Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn in Tsyurupinsk

We had such a beautiful day today! I've been wanting to do a fall family picnic out across the river. I had noticed that the weather forecast showed today as the last day of sunshine before some rain, so I had been planning on going today instead of doing school. Then, when we got up this morning, I was so disappointed: they had changed the forecast. Clouds? I could see them out the windows, too. Boo. But we went anyway. It seemed to be getting darker and darker. By the time we were in the marshrutka, the girls were asking me, "What if it rains?"

Then, we got out, and there was the sun!

See the clouds breaking up?

All of the girls in this family wanted to take a picture, but...
...the boys didn't want to!

With Papa
A frog!
The view from our picnic place

We came back just in time for art and music school for the older ones, and this for the little one:

He was exhausted!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An orphanage day

Most Saturdays I go out to the orphanage for handicapped children across the river from us. Since the beginning of the school year, I've been going alone, because my friend, the one I help there, is in the states. Yesterday, as I rode back, I was thinking that I would like to record what has become a pretty typical Saturday.

Saturday mornings we get up, Will does breakfast, Asya and Raia head out for art school, and a little later Jaan has music school. As they're all getting ready and leaving, I go, too. First I take a bus toward the center of town. I get off and start walking, going through a big market area, and buying cookies and juice along the way. The orphanage is very careful about what they feed the kids, but they trust a particular store there, so that's where we buy. (And it's a super yummy sweets store!)

After the walk and making my purchases--now my backpack is heavy--I come out to the big road and get on a long distance bus. That takes me out over the river (beautiful!) and into the next town. I get off and start walking again. It's not far to the orphanage.

First thing there, I have to find the nurse. She checks the snack I brought, gives me the key for the classroom, and tells me if I can combine groups of kids or not. No quarantines yesterday, so I went down to get the boys ready. They get so excited! Lots of happy screaming and hugs for me and sweetness as they help each other get their shoes on and wheelchairs ready. I can usually take four or five of them up to the girls' classroom for something like a Sunday school lesson.

When we get up to the girls, there's more screaming and hugs and excitement. I always have to tell T. to hug me gently, because she forgets and hurts me, but she's learning. Little D. has latched on to a certain silly song that we've been doing; she greeted me doing the motions for it, so I knew she wanted to sing.

The classroom is small for that many wheelchairs, but we fit them in like a jigsaw puzzle. I think I had eight girls, with the four boys? Yesterday I started with some little coordination exercises that caused lots of giggling. Then I got out the book that my friend had translated for these kids. This was our third time reading from it, and they finally seemed to be catching on to the idea of listening to a story. From the beginning only V. had really seemed interested; she dives out of her wheelchair and scoots up to where she can put her chin on my knee and catch every word. We finished the first chapter, and I explained what that means. Now that they know a chapter is just a part of a book, they're excited to hear what happens next. (There is a school there, but the kids in these two groups that we work with are not allowed to go to the school. Most of them can't read and write, although some of them would be perfectly capable of learning, at least to some extent.)

Then songs! Music is not my thing at all, but I've started bringing an MP3 player with a little speaker, and they love it. We "make a (very) joyful noise." After singing every song that I have at least a few times we moved to the tables for a craft.

I wasn't sure at all about how this craft would work, but they did a great job. We made a tree from beads and wire (something like this. I'll come back and add a picture next week, because they want to send one to their friend in America. I just didn't have the camera with me yesterday.) Many of them have difficulties with coordination, but they really focused on getting those tiny glass beads on to their wires, and no one got frustrated. Each child made a branch or two, and then we twisted them together into a tree.

By the time we were done with the craft, it was lunch time, so we did hugs and goodbyes, got everyone back to their places, cleaned up, and I left.

I really want to get into a good routine of feeding one of the bed-bound little ones lunch and then playing some one-on-one after my time with the older ones, but I didn't do that yesterday. Before I could take them for walks outside. Now I need to transition into time in the therapy room instead. Yesterday, I was too tired and hungry myself, and the people I need to talk to about the little ones weren't around. Hopefully next week....

