A (second) Year in Review

* Note:  I wrote this a long while back, but something happened to the pictures and I just never pushed publish.  I’m publishing it now sans pictures only so I have it for posterity 🙂

Hey friends!  I haven’t forgotten about this little space of mine, though I know it is sadly neglected.  Someday I will visit it more often, but until then I’m giving myself permission to use it as I am able.

I wrote a year in review post last year, and while it may not have meant anything to anyone, it was a good exercise for me to remember back over all the Lord had done in our lives in 2017.  There is something about remembering that helps our present selves sort of re-center in reality.  We always have those moments that crop up and we feel like, “I’ll never manage to get through XYZ!”  Remembering reminds us where we’ve been, and that we’ve managed to get through X, Y, and Z on more than one occasion – perspective is golden.

So without further adieu (ado?), our 2018 in review:


2018 started out COLD and pretty low-key for the Johnstons.  The kids (as well as Dan and I) enjoyed some belated Christmas packages from friends and family back home, and it was a sweet thing to sort of expand the joy of Christmas a bit for us.

We spent a day sledding at a golf course just outside our city with some local friends, and it was such a joy to connect with their family in a new way.  These invitations from local friends are so meaningful, and this one was a particularly sweet memory for our family as our kids and their kids had a blast, despite the language barriers.

Near the end of the month we had a very deep cold snap, during which the city heating system completely quit working.  The kids had a few days off of school, not because of the outdoor temps, but because of the indoor temps!  It was a chilly few days!


The kids enjoyed “Book Week” at school during February, and had lots of fun activities including a dress-up day.

The biggest event was certainly welcoming our new nephew into the world (albeit from way too far away!)!  Roy and Katee (Dan’s sister) had their first baby, Clarke, and we are still eagerly awaiting our first chance to meet the new cousin.  He has made family texts and videos far cuter (no offense to any of the other Johnstons ;-).

The weather remained quite bitter cold, but we tried to enjoy the snow as much as possible.  Dan and I were able to sneak in a morning hiking date, and the beauty of the mountains and fresh air were a memorable gift.


The month of March was a turning point for us in a lot of ways.  Of course as the month started, winter continued, and our spirits dragged a bit.  Winter here is long and gray…and in hindsight I don’t think we realized how much we were all in need of both some literal and figurative sunshine.  Thankfully, the Lord had just that in store for us at the end of the month.

I don’t even have much in the way of highlights from the beginning of the month.  The brightest spot for sure was that we were able to begin meeting with our first home group, and what a joy that was for us!  These people continue to become more and more dear to us all the time, and it was so kind of our Father to give us this gift of friendship and community in the midst of a figurative and literal winter.

Soon we were hit with a nasty virus, and all of the kids went down with a fever over the course of a few days.  Lydia was the last holdout, but she eventually succumbed, right before we were set to fly out for our first big international trip since arriving.  Travel dates are a tough opponent, but we managed to get on our plane, puny baby in tow.

We arrived in Greece on March 17th, all pretty weary and run down.  I remember feeling rather uncertain that we had made the right decision in planning this trip during our first year, but our good Father knew that it would be exactly what we needed.  We enjoyed two weeks of a medical conference (with tons of programs for the whole family as well), then stayed on for an extra week of family vacation.  By the time we reached the end of our 3 weeks, our hearts were forever bound to the beauty of that country, so much so that for a long time after, Wes would tell us how “homesick” he was for Greece.  Me too, buddy.  Me too.


We returned to Central Asia bursting into Spring, and our tanks filled up with the capacity and energy to dive in to the rest of the semester.  Our city almost seemed like a new place, and we happily escaped our apartment to explore all of the fresh flowers, sunshine, and GREEN!

We enjoyed our first truly authentic local dinner with our friends from our small group in April.  Their hospitality is indescribably warm and generous, and we all enjoyed the beauty of their backyard garden, the warmth of the conversations, the delicious plov (fried rice dish), and of course, the unlimited chai (tea).  Days like this truly help this place feel more like home.

April also brought international day at school:

and a wonderful day trip to the mountains with some dear friends:



I know Ellie’s highlight of this month would most certainly be starting gymnastics!  She had been talking about it since before we even left the states, but in May we finally made it happen.  With classes entirely in Russian and a whole new set of rules and norms to figure out, it hasn’t been easy, but this girl has been dedicated since the day we started.

