Ho Ho Hum

We all have head colds/the flu.

There is no sound like five people hacking their lungs up around the clock. Nor is there any humor in David's repeated references to a "ca-cough-ony." I like vocabulary words, but not such punny ones when my head is clogged. Cough medicine doesn't seem to do much, so we've resorted to the vaporizer and spoonfuls of honey.

Meanwhile, the snow keeps falling, at least a little bit every day and the temps have dropped to the single digits a couple times, but mostly stayed in the teens and low twenties.

We want hot soup but don't have the fixin's for it. We also don't want to grocery shop or go out to pick any up. We decided to order pizza and called the place that has passable (though not recognizable to the American palate) pizza at 5:45 to order pizza and they told us that the soonest they could deliver it was 9:30. I'm not joking, and neither are they. THAT is Ukrainian fast food. That's what we're up against. Sigh.

Christmas was quite nice. Calvin was the only one with the bug that day and the boys seem to be satisfied with their surprises. That's all they asked for - surprises. I can highly recommend Kapla blocks and Automoblox cars and Peel-n-Stick mosaic kits. All HUGE hits. (Of course, not much could compete with the great things that the uncles and aunts and grandmas sent, but Santa held his own all the same.)

Our day was a little quiet and felt a tiny bit isolated (since for most of Kiev it was just another regular work day), but it was great just to relax and play with no deadlines.

The city is gearing up for New Year's Eve - it's a celebration of huge proportions here. And since people are already shooting off fireworks (and I'm not just talking about the stray bottle rocket with a single puff and little crack/boom - these are serious) on the city streets (Fire code? Laws? There are none! Blast away!), it should be quite an event.

As the year winds down and we all feel a little mucky here, I'm looking forward to new adventures and all the anticipation and the aspiration the change of the calendar brings with it...



Three Whole Weeks

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Two Christmases and two New Years and twenty-one days of no school for Calvin.

More and more people in Ukraine are celebrating what they call "Catholic" (aka western) Christmas on the 25th of December. And they've been in the swing of celebrating the New Year on the 1st for a while now. But they also celebrate "old Christmas" (aka Russian/Ukrainian Orthodox) on the 7th of January and "old New Year" on the 14th. The kids get school off for all the days that include these dates, and David gets American national holidays and Ukrainian national holidays off as well.

It's one big party!

I have Christmas all wrapped up (only I wasn't able to find tags or bows anywhere) and the boys are thrilled that it looks like a white Christmas. (Virginia doesn't have those very often.)

Charlie has discovered the joy of boxes of chocolate (he stands below my chocolate stash hiding places and dances and points until we give him a piece), Henry enjoys pitching our plastic tree ornaments at the fireplace, and Calvin has been waking at the crack of dawn every morning, taking his blanket into the living room to rest by the twinkling Christmas tree until the rest of the house wakes up.

So far, so good. Although I'm not sure how it's going to be when all the joy of anticipation turns to waiting for school to resume. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2009 to you!


Is the Heat On?

The answer would be, "No."

Every winter in Ukraine there are issues with utilities. It's like a political / technical holiday tradition. Sometimes it's water, sometimes it's gas, sometimes it's electricity, sometimes it's all three at once.

Right now, the story is that the city is conserving energy so they haven't turned the boilers on full power, so the water that runs through our radiators isn't heating at all. They will turn the boilers up when it gets really cold. (Temperatures that produce this kind of hoar frost apparently don't qualify. But doesn't it look cool?)

We have wall-mount heaters / air conditioners in each room of our apartment, but we can't use them once the temperatures drop below 28 degrees. Our apartment is all windows and doors, the ceilings are crazy high, and the rooms are twice as large as they need to be, so it takes a lot to make things feel warm. Our kitchen is an absolute refrigerator.

So we ordered space heaters from the embassy housing people. We got three, so they are in the bedrooms at night and I move one around in the day to whatever room we are spending time in. They smell like burnt rubber, but they do keep a room warm.

