Stop! Thief!

That's right, I flat-out stole this!  This YouTube vid is thanks to Little Green Footballs. 

Just watch it and tell me that it isn't the slightest bit disturbing.  

The kids aren't even smiling... but their parents are grinning like mad.

The first thing I thought when I saw that was something like this (to fully understand this clip you may need to look into Farfur the Hamas mouse):

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm making no correlation between the substance of the messages but it is eerily similar in its strategy.  Kids singing about geopolitics?!?  Seriously people.  You can chalk this one up as yet another example of me not understanding this Obamania thing.


Trinity Brewing Company

For those of you in Colorado Springs I need to give you a tip on a pretty cool new place in town.  In what looks to be turning into a weekly Monday event, I met with Ryan and the boys (minus Marshall who's in Cali) for lunch today.  Ryan made the call on Trinity which is in the Garden of the Gods/Centennial area - conveniently very close to his home office... but none of ours.

It's a strange mixture of hippie and redneck.  Everything is either recycled or reusable, they compost their food garbage and have something on their menu called "Vegan wings" (don't ask me what the bones are made of).  On the other hand, the place looks like someone's garage that's been converted into a hangout, they also have a menu item called "Bacon bowl" - which is exactly what it says, a bowl of bacon (with a side of syrup) - and it seems to only serve food as an excuse to serve more beer to wash it down.

It's a weird joint but I recommend you check it out if only for the atmosphere.... and a bacon bowl.

Also, if you read my blog via a aggregator or subscribe to my feed, I am testing out a new explanatory footer so be on the lookout for that.

Sunday at The Gathering

Yesterday Sarah and I were given the opportunity to set up a table at our home church in Colorado Springs.  They put up a nice picture of us that was taken at my aunt's wedding (because nothing says suffering for the Lord in Ukraine like a lake-front country club in east Texas) and asked people to stop by and talk to us.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that most of the people who stopped by to chat were people who we already knew.  After all, talking to "missionaries" is a scary proposition.  It puts you at risk for being asked to support them living in some remote location for the next 50 years.

I feel like I need a sign that says, "I'm not a pick-pocket... You can talk to me freely without losing your life savings."

I guess that's unfair.  Our church is extremely missions minded; both locally and internationally.  I suspect that most of the friendly folks that walked quickly past avoiding eye contact were on their way to lunch and are already giving generously to God's work.

I just wish that I didn't feel like such a used car salesman when I just want to tell people about what we are doing and give them an opportunity - with no expectations or strings attached - to be involved in something I really love.  Now hear this church members.... I am just a normal guy who is passionate about Ukraine!  Come talk to me about it!


Quick Hunt

Recently my good buddy Timmy asked me to join him this weekend on an pronghorn hunt in south central Wyoming.  I'm always up for trying to repay in some little way the hunting help and advice he has provided over the past 5 or 6 years so I came along as company and pack mule.  I was in the truck for over 5 hours on Friday to get up to south central Wyoming then out of the truck for 3 hours of hike, stalk, shoot, clean and pack out.... so that I could get back in the truck for the 5 hour return trip.  Other than Tim having forgot his range finder, it was easily the fastest and most according to plan hunt I have ever been a part of.  We had a tent and sleeping bags that never left the truck!

Anyway, here are the shots of Tim's buck.  Congrats Timmy!
Here is the requisite "I was there when this animal was shot but didn't have much to do with it" picture.  I really don't know why we hunters always have to do that.


My friend Paul is sneaky....

I don't know how this one snuck past me.  This is one of the videos for Global Action that I just accidently found on YouTube.  I know Paul made it but he never mentioned that I was in yet another video in cyberspace.  It's got some good stuff for our ministries in Ukraine so enjoy.


Caption please!

You'd think I'd have taught him better than joining a gang at age 2....


Ok, back to the serious stuff

I noticed that not only have I not been posting much lately (apparently I prefer actually being with my friends and family over writing prose specifically for them to read) and the stuff I have done is basically fluff. I am going to try to change that starting now.

In previous updates here,herehere and here I explained why and how we were barred from re-entry to Ukraine a few weeks ago. Since then we have obviously returned to Colorado and I have resumed work in the main Global Action office.  Today (Tuesday) marks my 6th work day since discovering my new position. Maybe position isn't the right term since I am only going to be at it for 3 months before returning to the HopeCenter but here's the deal....

