Saturday, November 26, 2016

Handel's Messiah Advent

Advent is starting! I alternate Advent focuses, and this year is a New Testament year for us. Since we're all getting to be so grown up, we're going to be listening to Handel's Messiah. One of the best elements of Advent for us has been artistic responses to what we're thinking of. Last year we did clay ornaments, and that was wonderful, but really, I think they've loved more when they just had journals or even coloring pages. So, we're going to go through this book, which I got for free at some point, but haven't read yet. (There's a sale price again right now, by the way.) And we'll listen to the music of course. If the book turns out to be too much for everyone, we'll go with Cindy's simple schedule. Then we'll paint or draw or write something on the evenings when we have time. I had wanted to go to the art store and get some supplies this weekend, but everyone except Asya and I are miserable with bad colds, so we haven't gotten out yet.

Also... I hope that we might be able to make a trip to Kyiv to hear the Messiah sung in Ukrainian. Maybe. (Don't mention that to our children.) Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Choir is going to do it, but they didn't know the date yet when I asked. I have found videos of them singing it (in a concert hall that we went to for something else a long time ago!), so we'll be listening to them all month, even if we don't get to hear them in person. Tonight we'll watch this news clip for background, as we get started.

Oh, and as we start into Advent we have to watch this little Catholic video again, too, since they sing "our song."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A week with us in 2016

Last year I wrote a post like this. Interestingly, a lot is the same, but there are some differences this year. Of course, every morning we go through our homeschool routine. Then after lunch Bogdan and whoever is here has quiet time. School goes on into the afternoon most days now. For other classes and activities the destinations and triangle route are still the same.

Mondays are still busy days for Raia. In the afternoon she goes to art school for general composition (drawing/painting) and history of style, and then straight from there to music school for solfeggio. Will walks with her to music school, because it's so dark in the evenings, and then brings her home afterwards. Jaan usually has theater at church in the evening.

Tuesday right after lunch Jaan, Raia, and Asya all have their "specialty," their individual main instrument lesson. When they get home, Asya's friend Sonya comes over to practice English with us. Then at 5:00, I take Sonya home, drop Bogdan off at art school for general composition (drawing) and craft class. Usually Will and I take the time that Bogdan is in those classes to go out together.

On Wednesdays Asya has general composition and another art class. That's all. Sometimes Jaan has theater, too.

Thursdays Jaan has piano. Raia has balalaika and piano and then goes straight to the art school for composition and Bible illustration. Asya joins her for the latter. When that class ends Bogdan has his preschool rotation, so I drop him off and get the girls. He has rhythm, speech development, English, and music. Will brings him home when that's done.

This year I am going to the orphanage on Fridays. Sometimes Jaan or Raia goes with me. At home Will supervises the schoolwork that I leave for everyone else. When they're done with that Asya has recorder and music school choir; she goes to those by herself. Raia has music literature, and then she sits with a book and a snack until Jaan comes for the ensemble practice that they're both in.

Saturdays... I get to move slowly in the morning. Ahhh. Asya goes to art school first for Bible, then cooking, then "lepka." Raia goes next for DPI (decorative art) and Bible. They come home together. Jaan has solfeggio and music literature. In the evening Bogdan has "lepka" and preschool.

Our English fellowship time has switched to Sundays this year, so every other week includes that now. We still try to keep Sundays simple, though. In the mornings we go to church, the girls stay for church choir practice while the rest of us go home, and then either we have our old traditional popcorn and movie evening, or we go for that time with our friends.

Our schedule is busy, but it works well. For me the main thing is that I can stay home most of the time and coordinate all the comings and goings from here. Bogdan is the only who has to be taken back and forth for his classes, and I often have help with that. If I had to be doing all the running around, it would be too much.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

On to Kyiv

As I said, from Zhitomir we headed back to Kyiv. We went to dinner with a friend of Alys', and then spend the night in the orphanage where he works. Again, there was lots of great conversation over dinner.

First thing the next morning we went to Rodyna. Here is Alys' post about that. The main thing I can say is just wow. I was in awe the whole time and actually fought tears at times because what they have there is so beautiful and so different from what we usually see. The kids have the same kinds of disabilities that we see in Tsyurupinsk, but they also have families and a very rich, loving environment to grow in. Every one of those families has both mother and father; that was one of the things that floored me the most. I'm not sure I've met a family in Ukraine where a child was born with a disability, and the family was able to stay together. Rodyna means family, they are committed to support those families, and it is working!

