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Let’s Talk Food: Savory Ukrainian Recipes

Hey, hey, hey! Let’s talk about food. Yeah? I love talking about food. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ I love cooking, baking, trying out new recipes, and feeding other people. It’s a good thing I enjoy it because approximately 79% of my waking hours are spent in search of food, thinking about food, or cooking food. My kitchen is my office and my happy place. πŸ˜† My favorite time is Sunday afternoon when it’s raining outside, and I’m cozy in my kitchen baking up a tasty treat. Add a podcast to the background and its perfection.

Ukrainian food is super basic and requires very few specialty ingredients. You could probably make most basic Ukrainian recipes with what you have in your fridge and pantry today. But it’s pretty yummy and the ultimate comfort food. Ukrainian cooking is ruled by the seasons. You cook what is available in the season and there are certain dishes for certain times of year. Fall/winter cooking in Ukraine is heavy on potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and grains. When we first moved here and I wanted to bake with pumpkin in the fall everyone looked at me like I had three eyes. “Pumpkins are for farm animals!” But, western influence has changed a lot over the years and now you can find smaller pumpkins for baking on the market. I’m happy people have come to their senses about pumpkins because fall baking requires it! 😊

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite (In English) Ukrainian recipes with you. Obviously, the most authentic recipes are the ones passed down from friends and neighbors, but the recipes I’ll share here are also great. Plus, most of them have been a bit westernized so the ingredients will be easy for you to find. There are so so many recipes that could be shared, but I decided to not overwhelm and offer up just a few yummy options for you to try. These recipes have all been tested and approved by my fam, our team, and our boys and are staples in our home. Try them out and let me know what you think! I decided to share only savory foods with you today, and next time we’ll cover sweets and baking.

Soup. Soup is a mainstay of the Ukrainian diet. Most Ukrainians are happy to eat soup every day and even for breakfast! Our kids eat soup in their school lunches every single day and parents would definitely be outraged if it was removed from the menu. Ukrainians gotta have their soup! I’m a massive soup-lover myself, so I can definitely get behind the Ukrainian soup obsession. Most Ukrainian soups are served topped with a spoonful of sour cream. Don’t omit the sour cream! It really does make a difference.

  1. Borscht. Duh. Now, my kids would correct me and say that Borscht is not soup- it’s just Borscht. But, it’s soup-like, so it will go first. Borscht is the National Dish of Ukraine, and there are as many variations of it as there are families. Every person will tell you that their grandma makes the best borscht. Some cook it with beans, some without (I’m in the “without” camp). You can use any kind of meat you like, or go meatless. I don’t really use a recipe anymore when I make borscht, but this recipe was my starting point back in the day. Do give it a go and see what all the fuss is about! Borscht Recipe
  2. Green Borscht. My kids like green borscht better than the traditional red. Green borscht is called “green” because it lacks the red beets but instead is packed with sorrel, a sour green that gives it amazing flavor. It’s also topped with boiled eggs which I was leery of at first, but quickly grew to love. So so yummy! Green Borscht Recipe
  3. Solyanka. This is my all-time most fave soup ever! There’s this little restaurant on the road from our village to Lviv in Western Ukraine that has the best solyanka you’ll ever eat in your life. I was happy to see on our way home from Germany that that little restaurant was still alive and kicking. Solyanka has dill pickles in it, but don’t let that scare you. It’s amazeballs. TRY IT. I highly modify this recipe, but it’s a good starting point. It calls for a lot of different meat, but we use just chicken and salami. Also- don’t skip the olives, lemons, and sour cream at the end. (Any kind of olives will do. You don’t need the special ones called for in the recipe) Here ya go: Solyanka Recipe, Solyanka Recipe in Ukrainian (This recipe is closer to how I make it- but with potatoes. If you can Google translate it, then go for it!)