As the weather warmed up and the school year wound down, we got out into the city as much as possible.  The kids had some fun end-of-the-year activities like field trips and programs, and Mom even had an event of my own as I participated in an international choir that performed at a local festival!  It was fun to dust off some of my old vocal experience, and it stretched me in new ways as we performed songs in German, French, Polish, & Italian!



June brought some summer fun, as well as some new experiences for Dan as he helped facilitate a group of American doctors that came to do some work locally.  He participated in some nearby rural clinics, and even took a few of them to a neighboring country to visit another clinic there doing similar work.

We also celebrated Father’s Day, hosted a birthday party for a dear friend, attended a local birthday party, and generally just enjoyed summer and the freedom that it brought.  We even (*mostly) enjoyed a very rainy hiking day in the mountains.

The month came to a close with Ellie’s first gymnastics “competition” — that’s in quotations because we honestly were never entirely sure that we understood what was actually happening 😉  But she was very brave, and very proud of that medal!



At the beginning of July, we took a little family vacation to a beautiful, mountainous lake about 2 1/2 hours from our city.  It was absolutely beautiful, and we deeply enjoyed the family time together.  We also celebrated our first 4th of July as expats and talked about how truly grateful we are to be Americans, no matter where we find ourselves in the world.

Caroline began a new venture this month as she started swimming at a nearby indoor pool.  Just like Ellie, she too dove right in (pun intended) to lessons entirely in Russian, and worked hard at her new sport three days a week.

Towards the end of the month, Dan made a (crazy fast) trip back to the states to be at his sister Jewel’s wedding in Washington state.  He was gone for a little more than a week, but was actually only there with his family for about 4 days…that’s the reality of travel to and from our neck of the woods.  He was so very happy to be able to be a part of her big day though.  Meanwhile, the kids and I attempted to keep things fun with “Camp No Dads Allowed” for the week…it mostly worked, but in the end, two kids ended up sick and some the of the activities were cancelled due to the camp director being otherwise occupied (i.e.  Mommy had to take care of the sick kids).  All in all, we survived, but we were very happy to have Daddy back.



August was perhaps the longest and most difficult month of our entire 2018.  Of course, it was not without its highlights, as well – and I suppose I’ll start with those.  Ellie celebrated her 7th birthday on August 9th…and we all celebrated our one year anniversary of arriving here in Central Asia!  It truly felt like an accomplishment, and we gave thanks to our Father for all He had seen us through in the previous year.  Onward and Upward!

We celebrated Ellie’s birthday with rainbows and unicorns, a fitting theme for our second born.  A Sunday school teacher back in Tennessee once commented that Ellie was, “sweeter than a bag of sugar!”  I think there is no better sentiment to describe her 🙂  As the party unfolded, I sat back and gave thanks for the dear friends who surrounded our girl that day – we hadn’t known a single person when we landed here the year before, and yet here we were, our kids surrounded with friends literally from all over the world.  At our table were kids from South Korea, Hong Kong, The Netherlands, and America!  There are things about this life that are of course difficult for our kids, but moments like these remind me that there are MANY gifts as well.

A few days later, we hosted a birthday party for our dear friend and teammate, then a few days after that, it was Wesley Paul’s turn for a birthday celebration!  We celebrated with our team and an Incredible’s cake, but took the party to a “water park” just outside of the city.  I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that our little boy is already FIVE!!!  He loved every minute of his big day, and fell fast asleep on the drive home.

After all of the celebrating, our month took a somber turn as we changed gears and said goodbye to three of our dear teammates and friends who ended their time here and headed back to the states.  We hosted a going-away party for them, and then had one last hoorah with a slumber party the night before they left.  I’ll never forget the feeling as I watched Dan load them all up and drive away in the early-morning darkness…good-byes will always be a part of this life that we’ve chosen, but I don’t think that means that they will ever be easy.

Two days later, we packed up and headed about 8 hours east – to a small city on our far eastern border.  The drive was long, and there aren’t exactly any rest-stops or McDonald’s along the way to break up the time, but the kids did great and we were glad to join some of our teammates and a small group of visiting American doctors for a rural medical caravan in a local village.  We stayed in a guest house in the city, then drove out to the village for the couple of days we were there.  We were glad to join Dan in some of his work for the first time as a family, and we really enjoyed getting to explore new parts of this beautiful country.

Unfortunately, Lydia got sick before our time came to an end there, so she spent the last day in the village with a high fever, and the poor girl threw-up most of the drive home.  We were really grateful to break up the drive with a short overnight stay at the lake again (the one we visited in July – but in a different area), but boy were we ever glad to get back to our apartment.  We’ve never been more grateful for western toilets and AC!