And then there was the atmosphere there. It was calm, happy, peaceful even when someone might be screaming or not cooperating. When we walked in, they hadn't started their day yet. One of the kids was perched way up on top of the treadmill. A teacher checked to be sure that he was safe and okay, and then just left him happily sitting there until it was time to start. Once the greeting time started, another little guy started to fall apart, so he was calmly told to go bounce in the "relax room" and come back when he was ready. Learning, moving, exploring, growing.... It was all so different from where bodies are just kept alive. These kids are thriving!

Something they mentioned that I hadn't thought about before is how "the system" here knows what to do with kids who don't see, or don't hear, or maybe even who have classic autism. However when someone has complex diagnoses, they're stuck. And what we see so often is that they get warehoused in an orphanage, and whatever they started off with is compounded by institutionalization. Rodyna gives a beautiful alternative to that last bit.

One thing Alys said was that she would like anyone who works in her homes to observe a day there and a day in Tsyurupinsk. That pretty much sums it all up.

After we were officially done there, we had time before the carpenter Alys needed to meet with was available, so we drank tea and talked more. We met some of the moms and other people connected with the center and heard their stories.

Then the carpenter picked us up, and we sat in his van and talked about building details and documents for that for a while. He dropped us off at the metro, and we went to meet someone about windows for the house. That meeting went well, too, I think. After that, Alys' friend kindly brought us our bags from the orphanage, and--utterly exhausted--we got on our train to head home.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Alys has already posted a bit. I think it's fair to say that her brain does pictures, mine does words. She herself says something like that relatively often. I have a few pictures to share too, though.

We left Kherson Monday night and got into Kyiv the next morning. That "supermoon" hadn't been visible the night before, because of all the clouds, but as we got close to Kyiv, I saw it with the sunrise over a snowy landscape: incredible!

In Kyiv we thought we would be meeting with someone about building supplies, so we sat for a while, and Alys sat longer while I explored and enjoyed beautiful weather for walking. When we found out that the person we were supposed to meet with wasn't available, we headed on to Zhitomir. That was a beautiful trip by bus. We arrived at a different place in the city than where the Johnsons were expecting us, but Jed and a van full of kids soon found us and took us back to their house.

View from their guest room
We had dinner with them and talked and talked and talked. It was so good to get to know them some, to hear their story and tell ours. There was lots of back and forth with ideas and advice and experience. The next morning Jed took us out to see the house that they're renovating. (Again: a beautiful drive! I really love winter and snow, and hoarfrost is my extra special treat. All of that was everywhere.)

While we were out in their village, we started talking to one of their helpers who had ridden out with us. She mentioned a story she had heard about identical twins who had grown up in the orphanage system and been separated.... I interrupted her right there: "You mean Sasha and Zhenya?!?!?" Mutual excitement and disbelief all around. I should have known, though. Every time we go to Kairy Sasha begs me to find his brother. I always tell him that it's probably not possible. I didn't even think of it when we were planning this trip, although I did know in the back of my mind that he's in Zhitomir. Anyway, Vika didn't actually know Zhenya, but her sister works with Last Bell Ministries in Zhenya's tech school.

After a round of phone calls, we found out that Last Bell was having a meeting that afternoon, Zhenya would be at it, and we were welcome to come. So, we went back to the Johnson's, packed up, said goodbye to them, and headed off to the tech school. I was actually impressed with what I saw of the school. Meeting some of the kids and the people from Last Bell was great, too. Then Zhenya came in, and I got to sit and talk just with him for a bit. I didn't actually know him before, but he's definitely Sasha's identical twin brother. I will print out the photos we took and send them on to Sasha now, and I hope to encourage him with Zhenya's words and love passed on the next time we visit Kairy.

Beyond finally meeting the Johnsons and the conversations we got to have there, finding Zhenya was a real highlight of the trip for me. If only I could have brought him back here as Sasha always requests.

Oh, and Vladik! All the Johnson children are delightful, but meeting Vladik was especially fun. He and my little friend Karina have the same syndrome, and he got pretty excited over the photos and videos I had of her. I love the way he talks, too; I may have "дуже yummy fire" associated with scented candles in my mind forever now.

After we said goodbye to Zhenya, we caught a bus back to Kyiv. Travel did go very smoothly, which was something we were praying about. Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

News and photos

We got a new pet! A week ago Tuesday Will and I bought a baby dwarf hamster, and after everyone else was in bed, we put it in the cage which had been standing empty since summer when Slavic the Second died. This new little guy was very vocal, so the kids noticed him first thing the next morning. I thought it might take longer, but he squealed like a pig for his first day or so here, so it was hard to miss him. (They must tell each other in the pet store that they're being sold for meat or something.) He's already quieting down now and growing nice and fat.