I honestly can't imagine what the real people are doing, those who can't just call someone up to give them space heaters. How do moms keep their babies warm? I get stressed out about Charlie's feet being cold and he won't keep socks on. And how dreary to come in from the cold and have an apartment that is not too much warmer than outside.

In addition to the city government induced utility issues, there are the fun utility things that happen with plumbing when someone purchases the apartment above you and proceeds to do extensive renovations to kitchen and bathrooms. There are no codes or approval processes and they reroute pipes to suit their needs without any thought to those who live above or below.

(In some cases, usually in very old apartment buildings, a new owner will install an entirely different size of pipe and attach it to the downstairs neighbors - all the plumbing and electrcical is connected between all the apartments in a building - without the proper fittings and unbeknownst to him, a huge leak destroys the wall of the downstairs neighbor, who is then responsible for his own repairs.)

So for the last few days, due to the remodel going on upstairs, we have had very little hot water, sometimes the water won't turn on for long spells during the day, and most frequently, the faucet stutters and spurts and spits out pumpkin colored water.

So we've piled on the socks and sweaters and stay in one room most of the day and try to steal a decent shower / bath whenever we can. And I have a couple excuses for not doing dishes.

I personally think they hold out on the heat until New Year's Eve every year so that people are extra happy and feel extra blessed to have what they have as they celebrate. It's like Scrooge letting Bob Cratchett go home two minutes early on Christmas.


Photos By Henry

Every now and then, I find that my camera has been kidnapped and gone on various floor, wall, back of legs, and upside down adventures. All in the hands of Henry. Who knows better.

He has learned to do it when I am cooking or laundering or otherwise occupied. Lots of photos are deleted for their blur and/or lack of subject.

But these. These two I thought were pretty outstanding, hand over the lense notwithstanding. (The third is a close-up crop of the second.) Since my little golden-haired wonder Charlie is now exactly eighteen months old, I thought I'd share Henry's photographic genius and Charlie's gobble-him-up goodness with you.


Kyiv First 100 Days: Play

Our apartment is unfortunately not terribly close to any open area or park. Open outdoor spaces are VITAL for our sanity and ability to be nice to one another, so we did a lot of walking and discovering the first few weeks we were here, hoping to expend some energy and ward off early-onset cabin fever.

Other than the aforementioned street dogs that hang out a lot at many parks and open spaces here in Kyiv, our first experience with parks and playground equipment included this beauty, in the park across the street from the Embassy. They've repainted over the graffiti since this picture was taken, so the entire structure, which we fondly refer to as the Tower of Death, is now a lovely light blue color.

However, the interior remains in ruins, which never fail to call Henry's name whenever we are in that park. Thank goodness for tetanus shots.

Incidentally, the park with the Tower is also the park with the bars through which Henry fell and dangled by his forehead. And it is also the park that, when I tell David that we might go play there, he says, "Just call me when you need an ice pack."

There's an interesting contrast at most parks, actually - some things seemed designed for children to absolutely do bodily harm, and others seem designed to give the safest and most secure playing experience ever. Like the merry-go-rounds with individual chairs for the children to sit on.

And all the swings that are individually mounted wooden seats with backs and sides and don't swing in a wider arch than permitted by the short bars by which they hang.

We have found some lovely parks to walk through and quite a few decent playgrounds, so our first time in the parks has been improved upon. There are some great teeter-totters, a nice fountain or two, usually a statue of someone, and plenty of benches and paths. Many of the playgrounds look like dreamlands of adventure, such as this one that is painted brightly and is just waiting to be explored. No two playgrounds are alike, except in their attempt to create a sort of colorful little piece of childhood in an otherwise shades-of-grey city.

It's funny to see the non-uniformity in the building of the structures, where one set of steps might be OK for a little guy to climb, but the one on the next level is definitely not. But it's the only way to the slide.

Many of the slides, too, are much steeper than they are in any park I've ever been to in the States. Even the toddler slides, while not being terribly high have quite a vertical grade.

(I tried, but couldn't quite take a picture that adequately portrayed the experience of basically jumping feet first to the ground with your bum resting against a piece of brightly painted vertical aluminum. Maybe sometime later...At any rate, Calvin, Henry and Charlie prefer sending Matchbox cars down the slides more than they enjoy the lung gulping ride.)

