We must have looked like a traveling flea market when we piled up at the Lufthansa counter in Houston, on Christmas day. The six of us had luggage, lots o’luggage. We had suitcases, large and small, we had roll-ons, we had backpacks, we had computer bags, plus…we had 6 Rubbermaid tubs filled with toys. I would say we had about 25 pieces. Well, I did say it.

Shouldn’t be a problem, we had permission for some extra pieces, but not as many as we brought. Anyway, how full can a plane be on Christmas day, heading to Germany? Can you say, “FULL”? Oh, well, things could be worse. In fact, it looked like it was about to be so.ooked like it was about to be so.

Last year, we were met with a less than friendly, let me help you kind of counter agent. She cut us no slack last time. She was going to be our window, again. Fortunately, she did her “friendly service” on the guy at the counter. As he was turning to leave, she said, “Let me weigh your carry-on.” Those are words you never want to hear. In most cases, if you put a pair of socks in your carry-on, it will be overweight.

At that moment, the young man next to her signaled us to his counter where he graciously allowed all our blue jeans and toys onto the plane, without an extra charge. Neither did he concern himself with our carry-on or backpacks. Thank You, Lord, for small favors.

I think we set a new record this flight. Only 1 piece of luggage was still on the conveyor in Germany, as we collected our bags in Moscow. It was a bag full of presents Vitaly had ordered for Alyona. It made its way to Vladimir twA strange phenomenon occurs when we enter Russia… McDonald’s becomes a desirable food. Yeah, I know. But, it is Russia, after all. Normally, it takes about 45 minutes to reach McD after we leave the airport. This time, it took 4, yes, I said 4, count ‘em, 1, 2, 3, 4 hours to get there.

Mega-traffic. We’ve never seen the like. In all, it took 9 hours to make the 90 mile trip to Vladimir, instead of the usual 4. No, weather wasn’t a factor. All those Russians driving on the roads were the problem. So much for a good night’s sleep. for a good night’s sleep.

It is kind of funny to pull up to a hotel at 3 a.m. and have to wake the doorman from his sleep on the couch so he can turn on the lobby lights. Plus, it disturbs the receptionist’s sleep, too.

Here it is, the middle of winter in Russia, freezing temps, but no snow, no ice, just cold. I didn’t know they had grass in Russia.

Now, this ain’t good, you know? I mean, we paid good rubles to have two horse-drawn sleighs transported to Barskoe Gorodische for kids to ride in. Those sleighs have runners, not tires. What to do? Well, God had His hand on the snow throttle. He poured out about 6-8” 3 days before the rides.

We prayed like crazy for more snow, as we shopped like mad for the party. We just love the open markets. We bought 100 lb. bags of flour, sugar, macaroni, etc., to fill the pantry. Then, for the party, we added crates of fruit, meat, treats, socks, and other gifts.
New fallen snow, as Lena, Howard, and Zhanna get ready for the party.
Like I said, He snowed 3 days before we needed it. The 6-8” of packed snow on the ground was just about right. But, God made it righter. The night before the sleigh rides, it snowed again. Just a light snow, but enough to make a fresh fluff. I guess God likes sleigh rides, too.

While the kids performed their Christmas play for some of the team, the rest of us set up for the party. Stephanie made sure all the new jeans were laid out on benches, along with new “toed” socks for all the kids.

Everyone had a wonderful time, as Jan dressed volunteers (the kids) in their costumes to play out the nativity scene. Angela played her flute and sang with the kids.

After they ate lunch, Richard stood guard over the large choco-Santas, as treats and jeans were handed out.

I took each one of the kids’ photo, while Donna printed them and placed them in a Christmas folder. They love pictures of themselves. Most have never seen one. The director loved it so much, she asked for a copy of each child to hang on the wall.


We brought a tiny photo printer, well, a tiny printer that prints photos, not printer that prints tiny photos. What a blast! Digital camera + portable printer = Polaroid for the 21st century. Gotta luvit!


Then, outside for sleigh rides! It was a postcard moment, as the massive horses pulled the huge sleighs around the orphanage grounds. They even unhitched the horses and let the kids ride bareback. It was only a moment in time, but it was the moment of a lifetime. Some of the kids told Stephanie they never dreamed they would ever get to ride a horse or sleigh. It was reminiscent of their comments, when we brought the bicycles in years past.

Isn’t it amazing? Such simple things meet the dreams of a child. They don’t even know they can’t live without an X-Box.
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Well, pardner, it was about that time. As dusk was settling in, we dusted off the old van, hitched it up, and rode off into the sunset, our hearts full, their lives richer. After all, they had become cowboys. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.

On to Day 3 >>