Category Archives: Everyday Life


Saturdays have been my favorite day of the week this July. We’ve developed a routine. Where we live in the Midwest, we are surrounded by country. Gorgeous, wide-open spaces. If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that while I’m a hesitant Pennsylvanian-turned-Midwesterner, I adore wide open spaces.

On one of our first Saturdays here, we wondered what we should do with all of this free time. Monday-Friday, the kids go to the pool with my mom in the afternoon while I work. Saturday seemed like a long day without plans.

I suggested the mini-golf place about 25 minutes away. We’d give it a try. We brought a picnic along, and stopped at a park to play and eat first.

Before we could get to the mini-golf place, we saw signs for the steam train, so we had to go and check that out. Loud, messy, but interesting.

Then, mini-golf. Oh dear. With Gus? Just no.

18 holes turned out to be a terribly long game with kids who didn’t really have the patience for it. Plus, 6 people playing mini golf is too many. I don’t think we’ll attempt this again anytime soon.

We finished up mini-golf with ice cream, because we all needed a little pick-me-up after that.


This place does soft-serve in 24 flavors. I got mint chocolate chip with chocolate sprinkles. Yes, please.

The last thing that we wanted to do was stop and pick up some produce from the country stands. In this area, there are a ton of Mennonites who have produce stands Monday-Saturday.

This was one of our favorites. We sampled corn from all of the stands and theirs is the best.

So this became our Saturday routine. Ice cream and “Mennonite Land”, as I called it.

One of my dad’s favorites is this goat farm. He gets eggs and goat milk, kefir and cheese here.

A creative chicken coop.

One of my favorites for the aesthetics. Lots of flowers… and their whoopie pies were delicious too.

Unfortunately, we said goodbye to all of our favorite stops last week, as today we’re heading further west, to our big family reunion and then home to Kansas.


Until next year.

Summer, Summer

We officially have a new house. Aaron and the dogs are all moved in and the kids and I will be back in a few days to join them. Can’t wait.

At the end of June, we pretty much packed up our whole house with the help of my mom. We filled up this portable storage container with our stuff.

Then, my mom, the kids and I headed off the East Coast, like we usually do the month of July. We watched our house disappear in the rearview mirror.


So, on the East Coast… this month has been busy.  The bubble machine was a big hit.

Reed mastered the pogo stick in an afternoon.


Gus isn’t too interested in riding a bike, despite my attempts to interest him in a balance bike. He enjoys bringing me surprises, including this piece of corn he stored in his pocket.


Catching fireflies is a summer must.

The kids get to go to the pool every day with my mom while I work. They had two weeks of swimming lessons before we came out here and they just finished up two weeks more. I haven’t been to the pool with them recently, but I’ve heard that they made great progress.

Gus got two barbies to take to the pool with him, after playing with a little girl’s barbies every day. I drew tattoos on them as a way of marking them as his.

Gus has also progressed on getting his shoes on the right feet. But not before I took this photo.

The other thing standard about summer is spending time with my sister’s kids, their cousins. I joked to my mom recently that these 11 kids together seems like a gang, but they love being together.

Lyuda loves this little guy in particular.

I’ll share a few more posts soon with some photos and what we’ve been up to this summer, with an update on how Lyuda is doing!

The Next Chapter

We’ve been busy. I recently had someone comment on our Facebook page, checking in as I’d been quiet for so long. Oops!

Yes, we’re all fine. I’d say things are going a bit smoother than my previous post, but we’re also in this wild season called summer. It’s hard having four kids home all day and trying to work. On top of that, keeping up with the math and English lessons I have planned for Lyuda. Send coffee.


And… on top of that, we sold our house. And just last week, we found our new one. We’re under contract for both, moving in about 7 weeks.

We bought our current house when we’d been married for about 9 months. We chose our house and went under contract on it shortly before we committed to adopting Reed and Lena, and we moved in shortly after we started the adoption process.

Reed and Lena’s room, ready for them to come home

It’s been a good house to start… and grow our family in, but it’s time to move on. We tried to sell it unsuccessfully twice before. We even had family pictures taken at our house a few years ago, anticipating a move.

