Thursday, January 22, 2015

First Day of School 2014-2015

When we first moved to Astana, Jon and I had decided that we would homeschool the children. I found 2 homeschooling programs to choose from that I loved and I looked forward to giving homeschooling a try. I no longer wanted to deal with uniforms and children with dangerously heavy backpacks because they had to take their books back-and-forth from home and school (books could not be stored in the desks). I was REALLY tired of not being able to help my children with their schoolwork because it was in a language I didn't understand. And, I was also done with my children being in school for LONG hours, and classmates having so much of an impact (which was often negative) in my children's lives.

Jon's new job offered a stipend to help us pay for the children's schooling (awesome!). Unfortunately, it wouldn't completely cover the private international school that looked beautiful and was all taught in English. :( The stipend for homeschooling was more than generous, we thought. Our other option was a local public school taught in Russian, and we were comforted to hear that, in general, the Kazakh people were a lot nicer than the Muscovites. Still, I wanted to try homeschooling.

Then, the move came. I'm sure most of you know the pressure and stress of moving and how young children really don't fully comprehend all that and instead of giving you space to get things done, they get in your face and want your attention. I think they're just seeking for reassurance, understandably, during such a time. Unfortunately, I became quite concerned that with all the recent neediness, I couldn't be both their teacher and also do all the other things I have to take care for our home and family, especially if the extreme neediness should continue.

So, as a last minute decision, and of course with prayer, we decided to send the children to the same public-school our friends, the Willardson's, were sending their girls. Now, it would be quite unfair for me to leave out that the Willardson's had already done a TON of legwork in finding the school and getting things set up for their girls. It was a headache! They were so good and patient to guide and help us along with getting paperwork, medical checks, and such completed. Thank you, Spencer and Yulia!

The children's new school was BRAND-NEW and still not fully completed a few days before school started. We were excited to hear that the president of Kazakhstan was coming for the first-day celebration, so the workers were working extra hard and fast to get the school done. 

Unfortunately, because it was such a new school, things weren't quite as organized as we would like. When we went to pick up the children's uniforms at some random, hard-to-find store across town, we found out that the school had not ordered enough uniforms and so we got what little they had left for our children, and then we had to find stuff that would "work" until we could complete Kate's and James's uniform sets. The uniform code seemed to be a lot stricter at this school than what Kate had in Moscow. We also had to buy our own books, and finding those special bookstores and books was also a headache. Thankfully, Yulia found most of our books for us! We really couldn't have done this without her!

Later, we also discovered that the cafeteria would not be complete for several weeks after school started, so we'd have to send lunches and snacks for the children. And, most shocking of all, Kate would have to start attending school on Saturdays. Another disappointing development that did not affect our family THIS year, but did affect the Willardsons, was that because the school was so full of children, they had to split up the days so some children went to school from 8am-2pm while the other ones went from 2pm-7:15pm! That's 15 minutes past our younger children's bedtime!

All of these strange developments caused me to often question my resolve about doing the whole public school thing. But, we figured we'd trudge ahead and finish what we started. The children WERE excited to go to school, and, Kate and James were lucky enough to get to each share a class with one (or two) of the Willardson girls their ages.

After scrambling to get all our preparations done, the first day of school was upon us. In this part of the world, school always starts on September 1st, no matter what day that lands on (this year, that was on Monday) and is considered a holiday. Mostly, the first day of school is geared towards the first class to welcome them and celebrate.

-My handsome, sweet James waiting at the bus stop. That scenery behind him is just a picture covering the metal wall. Beyond that, they're building in preparation for the 2017 World Fair!-

-The school, for grades 1 through 11-

As the children from first class approached, each of them were given a balloon and were asked to join their teachers and classmates. (Of course James asked for a blue balloon!) It's always hard for me to let my lambs go off with "strangers" in such a crowd, out of sight, until I can finally find them in the crowd. There are *13* first classes with 25 students each!!!

-The Willardson twins, Sophia and Lexa, noticing a couple stray balloons floating away in the sky.-

The presentation was okay, but a little disappointing for Jon and me. President Nazarbayev wasn't able to show in the end :( and since Jon and I couldn't really understand most of it, and we couldn't see much because we were shoved into a corner by a large crowd, we were a little bored. The whole thing also went a little longer because I think they were waiting for the president, so my feet were dying before the end.

-We brought snacks for William to encourage good behavior-

One tradition that I've come to love (and they did this in Moscow as well) is that the children all release their balloons together at the end to complete the celebration. Hooray for the first day of school!

-Our cute and tough first classers (I realize that "classer" may not be a word, but I'VE decided it works)-

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kid's Production

To commemorate another school year starting (the following day), on August 31st, our children and the Willardon girls put on a play for the parents. The story included birds, a fairies, and a scorpion.


