The Ranger has landed

I was beginning to wonder if the day would ever come....  

I looked back through my archives and we started raising funding in March, as best I can figure, we purchased it sometime in April and after missing the first truck by a few days, it arrived in Ukraine in mid-August.  Since then, we have proceeded to incur another $4500 or so in additional expense to get it through customs and into our hands.  10 months of work came to fruition today when I backed the Ranger off the tow truck at the Hope Center.  It was a great feeling.

With his official capacity as director and honorary lightning rod for bureaucracy on hold, Andrey took it on it's first joyride around camp.  He hooted and hollered around the streets and giggled  like crazy driving up and over assorted bumps, jumps and curbs.  I think it may have been his first time at the wheel of a true off-road vehicle.

You'll notice the CO license plate...

Andrey acquired those while in the US in the fall and surprised me with it today.

With this picture and photoshop, Sergey intends to create the impression that he's actually in the US right now.

I have to thank all of you who have already given to this monstrosity of a project.  I also need to remind you that we still need to raise over $3000 in customs fees to cover what we've already paid out... please get in touch if you can help us with this.

Also, I must thank Andrey.  He traveled the 6-hour round trip to Simferopol countless times (sometimes as much as 3 times/week), battled with customs, regulators, bureaucrats, politicians and bizarrely even a doctor.  Why he had to get approval from the Kerch medical department, I will never know.  It gave him nightmares, grey hairs, headaches and maybe even Tourettes a few times.  All of this because he believed me when I told him this was a great addition to the camp.



Greenpeace meets Eastern Europe

If you've ever been here (or just noticed in some of the photos on this blog) picking up trash is not exactly a 'Russian tradition.'  Even our beautiful beach is only that way because daily we sweep and rake all the debris off the sand and into one of the designated piles of crap.  Last night in the car Sergey just threw his Twix wrapper out the window - over my strenuous objections.  He says "When everyone else stops doing it, I'll stop" and I say "Be the change you want to see in the world."  Culture clash.

Anyway, I thought of this when I saw this post by Jake Knotts regarding efforts by Greenpeace in our neck of the woods.  It's a funny one.

Nice wheels!

I am participating in a little guerilla (or is that gorilla?  Which one's a freedom fighter?) marketing on behalf of The Coach (AKA the best man at my wedding).  He is the brains behind one of the best, simple ideas I think I've ever seen.  Seriously, his wheels may be as ingenious as the original wheel.  He is the inventor and purveyor of the Pace and Strength Wheels, which I think you desperately need to know about.

Are you an old pro racer, know everything about training but need an easier method of checking your paces?  Are you training for a race of any length up to marathon?  Are you jogging to get in shape and need to know what pace is the most effective for your fitness level?  Bottom line... any experience level, any fitness level, any commitment level - you need a PaceWheel.

Are you noticing that the muscular frame of your youth getting a little saggy?  Do you need a stronger back or shoulders for better posture?  If you plan to lift weights for any reason, any muscle group for which can do a 1-time max of 45 pounds or more - you need a StrengthWheel.

Both of these items are based on scientific, time-tested calculations which nearly all runners and lifters use, but true to his pseudonym, The Coach has put them in a convenient, inexpensive, attractive package.

The PaceWheel has gone from nothing to being sold across the country and even internationally practically overnight.  It's newer cousin the StrengthWheel uses the same technology and numbers that EVERY lifter needs for a workout.  It should be as big or bigger very soon.  Get in early and impress your friends.


My evenings

This is a tough time of year for a football fan in Ukraine.  The national league is on it's winter holiday and though there is a winter cup competition, it's not shown on a channel I have on my TV.  No other national league's games are televised and there is a huge gaping hole in the Champions League competition until March.

I have nothing to actually watch.  Here is my best shot at alleviating this.... I use the EPL's live score center as much as I can to follow my Reds.  My screen will look like this for most of the evening.....

....and I'm also going to Donetsk to see Shakhtar play Tottenham on February 19th.  This is a 3 day trip with us being in Donetsk for only a few hours for the actual game.  Yeah, you counted right, it's 30 hours or so of train travel each way to watch 90 minutes of football.  Am I desperate?  You bet I am!  

Of course it's also a great chance to watch quality football at a serious discount.  I've been told that tickets range from $1-$30 depending on the section.  To see the second leg of this match-up in London would run me at least a few hundred per ticket.