We did end the month with a very big finale, however, and welcomed our second nephew of the year – Sloan Lee Irwin!  My sister gave birth to her fourth child and first son on August 26th, and I may have stayed up all night waiting for the updates to come in 🙂

You would think August would be over at this point…but it just.kept.going.  School finally started near the end of the month, language studies continued for Dan and I, and life returned to a somewhat normal pace, though in all honesty, I think it took us some time to recover from August!



September helped return us to some semblance of normal as we settled back in to the routine of school and language classes, but there were plenty of “extras” sprinkled in.  Near the beginning of the month, on an unusually chilly day, Dan took the kids and our dear friend Diedre to meet some local friends for a picnic in the mountains (I had to bow out at the last minute due to some stomach problems…oh the joys of living overseas!).

Wes got his turn to try a new activity and enjoyed some Saturday soccer!  It may not be the “American football” his daddy played, but he was ALL in and loved every minute of it.

We enjoyed cooling temps, a visit from our fearless leader, and we checked out the local amusement park.

Then, of course, birthday season continued for the Johnston kids as we celebrated Caroline Harper’s 9th and Lydia Mae’s 2nd birthdays!  We had lots more friends over for Caroline’s Hatchimal party (if you don’t know what hatchimals are…you probably don’t have a 9-year-old girl right now!), and I was again struck with the beauty of that collection of little souls from all over the world.  I have specifically asked for dear friends for this oldest daughter of mine, and what a picture of the Father’s kindness to see them all  gathered around our table.

I made a fun “drip” cake for Lydia and we had a little party with some local friends.  It was so fun to celebrate our little sunshine girl – she is such a joy to all who meet her!



The seasons shifted again, and we saw the pace of life slow a bit again in October.  We welcomed pumpkins that started popping up in our local markets, made some applesauce, and bought some vitamin D 😉

The kids enjoyed learning about local history and participated in a day at school celebrating our local culture.  It’s really fun to see them learning and enjoying more and more about this beautiful place we get to call home.

Possibly the most important event in October…Wesley moved up to kindergarten!  Though he started the year in preschool again, most of his friends from last year moved up to kindergarten, and the new friends in his class were all much younger than him, and none of them had English as their first language.  He struggled through his first month, and every school morning was met with lots and lots of tears.  After much prayer and consideration, we decided to give kindergarten a try – and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made this year.  Our boy has thrived from day one, and we are so thankful.

We also attended our first wedding here this month, and I was even asked to do the bride’s hair for her big day!

Without contest, my favorite event of October was an overnight (fancy) yurt-stay in the mountains, just Dan and me!  Our friend Diedre was brave enough to watch all four kids for the night, and we could not have been more grateful for the gift.  What an amazing experience!

**Quick PSA:  If you come visit us, I promise to take you here 😉



We almost made it!!  November began with the return of winter and a snowy team retreat in the mountains.  Though it was COLD, we enjoyed the beauty of the snowy mountains, filled our bellies with some delicious local food, and renewed our vision with coworkers from all over our region.  The girls even joined in on the banya time (which is truly a cultural experience!), of which Caroline was a BIG fan.  (Basically the banya consists of sitting in a type of sauna room that is BLAZING hot, and they occasionally throw some water on the hot stones in the middle to create even more steam.  After you can’t take the heat any longer, you go outside (literally in this case) and jump in a “plunge pool” of freezing-cold water.  Then you run back into the hot room and repeat until you absolutely can’t take it anymore.  Then you go have tea 🙂  For the men, they also beat them with dry Oak branches at various points…just for good measure!)

After our retreat, we took a short, 3-day trip across the border to enjoy some family time over the kids’ fall break.  We didn’t do much exploring, but thoroughly enjoyed our time at the mega-mall, complete with McDonald’s, Starbucks, Burger King, Hardee’s, H&M, and a trampoline park.  What more could 6 Americans possibly ask for??

Ellie switched to a new gymnastics, changing over from rhythmic to “sport” (i.e. the type of gymnastics most Americans are accustomed to with the beam and bars, etc.).  As much as she loved her first experience here, she’s loving this one even more.  So fun to see her thrive!

About midway through November, we got hit with what I shall refer to as “the plague”.  One by one, they all dropped like flies…everyone except me.  The fever lasted for almost a week, and needless to say we were ALL wiped out after that.  But time marches on, and Thanksgiving was already upon us!

