh man, it is intense.  Our teacher speaks no English during our lesson, but she really knows what she’s doing.  It makes our brains hurt, but it’s effective.  Since MTU is closed for the month of August, we decided to make a trip out to the University for a language intensive.  Our Ukrainian is a bit stuck at the moment, so we are really hopeful that two weeks of brain torture will get us over the hump.

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The kids will come along, and Jed’s parents will come from Germany to take care of them in Lviv while we study.  That will be fun!  Everyone says Lviv is amazing, like the best city in Ukraine, like a completely different world compared to Zhytomyr, so we are super excited to check it out.


Can you spy Zhytomyr and Lviv?

When we get back from Lviv it will be time to head back to school!  School here starts on September 1st.  Addy and Ez will head back to Ukrainian school and Havalah will start homeschool kindergarten (What????  Impossible.).  Seth will tag along and join in with Havalah as much as he is interested.  Addy and Ezra will transfer to a new school this year.  We loved our school last year (Ukrainian public school) and had an awesome experience there.  But, there is a Ukrainian Christian school here in town and we decided to try that out this year.  It’s 100% Ukrainian, just like the other, but raising disciples of Jesus is their biggest priority.  We have many friends through MTU and camp that send their kids there, so we feel like there is greater potential for relationships there.  The kids are excited to make the move and to see people they love every day.  There won’t be anyone they know in their class, but that’s okay.  Just knowing there are many people there who know us and love us makes this Mommy’s heart feel a bit more settled.  I still don’t like them going to school, but it’s necessary for language acquisition, and this seems the most peaceful route.

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Sorting school supplies. She is her mother’s daughter.

We still haven’t decided about sending Hava and Seth to the local kindergarten.  We would much rather find them a language tutor to come to play with them a couple times a week.  So, we’re searching for that possibility first.

That’s the skinny with us!  This summer has flown by, but at the same time, it seems like a lifetime ago that my parents were here visiting.  Crazy.

I’ll check in with you from Lviv!  Later gators!

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The Last Bell: Ukrainian School


Praise the Lord.  I honestly don’t know who’s happier, the parents or the kids.  🙂  I am VERY VERY VERY happy.  I feel like our whole family just graduated from first class.  Addy and Ezra’s transition into Ukrainian public school has been very much a whole-family endeavor, and we are all happy and relieved that summer break has arrived.

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The last day of school in Ukraine is traditionally called “Last Bell”.  All school lessons in Ukraine, every day, begin and end with the bell.  So, the first day of school is called “First Bell”, and the last day every year is the “Last Bell”.  It’s a very important day in Ukraine!  There is ceremony and tradition and celebrating.  I like it very much.

Yesterday was Last Bell at Addy and Ezra’s school and it was such a cool experience!  I love how much we are learning about Ukrainian culture by having our kids in school.  It’s a whole new world.

Normally the program is outside, but it rained yesterday, so everyone gathered in the gym.  The first four classes (primary school) had their program together.  Everyone lined the edges of the gym, each class in a line with their teacher, and then parents behind them.  Our kids’ school is fairly small, so we could all fit.

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It started with a flag ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem, then the Director said a few words.  An older man spoke also, but I had no idea who he was or what he was saying.  Ha!  After he spoke a bunch of kids ran up and gave him flowers, so he must have been someone special.  🙂

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Notice the sea of big white bows? We call them “puffs”. It’s a cultural thing for special occasions. 🙂

Then the Director handed out special awards of achievement to a few children from each class.  After a few minutes of that, our kids’ teacher turned around to me to ask me if I had a camera.  I said yes, I did, and she motioned to me like I should be ready.  Then she said “Addy, Ezra- microphone”.  Oh!  Huh??  I promptly pulled my camera back out and waited for whatever was next.  The Assistant Director got up and started speaking. I heard her say the word for “Americans” and my ears perked up.  She called Addy and Ez up and gave them a special award for diligence and achievement for their work in learning Ukrainian language!  It was so special.  Then she leaned down and was talking to Addy.  I realized that she wanted Addy and Ezra to recite their poems in Ukrainian for the assembly!  Poor Addy didn’t understand what they wanted her to do, so her teacher went up and helped her understand.  They both said their poems for everyone and did awesome!  We were so proud of them!!!  Their teacher was positively beaming, she was so proud.  It was very sweet.  It feels like their whole school is cheering on their little Americans.  Haha!  We need all the cheering we can get!