Non-Soup Savory Dishes

  1. Banosh. My kids literally jump for joy when I make banosh. And it’s so easy!! Banosh is a famous Ukrainian dish from the Hutsul people of the Carpathian Mountains. When we all go to the mountains together with our team and the boys we definitely make it a priority to have lots of banosh. It’s a dish that holds a lot of special memories for all of us. Now, the recipe I’m attaching is a good base of banosh with bryndza (salty sheep cheese), but banosh is just meh if you don’t add other toppings. We like to add carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, bacon crumbles, and a fried egg to the top of our banosh, along with the bryndza. If you can’t find bryndza you can replace it with feta cheese for a similar salty taste. Banosh Recipe
  2. Olivye. This Ukrainian version of a potato salad is straight-up party food. Every holiday, birthday party, and special event is bound to have a big bowl of Olivye and I am there for it. There’s just something super yummy and satisfying about it. You must give it a go. It’s super important to chop everything small and into similar-sized pieces. The uniformity of all the little chunks with the mayo makes this salad something special. No big chunks allowed! So what if today’s not a holiday? Any day is a good day for Olivye. Olivye Recipe
  3. Grechka. If you’re planning to visit Ukraine anytime soon (you’re probably not, but…πŸ˜‚) then you’re going to have to learn to like buckwheat (“grechka”). I’ve noticed that it’s an acquired taste for most Westerners, but I can testify that you really can learn to like it. When we first moved here I was not a fan, but over the years grechka has become a comfort food of sorts. Our kids eat it at school for lunch at least twice a week and all of our boys love it. Enjoy this basic recipe for grechka with mushrooms. The recipe calls for dried mushrooms, but I usually use fresh, as that’s what I have on hand. PS: Despite having “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is actually a gluten-free food. Grechka Recipe

English Recipe Resources. These sites were my go-to websites when we first moved to Ukraine and I realized trying to cook “American” wouldn’t cut it here, but I couldn’t read nor understand recipes in Ukrainian. I learned the basics of Ukrainian cooking from these sites before I had friends to tell me what was up. They all have categories for “Russian and Ukrainian food”. Ukraine and Russia have many, many differences (as Russia is currently showing the world) but when it comes to cooking they share many of the same recipes and flavors. I hope you will try some recipes for yourself!

  1. Natasha’s Kitchen
  2. Olga’s Flavor Factory
  3. Valentina’s Corner
  4. Momsdish

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Five Things That Are Bringing Me Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s bringing you joy these days?

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What’s Bringing Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As Promised, Resources for Reevaluating Tech Use :)

Friday, Friday, Friday is my favorite day…

Did anyone else sing that song as a kid? I remember back in elementary school when my uncle was my teacher for a few years. He was my most favorite teacher EVER, and I remember him singing that song. πŸ™‚ Now I sing it to my kids, and time moves on…way too fast.

Earlier in the week I shared our decision to move off of social media. We’ve gotten a lot of different responses, which was to be expected. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with the decision, but ultimately it’s up to us to do what we feel is right for Wide Awake. I really want to thank you for trusting us in this decision. It wasn’t an easy one!

I want to make it super clear that I am 100% not saying that everyone has to agree with us. And I am 100% not saying that if you stay on social media I’m judging you and we can’t be friends. You know us! We aren’t like that. I’m okay with agreeing to disagree, and I’m okay with your perspective being different from mine. No worries, and no judgement from our end. Okay?

Many of you asked me to share resources that I have been learning from over the past year or so that helped lead us to this decision. So, here you go! I hope you find them as helpful and inspiring as I have. I’m not claiming to be any kind of expert. I have so much more to learn and think over. I’m open-minded and don’t claim to have the market on correct opinions. If you read, listen to, or watch any of these recommendations do let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For Everyone. These resources have helped me examine my own relationship with digital technology and social media. There is more to this life than the world inside our phones. Social media is one place, but it is not the only place to find information and connect with people. I highly recommend these resources if you would like to learn more.