While there is still much uncertainty surrounding our return to Ukraine in January, we know several things for sure:

-We will have 4 camps this summer for 100 kids each
-Inflation in Ukraine is high so program costs will be greater than last year
-The exchange rate is unpredictable, making the funding situation very precarious

With this being the situation, I - actually "we" since Sarah is an inextricable part of my job at the HopeCenter - have been asked to simply talk to people about our passion for the camp, the children we serve and Ukraine in general. From this we hope to generate support for our summer camps in 2009. In essence, we hope that people will be willing to donate - either in a lump sum or monthly installments - to send a child (or several) to camp. It runs about $230 for each of the 400 children that we hope to bring to one of our 10-day camps.

Since I am absolutely NOT the fund-raising type (after all, I'm horrible at golf) we are trying to work on a grassroots level to get children to the HopeCenter this summer. So far our plan is to have desserts for 8 or 10 people (with the help of our friends) in a variety of places to personally convey the plight of orphans and poor children in Ukraine. If you're interested in hosting one, let us know....

Beyond that, I really don't even know what grassroots support looks like so if you have any advice, I'll take it. All I know is that we love these kids and I'm not willing to let currency exchange or economic uncertainty keep us from ministering to as many as possible next summer.

Wanna help?  Click here!


Fun with Photo Booth

The little guy just loves to see his own photos and video.  I used that love to capture this latest addition to his "Yup, he's a boy" file.

Usually when Sarry leaves me in charge of Cam there are scratches and scrapes aplenty but this particular one is neither.  My dad (AKA "Pops") has been staining the back patio today and while his back was turned lil' man decided to try to stick his head between the painted railings, leaving these attractive racing stripes in oil-based color.
He has also been practicing his disgusting boy faces and this one is a beaut.  Not only did he get the full open-mouthed view, he also managed to show off the handful of grapes that he'd been eating.  Awesome.


Andrey in Colorado

By coincidence, at the very time that we were blocked from entering Ukraine last week, my friend and boss Andrey was in the process of coming to US for some meetings.  As part of my attempt to give him the overall western experience we decided to take him into the mountains to shoot some stuff.  This may not be a tradition for everyone but it certainly is for my friends.

I have discussed before my frustration with Ukrainian gun restrictions and as such I felt compelled to show Andrey the joys of as many firearms as I practically could.  We started him out with my 9mm Beretta 92 which he enjoyed greatly and quickly became competent and confident.  I actually have video evidence to show how well he handled it.

We then moved him to my dad's H&K USP compact 40 which he enjoyed even more - that doesn't hurt my feelings... I like his better too. 
Everyone that comes with us on their first shoot must take a pull on my chrome-plated, short barreled, pistol-gripped Winchester 1300 12 gauge.  The uniqueness makes it worth every penny.
It's always a fan-favorite
This one is an example of armory irony... A man born in the Soviet Union must go halfway around the planet to the mountains of Colorado to fire a Soviet-made SKS.  
... and the requisite gangster pose.
He also shot a nice over-under skeet gun, a S&W 9mm, Marshall's Springfield XD 40, Smith .357, Marlin 30-30 and his dad's Sig 40.  All in all, a successful day.


Back in the US(S)A

Sorry about the delay in posts...

We made it back and I really don't know what to make of living in Colorado again so please forgive the disjointed nature of this and perhaps future posts.  

We arrived in Denver Thursday evening where we were picked up by my parents.  The trip was fairly smooth and we were even a bit surprised by how little Campbell slept while still maintaining some degree of self-control.  Here's a nice shot of us boarding the flight in Frankfurt....

We have spent a few nights trying to get out clocks back on MDT.  At first we all woke up about 2 am and then battled to get Campbell and ourselves back to sleep.  Last night represented the turning point and I think we will all get more rest in the coming days.  

To go back slightly, upon returning home, I was excited to find the authentic Liverpool gear that was graciously given to us by my British cousins Wendy and Val.  Cam got a full uniform, complete with socks.  As you can see, he was very excited.  He wore it all day and christened it that night with a particularly full wet diaper.
I got an LFC polo shirt loosely based on the 1984 kit.  The gift was just in time as I got to watch my boys beat the hated Manchester United Saturday morning.  They began with game without stars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres but still managed to get a 2-1 victory - their first against United under Rafa Benitez.  It was a great homecoming.


New Blogger Feature

Hey everyone!  I just wanted to point out that I made another interesting change to the right bar of the blog.  I change layout and features far too infrequently so I thought I should make note of it.  Also, for those of you who read my posts from a reader, aggregator or from Facebook, you needed this new feature pointed out via the feed in order to discover it.

