The Fine Art of Air Quotes

You know, air quotes - the first two fingers of both hands curled in rabbit ears to emphasize the irony of the word to which you add the gesture. Calvin has used them before, much to our amusement at his unique and innocent understanding of their use. He has lately expanded his talent to include sarcasm, mostly directed toward or in conversation with his dad.

Picture a seven-year-old paussing just enough to get his little rabbit ear fingers up in quote marks and raise his eyebrows at the indicated word in the following conversations...

Example #1: Last night at bedtime.

Calvin and Henry: Please, dad...please, please, please...we need a drink.

David: You guys already got your drink. Just lay down and go to sleep.

Calvin and Henry: Please. We need more. We're thirsty!! (etc., etc.,)

David: Fine. Lay down and I'll bring you a drink.

(He brings back a small bit of water in the bottom of a glass so they can each have a sip - they honestly did not need anything to drink and too much to drink leads to extra bathroom trips...you know how it is...)

Calvin: (After having his half of the sip) Yeah, Dad. Thanks for the..."drink."

Example #2: This morning while getting ready to go to school.

Calvin: Can I please wear my light coat instead of my winter one? It's warm enough and I sweat too much at recess.

David: I guess that's fine. If it's cold today, though, you'll want to wear the heavy coat tomorrow.

Calvin: Yeah. I don't think I'll need the winter coat anymore. It's getting warmer and warmer. And when it's spring and not just... "spring," I won't have to wear a coat at all anymore!

It really is fairly hilarious. I just have two questions. Where does a little boy get this stuff? And, is it spring... or "spring"... where you are?


You Should Live Here: Candy and Alcohol

OK, people. This is one of the posts I have been wanting to write since we moved to Ukraine, but it has been waiting for photographic support. Thanks to my intrepid sister sidekick, I finally have some shots to share depicting one of my favorite things about grocery stores here: the extensive variety of alcoholic beverages and sweet treats.

You may wonder that a Mormon girl is so taken with the alcoholic beverages for sale, but I can assure that I only look. It is truly a phenomenon, the array and sheer quantity of wines, coolers, and vodkas that is in every grocery. We are talking multiple shelves, crates, and aisles of it all.

Now, I understand that most states I've lived in have had laws about what a grocery store can sell, so perhaps it only makes sense that what would usually be in a separate store in the US is included in a grocery store here, but still. I just think it's astounding at the stock they maintain. The following pictures are taken in one store (our love-to-hate MegaMarket), and I feel that this pretty much says it all about the priorities of the average Ukrainian consumer:

Aisle one of alcoholic beverages...(keep in mind that in each one of these photos, you are only seeing the facing side of the aisle - there is a side of the aisle to the right and behind the photographer)

Aisle two of alcoholic beverages...


And four...(Captured from the top of Joeli's purse, after we were told that cameras are not allowed in the store. Ooops.)

And to accompany your drinks, you must have sweets. Now here, I have more experience. There is never shortage of cookies, chocolates, taffies, hard candies, and other sweets. It is truly amazing.

I give you Aisle One of cookies, candies and other confections...

Aisle two of sweets...

And three (the opposite side of aisle two, but it's an extra wide aisle)...

And four...

And five...Yes, FIVE aisles of sweet treats!! And did you notice toward the back of the store? That's a small pastry cafe which also sells bulk candy from a whole wall of bins full of it.

My cleaning lady says that every Ukrainian has a sweet tooth. What do you say?

So, as you can see, what is normally one of my least enjoyable tasks (grocery shopping) is really an intoxicating and sweet experience here in Ukraine.

In the next day or two, I will have another long-awaited post on grocery shopping for you about my favorite place on the planet: the rynok. I hope you will love it as much as I do.


Spring Reading Thing

I'm joining in with the Spring Reading Thing again! I really like having a goal to work toward and a record of the reading I accomplish. It's fun to see what others are reading and to see different books from so many different viewpoints. It helps my "to-read" list diversify and make me feel like I am on my way to being "well-read." Plus, it eases me get out of the winter funk and makes that fun transition into sunshiny weather even better. So, thanks, Katrina, for hosting the Spring Thing!

The perameter of the books I chose to read for this spring's Reading Thing had only one stipulation: I had to have the book on my shelf as we speak.

(We'll be moving back to the States in August, and um, books are heavy. I've gone a tiny bit crazy ordering books while we've lived in Kiev because there is no library here and the type of books on the "free" shelf at the embassy aren't always what I'm looking for. But I have to stop ordering or we'll be sunk on our weight allowance for freight going back.)

So, I committed to read some of the good books that I already own. My list is basically one book a week for the twelve weeks of the challenge and includes a pretty good mix of light reads, deeper reads that I've been meaning to wade into for a long time, and a re-read or two of books that I'd like to digest a little better this time around.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry Poetry 180 - I'm interested in this anthology because it was compiled by one of my favorite poets ever - Billy Collins. I want to see what he recommends. I also like reading a poem a day and just thinking on it. I might stretch my reading of this book over the whole spring, savoring my favorites as I go.

Son of a Witch Son of a Witch - I've been on a bit of a Gregory Maguire kick the past few months. Thoroughly enjoyed Wicked, loved Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, thought What-the-Dickens was interesting, and didn't entirely enjoy Matchless. We'll see how this one goes. I'm learning that Maguire is a good read if you don't expect everything to be tied up nicely at the end. His books are more about enjoying the telling of the tale. He does create some delectable and startling and unforgettable scenes and situations. So I'm continuing my delve into his work.

Grace-Based ParentingGrace-Based Parenting - I read this book a couple of months ago and can't stop thinking of the principles behind it. I want to re-read and try to digest and study and internalize and apply it better this time.

Surprised By Joy Surprised By Joy - This is one that has long been on my list and for some reason I neglect. I love how Lewis thinks and writes, so I really want to see this one through.

The Venetian Mask: A Novel The Venetian Mask - The setting and premise of this book sounds intriguing and I've like other Rosalind Laker books. I'll think this will be my sit by the ocean and read book while in Portugal

The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece The Cello Suites - Here's where I make a confession. I read The Economist, but not the whole magazine - that's David's more cerebral domain. I read the book reviews and the obituary in each issue. Then when David says he read a great review of a book he'd like to read, if it's a book that also appealed to me, I order it "for him." Then I put it on my to-read list. That's what The Cello Suites is. By all accounts, it's an amazing book. And I can't wait. Maybe I will even steal it from David before he finishes it.

The Enchanted Castle The Enchanted Castle - Just have to throw in some good classic storytelling and fantasy to lighten my reading load a bit.

ResurrectionCrime and Punishment Resurrection and Crime and Punishment - Can I really live in a Slavic country without reading some Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky? I think not.

Zorro Zorro - Another author chase. I like Isabel Allende, so I thought I'd check this one out.

The Pursuit of Happyness The Pursuit of Happyness - Loved the movie, wanted to read the real story.

Paradise LostParadise Lost - This has been on my list about three times. Maybe my main goal should be to read this no matter what. We'll see.

I'll try to post my progress and/or reviews every week or two...Happy Spring and Happy Reading!


Drops Dripped

There is a scene after rain in War and Peace that Tolstoy describes by writing, "капли капали." (Pronounced roughly, "KAHP-lee KAHP-a-lee.") The most literal translation is, "Drops dripped." Some translators have felt perhaps that the sentence didn't say enough and sometimes change it to say that trees or branches were dripping.

But I think Tolstoy was trying to capture a different feeling - it wasn't just trees, it was everything...drops dripped, from unseen origins to unseen and subtle splashes. I think that's what he meant to convey, because that's exactly what happens after a rainstorm, or in springtime, especially after a long and icey winter. And while the alliteration in English also works nicely to describe the feeling, I really like the musicality of the Russian. капли капали.

The first time I heard that sound, though I didn't know the Russian onomatopeia then to go with it, was in Rexburg, Idaho, where the streets had been packed in snow six inches higher than usual for six months or more, the first winter I went to college there. One morning in early spring when winter was about to make us all crazy, I took my journal out onto the front balcony to write and soak up what little sun we could feel. It was an odd and exhilarating feeling to feel 50 or 60 degrees of sunshine on my face and hands and bare feet but look around and see that most everything was still covered with snow and ice. Then I listened, and I heard it: drops dripping. Rivulets trickling under the cracking ice in the parking lot. The sound of sun dissolving winter. Melting. That was one of my favorite sensory experiences ever.

I walked outside today and again, though the sun wasn't quite that warm, all the same, капли капали - that was the sound, if I listened hard enough over cars and footsteps on the city streets. Things are melting, dripping, breaking up, cracking through, running down...

My reason for going out today was a call from David shortly after he left to walk to work. "You've got to take your camera out and get pictures of the icicles on the building down the street! One of them is seriously six feet long. It reached all the way from the roof to the balcony below it! The temperatures must have been just right yesterday for icicles like that. And all the icicles next to it are evenly spaced, like a curtain coming down from the eaves."

I like that my husband notices things like that and calls to share. Of course, he noticed them today because someone yelled at him about not walking under a building with icicles like that (a true and serious fear of Kievans, we've discovered), but still...

I went out and snapped a few photos. They are not the best photographic effort, but the icicles were pretty amazing - most of them at least an inch or two around at the roofline and tapering so gradually into such long frozen spears. Plus, it was just nice to mark that spring and winter are having their last battle before the months of sunshine: spring makes drips drop, while winter works more slowly now to thwart their thaw.


In a less poetic sidenote, you can't help but notice the construction of these buildings, can you, Uncle Scott? It never ceases to amaze me.

And for added interest: when spring first started happening this year, the sidewalks (which are often impassable because of cars and more recently because of plowed drifts) started being blocked and marked by ribbons tied to stakes. I could not figure out what it was about. But it's a sign all natives know, and they will be sure to tell you about it if you dare to walk within the ribbon: Falling ice.