Gross picture of the day

We frequently get too much food at lunch time followed by too much food for dinner.  Vala and Luda in the kitchen love us and in Russian tradition this means providing 1 metric ton of potatoes per person.  We try to alleviate the backlog by inviting as many guests as possible, eating left-overs and offering food to any staff that will take it.  Nonetheless we end up with items that get a bit skunky before we can eat them.

We reserve these for the dogs but sometimes we don't get it to them in time.  Here is latest experiment that I like to call 'Albert Einstein.'  Priyatnava Apatita!

3 for 1

You will be getting a special deal from me today... 3 posts for the price of sitting through and reading 1.  Quite a deal for both of us as I see it since I don't enjoy writing and less time taken up on your end.  

Matt had mentioned that we went to the Banya last Saturday.  It was my first experience and I would say it probably wasn't very traditional.  I didn't have to jump into any ice ponds... and the boys dropped the temperature down for us girls to a balmy 172 degrees F (compared to their 212 degrees F).  All that said, I LOVED it.  I wish I could do it every week... especially after days when I think plyometric training is a good idea.  Tanya, Rita (wife of Sergey dentist, lady who took care of Matt's foot, and good friend), and I sat in the smokin' hot sauna for about 10 min. at a time talking about makeup and other girl type stuff... then we'd step out, cool off and do it again for another 3 cycles.  I got a softer version of the beating Matt talked about with the birch tree branches... which actually felt great.  Since this Banya was at the house of Sergey and Rita's, the "jumping into the ice hole" was actually just stepping into a very modern shower... just my style.  Despite the picture, we did NOT have Campbell in there.  He had fun playing with the boys shooting everyone.

Post 2... I finally got some curtains put up in my bedroom.  My mom made these for me when I was in MI.  It makes such a difference in the mornings and even at night since we have a street light outside one of our windows.  It's hard to see in this picture, but for all you girls wondering the design is a wavy polk-a-dot pattern with greens/browns/blues.  

And finally... here are my favorite flowers I've seen here in Ukraine.  I'm not sure what they are called but they are some kind of "state" flower that is illegal to pick... whoops.   Nonetheless, I was very excited that Matty decided to bring them home for me. :)

Weather update

We're well into the winter and on our way back to warm weather here at the Hope Center.  Last winter, we thought is was so odd how many complaints we heard about the cold.  It was good and cold last year but you assume that people who live here would be used to that.  As it turns out, winter isn't usually as cold as the one we experienced last year.

We've been enjoying about 10 straight days around 50 degrees.  The grass is even starting to grow.  Here are some shots of our Saturday.


The banya beckons

I am shocked it has taken us this long to get it set up but tonight is the first banya since we've come back to Ukraine.  Unlike the standard version (all male), tonight will be a family affair with kids welcome.  It's also my first time at Sergey the dentist's home banya since it's been completed.  I'm not exactly sure how this is going to work for us but I know a few things for sure...
  1. I've already bought 6 liters of kvas, so not much can go wrong from here.  I don't think I've ever explained kvas on this site.  It's sort of a sweetened non-alcoholic beer drink (maybe like meed?) that is one of my very favorite things about Ukraine.  These days the kvas you buy at the store ranges from OK to pee pee water.  It isn't uncommon to make some lame kvas-flavored soda drink and pass it off as the real thing.  We have a few brands we prefer but I've been told they are nothing like the old days.
  2. Sergey is the chef at the normal banya so I suspect there will be meat and very tasty meat at that.  He also does a mean shashlik.
  3. I NEED to sweat something out.  Last night a woke up in a lovely coughing fit which nicely matches my perpetually clogged sinuses and other assorted allergic reactions.  I've had these kind of unidentified allergies and thus I'm having a hard time isolating how to combat them.
It'll be a great night, I'm sure and I expect that Sarah may do a post as this will be here first banya experience.


Email and blog reader errors: Updated

If you subscribe to this blog by email, you are going to need to re-subscribe.  I previously thought that the same might be necessary for aggregators but this original post came through just fine on mine.

I know this is the second time I've made you do this since I started this site but this time was really not my fault.