Blogger announced that they started a "following" feature and I have been waiting for it to become available.  It allows people who read a blog but rarely if ever comment to continue to show support for their favorite writers/posters.  I would be honored if you would all please add yourselfs to this long and distinguished list for The Gaws' blog.

On the right side of mine (for you aggregator readers, this is your cue to go to my actual site) you can select to announce yourself as a follower of our little experiment.

I would encourage you all to add this to your own sites via the layout editor page.  I have added myself as follower of many of your blogs (you'll know if this means you by looking on your dashboard) but if I missed some of you, make a comment on this post to remind me.


It's Final

It is officially final.  Tanya has given up hope of persuading the necessary Ukrainian authorities to let us into the country before January 1st.  We are working at changing the tickets which were to return us from Kiev later in the year in order to get us back to Denver from Stockholm this week.  It looks like probably Thursday will be the day but I'm really not sure yet.

Now that it's final, I want to reflect a little on what this means to us.

At first we were shocked.  We had been investing in a project and ministry in which we really believed.  Our minds were oriented towards the activities that were coming up in the fall and winter.  We were waiting impatiently to hear the results of the September GA board meeting which would decide which programs would be approved for action, for the Ranger to get out of customs so that we could explore how it could be used and to see what this time of year looks like at the HopeCenter.  We building relationships with Maxim, Sergey, Anya, Lena, Lena, Inna, Sergey, Misha and other kids around Kerch.

And then it was gone...

Our mindsets were thrown 180 degrees out of whack and we were devastated.  Then we started thinking about fall in Colorado and what that would entail.  We'll be home for hunting season, Thanksgiving, Sarah's birthday (as well as sister Joy and my Dad).  We might even get a chance to snowboard!

Then we started thinking how this would actually work...

We are going to be in Colorado with no house, limited clothes and not much else... I mean, we had to have Tanya look through our apartment at the HopeCenter to find our American plug attachment for our computer!  We are not prepared for this.  We'll be home for at least 3.5 months and I still have no idea what that means for work at GA.  What does a missionary to Ukraine do in Colorado for 1/3 of the year?

I don't expect or want any pity or platitudes for our situation.  We are able to see the enormous blessings that being back will offer and have thanked the Lord that this has happened in a relatively painless manner.  We are glad that we should be able to return in the spring and be involved in all the programs for much of 2009 and that we won't have to be away from our Ukrainian family for THAT long.

In all, we're ok with it.  Thanks for your prayers.


Chinese Food

Last night we decided that we really needed some Chinese food.  You may wonder why a person would visit Sweden and then eat Chinese food but I have a reasonable explanation.  In Ukraine you can get 3 kinds of food: Ukrainian (potatoes, borsch, sala, etc.), mayonnaise pizza and Tatar food.  That's it!  No Indian...no Mexican... no burgers...no Italian.  It's not that we don't like Ukrainian food but we are used to a little more variety.

So when we got to Stockholm, a reasonably diverse and cosmopolitan city, we decided that we were going to hit up all the places that serve something else... anything else.  And Chinese it was...

When we walked up, they had the menu posted on the door and the item that immediately caught my attention was called "Sexy Mee."  I laughed like a 12 year old and since the description looked tasty, we ordered that and 2 others.  One of those was called "Black Bean Chicken" or something like that but when we opened our orders at home, this is how they were labeled.
So once again I behaved like a 12 year old and decided to post the picture.  I hope you can make out the writing.


I feel vindicated...

I know that some of you (those who grew up with me) wonder why I made such a seemingly dramatic shift away from classic American sports - the ones I actually played in school - and towards futbol.  I'll admit that it's a bit weird to jump both feet on the English football bandwagon without having grown up in that culture, but now I have the addiction.  In my defense, I never really had an opportunity in my younger years to view the game and develop a love for it.

Regardless of the reason, today I read a story that completely vindicates my decision to all but abandon professional American sports - particularly the NFL and NBA.  Chad Johnson, receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals has officially changed his name to a pidgin Spanish version of his uniform number.  According to the Broward County (Florida) circuit court, Johnson will henceforth be known as Chad OchoCinco.

I know that professional footballers (the other kind) can be arrogant prima donnas but I think this takes it to a whole new level.  So all you NFL fans can keep your OchoCinco and I take my Stevie G.


Yet another change...