After the awards were done, an older class got up and did a cool dance to celebrate summer break, there was more flag ceremony and the National Anthem was played again.  I’m totally not kidding when I say I’m pretty sure my kids have heard the Ukrainian National Anthem more times than they’ve ever heard the Star Spangled Banner- and we haven’t even lived here 7 months! When Seth hears the beginning of the song he says “Слава Україні!” (Glory to Ukraine!) Ha!  After the anthem, the program was finished!  The kids got to go to the cafeteria for a snack and then all the parents took a ginormous amount of pictures.  Their teacher also gave each child a diploma for finishing first class.

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Addy and her friend, Masha

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First Class 1-б

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Flowers for teacher

Then we were free!!!!  We practically floated home we were all so happy.  We celebrated by taking the kids to the movie theater.  It was our first time in a movie theater here and we had fun.  We saw Rio 2, in Ukrainian of course.  🙂

Now we have three months to decide what to do about school next year for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah.  For Addy and Ezra, we have a couple options, one being continuing on in their current school.  Kids here stay with the same children all the way till graduation, and they keep their same teacher for the first four years, so that would be a nice, familiar place to return to in the fall.  We’ll see.  We need to pray and figure out what God’s best school plan is for this next year.   I don’t even want to think about it right now.  The homeschooler in me is just SO HAPPY to have all my children at home.  Sigh…bliss.

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What to do with Hava next year is another mystery.  Children don’t start “official” school here until they are 6 or 7- usually closer to 7.  Before that, most children attend дитячий садок “sadik”.  It’s like daycare/preschool/kindergarten.  They do learn the kindergarten fundamentals there, and if your child doesn’t attend sadik they really won’t be ready for first class.  So, in order for first class to be easier on Havalah when she turns 6 or 7, it really does make sense to put her in a sadik, at least part-time.  Parents can choose how often they send their kids, so it’s not mandatory that she go…we just feel like it would benefit Havalah to get more time each week for language acquisition, since she is pretty much always just home with us, hearing English.  BUT- I really, really don’t want her all alone in a class where she doesn’t understand anyone.  She’s so tiny!  AND, I really want her to learn to read and write in English first.

School has definitely been easier on Addy because she already has such a great grasp on English reading and writing.  Ezra, on the other hand, doesn’t read or write in English super well, and now after 4 months of Ukrainian school and no English school, he is on about the same level with both languages when it comes to reading and writing.  (Of course, he has almost zero comprehension of Ukrainian reading)  I know this is normal and he will catch up, it’s just nice with Addy to know I don’t need to worry about building her English language skills- we can just work on Ukrainian.  Ez needs help with both.  Hence me wanting Hava to learn English skills WELL first.

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Oh my, all this bilingual stuff makes my brain hurt.  I wish there was a manual for all this.  🙂  Ah well, one day at a time.  The important thing is that they are learning and they are growing.  We have our whole lives to learn.  I don’t want to be in a rush on their behalf.  At this point, we are leaning toward putting Havalah in a sadik two mornings a week and doing home-school kindergarten the other three days.

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Addy, Ez, and their super teacher

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Havalah has a little kid “teacher crush” 🙂

So far we’ve been really happy with our experience in Ukrainian public school.  Our kids’ teacher is so kind to them and she truly cares about their success.  Addy and Ezra feel comfortable at school and the kids are nice to them.  Never in a million years would I have imagined I would be a mom and my kids would be in a national school in a foreign country.  I mean, as long as I dreamed of being a missionary you’d think I would have thought this one through, but nope.  I guess I probably always thought they’d be homeschooled, or go to an international, English-speaking school or something.  What an interesting road we travel.  For all its ups and downs and uncertainties I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Coffee Chat

On the eve of tomorrow’s presidential elections here in Ukraine, there is much that could be said.  Things are getting more and more crazy in the East.  I can’t even keep up with the news properly.  People on both sides of the conflict are dying and no one knows what will happen next.  Please join us in prayer for tomorrow’s elections!  Pray that people would not be hindered from voting.  Pray that there would be loads of courage and wisdom on each person who decides to make their voice heard.  Pray for honesty and that corruption would be far away from these proceedings.  That almost seems impossible, but we are praying it anyway.  God is doing a new thing here and we choose hope.  

Let’s chat.  Let’s pretend you and I are sitting down for a nice, hot cup of coffee and you just asked me, “So, what have you guys been up to?”

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We’ve been great!  I’m so glad it’s almost summer break.  One more week of school and we’re done!!!  Addy and Ezra had testing last week in reading, writing, and math and they both did fine on all the tests.  Yay!  They both recited poems in their class program and did awesome. FIVE MORE DAYS!!!!!  Good thing too, because it’s really hard to think about school when it’s 80 degrees with blue skies, and all the neighbor kids get to stay out playing till after 9:00 every night.  🙂

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Speaking of neighbor kids, we have a couple that have started to come over faithfully to invite the kids to come outside and play!  They are sweet little girls who are both 11, and they really enjoy playing with the kids.  They usually bring an assortment of siblings and other tag-alongs with them.  One day they were so desperate to communicate that one of them actually ran inside her apartment and came out with an English-Russian dictionary!  Thank you Jesus for fun kids to run around with.

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The little girls made our kids this picture as a gift. Notice the bottom, “Set, Hava, Ezra, and HARRY” Hahahahahaha!!!! Looks like Addy’s got a new nickname!

So, in case you didn’t know, Ukrainians have a thing for hedgehogs.  Everyone loves hedgehogs here.  You can find candy named after hedgehogs; they are a super common theme in kids’ books; many families have stuffed animal hedgehogs in their houses, and the kids have homework that involves hedgehogs at least once a week.  I love it!  I don’t get it, but I enjoy it.  Well, a couple nights ago there was a hedgehog on our street!  I’d never seen a real one before!  Coooool.  One of the neighbors lightly kicked it until it rolled into a ball and then he picked it up. I’ve got to admit, I’m becoming a fan!

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We had our second Youth Night at MTU last week.  It was karaoke night and we all had a blast.  We got to be outside, we ate food, chatted, sang, laughed, and bowled.  So many smiles…I am absolutely in love with Youth Night.

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Jed even pulled out the air guitar. Intense.

Last week classes at MTU ended for the school year.  Now we enter the summer schedule, which is shaping up to be pretty stinking fun.  I’ll do a post about that later.  Over the past couple of months, my friend Tanya and I had the best time meeting with some of the moms whose kids are served at MTU.  Normally while the kids are in classes, the moms meet with Olya, a staff member of MTU.  They chat, pray, and study the Bible.  Olya is pretty busy, so Tanya and I took a couple of her groups and have met with them several times.  We had such fun!!  We drank tea, prayed, chatted…I absolutely loved getting to know some of the moms of the children and youth we serve.  These are some awesome, strong, brave, and loving women.  I adore them!

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Mommies and Me

Today was such a fun day here in Zhytomyr!!  They hung up a record-breaking, HUGE HUGE HUGE Ukrainian flag on a building in our city center.  There was a big gathering today at the flag to hear from some important people in the city, to hear some beautiful music, to sing the National Anthem, and basically just to show support and love for this wonderful country.  Many, many people were dressed in traditional clothing, there were flags everywhere…it was AWESOME.  I was so thankful we got to be there to participate!  Zhytomyr, as a city, has honestly been a bit sleepy when it comes to all that has been happening these past few months.  But now, a few days after the attack and deaths of some of our own Zhytomyr soldiers who were fighting in the east, Zhytomyr is sleeping no more.

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The view from the other side of the city center. Massive!!!

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University students in traditional dress marched and chanted in the streets.

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Johnson kiddos feelin’ the love…

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Our dear friend Olya helping Havalah in the sidewalk chalk competition. Kids were supposed to draw something to symbolize their love for Ukraine.

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Addy, hard at work. Her writing says “I love Ukraine” -in Ukrainian! Nice job sis!

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Showing our flowery support with traditional hairbands 🙂

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Some of our favorite people: Oksana, Nastya, Tolik, Victor, Katya,Olya, Oleg, Tanya, and baby Zakhar. (Seth was sooooo done. Haha)

Thank you for loving the Ukrainian people alongside us.  May God have His way and may many hearts be turned to Him during this time.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20, 21

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On Walking, Smelling, and Celebrity Sighting

Today was so full!  Full of funny moments, full of awholelotta walking, and full of joy.

Here’s just a few moments of note.

