Jordans in Siberia (and Michigan)

Keeping up with daily life of the Jordans


The REST of summer?

Did I end the last post with something about the “rest of summer”?  Of course, I meant the remaining part of summer.  Rest as in the sense of restful would not describe our time.

The arrival of August has brought the first reminders that summer will end all too soon.  Yet in the busy, chaotic days there is a sense of hope when I think of the return to routine.  In the past four weeks we have devoted a lot of time and energy to settling in to our new house.  Most of the boxes are unpacked and a large portion of the thistles have been cut in our backyard jungle.  While we do not yet feel that we actually live here, we do have a sense that this is home base.

Eric, Darin and Ryan have been settling in, too.  Darin’s room is neatly arranged.  Ryan’s is comfortably full of his collected stuff.  Eric’s is…well, to quote our beloved teenager “Why do I need a dresser?  I have a floor!”

For the last several days Darin has been away at summer camp.  During this time, Eric has been suffering intense feelings of the “b word” (can’t say it or there will be more chores to do); perhaps he has even had fleeting thoughts of joining band so he could be with all his local friends at band camp.  Ryan has had several great days playing with friends.  When we finally sat down to supper with just the four of us, Ryan asked “Where is Darin?”  We all laughed and reminded him that Darin won’t be home for a few more days.

Has life become less exciting?  Not yet!  While describing our garage sale finds and backyard work may not sound thrilling, God is working in and through us.  Friends are listening and encouraging us.  Slowly, we are beginning to feel more at peace with living on this side of the world.

Since I don’t have a recent picture to share with this post, here’s a fun snapshot of today.  When we finally arrived home from Saturday errands and garage sales, we had a van full of treasures.  Once everything was unloaded and the groceries put in the fridge, I ran around the house to Eric, Ryan and Alan and shared a special treat with them.  Today is my birthday and I got a free piece of pie at a local shop.  Since it was only one piece, the best way to enjoy it was immediately, in fun bites with everyone in the midst of whatever they were doing at the moment.


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Big Hills

Almost as soon as the last bell rang for school, we were on the road.  The trip to Colorado was long and mostly boring.  With careful attention, we managed to find all but three of the 50 states on license plates, along with four Canadian provinces.

For a week we lived in the comfortable facility at Mission Training International near Colorado Springs.  The best part was enjoying time with others who are in transition from missions.  Sharing our stories encouraged and helped us.  During sessions, we worked through many issues.

Losses v Gains As our group looked the losses our transition brings, there was a silence deeper than words.  Then someone said "Under gains write 'peanutbutter'.  We do like it, but it sure doesn't bring up the balance."

Losses v Gains
As our group looked at the losses our transition brings, there was a silence deeper than words. Then someone said “Under gains write ‘peanut butter’. We do like it, but it sure doesn’t bring up the balance.”


Saying good-bye to everyone at MTI, we set off on the next step of our trip: family camping trip.


*******************************Eric taking over.*******************************************


After the aforementioned account we got on to the overly natural big hills.  As any analytical reader must have noticed by this point, I  do not overly appreciate nature.  I like a nice view, but I think it’s always better from the inside of an air-conditioned, carpeted structure, sporting multiple armchairs.  However, I now believe that the time has come to somehow make a week outdoors sound at least bearable.

the only hike i have ever enjoied in my entire life mt.massive wilderness

The only hike I have ever enjoyed in my entire life.
Mt. Massive Wilderness

my dad actually enjoys hikeing all the time. i find aimlessly walking throuugh miles of trailless rocky wilderness quite irrational.

My dad actually enjoys hiking all the time. I find aimlessly walking through miles of trail-less rocky wilderness quite irrational.

even i enjoy snowballs

Even I enjoy snowballs.

and campfires, frome a distance

…and campfires, from a distance.

however its no funwhen you wake up to ice on the rainfly

However, it’s no fun when you wake up to ice on the rainfly.

overall this harrowing week made us a fine team.

Overall this harrowing week made us a fine team.


And there’s the view from our 14-year-old.  In short, we all had a terrific time….now on with the rest of summer….

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Easter Eggs and Christmas

March has arrived and the weather forecast says “bitterly cold.”  The boys laugh.  When it is this warm in Ulan-Ude, we go cross-country skiing.  So far even on the mornings when the temp is well below zero (F), we still walk to school.

Our quick trip to Russia at the end of December/beginning of January seems like it existed in a different reality.  Trying to answer when people ask about those two weeks is difficult.  In one word: intense.

