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:


Kyiv First 100 Days: Eating Out

For the last two weeks before we left the States, we stayed at hotels and at Auntie S's. During our hotel living, we were surprised at how quickly it became tiresome to choose which restaurant we would eat at or what kind of food we wanted to eat for dinner.

When we were in New York City, we actually stayed in a two-bedroom flat with a fully functional kitchen and dining table because our original plan was to buy groceries and eat mostly at "home." The trouble was finding a functional grocery store near Times Square. And then knowing how to transport it home on foot. We didn't think through those logistics. So we ended up buying a few breakfast and lunch staples at the drugstore around the corner and then eating out (or once, ordering in) every night we were there. We ate at some fun places, and found some relatively inexpensive and kid-friendly choices, but still, the restaurant/cuisine choosing started to be a chore.

The last night of our hotel stays, after we were back in D.C., we ate at one of my favorite seafood restaurants, a more expensive establishment that I've been to only twice before. We took the kids and they ordered fish and chips, which were marvelous. Calvin poked his around on his plate and said, "Mom, this fish is just not impressive." I laughed out loud and he felt bad because he was serious. But that's when I knew that eating out every night is not all it's cracked up to be. I was sooooo thankful when we got to Auntie S's for our last few nights and had good home cooking every day.

Fast forward to Kyiv: First, the grocery situation here without a car is much the same as it was in New York City. Second, although I've managed to organize shopping a bit more and cook decent meals at home most nights, we've had a sketchy few days when we thought eating out would alleviate hassle and stress. It's a toss-up whether the logistics of grocery shopping with two children or the ordeal of eating out as a family is more of a circus. I'll post more about the markets later, but so far this is our eating out experience...

McDonald's is pure chaos. Tiny little cocktail tables that you have to set your stuff down on before the last people leave if you want to be the next occupant of the table. Actually, both McD's that we have been to are more or less standing room only, any time of day. And most of the patrons don't understand the idea of "fast food" - they loiter indefinitely with the beer they brought in, they do homework and have business meals. In McDonald's.

Also, I thought it was funny once to overhear a woman complaining that she had to take her own tray to the trash can. How cheap and yucky to have to bus your own table. That's when it occurred to me that in the Ukrainian mind there is no distinction in type of restaurant, and McDonald's is still a dining experience for most people here.

All I have to say is that in desparate moments, the familiar tastes of McNuggets or a Double Cheeseburger (not to mention real french fries!) are a balm to the culture-shocked soul.

T.G.I.Friday's was not bad, not as crowded, but we had heard that it's a great place to go when you are missing the idea of customer service. Not so. It appeared for a while that they did not want to seat or serve us at all, because several tables were open and they told us there was nowhere for us to sit. It seems that an efficient seating, serving, bussing system has not occurred to anyone. It's like with every new customer, they have to think through what needs to happen next every time.

But our waitress was nice, and English speaking, and the fajitas were passable. Only in Ukraine, though, would you order a kids quesadilla and the cook would feel the compulsion to include tomatoes and ham and mayo in the quesadilla. But the boys gobbled it up. The main drawback? It's expensive. But there were some entertaining highlights, such as this little addendum to the kids' menu:

("Important information for parents: all children love Coca-Cola!")

We also ate once at a little Ukrainian cafeteria that we stumbled upon on one of our wanderings around the city. It was a fun experience, really. There's a big vanity area with sinks and soap where everyone has to wash their hands at the entrance of the serving line. The borscht left something to be desired and there was a scarey mystery meat that looked much more delicious than it actually was, but there were some lovely blini (like crepes) and some great salads and potato dishes. And the prices were super reasonable. We decided that if anyone ever visits, we will take them there just for the cultural experience and the quaint and clean atmosphere.

But my our classic experience eating out thus far was actually ordering in, the second night we were in the country. We noticed "Pizza Papa" nearby and decided to order pizza. It came in a real pizza box that boasted, "Pizza Papa - the Best American Pizza in Kiev!" Well, the pizza didn't have peas or corn on it, which is a vast improvement over the first pizza I encountered here years ago.