Almost 3 years later, we’re finally moving! Today was the inspection for our current house, and we’re awaiting to hear what they want us to fix. Wednesday will be the inspection for our new house.

We spent much of our afternoon at the dog park, waiting for the inspection to be done at our house.

3 kids. Big sister didn’t want to join the picture fun.

Big sister changed her mind and photobombed.26903177564_87c8678ef4

This was a funny moment. I looked up and counted my 4 dogs. Except I don’t have 4 dogs… I only have 3.

But my brain couldn’t quite process the 4 silver weimaraners in front of me… the kids didn’t even notice something was off. When I did point out the extra dog, they said “That’s Nina!” No guys, that’s not Nina… THAT’S Nina (the one furthest away from the camera).

We all had a good laugh and met this new weimaraner friend. I’ve met many other weimaraners, but I’ve never had one join our pack so seamlessly that I questioned how many dogs I own.

We also had fun playing in the mud.26903188194_ddee33813227512357575_a5272c4f8a

Back to the house talk– our new house will be a big change, but it should be a very positive one. We’re leaving our small, wonderful city, and moving to a tiny town about 45 minutes away. This will shorten Aaron’s commute by about 15 minutes every day. And while we’ll be living in a small, somewhat rural community, we’re on the edge of a city metro, taking just 30 minutes to get downtown. We’ll have a lot of museums, stores and other resources close by. We’ll be in a great school district that I’m confident can handle Lyuda’s English learning needs.

We’re also gaining more indoor and outdoor space– we’ll have a full acre for outdoor fun. And a finished basement for the kids to be loud, crazy and messy inside. And, we’re going from one bathroom to two and a half. We probably could benefit from 6 bathrooms, but I think having 2 more will help with our school mornings considerably!

The bittersweet part is leaving our friends, and the community which we know so well. Not that a 45 minute drive means we won’t see each other ever again, but it does mean fewer impromptu playdates and bumping into friendly faces at local events.

So, if I’m once again quiet, you can find me buried in boxes, wearing packing tape like a bracelet.

Real Life

Of all of our post-adoption adjustment periods, this has been the easiest. I’m guessing this is for many reasons– her age, she has a full understanding of what was going to happen, she agreed to it, she’s visited us before and knows our family well, and of course, this is our third adoption. We have a slightly better picture of when to let go and when to freak out. That being said, there are still hard things, and I like to keep things real around here.

Probably the hardest thing about this adjustment? Me. I am worn out. The months of compartmentalizing and pushing through tasks with a whatever-it-takes attitude are over. Now, I’m fully jumping back into work and parenting my other kids… and being a real, present mom to this new, wonderful kid. I constantly feel like I need a physical and emotional nap!

Another big challenge is finding boundaries and setting expectations for being in a family. We’ve finding a lot of edges that I’ve always thought of as common sense, but not for a kid who has never lived in an American family. I remember being shocked when we experienced this with Reed, as he opened the door of the car himself, tried to play with the stove and once made an attempt at driving as a 4 year old.  This looks very different with a teenager, but there’s a lot of gentle guidance.

Figuring out the best options for school is another exhausting feat. The school district is unresponsive to both my questions about enrolling her for the fall and ESL resources. I’m trying to fill gaps in her knowledge and build her English confidence and competence before August. It’s hard to find math without a lot of word problems, and English which is doable, but not too easy. I’ll do a whole blog post on what we are using at another time.

We went camping this weekend and I really wanted it to be a great family bonding weekend… it was an flop.

We started it off with swimming, but the lake was a bit cold and the beach was busy with college students celebrating the end of the year. I just wanted to either a)listen to an audiobook as the kids played in the water or b)read a library book as they played on the beach. I didn’t make much progress with either.

On the plus side, we found a nice campsite, secluded with a great view. On the menu was s’mores and hotdogs and other food we wouldn’t call dinner at home.

Josie is really hoping that someone will drop something worth eating.
Chilling by a campfire is one of my favorite things.
Reed made a total of 7 s’mores and ate 5 of them.

The night sky was full of clouds. A disappointment for someone who loves the stars like I do.

With 4 kids, 3 dogs, one husband and me sharing a tent, I didn’t sleep very much. I woke up to 3 dogs ready to go out, and I decided to take them out and see how the sky looked. The sunrise was starting to show, just a bit. At the top, with the break in the clouds, you can see the Milky Way, just a bit.

Aaron went for an early morning hike with the dogs, while the kids and I slept and played around the campsite. Here he is, returning to an excited Gus.

Happy Mother’s Day, from my four crazies.

Week One

We are home.

last photo of Lyuda in Ukraine

We arrived in the US on Friday afternoon. We spent the evening with my family.

My littlest nephew. Lyuda enjoyed holding him a lot more than this photo shows, once we tied her hair back so he couldn’t pull it.

We left early Saturday morning to go home.

These photos were all taken by my wonderful friend Danae.

Reed said “it took us a long time to get to the airport. it’s far away.” We live about an hour away from the airport. I asked when the next plane to China was leaving, so he could see what a long trip really is! After 4 plane rides, I had a very different concept of far away.


This is by far the easiest transition after adoption that we’ve had. Perhaps there will be other challenges as months go by and school starts, but for now, it’s pretty smooth.

Reed, Lena, and Gus have had school this week. After we take them all to school and go to the grocery store, Lyuda gets her own to-dos for the day. She took two math placement quizzes, and we could see where she has some holes in her knowledge. With math, it’s mostly been a few missing concepts here and there, as well as the language barrier. Now I have her doing a small math lesson each day with videos and worksheets. So far, we’ve covered place value, simple fractions and American money. She also has some English and reading work to do each day. At the suggestion of another adoptive family, we tried Reading Eggs, and I also introduced her to Lingua Leo today. She will also be doing one-on-one English lessons. The main goal of those is to boost her confidence with speaking, as grammar and vocabulary will come with time. It only adds up to a couple of hours each morning, and then she has lots of free time for the rest of the day. She has been spending this time doing embroidery, reading, and cleaning up around the house (without being asked).


Teaching Gus embroidery.


I brought this jersey back for Reed. I was very excited to give it to him. He loves soccer. Orange is his favorite color. And this jersey is from the soccer team of the region where Reed was born. He loved it, just as I anticipated.


In summary, we’re all having a great time together and getting used to the new normal.

One last thing, I will be making the rest of my blog posts from when we traveled public soon, in case you missed them. 🙂

Days to Remember

We had a really wonderful, touristy weekend. This post will be long and picture heavy!

I wanted to hire a tour guide on this trip. While I’m fairly decent at being a self-tour guide, thanks to the internet and books, I could see the benefits of hiring someone as well. I heard Tourguide Kiev was highly recommended. When I saw a family post about their recent tour in both English and Russian, I knew she was the one.


We walked by St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery on the way, where this man was playing a bandura. We gave him some money and took his photo.

We met Helen from Tourguide Kiev at the Maidan. She started our tour off with a recent recap of the events of the last couple of years, including the protests at the Maidan. Helen did a bit in English, then explained it in Russian to Lyuda, back and forth.

Then, we headed up the hill, visiting Prince Volodymyr, who overlooks the Dniper River, and learning a bit about him.

We walked through St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, where we tried to stick coins on the dried up fountain. If the coin sticks, you are free for the day. If it falls, you need to stay and pray. We also bought some beeswax lotion from the monks. They had a little stand selling honey, and other bee-related products.

Helen and Lyuda being goofy.

We walked down by St. Sophia’s, and then stopped in a little cafe. Helen had a drink that she wanted us to try, called the hot pitch. Chocolate, coffee, cream and walnuts lit on fire.

Next, we hopped in Helen’s car and went over to the museum of microminiatures at the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. Artwork that you need a microscope to see. You can check out this artist’s work here.

We walked around Pechersk Lavra a bit, including into one of the church services, but we hardly scratched the surface there. Lyuda has a lot of respect for the Orthodox church, and I admire that, especially when she’s in the company of two clueless Americans.

Lastly, we headed by the World War II museum, and the giant Soviet statue Rodina Mat.

Helen had lots of silly ideas for photos.


We finished off our tour at the Rodina Mat. I mentioned that she didn’t need to drive us all the way back to our apartment, as we wanted to get dinner first. Dinner! Oh, she knew just the place. She dropped us off at the Very Well Cafe… Lyuda and my mom both got chicken, mashed potatoes and tomatoes and I got pesto ravioli. We all took the first bite of our food and say “mmmm, yes. WOW.”

After we were finished eating, we walked by the House with the Chimeras, and then headed down towards Khreschatyk. As we got close, Lyuda said “is there a concert?” In fact, there was. Khreschatyk is closed to car traffic on weekends, and on this particular day, there was a stage in the middle of the street. We just danced and laughed and had a wonderful time.

This man in the greenish jacket was probably about 40, but could really bust a move.

We ended our night dancing and laughing and having lots of fun.


I had a couple of things I wanted to do, but we were planning for a slower day. We decided to take the metro to the Hidropark stop and visit the Museum of Miniature Ukraine.

This lady sat on the corner of our street the entire weekend, with many street dogs tied up. Lyuda translated the sign, “Help the homeless dogs and cats. Thank you.”

Lyuda wasn’t so sure about this whole Metro thing at first, but once she saw that I knew what I was doing, she was okay with it. On one of the escalators that takes you deep down.

The Museum of Miniature Ukraine was quite easy to get to from the Hidropark metro stop. It was just a short little walk on the island, which seemed like a rundown version of Coney Island or Gorky Park– there is an amusement park, swimming beaches and other things to do.

Above, there is a picture of Lyuda in front of the real Rodina Mat statue; here she is with the mini version.

Here’s the mini version of Maidan. You can tell it’s not the real thing because it’s not busy enough.

This is Donbass Arena. We drove past it every day on our way to visit Reed and Lena. Simpler, happier days in Donetsk.

We often drive by this church, and I had been wanting a good photo, so unique.

As we walked out, someone found this coin. Aaron didn’t think that coins in an amount this small existed. Here you go, Aaron.

We grabbed a quick lunch at the food court of the Globus mall under the Maidan, a good compromise as we all could get what we wanted. Lyuda chose McDonalds and my mom and I went for Ramen Burger. My mom tried the burger with the ramen patty, while I just got some noodles with vegetables.

My last idea for the day was to go to the big “hipermarket” Ashan. I shopped at a smaller Ashan in Donetsk, and I’ve been to this large one in Kyiv twice. There were many things I couldn’t find in the smaller Kyiv “supermarkets”, but Ashan has it all.


Today, we had another two hour drive up to Lyuda’s region to apply for her passport. Fortunately, things went smoother today, and all of her passport paperwork is in for processing. They expect we can pick it up on Monday. If all goes smoothly, we can go home around the middle of next week.

When we got back in the late afternoon from our little roadtrip, we were all feeling a bit worn out. We spent the rest of the afternoon on various devices, and only headed out again for dinner. We went to Pizza Celetano, a popular Italian chain. We struggled through ordering, and were nearly done with our meal with a couple walked in and said “English menus?” We shared bug-eyed looks and whispered, “did they just say English menus??? They have English menus???” That would have made our dinner much easier!

When we were finally ready to leave, it was POURING rain outside.

Some ducking under awnings, and running into a small shop, we were able to dodge most of it and make it home, only minimally wet.

As you can tell, we are mostly enjoying ourselves here. So much to explore and experience in Ukraine. On the other hand, I’m glad to have the end in sight and a reasonable idea of when we can return home. We’re looking forward to being all together as a family!

Back in the US

We are home. While I was looking forward to a clothes dryer and ice cubes, I wasn’t quite ready to come home. It was particularly weird to come home just before Superbowl Sunday. With the million dollar commercials and all of the excesses of this one day, I couldn’t get the kids out of my head. They refuse to allow it either, regularly messaging me, asking for any type of help I can offer.

The contrast seems ridiculous to me. The cold, hungry, lonely kids, who the world overlooks, meanwhile we spend hours of our lives watching overpaid grown men fight over a ball. Sorry, football fans.


But, we are home. It was good to see our kids, who were happy and spoiled while we were gone. They were glad to see us, but spending time with their grandparents is a favorite, too.

We finally celebrated Gus’s 5th birthday. He’s been waiting for this moment for months, and then it was delayed a few extra days by our trip.

Life is, sort of, back to normal. We are just waiting to hear when we will return for court, hopefully in early March.