1.  Addy and Ezra’s class went on a trip to the local puppet theater today.  We found out just yesterday that kids who wanted to, could go today.  I wondered why we always find these things out at the very last moment.  Then…aha!  I discovered an announcement board outside their classroom!  Yes, I know, it’s been there all along…but when all you see everyday is walls filled with things you don’t understand, it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and really try to decipher, and what isn’t worth your time.  I don’t often have the desire to stand in the school halls with Google Translate at my side, so I usually go with the “if it’s really important they’ll tell me” route.  No more!  I will now be vigilantly watching for new notes on the announcement board.  No more surprise field trips for the Johnson fam!  We will now be well-informed members of society.  (Here’s to hoping at least)

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The wonders you can find on this “Announcement Board”! Look, a spelling word list! Hmmmm I wonder how many of these we’ve missed. Oops.

2.  When I dropped the kids at school this morning their teacher asked me if I wanted to come along on the field trip.  Sure, why not?  She mentioned it was quite a long walk, but if I thought the Littles would be up for it they could come too.  Well, Jed was in Kyiv today, so if I wanted to be there then the Littles would have to buck up and hike along with us.

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I gave Hava and Seth a pep talk about being strong, not crying and whining when we go on the long walk….blah blah blah…”If we whine and cry then Teacher probably won’t invite us on another trip, right?”

I’m happy to report that they did great on the walk.  🙂  It was about a mile walk from the school to the theater.  It was HILARIOUS to be a fly on the wall with Addy’s and Ez’s class.  It’s also funny to learn all the in’s and out’s of school here.  Like, for field trips, there are no permission slips, no planning which parents will drive, and no parents at all!  Their brave teacher just confidently lined up boys in one line and girls in another and headed out on the walk with all of her students.  Along busy streets, and across crosswalks, she walked in the front, trusting the kids would follow.  When school classes cross streets they hold up a red flag so cars will stop.  One kid in the front of the line holds a flag, a kid at the back of the line holds a flag, and the teacher holds a flag.  When crossing a street she just walks on out there, risking life and limb 😉 and stands in the middle of the street for her class to cross. They do this every day when they walk from one building to another for lunch.  Today I got to see it in action.  I tell ya, that teacher is one brave woman.  One woman, taking a whole class on a mile walk through town to a field trip and back.  She totally rocks it.  I wasn’t a ton of help since I had Havalah and Seth, but I tried to keep the stragglers from straggling too far behind.

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3.  I’m a “smeller”.  Smell means a lot to me.  How things smell really matters, I can’t overlook a bad smell with much grace at all.  It’s a struggle.  But, being a “smeller” can also bring a lot of joy!  Good smells make me so happy!  Anyway, I do have a purpose for telling you that.  While walking back to the school today I had such a strange moment.  I smelled a very beloved smell.  I smelled “Mission Trip” smell.

All throughout my teen years I went on mission trips.  I traveled all over the world during high school and college.  God put the world in my heart and I just had to go.  There’s a certain smell I remember from mission trips that I’ve never smelled in the US.  It’s a smell you smell when you’re walking on a city street.  I don’t know what all it entails, but it’s a mixture of gasoline, tires, foreign food cooking…and I don’t know what else.  I love that smell.  To me, that smell means Jesus.  It means being Jesus to the people He’s called you to.  It means going out of your comfort zone and giving your all for His sake.  It means loving people that you don’t understand and doing things you don’t understand, simply because Jesus said to, and it is what you were created for.

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Today I smelled that smell.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I looked around and saw my children walking ahead of me in a line with their class.  I heard the buzzing of Ukrainian/Russian swirling around my ears.  For a moment I thought “Oh my word.  This is really happening.  This is my life.  I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE THIS.”  I was overcome with thankfulness, and completely humbled.  All my life I dreamed of this and now it’s happening. May I never, ever forget what a joy it is to serve Christ in this way.  The last couple of weeks have been hard for me, personally.  My heart needed that smell to remember its purpose.  🙂

4.  Jed got to spend the day in Kyiv with some boys from Romaniv!  MTU took some of the highest functioning boys to see a dolphin show.  Jed got to go along and he had a great time.  I’ll let him tell you about that at another time.  I just have to share a sweet moment that happened on their way home.

Jed texted me as I was cooking dinner and let me know the boys’ bus was stopping at MTU on the way back to Romaniv so the boys could use the bathroom and volunteers could go home.  He asked if I wanted to come say hi.  YES YES YES!!!!!  I hurried the kids to put on their shoes, paused the dinner-making, and flew out the door.

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On their way to the Dolphins!