Books

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (This is a book that I will need to read again and again. Not to be dramatic, but i kinda changed my life. Ha!) https://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Right Now by Jaron Lanier (This one sounds super extreme and fanatical, but it’s actually really informative. The author is not just ranting. He presents facts about how social media works and how it is changing us and our society.) http://www.jaronlanier.com/tenarguments.html

Film

The Social Dilemma on Netflix (This is WOAH.) https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_social_dilemma

Podcasts

An interview about digital minimalism: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/122-digital-minimalism-with-cal-newport/id1054817076?i=1000429472069

An interview about the science and dangers of social media: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/jaron-lanier-why-you-should-unplug-from-social-media/id1344999619?i=1000429216123

My favorite podcast on these topics: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-collin-kartchner-podcast/id1513817377

For Parents. As a mom of many, I find myself more and more concerned with the culture of screens and kids that I see around me these days. My heart breaks to see toddlers playing on iPhones and 5th graders on social media. I just can’t. I know we are all still figuring out how to parent in the smart phone world, and we have all made mistakes or done things we regret. I highly recommend these resources for parents, or anyone who someday hopes to be a parent. You can’t unlearn this information, so proceed with caution- but please do proceed! It’s never too late to make changes in your home. Our kids need us to be awake and alert when it comes to tech use. This is an area of parenting we don’t get to ignore.

Books

Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria Dunckley, MD (This book discusses the risks and dangers of exposing our kids to a lot of screens, and has many practical tips on how to make changes in your home.) https://drdunckley.com/reset-your-childs-brain

Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras (I think the title says it all…hehe) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27883215-glow-kids

Film

Childhood 2.0 (I have not watched this, but it has been recommended by many reputable sources. I plan to watch it this weekend. I wanted to make sure to let you know about it in case you wanted to give it a go.)

Podcasts

The Collin Kartcher Podcast (He has so many good episodes. This is a podcast not to be missed. I’ll link below to a couple good ones to start with.) https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-collin-kartchner-podcast/id1513817377

In this episode the host explains why his 14 year old daughter doesn’t have a smart phone: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/collin-kartchner-podcast-7-reasons-why-my-14yr-old/id1513817377?i=1000476047501

This is a great episode about the benefits of reducing your kids’ screen time and tips for how to do it: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/collin-kartchner-podcast-how-to-screen-detox-your-kids/id1513817377?i=1000488763813

Last but most definitely not least…

For the heart. I can read all the books and listen to all the podcasts and watch all the documentaries, but this decision was ultimately made because of what God has been speaking our hearts. We can do this work on our own terms and work completely off of our own ideas and what makes sense to us, and I’m sure we could create something nice. We can do all the newest, greatest therapies and build our online “platform” and “audience” and take the best photos, and that would be fine. It might even be really cool. But, we can’t ignore this whisper from the Holy Spirit to do things differently. We can’t ignore this invitation from the Father to do things his way. God has promised us that if we would follow him, one YES at a time, that he would create something really special here. Maybe whatever we could create here on our own could be good, but we believe that God wants to do something better. We don’t know the concrete differences between his ways and our ways, but we aren’t willing to miss out. We don’t want to do what everyone says we “should” do. We want to say YES to God.

If you would like to learn more about our hearts behind this, I recommend the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2520.In_the_Name_of_Jesus

Nouwen was a very well-known author and professor when he left his career to become a priest in a community for people with disabilities. This book is his reflections on christian leadership after making the move. In it he discusses the temptation to be relevant, the temptation to be popular, and the temptation to be powerful. Those three temptations are what kept us from leaving social media a year ago when we first felt we were supposed to. Yikes. It’s a short read and a wonderful treasure of a book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As always, if you have any questions you can contact us any time. We are excited and a little nervous about this new way of communicating. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how it all pans out! Thanks for joining us on the ride. πŸ™‚

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Why Quit Social Media?

Oof. This is a doozy to write. Ha! But, I just have to be me and be real and honest with you, just as I’ve attempted to be all along this journey. There’s no point in trying to be someone or something I’m not. I just don’t have it in me. πŸ˜‰

A couple years ago I started really disliking how attached I had become to social media. I didn’t like the comparison game I allowed it to incite in me. I didn’t like the time I wasted on it. I didn’t like the demands it made of me to give “all or nothing”. If you want to do well at running social media for a nonprofit you can’t just “kind of” do it. Because of the all-powerful algorithm, you are bound to posting very frequently, or your posts go on the wayside, missed by most people and buried under the next political debate.