We had a blast hosting a bunch of our local friends for Thanksgiving this year!  Diedre and I planned it together, and I was thankful for another cook to help prepare the feast.  We somehow managed to put nearly all of the important “fixin’s” on the table, including a turkey!  For most of our friends, it was their first time to try turkey and pumpkin pie and cranberry Jell-O salad.  It was a really special evening and a fun way to share both about our culture and our faith with some of our friends here.


We made it!  I kicked off December with a day at my favorite bazaar (the one with all of the local textiles) with my favorite boy (the one with the cute grin).  A day spent at the fabric bazaar is a day well spent 😉

Okay, but really most of December was spent celebrating Advent, enjoying all of our favorite traditions leading up to the celebration of the birth of our Savior.  And, of course, shopping like any good American.  We gathered with some very dear friends and shared delicious food and sang Christmas carols and laughed and watched Christmas movies, again ever so grateful for the depth of friendships and community the Father has provided for us this year.

We decorated the house and baked a million goodies, then hosted our second annual Christmas cookie party!  This year we branched out and invited local and expat friends, kids and grownups, and we loved  the loud, crazy, bursting-at-the-seems party that ensued.  We ended the evening with sticky floors and full hearts.

Here are a few other highlights from our advent season:

Of course, Christmas day was packed full of JOY and presents and wrapping paper and candy and lots of sweet time together as a family.  In fact, for the kids’ Christmas break, we opted to keep it really low key and not go anywhere.  We did spend one BEAUTIFUL day in the mountains, and did a few fun things around the city, but for the most part we stayed in our pj’s and watched movies and ate snacks and played games and read books and took naps…it was just the kind of break we all needed.


I realize we are now already into the second month of 2019, but I’m still grateful for the chance to look back on all that happened in 2018.  There were highlights, and there were lows, there were fun days and there was a lot of work that happened in between (though not much of that is captured here!).  But throughout these pictures and daily happenings, I see the divine thread of so much grace running through it all, faithfully seeing us from one month to the next, day in and day out.  His mercies are new every morning – Great is His faithfulness!

If you read all the way through to the end, you are either a true friend or my mother!  Sorry this got so long!  I’ll do my best to be back soon with a normal sized blog post.  Love you all!


Change has been one of the few constants in our lives over this past year.  I’ve been reflecting a bit on all of it as we come to the 1 year mark of officially leaving home in Tennessee.  So many bittersweet memories populate the pictures in my phone from May and the first days of June 2017, faces of those we love and dearly miss, places that were part of our daily and weekly rhythms of life – school, neighbors, church, friends, parks, our garden, our swing set, our cul-de-sac, our HOME.  We still grieve these things deeply, each in our own way, and often at times that catch us by surprise.

On our front porch in TN shortly before our move last year.

Just the other night, Wes got up shortly after having been tucked in for bed and came and found me in my bedroom.  I initially thought he was just stalling (not an unusual occurrence), but then I realized he was a little teary as he wrapped his arms around me.  “I’m homesick, mama.”

“What does that mean to you, buddy?  What are you homesick for?”  (I have to ask this, because the poor kid has been thoroughly confused about what places constitute home this year.  After 3 weeks in Greece and only one of those at a sweet little air B&B we loved, he was frequently “homesick” for Greece when we got back to Central Asia.  Me too, bud, me too!)

“I miss my train set.  The one I used to have at home in Tennessee.”

I resist the urge to comfort him by brushing it off and reminding him that he has a new train set now.  It’s so hard to just sit in the sadness sometimes, but I’m learning it’s important.

“What about that do you miss?”

He goes on to describe it a bit, but he stops short and his big blue eyes well up again.  “I’m starting to forget what it looks like, and I don’t want to forget.  I want to remember it, Mama.”

I hug him tight, mostly as a means of concealing my own tears.  He is eventually consoled by the promise of me finding a picture of the train set tomorrow so he can look at it and remember, and I carry my growing boy back to bed.

The moment struck me in so many ways, and I have continued to let my thoughts linger here for a time.  He expressed something pretty profound for a four-year-old, and I think it’s something I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on at times.  While last year we experienced the wrenching sadness of all of the loss that was happening in real time – something sharp and definitive – I’m realizing that this sadness sort of evolves as time moves along into something perhaps less debilitating, but no less real.  It’s softer around the edges, but it sneaks up and surprises you in the strangest ways, and perhaps in the hardest way of all…the realization that time marches on without you, and you are left with real and wonderful memories that can sometimes feel a bit slippery to hold on to.

While change often means loss in one sense, it also means that there is something new in its place.  After all of the goodbyes, we ultimately got to say a lot of new Hello’s as well.  Hello to a new country, new friends, new neighbors, new classmates, a new language, new food, new parks, a new school, a new HOME.

As the kids wrap up their first school year here in CA, I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for the “new”.  They have had wonderful teachers that have loved them and guided them so well through all of their crazy transitions, and they have grown by leaps and bounds in this new place.  They have grown academically – Caroline has literally read dozens and dozens of chapter books this year, while Ellie learned to read!  And Wes has wowed us all as he begins to sound out words, do math problems with his big sisters, and has learned a great deal of Russian!

But perhaps even more importantly, they have grown in the less tangible ways of empathy, kindness, and patience – learning to have grace with those learning English even as they are learning Russian, extending sympathy towards friends who are feeling sad or nervous about starting something new, and even sharing in the excitement of their friends who have family come to visit or receive a fun package from home (especially when there are American goodies involved 🙂 ).

When I look at the nervous faces of our first-day-of-school pictures, and compare them to the confident, happy kiddos I am sending to their last days this week, I am unbelievably grateful for how very far we have come.  I have never in my life been more proud of my kids than I am now, to see them wrestle through the hard days of transition and yet finish the school year with awards for excellence (Caroline) and faithfulness (Ellie).  I am fully aware that there will still be plenty of hard days in front of us, but for this moment, I pause and recognize that they have come a long way, and I am grateful.

And then there’s this tiny peanut I left Tennessee with last year…

Who is now a full-blown toddler, and I can’t hardly even talk about it!

I’m pretty much a goner with this one.

I guess the end of school always has me feeling a bit nostalgic, but this year of change has raised the bar a bit! Here’s to hoping this next year ahead involves lots more growth and learning…but perhaps with a bit less change along the way.

Winter in CA

Hi friends!

I don’t feel like I have much inspiration to write about today, but I just need to exercise this writing muscle a little more often – so here I am, in hopes that I can be here a bit more often.  As I’ve mentioned before, always feel free to lend me some inspiration by asking questions or suggestion topics 🙂

January and February have not exactly been the fastest months on record.  We have been deep in the throes of winter – a whole new experience for our Tennessee babies!  January kicked off with temps dropping well into the negatives, though WHAT negatives is always a bit confusing since everything is measured in Celsius here.  Thank goodness for weather apps that allow me to choose Fahrenheit!

There has been much to learn about how this culture deals with the cold, snowy winters.  First and foremost, hats are a must – and the bigger the better when it comes to the kids!  Hence Lydia and Wesley’s 🙂  But the adults are not off the hook either.  One simply doesn’t leave the house without your head covered, and if you happen to slip up (especially where the children are involved), any random Babushka (grandmother) on the street is likely to give you an earful!  Needless to say, our kids got the hang of it pretty quickly.

Winter also doesn’t really slow anyone down here.  School continues to roll on (a SHOCK to my poor Southern kids who had regular snow days for the slight dustings we would get at least a time or two each winter), as does work and everything else included in day to day life.  Our kids have learned to get in and out of their snow gear on their own (including double layer coats, snow gloves, snow pants, boots, and of course the hat and hood) as they bundle up each morning for the walk to school.  One of my favorite customs we’ve learned here is that upon arriving at school, they each remove their snow gear and boots and change into slippers, which they all then shuffle around in for the rest of the day.  It seemed cumbersome to me at first, but I quickly realized how wet and sloppy those feet get every single time they step outside, and the classrooms are in much better shape because of it.

They also continue to play outside for recess almost every day, unless the temps drop too low (I’m not sure what their cut-off is, but it’s COLD).  So they bundle up again mid day and head outside with their friends – they absolutely LOVE it!  Even Wesley’s preschool class managed to get all those little ones out most days.  Most classes have a drying rack set up near a radiator to dry all of the pants and gloves so they’re good to go again by the end of the day.  I mean, it’s like these people have done this before or something!