After two nights sitting on airplanes,  we arrived at the Ulan-Ude airport in the deep darkness of a winter morning.  Although Darin and Ryan were still wearing their travel sandals, they skipped out into the -35 C cold with only sweatshirts on.  As we all stood around the van with our bags and bundles, the unlocking mechanism’s battery failed, so the van could be turned on, but we couldn’t open the doors until someone ran back into the airport and bought a new battery.  We shivered and waited while billows of car exhaust hoovered in the air as too many vehicles tried to find their way through the tangle of people, bags and taxis to the exit.  Once the new battery was installed, there was still the question of how to turn off the alarm and Alan ended up jumping inside to work on it while the rest of us stood in the now less-crowded parking lot and looked up at the display of Siberian stars.  Finally we were all seated, luggage piled in around us, and headed home to the city.  Of course, when the temperature is that low most of the heat has to go on the windshield to keep it from frosting over, but we were all too travel weary and too deliriously happy to be home to be bothered by our feet freezing for another 45 minutes.

Except for Kandid who drove the van and 8-year-old Lina who came with him, the rest of our teammates were waiting in our apartment with a breakfast feast.  Joyful conversations filled every inch of space as we caught up on one anothers’ lives.  As the morning wore on, some people left, but others stayed and helped us begin the huge job of packing up our belongings.

The packing part took every spare part of almost every day we were there.  By the time we left two weeks later, everything we owned except a few bare pieces of furniture had been packed in to our bedroom.  How strange to see our sofa standing on end alongside the fridge, washing machine and stove in our bedroom.  But with all that put away, our place was ready to really become home to our teammates while we are gone.

The other part of our time was relationships.  We had great times connecting with many special people.  Each night we were exhausted beyond words, but each morning we were back to full speed with packing and visiting.  Each moment, each hug, each laugh and each tear shared with the people we love felt like it was being engraved into my heart.  We were so glad to be there to celebrate the holidays.

In the midst of everything else, we took a few hours to be family and celebrate on December 25.  The boys will remember 2013 as the year we did not “have” Easter or Christmas.  The Russian Orthodox Church follows the old style calendar, so the entire country celebrates Christmas on January 7 (see for more info).  Technically, we did have Christmas in 2013, but it was in January of last year!  Due to this same calendar discrepancy, the date for Orthodox Easter can be different, too.  Anyway, we made our special trek up “Easter Hill” behind our house on that morning.

The hill is actually just the closest of several high, rugged hills around the city.  We named it Easter Hill because usually that is the first day we go up it in the spring.  In winter, we had only climbed it as far as the washed out road.  This time we went all the way.

The loose snow came up nearly to our knees.  The air was so dry that the flakes were crispy, falling away from each other like piles of sand.  Alan and I went up the final ridge ahead of the boys and quickly hid 9 bright colored plastic Easter eggs.  We have hidden these eggs up there in all seasons and all weather, though this was the first time to do it in snow.  Each boy was told what color eggs he was to look for.  The bitter cold breeze made it hard to keep searching.  In the end, we had to laughingly give up on finding the last egg.

Inside the eggs were Russian coins.  We had a game to play and some Christmas gifts in our backpack, too, but the bite of the wind and three hours outside already, drove us quickly back down the hill to the welcome warmth of our apartment.  Another great memory made.  And fun gifts to play with…after a late lunch, a few hours of visiting people and a little more packing…

We wear easy-to-spot T-shirts for international travel.  Here we are at the start of a 48 hour trip.

SETTING OFF FOR SIBERIA–We wear easy-to-spot T-shirts for international travel. Here we are at the start of our 36 hour trip.

In the Moscow airport we ate ice cream cones.  The last hours of waiting for the last flight are only slightly shorter than the 6 hour overnight in Russian economy seating.

ABOUT 24 HOURS LATER…In the Moscow airport we ate ice cream cones. The hours of waiting for the last flight are only slightly shorter than the final 6 hour overnight flight in Russian economy seating.

RUSSIAN NEW YEAR TREE--Outside our new local "Absolute" grocery store they were decorating this tree.  Garlands were stretched over the framework.  Red coated employees look colorful in the "branches" too.

RUSSIAN NEW YEAR TREE–Outside our new local “Absolute” grocery store they were decorating this tree. Garlands were stretched over the framework. Red coated employees look colorful in the “branches” too.

A ROOMFUL OF MEMORIES--our team gathered for Christmas celebration on December 24.  We ended with carols by candlelight.

A ROOMFUL OF MEMORIES–our team gathered for Christmas celebration on December 24. We ended with carols by candlelight.

WALKING UP EASTER HILL--This street is called "Beautiful" and with the frost it really is.

WALKING UP EASTER HILL–This street is called “Beautiful” and with the frost it really is.

WALKING UP EASTER HILL--We enjoyed the sunshine, but it wasn't warm!

WALKING UP EASTER HILL–We enjoyed the sunshine, but it wasn’t warm!

EASTER HILL--This photo says a lot about Russia.  While it isn't the beautiful part, it was part of our walk.

EASTER HILL–This photo says a lot about Russia. While it isn’t the beautiful part, it was part of our walk.

Yes!  We are having fun.

Yes! We are having fun.

This was once a road...we even rode our bikes up it.  Then we had a lot of rain in the summer of 2012...

This was once a road…we even rode our bikes up it. Then we had a lot of rain in the summer of 2012…

Ryan's nest of eggs.

Ryan’s nest of eggs.

Back down the hill to home.

Back down the hill to home.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if the power line were a zipline?)

EASTER HILL--This is the Buryat prayer tree.  When I see this, I always pray for the people who put up the cloths as prayers to their gods.

EASTER HILL–This is the Buryat prayer tree. When I see this, I always pray for the people who put up the cloths as prayers to their gods.

EASTER HILL--Frost is beautiful.

EASTER HILL–Frost is beautiful.

EASTER HILL--Here comes the icy part--walking on the road.  Prince Charming puts metal spikes on his princess's boots.

EASTER HILL–Here comes the icy part–walking on the road. Alan puts metal spikes on his princess’s boots.

BACK HOME--The boys open the gifts that were with us on the hill where it was too cold to take off mittens and open zippers.

BACK HOME–The boys open the gifts that were with us on the hill where it was too cold to take off mittens and open the backpack.

Alan's archery instructor trainees take their tests.  All three passed!

Alan’s archery instructor trainees take their tests. All three passed!

A last look at familiar things before we took them apart and packed them away.

A last look at familiar things before we took them apart and packed them away.

New Year's Eve Feast with two other families.  This is a special time to share with special friends.

New Year’s Eve Feast with two other families. This is a special time to share with special friends.

Feasting together.  10 kids from age 14 to 1.

Feasting together. 10 kids from age 14 to 1.  Oh, and 7 adults, too.

Fireworks are part of the New Year Eve celebration.

Fireworks are part of the New Year’s Eve celebration.

And that seems to be all the pictures I have time to find today….Happy 2014…Or maybe now it’s about time to say Happy March 8!  (Do people on this side of the ocean know what  that means?)

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Getting to School

**It’s two months since school started, but I’m finally getting around to posting a few old blogs that have been written and waiting to be made public….maybe we’ll even get Ryan’s birthday picture taken today (only two months after his birthday!).**


School began last week rather uneventfully. Mostly. The really fun morning was Friday.


Since it is a little less than a mile to school, the boys ride their bikes. I have promised to ride with them for as long as they would like. Of course we all know that they could go by themselves, but we also know that Mommy loves to ride her bike. Thus Eric rides independently and Darin and Ryan go with Mommy through the neighborhoods to school.


On Friday morning we were half way to the middle school when the brakes seized on Darin’s back tire. Something needed adjusting or repairing in the cable, but nothing I could figure out and it was time to be at school. Quickly pulling Darin’s lock chain off of his bike, I handed it to him and gave him my bike to ride. As he pedaled away at top speed I realized I should have taken my own lock from my bike. Then I would have been able to lock Darin’s bike somewhere and leave it for Alan to tend to. Now I was stuck getting it home—and the back tire couldn’t turn freely because of the brake problem.


Ten or fifteen minutes and about as many different carry/push/pull positions later I leaned the bike against our garage and hurried inside the house to get Ryan. His school, which is right next to the middle school, starts 32 minutes later. We usually leave around 8 so that he has plenty of time to be in his classroom before the bell rings at 8:17.


But that day we left early. Although I tried for several minutes, I was unable to pump up the tires on either of our spare bikes. Alan was gone with the van. There was only one way to go to school with Ryan: on foot. While he pedaled slowly and shouted encouragement, I jogged along at a breathless trot. Ryan’s comments didn’t always help—it’s hard to laugh when you are already out of breath.


When we arrived at the bike rack by the elementary school, Ryan cried out in distress. He had forgotten his bike lock. Quickly, I told him where to ride to find the middle school bike rack so that he could get the lock off of my bike. By himself, he bravely rode out of the elementary yard and across the street. When he returned triumphantly one of his shoes was untied. I watched him stand his bike, sit on the sidewalk, laboriously tie the extra long laces and tuck them in carefully. At last he got his bike back to the rack and locked.


After all that, Ryan walked in the school doors with at least five minutes to get ready for the day.


When I reached home Alan was there. He hadn’t even gone in the house yet, but he had already fixed Darin’s bike. We laughed over the misadventures of the morning and I thought of my childhood friend who I had shared lunch with earlier that week. She had just run a half marathon and joked about having someone named “Juli” as her imaginary running partner. I had told her I didn’t think I could run a half mile. After my painful trot to school with Ryan, my laughing comment was confirmed. I really can’t run a half mile. I wonder if using the cross country ski machine in the basement would make a difference?

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Slurpee Day

The July sun was hot that evening when I got Mom’s phone message. I hesitated before informing the boys: “Today is Slurpee Day. You can get a free Slurpee at 7-11.”


Although they had already been horseback riding and spent hours at the lake with friends, the boys clamored to try this American treat.


Thus it was that after supper on the hottest day yet of summer we set out on a mile long walk to 7-11. In spite of the heat, it was fun to be walking down the sidewalk together. Almost every day in Russia we walked somewhere together—it’s the way to get places. For a few minutes, just walking made everything seem better. Then I began to tell stories. The boys can always walk if there is a story to listen to. The sweltering heat didn’t seem so bad anymore, either.


At 7-11 there was a sticky trail across the floor to the Slurpee machine. Special cups for the free Slurpees were on the counter. The boys were astounded that they could simply help themselves and there was no guard watching. Each had to ponder a moment over the multiple flavor selection. Eric decided to mix his. Darin and Ryan each chose a single color. When I picked up a cup to have a Slurpee, too, they all laughed. Each proclaimed that he would be the one to finish if Mommy didn’t want it all.


With our shoes squeaking against the sugary floor, we wished the clerk a “Happy Slurpee Day!” and headed back to the sidewalk. “Let me taste yours,” was the main flow of conversation for a while. Then the boys began to finish theirs. “Are you sure you want all of that, Mommy?” I did.


As we turned into our tree covered road, Ryan stuck out his tongue. “What color is it?” Indeed, it was electric blue. He raced home so Daddy could take a picture before it faded.


At home, the boys sprawled contentedly in the living room. A cooler breeze of evening was beginning to come in the windows. “What a tasty part of American culture,” one of them commented. “In America Slurpees are free one day of the year.”


Another funny culture moment: one evening a teenager came to our door with a fund raiser for his church. He was selling candy. Alan bought some thin mints from him.

The boys watched through the window as the youth walked back down our drive. “Wow,” one of them said. “A teenage boy with dread locks came to our house selling girl scout cookies. America sure is strange.” (The thin mints were not girl scout cookies, but the boys were yet unfamiliar with anything else by that name.)

Ryan had a blue tongue on other days, too....Here's a picture of one in June since I can't find the one we took for this blog.

Ryan had a blue tongue on other days, too….Here’s a picture of one in June since I can’t find the one we took for this blog.

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Men, Women and Aliens

When we left our “home” city of Ulan-Ude in April, we were impressed with the newly remodeled areas of the airport.  The clean floors and easy flow of people from place to place felt international.  The unique features–like bare concrete walls in the basement bathroom and barely dripping faucets in the sinks with dim lights showing your reflection in wavy mirrors–have vanished in the face of marble tiles and automatic soap dispensers.  But in the midst of all the generic modern-ness, we found one new and unique sign:

Men, Women, Aliens--Darin, Juli and Ryan try to mimic the mystery sign

Men, Women, Aliens–Darin, Juli and Ryan try to mimic the mystery sign

Although we laugh about the sign, we find plenty of perplexing moments when we feel like maybe we do fit the third category here.  To help people better understand how we might be struggling to fit in, I have prepared the following (slightly tongue-in-cheek) bit of information.  Please enjoy it and don’t hesitate to comment.



On the outside, we may look like anyone else. On the inside, we’re not very different, either. But sometimes we might act in ways that you can’t understand. Don’t be afraid to ask. Usually we can explain what we are doing.

For example, if one of us is walking down the side walk with you and suddenly we shove you into the grass, there may be a manhole cover that we were trying to keep you from stepping on. Have you ever stepped on to one of those that only looks safe? I have. The world sort of tips out from under your feet. It’s painful.


Eric is a teenager. Feed him often, anything and lots of it. Wait 30 minutes. Repeat. Watch him grow.

More seriously, we long for fresh fruits and vegetables. Cooking for us isn’t hard—in fact, you don’t need to cook most of the vegetables. The boys are looking forward to eating fresh (raw) green beans, fresh (raw) green peas, fresh lettuce, fresh berries….you get the idea.

As proper young Russians, the boys love good bread. They will probably wonder what that fluffy white stuff in colored wrappers is. They would much rather eat a bowl of Aunt Ludmilla’s Ukrainian borscht (beet, potato and cabbage soup) than Aunt Wendy’s lasagna. They are ready to try American foods, but some of the things that are common from my childhood are unfamiliar to them.


The boys may not be able to walk into your house without taking off their shoes. They would NEVER wear shoes in a Russian home unless strictly instructed to and even then it would feel wrong to them.

In Russian the word for “bathroom” is “too-a-let”. We’ve been practicing saying the English word instead of the Russian one so that we won’t sound rude.

Russian telephone conversations often begin with “Who’s this?” (demanding tone) and end with “OK.” (hang up, no good-bye). We probably come off on the phone as overly polite in Russian and just barely polite in English. Maybe by the end of summer we’ll have achieved normal phone behavior in the US and incredible, unbelievable politeness in Russian.

There are some words we use so often in Russian that they have crept in to our English. If you ask, we can probably come up with the terms in words that you understand. Also, our kids do not know a lot of the expressions and idioms you may use. They understand English fine, they just may not know exactly what you mean. (But they may use the Russian blanket phrase “I understood.”)


I don’t want to even mention the differences between what is considered safe and normal in Russia and what is safe and normal in North America. Please be patient and firm in helping us remember that not only are there more rules in the United States but that those rules are to be followed.


We are used to living in a high, dry, sandy hills. Humidity will be a big adjustment. Air conditioning is something we are also not used to. The boys look forward to having sand between their toes because they are actually going barefoot, not because they are wading through (glass strewn) sand everywhere they go.


Yes, sizing. We are used to buying things in small quantities. Milk by the liter, eggs by the 10, shampoo by the half liter…you get the idea. Fast food exists here, but not super sizing. People are smaller, too—in height as well as girth. While this may seem a rather insignificant thing to adjust to, it is an adjustment. Lest you think the adjustment is only to larger things, clothes and shoe sizes go the other direction. In Russia, Eric wears size 46 on his feet now, but in the US we are expecting nothing larger than 12.


We LOVE to be with you!  The hardest part of home service is the intensity and pace with which we meet our friends.  After years of being apart, the day comes.  We greet, we laugh, we eat, we talk, we play…and suddenly we are apart again.  Those days, hours, minutes together are cherished.  We hold on to the memories for weeks, months and years.  Yet in the midst of our busy summer, there are times when the most refreshing conversation is one about the little, everyday things of life and seeing someone twice in one week brings a feeling of familiarity and comfort that warms us with a steadier glow than the intense burst of joy at our short visits in various places.

If travel time and expenses were unlimited, we would visit each of you in your homes, invite you all for tea, and go play in Lake Michigan together.  Since we can’t quite manage that, we will rejoice over each shared moment–whether in person, by phone, in writing or by some other method.

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Spikes and Spring

You don’t want to know how many blog posts I’ve only written in my head….or how many I have actually started to write and then not finished b/c I despaired of ever getting the pictures to go with them. So today—here’s a look at life but you have to imagine the photos. Maybe they are too technically challenging for me tonight. Or maybe I’m just too tired….

You know spring is here when….

The automatic doors at the store are working again. How nice to walk through those doors instead of struggling to open the heavy single doors that do a better job of keeping out the cold.

In the morning, sidewalks are covered with the slick ice of yesterday afternoon’s puddles. Sunday morning our pastor asked Alan to sprinkle some dirt over the ice in front of the door. To do this, he had to take a shovel and chip some dirt out of the frozen mud at the bottom of the hill!

On slippery days it is fun to watch people trying to walk around outside. I tried using my spikes, but found they only made it worse. I wonder how all the women in fashionable heels manage.

Here you can imagine a photo of the spikes I attach to my boots.

Friday afternoon, March 15, outside we had spring. Darin and I walked a kilometer to one of our favorite stores. Our feet got soaked, but it was fun to take off our hats and feel the warm breeze.

At home, Ryan pulled out his old rubber boots. He called for me to watch from our third floor balcony as he skated down the icy drive. When he hit the wet ice he sent up great sprays of thick slush and whoops of delight. Afterwards he pulled off the boots and declared that they need to be given to his young friend Vanya because they really are too small.

Alan went out, too. But he simply ran some errands for a friend. No fun in the mud for him.

Only Eric didn’t get out. But he took a looooong time coming home from school. “What happened?” Alan asked when Eric finally arrived. “Ryan and I built a dam.” The explanation was short, but on a day when all the world is melting into puddles, no more needs to be said.

Now you can imagine photos of puddles, mud dams over melting rivulets and happy boys with wet boots.