A thankful Grammy’s heart

So many things to be ever-so-thankful for…and among these, the safe arrival of baby Elza last week. Jeanne and Kolya spent Monday day and night at Johns Hopkins where Elza joined the family on the OUTSIDE early Tuesday afternoon. THANKFUL that Jeanne and Kolya were both able to snuggle their little gift before she was attached to too many monitors. Knowing her heart condition could have preempted these early moments made them even more special.

Jim and I arrived in Baltimore on Tuesday morning — chauffeured by sweet friend Jill Fears and accompanied by two of her daughters. They helped us clear out the fridge at the Kotiash abode and pack bags with food for our stay. Jill introduced us to the Believe in Tomorrow children’s home that is situated directly across the street from the hospital. We learned that Elza qualified to have her family stay at the home, and we learned that there was indeed space for our arrival. SO THANKFUL for this place. Each patient qualifies for one room and each room can hold 6 people: two beds plus cots if needed. Jim, the boys and I learned our way around during the first day or two, and then when Jeanne was discharged, Kolya was able to join our room.  The boys were THRILLED to see Tato and Mama…Milan exclaimed, “My beautiful mama is here!” Though the farewells can be sad, the boys DO know that their parents are nearby and are trying to spend much time with them. AND they have met Elza via skype. THANKFUL for technology!!

Pre ElzaJim and I did get a few minutes with Jeanne while Kolya, Jill, Tori and Katie Jo entertained the boys at the hospital on Tuesday. It turns out that the little ones cannot even be in the family waiting area on Jeanne’s floor — no one under 18 is permitted during the flu season. Jim clicked this photo just ten minutes before Elza was born! THANKFUL that we could switch places with Kolya in time!

That evening we were blessed by a home-cooked meal at the children’s home. Volunteers from all over Baltimore and environs volunteer to provide dinner MOST nights. In fact, we’ve been here a week and have only fixed our own dinner on Sunday night. The boys sometimes need a supplement — not too excited about a new place and new food — but the adults are eating way more than I ever expected!

And the staff here has gone overboard in helping us with the little ones — even providing chocolate milk! (Turns out that the boys aren’t nearly so enamored with chocolate milk as I thought they might be…what does grammy know?!).Chocolate milk I took some pictures to assure Jeanne and Kolya that the boys were actually eating. The staff made sure the boys had a doughnut (HUGE) for dessert, and the boys spent their time worrying that the volunteers in the kitchen needed a doughnut, too! So sweet.


After cleaning up our table to Milan’s rendition learned in Sunday school: “Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do your part. Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do your part.” I think the volunteers are going to teach this song to all of their friends.

After baths and putting on warm pajamas, we all crowded onto the boys’ bed to watch a movie and fade out.


All in all, a good first day for everyone.

Thankful for all the prayers!


Classic movies

Give thanksThankful for this season and the movies that we traditionally watch. Of course, one of our unwritten rules is that we don’t watch Christmas movies until after Thanksgiving. But with the combination of a very late Thanksgiving Day this year AND the fact that we will be heading to the States in a few short weeks, we ran out of available dates to meet with friends and simply enjoy a movie…

So tonight was the opening night for our holiday viewing. Thanks so much to Chris and Mary Malone for door-to-door pick-up and delivery PLUS dinner and popcorn. We opted to watch a movie that wasn’t ONLY Christmas… we considered Christmas in Connecticut (with Thanksgiving included) and Holiday Inn (with most holidays included). Holiday Inn won out and was a hit with everyone — I love introducing old classics to the next generations…thanks for watching with us, Hannah, Bethany and Seth!

Thankful for traditions…

The Harpers

Give thanksWe love Sid and Wendy Harper and their crazy family. They have been SUCH an encouragement to us since we met them during their adoption process…what an honor, really, to be on the inside as they began the bonding and teaching process even while the boys were still at the orphanage. Such a treat to witness their hearts. And their patience.

Well, after MULTIPLE missions trips to various locations in Africa, the Harper family is moving to Yei, South Sudan next summer! They have advocated for and raised countless dollars for so many trips and adoptions — not just their own! And now they have set a goal to add 100 partners in 50 days — each pledging $25/month. The Peipons are proud and excited to be one of the 100! I promise you that if you read their story, you too will want to sign on…’like’ their facebook page and pray for them regularly. Please.

So thankful to call them friends.

Chris and Mary

Give thanksContinuing with my posts of thanksgiving, I am so thankful for friends. And today I am especially thankful for Chris and Mary Malone, missionary cohorts of ours in Ukraine.

Chris and Mary have an amazing story of how God drew them to Ukraine AFTER adopting four children with DS from here. Yes, they moved a family of ELEVEN to Ukraine from the comforts of Oklahoma nearly two years ago. But that is their story to share — read more about them here.

We are profoundly thankful that they are here and cannot even begin to write about how many ways they have encouraged us since they’ve been here. And not just us, but so so so many people. We look forward to dinner tonight with them — a time to update about our respective ministries and families…and a time to pray with and for each other. Nothing beats conversations laced with grace and we thank them for listening, sharing, caring, and praying.

With all of our full schedules, we’re fortunate if we get to meet face-to-face even every other month. Such are the lives of missionaries. But we each know the other is only a phone call or e-mail away. A huge blessing.

Thanks for your friendship, Chris and Mary!

Our flat

Give thanksWhat a gift from God when we found our current flat ten years ago. We needed a place that was large enough for an American family of five (three teenagers) to have SOME space of their own PLUS an extra room that could be used for Bible studies and larger group gatherings. We really didn’t want to have the living room also be a bedroom, though that is completely normal in Kyiv.

