Kyiv First 100 Days: Technicalities

I consider myself a fairly literate person. I read. A lot. I write some. I can follow directions, I can gather context clues, and I have a lot of confidence that if there is ever anything that I need to know about, I can totally find out the how-what-where-when-why about it, just by reading. Nothing that can't be found or explained by a written word somewhere.

But perhaps all that is what had me so flummoxed with all of our household appliances for a while after we arrived. I had to interpret pictographs in order to know what cycle, what temperature, and how much time to do everything. You'd think that pictures would make things universal, wouldn't you? I maintain that when the pictures reflect German or Russian engineering (the Germas would probably cringe that I put "Russian" and "engineering" in the same sentence, but oh well), they are definitely not universal.

I did find a couple of manuals for our appliances in pdf format, and they helped a very leetle bit. But mostly it took a lot of trial and error to be able to cook, bake, and run the washer and dryer here.

Wanna try out your pictograph skills? Here you go.

The oven. This is one of the three knobs on the oven. One of the others is the timer (which doesn't work, but dings incessantly should your 20-month-old play with it). And the second of the others is the temperature setting (in Celsius, which I'll talk about later). But this one is the best. Which setting would you put it on for your average batch of cookies?

Next, the dishwasher. Yeah, we just keep it set to this all the time. It seems to do the job. But the pictures are interesting to guess at, nonetheless.

The microwave. Also has three knobs. Four, if you count the one that you can spin to add time while the microwave is functioning. But there is no end to the fun possibilities of this microwave.

First of all, "Grill?" In a microwave? Eww. And "Combi" just cracks me up for some reason.

Then, "jet?" Frightening. Except that I think "jet" might actually be the most effective temperature, seeing as how American microwaves usually operate at about 1100. Except the word "jet" in combination with the large warning sticker on the front of the microwave that says not to stand near it during takeoff use just scares me too much. And what is that little bedpan picture across from "jet?"

The buttons are where the real fun begins. If little helping hands should happen to push the start button a second time, it adds 30 seconds automatically. A third time? 30 more seconds. And so forth. Helpful little function, eh? And again, the jet. I just want to pop some popcorn are reheat a burrito, for crying out loud.

Here's the washer. All the cycles are over 90 minutes except for the "Quick" and the "Mix." And since I can set the temperature manually with some other buttons, I go for "Mix." But I have come to appreciate the cute drawrings of different types of clothing. And I have found the "empty" button helpful, since the washer is right at Charlie's level and he has helpfully restarted a cycle just as I was going to move already washed clothing to the dryer.

And, the dryer. The black sun and the empty sun do about the same thing, as far as I can ascertain. And the closets really mean something like "closet ready," which isn't exactly dry. Interesting concept. And the iron means that it's still damp because that's when you can press things most effectively. Assuming you don't have the steam setting on your iron, I guess. So usually we do one of the suns and then a timed setting, because we like our clothes actually dry. Also, because it's not a vented dryer, we have to empty the water tank at least once during one drying cycle.

Other than pictures and asking about chicken parts in Russian, the other two things that trip me up are the metric system and temperatures in Celsius.

On about Day Two, I had already had enough of looking up a conversion chart for temperature so that I could turn the oven on, so I scribbled out the chart with a purple crayon and taped it to the inside of the cupboard door for quicker reference. I still use it, because those numbers just don't stick in my head for some reason.

FYI, 350 degrees F is 176.6666 and 400 is 204.44444... Unfortunately, the oven doesn't have temperatures with decimals. Or even little lines to indicate increments between 160, 180, 200, and 220. And it only goes up to 220 degrees Celsius, which is only 428 degrees Fahrenheit. There go any recipes that might require 450 degrees, largely because of the puzzling pictograph settings of the oven (which is actually a convection oven and requires different temps and rack adjustment anyway), as well as the temperature settings. Ah well. We improvise. Sometimes successfully.

Then there is the metric system. Which, truth be told, is a lot more sensical than feet, yards, and horses hands or whatever else we inherited from the Brits / Romans. But all my recipes and craft instructions from home are in good ol' pounds, ounces, cups, teaspoons, inches and feet. Everything for sale here is in kilograms, grams, meters, centimeters.