Those icicles come sliding off the corrugated metal once enough water has slickened things ups for them on the roof, and crash! They are on the sidewalk, or your head, or through your shoulder blades. David says that three to five people die in Kiev every year from such a thing. So yield to the stakes and ribbon. And whatever you do, don't let your children cross under them. What kind of a parent are you, anyway? I love that people say that out loud to people they don't even know. Hey, my kids are their kids. It's awesome.


The Jane: Seven Months Old

Yep. More Jane. Because she is growing so fast and she is what my days are mostly about...but seven months already?

She fake coughs and kicks her feet to get my attention and pretty much says my name already: "MMMMMuh....MMMMMuh" when she sees me. This morning she was hanging out with David while I did a couple things and was totally fine until I walked in the room and she started being anxious for me to pick her up. So I did, and turned with her to walk out of the room and - I'm not making this up! - she did "raspberries" over my shoulder to her dad. Up until now, it's just been a raised eyebrow that she gives him once she's safe in my arms, but now she's getting really sassy!

Do you like her silver shoes? Jane's giving me my chance to get a little girly, and I have to say that I like it.

Grandmas, she'll be home to visit you in August/September. Are you ready?


Getting Out of Dodge

A friend of mine recently told me some advice she received when her four children were small: "Take lots of trips," she said, "because once they grow up, that's all you will remember about their childhood."

We talked and laughed about the truth of the idea, because the days when the chldren are small can turn into a blur of diapering, laundering, feeding, scolding, and picking up after. For us in Kyiv, where it is not at all convenient to get out and about with more than one child at a time and where entertainment if you do make it out is limited to walking around or the occasional indoor playground in winter, planning a trip or two seems like a very good idea.

And yet going on a trip with all the littles in tow (which is really just diapering, laundering, feeding, scolding and picking up after, on the road) is definitely not "vacation." Sometimes it sounds only slightly better than covering oneself with honey and lying down on a fire ant hill.

I guess there is all kinds of memory-making, though, isn't there? Who doesn't have at least one story of chain-reaction barfing in the backseat with the siblings, for example? Those are good times.

So I don't know if trip-taking is the key to remembering my children's childhood, because I also believe that the day-to-day small rituals of home, things that mom or dad "always" do, and the beauty of playing endless and ever-evolving made-up games with brothers and sisters every day create a lot of "remember how..." and "remember when..." conversations for years to come.

But trips really are a highlight of family life to me, and something I want to give my children. I have trip-planning in my blood - my grandpa was a lover of maps and a planner of roadtrips and a seeker of small adventures. He loved to chart things out and share the details of his plans. I loved seeing what he had up his sleeve and the twinkle in his eye as he talked about going somewhere or having been somewhere. And he always liked listening about my travels.

My husband loves to do research and find deals. We've worked out a system in which we decide the dates and place we want to go, then he finds the best way to get there, where we're going to stay, and how to get about while we're there. I work out the day-by-day details - what we'll wear (that's big when you have kids - they can't think through that yet!), what we'll see and do each day. Together, we've had some pretty amazing times already with our brood: at the beach, in and around D.C., trekking across the U.S. to Colorado, not to mention Egypt, Munich for Christmas, and London. We haven't seen as much of Ukraine and our current hometown as I would like, but we'll work that out this summer.

Right now, I've got to get out of Kyiv before my memories of this time turn grey. Not grey from fading mental capacity, but grey from the literally grey and schizophrenic weather, grungy cityscapes, and serious cabin fever. And before I start making less than pleasant memories for my children while attempting to keep them from going as berzerk as I feel.

We settled on Portugal as our escape this spring. We were originally supposed to go in late February, but it didn't happen because of work obligations, so we had to wait six extra weeks. I started thinking that getting away from winter in April was pointless since it would be all but over here, but that one thing has cooperated: four inches of snow fell night before last and it's coming down again right now. So by the time we make it out, we will be good and ready for someplace warm.

By all accounts, Portugal is Europe's best kept secret. There's a little bit of everything: beaches and the sea, caves and diving, amazing old cities, fishing villages, medieval castles and remnants of the Moors. Lots of Latin color and sunshine and delicious food. And they like big families.

It makes me feel good just thinking about it. I'm reading and marking my guidebooks and choosing a good mix of kid-friendly ways to pass the day. Perhaps at least the planning of trips while the children are small is therapeutic and memorable: it is sure helping me hang in there!

Do you have a fun travel memory from when you were little? Have you packed your kids up and gone anywhere recently? What are your strategies for traveling with littles?


The Jane: Six Months Old (late)

OK. I know she'll be 7 months old in a matter of a few short days, but the obsessive compulsive in me is making me post these pictures from last month. I have to, just so a month of snapshots is not missing. Humor me.

She's getting better at posing and smiling. And she sits up mostly on her own now.

She still has a mostly pink wardrobe, which is fun, but she is a total knockout in light blue. Her eyes are sometimes blue, sometimes greenish, sometimes grey - really beautiful. And her skin is so peachy and creamy.

But don't let all the soft doll-like stuff fool you - she is a force to be reckoned with. I'm not reckoning with her all too well right now, but still. She's quite squidgable, don't you think?