Raia had two concerts this week: one on Tuesday at our local music school, one right now in the center of town. Will went with her; I was sorry to miss out, but too tired, and someone had to stay home to handle the other comings and goings here.

Photo from her teacher

Kherson had a good bit of snow while I was away. It's all melted now, but the rest of the family thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed even more cold and snow and winter beauty up north.

We finally got ventilation put in for our bathroom! This house was not built for as many people as live in it now, and the interior walls are clay and straw and whitewash. So, every year as soon as we've closed the windows and turned on the heat, the bathroom walls have "bloomed." Will constantly washed them with bleach, but that only helped very temporarily. Now it's fixed, and while I was gone Will painted and patched up everything. It makes a huge difference.

The girls are very excited because this year the church choir is having all the kids who also study at music school learn a Christmas piece on their instruments. They handed out notes recently. Raia will be playing a duet with a friend, and Asya's learning part of the Ukrainian bell carol. Their first rehearsal will be this afternoon. Raia even got permission to keep her teacher's balalaika after the concert today, so that she can take it to the practice, too.

My trip was great, but I came back very tired and into a very busy Saturday, so I can't really even process it yet. Soon.

Bonus photo: a cute and blurry shot of Bogdan at craft class:

From the art school page

Today Asya's culinary class is putting on a special lunch for their families. I'm looking forward to that and need to go get ready for it....

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Minimum wage

One of the local news sites recently finished a series where their journalist tried to live in Kherson on minimum wage. That's 1450 griven, or $56, a month. If you read Russian, and are interested, here is first page of posts from that series. This is just day 2, with a few photos of what food she could afford.

According to this site, the monthly average wage in Ukraine in general is 4362 griven ($170). In Kherson region--the third poorest--it's 3249 ($127). So, some of the people we know are above the minimum, but there are many who aren't (of course. That's how averages work, eh?) I'm thinking particularly of orphanage graduates, elderly people, single mothers.... many, many people we know have to live like this, and it's just hard. Think of being able to spend the equivalent of about a dollar a day for everything you need, having to worry about and sometimes skip the luxury of bus rides that cost about an American dime, and not ever having anything extra at all.

The journalist found it very hard. (Again I say, of course.) She would have made it, if she hadn't had something happen to her tooth that required a trip to a dentist. Even if we ignore that, she pointed out that she barely survived. She had enough food, but absolutely nothing special. She couldn't buy any clothing, and there was nothing to cover emergencies.

Oh, and then contrast these thoughts with this recent article about the rich people of Ukraine.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Planning a trip

An old photo of us
For quite a while my friend Alys and I have been talking about taking a trip around Ukraine together. She had one ministry she specifically wants to connect with, and I added several more. After talking about this for quite a while, we're finally doing it. We'll be leaving on Saturday evening, and these are some of our plans.

First, The Elisha Foundation: They have just moved to Ukraine, and we're excited to see what they are doing in Chernigov. I really don't know much about them yet. Alys connected with them through someone she knows in the USA.

Second, Wide Awake: These are my friends, although we haven't met in real life yet. I'm very excited to finally meet the Johnsons! We've written back and forth since before they even came to Ukraine. We might get to see the house and property that they're working on, which is a project so much like what Alys is doing, or we might just get to talk and share ideas and experiences. They work with MTU; I don't know if we'll get to see that ministry, too, or not.

Next I really wanted to visit L'Arche in Lviv. I finally called them just now, after trying various mixed-language written messages. (Remember, in Lviv they speak pure Ukrainian.) I talked to three very nice people, but they ended up saying that they're too busy for more guests next week. We could come almost any other time, but not now. So, that leg of the trip is cancelled. I still hope to go at another time.

That might open up another option, though. For Agape Will has been talking to Americans who work with an organisation called Rodyna. This was the first we had heard of them, and I thought it was too late to add a visit with them on this trip, even though they're right there in Kyiv. But maybe it's really not too late?

Please pray for us as we travel. Somehow pulling together plans for this trip has been rather difficult. It would be nice if the actually travel time was easier. Pray that we'll be an encouragement to the people we're visiting and that we will also be encouraged and inspired.


UPDATE: The Chernigov part cancelled out, so we changed our tickets and pushed our departure back a few days. But I did make contact with Rodyna, and we're definitely going to visit them.