It took me twenty minutes to decide what size of school pictures I wanted to order because they were in centimeters. I just wanted it to let me off the hook and say somewhere "8x10" and "4x6" and "wallet size." Nope I had to scrounge up the ruler and figure out what size they were talking about. Because I'm quick like that.

But my lowest point of mathematical prowess came one day at the market when I wanted a 1/4 kilogram of walnuts and was racking my brain trying to "remember" the Russian word for "1/4" and was saying, "you know, a half of a half of a kilogram" or something ridiculous like that when the lady next to the one who was talking to me finally chimed in, "You want 250 grams, then."

Well, yeah. Heh. Don't I feel brilliant. 250 IS a quarter of a thousand, now isn't it? It's just that I grew up knowing that a quarter of a pound of butter was one stick. I bet YOU didn't know THAT, now did you, Miss "250 Grams"?!

I do like taking the "one hundred" (and then some) off my body weight, though. It's so much nicer to weigh something in the double digits for a change.

We really should switch to the metric system.


Kyiv First 100 Days: Emotions

These were just some things that I jotted down for posterity while we were in the midst of moving and adjusting.

Calvin's emotions have covered a broad and pretty normal range throughout our transition. Lucky for me, he is quite articulate in expressing them. There's very little question what he is feeling. Despair - "How many times do you have to make me cry?!" he wailed one day when I asked him to do something very simple that he didn't feel up to at the moment. Then frustration - "It's juuuuust toooooooo complicaaaaated!" he moaned another time when I was telling him where to put something away. And then other times he was on top of the world - "Mom! I just said my first word here!!" he exclaimed in absolute pride after saying "Thank you" in Russian to the man who brought in Charlie's crib the day we arrived.

Henry hasn't had an emotional roller coaster, really. His has been a pretty level ride. Starting with the tirade through the airport terminal to our gate before boarding. We didn't have time to sit at Wendy's to eat our lunch so we were carrying the food to the gate so we didn't miss the boarding call. This set him off and he proceeded to yell (he has only one volume setting in general) for about 200 yards:

"Why do we have to get on the stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid plane, anyway?!?!"

On the fortieth or fiftieth "stupid" most people stopped being appalled and a few started chuckling. One guy stopped and said to Henry, "I'm with you, buddy." It makes me laugh. Now. Except that it really did set the tone for how Henry is dealing with the move.

When Henry isn't being outrageously and loudly angry vocal, he uses Duckie for expressing his quieter emotions:

Then there's Charlie. His emotions remain consistently in the sunshine range. If there was ever a balm for the heart, it's this little guy. Even his brothers can't resist his giggle and charm.

And me? When I'm not wailing, "It's juuust tooooooo complicaaaaaaated!" I'm in the drawer with Duckie.

(Except when I'm on my way to Egypt. Wooooohoooooo!)


Now This I Am Going to Miss Someday

I'm nothing if I am not carnivorous.

And this, my friends is a deep freeze full of meat. Roast, stew meat, pork chops, deli ham and turkey, salmon, bacon.

We placed a bulk order for meat and household supplies through the commissary and it arrived yesterday. A truly beautiful thing.

The order list is a little unclear on quantity or size, and if you order one of something, you have to order a whole box, so we are pretty much set up for well, possibly, the rest of our two years here.

The meat just made me happy. Seriously, I almost teared up over it. Simply because it is all USDA approved, reasonably cut (the art of butchery is completely nonexistent here - something I used to take for granted), and clearly marked. Meat.

Meat that I don't have to shop (pantomime) for.

Meat that will always be there, fresh and recognizable, so I actually can plan a weekly menu and not have to "plan B" it on the fly or check at other stores while grocery shopping with at least two grouchy children.

Our deep freeze has been naked empty since we moved here and has mostly played host to the myriad ice-making adventures of small boys that take place on the sly around here. It made me feel desolate and hungry just looking in it, even when there is food in the house. Now it is full, full, full.

We also got lots of real diapers and wipes, canned goods, and my favorite laundry detergent. Happy sigh.

I can also totally understand now how getting my home storage act together would make me feel like the queen of the world, efficient and worry-free, always ready and able to feed the fam, without having to rely on availability or usability from anyone else. I'm going to make a plan to get there. Because it really does feel wonderful to have something long-term stored.

Now, for a grill. And a place to operate it. Hmmmmm.


Kyiv First 100 Days: Our Place

Our first 100 days are long over, but I had some drafts of things that I wanted to record, so I'm going to go with them. They are more like "then and now" reflections, because I have adjusted a little more and have some newer things to observe.

