What Drips (now with Pics!)

But first, a couple items of bidness:

1. Congratulations (I hope) to Mrs. Lemon, Lei, Amanda, and Sara - I'm paying it forward to them. Sometime in the next 360 days. I had in mind one thing I would make for all the "winners" but then decided to do something a little more individual, because all these "girls" are so cool and unique. So I'm thinking and gathering supplies. Thanks for being patient winners!

2. Thank you to all who gave such great suggestions on helping children control their anger. I'm implementing a couple of them and we'll see how it goes. If nothing else, it makes me feel better when I know it's not just me and not just my kids. We all have our heathen moments, eh?

3. I just want to say that Girl Scout Cookies make almost everything better. A lady at the embassy here let us order from her little niece back home and the cookies just arrived this week. Heaven in a little green (or yellow or purple) box. I'm telling ya.


And now, for the happenings:

Just this morning I made a comment on my friend's blog that I need to get out more, then I would have more interesting things to blog about. Yeah, don't say things like that to the internets.

I finally went out to the rynok (outdoor market) and to the MegaMarket (grocery store) today for our week's groceries. I'm only a week behind getting there.

Other than the eighty people who told me that my children need to wear hats because it's not summer yet (it's 50 degrees out and sunny!) and the few women who tsk tsked at Henry for jumping in puddles and/or sticking his tongue out at me when I told him to stop, the rynok was uneventful. Except that the vegetables and fruits are beautiful.

Which reminds me that I still need to post about shopping in Ukraine.

Anyhoo...on the way home from the MegaMarket, I got rear-ended. A bus pulled away from a bus stop in front of the car in front of me, which slammed on their brakes, I slammed on mine and turned slightly into the next lane to avoid hitting the car, and then a sedan slammed into the back of our car. We are all OK.

Except that I started shaking uncontrollably, I wasn trying to remember how to talk about police and cars and stopping suddenly in Russian (if I ever knew), and I realized I didn't have my phone in my coat pocket (getting out of the house was the usual circus and I forgot to double check that I had it with me before I left). Then the guy who crashed into me just gave me $200 for the damage to the back bumper and left.

His car was messed up worse than mine, although it was still mobile, but he didn't want to call the police, and I had no way to call even my husband to find out what the protocol is for fender-benders here.

I cried all the way home - Henry was quite concerned, poor little guy - then I called David. He came home to take a closer look at the bumper.

$200 isn't even going to cover the paint on the bumper, and there's damage to the metal underneath.

But this also reminds me that I need to post some about parking and driving in Ukraine. And tattle on David, who messed up the front bumper a couple months ago parking on the sidewalk. Ran over a planter when he went to drive away.

Good thing that one more baby is going to require a different car when we get home anyway, because our car is starting to look like rubble.

I guess I could also look at the bright side: I made $200 just for leaving the house today.



But there are even more drips at home.

Not long after we moved in, we noticed that the wall by our front door was starting to show some water damage. We let people know, but nothing real was done about it. It has gotten progressively worse until it looks like this:

The neighbors downstairs are having a similar problem in the same place in their apartment. The building facilities guy (not landlord, because each apartment is owned by different people) came and checked it out and determined that the problem was originating with the people who live on the floor above us, who just did a big remodel (or are still in the process of remodeling?).

He has tried to talk with them and be able to check the pipes in their place, but they will not even let him in the door. Even though they know that whatever plumbing they installed in their apartment is causing serious leaks and water damage to at least two apartments below them.

So the facilities guy (with some clever plumbers) decided that they would cut the pipes in the wall in our place and reroute the water from the floor above the one above us. This would mean that the apartment above us would have no water, but who cares? They don't want to cooperate or help with the problem, we'll just fix the problem without them! (This is the plumbing / facility guy's reasoning, not necessarily mine. Just so you know.)

So they turned the water off for most of the day yesterday and came to reroute the pipes. They cut this beauty in our wall. With a jack hammer. During Charlie's naptime. The dust and debris was as awesome as the noise. And as an added bonus, the workers would leave for smoking breaks, at which time Henry taught Charlie to find rocks in the debris bag and chuck them into the hole on top. Like the bean bag toss at the circus, but not.

They brought in a huge length of PVC to route from the apartment two floors above us.

Then they realized that they couldn't thread the PVC through the way they had "planned." So the thwarting of the upstairs neighbor wasn't going to work after all, and they were back to square one, water pouring down the inside walls all the way from the floor above us.

And they were now left to weld the pipes that they had cut back together, so we would at least have some water. An hour or so of blue sparks and smoke-filled house later, the pipes were back in place. Then we had to run water for several minutes from every faucet to get it not to be a dark rusty river color. You've got to admire not only the welding job (done by a "plumber"), but also the sheer artistry of the groutness holding the bricks of the wall together. Honestly. Nothing like it.

The hole will get filled in on Thursday. They say. Which means we will probably have another magic door in the wall (again, right above one of the others we already have).

And the water damage isn't going to be remedied any time soon unless the "neighbors" upstairs decide to let us fix the actual problem. Frankly, we have a better chance that Henry won't jump in any more puddles this spring.

The poor facilities guy was apologizing all over the place yesterday afternoon, so frustrated. And I tried to tell him it was OK. He said, "How is it OK? It's rotten! Unfortunately, we have many of these kind of people here. And there's nothing to be done."

Sad, but true. I know it with my head, but am surprised every time I have a personal experience with it.

But since my house was without water and a veritable construction zone all day yesterday, and I spent most of today on an "outing," I think I'm going to go bust open a box of Thin Mints, meet Calvin at the bus, and then get ready for a date with my hubs.