Feedburner, the site that both of those services use, has been bought by Google and all accounts must be transfered to the Google version in the up-coming weeks.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  


GA on TV

Go here and see us on local TV doing our Christmas festival in Kerch.  It's in Russian but you'll be able to understand my portion that I do through Sergey, my personal translator.  It's around the 2:30 mark.  It looks like I was crying... and I was.... with allergies.

Watch the whole thing and you may see some folks that you know.

Gentle Giant

This is new one for this blog....

I have a friend in the Denver area that moved to China on business.  He had just gotten this cool dog named Jeager from the pound and has had difficulties finding a home for him on such short notice.  I've met him a few times and think he's a great animal.  Being a malamute/husky/wolf dog and weighing about 100 pounds, you'd think he would be a handful but he's not.  Even meeting a new person and being just let in from outside, he was amazingly calm and gentle.  He's great with kids and seems nothing if not a big softy.

Unfortunately, due to his size and appearance it takes a little courage to take on a dog like Jeager.  Please let me know if you are interested or know someone who might be.  If we can't find a home for him he'll likely go back to the pound and....

Anyway, here's some pics of the big fella.


The Lone Ranger

I think we're pretty close to resolving the situation with the Polaris Ranger that has been imprisoned in customs storage since it arrived in the summer.  That isn't to say that it will be an arrangement with which we are pleased...

The ubiquitous "they" have decided that despite our Ranger not being street legal, it falls under the category of passenger car.  This means that it is not eligible to be imported duty-free as humanitarian aid and will be assessed a massive tariff.  When I say massive I mean really extreme.  We must pay both a 20% import tax and an additional 20% sales tax... a full 40% of the vehicle's value in order to take possession!  

Between this tax, the storage costs (accumulating at 10 Euros/day for better part of forever), processing fees and whatever else they might decide to assess, it's going to run us every bit of $4500 USD to actually take possession of a vehicle that we should already own.  I'm very frustrated with the bureaucracy and utter lack of logic in the categorization process but the reality is this....

In the next 4-6 months we have just as much work (if not more) to do at the Hope Center and we have FAR less manpower and free time with which to accomplish it.  To prepare the camp for summer, clean up from the winter and maintain the facilities, we NEED this vehicle.  

Also, even with the costs associated with this customs fiasco, our overall cost is still around half the going rate for this type of vehicle in Ukraine.

If any of you are interested in helping us clear the final hurdle to getting the Ranger to the Hope Center, contact me at: mgaw@global-act.org and I can direct you.


LoTD - Sergey IceCreamakov

Oh, man....

I've been waiting for Sergey to leave so I could post this.  

Tonight we were playing dominos and he was singing (apparently) the lyrics to "Fergalicious."  At one point during the chorus he substituted the title word for "Fridgelicious" - as in, "My body is fridgelicious."

I love the idea of a hip-hop song talking about having a fridgelicious body.  I think the genre may have turned a corner here.

After-school special

Last week was the first week of a new program here at the Hope Center.  For lack of creativity, we call it "After School Program"... ingenious isn't it?  This program reaches out to children in disadvantaged or troubled families.  The kids start trickling in between 12 and 2pm depending on when they get out of school.  Usually they play games indoors, unless the weather permits otherwise, they are then served a hearty Ukrainian lunch of soup, bread, salad, meat, and potatoes and some hot beverage.  For some, this is the first meal of the day.  From 2:30 to 4 homework is worked on along with playtime and/or English lessons.  At 4pm we finish up with craft time and/or a large group English lesson/game.  At 5pm they grab one last snack and then head home, excited to come back the next day.  

We started with 10 kids the first day.  Although we weren't quite sure what we were doing, they LOVED it.  In fact, Jenya got a phone call from one of the girls asking if her friend could come the next day.  We ended up with 13 the second day, 18 the third day, and 22 by the fourth day.  It looks like we will have 30 total by the start of February... phew!  

They are great kids and I can already tell I'm going to be hurting when they leave in May.  Crafts have been a big hit, and they are very excited to learn English.  I've also upped the wowie factor with my mad basketball skills.  In a non-basketball culture my junior high school training can go a long way!  They found Around the World to be a fascinating game.  

The last couple of days I've been so lucky to have Sergey IceCreamakov (that's what we lovingly call him since his last name resembles the Russian word for ice cream) come translate for me and help with lesson planning.  He has been a HUGE help!

We will be starting Bible lessons soon.  We  have a few nervous families so we will be inviting them to see that we won't be doing any crazy blood rituals and/or sacrifices.  You can be praying that it goes over well.  

It's somewhat difficult trying to figure out Campbell's sleep schedule and which one of us will be able to help with the program, but we are having a great time with it.  I wish Campbell could spend more time with them, but we tried skipping the afternoon nap and we were not a happy family that day.  

Here are a few pictures.  We'll try to keep you updated as we get further into it.  Feel free to give any ideas on games, crafts, and activities.  I've taught them thumbs up 7up so far.  What was your favorite game as a kid?


Finally, some perspective!

I haven't said anything about the historic few days that have started this week (MLK, inauguration) mainly because I don't trust myself to get into it without getting longwinded, preachy, and unproductively cynical.

Today Carlos Whittaker does a better job than I think I could have.  He's an Obama guy who actually brings a bit of reality and perspective the inauguration.  Check it out.

A serious God moment

I thought you should all be blessed by this....

Last night I experienced a miracle.  It was unarguably a moment where the Lord stepped into the physical realm and made his presence known.

Yesterday Cam didn't take a nap and by about 7pm is was fairly obvious.  He wasn't actually making this face.... 
...but that was pretty much his attitude.

He was whining a bit and when I tried to joke with him a little to distract him,  he proceeded to hit me in temple with Thomas the Tank Engine or one of his equally solid cohorts.  I don't mean a tap; he gave me the business.

As though in a dream, I watched myself from above as I calmly stood up, and in a firm but controlled fashion took him to his room where he received a reasoned explanation for the spanking he would receive.  I gave him two solid swats and gave him a hug.

What is that!?!  I have felt like breaking my own finger in anger and frustration for far less egregious things.  After I came back in, Sarah said she was shocked how calm I was and I think even Campbell was a little worried about the silence.  I don't mean to say that I'm an angry person but I certainly don't have it within myself to react like this.

Anyway, maybe the point is that I'm trying to make is that the Lord can be found in so many places if you're willing to look and realize how much he helps us deal with our fallen nature.



This post is not appropriate for vegans, pacifists, sensitive children and certain beloved older sisters!  Hunting-related (though not gratuitous) images will follow.

OK, I feel like I've done my part to give ample warning regarding the below content.  As many of you know, I hunted this weekend.  I had a great time and made good friends with Roman and his father Gregory.  They supplied all that I needed in the way of firearms and were very generous with anything else they felt I needed.  

These are 2 of the shotguns we used.  The over-under in the background is a handmade 12 gauge that probably cost a few shekels.  I didn't use that one at all and only used the side-by-side 16 gauge (pictured) for half the day Saturday - using an over-under 16 the rest of the time.  As you can see, this one has external hammers (a new thing for me) and both are uniquely and intricately engraved.

Here is Roman with his pheasant and the gun I used most of weekend.

You may be catching the pattern here...  Roman is awesome.  This is his male pheasant from today.  In all he took 2 rabbits and 3 pheasant in just under a day and a half.

This is me and Gregory hamming it up after I got my rabbit - I know you were all wondering if I was batting .000.  This was all I was able to get but I had a great time and was pleased with the results.

I don't want to be the guy who blames his failings on his equipment but I must explain that this both my first time with this style of shotgun and my first time hunting either of these species.  It was a lot for me to learn on the first try.  I had a horrible time getting my reflexes around the double trigger set-up.  I just couldn't transition from the first barrel to the second smoothly.  In fact, I never even attempted a follow-up shot.  I'd like to think that I would have made a better accounting of myself had I had the ol' 870 pumper with me on this one.


Gotta tell someone...

Do you ever have those moments where something funny happens but there isn't anyone around to tell?  Lucky I have a blog and an audience of nearly double figures with which to share this one.

If you have facebook you'll know immediately what I'm talking about here.  When you're on a page, there is always an advertisement column on the right that says something like:

"Do you know about MC Hammer?  One of your friends is a fan.  Would you like to become a fan?"

So today I noticed one for "Sereness Skies" and I thought the name sounded familiar.  I thought about it for a bit and it came to me...  "Isn't that the name of the facility where the doctor who delivered Campbell worked?"  What a weird thing to be a facebook fan of!

As it turns out, Sereness Skies is a band of some stripe, the name of the facility is "Blue Skies" and I had just mentally superimposed the sereneness.

He he... I'm so childish.

Thursday 13: Smorgasbord of updates

13 interesting things that have happened or we have planned in the past week.
  1. Recently it's been nice and warm!  It's probably hit 50 degrees the last two days - A very welcome change.
  2. Last night we were able to visit Andrey, the vocational student who was in South Africa - He seems well and in good spirits as he is studying to become a ships engineer.
  3. We are coming to the end of our first week with the after-school program - We'll add a few new kids everyday and will max-out at about 30 after a few weeks.  We're still nailing down the schedule but the kids are great and we have a good time with them.
  4. We are trying to potty train Campbell at the moment and it's going....  well, poorly.  Any thoughts or hints would be appreciated.  Our main issue is not that he doesn't let us know when he needs to go, it's that he refuses to sit on the toilet at all.
  5. As mentioned in the previous semi-controversial post, I will be going rabbit and pheasant hunting this weekend with my new hunting buddy Roman.
  6. Jenya and I plan to go to the northeastern city of Donetsk to see Shakhtar play Tottenham in the UEFA Cup on February 18th.  It'll be about a 3 day round trip by train and an absolutely memorable one.  My first professional game and it's my Ukrainian team and a decent English side in the second-highest European club competition.
  7. At the end of March we will be going to Belarus to do a Hope Center style camp at an orphanage.  It should be a exciting time for our staff and we hope they let us back in this time.
  8. For April and May we have our Bulgarian friend Kremena (from Sweden) visiting as an intern!  This is will overlap with our other friend Meghan who will come here on May 2nd after she finishes school in Egypt.  How fun and international we are!
  9. Sarah went to the village of Bagerava to visit some of her favorite kids from camp last year.
  10. I was in Bagerava earlier in the week to bring some much needed aid to a few families.  An apartment building in town burned down leaving many families without anything.  Further efforts may include providing beds for all the buildings former residents.
  11. Sergey M. is back in town today after having been the MC at a concert in Kiev featuring Coldplay and the Ting Tings among others.  He's become kind of famous over here.  He will be here for a month helping out with the after-school program.
  12. The grocery store still had diapers yesterday.  This was by no means assured so we were excited to get another week's supply.
  13. Did I mention that I'm going hunting?


...and I'm back in the game!

Many of you know that one of major downsides to our time in Ukraine is that I miss hunting and all the camaraderie that comes from these trips.  As much as I love hunting, it's just one of the sacrifices that I've decided to make to be here.  Funny how the Lord blesses when we least expect it....

Right after we left in September the Hope Center hired Roman as a general handyman and for general awesomeness.  His father is the caretaker of Fort Totleben here in Kerch and a former Soviet officer.  Since returning I have also learned that they are both avid hunters.  This week we've been exchanging pictures and stories about our favorite experiences and I lent Roman a DVD of some bow hunts that I got as a free handout in MI.

Due to the type of land around here, he hunts rabbits, pheasant, ducks and geese (but will shoot a wild boar if he comes across one).  They are limited to mostly shotgunning by federal laws banning rifled weapons so they are VERY interested in my hunting of deer, elk and pronghorn.

So the big news is this...

This weekend Roman, his father and brother are taking me hunting!  We're going for pheasant on Saturday and rabbits on Sunday.  I am unbelievably excited.  This is really an amazing opportunity.  Hunting here is strictly regulated and limited to those who are officially recognized as being part of the exclusive hunting clubs.  

I hope to take a lot of pictures and share those early in the week.


Let's get organized!

We have gotten some outstanding care packages and requests from many friends as to what we would like in future packages.  We've decided that it's time to organize this process so we get more bang for your buck.  Here are some things that we would like, not all of which would you need to purchase:

  • My newest Cabelas catalogue - If you live in the Springs you can contact my parents and get this from them.
  • My disc golf discs - These don't take up much room and they would be a great game to have at camp for the after-school program from now to May.  Also at my parent's house.
  • Jerky and gummies- These speak for themselves and are always welcome.
  • Burned versions of decent TV show series or movies.  Normal US DVDs don't work on our player but burned ones do.
  • Tasty hot tea bags
  • Microwave popcorn - To go with our DVDs.
  • Pictures of yourself
  • Games or activities - Anything compact and appropriate for ages 8-15 that don't require excessive amounts of English reading.
As I read these I am struck my apparent selfishness!  I guess when you're the author you can put whatever you want in the post, right?

If you are planning a package, take these requests into consideration or leave a comment for others to read and maybe you can piggyback on each other's packages.

Ranger Situation Update

I have known the details of this situation for a few days but I have held off on posting out of... I don't know... frustration, anger, embarrassment?

Anyway, I know that a lot of you were excited to hear from me regarding the Ranger so I figure I should share.  So we have one of the these:
It came last summer and has been involved in a customs battle since.  Andrey has tried everything he can think of to get it to clear but we keep running into the same problem... the government of Ukraine doesn't really know what to make of this vehicle.  There is not really any precedent to go by.  There is a prohibition on importing cars as humanitarian aid (ie duty free).  I knew this but figured that since we were absolutely not allowed to drive it on the road - the vehicle's paperwork even indicates this - we wouldn't have a problem.

What I didn't know was that they categorize golf carts as cars.  It appears that the glitch lies in the fact that "passenger vehicle" has a different definition here than in the US.  I would say that this term indicates a vehicle that is street-legal and carries one or more occupants.

Thus, a car is, an ATV isn't, a truck is and a motorcycle may or may not be based on how it's set up.  For them, it is irrelevant whether or not you can register a vehicle to be driven on the road.
If it's motorized and of a certain size, it is classified as a car and cars cannot be imported as aid.

Andrey said that we could actually import my pick-up for camp work without paying the fees but not the Ranger.  Seriously illogical.

So the obvious question... what now?

The Ranger is in the clink until they decide how much we owe in import fees based on the value of the vehicle.  To add insult to injury, we are accumulating storage costs at 10 Euros/day for every day they delay.

I am so thankful for all of you that helped purchase the vehicle and I don't want to belittle your gifts but I'm beginning to think this may have been a poor choice.  With the best of intentions I tried to help but now I feel like I was not a good steward of the funds that were provided or the additional funds that likely be required of us.  

Thankfully, even once we pay these costs the overall expense will be less than the retail for this vehicle in the US (due to the generous help of Polaris USA) and less than half what it would cost if we purchased it in Ukraine but I can't help think that the money could have been better spent.


I kiss older men (and other awkward admissions)

I was just using the restroom (where most good thinking is done due the lack of distraction) and I developed a theory regarding a question that I have long had...

Why is it that when I give a hug to a guy from an older generation (at church or something), more often than not we end up with an awkward jockeying of faces as we try to figure out which way our heads need to go to avoid kissing?

The question was back on my mind as I just experienced this yet again with the father of Andrey (the young guy that was stuck in South Africa) when I met him for the first time today.  

I think I have the answer...

Generally when I hug someone of my own generation, they are familiar with the "bro hug" in which you grab each other's right hand (in a manner like you might if you were trying to save them from falling off a cliff rather than shake hands) and then use your free left arm to hug them... all the while keeping the heterosexual barrier of both guys' clasped and folded arms between you.  This greeting only allows you to put your face to the left (on your "bro's" right shoulder).

Stick with me here....

This means that everyone under the age of about 37 (and a select few longtime youth pastors) will instinctively go left every time.  When you hug a guy - even in the 2-armed way - who doesn't have that instinct, it's likely that they'll go to their dominant side...  putting you straight face-to-face in a romantic embrace.

Any thoughts on this theory?


Christmas Festival

If you'd like, you can pronounce 'festival' like they do in Brazil - sort of like fest-e-vall... just for a little international flair.  That's actually about how they say it here too.

Yesterday - I should clarify that I mean Saturday now that I've returned to being half a day ahead of most of my readers - we were busy all day with our second annual children's Christmas festival in Kerch.  This year we attempted to kill ourselves with 3 shows scheduled at 10, 1:30 and 5 for 1000 kids each.  It was a massive undertaking and the main reason that we adjusted our travel plans to be back here this past week.  Here's some pictures with short witty captions....

There is nothing that says protection like a grown man wearing an Elvis apron.  This is Sergey from security and one of the aprons that Sarah made for the cooks for Christmas.  Elvis in the former Soviet Union is almost as funny to me as my old McLenin's shirt.

Our super-volunteers were absolute animals.... they put in some serious work for us.  From the left, this is Anya, her 11 year old boyfriend (ok, he's like 18, but still...) Sasha, my man Sergey M., Yula and me.

We distributed just about 2200 or so of these shoe boxes.  I don't want to start a fight but these were from a British organization called Blythewood Cares and they were SIGNIFICANTLY better the OCC version we got last year... more age specific, better items, and wider age range.  Extra credit for whoever (between Tammi and Lori probably) can tell the class what the sign says.

The event was at a nearby convention hall type of facility.  Kids and their handlers stood outside in the cold for as much as an hour to get in for each show.  

The interior was nice by local standards but pictures are always tough in this auditorium.  

We got to see Maxim!  Here he is with Sergey.  His sister brought him and he seems to be doing really well.  Hopefully we can get reconnected soon.

Cam came for one performance but spent most of his time messing around with the Aloshas, who have both acquired cell phones since I saw them last.  Big Alosha (at right, who is actually littler now but still older) insists on playing Linkin Park all the time while singing into his phone like a microphone.  Whoever made the battery for his phone should win a Nobel prize in science.  

The hall was packed with munchkins like these who were really the focus of the whole event.

Who would have thought that a person would go through the trouble of filling a shoebox with coal (or so it would seem)?


Cam the hunter/d

Due to an overwhelmingly positive response to my posting the video of Cam being a deer, I decided to just bite the bullet (no pun intended) and stick the 2 clips up unedited.  I planned to put them together with some subtitles and labels but the format wouldn't allow it.  Here is the rough version of our new game (once again, no pun intended).

...and part 2....

It's not quite as funny as seeing it live or as it would have been if I could have fixed it up to look like a hunting channel spoof but, oh well.


Here has never felt so good

I suspect that some of you are keeping an eye on this site to see if we actually made it to Ukraine and whether or not they would let us in this time.  The answer is yes to both of those but the process was a trying one.

Ironically, the easiest part of the trip was actually clearing immigration in Kiev.  I rushed through the paperwork on the flight (so I could get back to trying to nap) in my .  The bus from the plane to the terminal dropped us off about 17 feet from immigration and we were the only flight that had come in, meaning we were the second in line.  Once again the embassy in San Francisco messed up and put Sarah's maiden name on her visa, but the lady at immigration didn't seem to care at all (or notice) that her paperwork and her passport didn't match... it was Orthodox Christmas Day so that may have helped with her ambivalence.

One other item of note was that I was able to get this picture....

I know that none of you know (and very few care) who this guy is, but I'm going to share anyway.  He's a Brazilian footballer known as Brandao and he's the first-choice striker for Shakhtar Donetsk, my chosen club in Ukraine.  He was sitting about 15 feet from us when I took this picture.  I had never realized - until I tried to take this sneaky photo - that the camera on my phone sounds like a bomb shelter door closing.  

He realized what I was doing and looked over with a friendly smile... and then promptly moved seats.  I don't really know why since I appeared to be the only person in the airport who recognized him.

Other than that, the 7 hours in Kiev were awful.  Cam hadn't really slept in 24 hours and a few times it was pretty obvious.  Once we made it on the plane to Simferopol we were able to relax and the drive home with Andrey was nice if a little long.  We're here today and recuperating with a little soup and potatoes, plus a generous allotment of tea breaks.  More updates to come regarding HopeCenter, it's staff and the situation on the ground here.


Poll Question

I've been watching a lot of the Pursuit channel lately.  It's a low budget digital station that is split about 60-40 between hunting shows and paid programming.  I figure I should get a bit of hunting fix before I head overseas.

Cam's picked up on it and has made up a game whereby he hands me a toy bow and arrow and then wanders around waiting for me to "shoot" him (he insists that I do this).  When I do he runs crazily around before falling "dead" at my feet and demands that I pick his head up and show it to the camera - telling the audience what a great deer he is.

So here's the question....

Hypothetically, if I have video of this, is it tasteless to post it to the blog?  Answer at right....

Bon Voyage

Nothing says "Goodbye, I'm off to eastern Europe" like a cliched French expression.  We leave the thumb of Michigan tomorrow (Tuesday) about lunch to make our 6:10 pm flight to Frankfurt.  We should hit our beds in Kerch 3 flights, a slow 4 hour, 130-mile winter car ride and 24 hours later and be desperately ready for a nap.

Please be praying for us and especially for Cam.