In August we went to a party that went really late that evening, so we were grateful that one of the other fathers offered to give me and my younger children a ride home. He actually owns his own car! It was so nice that we didn't have to take the bus!

Tummies full of s'mores, hot dogs, and watermelon, we headed home. There were no car seat laws in Kazakhstan at the time, but I was just grateful for seatbelts in the car at all. I had to laugh when I turned around to look back at the children at one point and saw William looking like he was being strangled by his seatbelt. Looks super safe, doesn't it? Had to fix that!

A Toy Loom?!

I love how they sell looms at the toy store here! ;)

Primary Talk

James wrote his primary talk all by himself, but since he's still an earlyish reader, I tried to help make "reading" his talk a lot easier and at his level. (I like how James added the part with the moths in the house!)
-talk given at the end of August 2014

Everything Is Better With Friends

Long bus rides are SO much better when you can talk, play games and tell secrets with friends!

-Playing telephone-

Monday, January 19, 2015

Double Yoke Hard Boiled Egg

My FIRST double yoke hard boiled egg! So fun!

Mmm, Watermelon!!!

NEVER before have we had such consistent, perfectly delicious watermelons than we did at the end of this past summer when we first moved to Astana. Delicious isn't even the best word to describe them. Heavenly, maybe.

Sure, I remember one really good watermelon in upstate New York from the farmers market and a couple that we bought in Moscow that may compare, but those were rare occasions. It's not too hard to find good watermelons, but it is remarkable to find perfect watermelons. Kazakh watermelons?…Mmm! They were perfect. We miss them!

You cannot find seedless watermelon here, and we say "great" to that! We found that when you lose the seeds, you lose the flavor.

-One day when the kids were in quiet time I had to eat a watermelon like I used to eat them with my mom. A big center slice on a plate and a spoon.-

-My lambs noshing on watermelon triangles -- the preferred way to serve them-

-William loving on a huge watermelon-

-William, tummy full to bursting of watermelon and sticky juice covering him 
(love the seed stuck on his belly).
His tummy LOOKS like the melon he just ate.-


Because we live right across the street from grassy wetlands, there is quite a "healthy" amount of insects by our building. Specifically, grasshoppers and dragonflies. At first they were just fun for my children to admire and observe, but then they started catching them with the Willardson girls. Thankfully, they are as gentle as possible (with only one or two missing legs). They consider the bugs their friends and have no malice towards them, they just needed to learn how gentle to be.

It's a fun change for me. I consider this a way that my children get to experience being "real" children. There's not a lot of Jon's or my childhood that we get to share with our children, living out of our home country. Their experiences are completely foreign (no pun intended) to us. But, catching bugs... that's something ALL children should get to do! (In Moscow, the only insects I remember having were house flies, fruit flies, wool and grain moths, and the VERY occasional spider.)

-Dragonflies are A LOT harder to capture than grasshoppers. It takes skill and patience. Kate is so proud of herself that she was able to do it a few time.-

-This was funny to see a bunch of dragonflies on the ceiling of our entryway after church one day-

-James was VERY disturbed and upset to see these poor dragonflies stuck in the tar of one of the areas being worked on. I guess they were attracted to how it shined. He was literally brought to tears. He wanted justice to be done! That little guy has so much empathy and seems to hurt inside when others do, especially those he loves (like his friends, the dragonflies).-

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Our Gorgeous View

I have so many gorgeous pictures of the view of the steppes that we can see from our apartment windows! I'll just share the ones of late summer for now, but I promise that you will see more! I LOVE this view. 

There were so many times in Moscow where I felt like Heidi did in the book when she was sent to Frankfurt and ached for the mountains. We previously lived in Ithaca, New York for 7 years and it was luscious and green and there were SO many trees and vegetation (we even lived across the street from bird sanctuary) and having to trade that for gray/tan buildings in Moscow was quite a horrible shock! Admittedly, our first apartment in Moscow had a nice view of Izmaylovky park from a distance (which has lots of trees), but we still had to look over tons of bland buildings and smokey pipes, and when we had to move a few blocks away last winter, there was only a handful of trees that we could see at all. And, sadly, when summer came, we found out that several of those trees were dead and would never grow leaves. :( The feeling was stifling and claustrophobic! I needed nature; I needed space!

Because of that, this gorgeous view just makes my heart want to fly! It's so therapeutic on days when I might be feeling a little overwhelmed to crack open my bedroom window (even in the cold of winter) and smell that wonderful, fresh air and just imagine that it's just me and nature and nothing is pressing me in.