I bemoaned the need for social media and wanted to quit, just for my own mental health, but felt I had no option to opt out because of Wide Awake. We HAD to be on social media or we would become obsolete. That’s what I told myself. So, we stayed, even though I often didn’t feel good about it.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been deep-diving into all aspects of tech and how we, as a family, interact with technology (By tech, I mean screens and devices. We’re still okay with washing machines and lightbulbs). Tomorrow we’re concluding a 30 day screen detox as a family and it has been really cool. During our detox Jed and I used screens for our work, but as a family we did zero screen time. We said no to tv, movies, video games, and browsing online. But we said YES to playing tons of games, yes to evening conversations on the couch, yes to just being together and yes to fighting boredom with things besides screens.

During the detox I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on the impact of screens and social media on our society today. I’m a mom of teens, so I don’t get to turn a blind eye to these things. I need to know what is happening online and I need to be savvy about it. I went into the education aspect of it with a desire for a game plan for how our family would move forward at the month’s end, but I came out with so much more.

Like I said yesterday, social media can be great. Some of our boys’ lives have literally been saved because of the reach of social media. Wide Awake has been on social media since our beginning, and we have experienced great friendship and wonderful blessing from people we have met via social media.

But, Friends, there is so much wrong with social media. So so much. Sex trafficking and pornography and hate and incitement of fear is right at our fingertips. If we at Wide Awake value every human life, and if we believe in bringing dignity and hope, how can we rely on social media to relay our message? Social media can be great for some, but honestly, it greatly benefits a very few and brings great harm to many.

When I started to feel that gut feeling, that prodding from the Holy Spirit that we needed to change course and share our message in a different way, it scared the heckouttame.

A glimpse of my stream of consciousness: I mean, isn’t that like non-profit suicide??? How can you even have a successful non-profit if you aren’t on social media??? People will think we’re some kind of fanatical crazy people. People might think we’re lazy. No one reads emails anymore. People will forget about us. People will forget about us. People will forget.

I’m still battling many of those thoughts as I sit here writing to you. A big part of me is so afraid of what this will mean for Wide Awake- BUT I know that I know that this is what God is asking of us. He is asking us to do things HIS way and not our own way. He is asking us to redefine success. He is asking us to rely on Him for our provision- and not Instagram and Facebook. He is asking us to trust Him to bring us the helpers we need. He is asking us to allow Him to be our provider, our friend, our source, our encouragement, our reason. He wants to be all those things and when He follows through on His promises He will get all the glory. It won’t be because I posted at 1:00pm Monday through Friday. It won’t be because a post had a beautiful photo or a high engagement. It will be because this is God’s work and He is for it. He is FOR US and He will complete His work here in Ukraine with or without social media.

So, we are choosing to trust, even when it may seem ludicrous to some. It’s okay if you don’t understand. We can still be friends. (Just not FB friends…hehe πŸ˜‰

The work will continue here and we will continue to faithfully share the joys and the pains- just in other ways. I hope you will join us because it’s gonna be AWESOME.

PS: I was thinking of doing a post with resources I learned from on this journey. Would you be interested in me sharing those in a future post?

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Gettin’ Back in the Habit

Hi Friends!

Summer in the USA came and went and it was a big one. I gave myself permission not to blog because I just wanted to soak up all the precious moments with family and friends and not feel like I had to write about it. Thanks for your understanding!

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But now we’re back, and I need to get back into the writing habit. I even made myself a Wide Awake “Editorial Calendar” for all the Wide Awake social media. Now just to stick to it… I really do want you all to be informed and aware of what’s going on in these parts, so let’s see how I do!

By the way, if you want to find Wide Awake in other places we are on:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wide_awake_international/  and

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeartsWideAwake/

Summer was so great. We had a wonderful time in Oregon with family and friends. It was super fun to introduce our little Evie to everyone, and to just BE with so many people we love. Vladik had his surgery on his feet and it went just as the surgeon hoped it would go. We still don’t really know how helpful it was because Vlad is still recovering, but we are hopeful that in the long run, as he grow, it will help him to have less pain in his feet. He was in a wheelchair for 6 weeks, then in walking boots for 2 weeks, but now he’s up and at ’em again. I don’t think he’s running yet, but he’s walking just fine! He’s a trooper.