It's all good.


Four Books and a Movie

I've gotten a reasonable start on my Spring Reading Thing goal, although I've made some minor adjustments already. (See my sidebar for my whole list and a link to the other participants.) This is my first post on the progress and what I've read so far, but it's actually about two books that I kinda read and two books that I actually read to kick off my SRT.

First, I decided to finish one book I'd already started: Eighty Years and More, the autobiography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Over the last few weeks, I've read about two-thirds of it, interspersed with other stuff. I picked it up to finish it for the SRT and just could. not. get. into. it.

I think I enjoyed the first half better because it was more about her childhood and education, her early married life and motherhood. She had eight children, something I didn't know before. And she had some very wise and intelligent things to say about mothering, which I thoroughly enjoyed and related to.

But the second half of the book became more a travel log of her lecture circuits and while some of it provides an interesting perspective, I kept wondering who was taking care of her kids while she was traveling nine months out of the year. I mean, she just suddenly jumped to her work with Susan B. Anthony in pursuing women's rights and not much more was said of her family life, which I guess I was more interested in, and which she says she will primarily discuss at the onset.

Maybe I will return to Elizabeth Cady Stanton at some point, but for now, I'm crossing it off my list because my brain wasn't taking it in. I did, however, glean a lot from her autobiography about the origins of the women's rights movement and have been thinking a lot about today's prevailing attitudes about women's roles.

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same since Stanton's time. Interestingly enough, I think it's women who oppress other women now, just with their attitudes and assumptions, and many of those attitudes were already evident in Stanton's outlook. So perhaps I will have more to say about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as soon as I formulate my ideas more clearly. It was an informative read, and made me appreciate even more the efforts of American women to win the right to vote, but the account just got a little too dry for me to continue for now...

I ordered some new titles from Amazon (it will take a couple weeks for them to arrive), and in the meantime planned to read The Shadow of the Wind, a book my husband borrowed from the Community Liaison Office at the embassy and recommended to me. But while putting Eighty Years back on the shelf and pulling out The Shadow, I caught a glimpse of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Not on my list, but suddenly appealing, so I squoze it in.

You can never go wrong with Lewis' allegories and this is perhaps one of his best for me. Especially in the last chapter or so, I was really touched by the difference between pity the emotion and pity the action. Pity the passion is what robs us of complete joy because we feel sorry for people who seem less fortunate than us and we can't do anything about it. But pity the action is the force that will heal and restore those people, it's the thing that will do something for them, as long as they allow it.

I loved that in C.S. Lewis' heaven, there is no room for pity the emotion, which means that those people who try to make us feel guilty for being happy will no longer have power over us, so we will experience unalloyed joy. And the reason we won't have guilt over our personal happiness is that pity the action will be in effect. So not only will we not be unhappy ourselves, but we have every assurance that every unhappiness of others will be addressed and healed, and it needn't be left to our own poor powers to do it.

I also really enjoyed the comparisons of attitudes in many of the characters encountered in The Great Divorce. Once again, C.S. Lewis made me aware that the traditional gross sins may not be the things that keep us from exaltation. Often we are our own worst pitfall. Always something to think about.

Thirdly, I am checking off Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as "read." OK, I didn't exaclty read every single word, but I did read a whole lot of it aloud to the boys, including the final two chapters the other night when they would not let me stop. Good stuff. We're a little behind the Harry Potter frenzy on our house anyway, so I want to get moving on to the second book!

Finally, I read The Shadow of the Wind. It is actually one of the longer books on my list and I was counting on it taking a couple weeks from start to finish, but I could not put it down!

It's quite a bit darker and somewhat more risque than I usually enjoy, but wow, it's great writing and a propelling plot, and I really loved it. I was worried all along that I was so into it that it would probably have a disappointing ending, but in the end, it was completely satisfying.

Some of the things I liked:

* One of the heroes of the story was not necessarily a likeable figure - in fact for most of the book, he is lurking and frightening.

* The villain in the book is really, really horrible.

* The elements of suspense and comic relief and poignancy were near-perfectly developed and balanced. When David was reading it one night, he set the book down for a second and said, "Whew. I just read a part that gave me a chill down my spine." Then not too long after, he was laughing out loud.

* All the characters were human and deep and relatable on some level.

* The setting and historical backdrop was one with which I am almost completely unfamiliar, and now I really want to find out more about the Spanish Civil War and go to Barcelona sometime.

* Mostly, it was the writing. And this is a translation, which impressed me even more. Sometimes authors try a little too hard to be poetic and gothic and artistic in their prose and it just comes out a little over the top or sometimes even trite or rehearsed-sounding. Then if it's a translation, almost always something seems lost. But this book has some wonderful descriptions, and they flow so beautifully with the whole flavor and plot of the book. These are two small ones that I especially liked:

About the main character's first encounter with the villain: "Something reminded me of one of those figures from old-fashioned playing cards or the sort used by fortune tellers, a print straight from the pages of an incunabulum: his presence was both funereal and incandescent, like a curse dressed in Sunday best."

And on a funny visit to a brothel (for not exactly what you'd think) toward the end of the novel: "A lineup of ladies with their virtue for rent and a lot of mileage on the clock greeted us with smiles that would only have excited a student of dentistry."

If you like books about books and a bit of terror and suspense with a lot about family-relationships, coming of age, human nature, revenge, love, and resilience, The Shadow of the Wind is a read you don't want to miss.

And now for the movie: Friday night I went to the Mohyla English Language Institute here in Kiev as a guest host for their weekly movie night. The embassy participates in an outreach program with the American Library on their campus and is always looking for hosts for the movies, so I volunteered.