Due to the Double Diamond difficulty of the slides, we were all impressed to find that (before the weather got too cold), there was often an enterprising fellow who set up a moonbounce slide near the play area. For a small price, you could play on the moonbounce for fifteen minutes. Where I come from, moonbounces are something reserved for fairs or carnivals or wealthy birthday parties, so it was like a holiday every time we saw one in the park.

Usually along with the moonbounce, there is another fellow selling minutes of driving your own 4WD vehicle around a loop of the park paths. Once and only once did I let the kids convince me that they could do it. Heaven help us when they both have drivers' licenses. Still, I sincerely applaud the little corners of enterprise where someone buys a toy and then charges kids for the use of it.

A few weeks into living here, we finally made it to the city's famous park, Shevchenko Park. Calvin affectionately calls it "The Park With the Ten-Person Swing."

In addition to the moonbounce and the 4WD rentals, there are also pony rides at Shevchenko. Somehow, the pony rides got dubbed as a "girl thing" however, so we haven't had a pony adventure yet.

Also in Shevchenko Park is a great Urkainian restaurant - with a chicken coop right by its back door, with real chickens! (And a rabbit cage inside, with real rabbits!) Attached to the restaurant is a little walk-up window where you can order crepes filled with most any kind of different thing. The lady makes them one at a time so there is usually a huge line, but they are worth the wait. Come visit, we'll for sure take you there.

The biggest draw, however, for the boys, is that every park, Shevchenko included, is basically one big sandbox. It's like going to the beach, only with colder hands and wearing more clothes than you'd like to. We're on the lookout for sand toys - every family brings their own.

Our best discovery, especially since the weather has gotten a little bitter, is a place called Ultramarine. It is in big building that also houses a movie theatre, a bowling alley, and a casino. There is an area of Chuck E. Cheese's-type video and ball games, only without the tickets that you can use to purchase cheap toys, so we bypass that and go for best thing: The playland.

Two ball pits, one moonbounce, and three or four stories of climbing, rolling, scaling, chasing, crawling and sliding fun. It's about $3 an hour per child. There are also smaller playhouses and ride-ons for the Charlie-size crowd and small tables with color sheets and crayons and a TV corner if you want to watch Tom and Jerry in Ukrainian.

As Calvin and Henry have been saying lately about things they really, really like: Ultramarine is "two thumbs up, with pinkies, wiggling!"

And that's how and where we play - in Kyiv.



I'm takinga page out of Scarlett O'Hara's book and just looking forward to tomorrow. Everything's got to be better then, right? I was trying last night to get a bunch of pictures to load so I can post and it was taking the better part of eternity.

But today has been a day, so I haven't returned to the post...

Among other things, someone's helping little hands turned the slowcooker on. It had nothing in it except the remains of the chili I made in it last night. I couldn't figure out what in the world was burning. For most of the afternoon I thought it was coming from the neighbors...And now I'm not sure the slowcooker is ever going to be the same again.

Then Charlie has learned how to open the doors to the bathrooms. I usually hear him and promptly remove him, but I didn't know he had been in the laundry room/bathroom at all today. Then Cal came out of the bathroom from his after-school emergency and said, while calmly zipping his fly and going to play since his emergency was now over, "Hey, Mom? Did you know there are a bunch of socks in the toilet?"

On days you have actual conversations about a bunch of socks in the toilet and find that the only good news is that he didn't flush, it's better just to call it a day.


Merry and Bright

It seems that I have been planning food, buying food, and making food pretty much constantly for the last week or two. One reason is that baking is therapeutic and other forms of entertainment are few and far between (although I still have a couple of those to report on. But later...)

Another reason for the constant food-obsessing is that the finding and buying of food takes seven times longer than it does in the States. And I've never experienced trauma over cranberries that are not really cranberries like I did last week for Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving was really quite nice, however, because we had a group of young women who are participating in an international language program and go to our church come over. There were nineteen people for dinner and they were so happy to have familiar American food, and I was so happy to bake and prepare and enjoy.

Aside from the masterfully brined and roasted turkey (courtesy of my husband), I was most pleased with this last minute centerpiece and place settings that I created. We had to borrow plates from the neighbors downstairs and I was able to create napkins out of some inexpensive dishtowels from the market and the mandarins look like little pumpkins, don't you think?

The holidays are upon us. We have no Christmas tree and the artificial ones they sell here are quite Charlie-Brownish, so we're trying to figure something else out. (I was convinced that the prelit artificial tree we own would be an electrical nightmare here, and so it is in storage. In D.C... Yeah.)

The boys think Santa will not come if there is no tree. Of course, Cal is testing the Santa theory this year anyway - "I don't need to tell anyone what I want. Santa will just know."

To his credit, Calvin also just asked for surprises for his birthday and when he opened one of the shot-in-the-dark gifts, he exclaimed, "This is what I've wanted my whole life!!!" Oh, really? Can you imagine? Six years of desperate dreaming for a magnetic marble run culminated in that one moment. I'm good, aren't' I?

Last year, my mom gave our boys this book and the accompanying elf on a shelf for the holiday season. Our elf is named Nivlac Yrneh. ("Calvin" backwards, "Henry" backwards. Yrneh is pronounced Ernay, rather French-like.)

Nivlac Yrneh came to our Thanksgiving get-together on the head of one of the guests, and has been at our house every day since. The deal is that he sits someplace in our house each day to watch the children and at night he makes quick trips to Santa to let him know how the boys are behaving. Then he comes back and sits in a different spot (that's how you know he went somewhere) for the next day's observations.

The kids started asking where Nivlac was right around Halloween and I was surprised that they remembered him after a whole year. Calvin and Henry were delighted that Nivlac found us in Ukraine. He worked a little better last year for behavior modification, but this year is most entertaining just to find where he is sitting.

The one rule is that the boys can talk to Nivlac but they can't touch or carry him anywhere - this helps preserve his magical qualities. One nice thing is that the boys have started tattling to Nivlac instead of me. Hmmmm.

But the second day he was here, Charlie got a hold of him and Calvin completely lost it because Nivlac had been touched by a human. Drama, drama, drama.

At any rate, we are enjoying our mystical little holiday guest. (And isn't that spice rack wonderful? Little joys, little joys...)

I really love December. As soon as I figure out how to deck the halls a bit, we'll really be rocking. I'm just not sure if it will be around the Christmas tree or not. We do have a gaping, unusable fireplace that may work as a nice gift receptacle. Could a wreath over the fireplace count as a tree?



And it seems like only yesterday...

2,190 yesterdays, in fact.
And who knew that every day that goes by would make me love and enjoy and be in awe of you more than the one before?
Happy Birthday, my Calvin. Here's to a million more tomorrows of watching you grow and always getting to be your mom. I love you.


Book Review

Calvin at dinner tonight: "I really like Dr. Seuss books. They're very well done."



I have twenty-seven - count 'em, twenty. seven. - drafts of would-be interesting posts waiting for me to complete. I have rarely if ever saved so many drafts because I just keep a list of ideas (on the rare occasion that I have that many) in a notebook. But as we were moving and arriving and adjusting, I just started jotting one-word memory-triggers on the hotel notepad, on my palm, on the back of a receipt, and then started losing them. On finding a few of them, I realized that they were things that I do in fact want to share and or record, so I put them someplace safe - the draft pile.

And there they sit in varying states of undress, so to speak, waiting for me to embellish, alter, hem in, or just click "post," for crying out loud. What's my problem?

It is somewhat gratifying to know that I have had at least twenty-seven thoughts since landing in Kyiv two months ago. There are twenty-seven morsels of hope for the Code Yellow blog yet, in that draft pile. Here's my first attempt at raking up the pile...

My friend Aimee tagged me to share seven random or strange things about me. You wouldn't think this would be so difficult...But I am not that fascinating of a person, really. No, really. I mean it. But I'm giving it a whirl anyway.