Though two flats had been sold right out from under us — we certainly didn’t know the system well and apparently neither did our first realtor — we knew that those situations were simply God closing those doors for something better. We grinned as we heard about the first place being sold even as we were meeting with an attorney to go over the paperwork before we signed it! I remember our friends asking whether we actually understood that we were NOT getting that particular flat. We responded that we had been praying all day, as we jumped through various legal hoops, that God would make it abundantly clear to us whether we should be investing our money into the flat. So when the flat sold and we weren’t the owners, we were reminded once again that God is faithful and involved in even the seemingly small things in our lives!

So now we’re in a great flat, but there are only two of us living here permanently. Lo and behold, not long after our children began moving out, our previous mission group decided that they could no longer afford an apartment to be used as an office, so everyone needed to work from home. Wow! We had a room that we could easily use as a home office. (And though we are now our own 501(c)3 organization, we still use this space as the office.) We also have been able to open the other bedroom into a frequently-used guest room — no telling how many people have slept at our flat. Adopting couples. Visiting physicians. Friends of friends. Missionaries. And what a blessing these folks have been to us! In exchange for a comfortable mattress, we are encouraged by so many. Even now, we have a guest with us and the conversations are certainly edifying, challenging, encouraging…and bring us much joy.

In addition to overnight guests, our one larger room allows us to host various meetings — council of international Christian medical students, Coalition for Children at Risk, Bible studies, and serves as a place of rest for friends just passing through town.

So thankful for these accommodations.

1 in 10,000

HeartStatistics are one of those things that we talk about a lot in our flat. Almost always these numbers are in conjunction with some health challenge, and my pediatrician husband frequently has the same general statement: 99% chance that this is nothing, BUT if you are the 1%…well, it’s now 100%.

Our daughter Jeanne and her husband Kolya are expecting their third child — our first granddaughter — in early February. They have two young active boys (ages 3 and 18 months-ish) and are more than thrilled to be welcoming a little girl into the family. Already they are discussing names and dreaming about how life will look with three little ones in the home.

Last week Jeanne received a call ten days after a routine ultrasound and she was told to travel to Annapolis (from Salisbury on the Eastern Shore of Maryland) for another sonogram. It seems that the baby was so active and uncooperative (shy?) that they could not get a clear picture of the heart for routine measurements. No big deal. She and Kolya made the drive on Friday leaving at 7 a.m. for the 9:00 appointment. How do you say thank you to a friend who will take all day with your grandchildren so that the parents could go to the center without the distractions of the boys?

Well, once there the staff seemed quite surprised that no one had prepared Jeanne and Kolya about the seriousness of the baby’s condition. What? Are you serious?

It turns out that precious Baby Girl has pulmonary atresia, a condition that affects 1 in 10,000. Pretty good odds. Unless you’re the 1…see what I mean? For those interested, you can read more about this congenital heart defect on this site from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Turns out this little one will most likely be facing three separate heart operations by the time she turns 4 years old, beginning with one within the first days or hours. The birth will now take place at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore…over 100 miles from home sweet home. We are so thankful for the team that is forming to be ready to treat her immediately, as needed.

For my praying readers, would you be so kind as to lift this dear family up in prayer as the Lord brings them to mind? Would you pray that this little heart will not deteriorate further between now and delivery? Would you pray that the medical team will seamlessly work together to bring about the best results possible? Would you pray for safety on the roads as Jeanne and Kolya make multiple trips for continuing evaluation of Baby Girl? Would you pray that Jeanne and Kolya will know without a doubt that God has this under control, that He is not at all surprised by this, and that He has hand-picked them to be the perfect parents for this little one? May the Lord pour out His grace on them during this time of waiting.

I would love to hear from any of you that have experience with open-heart surgeries in newborns!

May God be glorified through all that takes place. He is good.

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…)

Hospital time

Visiting hospitalized children in the HIV+ section of the national children’s hospital in Kyiv. Such a delight! We never know for sure who will be there, but we have come to know many of the children over the years.

DSCN3981This week was a special treat because friends joined us. Jim’s medical English class was on Christmas break so he was able to join the fun. Wayne Dickinson and his daughter Taylor are visiting other friends of ours (the Malones) just outside of Kyiv. He first joined us at the hospital when he and his wife were adopting a precious little one. Wayne and Taylor along with Blake and Hannah Malone met us at our flat and we traveled to the hospital together.

We were extra thankful that Wayne had his guitar with him. One of the little boys has very poor eyesight and so he cannot join us for some of our games. When I asked him if he wanted to play the guitar, he grinned, nodded and I took him the hand to Wayne. Wayne spent one-on-one time making music while the rest of us played holiday bingo.

DSCN3982And then everyone joined in for pin the carrot nose on the snowman. Lots of laughter as the dizzy participants strayed far from the snowman before being led a bit closer. Jim nearly left the room on his turn, and stuck the carrot on Blake at one point. Howls of laughter, of course.

Another family also joined us there…the Bergstroms. They visited these children several times during the summer, but then school began and their afternoons were no longer free. Thankful for Christmas break so that they could visit once again. They packaged candy for each of the patients and also provided various colors of fingernail polish for the girls. Ellie and Adeline (and Hannah and Taylor) applied the chosen colors much to the delight of the young girls. Aiden left the painting to the girls but he played an awesome game of bingo!

DSCN3986Even dad Chris entertained the troops by reading Russian poems to them. The giggles were priceless as they corrected his accent…they thought he was quite understandable, by the way.

So appreciative of friends who will spend their afternoons breaking up the monotony of another day in the hospital for these patients. They will long remember you…