I was in charge of introducing the movie and then conducting a discussion afterwards. Everything is in English, and it was fun to watch an American film - we watched The Truman Show. A very interesting film to watch in a former Soviet country, actually.

I really enjoyed our conversation about media influence, freedom, protection as a form of love, and what is real or authentic. Not only one of my favorite movies ever, but also a stimulating conversation with young adults that I really enjoyed.

Afterward, one of the girls who was there caught up to me on the way to the Metro stop and she was just bubbling over with excitement - she hardly let me get a word in edgewise: "I just discovered this American library in September and I started reading things and it's just like whole new worlds are opened up to me. I just read To Kill a Mockingbird - I thought that since they told me it was an American classic that it would be boring or I wouldn't understand, but it's so wonderful! I love that book! And tonight! I've watched Truman Show before - but it was in Russian, and I liked it - but tonight I thought of so many different questions and ideas. It was great!"

I loved her enthusiasm and it made me happy - literature and art really does reach across and there are so many rich human experiences that we can share.

Have you read or watched anything wonderful lately?


What Works?

We're having a big anger management problem around here. With Calvin and Henry, not me and David. In case you were wondering. Heh.

All along, I've been operating on the "it's a phase" answer to every parenting conundrum, and also with an understanding that kids need to be guided in how to control their emotions - they can't do it on their own.

I feel like David and I set a pretty good example of a loving, communicative relationship, and I've tried to give plenty of room for a good learning curve. They are, after all, little children.

I also totally understand that anger is not bad in itself, because it indicates problems or hurt or something that needs adjusted. I don't think it's healthy to completely stifle or ignore anger or make anyone feel bad for feeling angry sometimes.

But everyone needs to learn how to deal with anger in the right way. If kids are consistently lashing out in anger and not learning to control themselves right now, it can be terribly damaging to them and the people they love later in life.

How do you validate the anger without condoning the completely outrageous behavior?

What has made it especially bad lately is that I see Charlie mimicking behavior even when he is not angry, because he sees the big boys do it so often.

And it seems that the big boys have shorter and shorter fuses - the things that set them off happen so quickly and are sometimes so small, and would be completely resolvable if they would stop for one second.

I just can't find a way to get them to stop for that one second before they explode.

And my fuse is shorter and shorter, as well, because of the constant barrage. So I'm not sure I'm exactly an example of self-control. Though I try really hard.

I feel like we've run the whole gamut of tactics - from time-outs to (forewarned) spanks to just deciding that since I can't tell them anymore to stop before someone gets hurt, I'll just be here to apply band-aids or take them to the ER as needed. (OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but you know the feeling?)

I've tried to set an example of tolerance and patience until I feel like my own head is going to explode, trying to control myself.

Time-outs in a chair do not work - Henry and Calvin don't stay sitting. At all. Ever. Or if they do, they kick the wall by the chair or shove the table away from them. Or they scream the entire time they are sitting.

Time-outs in a room by themselves turn the room into a destruction zone.

Spanking doesn't sit well with me for this particular situation - trying to teach them that it's not OK to hit when they don't like the way another person is acting? Hmmm. Yeah, pretty senseless.

They don't listen when I'm telling them to stop stop stop, and they often turn on me when I intervene, and nobody is satisfied with the outcome then.

Trying to have a rational dialog often goes awry and I've started realizing that I really don't need to justify my position to a six-year-old. But he gets even more angry when he feels like I'm not listening.

They also haven't learned from hurting one another that it's not a good thing. (This experimental tactic actually happened by accident the other night when they decided to have a full-on cat fight in the back seat of the car while I was driving. By the time I could stop the car to deal with it, they had shocked and awed the baby and clawed each other's faces up pretty good. And I can't believe I just admitted that to anyone.)

What works in your house for diffusing tempers or redirecting frustration or stopping negative responses like hitting, screaming, throwing stuff and door slamming?

So many moms have said to me, "We just don't tolerate it in our home." Well, duh. But how do your kids know that? How did you nip it in the bud, or stop it once it had escalated? What works for you?

Really, I need to know. I've got to get this straightened out. Take the weekend and give me your best parenting tip.


Laughing It Up

On the flight back from Egypt (actually from Amman, but from vacation), which was on Royal Jordanian Air (and can I just say they know how to fly right?), I decided to decompress and watch a comedy on their inflight entertainment system. For whatever reason, "Four Holidays" appealed to me and I started it.

I laughed out loud. A lot. My husband looked at me. People in the rows in front and behind me looked at me. And still I laughed and chortled. I don't think that the movie was that funny really (although there were some lines or situations that still make me chuckle), and maybe it was just because all the kids were sleeping, and I really needed to unwind, but man. It felt so good to just get the funnies like that. My husband said it was so great to hear me laugh that way, he hadn't heard it for a while.

Sigh. I know I need to laugh more.

After all, hearing other people laugh makes my day.

There are some people who are kinda somber, like me, I guess, but when I can make them laugh, I feel awesome. My grandpa was one: Once he told me that I was getting prettier every day and I answered without a pause, "I know - I can't wait until tomorrow!" The way he laughed at that still makes me smile.

There are people who are just quiet people and when they find something so funny that they lose themselves in mirth, it's truly wonderful. My dad is one of those: One of my favorite little girl memories is of watching him watch an episode of M*A*S*H - something cracked him up so much that he had tears streaming down his face. I remember how I just felt happy, looking at him laugh like that.

And there are people who aren't necessarily somber or quiet, but who are so funny themselves (and yet discerning - they don't laugh about just anything!), that it thrills me when something I say or do tickles them. Nobody.

And there's nothing like it when my babies get the giggles.

It's good for the soul to laugh. I know it is, just from how I felt chortling among strangers on an airplane, watching a silly movie. I should do it more - for myself. I let things weigh me down so much that I fail to appreciate the little nice things in life, or just giggle every now and then. I've got to lighten up.

But I also need to laugh more for my husband and my kids. Just thinking about how it makes me feel when I hear other people laughing, I know the people closest to me need to hear me laugh more often.

I've got a decent sense of humor. I think I need to develop another sense - the sense to let myself appreciate the funny. And to show it.

What's a time you felt happy hearing or making someone you love laugh? Have you let yourself get visibly tickled over something lately?


I Hate Wednesdays

I've hesitated to write this post because it might reveal a little too much about the inner workings of my psyche (not to mention my housekeeping skills), but it is a true phenomenon, and it hits me every week, and so here it is:

I hate Wednesdays because it's the day my cleaning lady, Galena, comes.

I do not hate Galena. She is sweet and cooperative and not invasive or bossy.

I do not hate that she comes and cleans my house.

I hate that her coming requires me to do a morning blitz through the house straightening so that we don't appear to be total pigs and so that she can clean. I know, Grandma - it would be so easy to just clean and pick up as we go, and it is ludicrous to have to clean for someone to come clean. I know this with my head and I wish I could be like you. That's what makes me sad.

I hate that while she is here all day, I feel compelled to look productive and/or interactive with my children. Because it's important that she knows I'm busy, and therefore don't get the toilets swabbed, rather than that I'm lazy and therefore don't get the toilets swabbed.

Looking productive and interactive is sometimes more difficult than actually being productive and interactive. That stinks.

I hate that I feel compelled to be showered and dressed and have my children also ready for the day before she arrives in the morning. Also so we don't appear to be slatternly.

I hate that I care so much what she thinks. Ukrainians are phenomenal housekeepers, but they all also have grandmas or nannies in the house to help with children and household responsibilities. An idea that is pleasant, but foreign, to my upbringing.

I hate being a domestic helper's boss. It makes me feel so aristocratic, which kinda goes against my grain.

I hate that because I can't really say what I accomplish in a day, that I feel like it's nothing and therefore I have no excuse for things not getting done.

I do know I'm not eating bonbons and sitting around filing my nails - there's just no quantifiable evidence of my productivity come 6 p.m. (Kids are still alive - check!)

I hate it that I really don't manage to get the toilets swabbed regularly and I don't get my husband's shirts ironed so that he's not crunched for time in the morning having to iron his own.

(He doesn't ever complain about this. He gets to the toilets sometimes and he always does his own ironing. I just feel like it's my job and I'm not doing it.)

I hate that because of my lack of organization and my excess of guilt over toilets and shirts that it was so easy to be pressured by the neighbor to take up some hours from a cleaning lady who also cleans for her.

The most annoying thing about it all, though, is that all of this pressure and stress is coming from me. I'm the one making myself feel ridiculous hiring someone to do the work that I should be able to get done and for which I have no concrete excuse for not getting done.

People assure me that there is no shame in it and if I need to, think of Galena - work and money are scarce and Ukraine is getting set for a HUGE economic downturn. So I'm helping her by giving her honest work.

I should definitely say here that while I hold myself to this level of scrutiny, I do not think less of people who do hire housekeepers. I've never given it another thought when it comes to them.

Truth be told, I'm probably not as much ashamed at the need for a housekeeper as I am frustrated over having to coordinate and communicate with yet another person in my life. I don't like it. And if I could manage stuff myself, I wouldn't have to coordinate and communicate with extra people. I hate that.

And although my husband never complained about life before Galena, he now loves Wednesdays.

The truth is that lots of people have wondered aloud to me that I don't have a cleaning lady, or that she only comes one day a week, and that I don't also have a nanny.

My answer for the nanny (that I only share with you, the internets) is that if someone else is caring for my children, I lose my only viable excuse for the toilets and the ironing. And I've been doing children for just long enough to feel really invested and really enjoy it, and to really not know what I would do if I didn't have to do it.

It's just an odd thing to me - instead of alleviating work or stress, Wednesdays loom as the day that I really have to be on my game. Someone is coming over, getting an intimate glimpse at my not-so-orderly homelife. That embarrasses me a little.

And for all of it, my favorite jobs of laundry and bumwiping remain exclusively mine.

On the other hand...it is so nice to know also that those pesky little corners and surfaces (which are prioritized way below all other household tasks) are getting wiped down and dusted. The floors (even under beds and dressers, not just high traffic places) are being regularly swept, vacuumed and mopped. Things are more deeply cleaned and polished.

And because of Wednesdays, I have become a lot better at picking up as I go and not letting things pile up as much. And the boys have started noticing how much nicer it is to play somewhere that is neat and clean.

It is nice that at least once a week, the day ends with everything in near perfect order.

I've got to get over myself, because Wednesdays do make life better. And this is probably the only time in my life that I will ever have a housekeeper. I should love it. I really should.


Pay It Forward!

Linda of Reach for the Stahrs (and one of my Ukraine mission companions from way back in the day, before our children were even twinkles in our eyes), is Paying It Forward and I decided to go for it.

Mostly because Linda is a clever-crafting, amazing-fudge-making and fabulous-photographing woman and I knew I'd get something gooood from her for doing it. Because I'm selfless like that.

But it's not all about me! There's definitely something in it for you, too. I'm not sure what, but read on. Humor me. Pay it forward!

The Rules:

1. Be one of the first THREE to leave a comment on this post, which then entitles you to a handmade item from me - something crafty or yummy, who knows?!

2. Winners must post this challenge on your blog, meaning that you will Pay It Forward, creating a handmade gift - anything! - for the first three bloggers who leave a comment on YOUR post about this giveaway!

3. The gift that you send your THREE friends can be from any price range and you have 365 days to make/ship your item. This means you should be willing to maintain your blog at least until you receive your gift and have shipped your gifts. And remember, it's the spirit and the thought that counts!

4. When you receive your gift, feel free to blog about it, sharing appropriate Linky Love!

If you are not one of the Top Three Commenters on this post, you can still play along. Go ahead and start your own Pay It Forward and encourage your blogging friends to do the same! And I might feel generous and send something to the first FOUR people, so don't quit commenting at three :)

This italic part is not part of the official Pay It Forward post, but if you need something to comment on, tell me about the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear (or read, as the case may be) the word(s), "squish-squash."


I Miss Milk

I have Nesquik and nothing to do with it.

And I want it.

I want milk on my cereal.

I want a little glass of milk to drink with a cookie or two.

OK, so there's milk available here, but other than being a white liquid, there is no comparison.

My memories of milk in Ukraine revolve around big dirty tank trucks with hoses hooked onto the back and grandmas yelling through the neighborhood, "Mo-lo-ko!" People would bring their own 2-liter bottles and fill up from the hose. Sadly, that milk has the most chance of tasting like milk, but those trucks...ugh.

I haven't seen those kind of trucks in Kiev anyway, so we buy the boxed, ultra-pasteurized stuff. I'd prefer giving my kids something I know is clean rather than risking dysentary.

The kids drink it fine, but it tastes boiled and weird. And not even Nesquik or Reese's Puffs can help it. That's how icky it is.

I'm not a huge milk drinker anyway, and I wasn't counting on it being something I'd really miss. But I do.

I'm trying to bake up a healthy baby here and keep my bones from turning to mush in the process. Calcium from other dairy and orange juice is OK, but I really just want milk. And maybe a milk mustache.

Enjoy a glass for me today, OK?


I'm Going to Do It

It's been a long while, but I decided to jump in this time...It's the at Callapidder Days.

I'm going to try to read one book a week between now and June 20th. That's thirteen this spring! (Amazon is going to be super happy because I only own about half of what I hope to read. Don't tell David!)

I hope to post reviews of at least the books I really enjoyed each Friday during the challenge, so in case you are wondering about a few of them or need something to check out at your local library (lucky you, to have a local library...), you might find ideas here.

I plan on choosing my thirteen reads from the following list:

1. and 2. The first two Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling

3. and 4. The second two Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling

5. (Finish) Eighty Years and More, the autobiography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

6. (Read again) Possession, by A.S. Byatt

7. Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy

8. 1491, by Charles C. Mann

9. The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell

10. The Arabian Nights, edited by Husain Haddawy and Muhsin Mahdy

11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by MaryAnn Schaffer and Annie Barrows

12. Paradise Lost, by John Milton

13. Boys Adrift, by Leonard Sax

14. Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

15. First Light (A.D. Chronicles), by Bodie Thoene and Brock Thoene

16. Sailing to Sarantium, by Guy Gavriel Kay

17. Sailing Alone Around the Room, poetry by Billy Collins

18. God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, by Adam Nicolson

19. The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber

20. The Uncommon Reader: A Novella, by Alan Bennett

21. (Read again) The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck

22. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Have you read any of them? Any recommendations for my first read? Anything fabulous you've read lately that should absolutely replace one of my choices?

If you'd like to join in reading, visit Callapidder Days for the complete 4-1-1 on the Spring Reading Thing.


Looking for Spring

Calvin is obsessed about the coming first day of spring. I've been careful to explain that the official first day of spring has to do with the sun and the position of the earth, that it does signal that warmer weather and all things fresh and green are on their way, BUT they still might take a really long time getting here.

You know, it's not a magic, blooming, bunny-hopping, suddenly sunshine day. And we do live in Ukraine. I've told him this so many times that he has started saying, "I know, I know Mom."

My raincloud realism doesn't stop his intrepid enthusiasm. It didn't stop him from waking crazy early one morning a couple weeks ago to wake his brother up and look out the window for birds and the sun.

And it didn't stop him from coming into our room about 45 minutes before anyone needed to be awake this morning and whispering loudly, "Dad! Dad? How many days until the first day of spring now?" David was a bit of a raincloud, too, in his answer - something about not knowing when the first day of spring was, but knowing it wasn't time to be awake yet.

But still, Calvin is anxious for the day. And maybe we need to embrace it.

I've been thinking about having Happy Spring Day this week, planting some wheat grass with the boys, maybe even having the usual Easter-related hooplah (dying of eggs, a bunny visit, etc.) on the first day of spring instead.

I think it might give us a new little tradition, it will provide a bit of celebration to fill the long gap between the winter holidays and spring/summer fun, it will mark the day with the excitement that Calvin feels about it, and it will leave Easter open for a more meaningful celebration of the blessing of Resurrection.

Neither David or I have many traditions surrounding spring or Easter (other than a nice Sunday meal with extended family), but I've been feeling more and more that even small rituals and traditions help children with marking the passage of time, they feed a child's natural sense of wonder and enjoyment, and it makes us closer as a family. So I've been looking for some ideas for this time of year.

What do you do with your children to celebrate spring? I'd love to know.

And then I've got to get...er...hopping! The first day of spring is only two days away!!!



If there is one bane of my existence besides laundry, it would have to be toy bins. OK, maybe it's not the bins. After all, they do their job, containing toys.

So it's the toys.

All those fine-motor-creative-thinking-skill toys we have. Ever notice how those kind of toys never come as just one? No - they are sets, collections, pieces, that, while not requiring batteries, require storage bins.

And every time I see an empty bin somewhere in the house, I want to throw a tantrum.

Because an empty bin somewhere in the house means that there is, somewhere else in the house, a pile of blocks or train tracks or legos or matchbox cars or miniature search and rescue vehicles (with tiny cones!).

And since that pile is not in said bin, it has likely been scattered to at least the four corners of the room in which it is in, if not through several rooms or into the hall. Which means crawling on hands and knees on hardwood floors to gather, gather, gather and load the bin back up so that insteps are safe in the middle of the night.

Sometimes there are multiple empty bins. Which means multiple piles of small toys, usually scattered and mixed, which means gather, gather, gather and sort, sort, sort.

And since children's play is their work and they "work" even more than they wear clothes (at least around here), this bin/toy thing is at least as futile as laundry, is it not?

What's worse than the discovery of an already empty bin is the sound of the dumping of a bin. Why? Why can't you play like girls and only use one thing at a time and take it out in an orderly fashion and play with it in the way it is intended? Why the dumping?

I have bad dreams about the sound of millions of duplos falling and scattering...

It's because for the boys, the empty bins don't represent piles of toys. They represent something to build or climb or invent or command. There's a world of possibility in that bin once you evict the toys that are supposed to live in it.

And of course, I can't complain about the times when the boys build a train or a boat with the bins and I turn around to see them all cooperating and giggling together.

Put three little brothers in a line-up of empty toy bins calling to me to look at what they made together, and I can actually forget that there are at least three piles of small toys strewn somewhere that later I'll be lumbering through on aching knees, separating kaplas from regular wooden blocks and the Loving Family from the rescue workers (and their cones!).

The piles will always be there, but for a moment they can't be seen or heard above the building and the laughing of my little boys in their bins.


Stuff I Want to Ramble About

First, Charlie has started talking liking crazy. He says lots and lots of words, mostly just naming things he sees, but he's started to put little words together to make rudimentary sentences.

Yesterday, he fell over and came to me crying, "Bonk! Head! Bonk!"

The other night David and the boys dropped me off at a meeting and Charlie started crying when I walked away from the car. On the drive home, he kept saying to David, "Back! Mama! Go! Back!"

One of his very first words was for "juice," which he calls, "boof." The other boys have picked it up and ask for boof also. So we have a little family word now.

Charlie calls Calvin "Cahvie" and Henry "Wewee." I thought that would make Henry mad, but it makes him laugh almost every time. He likes to ask Charlie who everyone in the family is, just to hear him say "Wewee."

My favorite is that he calls David "Daddy" - the other boys have always called him plain "Dad." The doorbell rings in the evening and Charlie runs from wherever in the house he is, chanting, "Dad-dy, Dad-dy, Dad-dy." Pretty seriously adorable.


One time several months ago, I was thinking of creating a new blog for myself and I wanted to add some things and really go in for all of it and blog like a real blogger. So I was sketching out some of my ideas and playing with names and pictures and layout and what-not, all in a spiral notebook.

Henry came along and watched me while I was doing it, talking to me all the while. Finally, he asked what I was drawing and I absently told him it was my blog.

Ever since then, he has gotten out spiral notebooks on occasion and announced that he was working on his blog. He draws pictures and spells out small words and adds miscellaneous letters and numbers, with little squares around them.

He bugged me all morning one day last week, saying that he wants to put his blog on the computer now. It makes me laugh and I think it's cute, but he really wants me to take him seriously. So I think I might have to drum up a five-year-old's blog of some sort and let him have at it. Knowing Henry, it could be a real hoot...Here's what he showed me that he has in mind:


Last night while David was reading to the boys before bedtime, I heard both Calvin and Henry giggling and cackling and I thought they were probably getting wound up and not cooperating or listening to the story. Then I realized that David was still reading, undisturbed, which he wouldn't be if the boys were being disruptive or not listening. Then I realized what they were reading: A chapter from Harry Potter.

I just ordered the six book set because Calvin is liking chapter books and it is such good writing that I thought he might enjoy listening. I know we are waaaaay behind the curve here - I haven't read any of the books yet (forgive me?). But better late than never, right?

Then I started to worry that they wouldn't get into the books or wouldn't like them because they've already watched the first three movies until they have them mostly memorized.

But they are enthralled. I loved hearing them laugh at a story, and beg to hear more and more. It's wonderful.

And this is where I want to say that J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyers do not belong in the same sentence. I'm happy Meyers has met with as much success, and there are a couple things I liked in the one Twilight book I forced myself to finish (the vampire baseball game and the idea that loving someone means controlling yourself) but the caliber of storytelling and readability are hardly comparable. Please. Read one chapter of Harry Potter and one chapter of Twilight and tell me which one leaves you as cold as marbly Edward. And quit comparing the two. It makes me batty. he he he.


I haven't cut my hair since before we moved to Kiev. It's almost shoulder length now. I kinda like it and I kinda don't. Something in the air here makes my hair insanely staticky and fly-away, and I have yet to find a shampoo, conditioner or other product that helps with it.

I've never had long hair before. Never. Once it was as long as it is now, which was, coincidentally, when I lived in Ukraine before. Then I went to a beautician in Donetsk, with a picture in hand, and was shorn like a sheep (which was not the picture I had brought in).

Anyway, I'm a little chicken to go in to get my hair cut here. Partly because the mullet is alive and well here, partly because showing a picture didn't really work before, and partly because it takes someone really good to give a good, polished looking short haircut. Short also means more frequent haircuts, which means the same haircut stress more frequently. Or else more awkward growing out.

Plus, I had in mind to let it grow the whole time we lived here - it would be mid-back length by the time I went home. I would look totally different than I ever have, and I think that would be fun.

But the static. And also, I can french-braid other people's hair, but not my own. And also, ponytail holders are breaking it. And also, I hate the feeling of my hair under my cheek when I lay down to go to sleep (weird, I know).

And also, suddenly my hair is falling out by the handfuls. Yikes! OK, handfuls might be a slight exaggeration, but seriously - lots of hair everywhere. At this rate, I might be bald before it grows out much more. Besides that, even though it's my own, it grosses me out to find long dark hair on clothing, bathroom fixtures, the kitchen counter, etc. Ew, ew, ew. This is a problem.

So what to do?


And finally, I love Netflix. We don't have cable / American television (which is half deliberate decision and half laziness) so it is the best thing in the world to get a couple movies ever so often in the mail. Happiness in a red envelope. It's the little things, people, the little things.



Just a few words about our trip. I made a Flickr photostream of the highlights that you can click on (in the sidebar) and check out more details. I only included 60 of the 500 or so pictures that we took. He, he, he. We're a little crazy with our new camera. (I'm a total Flickr novice, though, so it's not in chronological order, but there are some more informative descriptions and all. If you want specifics.)

We tried to do something each morning and leave the afternoons open for naps or more sites, depending on how we all felt. We were really careful not to overbook the days. We ended up seeing much more than I actually thought we would, and overall, the boys did really well and have some great memories and appreciation for what we saw. Our itinerary was like this...

Day 1 - Flight from Kiev to Cairo (It's only three hours!)

Day 2 - The Pyramids at Giza. They were right across the street from our hotel, the Mena House Oberoi (which I HIGHLY recommend). Came back and tried the pool, but although it was a warm enough day, the pool is not heated and was quite chilly. The boys still splashed and played and still asked to go there every afternoon afterward.

Day 3 - The Egyptian Museum (Mummies are absolutely fascinating. Truly a highlight.) Then lunch at a very good little Egyptian restaurant. The falafel was the most delicious I have EVER had. David had roasted pigeon. Yeah. No comment.

Day 4 - The Pyramids at Saqqara and Dashur, the alabaster sphinx and reclining Ramses at Memphis, picnic lunch at our drivers' "friend's" papyrus factory. Getting there was a little road trip through villages along a canal and it was amazing to watch all the different work going on - gathering palm fronds and loading them on the backs of camels until the camels couldn't hold their heads up anymore, for example.

Day 5 - The Citadel in Cairo, a drive through the City of the Dead, and Coptic Cairo. Lunch at Maison Thomas - wonderful sandwiches! Then a faluca ride on the Nile.

Day 6 - Flight to Sharm el Sheikh, sunshine and water

Day 7 - Sunshine and water

Day 8 - Coral Reef Glass submarine ride

Day 9 - Sunshine and water, David went scuba diving

Day 10 - Flight to Amman, five hour layover (ugh) and flight to Kiev

Clickety click to go see the pictures now...or, read on for a little repetition and a tiny bit of elaboration. I'm rambling today because I don't seem to have two brain cells to rub together. And Henry just rubbed Charlie's head all over with antibacterial soap. Had to take care of that and lost my train of thought...

Mostly, it was just a great family time and adventure together. Especially after David and I relaxed a bit. The only down sides were a little difference in my expectations of the beach (I am spoiled by North Carolina, the only beach I've ever known) and the Red Sea reality, and the resort atmosphere (we're a little more independent than that). Still, the culture and the sunshine and the sunshine and the sunshine were so amazingly wonderful, I will always remember this vacation fondly.

Oh, Henry did fall head over heels over head over heels over head over heels on the up escalator at the airport on our way home. I cried more than he did, but he was pretty bruised up and his head was bleeding. It was sooo terrible trying to get to him, with me tossing off my bags as I tried to walk down faster than the steps were moving up, and faster than he was falling. That was not so fun. But otherwise, no calamities to report. Just a lovely break from the grey of winter in Kiev.

When I was growing up and we would take family trips, my mom had a rule that we didn't eat at any restaurant that was available in our hometown. "No, we're not eating at McDonald's," she'd say. "We can do that at home." She was so adamant and I happen to think it's a good rule myself, so I had some serious momentary guilt the second night we were in Cairo and we went...to Pizza Hut.

But then I remembered - my current home town does NOT have a Pizza Hut. Ha! And this was the real American deal, in Cairo. Except beef sausage doesn't really sit right with me, and they did serve the pizza with a side of Tabasco and sweet ketchup (which we watched the guy at the next table dump all over a Deep Dish Supreme). But it was pizza. I wanted to cry it was so good.

Imagine our delight when we discovered a Hardee's / Pizza Hut / Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment just a ten minute walk away from where we were staying in Sharm El Sheikh. We got us some serious hometown food every night. No guilt, either, because every other meal was (is) a cultural experience. I promise. Little boys and their pregnant mother can only take so many of those in a year.

My favorite places to see were all in Cairo. I thought the big city was going to be the most stressful, and I will admit that even I got a little overstimulated by all the noise, smells, crazy driving and every person offering to help (in exchange for a little bakshish) a few times, but overall, it was awesome.

The Giza Pyramids were so close that we walked to them the first day. Amazing. Huge. We rode camels across the desert just a tiny bit to get some good photos with all the pyramids in a line behind us. Riding a camel was Calvin's main requirement of the trip, so he was quite pleased.

We also took a little part-day trip to the pyramids at Saqqara. These included the Bent Pyramid - the angle of it's shape changes part-way up, and no one knows why - and the Red Pyramid (at Dashur). David took Calvin and Henry up the winding stone stairs on the side of the Red Pyramid and down inside the pyramid (apparently a narrow 80 meter scramble) while I stayed out in the open sunshine and air with Charlie.

On the same day, we stopped to see the alabaster Sphinx and the Reclining Ramses statue at Memphis. I liked these sculptures much better than the Sphinx at Giza. In general, the pyramids down the road a ways are even more of a treat than the famous Giza ones. Mostly because they aren't tourist and tout-infested.

There is a museum at Saqqara that I think is better than the one in Cairo, too.

In Cairo, we went to the Citadel and walked around just a bit, saw a fabulous view of the city. Then our driver (we adopted one for three days!) took us through the City of the Dead - it is the area of the city where all the tombs are, but anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million people actually live among the tombs.

We also visited the Egyptian museum and saw the mummies. Seriously incredible. 4,000 years dead humans almost perfectly preserved.

The burial accoutrements are astounding. My favorite were the little statue "helpers" that were put in each tomb, with miniature carved tools. They were meant to help and work for the deceased in the next life. They also made little boxes for each helper. Think alabaster and turquoise and gold leafed Egyptian Barbie dolls and tools. King Tut had 433 of them buried with him.

We also went to Coptic Cairo, the oldest part of the city. There is a phenomenal Christian church, the oldest synogogue in Cairo, and the oldest Mosque in Egypt all within a couple blocks. And they are built on Roman ruins, which you can see below all the "new" (400-600BC) buildings. We topped that day off by sailing a bit on the Nile river in a faluca. It was beautiful.

It was actually really pleasant to have children in Cairo. (At the beach in Sharm, not so much. But I think that's because we accidentally stayed at a place that was mostly visited by Ukrainians and Russians, who go on vacation to put their kids in the resort daycamp so they can pretend they never had them and can lay on the beach in mostly nothing.)

In Cairo, though, everyone seems to adore children. Restaurant waiters scoop them up and play with them. The taxi drivers told us not to tell them to be quiet, that they were children, they can talk and laugh (and wrestle and kick and howl and mimic the million honking horns) if they want. They are children! It's OK! One driver even let Charlie pull apart one of his cassette tapes. (David had locked it in the glove box to prevent the situation and the driver popped it back out and handed it to Charlie. Uh...Charlie's never seen a cassette before, come to think of it.)

Lots of people were enamored with Henry. At Coptic Cairo, a swarm of slightly older school girls surrounded him, touching his hair, pinching his cheeks, asking what his name is. He happened to have a sick tummy that day so wasn't really appreciative of their attention, but it was cute anyway. At the pyramids, a group of Korean teen tourists asked if they could take their picture with Henry. It was hilarious.

I know now what "once in a lifetime" means. I hope sometime we can go back, but I don't know if it will ever be so accessible again. I feel really happy with what we saw and did, and so blessed to have been able to go there with David and my little boys, making fabulous memories together.

Now, really, go see the pictures.


Do You Dare Me...

...to fit in with the other expectant mothers in Kiev? I found a flier with these hot fashions not too long ago. So now I know where the shop is that sells them...

(Because here it's a faux pas to wear a bra that you CAN'T see through your shirt...)

(And a shiny polyester hint of a belly button is always a nice complement to a skirt of "why bother?" proportions.)

(And if you think there are too many flowers on your outfit, just cut part of the belly off the jacket.)

The number one rule? Always wear super high heels. Always. Preferably with some bit of extra gold, glitter or buckles.

Oh. Yes. Did I mention? I'm expecting! But not so stylish. Luckily, the chichi maternity clinic I get to go to for prenatal exams offers make-up and fashion classes for the mom-to-be.

I probably need to enroll, because our first ultrasound said it's a girl. And she should be arriving in early August.

Now accepting betrothal offers, pink onesies, and roasted salted almonds.


OK, OK, Okaaay!

Seriously. The laundry is multiplying. I can't get out from under it. Where does it come from? Why does everyone in the house keep wearing clothes?

I finally did the dreaded grocery shopping today. Never, never, never again on a late Saturday afternoon in Kiev, even if it does mean a baby with no milk to go to bed with and waiting until Monday for the things I need to accompany my meat.

I've got to remember that coming home from vacation is twice as much work and three times as time consuming as getting ready to go.

It's still worth it, though. Because seriously, this was our view from the hotel we stayed at in Cairo:

And that's just the tip of the pyramid, so to speak.

I have a church lesson (in Russian) to prepare for Tuesday night that I'm rather stressed out about and a house to put in order, but I'm dying to blog. Hang with me a day or two and I'll have more time to recap and elaborate. Mkay?


We're Baaa-aaaaaack...

We arrived back in Kiev in the wee hours of the morning and while there is no sleeping in with Charlie in the house, the other boys did stay asleep much later than usual and I am now faced with the usual vacation aftermath - laundry.

Our trip to Egypt (Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh) was wonderful. I'm editing and organizing photos a bit and then I will post our adventures. Sorry for the hiatus in posting - we took the computer along and I fully intended to blog at least a bit while we were away but the internet access turned out to be more sporadic than we thought it would be.

So, highlights are forthcoming, in between restocking the groceries, running loads of laundry, mediating brother rumbles, and trying to catch up on sleep (the impossible dream).

In the meantime, is spring in the air?