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The highlights of everyone’s summer had to be time with family. Jed’s family came from Montana and met us at the Oregon coast for a few days and it was soooooo nice to all be together. The weather cooperated, which was a miracle, and we got to spend a lot of time down on the beach. Yay!

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Then my parents took all of us and my brothers and their families to Disneyland, and it was, of course, magical! I LOVE DISNEYLAND, FYI. We happened to be there for Vladik’s 18th birthday and my brother arranged for him to meet Lightning McQueen. Oh.my.word. It was such a wonderful memory!! We just had the best time. It was perfection.

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Some of our most generous friends let us stay with them all summer and that was a great experience. They have 4 kids, we have 6…no big deal. Ha! It actually worked out better than any of us imagined. Everyone got along, the kids had tons of built-in playmates all summer, and when we left we all still loved each other- so I call that success!

We launched back into life here in Ukraine a couple weeks ago and it feels like the summer was a dream…like we never actually left!  Boris did well while we were gone and Kenny and Romana did a fantastic job with him. We picked back up with him right where we left off. Boris doesn’t love transition (wink wink), but he’s doing okay, all things considered. He has his great moments and his rough moments. Don’t we all? πŸ™‚

The kids start back to school on Monday, so this week is all about prepping for that and getting summer loose ends all tied up. Then we turn our eyes toward bringing Anton and Ruslan into our family. Jed already has guardianship of them; the documents are all completed. We just thought it was wisdom to get settled and get the kids in school again before bringing Anton and Ruslan home. That is going to be a HUGE transition for all of us. (I feel like I’m always saying that, by the way)

So that’s where things stand at the moment.

We had an awesome summer. We got our love tanks filled up and we’re ready to venture into a new season as a family of ELEVEN! Jesus take the wheel… πŸ™‚

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What’s Making Me Smile

I have about 3,462 things I could write about today, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by that thought. I could write about the plans for this summer (it’s gonna be a doozy), or the progress on the Homestead (also a doozy), or about Sara our wonderful massage therapist friend who is visiting (I won’t call her a doozy ’cause that just seems weird…), or about the fact that school is almost out (now thatΒ has been a doozy). But instead I decided to write about what is making me smile right now. Because I want to. The doozies can wait.

(“Doozy” is a really strange word when you really think about it)

THINGS THAT ARE MAKING ME SMILE:

Podcasts. Β Everyone who has talked to me in the past several months has probably discovered my love/addiction to podcasts. I feel like I’m constantly trying to share my podcast recommendations with friends because I so want them to learn to love podcasts like I do. I love a good podcast!Β I download them and listen while I walk the dog, while I’m on the bus, while I’m walking to wherever I’m walking (if I’m kidless), while I wash the dishes, while I clean the house. I felt kinda burned out on the music I’d been listening to so I started podcasting. Now I can’t stop! Here are a few of my favorites if you want to join me in the podcast love.

  1. The Daily Audio Bible. We’re still going strong on our daily Bible reading with good ol’ Brian. We listen to the Old Testament during breakfast, and the New Testament in the evening after dinner. I love the rhythm it brings to our life right now in all the crazy.
  2. This American Life. They have interesting stories every week that grab my attention. Sometimes I learn new stuff and sometimes I’m just entertained.
  3. God Centered Mom Podcast. This one is encouraging and informative. It helps me be a more intentional mom.
  4. Two Fat Expats. LOVE IT. Two Australian women host this podcast about the expat life. They talk about all sorts of things from boarding school to keeping long distance friendships alive to social media and the expat child…tons of interesting and applicable info for expats of any sort. Plus they make me laugh. πŸ™‚
  5. The Popcast With Knox and Jamie. This one is just purely for the laughs. I laugh out loud every single episode, which can make things kind of awkward if I’m listening on the bus! Knox and Jamie talk about random pop culture stuff and it’s just stinking’ funny. Their episode about misheard song lyrics is the ultimate. I think I love this podcast because it’s just a little taste of America when I’m so far away. FUNNY.

There are many more I listen to that I could add to that list, but those are the ones that are making me smile right now.