I struggled a lot with settling in to our apartment. I was so conflicted - on the one hand it's spacious and clean and safe, so what's my problem? Mostly, I'm a brat. But on the other hand, it's cavernous and echoes and has NO storage whatsoever and the quirks of floor plan and decorating, in my first couple of weeks especially, drove me nuts. It was strange - I was expecting odd and incovenient but what I was expecting was different from the odd and inconvenient that we got. Ours is odd and inconvenient disguised as big and glam - in fact, most "new" apartments and buildings here are more or less whited sepulchres. Everything is facade, and any time you see underneath (which is more often than one would like, because things underneath are the things that rot and break more often than anything), it's a bit frightening. And I didn't like the unsettling feeling that underneath, things are quite possibly crumbling, leaking, seeping, cracking...

After a while of everything staying together and feeling like maybe I was wrong to worry about plumbing, electric, gas, support walls, and so forth, I felt like I could safely tell all about our apartment and some memories of other apartments I've lived in here in Ukraine just for comparison and commentary. After describing our spacious, newly remodeled and generally non-Sovietesque apartment, I was going to blithely mention that at least we probably won't experience any of the memorable and quirky non-OSHA compliant repairs or remodels while we live in this place - it seemed so modern and normal, for the most part.

Then one afternoon the director of our apartment building came to the door and said that they had ascertained that the heat won't work in the building because of a clog in the pipes (what?! how?! No one ever knows.), namely in the pipes in the wall of our master bedroom. He asked if they could open the wall and see what it needed and so forth.

So we had this lovely hole for over a week while they continued to see what the problem with the pipes was. There was a smaller but corresponding hole in the (public) stairwell outside our bedroom. For reference, the pipe is about three inches around and the hole was over two feet long. And I'm still not sure how whatever they did to the pipe made the heat work. Or if it did, since the city hasn't really turned heat on this winter. But oh well....

Then two women came over a period of three or four days and they patched the wall with a little door (right over the other little door that you can see was already there). We have lots of little such doors in our place. I like to imagine that if I could shrink myself, I could fit through them and go to magical and interesting places. Maybe I will write the next series of fantasy books, ala Chronicles of Narnia? That would help me forget that some of these unsecured doors have glass beer bottles with cigarette butts stored in them. And others have meters and knobs that the baby likes to turn.

Some of the other features of our place?

Very fancy chandeliers. I'm not really a chandelier type, but if you're a Ukrainian landlord trying to appeal to Nouveau Riche (mafia) Ukrainians and/or "rich" Americans, chandeliers are a must. Ours are beauties. Great dust collectors. And don't provide much light, really, because they are up on the fourteen foot ceilings. But it's the thought that counts. These are my favorite:

Furniture that is not ours. This is something that I really wasn't planning on feeling as lonely as it did for a while. We brought none of our own furniture with us except the boys' beds. So it felt hotel-like and not really to our taste. High quality, but more formal than our life lends itself to. Never fear, though - with three little boys in the house, everything is getting pleasantly distressed at this point. And by the time we leave, perhaps we will have to own a lot of the furniture in the place. In the meantime, I rearrange furniture regularly to try and make it feel better.

The "knobs" on the cabinets in the kitchen. They were more like wooden tassels held on by cheap burnished bronze. Charlie pulled three of them off within as many hours, I think, which made it difficult to open any of the doors. One of the first improvements I made was to order new knobs from a discount knob vendor online (you can find anything in this world online!). They arrived, I went crazy with the screwdriver, and voila! I could cope with the kitchen cabinets again.

Balconies. Two Juliet type off the front side and a balcony that runs the entire length of the apartment on the back side. They are all one of the most disappointing things about our place - many apartments in Ukraine have awesome enclosed balconies that serve as storage, sunrooms, drying racks, whatever. I was hoping for at least one like that - they are quintessential Ukraine. Alas, ours are not functional at all, not even enclosed, and actually feel like they might fall off the building at any moment. The boys wanted to play out on them constantly when we first moved in, but the railings are unstable and the slant of the cement "floors" - truly disconcerting. I do have plans for a container garden, though, because the big balcony is on the sunny side. Tomatoes? Watermelon? Peas? Herbs? I'm doing a little research...

Our "neighborhood." We have a prime location for David to walk to work, but our building is the only residence on the block. I miss the feeling of neighborhood when you walk out of a stairwell and there are familiar grandmas sitting on the bench outside the door, and there's a rug-beating post in the middle of the area for spring cleaning, and a little play equipment and lots of moms with strollers and children running around and hanging out. We just have a busy, double-parked street. But we were grateful, the first few weeks before our stuff arrived, to have the half burned-out building behind us for entertainment. I can't even believe how much time we spent at the window watching men tear it down...that's another post.

A fireplace that smokes. (I think of Sense and Sensibility every time I think of our fireplace.) We're not allowed to use the fireplace because of hazards, but that doesn't stop our upstairs neighbors from using theirs. Our living room would fill up with at least the smell of smoke every night for a while. So we asked for someone to check into the situation. No one investigated the flue or the chimney areas or anything. They just came in with a piece of particle board painted light blue (there's not another light blue thing in the place), cut it to fit the opening of the fireplace exactly, and sealed the edges with silicon caulk. It's really quite a masterpiece.

The boys are still a little bothered that the smoke shield also effectively eliminated their one cozy spot in all the house. (P.S. See the paper hanging out above Charlie's head? That was the first "solution" - here before we moved in - for the smoke coming down the chimney. Yeah. Less effective, and, I might add, flammable.)

Window treatments. Ukrainians are big on "shears." We have a beautiful set in every room. I can deal with all of them, because I've learned to see "pretty" from their perspective. Except for the ones in the kitchen. They just didn't "go" with the way we use a kitchen. And they blocked the one good view.

So within the first week of living here, I found a little store that sells ribbon, bought some (they didn't have the right color of green, but in my neurosis I didn't care), and redecorated a bit. I couldn't take the shears dragging on the floor in the kitchen or the boys running in and out of them, often right after eating. So, up and away. Not too bad.

A functioning elevator. This is a big deal. Many places have lifts, but they regularly break down and often double as urinals for homeless. Not ours. It's clean, has only broken once since we've been here, and, thanks to the other perk of having security people in the basement, random people aren't allowed in the building. An added bonus is that they have been improving the elevator every week since we moved in - they added "granite" cornices, new buttons, a new floor...The boys are always thrilled to notice something new on the elevator. Our neighbors upstairs (who are doing a scarey "European" - that's all the rage among the elite - renovation) actually have a remote control for the button to their floor, so no one else can make the elevator go to their level. Ooh la la, eh? The one "funny" thing is that the elevator is up two flights of stairs from the garage and one flight of stairs from the street. So coming in with bags of groceries or a stroller full of two sleeping children...not so fun. But oh well. You can't expect them to think of everything.

In general, our place is large and tall. We still kinda rattle around in it. It feels sometimes like I'm squatting in someone else's palace. Strange to be uncomfortable in a place that is really quite nice, especially by Kiev standards. When people like my Russian tutor (who's lived in the same three room - not three bedroom, three room - apartment since she was seven, in 1950-something) come over and say things like, "Americans all have big places, they are just used to living in really big places," I feel really sheepish but don't know how or where to begin to explain. In truth, even lower middle Americans are used to a certain level of luxury unheard of here (washing machines or laundromats, even). I feel like a poser - government employees living like crazy Ukrainian oligarchs replicating the American dream (of 1989).

Things have gotten progressively more comfortable here now. It's not as bad as my first 100 days grumbling would have you believe. Still odd and inconvenient in some respects, but I do have the kitchen set up and we have heaters to make things feel less like a cold castle, and the boys are snug in their rooms. We feel safe and things are good.

And we do have a guest bed or two. Come on over.


Go Figure

The other night I made Morrocan Chicken. A new recipe from the back of Family Circle that made my mouth water. I had all the ingredients on hand except the chicken thighs, which is great because it simplifies the grocery ordeal and makes me feel like I really can go for interest and joy food-wise when I only need one item AND that one item happens to be something they have in Ukraine.

So I found chicken thighs at the store. The recipe called for skinless thighs, which, alas, were not to be found, but I was so riveted on Moroccan Chicken that I bought them with skins (after doing sign-language with the meat lady to make sure I was buying the right body part of chicken - cuts of meat here are, um, different, sometimes).

I'm not a fan of raw poultry. I can handle a boneless, skinless breast well enough, but I always feel the need to sanitize everything in the kitchen after handling anything foul and I'm paranoid about serving up a barnyard bird that is not as thoroughly cooked as it should be. (David is in charge of the Turkey for Thanksgiving, by the way. And he does it perfectly every time. One of the many reasons I love the man.)

So, cooking chicken, though I now do it frequently, is an experience frought with some level of anxiety every single time. Not to mention some psychological unpleasantness: It's taken me a long time to be OK with handling a whole bird (or boney parts thereof) and not thinking about the tendons and gizzards and neck-breaking and general floppiness of a squishy-stiff body that is roughly the weight of a small infant.

But the thought of cooking up something new and delicious spurs me on and I can do anything for the delight I envision at the dinner table. (Which David demonstrates regularly. Another reason I love the man.) Anyway, the skin came off these thighs easily enough, once I got past the fact that there were still minute feathers in the skin and the bones jiggled side to side in the flesh.

All the while I was feeling very adventurous and domestic-goddess-ish and, more than anything, still salivating over the Moroccan Chicken that was to be.

It's a slow cooker recipe that smelled fabulous once it started cooking and it roasted beautifully and was lovely to look at when I put it on the serving plate and dished it up for the family over rice. I totally recommend cinnamon, salt and curry powder as a seasoning on chicken.

I personally liked the smell of it better than the actual, although it was quite good. Henry ate it decently, especially the carrots. But Calvin, who lately has been eating enough for a small army at each sitting, stirred it around his plate and refused to try it and then did but wouldn't have more after the initial taste. David loved it and said the recipe was a keeper, but I felt like it was a bust. No one had seconds. No one seemed as delighted as I had been over the mere idea of Moroccan chicken.

I pantomimed chicken body parts, was (good-naturedly, but nonetheless) mocked by the crew of a Ukrainian meat counter, and handled feathery thighs for this? Sigh. Sometimes my efforts at meal-time ecstasy don't seem to pay.

But this morning, my reign as culinary queen resumed after I popped a tube of cinnamon rolls in the oven and glazed them with the enclosed Cinnabon icing. I served one to each of the boys on a paper towel at breakfast.

Henry: "These are soooo good!"
Calvin: "The best ones you've ever made! You know how to make some really great things, Mom."
Henry: "Yeah, the only thing she doesn't really make very good is juice. We never have any good juice."

I just want to say that I've never made real-life cinnamon rolls (much to my chagrin) OR juice. But at least I know for sure that in general, I make some good things, and that the Moroccan Chicken tops something, right?


Little Boy in a Little Suit

I'm organizing photos, prepping for the millions that I will soon be taking every minute of every day with my new camera, and I just noticed that I never posted these snapshots of Charlie in the suit that his Aunt Lesli gave him. It's impossible to not post such extreme cuteness, IMHO.

I asked him for his business card...

Here he is throwing a fit because he doesn't want to get his coat on to leave for church.

But when Charlie throws a fit, this is about how serious he is about it, most of the time:


My New Baby

It's always a little overwhelming when something you've dreamed about and imagined for a long time becomes a reality. A whole world opens up and all kinds of possibilities are suddenly there for the taking, if you can just figure out how you are supposed to care for and play with it properly. You also feel a bit inferior to the sweetness of it, and you spend a lot of time handling it really gently because, who knows - it might break in your inexperienced hands.

Meet my new Christmas / Valentine's / Mother's Day / General "I Love You" Arrival.

A truly beautiful thing. And it requires no midnight feedings.


While I Wasn't Blogging...

I had in mind to post all. the. time. once we moved to Ukraine and tell you all kinds of funny and interesting tidbits about our life overseas. But I started feeling like everything I wrote was only lightly veiled (if at all) complaining.

I didn't feel real positive about anything and I didn't want to do our overseas post and you a disservice by belly-aching all the constant time. In general, I am trying to be more tolerant, and one of the points of living in other parts of the world is to grow from diversity.

But there is sometimes a very thin and unclear line for me between laughing at oddities and inconveniences and mercilessly mocking the hell out of a country and system that is driving me absolutely mad most days. I didn't know where to draw that line in a blog post, and I've mostly just been really blue and frustrated. Perhaps the most difficult thing was trying to understand why everything was so discouraging and so difficult for me when I thought I knew so well what I had signed up for and what I had gotten into.

So my husband "got to" hear it all, and I'm afraid I left a lot unblogged in my effort to not say anything at all unless I could say something halfway nice. And then my husband, longsuffering as he is, got a little weary with my endless murmuring, and a little worried about my persistent glumness, so I turned to my oldest and most reliable escape mechanism - reading. It's a beautiful thing.

For a while I didn't feel like there was anyone I could really talk to, because the other expats here seemed all adjusted and happy and I thought they would just tell me to get over myself. Then a few of my expat friends and bloggy friends started telling me: it takes time. It's OK to have to adjust. Give yourself time. And for the most part, I think that's mostly what it took. Sometimes time is the hardest thing to give oneself, but it's the only thing that will make things better.

So in the time I was giving myself to get my feet on the ground and get a little better perspective, also known as my head-in-the-sand-and-out-of-the-blogosphere time, I read. I was surprised the other day to realize that I've read nearly twenty-five books in a little less than five months.

I've actually gotten on a really great reading roll that I don't really want to get off of, but I've also missed blogging regularly and checking into other people's blogs and lives. I'm starting to feel like myself again and feeling a little more resilient and a little less curmudgeonly. Which is a good thing.

We've got a vacation of a lifetime coming up and I still have some mocking that must be done just so I can feel better, and maybe, just maybe, I can start looking at Kiev through Code Yellow glasses and make it interesting for all of us.

Thanks for hanging in with me!

And just for good measure, to document (mostly for myself) that I really did do something productive besides gripe, here's the list of books I've read since coming to Kiev, in case you'd like a little glimpse into my coping... (Truly, feel free to skip to the end, unless you like this sort of list thing...)

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
- I have a whole post (comparative essay) in my mind about this book and one of my favorite Disney movies, "Meet the Robinsons." Let me know if that interests you. :)

The Apple That Astonished Paris, Billy Collins
- I want every single one of his books of poetry. If you haven't read any, treat yourself.

It's A Boy!, Michael Thompson and Teresa Barker
- Indispensable resource for parenting boys. Heaven knows I need it. Highly recommend it for evenhanded, reasonable and helpful insights and tips for every age of a boy.

Antigua and My Life Before, Marcela Serrano
- I was actually inspired to pick this one up because one of my new friends, Christine in Istanbul, loves Latin literature. There were parts of this one that I thought were beauutiful, but I don't think I really caught the depth that was intended. Maybe it was lost in the translation? Christine, have you ever read it?

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory
- The story is interesting; I'm always a fan of historical fiction. But the dialogues had too much modern flavor and the bawdiness kinda put me off.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
- Finally grew to love Fanny Price as Jane Austen wrote her. She's probably the most real-life of characters, when it comes right down to it.

No One Cares What You Had For Lunch, Margaret Mason
- Funny, of course, especially if you know Mason's blog as well. Some of the excerpts made me bust a gut laughing, in fact. Some great ideas for making a blog sing. Let's see if I can put any of them into action...

Sea Glass, Anita Shreve
- Some really beautiful passages and a nice bit of historical fiction about an era and place I know little about (Maine in the 1930s) but a very sudden and sad climax. Still, things to think about.

Could You? Would You?, Trudy White
- A little book of questions perhaps meant for children, but I liked some of the things the questions made me consider. And Henry loved me to ask him the questions - it actually made me see how asking a child what he thinks or what he imagines can make him feel like a million bucks.

Bleak House, Charles Dickens
- Love it. Not as much as Great Expectations, perhaps, but wonderful, wonderful.

The Zookeeper's Wife, Diane Ackerman
- Didn't live up to my expectations, mostly because I was expecting a historical account and it was more saturated with a naturalist's perspective on animals. There were some amazing observations and it is a fascinating World War II story that made me really want to visit Poland, but the chronology and the conclusion really frustrated my historian's sensibilities.

Travels With Herodotus, Ryszard Kapuscinski
- Expat friends, this is a must read. And if you can pick up Herodotus, try him out, too. Fabulous observations, poignant glimpses into world travel, and succinct and thoughtful insights into human nature.

The Last Time They Met, Anita Shreve
- Picked this one up after reading Sea Glass because she really does have a poetic way of putting things without making it feel contrived. However, I felt completely and totally cheated at the end of this one. Perhaps that was Shreve's intent and the whole point of the story, but it made me mad.