I went to the Swedish embassy today for a 2nd, or 3rd, or 7th opinion on our visa issue.  The trip involved multiple transfers on the metro and going to an island with which Paul wasn't familiar.  It was at least a nice outing; the sun was out and it was nice and warm.  It was also interesting because Paul couldn't go with me the whole way so I had to figure out the light rail portion myself and then find the embassy.  It was really my first outing by myself but I did fine and only missed my stop once.

Upon arriving at the embassy I learned that by their understanding, our visa was still valid and we should be able to enter Ukraine.  This is the same information that we heard from the Ukrainian embassy in DC and would later hear from the one in San Francisco.  Basically according to the Ukrainian foreign service, we are authorized to enter the country and stay until our visa expires at the end of October.

Here is where the problems lie....

The department who has been telling us all along that we barred from entry is passport control/immigration.  Today we learned that they are independent and have no obligation to admit someone even if they have a valid visa.  It is completely within their jurisdiction and Tanya talked to the highest person in that department.  He told her that he made the call to ban us for the rest of the year and that we had no recourse to argue this decision.  Of course that isn't true; there are always people who can compel him to reverse the decision but unfortunately we do not know these people.

Tanya will continue to attempt to persuade him to allow us in until Tuesday when we will have to bite the bullet and get flights back to Colorado where we can start the process of preparing to return in 2009.

Immigration Update

I have resisted updating the blog on our current status and plans because they change by the moment.  The issues with this seem to revolve around the government of Ukraine's inability to understand their own laws and further problems with enforcing them honestly and fairly.

At last post, it seemed that we had been added to an immigration black-list.  As it turns out, our contacts in Ukraine learned that we are just not allowed to enter the country on any visa until 2009.

As a last ditch effort, I visited the Ukrainian embassy here in Stockholm where I learned that while it was true that we violated the law by not registering beyond 6 months, the fine should have been MUCH lower (indicating that we were paying a bribe) and there is no reason that we should not be able to return.  Such a ban is indicated by a stamp in the passport itself, which we don't have.  The attitude of the people at passport control seem to back up this explanation - they were fairly helpful and made no statements to indicate that we were no longer welcome on this visa.  Further, the person I spoke to here said he was unaware of a 180-day restriction (other than needing to register) for yearly visas.  Since Ukraine has the same travel policy towards Sweden and the US, I suspect that he knows what he's talking about.

The next step is to contact the embassy in San Francisco where our visas were issued (as will next year's visas) and see if there is a note regarding our return or a block on renewal.

Please keep praying....


Bad news

As we've mentioned, we are on a lovely vacation to visit Paul in Stockholm.  Our enjoyment of what must be one of the great European cities has been tempered by an on-going problem.

On the way out of Kiev we were stopped at passport control and taken into the back offices.  They informed us that the type of visa that we have (1-year tourist visa) limited us to stays of 180 days or less.  Since we were well over that amount we were found to be in violation of immigration law and fined $300 USD.  They were pleased that we were willing to pay the fine and let us go just in time to catch our flight to Stockholm.

On a hunch I asked Tanya to check with her contacts as to whether the violation had effected our continuing efforts to get an extension to our current visa.  She came back with the answer that not only could she not extend our current visa, but we also can't return from our current vacation.

We did some checking on this and learned that we are in fact on a no-entry blacklist, thereby making our return to Ukraine a less likely possibility.  We have been told that we can re-apply for another visa in the new year, but there are no guarantees.

In the meantime, we are here in Stockholm trying to enjoy ourselves during this time.  Our tickets back to Simferopol will be forfeited.  We are trying to change our tickets that were to return us in December so that we can get home next week.  We will be back in Colorado for at least 3.5 months - 3 of them cold - and I have 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shoes and a sweatshirt.  I really need my clothes but there isn't really a cost effective way to get them back.


Stockholm Day 1

For those of you who don't have facebook, here are some pictures of our trip to Stockholm.  Weather has been cool (50s to 60s) and somewhat overcast, but still beautiful.  

This is Old City where the Royal Palace is.  It was our destination for the day.

Here we are in Old City.  There are all kinds of streets like this with all kinds of shops... including an ice cream place with homemade waffle cones that we will be visiting later this week.

Still have to pay for the potty, but this one was very nice.  Maybe because it was outside of the Royal Palace.

Here is Campbell guarding the Royal Palace.

Excuse me??

This is the french hot dog.  A french bread cored out, filled with ketchup and then filled with a hot dog.  A great invention for toddlers... keeping the mess to a minimum.

We have much more planned for the week.  The forecast is rain, rain, and more rain.  So we will see how well the pictures turn out.  We are loving every minute of it though.