Whooo wants cookies?

It seemed so simple when watching the tutorial.

Start with your favorite sugar cookie recipe and a tulip-shaped cookie cutter.

Tulip cookies

Bake and let cool.

Carefully pipe the outline before filling in the color.

Outlined tulip

After the color has set, pipe wings and fill them.

Winging it

Candy eyes, eyebrows and a beak complete the look.


Well, kind of cute. But not exactly right.


Okay. I know we forgot to leave room for the wittle feet.

Thankful for a group tomorrow that will simply love receiving them.


This weekend in Kyiv was one of the best in a lonnnng time, weather-wise. No rain. Dry roads and sidewalks. Well, mostly dry. Crisp fall air but no overwhelming breeze. So perfect for strolling.

The variety of colors of leaves are more beautiful this year than ever. The yellows are bright, bright, bright.  Image

It was so nice to find that some of the open-air cafes have remained open…many rolled up their sidewalks when we had a cold spell following a month of rain. It certainly appeared that there would be no fall.


I love that the cafes offer nice warm blankets to wrap up in while waiting for lunch.Image

Thankful for our house guest Joyce who decided that she wanted to treat us to lunch out.

And thankful that she would split a delightful chocolatey taste treat: Fruit Shashlik. Oh, yeah. Kiwi, banana, grape, crepe. Mmmm.
Fruit shashlik


Balcony Cafe re-opens

After a much-longer-than-expected break from posting on this blog, I am excited to be back and to announce the grand re-opening of the Balcony Cafe 2013.

Mariana at Balcony CafeMay 2. Our friend Mariana Tanchynets joined us for hors d-oeuvres (um, make that cheese and crackers) and a roasted vegetables dinner. We love spending time with Mariana…discussing visions for work, life, church, ministry. We are thankful to call her our friend and hope to continue working together for children in the weeks, months, dare I say YEARS ahead!


Beautiful Marseille. A city on turquoise waters. Blue skies. Warmer temperatures. Quaint narrow streets bustling with shoppers.


DSCN4149We looked forward to an extended weekend in Marseille visiting missionary friends, speaking a little French, enjoying long walks while taking in the sights. Well, can you believe that we hit Marseille on the coldest days of their winter thus far? And to add to the chilly temperatures, the mistral winds were a-blowing! It was definitely cold and our first sightseeing day found us surprised by snow flurries. And by the time we settled on the perfect place for lunch the flakes were growing larger and larger each time we glanced outside — which was often because we were sitting in a glass-enclosed room.

DSCN4160That night we viewed an Alfred Hitchcock film with Jacki’s intermediate English class. They really did well following the movie and also speaking with the American guests. We had lots of opportunity to engage them in conversation because we first shared pizzas and later had an intermission with desserts. And then discussion of the movie itself. I was trying to imagine myself in such a setting…I had much empathy and was very proud of their efforts!

DSCN4151Jamie, Jacki and Angelle kept insisting that this weather wasn’t the norm and that we should see some blue skies soon. Really? We knew there might be a problem when Jamie checked the weather online and exclaimed, “Oh, no!” Le Mistral was headed our way. We needed to prepare for amazing winds. Smokestacks across the way showed powerful winds as the smoke ran parallel to the ground. Good news accompanied the report, though, because Le Mistral would blow all clouds away and we would see the true Marseille.

Sunday was simply cold and windy. We attended their church, partook of the Lord’s Supper with new Brothers and Sisters and then returned to the Gildard’s flat to celebrate Jackie’s birthday with several close friends of the family. Such warm fellowship. But still unseasonably cold outside. And the wind knocked over the furniture that had been moved to a balcony while Jacki and Angelle painted Angelle’s bedroom.

DSCN4183One more day in Marseille. We planned to take our friends to lunch, but they needed to pick the place…we wanted some traditional French fare. We awoke to no sound of howling winds. The sky had a touch of blue here and there. And the cold temperature didn’t feel quite so chilly without the wind. Hopeful.

We visited Notre Dame de la Garde, then walked to the exact spot where Jeanne D’Arc was stopped dead in her tracks. Only Jamie would have delighted in this historical spot. Who knew a tank was actually named Jeanne D’Arc? We drove back to the city limits and found a place to park and then started walking. And walking. And walking. We decided on a cafe that specialized in crepes and we were most certainly not disappointed. Yum. We had both meat/cheese-filled AND a dessert crepe with lemon filling, strawberry sauce and way too much whipped cream! So, so tasty. We were actually thankful to be walking again after that meal.

DSCN4186We climbed roughly a bazillion steps to reach the train station where we needed to ask about a partial refund on our earlier travels — apparently these trains are not supposed to be more than 30 minutes late. We learned that the refund was not cash, simply a credit towards another trip. Jacki plans to take Angelle to Paris so we know the credit will be used by friends!

Tuesday morning and we’re up and out of the flat early for our mid-morning flight. No wind. A few clouds. A great day for flying.

The Gildards sent pictures that next day of an absolutely ideal day. Oh, sure. They expect us to believe warm temps, blue skies and no wind?!

Looks like we’ll have to take a return trip and see this weather phenomena for ourselves.

Tevye the Dairyman

Doug provided milk for the ride for each vehicle. Only makes sense...Cheers!We had such a great day on Saturday! Friends have had a long-time dream to visit the village where Tevye the Dairyman lived. (Tevye is the character most of us know us the father in Fiddler on the Roof.) We thought it sounded like fun as well, and the excursion was finally arranged for last week.

We all met in a parking lot (I think we may have been the only ‘public transport’ people, but we were the first ones there!) where crazy Doug presented each of the three vehicles with bottled milk and bread for the trip. He also had small plastic cups, so we each had a shot of milk and a toast before we left the lot.

Drizzly cold rain didn’t make the drive much fun and the further we drove away from Kyiv, the worse shape the roads were in. And though we were probably no more than 30-45 minutes away, once we arrived in the village the roads were disasters! Deep deep ruts of ice and snow. Seriously. I don’t think the roads have been cleaned there since the first snow in December!

DSCN4049At one point we tried to turn into a school driveway, but the ice was so thick that Doug couldn’t get the tires to turn. After three attempts we parked further down the road in a small clearance. Doug’s wife Suzie, though, didn’t give up and on the third try the car somehow skidded over the ice curb, slid sideways, and eventually ended up in the right direction and she simply drove on. Heh. The other driver had 4-wheel drive so she followed Suzie. And they parked directly in front of the school building.

We all met on foot to enter the school and were shocked at our reception! A local choir dressed in national attire greeted at us and presented the traditional loaf of bread…a symbol of hospitality.

The girls invited some visitors to dance with them. Fun for the dancers AND those watching!We then went upstairs to the one-room museum. Or so we thought. No, first we had more singing and dancing — and even some dance lessons for some pulled from the audience. We also heard a history of the village, some facts about the author, and then a bit about Tevye himself. Very informative and quite delightful to hear these young people share their heritage so proudly.

After the visit, we went back to the Stoddard’s house for lunch as we watched Fiddler on the Roof. Thankful for Jim’s projector so that we weren’t all huddled around a computer screen.

Some were seeing the movie for the first time. And most of the single girls were very excited about the way the daughters all stood up for their right to marry the man of their own choosing.

On the other hand, parents/grandparents quietly left the room — you know, taking dishes to the kitchen — and found each other crying…feeling the pain of saying good-bye to children and grandchildren for an undetermined length of time. Moving to a foreign country. Wondering about the future while hanging on to TRADITION!

So thankful that we were able to take part in such a memorable day. None of us will soon forget the range of emotions we felt throughout the day.

(And did I mention that cold drizzly rain turned to beautiful fluffy snow while we were at the museum? And it didn’t stop snowing until we had finished viewing the movie…)

Sumy ice sculptures

Photo by Alla Akimenko

Photo by Alla Akimenko

We have LOTS of ice in Kyiv. Lining the streets in random chunks. Coating the sidewalks. Slip-sliding is the only way to maneuver some areas of the city.

Sumy also has ice. Ten tons of ice blocks cut out of the Psel River.

If you’re in the northeast of Ukraine, don’t miss this ice sculpture display! More sculptures are being added as amateurs and professionals alike are experimenting with this art media. I personally would love to see the illuminated carved children’s slide. And the Easter pysanka. And, and, and. Love the creativity.

Read the full article here.


Okay. This post will ruin a surprise, but I need to post this while it’s on my mind.

We have seen numerous shutterfly.com photo books put together by adopting parents to show their new children all about their home, siblings, pets, extended family and whatever. Sturdy and creative. Something the waiting orphan can hold onto until the day of rescue from the orphanage.

This Christmas our daughter-in-law put a book together featuring our three grandsons — one belonging to her and two belonging to one of our daughters. What a joy to pull out that book and smile. And smile again. Those little faces are just priceless.

Well, I officially caught the ‘make-a-book’ bug and just ordered my first one…to be sent to the grandsons. I can’t wait to hear how they like them. The theme is the alphabet and each picture features SOMETHING beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Pretty easy when shutterfly provides templates!

I encourage others to consider permanent books to be homes for your precious pictures.

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Click here to view this photo book larger

Photo Book Tip: Create an adventurous travel photo album at Shutterfly.com.