Edited to add: here's the tree they made:

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Another babushka

I know I've mentioned our landlady some. She spent the summer here with us, bustling around, fixing everything up, sorting things, and just generally working hard. She kept telling us that she was getting everything in order so that she could die here. Then she went back to Italy... and she died there.

This is the only photo I have of her, a stealth picture from when Bogdan and Asya were watching her doing brickwork:

Maybe this is strange, but I really enjoyed watching our neighborhood community come together to remember her. On the day of the funeral in Italy there was a big meal here. What was definitely a little strange was how much everyone wanted to do everything right--following all the traditions--but no one really knew exactly what that meant. It was our first time at a completely secular funeral, so we certianly didn't know what to do either. Still, it was good to sit there with our neighbors and other guests and get to know them a little better, while remembering Babushka Valya.

Actually, this summer was a little bit difficult. I won't say anything bad about Babushka Valya now, but apparently she had changed a lot, and with her confusion and bad health, it wasn't easy. But, since she's been gone, I've been remembering what a very funny person she was. Her stories about life in Italy, especially when she kept forgetting that we don't speak Italian, were hilarious. The amount of work she got done here and her care and concern for her children and grandchildren was remarkable.

Several people asked what this means for us, in the context of renting this house that I love. We don't really know. I thought her daughter owned the house officially, but that's questionable. Probably in the winter one of the daughters will come from Italy, and then we'll find out. Probably they'll just do whatever paperwork needs to be done, and we can continue renting. At least that's what we hope for.

Crocus that she planted this summer

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A strange anniversary

Did you see this over on the side?

As of today, we have lived in Ukraine as long as we got to live in Russia. There are definitely lots of emotions attached to that little statement, but I'm not going to write them out. Just recently, I was digging (digitally) and came across photos from our last days in Russia. They still make me teary. I'll share a few of those here:

Random photos from early 2008

They were so little!
That winter was the prettiest ever.
Papa and Asya
Church service for our last Christmas there
In the midst of packing
At the church goodbye tea
That's Raia in the middle

Okay, enough nostalgia. Here's a disorganized photo of all our children, happy in Kherson in 2014:

Quick, current family news: Will got back last night from his time in the states. In a few hours we're headed off to an overnight in Odessa to renew some passports.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Last time we saw Grandma Blackwell, in 2012
Will's sweet little Grandma went to be with Jesus this week. We will miss her, but we know that she's much happier now. I was trying to think of how to save for posterity her long obituary that relatives shared online. In the “old days” we would have clipped it out of the newspaper. Now I'll just paste it here, to remember later:

June Ferguson Hunsucker Blackwell
June, 89, was born in Charlotte, NC on June 10, 1925. She was the third child and second daughter of Floyd Mack and Grace Wright Ferguson. She graduated from Central High School in 1943 and went to work for Barnhardt Mfg. Co., rising to the position of secretary to the president. She resigned in 1952 when her first son, Bernie, was born to stay home and raise her boys. It was at Barnhardt’s that she met the love of her life, Wilburn (Willie) Hunsucker, and they were married in 1947. It was a short ten years later in 1958 that Willie died of cancer. June was 32, Bernie was five and Larry was almost two. She remained a widow for the next 12 years until she married Tom Blackwell in 1970. They enjoyed 38 years until Tom’s death in 2008.
June was a serious and devout believer in Jesus Christ and a lifelong student of the Bible. She served in numerous capacities in several churches and other ministries from her teen years until Alzheimer’s prevented her from continuing. At various times she led Child Evangelism Fellowship Backyard Bible Clubs, weekly classes in several housing projects with Children’s Bible Hour, children’s church for 200 kids, and had the tract ministry at the Ladies Bible Class at the S&W Cafeteria at Park Road Shopping Center. All of this while raising her boys.
June’s true calling and most significant work was her own Tel-Evangelism ministry which began in 1972 and tapered off about 2010. T.E. was a perfect fit for her. She had always had a passion for personal evangelism, i.e., telling people the good news of the Bible’s message about everlasting life. She knewfrom thousands of personal conversations with children and adults that though many knew of Jesus’ life and even His death and resurrection, they didn’t know that He offers everlasting life as an absolutely free gift, received by faith alone in Jesus apart from good works or anything at all one could do.
She carefully explained to many thousands, one phone conversation at a time, that the only requirement for obtaining everlasting life is to believe in Jesus for it. It was her greatest joy to see many trust in Christ alone for His free gift (John 3:16; 4:10, 14; 6:47; Ephesians 2:8, 9). For 35 years she was typically at the phone from 2-10PM, seven days a week. Though others helped finance her ministry, she and Tom funded the bulk of it themselves.
June was preceded in death by her siblings: Nettie Hurd, Billy Ferguson, Ruth Surratt, Floyd Ferguson and Dot Rorie.
She is survived by her sons and their wives, Bernie and Julie Hunsucker, and Larry and Liz Hunsucker; step-daughter Mary Coley; grandchildren Will, Anna, Abby, Christy, Chris, David, Lindsey, Susie, Mary and Billy; 16 great-grandchildren, numerous nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews; sisters-in-law Ann Ferguson and Frances Ferguson; and brother-in-law Jimmy Surratt.
June’s family is especially grateful to LaDonna Yoza for her loving and compassionate care for her. 
 Tomorrow Will is heading out to be with his family for a week....

The time before, in 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


It's been 11 years since this wonderful person was born:

Happy birthday, Jaan!

It has also been 13 years since we left America.

And we have been in Kherson for a little over one year now.

Monday, September 01, 2014

School 2014-15

We had a great first day of school today! Will already shared some photos on Facebook. I'll probably post more here another day.

I just went back and looked at last year's post like this. We did pretty well with my goals: we met some, we didn't meet others. To recap:
  • Formal nature study--Not really. Nature notebooks didn't happen too often. But we did read nature books consistently during Morning School. (We've never had trouble with the actual outside time or observation; it's the recording that gets us!)
  • Morning School--Yes! I would say that was the highlight of the school year for all involved.
  • Handwriting--Yes. We were very faithful with it, and both Jaan and Raia made good progress. Even better, they now have a habit of writing a little every day.
  • English narrations--Yes. We're almost to my original goal of narrating English readings in English and Russian in Russian. It's easy to slip on this, though. If they're tired (or if I'm tired), it's still all Russian.
  • Individual work--Yes. They're doing well with this. Check lists helped, especially for Raia. For Jaan, just getting into a routine was enough; he doesn't necessarily work off a list.
Jaan and Raia finished AO's Years 3 and 1. It took us two years to get through them. Now we'll be moving into Year 4, Year 2, and Year 1 for Asya.

We are going to pick up outside involvement a little this year. In order to home school, it's very important for me to stay home, but we're going to add in more away from home than we have before. Jaan will continue with music, Raia will start music, both girls will take take art classes, and there might even be something for Bogdan, too. Almost all of that still lets me stay home, though. Everyone except Bogdan can go to their own classes by themselves. We'll see how it works out. Will this be too much busyness, or a good balance?

I'm going to try restructuring our mornings a little, too. I want to take an hour first thing, while Will is still home, to do 20 minutes individually with each scholar of mine. Then we'll have our Morning School together time. And then we'll continue on with everything else that still needs to be done.

And for new goals:
  • Recording nature study--I bought spiral bound sketchbooks and scheduled in a time. All that's left is to actually do it....
  • Reading--Asya in Russian, Raia fluently in English, Jaan happily in English. (Jaan already reads pretty fluently in English, but he doesn't enjoy it.) I don't think we need to do anything special here. Just keep moving forward.
  • "Enrichment" or whatever you want to call it--In the past year we have not kept up with art, music, and poetry. We need to get back on that train. Mainly, I have to have everything ready in advance, or it falls by the wayside.
  • Move along--As much as possible, this year I would like to get an AO week done each week.