Oh.My.Word.  Dream come true.  Watching my own kiddos meet some of “Our Boys” was so, so sweet.  The Boys were so curious and kind.  They attempted the kids’ names and shook all their hands.  Valera, our “helper”  (highest functioning boy) in the Isolation Room was there and I was so happy for the kids to meet him!!!  We talk about him all the time.  I feel like “The Boys” have been like some big mystery to our kids.  Now they have faces for some of the names.  Now they see they are real people.  Ezra and Havalah were pretty shy. Seth was curious.  Addy was smitten.  Her eyes were glowing.  It was like a celebrity sighting! As soon as we walked out of the building to head home she said “Mom!  When do I get to start helping at Romaniv???” Soon I hope.  🙂

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McDonalds in Kyiv, complete with balloons!

So, that was today.  There were other small funny moments too, like when I walked into gymnastics to pick up Addy and one mom that I see all the time finally blurted out “Why did you come to Zhytomyr??”  Hahaha!  Like it’s been bugging her all this time and she finally just had to ask.  Hilarious.  Or when the kids were getting ready for bed and Hava and Seth tricked me.  They acted like they had their jammies on, but then on the count of 3 pulled back their covers to nakey little bodies.  Oh they laughed so hard!  Meanwhile Addy died laughing as Ezra screamed over and over at the top of his lungs, “Слава Україні!  Слава Україні!”  (“Glory to Ukraine!  Glory to Ukraine!”)

Is this life for real?

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How are the Kidlets?

It’s spring break!  Hip hip hurray!!!!  We’ve had such a great week.  We homeschoolers aren’t used to this “getting out of our jammies before 10am” thing.  School is brutal to our lazy morning routine!  But, slowly and surely we are learning.  This week of free play and jammie time has been just what the doctor ordered.  Woot!

So, how are the kidlets?  You’ve been asking and it blesses my heart that so many people love our kids.  I mean, I know they’re pretty fab, but nothing lights me up more than when other people care about my kids.  (Doing the dishes for me comes in as a close second, for future reference)  I would say the kids are doing pretty great.

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My Love

Addy is loving school.  I’m not surprised.  She’s basically my Mini-Me and I LOVED school, all the way through college I loved it.  I loved the friends, the food, the friends…and more time with friends.  Addy is a social butterfly, so she really enjoys her time at school.  She’s made a couple of little friends and wakes up each day ready to go.  She’s still doing gymnastics twice a week and also really enjoys that.  Probably her favorite time of the day though, is when all the kids go to bed and she can read with her flashlight.  Addy is a total book-lover.  She always has been.  She doesn’t get as much free-reading time now that she spends her mornings in school, so we let her basically read for as long as she wants at night.  She finished the Anne of Green Gables series a couple of weeks back and just informed me that she’s now moved on to Shakespeare.  Ha!  She reads a version of Shakespeare that has been put more in a story form for kids.  Here’s the version, if you’re interested:

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Handsome schoolboy

Ez Pez.  Oh, my Ez Pez.  Sweet little boy.  School’s a bit harder for Ezra, but he still says he enjoys it.  He would prefer to stay home and Lego it up all day, but alas, he’s learning that he does have some responsibilities in this world.  🙂  He always comes home from school excited about his time and eager to tell me all about it.  I choose to take that as a good sign.  He hasn’t made much progress in the friend department yet, but I think that’s maybe a boy thing.  I wouldn’t know, being a girl and all.  😉 He loves his sister and honestly, if he has Addy he is as content as can be.  The two of them have their moments, but in general, they are closer than they’ve ever been.  They are each others’ best friend- though they would never admit it!  Hehe.  Ezra is probably the most confident at language out of all the kids and we hear from others that his accent’s not half bad!  Sweeeet.  He has such a tender heart and I’ve noticed lately that when we share with the kids about Romaniv he really takes it to heart.  He thinks about it and it affects him.  I’m so proud of him.

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Big Boy!

Havalah and Seth are doing awesome. They are still so young, they seem to have barely noticed that we don’t live in the US anymore!  Kidding…sort of.  Seth is getting so big!  He’s grown out of his 4T clothes and he won’t be 4 until June.  He is so tall!!!  He’s talking a ton and his personality is coming out more and more.  We celebrated his Adoption Day last week.  I was again reminded of how amazingly blessed we are to be his parents.  He could not be a better fit in this family.  I really can not imagine what our lives would be like if we had said no to the DHS phone call that day in 2010.  Havalah remains a teeny tiny firecracker.  Oh my word.  That girl has got so much personality!  She goes about town, leaving swooning Babushkas in her wake.  Half of Zhytomyr is in love with Havalah.  Ha!  She is thriving and is content to spend most of her waking hours playing make-believe with her Playmobils.  Hava brings unbelievable joy to our home.

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School has been quite the adventure!  I guess that’s the best way to describe it.  It’s actually been less of an adjustment than I would have imagined.  The kids like to go and are happy when we see them at the end of school time each day.  Their teacher doesn’t speak English and communicates with us by note.  She’ll write notes in this little book and then I go home and spend the next 45 minutes trying to decipher her handwriting so I can translate the note.  Ha!  She thinks the kids are doing great and in one note she said to “Please thank the tutor who helps the children with their homework.”  Ummmm, what tutor?  I wish! This Mommy and Daddy are the tutors around this joint!  Homework is a family affair each night as Jed and I bust out our phones to translate the homework assignment.  Painful with a capital P.

On March 8th we celebrated International Women’s Day at the school and the kids each had to memorize a poem to recite for all the moms.  They were given the poems on Monday to be memorized by Friday!!!  Panic ensued as we frantically translated and rehearsed and stumbled and cried.  But, by Friday our whole family knew both of the poems and Addy and Ezra rocked it.  They did SO AWESOME.  I think when I was sitting there listening to them recite their poems I was the most proud of them I have ever been.  They are just so stinkin’ brave.  Really.

They say they don’t understand what their teacher says, but they are doing well in school, so I think they must understand more than they realize.  They still can’t say much at all in Ukrainian.  My friend Alexis, who encourages me by email about language (thank you!!!), says that everyone who is learning a new language has a “silent phase”.  In that phase, you may not be able to produce spoken language, but you are still learning.  I think our whole family is in one big “Silent Phase”.  Alexis said she spoke to a man who moved his family to Japan and put his kids in Japanese school.  He said it took about 6 months and then they really took off.  I’ve heard many language promises that point to that 6-month mark.  Oh please Lord, let it be so!  🙂  Addy and Ez write beautifully in Ukrainian and can read, they just don’t know what they’re reading and writing.  But, all in good time.  Step by step.

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It’s not all lollipops and roses.  The kids have their hard days, for sure.  They miss their friends and cousins.  They miss Grandparents and church and English.  On a rare occasion one of them will mention that they wish we could go back to Salem, but it’s not something they dwell on.  Even Jed and I have our lonely times when we think how much easier it would seem to just go back, but that’s not every moment.  Same with the kids.  They are being stretched and challenged for sure.  I wish I had someone to talk to who has “been there done that”.  I have no idea how to parent through all this transition, and in a second culture.  Still, the kids are happy and thriving in so many ways.  They are so brave and we trust that God knew what He was doing when He made each of them how He did.  They were made for this, just like Jed and me.  I’m so proud of them I could burst.

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In fact, I’m so proud I just have to show them off a bit.  Here’s some video lovin’ for your enjoyment.  Thanks so much all of you who love my babies and pray for them.  It means the world to us!!

And just for fun, here are Hava’s outtakes. Enjoy the silliness!

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The First Week

We’re nearly done with our first week of Ukrainian public school.  Whew!  We made it!

All in all I would say the week has gone well.  It’s a pretty huge life adjustment for our family, so it’s definitely going to take some time to adapt, but really, so far so good.  I guess I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better.  The kids are happy and they love it.  The teacher is kind and made a point today of having an English teacher meet me in the classroom when I dropped the off the kids just so she could have a translator to help her find out if the kids are happy and okay.  The fact that she cares and wanted to check in made me so happy and relieved.

The process of getting them in to the school has been pretty easy, but also pretty interesting.  Yesterday I went to the Ministry of Education office with the school’s Assistant Director and an English teacher to get the kids registered with the region.  Then today I had to fill out another application thingy to go to the Director of the school, plus I filled out an info sheet for their teacher.  My Cyrillic writing probably looks like a kindergartner’s…so I hope they could read everything okay.  🙂  We had to give the school notarized copies of their passports and vaccination records.  Unfortunately our vaccination records are all in English, but fortunately, with the combo of the school nurse and me + a friend helping to translate + sign language of diseases + common brand names of vaccines we were able to figure out if they had all the required vaccines.  Apparently our kids are waaaaay more vaccinated than Ukrainian kids, so the nurse said they were A-OK.  Haha!  All they need to be fully registered is TB tests.

Here is their school schedule, in case you’re curious:

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Every day their class walks down the street to the school building where the older kids study and they eat a free meal in the cafeteria.  It’s no big surprise that that’s my kids’ favorite part of the day.  🙂  They usually eat at like 9:30, but the meals are like full on lunch/dinner foods. The first day they had salami, corn, and pasta; another day they had meatballs and rice; yesterday they had fish and potatoes, and then today they had some kind of porridge and meat.  Tea with milk is served every day with the meal.  There’s a little counter in the cafeteria where kids can buy treats with their own money.  Addy and Ez said that usually a few kids will buy snacks and share them with all the other kids during breaks.  So, today they made sure to pack some grivna in their backpacks so they could get in on the treat time.  🙂

The kids wear uniforms, boys in suit jackets and slacks, girls in black dresses or skirts.  The Director said we don’t need to worry about uniforms yet…but he didn’t say when to buy them…I guess someone will tell me when it’s time.  All the kids wear snow boots to school, and then when they arrive they change in to slippers to wear in their classroom.

Addy and Ezra tell us that the kids are really kind to them, and they’re learning some of their names. They say they don’t understand much at all of what their teacher says and I’m not sure the best way to help them with that.  Will it just come in time, or is there something we should be doing at home to help them? Jed and I are studying Russian, but the kids’ school is all in Ukrainian.  Oy.  I have no idea what we need to be doing to assist them…I’ve never done this before and don’t know anyone else who has.  Anybody have any ideas?  This is uncharted territory for our family, and honestly is pretty overwhelming.  I know, I know, one step at a time.  I wish we were all learning the same language.  Jed and I debated for a long time before we moved here on if we should learn Russian or Ukrainian.  We really felt like we should focus on Russian.  Pray for us, would you? We just need a lot of wisdom in this situation, and we all need loads of supernatural language abilities.  Thank you!

Thank you everyone for all your prayers and encouragement as the kids started school.  On one hand, this is so exciting because it really plants us here in Zhitomir even more.  We are learning more about the culture and everyday life for the Ukrainian people.  We’re dropping off and picking up along with loads of other parents and interacting with a lot of people who are super curious about why we are here.  There are many opportunities for Jesus’ name to be made great.

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On the other hand, I feel like I’m in a bit of a mourning phase.  Having our kids always together has been our way.  It’s all we know as a family.  Homeschooling them has been a MAJOR focus of my time and energy for the past four years.  Addy and Ezra being gone during the day EVERY DAY is huge.  It changes everything and I just need an extra dose of peace during this time.  I’m missing them like crazy and often during the day I wonder if this is the right thing to do.  We’re asking Addy and Ezra to do something very, very difficult and I wonder about their little hearts.  Are they scared?  Are they confused?  But, then they come home happy and I know we can make it another day.  I guess this is just a “yes” that is pretty hard for me right now.  Praise God they are loving it a lot and I know He is super close to them while they are away.

Do you have any questions about school?  Ask away!  It’s a pretty fascinating thing to be up close and personal with a situation so foreign to us.  I still can’t believe this is my life.  Ha!  So cool.

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A School Story

Big news folks.  My sweet Addy and Ezra are starting school on Monday.  Hold me.

How did this come about?  Wanna know?  Okay, I’ll tell you.  🙂

During Christmas time my friend Tanya told me about a gymnastics class at our neighborhood public school.  The daughter of one of her family members attends the class and she knew we were on the lookout for some sort of activity for our kids where they could hear language and interact with other kids, so she asked if we were interested.  Sure! Natasha, the mom of the girl attending, asked the coach if some crazy Americans could try out her class and she said yes!  So we did.

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Oh the hilarity that ensued.  Seriously, to be a fly on the wall.  It is VERY entertaining.  I think Tanya and I laughed nonstop during the first class.  Picture a very old gym with bare walls, barred windows, and dirty mats.  Picture flexible Ukrainian kids flipping and cartwheeling and doing the splits and the bridge like they were birthed onto a balance beam.  Then picture the Johnson children (minus Seth) entering with all their clumsiness and lack of coordination (I’ll take all the genetic responsibility for that); not understanding a lick of the language, not able to cartwheel, but doing their very darndest to follow along.  Then picture the coach calling out orders in loud Russian.  It’s like a three-ring circus I tell ya.