We had one week in particular that brought some brutally cold temps (reminiscent of our college days in Iowa!), and it was unfortunately that same week that the city-wide heating system went down.  And by city-wide, I mean the whole entire city.  It was COLD.  We are very fortunate to have some additional heating in our floors in our apartment, so we were uncomfortable but never downright freezing like some folks.  The kids ended up having 4 days off school that week since the temps inside the school building were too low!  But Dan and I continued to have language, even though that building was frigid.  I snapped these pics on one of the coldest days, our teacher wrapped up in a blanket while she did an impromptu lesson on weather.  Not pictured:  me in my long-johns, jeans, extra layer of wool socks, long sleeve shirt, warmest sweater I own, knee-length down coat zipped up with scarf, hat and gloves ON.  I was not even messing around.

The kids had some fun with book week at their school and were able to dress up for a parade of characters one day.  Wesley’s class did a little presentation of the book “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you see?” in which he played the outstanding role of the lion 🙂  Caroline’s class dressed up as characters from C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” which was fortunate for Caroline as it is one of her favorites.  She dressed up as Lucy.  And Ellie’s class did a bit of a play, for which she was the narrator and read the whole story!  We are very proud of our newest little reader.  While she didn’t actually need a costume for her role, she decided to go in her little house on the prairie dress anyway.  I thought it was a nice touch.

We also were invited to our first local birthday party, which was an exciting foray into the culture, and more importantly, a huge blessing to make some new friends.  The kids practiced their Russian when they made some birthday cards, and we were so proud of the way they just jumped right in and played with the other kids (definitely some great language practice!).  And check out those candles!!

As I finish writing this, the sun is shining and the snow has melted to reveal an unthawed ground that we haven’t seen in months.  We are hopeful that Spring is on its way, though the sunny appearance is a bit deceiving as temperatures are still quite chilly!  I have recently seen lots of pictures pop up on Facebook & Instagram revealing a Tennessee spring in full bloom, and I can’t help but be a little homesick every time I scroll past those bright yellow buttercups.  Wherever you are, we hope that winter was kind to you and that spring brings you fresh hope and joy. If you need me, I’ll be busy directing the troops for spring cleaning 🙂

Made from Scratch

If you know me at all, then it is no secret to you that I love to cook.  I love the process of preparing something with my own two hands, I love the end-results of a nourishing meal, and I especially love the part where we get to gather around the table together – whether it’s “just us” on a busy week night or a table full of friends and family with ample time to linger.  The nourishment of body and soul isn’t really possible without the preparation, though.

As you might imagine, cooking overseas takes a bit of imagination sometimes.  And I will be the first to admit that imagination is not one of my strong suits.  Truth be told, I’m kind of a recipe girl.  And by “kind of” I mean “totally and completely”.  If the recipe calls for long-grain rice, you better believe I’m not going to be substituting minute-rice, even if it is a short cut (and this, my friends, is where my sister and I could not be more different).  I like to create my meal plan, make a detailed list, and be fully prepared when I hit the kitchen.  Or I should say….that’s how I used to do it before I moved my family of 6 to a foreign country.

I’ve always loved the challenge of making things from scratch (thankfully), but that has taken on a whole new meaning these days.  I never really thought we used that many “convenience” foods in our home, but I have realized how wrong I was since moving here!  Let me give you a few examples:  One of our go-to meals has always been a Chicken divan, a recipe my cousin Barb gave me way back when I was just a newly-wed.  It’s really simple, basic ingredients:  Chicken, rice, broccoli, cream of chicken soup, mayo, chedder cheese, parmesan cheese, and corn flakes.  When I found cornflakes in the store one day, I quickly thought of this recipe and thought I’d try putting it together.  So I rounded up the ingredients.

First, the rice.  I’ve always used minute rice in this (because that’s what the recipe called for, dog gone it!), but definitely can’t find that here.  No big deal, regular long-grain rice it is.  Oh, but first I need to soak it?  For a couple hours??  Ok, check.

The chicken I found in a store who’s freezer I trust.  I pay a bit more for it, but I’m just not quite ready to buy the whole chicken hanging in the open-air market.  I know how to handle boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Check.

Broccoli.  No problem. I find a head at the local store.  But first, it must be soaked in vinegar water, then washed in our good drinking water.  Then chopped.  Got it.  Done.

Mayo.  Check.  Whew, finally something easy!

Cream of chicken soup.  Ummm….crickets….nothing like that here.  Pinterest to the rescue!  I find my own recipe for the home-made variety.  It tastes SO much better, but definitely added a few more steps.  Ok, check.

Be jealous of my awesome giraffe whisk!

Cheddar cheese & Parmesan.  I carefully read the labels in Cyrillic and am elated when I find that the words for Cheddar and Parmesan are actually phonetically the same!  Score!  But first, they both need to be shredded…no easy dump-and-measure here.  Ok, check.

And the corn flakes!  I know I have these because they were what inspired me in the first place, right??  But I scour my drawers for a Ziploc bag to crush them…something else I can’t seem to find here.  I finally track one down in my bedroom that I had used to pack something (clean…I think…).  Cornflakes…check!

I compiled this meal in one of our first weeks here, and let me tell you…I was utterly unprepared for the length of time that meal would take me.  But let me also tell you, we were SO excited to eat something that tasted like home – all of the kids actually told me it tasted better than they remembered it (I attributed it to the homemade cream of chicken…mostly).

After that first laborious attempt to create a familiar meal, I set out to find ways to feed us in a much more timely manor, but also in ways that were healthy and familiar.  While we enjoy experiencing the new foods here, we also find a lot of rest in making our home feel like, well, HOME.  So I thought I’d share with you a few of the foods I’ve created from scratch to bring a bit of the familiar to our new foreign place.

Dan buying several kilos of apples from a local lady in a village.

Applesauce was pretty high on my list of “missing staples”, but I was also a bit gun shy because of the labor-intensive process of peeling and chopping a bazillion apples.  Once apple season hit, however, I found my courage and made a batch.  I think everyone’s eyes rolled back in their heads with the first taste of warm, cinnamon applesauce.  It has been added to the regular rotation here, needing to be made about once every other week.  I may never convince them to go back to the jarred variety if ever we have the opportunity.

Granola bars were another staple that I absolutely always had in our pantry back in the States, though I’m realizing that might have been for my own benefit as much as for theirs.  I would actually look forward to the days we needed to go somewhere and I could enjoy a granola bar on the drive 🙂  My mornings are busier now than ever as I have to run out the door by 8:15 to make it to language lessons 3 days a week, and I was missing that quick, easy bar to grab.  So I created my own!  I have been very pleased with the results, and am playing with different varieties as I find different ingredients (although, I still miss that handy-dandy packaging sometimes).

The next one is a pretty simple staple that I didn’t know I took for granted…half and half.  Not a hard fix, but it took us a bit of time to get the ratio right.  As it turns out, “half and half” is not exactly right.  We finally figured out the percentage of “sleevkie” (cream), the percentage of milk, and the ratio of the two mixed.  Finally our coffee tastes good again!

The last one is something I’ve been making for a long time, thanks to my Mom’s careful teaching…apple pie.  There’s nothing more American, right?  But as it turns out, Crisco is also pretty American.  So I determined to find a new kind of crust with ingredients I could find here (but first, a moment of silence for putting to rest my all-time-favorite pie crust recipe.  Sigh.).  Fortunately, pinterest won the day again and gave me a wonderful all-butter crust that turned out beautifully!  Next time I think I might try the vodka crust, since I have certainly never lived anywhere that sells vodka for less than water 😉

I’m sure I’ve lost most of my readers by now, so I’ll stop for today.  But I may revisit this topic from time to time as I discover new ways to cook here in Central Asia.  A quick shout-out to my Mom and Grandmas and many Aunts who passed on their love of cooking and the art of making things from scratch.  I’m so thankful I learned how, even when I didn’t always have to.

The Learning Curve

We survived our first week in-country!  That may seem like small potatoes, but in full-disclosure there was a point around day 3 at which Dan looked at me and said, “Do you think we can make it a week before we go home?”  (Insert laughing/crying emoji here)  Week one felt like it lasted about three months, but we’re still standing!

We arrived here on August 9th, Ellie’s 6th birthday, and after a three-hour wait in the visa line in a small holding-area-of-sorts in the airport (with only a squatty-potty and no drinks to be had), we finally made it to baggage claim.  We were thrilled to count and collect every single bag we had checked in on the other side of the world, along with our stroller, carseat, and a few too many carry-ons.  Traveling light is always advised, but I just haven’t mastered that with small children.  Maybe someday.

Once we finally made it out of the security area of the airport, we were warmly welcomed by our new co-workers and friends.  They collected all of us, all of our bags, and we finally got our first glimpse of our new city.  After roughly 34 hours of travel, it was certainly a sight for sore eyes!  We were delivered to our apartment where my new neighbor, co-worker & life-saver had organized and prepared a birthday breakfast of pancakes, whipped cream, sprinkles, strawberry sauce, fresh fruit, and plenty of other breakfast “fixins”.  My kids were ecstatic at the welcome, and after a quick tour of our new apartment, we promptly settled everyone in for a rest/catatonic nap from which I wasn’t sure we would ever awake.