Sara. Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to write about Sara, but I just have to. Sara makes our whole family smile countless times every day. She is just full of joy and life and spirit and God did an amazing thing when he joined our hearts together.

If you don’t remember Sara you can read about her in this post. She came here two years ago, never having met us before, and spent a few weeks teaching massage at Romaniv. The work she did was beautiful and incredibly meaningful to the boys and they had been consistently asking for her since she left. We are so happy she’s back for the whole month of May! She is working at Romaniv Monday through Friday, and when she’s not at the institution she is loving our family and making us laugh non-stop.

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In the mornings at Romaniv Sara teaches the interns specific massage techniques for the individual boys on each of their caseloads, and then she spends the afternoons massaging the older boys. It’s not just physical work that she does, although that is important and super healthy for the boys, it’s also spiritual work. Before the massage and during the massage Sara is praying over the boys. There is peaceful music playing and lovely essential oils. The Sensory Room becomes an oasis of peace for each boy who enters. During their massage, they get attention, love, and dignity. They are told in that time that they are special, that they are beautiful, that they matter. It’s an important work that I believe is truly life-changing for the boys.

Thank you, dear Sara. We love you!

The New Floors at the Homestead. I LOVE how the house is turning out! The downstairs floors were finished last week and they are bringing me loads of joy. They are beautiful and they brighten up the room. I absolutely adore how the house is coming along. Yay! We might be able to move in at the beginning of June. Now that’sΒ something to smile about!

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Dance Class. Oh, my word. Romaniv Dance Class makes me smile from ear to ear. I wish with all of my heart that you could each come visit our class. You would leave changed forever.

A couple of months ago one of our team members, Olya, Addy and I started doing a Friday afternoon dance class with the higher-functioning boys at the institution. They love it and we love it equally as much- maybe even a little more! We gather in the sports room with our music and water bottles and white t-shirts and socks and dance our hearts out. There’s this one part of the class when we all sit down and each boy takes a turn dancing solo in front of all of us. You guys, it is the best thing EVER.Β I seriously want to bottle up those moments and treasure them for the rest of my life because they are just so darn precious! Β To see the boys so free and alive, it’s just incredible. We conga line till we’re exhausted and it’s the highlight of my week.

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Honestly, there is a lot that is hard about our lives and work here in Ukraine right now. Sometimes Jed and I look at each other and we wonder out loud if we are going to spend the rest of our lives fighting, or if there will ever be a time when we can just rest. We get weary of fighting for the boys, fighting injustice, fighting broken systems that are designed to beat people down, fighting corruption, fighting heaviness in the culture, fighting to do things that have never been done before. Fighting and fighting and fighting. It’s wearisome, folks. But then we have to choose to lift our eyes up and see all the joy. Β There is also a ton that is going right. There is evidence all over the place that God has his mighty hand on this work and that He is going before us. And of course, there’s no question that the boys are worth fighting for! But we have to choose to see those things that are right and good. Today I choose joy. I choose to look around me at all the things- big and small- that God has given that make me smile. So.many.things.

So, Happy Wednesday! Β What is making you smile today?

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On Contrasts and Soul-Feeding

Tuesday was a day of HUGE contrast.

 

We spent the morning at Romaniv, as usual, and then in the evening we had our second Youth Night. This night was for our second group of graduates from Mission to Ukraine (MTU). As MTU focuses more on providing therapy for children, we are taking on the adults who have aged out of their services. There are about 40 graduates all together and we have them broken up in to two different groups, according to developmental level and interest level. The purpose of the Youth Nights is to provide a social opportunity for these young men and women, and for their moms. These guys and gals have grown up together at MTU, and this group of moms and their children are like extended family for each other. They just need a place and time set aside for them to be loved and valued and treasured for the the beautiful people that they are. They need a place to be with their peers where they are accepted and known.

 

We are more than happy to provide that for them.

 

I can’t even accurately describe to you my love for this group of grown children and their moms. It felt like my birthday and Mother’s Day and Christmas all rolled in to one as I anticipated Tuesday night. Most of these guys we hadn’t seen since camp and we have missed them SO MUCH.