(The first link takes you to my actual book — please dont’ let Alek, Lydian or Milan see it ahead of time. Thanks.)

Sunday afternoon

DSCN3998Ukraine has been blessed for years by the ongoing ministry of Music Camp International, and we have personally been blessed by knowing the director, Connie Fortunato.

Connie runs camps in both Ukraine and Romania, but she has returned year after year to present a very special Christmas performance in Kyiv. She flies in from California at the end of December and with her top-notch team of teachers prepares the children to sing in multiple languages, play musical instruments (most of them for the first time ever), and sing a selection of music from Handel’s Messiah. Oh, and she does this in a week. Amazing.

Jim and I attended the final performance this afternoon and we were able to bring a guest — medical student Daniel studying in Ukraine but from Ghana. When the children sang carols from around the world, he was pleasantly surprised by the Swahili lyrics!

After the concert we had a wonderful buffet of delectable treats and had a few minutes to chit-chat with Connie and her husband Jim. Yes, we’re thankful for their friendship.

DSCN4001We opted to walk home in a beautiful snowfall. I kept thinking that I should take pictures, but it was just so beautiful out that I simply wanted to enjoy being in the moment. Absolutely gorgeous.

But as we looked up the hill to St. Andrew’s church — the only light on the hill — well, I had to get the camera out.

I highly recommend evening strolls in snowfalls.

The birthday girl

Our brief trip to the states for a medical test was designed to coincide with Thanksgiving and my mother’s 83rd birthday. And I am so glad that it did.

We haven’t spent Thanksgiving with relatives in Ohio in 11 years…more on that at a later time…and 2001 was the last time we spent my mother’s birthday with her.

Zoo birthdayWe spent the morning at the Cincinnati Zoo because she desperately wanted to see Lulu, the baby giraffe. She willingly wore her birthday girl button and even the zoo’s button announcing her birthday. We viewed that little (?!) giraffe from several locations and Mom was grinning ear to ear. I must say that I was engaged as well as we watched the mother taking care of her new arrival.Little Lulu

And then we began the search for the penguins — Milan’s favorites. Much like his Poppy. When we did finally discover that they were located at the end of the Wings display, it was so worth the hunt! Milan just couldn’t believe that he was seeing so many penguins…all different types. They were behind glass and up on an icy slope with a large pool of water for them to dive into. Milan was at eye level for a dive. Well, he was so excited that he stood on the one step up and announced to everyone who entered the room that these were penguins. We chuckled and nodded our heads in agreement as we noticed the other adults dutifully nodding their heads as well. He wanted to be sure that EVERYONE knew what they were seeing. One gentleman remarked that the little boy’s head would likely explode if one of the penguins dived into the pool. But not one did. Truly I would have loved to have seen Milan’s response. Ah, to be two years old!

Birthday girl tiaraFollowing our zoo escapade — on the coldest day of the year thus far — we met my sister, her husband, and his mother for a delicious Italian lunch. Remind me again why we chose a restaurant located at a mall on Black Friday?! Oh, yeah, excellent food. And you can’t change the date of the birthday.

We arrived early though we were guaranteed a close parking spot — Mom travels by wheelchair now and we park in handicap spots so that we can let the ramp down on the side of the van. Easy entrance, easy exit.

While waiting for our table to be prepared — they wouldn’t let us sit at it until all of the folks had arrived — we presented Mom with her birthday girl tiara. Yep, a good sport.

We ate until our whole bodies rebelled — family style, eat all you want…the rest was boxed up and taken home for future meals over the weekend.Lemon cookie birthday candles

What fun that they put candles in the lemon cookies so that Mom could blow them out. She handled being the center of attention pretty well!

When we took her back to the assisted living home, we let the staff know that she should be exhausted. We returned her close to 4:00 which is when she is USUALLY awakening from an afternoon nap. She hit the sack…and while she was sleeping, the birthday elves were busy decorating her living room. But that’s another post, for another day.


photoOh how happy I was to find Hershey’s cinnamon chips back in the stores. We spent very little time shopping (only as absolutely necessary) for the less than two weeks that we were in the States. Right smack dab in the center aisle (with other baking chips) were bags and bags of cinnamon chips. These were nowhere to be found by friends and family scattered across the U.S. last season — everyone was on the lookout because this delicious recipe for biscotti requires them.

If you’re a biscotti fan you really need to give these a try. Of course there are all sorts of variants — drizzle dark chocolate, dip in white chocolate, add more coffee (I do), use more cinnamon chips, whatever your taste buds are craving. (How can you go wrong when you go to a site called yummly?!)

Find the recipe here!

Be sure to let me know what your favorite variants are?