But I think they needed to leave the "American" part out of their claim to fame. It's still not very American, probably not Italian. Mostly just a Ukrainian copy of something Americans love, which is the main goal. The crust wasn't bad, and it definitely doesn't cost as much as pizza in the States, but the cheddar cheese, sugary sauce, huge slices of Christmas ham and something posing as pepperoni reminded me that some things just aren't quite right.

And yet the idea of ordering pizza still lures us on...A happy dream, really. Almost a reason to take that fourteen hour flight back to the land of Pizza Hut, Domino's and UNO Pizzeria. Almost. Because, deep in our hearts, we know that eating out anywhere is sometimes just not impressive.


Kyiv First 100 Days: Light

Our first few evening walks with the boys (when our bodies still felt like it was mid-afternoon and we needed some diversion before trying to go to bed) ellicited the same expressions of surprise and a little apprehension from Calvin and Henry as I felt the first time I was in Ukraine eleven years ago: "Why is it so dark? Where are the lights? This doesn't look like a good place to be at night."

There are more street lamps now than there were then, but they are dim, many are irreparably broken and many more are simply and eternally waiting for a light-bulb change. It makes even relatively busy thoroughfares seem like dimly lit alleys and none of the signage is visible after dusk.

We aren't out much with the boys at night now that jet lag has eased, but as the winter months ensue and it starts getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, that old feeling of being in a bit of a seedy back alley type of place might settle in again at times.

On the other hand, our apartment is amazingly outfitted with huge - HUGE - windows. In every main room. All of them have ceiling to floor lace sheers hanging in front of them, but several rooms have no blinds. So when the sun comes up, our place is bright as day. The sunlight has created some waking at dawn habits that don't make me really happy. And then there's the problem of the extreme glare on the TV, DVDs being our prime form of indoor entertainment until toys arrive on the slow boat. But come winter, I know I will be loving any little bit of sun I can get from the gray world outside.

The big windows have also led Calvin to declare that lots of people in Kyiv must be nocturnal: "People here don't sleep, either. Just like in New York City." There are lights on all night long in the apartment windows of the large building across the way. They shine into his windows while he is trying to get to sleep, like a slowly blinking patchwork of twenty or thirty nightlights. One night last week when I was wondering the house nocturnally, I was surprised by an intensely bright blue strobe light flashing from the window of an apartment across from us. Party city.

Speaking of parties, fireworks have apparently become easily accessible and very popular at the late-night festivities for weddings and birthdays. October and November are very popular times for weddings here (much like June in the States), and celebrating birthdays in a big city-wide way is especially popular among the wealthy oligarch set. Almost every weekend night since we arrived and some mid-week nights as well, we have heard the rumble-boom of distant fireworks and have sometimes been able to watch the displays from our balconies.

I'm an avid lover of fireworks, but these amateur pyrotechnics are a little unnerving to me. And of course, it would be Henry who was most thrilled to find a large section of fireworks for sale (the kind that only professionals and/or the fire department would handle back at home) at the supermarket. He keeps asking if we can go back and get some sometime so we can have our own fireworks. I'm positive Henry could really light up the night for sure, if only we'd let him.

But as far as light in our new home goes, Charlie is having the most fun with it, by far. All of the light switches on the walls are only 2 1/2 feet from the ground - perfectly within reach for the little guy. They also click loudly whenever they are turned on or off.

But the best part is that the switches for the bathrooms are inexplicably on the outside, in the hallway. This is true only for the bathrooms: all of the bedrooms and the living room and kitchen have the switches within the room to which they belong.

So Charlie has developed supersonic hearing for when someone switches a light on and closes a door. He bolts down the hall and begins to light-flash torture whoever is trying to do their business. He especially likes to tease Henry this way, because he gets some good screams out of him. There have also been a few completely dark showers because the bathrooms are the only rooms without any window at all, and no one can hear us calling for someone to turn the lights back on after Charlie clicks the switch and runs giggling away.

Now that's a party.


Kyiv First 100 Days: Air

I have been pleasantly surprised that the air hasn't been as yicky as I remember. Maybe it has to do with not living in a super industrial and mining city.

David is a sucker for the smell of baking bricks bread from the bread store he passes on his way to work. OK, I'll admit that that smell is nice. (The bread? Another post.)

Henry, of course, is always smelling things in the air. But mostly they are figments of his imagination, like pancakes or bubblegum. (Wishful thinking.)

We do pass the occasional sewer smell wafting its way across the street, or the odor of some...interesting...cuisine from an Armenian "restaurant" that we frequently pass. And most of the population seems to love them some cigarettes. But other than that, our olfactory senses and respiratory passages are hardly ever assaulted here in Kyiv.

There has only been one time, really, when smells and air quality were questionable to me, and that was when someone was burning a pile of leaves and trash somewhere near our house. (Bonfires are totally OK in the city. Awesome.) The blue smoke coincided with a car backfiring out front and our kitchen window being open, so for several hours, Calvin thought the car had caused the pollution. He kept saying, "Man! They need to get that car fixed! And they shouldn't drive it by people's houses!"

The air temperature is a whole other discussion:

It rained for the first two weeks we lived here. And it was cold. That was good for the morale.

Then it got unseasonably warm for a week or so. Then it felt like autumn had really set in and it was quite chilly. Then it was warm again...You get the idea. None of this is particularly important or even much different from Colorado or Virginia or the town where you live, in autumn.

The difference here is that the heating of buildings is controlled by the city government. And they have this brilliant "tradition" that the heat is never turned on until October 15th. So everyone wears their coats indoors and deals with it.

This year, since it was quite cold at the end of September, the city said they would turn the heat on early, because they are so kind.

Then, on the eve of turning the city heat on came the warm spell. So they said, "Just kidding. October 15th it is."

Then it was cold again, but to avoid another practical joke on the people of Kyiv, and to appear that they are only thinking about the energy crisis, they said, "Here's the deal: When the average daily high (not low!) temperature is 8 degrees (celsius), we will turn the city heat on."

Alrightie then.

So October 15th came and went and parts of the city are still waiting for heat.

The church building we meet in was colder inside than it was outside on Sunday.

Luckily, our apartment is equipped with an independent heating and cooling system in addition to the city-connected radiators, so we can adjust our indoor living temp as desired. It's just remarkably inefficient. The government thinking is that if they let people independently control the heat in their homes, they will use so much more energy. When in reality, there are days in the winter that the heat is so warm that people are opening their windows to cool down their places. (And there are careless Americans like us who run additional heaters when needed instead of waiting for the omniscient city government to warm us up.)

I mostly just find it humorous that not just the city goverenment, but most individuals, are attached to the calendar for determining how they will act. The calendar says it is time for cooler weather, so you are supposed to begin wearing coats and hats (and bundle your poor small children within and inch of their lives, like the little brother on A Christmas Story, I'm not even exaggerating), no matter what the barometer says. Don't even chance getting one bit chilly. Ever. October comes and it means bundle up, even if it is a bit of an Indian summer October, or even if a light jacket or a pullover sweater will do.

I do appreciate that there are so many helpful women on the street who will tell me that my baby's hood fell off. (yeah - he pulled it off. eighty times.) Or that your sleeping boy in the stroller needs a blanket on him because he is sweating (huh?) and will catch cold sleeping outside like that.

But I'm mostly just happy that in the spring when the air outside is warm again, I can run my independent air conditioner while the furnaces are going full blast, waiting for the calendar to say the right date for offical turn-off. (I'm wagering that in spring the energy crisis doesn't matter that much to city officials. Go by the calendar. All trains must run on time.)


Kyiv First 100 Days: Water

We've lived in Kyiv for a little over a month now. Most of my impressions revolve around the basics of living. We haven't been out and about experiencing culture this first month as much as we've been trying to figure out how stuff works, what certain things are, and what it takes to run a household without familiar things.

I've made lots of notes in these first few weeks, thinking that some of the day-to-day might be slightly interesting or a bit amusing for a few of you. If you are like me before I lived in Ukraine the first time ten years ago, you may think that moving to a different country is mostly just a change of scenery. Let me just say that it even when you live in a relatively modernized apartment and speak English in your home and with most of your associates, you cannot escape the other-country-ness of it all. Sometimes the other-century-ness of it all.

A lot of the adjustments that have surprised me most, though, are the ones that don't really have to do with a different country, per se. They are just the little things that are different, that take longer, that are a little inconvenient or odd compared to what I usually do in a day. I thought I'd use the next few posts recapping our initial experiences with some of the basics in life. Stuff we usually take for granted or are accustomed to being somewhat different.

Today, let me tell you about good ol' H2O.

For one, we have two sources of water in our apartment that we didn't have in the U.S. - a bidet, and a freestanding water filtration system. With spigots.

We were in the apartment less than ten minutes before Calvin flooded one bathroom with the sprayer of one bidet, Henry flooded another bathroom with the second bidet, and Charlie flooded the kitchen with the water spigots on the filter.

The bidets have since lost their appeal, mostly because the power of the water spray frightened both of the knob-turning boys in question. Except that it is Charlie's throne of choice. In true American fashion, I just don't "get" the point of a bidet. Especially the ones we have, with a high-pressure rotating sprayer. And a little strainer over the drain. There's just so many unanswered logistical questions there. Not to mention the little hooks behind for hanging your, er, wiping towels? Ew. I'd rather change a million diapers...

Someone I know who served a mission in Italy once said that the American girls thought the Italians were gross because they only showered once a week and the Italians thought the American girls were gross because they didn't use a bidet. I smile about that every time I see one of our unused bidets. What's your gross vote?

You'll never hear me complain about having a washer and dryer, but one liquid bane of my existence was (is) the water catcher on the clothes dryer. It took a few loads of laundry and the dryer refusing to function before I realized that this long tank has to be emptied regularly (between each load, sometimes twice per load if it's jeans or towels). It holds more than a gallon of water and because it pulls straight out of the very top of the dryer, when it is full of water it is awkward and inevitably splooshes on the floor or down the front of me. But it is mildly interesting to see how much water is still in the clothes even after they've spun in the washer.

Charlie continues to be enamored with the spigots on the front of the water filter. It brings back memories of the Brita pitcher we once owned. But unlike the Brita thing, there is no child-proofing our water system. Except that the boiling hot spigot has been disconnected to avoid the scalding of small children. (Ironically, a good scald would probably keep a child from ever touching it again, I'd think. But while probably the most effective kind of childproofing, probably not the preferred method, right?)

After an especially mop-heavy day, I entertained a brief thought of not having a freestanding filter system and just installing a water filter to the kitchen sink until David showed me a sample of what is removed from our water with the filter system. Looks like apple juice, smells faintly like mildew and rust. A filter attached to the faucet doesn't remove the heavy metals, either. So the filter system stays and Charlie will continue his finger bath parties indefinitely, I guess.

I wonder at the people here who don't have filter systems. Actually, I don't wonder. They just aren't water drinkers, really. Unless you count the gallons of water used to make the constant supply of tea. But that's boiled, so I guess it's not so bad.

When I was here ten years ago, vodka was the thirst quencher of choice on the street. Among the younger set now, it appears that beer is. They've gotten all multi-cultured. It surprises me how many people - and it's not just surly unemployed and disillusioned men anymore, but young people, girls included - carry beer bottles around like water bottles - onto public transportation, while walking around the square. Before noon.

We have seen some people pumping water from these artesian wells at different intersections in the city. Apparently the wells were dug at some point during a temperance movement with the purpose of encouraging people to drink water instead of vodka. It's clean and fresh and comes from deep below the earth, untouched by the city's water supply. Yeah, right it is. A lovely idea anyway.

The great improvement I've seen related to water issues since I lived here before is that in the month we have been here, our kitchen faucet only leaked for two or three days and there has only been one day that the water was turned off for pipecleaning. (It used to happen arbitrarily and unexpectedly for several days at a time.) So it would appear that functioning plumbing is not too much to expect anymore.

And I have to say that the water pressure and the shower head in our shower is fabulous. Like a bidet for your whole body. And the hot water never runs out. Like living in a hotel. Only you have to wash your own towels.

A truly wonderful thing about water in Kyiv, however, is that Calvin's school has an indoor swimming pool. And they will be starting swimming classes in addition to their regular P.E. classes next week, continuing through the spring. At no extra charge, because learning to swim well is part of being a healthy and well-rounded child. Awesome, eh? He is sooooo excited.

The only thing is that he is required to have a swimming cap. I'm not sure where to buy one. And I'm even less sure that he'll wear one. And we're going to have to have a conversation about teeny tiny speedos, too, I'm afraid. Ah well. We'll deal.


Home School

Here are some of the things we've learned this week:

This child should not try to suddenly drop his body through the center rungs of these bars. He will hang there by his forehead while it seems to take forever to toss the baby in the sandbox and run the twenty feet across the play area to stop him from flailing and get him out.

(Just so you know, this picture was taken on a happier, different day, before the lesson learned and before the bridge of his nose by which he was hanging swelled enough to completely alter his looks and partially green/blacken both of his eyes.)

Sometimes matchbox trucks go into a VCR easier than they come out.

If I send the five-almost-six-year-old to do his business in a very secluded space between two buildings - I'm sorry, but public restrooms are hard to find and mostly filthy and sometimes holding it is not an option, and besides this is one of the beautiful things about being a boy - when he is finished he will decide to explore a little and will touch the one plant that happens to be there and find painfully that it is some derivative of poison ivy.

If I'm walking home with a boy screaming because of the poison ivy on his finger, I can remove an M&M from the nose of the boy riding in the stroller I'm pushing without even breaking stride.

And last but not least, if someone leaves a black crayon out after promising he would put it away if I would only let him color a little and the baby gets it and very quietly makes crayon scribble murals on the hardwood floor behind my computer chair, a damp rag and a little toothpaste will clean it right up.


My Boys

Just wanted to share...

First, a video recapturing what I saw from my bedroom door the other day. It's nothing really, they were just playing and running down the runway that is our hall. Charlie has this cornsilk colored hair that waves backward in little whisps when he runs. Every time I see him run anyway I just want to swoop him up, it's so adorable and funny to me.

I also like this clip because it shows the blur that Henry can be, since they are just racing across the opening where the two halls intersect. This shouldn't make me giggle as much as it does, but if I could remember anything about my boys being little, this is what I'd want to remember...

Next, these pictures I took sitting on the couch with the boys. The sun was coming in and it made all of their eyes so luminescent. Charlie wouldn't let me get as close, but the other boys' eyes...There are very few things in this world more beautiful to me...


Visualize Whirled Peas

In an effort to organize my life and not despair over grocery shopping, I organized a two week menu rotation and a master shopping list. Each week, I can print off the master list, take it to the kitchen and cross off everything that we already have, and then go shop for the rest. This will help me avoid thinking I have enough of something when I don't or buying double of something I do have.

I planned out the menu because I had to think through what foods are available here, what ones are available but too expensive to eat frequently, and what things might be sometimes available and sometimes not. I wanted to include some good hearty soups and some of the Urianian food we know how to make, but also some of the things I know my kids (and husband) love to eat.

Most people here shop rather frequently, because they want things fresh and have small families and even smaller refrigerators. But I have a hard time getting my head around a weekly shopping trip with children in tow, let alone venturing out every day or two. So I love my menu and list and plan to live by it.

This kind of thing makes me feel so much better. ooohhhhhmmmmm.

Another thing that took a load off my grocery stress is that Calvin kept coming home every day saying how good the cafeteria food looked. Finally I asked if he would just like to buy the school lunch each day. "Yes! That would be AWESOME!"

It's pricier (more pricey?) than school lunch in the States, I think, but it's also about as home-cooked as you can get. I mean, they do lunch right. (They have this thing that little children need warm, hearty food in their tummies, especially when it's cold outside.) Cal gets a main dish (things like meat kabobs or noodles and alfredo sauce), a vegetable side, a piece of fruit, soup if he wants it (they serve soup with every meal - aids digestion, you know), a drink, and a cookie or piece of cake for dessert. And they don't just open big vats of canned crap and warm it up either. It's from scratch. Cal says it's delicious.

That makes me so happy. Because lunch meat for sandwiches is tricky around here. Juice boxes are expensive (his drink bottle leaks). The bread is not so tasty. (I'm about to fix that by becoming a bread making maniac - more on that later.) I have to cut my own carrot sticks (I know, WAAAA!) And once we exhaust our box of Costco snacks, I have no idea what I would send for sides or whatever. I was having to completely re-think my conception of brown bag lunch. So, cafeteria it is.

This also means no more of the Sunday night, "Oh no! We didn't get ____ (fill in the blank) for Cal's lunch tomorrow!"

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Home management zen is materializing one task at a time.


Street Dogs

At night, there is continual barking and howling from the streets outside. We noticed it the first night we were here. Some nights it is not as bad, but other nights it goes on and on and on. It has kept one or the other or all of us up on occasion, even though our windows are closed and we are way off the street. It sounds like hundreds of dogs sometimes.

We started seeing them on our walks. The dogs are everywhere. But they especially love to be in parks. I thought I was only imagining that there were so many stray dogs in the play areas until my Russian teacher told me that one park in particular was the best mainly because there aren't as many dogs roaming.

These dogs are the big kind. I'd guess German Shepherd and Lab, maybe Retriever, with a little Doberman or Rottweiler thrown in for good measure. Many of them are as tall as Henry or taller.

Now, I appreciate a beautiful dog. I appreciate a loyal dog. I appreciate a well-trained dog. I plan on joining my boys in convincing their dad that we need a Beagle when we get back to the States. But these dogs? I hate them. They scare me and they scare my boys.

We have had three encounters with the animals in the last week or so, two of which almost made me have to bust out my mother bear/Xena Warrior Princess moves. And I don't like that. I prefer other ways of achieving an adrenaline rush, thank you very much.

One day we were walking just outside of our building and crossing a little alleyway. Calvin was a little ahead of me and as soon as he stepped into the alley, I heard the bounding and woof-woof-woof breathing/barking of a huge dog coming up the alleyway in our direction, straight for my boy. I couldn't see him yet but I heard that awful sound and yelled at Calvin just as he saw the dog himself. He screamed and ran the few steps back to me just as a huge dog lept toward him and saw me instead. Heh, heh, heh. The dog turned in mid air when I yelled and swung my sweater at him.(I am one scarey chic, huh?) He ran back down the way he had come. Meanwhile, Calvin was clinging to the back of my pant leg.

Yesterday I had Charlie and Henry in the stroller a few blocks away and we were walking by an open area with a short brick wall on the sidewalk side of it and a play area on the other. There in the open grassy area were FIFTEEN dogs. FIFTEEN. They were all laying there, mostly not moving, and I couldn't believe how many were in one place. I stopped before passing to take a few pictures, then continued.

Henry caught sight of the play area and asked if we could go in. I told him no because of all the dogs. He hopped out of his seat and said he wanted to walk on the little wall to the end and before I could think, he hopped up on it. Six or seven of the fifteen dogs jumped to their feet and started barking like crazy, and four of them bounded toward Henry, the closest one almost jumped onto his chest and would have knocked him over if I hadn't snatched him off the wall and screamed at the dogs.

They retreated and Henry crawled into the bottom of the stroller and covered his head with his arms and was crying. He calmed down a little once we rolled away, but he wouldn't move his arms from over his head the whole way home and fell asleep that way.

The thing is, the dogs are mostly more afraid of us than anything and both times, they have gone away when a larger person (me) yells at them. But what about the one time that there's a crazy one, who doesn't care and isn't afraid? And can smell that I am?

It freaks me out that both times, they came after someone little first. And that someone little was not bothering them in the least. What if I'm not close enough to protect my kids?

I know two people who were attacked by dogs as children - dogs who were domesticated and supposedly kid-friendly. Which these dogs are not. These dogs are hungry and wild. (Except for the dozen or so that this lady has taken in to beg for/with).

David has offered to get me a dog stick. But I don't want to hurt them, I really don't. I just want them to not exist, so that I don't have to worry about them.

Someone told us that every now and then the city officials think the dog problem has gotten out of control, so they toss out poison all over the city. David said, "Oh great, so then you have a bunch of dead dogs on the streets instead of a bunch of live ones?" And the person answered, "No. Worse. The dogs that don't get enough poison to kill them are everywhere. So there's a bunch of writhing, howling, dying but not quite dead dogs on the streets."

Maybe the city would hire me to swing my sweater at them until they all run away from the city and go live with their wolf brothers out on the steppe.



Henry: Ukwaine is just like Amewica, only it smells bad.

Calvin: Yeah, it's kinda like New York City.


UAB and Muffin Day

Our UAB arrived yesterday afternoon. UAB stands for Unaccompanied Air Baggage, for those of you who need a new acronym in your life. It's the stuff that we wanted sooner than the stuff which will come on the slow boat via China Antwerp. And too bad if you want it all right now, because you only get 800 pounds or something.

So let me tell you about UAB:

Toy trucks!


Fruit Snacks!

The Kitchenaid!

Powdered sugar! Brown sugar!

Paper towels!


I know it's only been two and a half weeks, but doing without these little things can really get a person down. And can I just say that unwrapping a bundle of real! cooking! utensils! from packing paper feels like Christmas. Sure it's just a can opener. But it's mine. And it works. Woohoo!

Only had a one moment of distress when it appeared that the pendulum to my cool living room clock hadn't made it. But Henry helped me find it in all the packing paper. And now we can know what time it is without looking for the cell phone.

Here's a small note in case any of you are packing UAB and think it will be a great idea to pack a Costco variety pack of potato chips. The little bags don't handle air pressure so well. About half of them looked like Henry had already gotten a hold of them (i.e., they were popped open). Just so you know: Doritos - not so yummy after two weeks of being open. Cheetos, though, still pretty crisp. I think that speaks to the high quality of preservatives and unnatural ingredients found in them?

My only other complaint is that the cookie sheets and the roasting pan that I love and use frequently in my American life will not fit in my cute little oven. And that kinda steals the joy away from the brown and powdered sugar for a day or two until I can hitchhike to the store and get me some cute little pans.


I made some muffins for Cal's class last night. I will never be able to make them again because they were a concoction comprised of a butter pecan cake mix (courtesy of the comissary), what little butter we had in our butter dish (as a substitute for oil because the only kind I had on hand was sunflower and that does NOT go well in baking), two eggs instead of three that the box called for because that's all we had, and some quantity of mushed banana (I can't be sure how much it was because Charlie was "sharing" the bananas with me as I mixed it up...)

(By way of explanation, "grocery shopping" is not the hop-in-your-car-and-go-to-the-store-and-find-exactly-what-you-need affair that it might normally be elsewhere. For starters, no car. And we'll leave the discussion of the stores and their supplies for another post. Plus, UAB was here, so I didn't want to buy a bunch of duplicate baking ingredients but I didn't have time to dig through and unpack the boxes before baking...)

So anyway, I whipped up these muffins and since I am sometimes rather cupcake and muffin challenged, I was happy that they didn't overflow the pan and weren't too gooey or resembling hockey pucks. All of which might have been possible.

Cal took them to school today. The idea being that they have been doing the letter M all week and it was culminating in Muffin Day today. Each of the kids were to bring enough muffins for everyone in the class to taste and the students would make graphs of flavors, favorites, etc. They've also been talking about their five senses this week, so they got to taste and describe the flavors. You get the picture.

"Cal, where's the container that you took all the muffins in this morning?"

"The teacher kept it. I guess I'll bring it home next week."

"How was Muffin Day?"

"It was great. I tasted two kinds of mussins: Strawberry and the ones you made."


"Yeah, and Mrs. P had one of the ones you made and she said they were delicious!"

"Oh, good. I'm glad everyone liked them."

"Well, none of the kids except me got to taste the ones you made. Only the adults."


"Yeah, Mrs. P shared them only with the teachers."

Hmmm. Interesting.

I'm thinking my muffin invention was a success? But maybe too sophisticated for the 5-year-old palate?


Deffitly Not OK

So Henry has been, as his preschool teacher last year told me on a couple of occasions, "feeling his oats" lately. I'm not sure how much more of it I can take.

Am I not speaking English? Have I not repeated myself eighty nine billion times?

Aren't there some things that are rules no matter where in the world you live? Aren't there some things that should scare the pee out of you just thinking about them, so you won't do them?

Am I not believable when I say that something is dirty, dangerous or hurtful?

There really are things to do that are OK. Why do you want to do all of the things that are not?

Is there nothing that will make you take me seriously?!

Today I was changing laundry loads and heard him calling from down the hall, "Anybody there? Anybody?" I thought the call was coming from the bathroom where he needed help finishing up, but no - it was from his bedroom, where he was sitting.

On the wide window ledge. Which is about four feet off the floor. (I think he scaled the radiator to get all the way up there.)

He had the window swung wide open. Five stories above the street.

Yeah. Cheerfully yelling at passersby below.

Luckily without tragedy (I grabbed him by the waist and snatched him off there so fast...), I learned that the windows have neither safety locks nor screens.

I also learned what barfing one's heart might feel like.

And experienced the intense inner conflict that comes with wanting to kill your child for doing something that could have killed him.

I am at a total loss.


First Day

Cal's first day of school went well.

We missed the bus by 30 seconds. No, really - the girls were trying to tell the bus driver to wait, but the language thing didn't work out. They pulled away as we came out of the elevator. Apparently, the bus monitor is very uptight and will wait for no one or nothing for no amount of time. When they dropped Cal off this afternoon, he gave me a printout of their route with our stop highlighted and said in a very thick accent, "Every morning. Do not be late."

Allrightie then. I get the point. The thing is, we weren't late this morning. The bus left without him. So there.

Anyway, David caught a cab and took Cal in because after all the hype of "Tomorrow's your first day, you need to bathe and comb your hair and brush your teeth," we couldn't just say, "Let's try again tomorrow since the bus left without you today." Baths two days in a row would kill the kid, you know.

Cal's not saying much, but he liked riding the bus and he likes his teacher and he says all the kids are wild. He ate all his lunch and truly regretted not having time to finish his carrot sticks so he gobbled them up once he got home. His teacher wrote a nice note home, apparently tested his reading and general brightness today and he seems to check out all right.

I asked him about his activity hour (they offer "after school activities" that are actually during the school day and are more like lessons or clubs). He said he plans to go to Tae Kwan Do but since today was his first day and he didn't know anyone or any Tae Kwan Do he decided to stay with Miss Katherine. "Oh? And what did you do with Miss Katherine?"

"I went with her to Drama Club. Ha! I don't know why it's called that. Drama. Huh. All they did was pick cards and do what was on the card. I didn't do it because I just wasn't into it."

I gotta get him signed up for activities for sure.

It didn't feel entirely "first day of school"-ish today and I didn't sob (yet). Mostly, I think he is loving it and if he's happy, I'm happy. We're all going to be fine.

I am considering on online auction of my four-year-old, though. Who'll start the bidding?