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Believe it or not, the kids LOVED gymnastics class and continued to attend all during the school’s Christmas break.  Technically the class is only for the students of that particular school and is free for them.  But, the coach likes our kids (she is so kind) and said she would ask the Director of the school if he would allow them to continue in gymnastics once school was back in session.  She even said Hava could stay in class, even though she’s technically too young.  🙂

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We were in Switzerland getting our visas when Tanya emailed to let us know that the director had agreed to the kids continuing gymnastics!  Woohoo!  He had also asked why they don’t attend school.   Everyone had been telling us that the schools wouldn’t accept our kids because they don’t speak but a few words of Ukrainian and Russian.  As far as we know, our kids are the only foreigners around, so the schools are not at all set up to work with non-native speakers.  The director said that was no problem and that he wanted to talk with Jed and me when we got home from Switzerland.

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A couple days after we got home from the visa trip we went to the director’s office for a chat.  He doesn’t speak any English, so the school English teacher translated.  He asked us the ages of the kids and where we live.  He asked if we plan to be in Ukraine for a long time or just short term and if the kids are vaccinated.  Then he got on the phone and talked about the situation to a higher-up at the Ministry of Education.  At the end of the meeting, he told us the kids are welcome to attend his school if we want!

We are a homeschooling family to the core.  We love homeschooling.  Addy went to kindergarten at a Christian school in Oregon where my mom teaches, and Ez went to one year of preschool there, but otherwise, they’ve only been taught at home.  Homeschooling has just become a way of life for us and we have never thought we would do anything different.  If you’re curious why we homeschool I can talk about that in another post.  I LOVE to talk all things homeschool, so don’t be shy!   All that said, things got a bit tricky once we got to Ukraine.  Our kids’ brains are wired for language learning right now.  Everyone says “Your kids will learn the language so fast!  You won’t believe it!”  That’s probably true, but how can it happen if they are home all day?  They certainly aren’t going to learn it quickly from me!  Ha!  We put them in gymnastics, and they attend Awanas, and Sunday School, all in Russian and Ukrainian.  They have picked up quite a bit, but it’s slow.  They need to be immersed in the language while their brains are in this forming stage.  I wish I had that opportunity! We don’t really know of an option for a tutor who can teach them as many hours as they need here at home, so we were at a bit of a loss.  We were asking the Lord what to do to help our kids with the language.  We considered checking out the two local, Ukrainian Christian schools in town, thinking maybe they would have the ability to be more flexible with us, but they are both pretty far from our house.  Then this school fell into our laps.

On Thursday Jed and I went back to the school to check out the classroom they would be in and meet the teacher.  We asked the Lord to guide us and give us peace if this was the way to go.  What can I say?  It was great.  We decided to give it a go.  The school is about a 5-minute walk from our house.  Addy and Ez get to be in the same class, and school only goes from 8:30-noon.  Totally doable!  The director wants to put them in first grade because they need to learn to read and write in Ukrainian, and those students are still learning those skills. Most of the students in the class will be 7, so Addy and Ez will be older than them, but we aren’t worried about that.  The main goal here is language acquisition,  and having them with kids younger than themselves will probably help take away some of the social pressures that would distract them from learning.  Plus, first graders get to do more fun stuff 🙂


The thought right now is that they will attend school from 8:30-noon, and then come home to continue plugging along in their normal homeschool work.  We’ll only focus on the basics when they get home, like English and math, since I know their brains will probably be a bit fried when they get home from school.  Their school is taught in Ukrainian and their teacher speaks no English.  This school also specializes in Polish, so they’ll be studying Polish three times a week.  Oh my…this should be an adventure!


Our Teacher

This is the plan that seems most peaceful right now.  We’ll finish out this school year and then re-evaluate for the fall.  I most definitely don’t want to abandon homeschooling, since the reasons why we school at home haven’t changed.  I guess we’ll take it a year at a time and see what God says.

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So, Monday is the big day!  School books have been purchased and the kids are excited to go.  I’m excited for them…but also quite nervous for them.  I’m so extremely thankful they get to be in the same class.  Praise God for His kindness.  He opened this door when we weren’t even looking and totally paved the way.  We are praying that this leads to divine relationships and open doors in our neighborhood.  We are excited to see how God plans to use this for His glory.


If you would pray for us on Monday morning (Sunday night in the US) we would appreciate it so much!!!  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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