 

It’s like God has planted them so deeply in to my heart that I am just bursting with love for them. I just want to squeeeeeeeeeze them all! And I did! Hahaha

 

As our awesome volunteers arrived to help set up one of them mentioned that there was a big group of people all huddled together down the street a ways, “Do you think that’s them?” He asked. I said I would go check.

 

Oh.My.Word. I ran outside to find a group of like 15 of our youth and their moms all huddled together, in the freezing cold, 20 minutes early, not exactly sure where to go, waiting for everyone to arrive so they could come in together. I ran up to them to invite them inside, and seeing the excitement on their faces was absolutely priceless. SO PRECIOUS!!!!!

 

When God first made an opportunity for me to work with moms at MTU I was hesitant- and not that excited, to be honest. Then at camp He made another opportunity for me to work with moms, and again, I was not that excited (slow learner maybe?). But, He always knows better. Through those times of working with moms I grew to love them deeply. God knew we would be caring for these moms and their kids and He started preparing our hearts for it many months ago. These groups are just as much for the moms as they are for the kids

 

Work with this group is what brings me joy. More than anything else we do here in Ukraine, this group is the most life-giving to me. It feeds my soul- deep, deep down. I love Romaniv. Duh. I adore our Boys there. Duh. But Romaniv is also hard. It is painful. It is joy and sorrow and hugs and pain all at once.

 

This group is just joy. Pure and simple childlike joy.

 

God knew we needed this group just as much as they need us.

 

To go from Romaniv, where the boys are left alone in bed for hours, till we arrive to take them out, to young men and women being lovingly cared for by their mothers is like night and day. To go from Romaniv where Boys are not seen as individually valuable and special, to watching a mother’s eyes light up as she watches her daughter laugh with her friends is like icy cold and cozy warmth. The contrasts between our morning and our evening are too many to count.

 

This group is like a salve on my soul. It reminds me of what is possible with love. It fills me with hope for our Boys. It is like a ginormous bear hug that lasts all evening. It makes my face hurt from smiling so big.

 

Thank you Jesus for this group. Thank you Jesus for knowing what we need. Thank you Jesus for the immense privilge of loving and knowing these families.

 

I’m just so happy. Sigh.

 

 

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Lviv Livin’

Hello Friends!

I can’t believe it was a week ago that we left for Lviv! The week had flown by. We’ve been having a great time exploring and taking in the beauty of the city. Being in Lviv is almost like being in a completely different country. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like we’re still in Ukraine. The center, where we spend most of our time, is like any other old beautiful European city. It’s an awesome place to get away and have fun as a family. We needed this. πŸ™‚

This is the Opera House. Seth wasn’t in a picture mood.

This is a beautiful old palace that was turned into an art gallery. Fancy!

We climbed the tower of City Hall to get a great view of the city. 420 steps!

We’ve been having language lessons for about 3.5 hours per day. Our dear friend, Olya, from Kyiv, has been here with us to care for the kids while we’re at our lessons. She will leave tonight and Jed’s parents will arrive to take over the crowd control. πŸ˜‰ Thank you Olya! We love you to bits!
There’s so much to see in Lviv! There are musicians and dancers and magicians and painters…Ezra loves to watch the street performers. I think he could spend all day in the square. I’m loving all the coffee and ice cream. (No surprise there!)

We found a Tex-Mex restaurant owned by an American. So yummy!!! You definitely won’t find that in Zhytomyr!

The best sight for me in Lviv: cool handicap accessibility assistance buttons!

I love this so much. Not only is it helpful, it’s cool. Superheroes.

Our language lessons have been good so far. It’s amazing to be in Lviv where basically everyone is speaking Ukrainian. In Zhytomyr people speak Ukrainian and Russian…and usually a mix of the two. That mixing of languages can make you feel like you aren’t learning a darn thing. BUT, being here in Lviv has been a great encouragement to us. We understand so much. We really are learning!!!! Hooray! I have more thoughts on language learning that I’ll share in a different post. We’ve made some big decisions about our language learning that will be painful, but necessary. It’s all good! It’s all growth!
We’ll be here for a couple more weeks, so I’ll share more with you later about language and such.
Bye, All!

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