1. The more boys I give birth to, the less I care about having a girl. Not that I wouldn't love a girl, it's just that it's surprising how many people assume that we have more children because we're "trying for a girl." The truth is that I get a genuine kick out of XYs, and I like to think that there's a reason we get them so often.

2. I have never stepped foot in Nevada. I've been in all the western continental United States except the Silver State. That is quite a feat, since I grew up in Colorado and spent all my college years in Idaho and Utah, where it is quite the thing to hop in the car with your girlfriends and go "do" Las Vegas. (I'm still not exactly understanding what a bunch of good, semi-intelligent Mormon girls would do in Las Vegas anyway.) There is only one time that I regretted not going there, and that was when my cousin got married there and I couldn't make it. I actually don't care to see Las Vegas, Carson City or any more of the Great Basin than I've already seen. And I'll go to California by plane, thank you very much. Besides, there are a million destinations North, South and East of Utah that I would choose before Nevada. I think it will be awesome some day when I have a whole map of the U.S. with the States I've visited colored in and Nevada will still be white. Unless of course, someone surprised me with a Lake Tahoe getaway. Hmmmm....

3. I like it when there is a little bit of Italian salad dressing left on my plate that I can mop up with a few last bites of roast beef. Yum.

4. I have fairly recently become pee-my-pants-scared of heights. They never bothered me before, but now...I first noticed when my sister and I excitedly climbed who knows how many steps to the top of a lighthouse on the Outer Banks a few years ago and I could. not. make myself step away from the wall of the lighthouse when we got out onto the walkway near the top. I panicked when we road the elevator up the fake Eiffel Tower at King's Dominion last year and couldn't follow my boys to the lookout windows or, well, even look out at anything they wanted to show me from up there. Top of the Rock in NYC was also a rather dizzying experience. I don't know, but there are very few things that make me freeze, breathless, with my throat and my stomach switching places like that. And it never happened before I had children.

5. I am in love with Euclid.

6. One of my fondest wishes is that one summer before Calvin is ten (he being my first child, and his age being my signal that all my children are starting to grow up and away, and ten being the age when I think he might start not wanting to do quite so many things always with his mother), I really, really, really want to build a sunflower house with my boys. This little dream of a house may even take precedence over my wish for a real-life, actual house. Although it might require one. Or at least a little space in which to plant and groom a little outdoor space. (And in the meantime I am dreaming of this book, which I hope to read and lay plans with Calvin long before he is ten. We can't plant seeds too soon, now can we?)

7. I love hand writing things. I love cursive and calligraphy. I love a good pen. I recently went back to writing my "Q" like a 2, the way Mrs. Vining taught in third grade. Because I can make it look really cool. But my favorite letters of the alphabet to script are G and R. Neither of which are my initials. Hmph.

And there you have it! (One down, twenty-six to go...)


Henry At Lunch Time

"Mom, this macaroni is hot! I can see...I can see...Mom? Is this steam, or smoke, or a zosst coming from my macaroni?"


Brevity is the Soul of...

Wit? I have none right now. I keep starting posts and then realize that they sound a little too much like Eeyore. Sense of humor? Not much here. I'm mostly just digging in and muddling through and haven't felt much up to entertaining or recording any of my glum, Might be coming. Might be going... It's all too much bother... I'm not always gloomy. Sometimes I'm blue...Sometimes a sigh says it all...*

On a brighter note (ha!), my as yet unread copy of Bleak House arrived in the slow-boat shipment, so I decidede to lose myself in it. I'm about halfway through, and it's terrific. For those of you who wondered along with me, Smallweed does perpetually need shaken up, but only once in the book so far has he said, "Shake me up" to Judy. The line is perhaps not as chuckle-worthy in the book as it is in the miniseries, but Dickens's description of Smallweed is - what else? - classic, in the most perfect way.

Code Yellow Dad has volunteered his blogging services whilst (love that word!) I finish my escapist reading and find my blog muse...I know the grandmas and aunts are anxious for news and pictures of the most adorable boys on the planet. All that, and more, coming this week.

Meanwhile, thanks for noticing me...