But awake we did.  Especially around 2am for the first few nights.  ALL of us…for several hours.  It was a party!  Jet lag is no joke, y’all.  And for some reason, convincing a 10-month-old to go back to sleep just doesn’t work!

Our accomplishments this first week have mostly revolved around the essentials…sleeping, eating, cleaning (thank goodness I packed my Norwex!), and shopping 🙂  As the sleeping piece has improved, the others are slowly gaining some clarity – but let me tell you, feeding my family has never seemed so insurmountable as it has this past week.  Poor Wes just asked me this morning why we don’t have much food here — I promise I’m working on it, buddy!  But walking to the store, locating and deciphering items, paying in a foreign currency, carrying it all home and up 3 flights of stairs, then preparing it in a new kitchen with appliances in metrics and Russian…well, let’s just say it’s all a bit more complicated than my former trips to Publix in my handy-dandy mini-van!

But we have had some successes as we are learning the ropes here.  Dan and Ellie headed to the bazaar a few days ago, and triumphantly returned with the promise of two dressers to be delivered later that day (and they were!).  We located a fabulous little cake shop where we purchased two birthday cakes just a few days apart  (Wes’s birthday followed Ellie’s just five days later),  and we found a toy store after much searching at a local mall where the kids were able to pick out a couple of birthday gifts.  Our new friends arranged to have a small bus take us all to a local water park on Wes’s birthday, which was quite nice and we all enjoyed a bit of relaxation in the sunshine.  And just yesterday, the six of us ventured out together to the bazaar and successfully purchased a couple of rugs for our apartment.

Piece by piece, bit by bit.  I suppose any move involves a significant learning curve, but the cultural and language barriers obviously add some goliath-sized obstacles.  Patience and perseverance must become my closest companions in the days ahead as we seek to settle in and begin to make this place feel like home.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!  I promise some more exciting posts in the near future when my head is a bit less fuzzy and the world stops spinning beneath my feat.

A Hobbit’s Tale

As I sit here on my parents’ front porch listening to the rain drip around me, I feel a world away from my new home that awaits.  Largely because I AM.  It feels impossible to think that we will be boarding a plane in less than 36 hours, heading into hyperspace…

This summer has been an absolute whirlwind for our family.  I feel a bit like a hobbit as I recount our journey – “there and back again” – from Tennessee, to Missouri, then north through Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, and ultimately landing in Colorado where we spent the bulk of our summer.  And then back again, to my parents’ house in Missouri, to the bedroom I grew up in that I still refer to as my own.  It has been so incredibly full-circle to return to this place where I was born and raised, the place where backyards and city-limits were the size of my borders for so long — to leave from HERE to go to the ends of the earth??  I really do feel rather like Frodo, so very common and ordinary, and quite incapable of imagining all that lies before me.

But if I can stretch this analogy just a wee bit farther, sometimes Gandalf knocks on the door of your comfy little hobbit hole, and you have no choice but to follow him out and on to the journey.  I mean, who is a hobbit, after all, to question Gandalf?!

But hobbits and wizards aside, it’s time for our journey to finally begin.  Or continue, really.  And so we set out tomorrow, unsure of where this new road may lead.  I mean, who ever really knows, after all?  But we are very sure of Who goes before us, behind us, and WITH us every step of the way.  And no offense, but I’m rather glad it’s not Gandalf 🙂

Hello world!

Well I’ve been promising a blog for a long time, and the time has finally come!  I’m excited to get this up and running, with a HUGE thanks to our friend Matt for making it happen despite my computer-illiterate self.  I hope you’ll join me for our adventures across the globe!

This little blog is not meant to be an all-encompassing communication piece for our lives – I want to be clear on that from the start.  There will be things going on in our little corner of the world (and in our hearts) that I just can’t talk about here.  But there will be lots of daily happenings that I do intend to share, from travel mishaps (and victories) to interesting food and right on down to Lydia’s first steps.  If you’re not into the minutia of life, this might not be the place for you 🙂

But if that sounds like your cup of tea (or coffee)…I hope you’ll join us for the journey.  And I hope you’ll let me know that you’re along for the ride!  We hope this will serve as a useful tool in staying connecting with those we love and dearly miss State-side.

Until next time,