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We are working to try to catch up on the months in 2015 that we missed, but hope you enjoy reading about what has been happening in 2016.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

January, February, and March 2015


Normally, this is a "monthly" update, but because the last three months were very busy (with Phil trying to spend as much time studying Russian and then getting started on his project, along with other things going on), we decided to just combine all three months together. We hope you don't mind!

January was a pretty normal month, with just one minor "incident". We settled into our new place (which we LOVE) and really feel at home here. Everyone who visits comments about our tremendous view. One of Phil's tutors has to take a few moments to look before every lesson.

We have settled into a somewhat normal routine. Phil studies Russian most of the time and tries to use what he learns in conversation (written and verbal). Denise not only does a wonderful job of keeping our "home" in order (cooking, cleaning, Hope's school, etc.), but is also studying Russian and making good progress! Hope is doing a great job with her school this year. We regularly attend an international church on Sundays and Hope goes to their youth group every Friday evening, which now is just one metro stop away. In addition to all the "normal" things, we do keep in touch with many of our Ukrainian friends and really enjoy the time with our tutors.  We have also had guests several times, which has been a lot of fun!

We do not miss living in the village or driving on those roads. Between the potholes and sections of ice, it can be dangerous! Fortunately, the daily power outages that we were experiencing in December while living there stopped (we have friends that still live in the village). It has been wonderful to live so close to the metro (subway).

New Year's Day was a holiday for us. We watched movies and I (Phil) decided to put together the desk we bought for Denise last week. What was I thinking? How bad can it be? I found out! On half a sheet of paper, there was a very small diagram and a few directions (in Russian). They were so brief, that even if they had been in English it would not have helped. About 3 and 1/2 hours later, I finally finished the project. It is not the first thing like this I have put together (I have completed many similar projects), but it was definitely one of the most challenging. At least my screwdriver held out for this job. I broke my last one when I was doing a different project the week before. And I'm so glad it was a small desk!
This was the small desk that Phil put together for Denise
Denise worked on this puzzle persistently for three days.  Phil only helped a little bit.
These are Ukrainian painted eggs or pisanki.
On the 6th, we celebrated the anniversary of our first date, 28 years earlier to the day in 1987. We had no idea that God would lead us to live in Kiev on that first evening together when we went out to Golden Corral (the old style ones). We ate at the "Tennessee Steak House" here in Kiev. They play a country radio station from Nashville, TN, and the steaks are really good. It's worth the long metro ride!

Orthodox Christmas was on the 7th, and around those days we had several young people stop by the apartment to sing carols for us.  The reward was usually some candy, though a couple of young girls got some money, too.  The teenage boys who stopped sang out of key, but it was sweet.  The young girls sang a couple of songs, and each recited a verse.  What an interesting tradition!

It seemed that day-after-day in January, the weather was foggy. Our view from the 20th floor was pretty dreary most days, so we were glad the few days the fog lifted or the sun was out. Some days, we couldn't even see the ground below us. We really did not get much snow, just enough to cover the ground and, fortunately, it was not a really cold winter either.

The foggy view from our apartment
Our apartment was actually too warm, even with the heat only at 25%.  So our landlady kindly installed controls on our radiators (glad that was an option, because on most older apartments it is not even possible) so that we could turn down the heat (except in Hope's room, which is colder than the rest because it's on a corner).

Wednesday, the 14th was actually a really nice day.  It was sunny and in the mid-40s and with no precipitation. We were out shopping at a mall because we wanted to go to the grocery store in the one end of the mall (to get popcorn especially).

We were surprised to find a Lego store in the mall.
This is one of the displays in front of the store, with the store in the background.
On our way home we had a traffic "incident" (thankfully, this was the only one this year so far), with just one block left to get home. We were rear-ended by someone with no excuse other than he was not paying attention. We were merging into traffic on the busy road near our building, but we had to wait for a car. As we pulled forward slowly, we were hit. Fortunately, nothing "broke" - the bumper is still in one piece.  It just got bumped out of place. The back door has a small bump and the bumper a couple of nicks, but again, it could have been so much worse. We can still drive the car. And everyone is OK.

This time we didn't wait for the police.  Denise and Hope walked home while I waited for my friend to get there so he could help me out. We settled on the spot after some discussions, waiting, and more conversations. They didn't want the police involved (I think the other driver would have lost his license because he had been involved in too many accidents). But we had a body shop guy come and look at it to tell us whether that would be sufficient before we agreed. The insurance here is somewhat lacking, which is why we carry extra collision insurance in the US. We'll end up using that for one or both of these accidents, I am sure.  (We still have not fixed our front passenger door from our September accident.  Hopefully one of these months.)

Another good reason for us not to involve the police is that gives us the freedom to get it fixed without having to wait for the courts and do not have to get their insurance involved.

On Monday the 26th, we hosted a get-together of our A/G colleagues at our place.  It was informal and we had a great time of fellowship together.  We've been doing that monthly for a while and it has been helpful for us.

There was an increase in fighting in the east during the month, with more explosions in other parts of the country.  Things have been quiet and peaceful in Kiev, yet there have regularly been bomb threats/scares here. One Friday evening was the first time we were affected. Hope was at youth group and was going to head home on the metro with a friend. I went to meet her in our metro station, only to learn that there was a bomb scare at the other station and everyone was running out of that station, meaning she was unable to take the metro home. She did get home, thanks to her friend's parents, but it makes things much more "real" to us.

January and February kind of blurred together, as the weeks (and weather), were very similar.