(*These are Eeyore quotes, BTW: be sure to read them in his voice.)



I'd never noticed the resemblance before this serendipitous snapshot...Watch out, world - here he comes!



I've been saving this photo especially for Halloween and then all day yesterday and most of today the internet in our building was down. (We couldn't figure out what was wrong until we saw the cables ourselves, torn out of the wall at the base of the building, laying on the street.) All fixed now, so I wanted to post Charlie's new spooky look. He gives it to us when he is trying to be funny, is about to be naughty, or doesn't want a picture taken. (Sorry for the blur. I caught it the best I could.)

(Happy Late Halloween)

And now, November!! The days are eternal, but the months blip by in an instant, it seems. I've given myself 100 days to get down all the stuff I want to write about our new digs here in Kyiv, so by Christmas (which is just around the corner!) I should be able to comprehend the reality of our expat life and move on. Between now and then, expect quite a few more "First 100 Days" posts. (I took lots of notes when we still didn't have internet...)

It's supposed to be 68 degrees tomorrow. This is November. In Kyiv. When it's January and my nose hairs are freezing together every time I take a deep breath, remind me that we had this sunny day , OK?


Roses in October

(About the picture in my header...)

We have tons of doors and windows in our apartment here. When we walked in for the first time, the boys (after testing the bidets and water filter system) ran from room to room, window to window, door to door, seeing everything they could see. I was trying to arrive and gather my wits about me and was feeling frazzled and exhausted when Calvin yelled from down the hall, "Mom! You have GOT to come see this!" And this is what we saw out the hall door/window. I was immediately in love with the view and it made almost everything better for the few minutes that I stood with Calvin and admired it.

We have had conflicting answers as to which church it is. It is surprisingly unmentioned in both of the guidebooks of Ukraine that we have. I keep forgetting to ask someone on the street what it is called. I think it's Mikhailovsky Cathedral. But I also kinda like not knowing. Calvin calls it "the church by our house," and I like that familiarity mixed with the amazing structure and the wonderful way the light hits it at certain times of the day. You can see below that part of the crosses on the domes are made of glass. At sunset they sparkle so beautifully and sometimes glow with the sun behind them.

One day during the cold bleak spell earlier this month Henry and Charlie both fell asleep in the stroller while I was out "getting out." (I was feeling frazzled and exhausted and generally weary of the hassle and acclimation process and just had to "get out" for a little while. So we went wandering with the stroller.) I didn't want to rouse them to go into our house only to come down a little while later to meet Cal at the schoolbus. So I took a detour down the little back street that goes to the cathedral. The building is stunning from far, and it is also amazing up close. This wooden lace is so delicate and there is so much of it. The craftsmanship and care is something that is definitely not seen in general construction around Kyiv, especially these days.

From what I can decipher on a large sign posted near the grounds, the cathedral and its accompanying women's monastery (we'd call it a nunnery but they don't) are undergoing a huge restoration. Many such cathedrals and monasteries fell into complete disrepair during Soviet times, of course, but they are enjoying a revival and are more and more a symbol of national pride and patriotism. This reconstruction was supposed to be complete in 2007, but they are still working on it. You can see in the picture below the difference between what has been restored (the upper part) and what still needs work (the lower part).

There were artists painting with their easles propped up, capturing different angles of the domes and walls while I was wandering there and I felt a little artistic myself so I snapped a few shots of "our cathedral."

What I loved most on the grounds is the women's monastery. It is pink and white and dark green and so meticulously restored. There are pristine lace curtains in the windows and the whole building looks like a life-size dollhouse. I stood and watched several "sisters" come out and go in, crossing themselves at the icons, solemn but then smiling warmly at one another.

In the small space between the monastery and the cathedral, there is a rose garden. So many roses of so many varieties and colors. Quite a few were still blooming, even though it was quite a bitter and windy day, and late in the year. The walks around the buildings were so quiet and everything was so neat and clean.

It was like a small corner of beautiful on a day when I was feeling a little desolate and frazzled and lonely.

It's nice to find roses in October.

And it's nice to stand at my kitchen window and watch this at the end of the day: