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."