I (Phil) had a tooth that was bothering me, so I finally broke down and found a dentist, this time one who spoke English. He's a young guy and I really like him. The clinic was very modern and clean, so I felt at ease. He decided that I needed a root canal and a new crown for the troublesome tooth, so after four visits (one for a cleaning) and about $225, I was all set.  He also found a couple of cavities and another crown that needed to be replaced (because part of it had chipped off), so in March I went three more times for about $390 and now I'm set for a while, I hope!

Small flower shops are prevalent here, so Phil bought Denise roses for Valentine's Day. You always buy an odd number here, or the ladies selling them think that something is wrong.  It is interesting to note that the roses here are not more expensive near such a holiday as they are in America.

The Valentine's Day roses were beautiful and fragrant
On Monday the 16th, I (Phil) took Denise out to eat at the Tennessee Steak House again. We enjoyed our evening together. While we were eating, Denise asked what special was coming up in March. (Even I remembered that it was her birthday!).  My response was that we are not coming back here in March, though we will go somewhere to celebrate your birthday!

Laura celebrated her 21st birthday in America without us. While this was not the first time we were not with her on her birthday, the other times we got to see her within a week or two of her birthday. This time talking with her via Skype was the best we could do.  We are proud of the young lady that she has become and look forward to seeing God use her as she continues to follow His leading.  She continues to love college and being an RA.  Once in a while we miss her like crazy - and this was one of those times!

We unveiled our new logo during the month.  Thanks to the help of Susan Korf, who designed it for us.  We created both a logo and a favicon.  We think they turned out GREAT!

Our new LOGO
The matching favicon
The last weekend in February, Hope enjoyed a youth retreat just for the teens at the international church.  They left on a bus Friday afternoon to head to Rivne (about 350 kilometers or 220 miles to the NW of Kiev) they returned Sunday evening.  She really enjoyed that time away, and so did her parents!

March was busier than the previous two months had been. The weather was really nice early in the month, leading us to think we would have a gorgeous spring, but by the end of the month we cooled down into the 30s and 40s, with cold rain often.

Denise and Hope's schedules and lives remained as normal, while I (Phil) started work on my project to determine who is not being reached by the churches in Ukraine. At the onset, I realize that it will be a challenging process, but the end result will allow AGWM to be more strategic in placing workers in Ukraine. Much of the work is my kind of work - gathering and analyzing data, using technology, and I'm really enjoying it!  You will all have to wait until mid-summer to hear the results, which should help us determine where we will go this fall.

We had a big surprise on Wednesday the 4th. About 9 PM, we heard from our "boy", Slavik, that he wanted to come to visit for a few days. That was OK with us.  However, we knew that we would be pretty busy.  He planned to arrive in Kiev on the train Saturday morning. Well, he called about 11 PM and said he couldn't wait, so he was getting on the train at 1 AM to arrive about 7 AM today. He called about 6 AM just because he was excited.  Phil met him at our metro station a little after 7:30 AM. He was beside himself with excitement. It is pretty entertaining to watch him. He was like a little kid in a candy store!  Even though we did not get to do any "fun" outings, we enjoyed having him here.  He's had a rough couple of years.

On Saturday the 7th, I (Phil), along with Slavik, went shopping for a piano with some friends. We checked out several stores and several brands of electric pianos, but it always came back to the model that my friends recommended in the beginning. After convincing Denise that it was the best option, we went ahead and bought it.  Our friends delivered it the following Saturday. It had been almost 5 years since I had a piano of my own to play, so it has been so nice. While I do not play it every day, it is very relaxing when I do play. Just what I need!!

Phil's new piano - a Yamaha P-105
On Wednesday evening the 11th, Slavik took the train back to Krivoy Rog. He was so sad about leaving that we thought he was acting like he was going to a funeral.  It seemed that he really wanted us to ask him to stay longer, but that just would not work this time.

On Thursday the 12th, we celebrated Denise's birthday by going to a restaurant to have shashlik (shish-kabobs), one of our favorite foods over here. This restaurant has a main dining room (small) and more than 10 private dining rooms in huts.  The three of us had our own space and it was very enjoyable!  And the food was delicious!  We celebrated on Thursday because Hope has youth group on Friday evenings.  On Friday (which was really her birthday), Denise made brownies and we watched a movie while Hope was gone in the evening.

The birthday girl and Hope in our dining hut
The decor was rustic and interesting
More decor and a look out the little window
The walkway around the little huts
They even had covered picnic tables
One of the desserts we ordered - apple strudel.  Unfortunately, none of us liked it because of one spice they used.
The financial situation here has been challenging.  The grivna (Ukrainian currency) stayed at about 16 to the dollar during January (it was 12 when we came arrived last summer), but February was crazy. The grivna went from 16 to the dollar, to 24 to the dollar, fell to more than 30 to the dollar, and recovered to about 28 to the dollar at the end of the month. In March, it settled in at about 23 to the dollar. Needless to say, the sudden drop created quite a panic here. It was interesting to notice the things that disappeared from store shelves and could not be found - flour, sugar, soap, and shampoo. Fortunately, that panic did not last long, and those things were readily available within a week. Analysts predict that it will fall again, so for now we wait and see.

In April, we will celebrate two Easters - western and eastern - on the 5th and 12th.  Denise and Hope will continue their studies while Phil continues working on his project.  In addition, we'll be preparing for a trip to Krivoy Rog the first week of May.

We appreciate you reading about our adventures and we apologize for getting so far behind!

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