- Just to say I read it. And now I can. But it didn't change my life like you'd think a legendary ancient poem might.

The Life of Our Lord, Charles Dickens
- Lesser known and sweet. I like the simple telling of the life of Christ.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
- Between this and War and Peace a person can get a pretty perfect picture of the underpinnings of Slavic culture - even before Stalin, these people's culture was not necessarily Western-oriented, as so many people (still) tend to believe. Aside from that, Anna Karenina provides an amazing view of love, jealousy, society's (double) standards, and despair. One of those books that is so depressing it makes your life feel really wonderful.

My Antonia, Willa Cather
- One of those books that is so uplifting and redeeming that it makes you love everything that is loving and generous and wholesome. I could read it a million times.

Hard Times, Charles Dickens
- A little too melodramatic for me. Very different from the other Dickens I've read - maybe more bite to the satire? But I did end up quite enjoying the story and, as always, reveling in Dickens' astuteness and how much is the same now as it was in 19th Century Britain.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
- A new all-time favorite. Never read it, never even knew what it was about and just ordered it on a whim, really. Oh, but it's wonderful. You need to read it, you really do.

Sonnets, William Shakespeare
- Many I've never read before. Interesting how different things become meaningful that I might have bypassed as a teenager or younger single woman. Some of the best to me this time were in the first twenty or thirty, which are about having children so that you never die. A beautiful idea.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
- Kind-of a grown up Joey Pigza. I think I liked Joey Pigza more, but this is a fun quick read and I catch myself thinking about random mathematical things and the stress on a marriage caused by children with special needs because of this book.

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
- Enjoyed the read, but I think it was too hyped for me to not be more critical than I normally would be. Even so, I'm still interested in seeing the movie. Have you seen it yet? BTW - in the book the heroine has black curly hair. Dakota Fanning does not. Hmmmm.

Mothering With Spiritual Power, Debra Woods
- I really liked the way Woods coordinated challenges in her personal family life with things in the Book of Mormon. These were things that I've read so many times before, but never connected them with mothering until now. I would have like a little more "real"ness sometimes, but overall, I'm glad I picked this one up.

Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
-David read this a few years ago and said it was strange. I read it and LOVED it. I think it's a woman thing. It's an ancient myth retold and C.S. Lewis is a great person to take something like that and make it amazing and rich. This is different from a lot of Lewis - you should check it out.

Lonely Planet Guide to Ukraine
- I'm a travel guide junkie. Ever since the San Francisco guide I bought years ago that described a hotel room as "excessively floral" and when my mom and I stayed there, that was the only way the room could be described. And I loved it. So few things in this world are excessively floral. But I digress. I really didn't read this guide cover to cover, but I at least found some great things that we will see before we leave this place. Also, I like the Lonely Planet perspective because they aren't afraid to tongue-in-cheek make fun of the natives just a bit. I find it refreshing.

Bradt Guide to Ukraine, Drew Evans
- Drew Evans served a mission here just before I did and has spent a lot of time here touring and working since then. He is vastly knowledgeable and the history and culture sections of this guide are awesome. I did really read almost every page of this guide. Except the nightlife stuff. I have no nightlife. In any city. But I am excited to write in to Bradt about a restaurant we went to a couple weeks ago, not found in this guide. It should be included just for interest's sake.

Frommer's Guide to Egypt
- I canNOT wait. We are staying in a hotel recommended in this guide, right by the Pyramids. The hotel and the pyramids are both, incidentally, listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die. We are going to Egypt...We are going to Egypt...We are going to Egypt...(do the chachacha with me now!) Also love the culture and helpful hints section of this book. Did I mention that I can't wait?


While I Was Sleeping

I took advantage of David's day off on MLK Day (even in Ukraine we get the U.S. government holidays!) and had a nice long afternoon nap. (Yes, I realize that this happened two weeks ago and I'm only now posting about it. Just hush.)

My husband being the great dad that he is, played pretty much the whole afternoon with the boys. This is what they did:

They also engaged in some controlled demolition. This is where you have to tip your head sideways or put your laptop on end, because I can't figure out how to rotate my videos - I've done it before, but now can't find the right application. The clips are short, though, so you shouldn't get too much of a crink in your neck:

Just for comparison, this is what they do when I play with them all afternoon when I take a nap and David is not home when I am in charge: