Showing posts with label Ukraine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ukraine. Show all posts

October 30, 2015

A Novel Idea

I'm happy to report that things have improved since my last post. The blender is still kicking... our finances got put back in order, and although my camera still needs to be repaired, I think it might be a sign that I need to focus more on writing and less on taking photos. 

A decade ago (Really? Ten whole years ago?!) I stopped whatever I was doing at the time and gave myself permission to complete a three month photography course in South Africa. I learned a lot, both about photography and myself, and it gave me three busy yet full months to focus on visual creativity. In the past, I had always taken photos for an organization and had to work around their parameters. During the photography course, I was able to take photos for myself — a welcome change. 

I also discovered that I could never be a full-time photographer. I realized I needed to write as well, no matter what I ended up doing. As much as the photography projects filled me up creatively... something was still missing. 

I needed to write. I still do. 

When we moved south a few years ago, I was able to nab mostly freelance photography jobs. I also acquired a number of proofreading jobs, of which I am more than competent, but I still prefer to write rather than edit.

For whatever reason, the few writing jobs I pursued never came to fruition. Then the Peanut came along and I barely seemed to have time to breathe, let alone write. 

I still feel like that some days, but as he gains his own little independence, I find a few quiet moments here and there during the day to myself. 

Writers write... so they say, and it seems I haven't been doing enough of it lately. I have a dormant book about my travels to Ukraine on my laptop at the moment. So much of it is done — yet I'm not happy about the ending. Something is still missing and I feel like I need to return to the country to get the book done. 

For a while, it seemed like multiple obstacles blocked my path. The year I had a trip planned, I didn't feel peace about going. It wasn't the right time, I told myself, and instead I spent the summer in Latvia and Scotland. Then, my brother got sick and I cancelled my trip to Ukraine two summers later. Then a war erupted there... and then I had the Peanut. (And while I am all for traveling with babies, heading over to Ukraine soon after the Peanut was born probably wouldn't have been the wisest choice.) Soon after, my former boss and editor died. He was one of the few people championing my writing at the time, and even though he told me candidly, after reading a few chapters, what needed work, I felt like I had someone in the ring with me. 

I will still finish the book. But in the meantime, I need to let go of the details of it that I keep getting bogged down in, and I need to write something fresh and fun and maybe just for me. So I'm signing up for NaNoWriMo.

During the month of November, I'm going to write a 50,000 word novel. The last time I wrote anything of fiction, I was in high school. The last time I made such a rash decision, I was in college. I decided to ride in a 150 mile MS Bike-A-Thon from Texas to Oklahoma only two days before the event. I spent the day before asking everyone in the cafeteria for $1 so I could come up with the entrance fee. I spent the entire ride wishing I had better biker shorts. And I spent the week after, recovering. 

This novel might be a masterpiece. It might be awful. But, like that bike ride, I'm going to do it, regardless. Because sometimes, we all need a proverbial kick in the pants to remind ourselves of what we're capable of. I know I'm perfectly capable of finishing and eventually publishing that book about Ukraine. 

But first, I have a novel to start on November 1st. 

July 31, 2014

Ready for the Peanut...

{* The Peanut's arrival is imminent! Understandably, I will be taking some time off while I figure out this whole new mama role once the Peanut actually arrives!  Please note that I won't be posting much in the near future, but rest assured, I'll be back on the blog, once I get into a routine. In the meantime, wish me luck on this new adventure and enjoy one last pregnancy post!}


Soon after I announced my pregnancy to friends far and near, I started getting questions about whether or not I've started on the nursery. 


What nursery?! 

While the Sailor and I joked that I'd probably get pregnant right after converting our second bedroom into the Princess Pad (AKA my office/craft room), I knew even if we did have a baby, I didn't want kid stuff taking over an entire room, let alone the whole apartment.

From the start, we agreed on baby minimalism. My theory was that everything had to serve at least a dual purpose. No crib or changing table for this Mama... I bought a Pack 'n Play instead that serves as both. Bottles for when the Sailor wants to feed the baby? I purchased glass lifefactory ones that can be converted to sippy cups later.

I had the sense to at least pick some sort of theme, since I knew people would want to buy us gifts... and after seeing this crochet pattern, I knew that the safari theme would work perfectly for the Peanut whether or not we had a boy or girl. Who doesn't like safari animals?

But the nursery.... surely the nursery is something that is for the parents more than the baby, right? I mean, the baby can't even see that far in front of his or her face for a few weeks.

I have discovered that here in America, baby stuff truly is a racket. 

Throughout my pregnancy I've been remembering a young gal I met in Ukraine nearly a decade ago. I stayed with her family one night since my train was due to leave super early in the morning and conveniently they lived right around the corner from the station. 

She was due with her first baby literally any minute... and she asked if I wanted to see 'the room'. 

Of course I said yes, so she led me up the staircase to her and her husband's bedroom. She then proceeded to show me a small bassinet next to the bed, along with the smallest shelf possible with only a few diapers (I'm assuming cloth, because I don't ever remember seeing disposables sold anywhere in the country) and one small bottle of baby powder. 

I vaguely remember seeing a small pile of clothes -- the key word being small
Photos by my fabulous friend, Angie, taken about four weeks ago.
(I am a LOT bigger now!)

That was IT.

And this Ukrainian gal was so proud of it all, she actually exclaimed: 'We're all ready for the baby's arrival!'

I will never forget that evening, or the look on her face. She was totally serious. They didn't need anything else. They had a place for the baby to sleep... a few diapers and clothing items that they would probably need to wash by hand, and a little luxury in the form of baby powder. Most of all, they already loved this baby growing inside of her and were prepared to offer him or her their version of the world.

I haven't been back to Ukraine since that trip... I have no idea whether she had a boy or girl and by now the baby would be about 9 years old. I would love to return though to find out how she fared with such a tiny amount of 'stuff'. I suspect she did just fine. It's amazing that women around the world give birth in far less ideal circumstances, with far less 'stuff' and less fanfare than here in the States. 

I know that I don't live in Ukraine. But I also know that I'm not planning on being a 'typical' textbook American mother. I have already gotten the hairy eyeball from more than one person by stating that the Sailor won't be anywhere near me in the delivery room, or that we'll be using cloth diapers from the start. I feel like people are continually watching us to see how much we're going to change as parents. 

I'm sure we'll eat some words. Toys and 'stuff' will creep into our lives and I guarantee you that disposable diapers will find a way into our life on things like road trips. But overall, I want to continue to remember that Ukrainian gal... and when I look at the clothes, diapers and the few things we have for the Peanut, I have also exclaimed to people, 'We're all ready for the baby's arrival!' 

February 20, 2014

A Heavy Heart

Ukraine is never far from my heart. I spent several summers there in my early 20s, and have been back to visit at least a dozen times since. I lived there on my own once for several months and I dream of the day I can return and see my friends who are still there. 

You can imagine then, why Ukraine is heavy on my heart this week. If you've watched or read the news in the last 24 hours, you'll have seen the unrest, the protests, and the shocking deaths of so many. It breaks my heart, because the Ukrainians I know are the kindest and most generous people I can think of. 

No matter what the public opinion is on what Ukraine's next steps should be, it is indeed a tremendously tragic situation -- and one that I hope can be resolved soon, and especially, peacefully. 

And while matryoshka dolls are typically thought of as Russian souvenirs, I got mine in Ukraine in 1995, during my first summer there. The four of us gals traveling together each received a doll from a Ukrainian lady the night before we left the country. Each outer doll actually resembled us in some way with hair and eye color. It is one of the few keepsakes that has followed me around the globe and it continues to remind me of my friends still there. 

Pray for them... and pray for Ukraine. 

July 16, 2013

Wellington Wishes

Ever since my 19th birthday, I have spent nearly every summer abroad. I was fortunate to attend a college that offered overseas programs -- I've never looked back since. Those programs opened the doors to summers in Scotland, Ukraine and England. After college, various other European outposts opened up, until I eventually ended up in Africa.

No matter where I found myself for the majority of the summer though, I usually made it to Scotland either before or after my travels. There, on the shores of Loch Lomond, friends and I converged for several weeks at a summer camp for teenagers. We worked hard. We laughed a lot. We ate pie. We drank. We sang. And more often than not, I cried when I had to say goodbye. 

Campers and staff alike refer to the place as magical. I don't believe in magic, but one night during my first summer there, several of us sat around a campfire, chatting. At some point, someone ran down the hill, and breathlessly asked us to help herd a few of the sheep back into their fenced-off area. 

We proved a sight. Arms flailing, a half dozen of us ran around a sheep field in the dark, trying to round up a few of the dumbest animals on the planet.

Later, my sophisticated and well-traveled older dorm-mate sat near me by the fire and said something poignant -- I don't remember exactly what -- but in that moment I do remember thinking, 'It's true... this place is magical.'

Year after year I returned to that sheep field. Rain, mud and midgie bites couldn't keep me away. I skipped a summer now and again when I was on board a ship, and I remember missing part of a summer because a boy I liked happened to be traveling through London in the middle of camp. 

But for the most part, I continued to spend at least a few weeks in Scotland, every summer.  

The wellies always changed, but the view never did. 

In 2009, the Sailor and I arrived from Cape Town to America to visit with my family during his study break. He returned to South Africa alone; I spent the next six weeks keeping a close eye on my mother, who had a few health issues at the time.

I had already made up my mind that I wouldn't be able to go to Scotland that summer; I figured I'd be spending the remainder of the summer with the Sailor in a wintry Southern Hemisphere. Instead, I spent the next six weeks hovering over my mother, driving her slightly crazy.  

She couldn't understand why I was so batty myself. She thought I just missed the Sailor, but in truth, we spend half of our life apart. I always miss him, but this time, I was also missing Scotland. I felt displaced.

On the night that my friends arrived in the sheep field, I toasted them from far away with a double shot of single malt, and I found myself feeling a little homesick for Scotland -- or indeed anywhere in Europe for that matter. 

It turns out it was the first summer since 1994 that I spent in America. Even when I missed camp in previous years, I was at least in Europe for the summer.

It wasn't terrible. But it was strange. I found myself looking at my cold-weather wardrobe a little wistfully. While locals lamented the rain that pelted Pennsylvania, I found it comforting. I wanted to wear my wellies, sit by a fire and listen to someone strumming a guitar. I learned to knit and the first real project I made turned out to be a sweater that I envisioned myself wearing on the sheep field. 

I made it back to Scotland in 2010, but the sweater didn't come with me. The sleeves turned out to be a little too short, and increasingly lower baggage allowances meant I left behind anything big and bulky -- except my wellies, of course.  

In 2011, I traded camping on the shores of Loch Lomond with boat camping on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho with college friends. They had all been to Scotland at some point with me, yet despite their company, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic about missing the Bonnie Banks again. 

Last year, I made elaborate plans to return to Scotland. Afterwards, my itinerary included Ukraine for a writing project. When my brother took a turn for the worse, I cancelled all travel plans and wrote my regrets to friends I wouldn't be seeing again for a long, long time. Even after my brother recovered from his infection, and once he started to improve again, I was thankful I stayed. It turns out it was the last summer I'd have with him. No regrets, but I was still a little wistful about missing out on a summer in Scotland. 

I knew early on this year that I wouldn't make it to Scotland this summer. We just relocated to a completely new city. It seemed a little crazy to pack for camp in the midst of our moving melee. I told friends that the excitement of moving to a new place has slightly taken the sting out of not being in Scotland this year. The truth is though, I'm still going to miss it. 

So to all of my friends already there in that field, and to the many who have yet to arrive: Enjoy your summer... cherish the friendships you'll make and the memories you will create. Laugh (loudly) for me. I will be toasting you from across the pond, and wishing you well, in your wellies. 

May 11, 2013

Small Kitchens, Big Dreams

I love having my own kitchen, even though I joke that it's the smallest kitchen in America. (I'm sure it's not, but for the record, my counter space is smaller than my desk -- and that's not very big.)

When I finally moved into a place where I wasn't sharing someone's dishes, or using tea towels that I hadn't picked out (read that lament here), I was so ecstatic the space was mine that I didn't care how big or small the counter was -- I would make it work. 

I acquired my own tea towels, found nooks and crannies in cabinets for the ever-growing Pyrex collection, and I managed to cook an astonishing amount of food in such a small space.  

Occasionally, though I feel like it's not working. When I burn something, I have to open the front door -- which is only a refrigerator's width away from the stove -- to let the smoke out before the detector blares again.  
My tiny wooden doll from Bulgaria seems to stare down at me from the spice rack, as if to reprimand me for cooking in such a small space to begin with. 

Perched next to the Hungarian paprika, she herself is a size more fitting for my doll-house like kitchen. 

I have to remind myself that my kitchen is still much larger than many people around the world. My friend Natasha taught me that anything is possible -- even in a doll-sized Ukrainian kitchen. She has one of the tiniest kitchens I've ever seen. Yet I've eaten some of the most delicious made-from-scratch food from that kitchen. 

A while back, I saw a photo essay on kitchens in various parts of the world. I wish I had bookmarked it, because now I can't find it. 

I did however, find this gem during my search: a photobook project by Gabriele Galimbert, featuring grandmothers from around the world with their favorite recipes. There's some serious inspiration in many of those dishes -- and most of those kitchens don't look enormous to me.   

Over the years, I've also been inspired by the kitchens I've eaten in around the world. It's made me realize that we have fallen for a great lie in America in believing that the bigger the kitchen, the better the cook (I blame the Food Network, even though I too drool over their kitchens...) 

I don't think there is anything wrong at all with having a big kitchen. In fact, I'd love one myself. I dream of counter space that I can actually keep appliances on top of, rather than in boxes in the closet. I think it would be grand to have a place for all of my pots and pans so that they're not on the stove top 24/7.  

However, I don't think having a small kitchen should stop you from cooking, experimenting and generally enjoying the culinary process. My kitchen and I have made a mess together of homemade ice-cream, dehydrated apples, yogurt, bundt cakes, cupcakes, beef and chicken pies galore, stir-fries, French fries, brewed kombucha, soups from scratch and so much more.   

I think small kitchens can sometimes wield the most miraculous outcomes. So rather than dreaming of a larger kitchen, I'm dreaming up new dishes to make in my small one.

Later this week, I'll be posting some small kitchen organization tips. In the meantime, happy cooking!

February 17, 2013

Peach Smoothies

I'm making progress on the great cardigan remake. (This isn't the first time I've had to remake a sweater -- more on that later -- nor do I think this will be the last!)

This morning, while I was vigorously knitting the waist decreases, my father-in-law emerged from the garden and sat with me under the tree to cut up a giant bowl of peaches. 

Coffee, knitting, a cool breeze in the shade... and the smell of peaches -- what better way to spend a Sunday morning?

I couldn't resist eating a small bowl myself. While Pa peeled and chopped his way through what seemed to be about 55 peaches, I remembered a summer years ago in Ukraine, when I sat under a similar tree with Babka Dina. 

Dina wasn't related to me, but she was known as Grandma to anyone who came near her. 

She was large, and rather slow when moving about. She used a cane, but insisted that she didn't need help whenever someone would offer an arm to her. 

One of my first days in her town in Eastern Ukraine, we sat at a table (where we spent most of the time actually). An unusual number of bees swarmed us. Babka Dina was unfazed. She spent the latter part of the lunch we shared trying to capture bees in a cup, or smashing them with her spoon. Occasionally she dumped scalding hot tea onto them when they landed on the table. (I'm going to guess she never saw the Bee Movie...)

Watching Pa peel peaches reminded me of Babka Dina -- not because she was old, and hobbled about, or because she happened to be a bee killer -- but because one of the only photos I have of her, she is sitting cross-armed, very stoic, next to a bushel of peaches, not unlike the giant bowl Pa had beside him.  

The photo is a shoebox, in a closet, on the other side of the world at the moment, but I can still see her face.  

It's been years since I saw Babka Dina -- I don't know whatever happened to her. I like to think that she's still smashing bees with the same spoon she uses for the honey. And I hope her peach tree is still thriving. 

After we consumed enough peaches for the morning and left the rest in the fridge for a smoothie later, a bee started to hover around the Sailor. He too was unfazed, but unlike Babka Dina, he let the bee live. 

Because I've been eating so many peach smoothies lately, I thought I should share my recipe (which honestly just fluctuates depending on the fruit that I happen to have on hand, but this has been the standard for two weeks now.) 


2 ripe peaches, chopped (preferably just picked) 
1 apple, chopped
1 banana, peeled of course, and chopped
Either a few splashes of milk, or a few spoonfuls of plain or fruit yogurt 
A small handful of almonds *

Throw all together in a blender. 
Pour into a glass and enjoy! 

This smoothie is quite thick, so I like to use a spoon to scrape out the last of it from the glass. Or, you could just add more liquid. 
* Omit the almonds if you married a picky eater like the Sailor.

January 4, 2013

Granny Square Slippers

I love a good granny square. There is something so old-fashioned, pure, and lovely about the humble crocheted granny square.  

I also love a good pair of slippers. Nobody likes cold feet. 

Combined together? Crocheted awesomeness. 

I think granny squares sometimes get a bad rap, because we remember scratchy acrylic blankets our aunts or grandmothers made. Or maybe we once saw a friend wear a kitschy skirt or poncho... and we vowed to never wear granny squares in our own clothing.  

But really, granny squares are kind of hip -- and so versatile!  They can be big, small, on their own or joined together. 

Slippers however, need no defense, in my mind. Ever since my first summer in Ukraine during my college years, I have found any excuse to wear slippers. It is unheard of to enter a house there and simply keep your shoes on. Instead, it's much more common to leave your dirty shoes at the door, and then throw on a pair of slippers to slop around inside the house.

Of course, as a guest, I would be exempt from this rule on occasion, but I preferred to follow the custom. Often, my hosts would then scramble to find me a pair of slippers to wear as soon as they saw my feet.

Sometimes, this was to my detriment. I gave English lessons to a student at his home regularly one summer. In return for the lessons, the student's grandmother pumped food into me at a rapid pace -- and prior to feasting, she forced me into a hideous pair of maroon and grey slippers whenever I entered the house. 

I was used to being barefoot inside, especially in the summer. However, Babka didn’t back down. My feet were on fire throughout the meal and then the lesson. I returned to college with a roaring case of athlete’s foot -- and the slippers. When I left Ukraine, she insisted I take them with me. 

I kept them to be polite, but I soon found myself actually wearing them regularly. Those slippers lasted me for years -- they kept my feet warm through British winters and they made me smile whenever I remembered how I resisted wearing them at first. 

Now, I try to employ the slipper rule in my own home regularly. We are often falling over shoes on the way in or out the door, but at least they are all clumped together. (I also recently read somewhere that you are less likely to bring certain germs into your home this way -- things like pesticides, etc, stay on your shoes. Who wants to bring that into a home?!) 

My favorite granny square and slipper pattern at the moment is this one from Purl Soho's blog, The Purl Bee. You can also see more samples on Ravelry here.

I've lost count of the number of these I have made and given away as gifts... and I'm still making more. That alone proves to me that this is a pattern you really can't get tired of.

The best part? I can whip them up in a night or two, so they make a great last minute gift. And, I can easily pack them in a bag, making them very portable travel slippers.

The Ukrainian granny was right. Slippers are a necessity. 
And with such a fun and easy pattern, who can argue with that? 

December 16, 2012

Cyrillic Signatures

This week, I sent a card to a Ukrainian friend. And when I went to sign my name, I got as far as the equivalent of 'Bren...' in Cyrillic and stopped.

I couldn't for the life of me remember how to write out a 'D'. I'm still not sure I have it right. 

I felt like I was losing my marbles a bit. 

You see, I know how to write my name in Cyrillic. I've written it out hundreds of times. It's the one thing I can actually spell in Cyrillic.

In 1995, I entered Ukraine for the first time to teach English on a summer trip. Only English teachers and a few students seemed to be speak English, at least where I was. The Soviet Union had since collapsed, but to me, as a naive American college student, things still seemed shaky.

I didn't have a lot of control over the entire summer situation, so I wanted to at least have a little control over how I communicated. Until that summer, I had never felt like a strong communicator -- I was born with a cleft palate which left me a little nasally. Kids made fun of me throughout school and in fact when I applied to work in Ukraine I was initially turned down because the organizer felt that people wouldn't understand me. 

(I was a little baffled by this, considering that it seemed nobody would understand anybody who spoke English, in any case.)

I think deep down, I wanted to prove people wrong. I could communicate. And I would do it well. That first summer there I struggled. People spoke Russian, Ukrainian and their own dialect of Transcarpathian. Some days, I returned to our house, proud of myself for learning three new words, only to discover I had learned the same word -- just in three different tongues. 

From then on, I decided to only learn Russian. While I know I offended a few nationalists along the way, I figured that I would get to use Russian far more in my life than Ukrainian. And indeed I have. Russian came in handy many times and still occasionally does.

Conversationally, I was pretty good. I was able to at least communicate which tomatoes I wanted in the market, where I was going and when I may actually get there to my friends, and I could give some pretty decent directions and the time of day to complete strangers. 

Something was missing though. I needed to learn how to actually write these foreign letters. 

In between summers trips to Ukraine, I took a short Russian course in England to force myself to learn to write. I had the alphabet down, but nobody actually prints in Cyrillic. Everyone writes the equivalent of cursive -- and the cursive Cyrillic alphabet is very different to the printed one.

Eventually, I learned how to write enough Cyrillic to get by. My name, of course was essential. I was proud of myself for being able to fill out the Cyrillic customs forms and to sign my name at border crossings, so non-English speakers could read it. 

You can understand then why it came as a great shock to me when I couldn't even remember how to write my first name this week. 

I'm giving myself a little slack, since I haven't been to Ukraine for seven years. I'm hoping the recipient of my card on the other side of the world cuts me some slack too. I suspect I ended up spelling out 'BrenBa' instead of 'Brenda'. Oops.