Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ethical Veganism

By Michael (I use graphic language in this post, so if you are eating at the moment, I recommend you read some other time.)

Yulia and I were walking to the bus stop in Yulia's grandparents' village one foggy morning. As we were walking I heard a sound I had never heard before. I could only describe it as a distant roar. It would roar for a few seconds and then stop. Then it would start again.

I asked Yulia what it was, and she didn't answer. I asked again. Nothing. It was a day or two before Easter, and I put two and two together. A pig was being slaughtered for the holiday.

We continued walking and the roaring continued. It had been screaming in agony for several minutes now. Tears welled up in my eyes. The sound vibrated through my ears. It was not dying of old age--this was the sound of a strong animal. It knew it was on its way out of this world. It didn't want to go, and it wasn't going quietly. This animal fiercely wanted to live.

We got to the bus stop and the screaming continued. The tears were hot in my eyes. "Why don't they just kill it already? Put it out of its misery!" I couldn't take it anymore. What the hell were the people who did that doing at that moment?? Sitting in their house? Standing there and watching? How could they??

*     *     *

I feel that sharing this story is the least I could do for that animal, and I hope some good comes from such horror.

Admittedly, my telling of the story has been filtered through my emotions. I don't know what the pig felt at that time. I don't know if it actually knew it was on its way out of this world, but that's what I heard in its shrieking.

I understand that emotions and feelings are suspect in this hyper rational world we live in. I understand that we need to question our biases in the search for truth. But I don't think it makes sense to completely sideline our feelings either. Try to understand what they are telling you. If hearing an animal scream makes you cringe, maybe something is not completely right--especially if you are the cause of that screaming (If you hear an animal scream, and it does not make you cringe, maybe something is not completely right either).

If you want to objectively know how pigs are slaughtered around here--no emotions, no subjectivity, this is how: a knife is pushed through the pig's chest and into its heart. As I described, death is not instant.

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Yulia and I want this blog to be positive and inspirational. I tell this story to hopefully bring some good into this world.

I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I'm only going on because I hope my words will inspire other people to think. Do you really need to celebrate a holiday by making an animal suffer like that? There are literally thousands upon thousands of other things you could do to celebrate being with your family. Read a book with your niece. Teach your nephew how to ride a bike. Push your cousins on a swing. Ask the elderly people in your family to tell you a story from 60 years ago. Help out grandma in the kitchen. Why does the celebration have to involve an animal screaming in agony for half an hour? Why does it have to involve killing at all?

*    *     *

I guess there's actually an argument against vegans now that claims that plants can feel pain. The article, smugly titled, "Nice try, Vegans: Plants Can Actually Hear Themselves Being Eaten," describes how a certain plant releases mustard oil as a defense in response to vibrations that mimic a caterpillar eating leaves. Even though this is not the conclusion of the study, many people have concluded on their own that plants can feel pain and are conscious.

To anyone who believes this, I have one question: If you actually think plants feel pain, are you going to change your life in any way in accordance with those beliefs? If you think the solution is to eat meat so that you don't incur pain on plants, remember that livestock are fed plants. You have to kill a lot more plants to feed the animals than you do if you just fed yourself with those plants. Then you have to kill the animal.

My guess is that no one is actually bothered by the suffering of plants. Rather, some people use it as a counter argument to ethical veganism--specifically, the belief that one should incur as little pain as possible. I'll be honest. I don't want to hear it. Don't compare a sheep who still tries to run away while laying on its side in a pool of its own blood after having its throat cut to me picking berries in my backyard. That sheep is making motions like it wants to run away because it does want to run away. Don't pretend they're so stupid. Animals know they are being killed when they are slaughtered, and they fight fiercely for their lives. When chickens are taken off the trucks at slaughterhouses, they hold onto their crates so tightly that their feet are sometimes ripped off their bodies (source).

If you want to compare that to me picking dried up beans pods off dried up vines in the fall, then this is your reality check. It annoys me to no end when people stop using common sense and make half baked arguments using the aegis of scientific studies to justify not changing their behavior, especially when the stakes are so high.

There are many more comics like this at

These two vegan athletes have a YouTube Channel, Vegan Bros, in which they critique both vegans and non-vegans alike. In this one they compare hurting plants and animals.

*     *     *

I've talked about the suffering that a pig from a family homestead went through, but animals in slaughterhouses face unimaginable torture. I don't use the word torture lightly here. I recently read an article from the Los Angeles Times, "The Cruelty Behind Your Ballpark Hotdog," which documents botched slaughters and other animal rights abuses. There is an anecdote about one pig, for example, that was not immediately killed by a stun gun. Since there was no spare available, the metal rod had to be pulled from the pig's head while it was still alive in order to reload it. If you comfort yourself by pointing out that this is an anomaly (the article makes clear it isn't), then consider what happens day to day in animal agriculture. It is common practice to cut the testicles out of baby pigs without anesthetics and grind up male chicks alive (or suffocate them in plastic bags) in the egg industry.

It is also common for cows to be skinned alive at slaughterhouses. The video below describes how at one facility the first 10 cows slaughtered each morning are particularly susceptible to this because the owner doesn't allow time for the cows to be fully bled: "There is pressure to start dismembering the cows right away and not lose money by slowing down the production line." This is an everyday occurrence in Kosher and Halal slaughterhouses because the animal is not stunned. If it is not completely bled in time, it will still be conscious as the scalper begins to pull the skin off its body.

I didn't know what was going on with the animals I ate for a long time. No one had ever shared the information with me. Even after I learned what was happening I didn't go vegan overnight. But it got me thinking, and once things got lined up in my mind, I realized that going vegan was the only conclusion that made sense.

I understand that just because it makes sense to me doesn't mean that it will automatically make sense to you, so don't let me convince you. You need to convince yourself. You need to take responsibility for yourself and your actions. I think if you go veg' because of this post or because you watched a couple of videos, you will not have a strong enough foundation to continue long term.

So take the time to learn about the world around you. What is acceptable to you and what isn't? Only you can answer that. For a long time eating meat was acceptable to me. I went vegetarian when I was 18, then went back. I was off and on for several years. Grass fed beef caught my interest the summer before I met Yulia. I had a bacon sandwich the first time I went out with Yulia and continued eating meat for the first two months after we started dating (though I stopped eating meat in front of her). After that, the two of us were ovo-lacto vegetarians for some time, though we gradually started to cut that out of our diet. I've been on a vegan + honey diet for about a year now.

Yulia has been vegetarian and/or vegan for eight years (and off and on for four years before that). When she met me she actually went from vegan to eating more eggs and dairy, but since then she's stopped.

This is what makes sense to us right now. We're not writing this to judge you, and we're open to the idea of changing if we see a better way of living. Our eyes are open. If we see some good in what you're doing, we'll notice.

*     *     *

In this post I just covered the ethical aspect of veganism based on causing as little pain and killing as possible. There's a lot more to talk about, and future posts will deal with those topics (I'll have to turn this into a series).

I realize Yulia and I aren't strict vegans, but veganism is the movement we most closely identify with, so that's why we chose to go with that for the title. For the sake of simplicity, I will continue to use the term, but you should know that we keep bees and haven't thrown out our old leather shoes or wool slippers (though we don't buy leather or wool anymore). We also have a down comforter that Yulia's grandmother gave us. It was old, so we had the feathers cleaned and put into a new sack (again, we don't buy new down products anymore). We have two cats and a dog. Our cats would have been drowned as kittens if we did not take them into our care, and our dog was homeless when she appeared in our backyard. We encouraged her to leave when she first arrived, but she literally had nowhere else to go, so we're doing our best to give her a loving home.

We mainly focus on life at our home in this blog, so I centered this post on our own experiences. There's obviously much more that can be said, so in no way consider this blot post comprehensive.

To get started, see the pages I linked to above.  If you think you can handle it, watch the film, Earthlings. I link to it reluctantly because it is by far the most upsetting, violent movie I have ever seen. The images and sounds are nothing short of medieval, yet they were filmed in our time. In the future, I think people will see the things we did and shake their heads at what primitive savages we used to be.

*     *     *

I don't think Yulia and I have a large vegan audience. I assume most of our readers eat a standard diet including meat, dairy, and eggs and wear leather and so on. And I know that we have a lot of friends and family who read this blog who are not vegan. We still want to be friends with you, and we do not want a divorce from our families. We write about this because this is a large part of our lives. Unfortunately, we live in a world where this is not the norm. Outside of our home there are few spaces where we are not bombarded with animal products. When I go to the bazaar I see sellers shoeing flies away from the cuts of meat on their tables. From the street I see pig's heads hanging in butcher shops. When we shop for shoes, we have to ignore most of the shoes we see because they are made from a cow's skin (forget the euphemism). Yulia and I can't even sit down at the table with our own family without having to see and smell meat (though our parents are open to eating what we eat when we're together, and Yulia's grandparents even had a vegan Easter with us last year--no questions, no complaints). But this blog is our little space on the internet, and we want it to reflect our own thoughts and opinions. If you don't like what you're reading here, move on. We'll deal with having less page views because of it.

If you want to understand the world as we see it, imagine if I stuck a knife into our dog's chest, and she screamed so loud that you not only heard it as you walked by our house, by that you could even hear it ten minutes after walking by. In half an hour, after she finally stopped wailing, I would take our electric saw, cut her head off and display it so that people walking on the street could see. If anyone got offended I would remind them that she wagged her tail and had a happy life. Plus, this is a world in which people eat dogs. It wouldn't be against the law, so you couldn't do anything about it anyway. Then I would cut her body into little pieces and eat it in front of you, knowing that the very idea of this disturbs you. I would take the small pieces of her body that no one would otherwise eat (like her cheeks, heart, and anus), stuff it into her own intestines, and feed it to my children with mustard and ketchup as a fun snack food. I would boil her bones and use the broth as a base for vegetable soup and be surprised if you wouldn't want to eat it. I would raise more dogs and let them run around the streets of our village, so that they poop everywhere and make a lot of noise. When it rained, the poop would get wet and turn into mud. When it was dry that poop would turn into dust and fly into the air whenever a car drove by. I would also buy dog meat from the store and tell you that it is cheaper than buying rice and vegetables even though rice and vegetables are less expensive than dog meat. I would make fun of you and call you an elitist yuppy for not buying dog meat. After eating this way for a while I would get chronic constipation and constantly get "the bug that was going around" (even though you would never get it). I would talk about how hard it is to be healthy and lose weight. If you ever questioned me I would tell you that the world is a brutal place and that you should stop being so naive and get used to it.

This is the world as Yulia and I see it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Myths and stereotypes about Ukraine that we hear OVER AND OVER

Yulia and I have heard many myths and stereotypes about Ukraine over the years. We've tried ignoring them because most of these myths and stereotypes tend to annoy us, but when you are constantly reminded of them anytime you hear an outsider talk about Ukraine, it's hard not to react. Here's our take on these myths and stereotypes.

1. The harsh Ukrainian winter

A lot of people refer to winter in Ukraine as the "harsh Ukrainian winter." I just watched a travel video about Ukraine, and the blogger recommends that you wear special rubber bands with wires around your shoes in winter so you don't slip on the ice.

I'm not really sure why the cold winter gets emphasized when we have pretty hot summers here too. Our last two winters have been milder than the winters they've been having back home in Pennsylvania (a mid-Atlantic state!), and I never heard of anybody wearing special rubber bands with wires in Pennsylvania. We had snow a few times last winter, but there were also many above freezing days in December, January, and February.

The truth is that this is a temperate climate. A lot of the country is even warmer than our city of Lviv. It's cold in the winter (below freezing) and hot in the summer (in the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) or 30s (Celcius)). Some winters are cold and snowy and some are mild, almost without any snow.

I understand though. If you come from a warmer area, winters like this will feel cold--obviously. And Ukraine seems far away, so a lot of people are tempted to make it sound exotic in one way or another. But there's no need to over hype it. Yes, it snows more here than it does in southern California. But it's somewhere between that and the North Pole.

2. There are no cities in Ukraine.

When Yulia lived in the States someone asked her if there were big cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin in Ukraine. Yulia thought about downtown Milwaukee's empty streets and parking garages. The downtown in her hometown of Lviv is full of people all the time and has beautiful historic architecture.

A deserted backwater hamlet in Ukraine
Here's the same deserted village in the midst of the harsh Ukrainian winter. The cold weather and snow keeps everyone trapped in their primitive homes. Notice the lack of parking garages. Ukraine's a really backward place! Don't forget to pack your rubber bands with wires!

3. Be careful of the criminal element

Before I came to Ukraine I was very concerned about pick pockets, swindlers and the like. I was suspicious of every person I met and spoke as little as possible so as not to get involved with any potentially shady characters. Unfortunately, I made myself miss out on some good experiences because I was too busy being paranoid.

There are millions of people here. There are a few bad apples, but most people have been really helpful to me--especially if I come out of my shell and talk. If you are at a store and need help with something, don't try to hide your accent or foreignness. The person you are talking to will probably notice anyway. Just be direct about what you need and people are usually pretty good at helping you out. Yes, Ukraine is poorer than, say, America. But there are a lot of people here who just want to work and have a normal, stable life. Allow them to do so.

If you are on the street, most people are not pick pockets. If someone is visibly drunk, don't talk to them. Otherwise, use street smarts. Yulia and I speak English to each other most of the time in public. We'll speak quietly and switch to Ukrainian in the presence of others. We've never had any run ins with petty crime.

4. Farming technology is outdated here

We took this picture a few weeks ago.

Those one and a half story combines go for hundreds of thousands of US dollars used.

Of course, locals also use simpler, more antiquated forms of technology as well. Many of our neighbors till their land with a horse and plow. If it's cheaper for your neighbor or relative to do it with his horse, then people will choose that.

We've also seen some people ride around their gardens with small personal tractors. There's no one way to farm or garden here. The truth is, Ukrainians use a range of different technologies, but that does not mean the whole country is still in the 19th Century.

5. The Women are Beautiful

To people who think this, I have one question: Really??

This is, of course, a positive stereotype, but, even though it's positive, I have to question it. The general idea of it stinks of eugenics to me--that an entire nation of women is beautiful because of their genes.

Could this phenomenon perhaps be social? I'd be more willing to buy that. One thing Yulia and I have noticed is that men in Ukraine are less than desirable. They tend to have bad attitudes, swear, drink and smoke. Don't get us wrong, not every man is like this, but a lot are. Maybe a lot of women are just tired of seeing the same kind of men and have become open to foreigners who visit the country. Perhaps foreign men also like the way that Ukrainian women dress, do their hair, and do their makeup. Maybe a lot of them like Ukrainian gender roles. I think it's most likely a combination of factors.

But are they "naturally" more beautiful? Umm, does that mean some nations are smarter because of their genes? Are some nations morally superior? This can get dangerous quickly.

Unfortunately, I guess this is a "thing" now, so, as a man, I just want to ask that other men please respect Ukrainian women and not objectify them. When you objectify Ukrainian women, you are objectifying my wife, my friends, and my family. Treat them with the respect and humanity that you would want your wife and female friends and family treated.

If you really think they are the most beautiful women in the whole world, treat them as the goddesses you make them out to be. Learn to be a better man. Get rid of your cynical attitude. Lose your beer belly. Quit smoking. And then treat her as the goddess she is.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Water: We like it clean.

The weather last month was no less than tropical over here: hot and humid. And we loved it! In the morning we would fill a metal basin with well water and let it soak in the sun rays for a few hours.  Sometime before or after lunch, the tepid water from the basin was poured all over our bodies to cool and clean us. This simple ritual makes for a quick, refreshing break, much needed in hot weather. 

Washing outside, or rather in an outside shower cabin, has become our permanent place and way of washing here. Most people, when introduced to the idea of washing outside without any running water, find it bewildering. But how do you do it? Aren't you cold? You must not use soap and do it very quickly. These are some of the questions we are frequently asked. We also didn't think it was possible to wash outside year-round. Keep in mind, western Ukraine is no land of a wild parakeet. Here in the Lviv area during the winter time, although rare, the temperatures can drop as low as -20 C (- 4 F).

Last winter, during the Ukrainian Christmas we had the coldest night of the year -- it went as low as -22 C (- 7 F). By the time we came back from my grandparents' house, who we spent the holidays with, it was 10 o'clock at night. Our house greeted us with its cold stupor. We were exhausted (it takes about an hour to get to our house from the grandparents') and still needed to light the wood burning pichka, our only source of heat. By the time we had a chance to warm up the house and heat some water on the stove for washing, it was pushing 1 am. While waiting for my turn to go wash, I was dozing off on the coach. Making my way to the shower cabin outside I was half-asleep, already. The air was still and fresh, but I can't say that I was freezing or even cold. I washed quickly, since I was tiered and wanted to go to bed as quickly as possible. On the way back to the house, I glanced at the thermometer we have hanging on the patio. It read 22 below 0, Celsius that is. Wow...really? Yes, I expected it to be cold, but I have never expected to be outside washing in those freezing temps. This was the coldest temperature I've ever washed in under an open sky. During our first winter here, last year, there were a few occasions, when I said -- forget about it, I'm not washing outside. Although, Michael still did. This winter was different, I washed exclusively outside.

Actually, the main element that makes it too chilly to wash out is the wind. At times, the winds here can be quiet ferocious and make washing in the shower cabin less than an enjoyable experience. But, definitely, not impossible. A few times during the winter I even got the urge to rub snow on myself after washing. I know, to most people it sounds insane. But I simply felt like doing it and not only was it refreshing, but it was super energizing, as well. Michael and I have realized (this time, in practice) that we are capable of so much more than we're used to doing. And most of us may never even find out what our true potential as humans is, unless we let go of our dogmas. 

Even though our well water is clean and safe enough to drink or cook with (at least, we're still alive with no visible side effects), we opt for spring water as our everyday staple. We've mentioned our local spring on this blog more than a few times already, but it really deserves all this attention and more. We're extremely grateful to have this clean source of wild water so near home. It takes less than five minutes to get to our spring. And once we're there, this tiny sanctuary of nature amidst the village, feels truly serene. The majestic evergreens encircle the spring area with a green wall, summer and winter time alike. The air there always feels fresher and cooler; a perfect spot to sit down and relax. 
             The spring in our village. I'm not sure if we have ever mentioned this, but our dog Toma is very much afraid of water and will not get inside the spring water pool or even drink from it.
 We visited it on an especially hot day to take a dip. The water that comes out is chilly. 
 Very refreshing, indeed. On hot days, the spring is filled with kids coming to soak their feet. It's not apparent on this picture, but to the right there are two draining pipes, which bring the water to the stream below. 

This is another spring on the way to our home from Lviv. It's located right of off the highway and is rather popular with visitors. We call this spring "Virgin Mary Disco Star"! Wondering why?

If you look at this picture, you may notice a whole lot of decor. This photo was taken during Christmas. The community even set up a Xmas tree inside and added more flashing lights around the area. Of course the tree and all of the lights are not there year round, but everything else does stay: the plastic flowers, a single strain of lights and the neon pink concrete fence. Even when we don't stop at the spring to get water, we can clearly see it flashing on the side of the highway while driving. And, yes, the Virgin Mary. She is hiding in that white brick chapel. Either way, we're grateful to the local community for setting up and adorning this spring.

This is another spring set up in the village next to ours. We're actually part of the same village hall. Now, this decor we do admire. Recently we were told by one of the man from our village that because of the drought we're having, the water in the spring has dried up. It's probably temporarily, though.

The picture below depicts the spring in Bayview, Milwaukee (Wisconsin, USA) where we would go to get our water when we lived in the area. It is called the Iron Well, for it has a high iron content.

This covert spring was shown to us by Chris, the local farmer in South Carolina, when we volunteered at his organic farm.
   I love how it's situated in a woodland and is encircled with rocks. It looks magical.

This is at Mount Shasta, another spot we visited while traveling along the west coast of the U.S. I believe we were traveling north from California to our next farm in Oregon. The spring is surrounded by picturesque views.  

This little spring was found during our trip to central Ukraine a few years ago, in Cherkasy region, where my grandma is from. We think that it belongs to the monastery that we saw not too far away from the spring. Nevertheless, we were especially joyful to discover it on our long walk through the woods heading to a festival at a local eco village. 

I won't get into a long discussion about how important having clean water is. I trust that every conscience human being is well aware of all the benefits and is able to make his/her own choice therein. Clean water is important to us and we choose to act accordingly.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Neighborly relationships (and our dog)

By Michael

Our dog, Toma, is as sweet as pie to Yulia, me, and any friends or family that come to visit. She's never barked or bitten us the whole two years we've had her. If you are a neighbor or a stranger, on the other hand, you will hear her wrath.

Our neighbors hear it on a regular basis. Occasionally, they'll make a comment like, "He's so aggressive [Toma's a she]." Or sometimes they plead with her: "Why are you barking at me? It's alright. It's alright."

We've tried training her, and we've tried distracting her. Unless I'm petting or scratching her ear, she will be at the front gate barking as someone passes by our house. It's annoying, but most people deal with it.

Since Toma's pen is at the front of our property next to the road, I've always been concerned that someone might try to hurt her. I watch especially closely when men riding horses go by cracking their whips.

A couple weeks ago, Yulia and I were out back and just happened to be watching when a horse and cart went by. One of the boys (late teens, early twenties) sitting in back had some small apples in hand and actually tossed them at Toma as he went by.

"Did you see that??" I asked Yulia.


"What should we do about it?"

We talked about it a while and decided that we wouldn't say anything this time, but if it happened again, we would speak up. When I heard them returning a few minutes later I went up front to see if that boy would bother Toma again. This time he had the reigns and whip in hand. As he went by and Toma started barking, he flicked the whip in Toma's direction.

In return, I whipped open the front gate. "Зупиніть ! ... ЗУПИНІТЬ!! [Stop! ... STOP!!]"

He actually stopped. Never mess with Toma when I'm around.

"Що це за робота!? [loosely--What's this all about!?--a phrase I've heard older men use to reprimand kids when they're angry]"

"I didn't hit her." He knew he wasn't in the right.

"I don't care! She's a dog, not one of your horses!"

Our dialogue didn't continue for long. His older brother chimed in, "He's right. What did you do that for? ...We're sorry. It won't happen again. We're sorry."


A couple days ago their mom was walking by as I was working on the house up front.

"You're house looks like it's from a fairy tale. Very nice."

"Thank you. That's very nice of you to say."

"It's like a fairy tale. A lot of people go for a modern look, but this is much nicer."

I'm holding Toma at bay by scratching her floppy ears. She begins to walk away, but then turns around.

"Smart, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she understands what's going on."

"My older son told me that my younger son was tossing something at her. I told him if he did that again that I would throw something at him. I said that it was stupid to do that because that'll cause her to bark even more."

"Of course. I think she's mainly barking out of fear."

"She's being a good guard dog. It's not a bad thing."


I'm glad I stood my ground that day and defended Toma, but also glad I didn't go out and antagonize the whole family. They actually came in on our side. When you need to lecture adults...especially neighbors...especially when you're not as familiar with the language as they are, it's a tough line to walk.

If you ever find yourself moving into a tightly knit, small community and being the outsiders like Yulia and I, you may find this little anecdote helpful. Know that you are coming from different worlds. Exercise patience and restraint, but know when it is time to hold your ground.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Our house: One Big Mistake

By Michael

I've been absent from our blog for quite some time now, but Yulia's been doing an excellent job with her always inspirational updates. I hope she continues to write and inspire you just as much as she inspires me. She has a quirky, playful knack for storytelling that's just perfect to convey our quirky, playful life here!

I removed myself from blogging to better wrap my head around what needed to be done with our house--cover it with siding, trim all the windows and build a small addition. I have no experience with building--aside from the two years we've been living here--so I needed to focus.

I'm now done with a large part of that job, and I've realize something very important: Our house is one big mistake. I can't begin to tell you about all the mistakes I've made.

I started hanging the siding, for example, thinking I would do it by hammering the tongue and groove boards through the center with nails. I got to the second board when I learned that this would not do. The boards were too thick and hammering them in with big nails was too violent an action. The board would bounce as I hammered it to our old, uneven walls, loosening all the other nails

I didn't know what to do. I had the whole house to cover and had no idea how I was going to do it. I watched some videos online. One Ukrainian guy on YouTube installed this kind of siding with screws through the grooved end of the board. They used nail guns in all the American videos I watched.

I tried screws through the grooves, but every time I did it, the screw would split the wood. I didn't have a nail gun, so I couldn't do it the American way either. I was stuck. I walked around our property a few times. Thought. Complained. Felt nervous every time a neighbor would walk by wondering what I was doing. Then I realized I had some perforated metal straps for drywall. I cut these straps into short pieces, screwed one end into the back of the siding and used the other end to fix to the wall. I can't describe it very well with words, but maybe this makes more sense:

This was actually more of an elegant solution for me than using a nail gun or driving screws through the grooves. The old walls of our house are wavy in places. These metal straps are flexible, so that if there is a valley in the wall underneath, the strap will bend, but not force the whole board with it, allowing the siding to "float" and remain relatively straight.

Another big problem for me was our door. The day I brought it home was very windy. Yulia wanted to see it, so I unloaded it off our truck and leaned it against our open garage door, so that she could see it in the daylight. The problem with that idea is that the garage door is fixed on hinges. I walked away to get Yulia and then heard a gust of wind and a crash. The wind had swung the garage door and tipped over our brand new door!

It was not totaled, but both panels had popped out a bit. I tacked them back into place and fixed it up as best I could. But do you think that was the last of the problems with the door??

The next day I started to bore into the wood with a drill and chisel to make room for the door handle and lock. It was a few hours of work, but by sundown I had carved out enough room for the mechanism. I got too excited and wanted to show Yulia the new door handle in the door. What I didn't know at the time was that the lock cylinder did not fit the mechanism (something the seller at the store should have known when he recommended I buy the two!). When I screwed in the lock cylinder, I used a drill instead of a screwdriver and the screw got forced into the mechanism and became stuck. I could not pull them out again and so was forced to cut them out with a saw.

I wasn't going to give up though. I glued the wooden door together, let it dry overnight, and was up with the rising sun the next morning to sand it down. It took about an hour to sand a few square centimeters. I didn't admit defeat. Now that it is lacquered, it is hard to see the two groove marks from the saw.

Never admit defeat!
I have many other stories like this, which brings me to one conclusion: this was one big mistake. But I consider every mistake a lesson. When you realize you've messed up you have a choice. You can turn around and stop. Or you can keep going.

How do you handle life's mistakes?

Friday, August 21, 2015

In the midst of August

Greetings from Ukraine! Lots of sunflowers over here. How about over there?
Buckle up, everyone, it'll be a loooong post.

In the wilderness of our garden.

Some sunflowers are being feasted on by the flying creatures and also by me.

More herbal goodness over here.

Freshly harvested gojis with a few red currents. Experimenting with drying these out in our hot sun. By the way, fresh goji berries have an interesting flavor. They're not very sweet and have a slight bitterness to them. And just so you know, gojis are extremely easy to grow. The bushes grow fast and produce a lot of fruit early on. 

Grow, grow, little one! This is one of our baby watermelons. I believe it is the Sweet Dakota Rose variety. We shall see if it reaches adulthood.
Another one. Don't remember the name.

The scenery to the west: the red terracotta shingles on the neighbor's shed.

Our corn/squash/bean jungle out in the fields.

There are probably about 15 varieties of winter squashes, marrows and pumpkins growing here. Maybe we'll do a recap of them all at the end of the season and let you know which ones were our favorites.

Yes, because you've never seen cucumbers before :) This is for Mama and Tato who have asked about our cucumbers. The cucumbers have been producing well until the drought period hit us. The last time we had rain was just before the last full moon, which was at the end of July. The lack of rain is unusual for this part of Ukraine, since we get the most precipitation here than in any other part of the country. I'm used to hearing Michael's sighs every time it starts to sprinkle outside: "Oh, No! Not again...!" This is the hottest and the most low-rain summer we can remember here. The water in our well is extremely low. In fact, it has taken on a yellowish tint of an orange juice from the clay at the bottom. The well cleaners were correct -- our well is very shallow and not the best quality.We're trying our best to water what we can in the garden, focusing on tomatoes, cucumbers and melons in order to conserve our water. It almost seems odd to write this...water is not something we thought we would ever lack here. Sometime in the near future, when we have some extra time, rain barrels will be set up to harvest the precious sky-water. Fortunately, we have a natural spring nearby, and we have been visiting it more often than usual to get our drinking and washing water there.

At lunch: sometimes the cucumbers turn into this -- a simple salad with dill, lovage, onions and lemon juice. Speaking of lovage, this is a new herb for Michael and I. The flavor is a cross between parsley and celery, well -- almost. It's very aromatic and imparts a strong flavor to a dish. In traditional Ukrainian herbalism it was used to create love spells. Has anyone tried it? I mean lovage, not the love spell. Perhaps, both?!

We had about 10-12 hives at the end of the fall and by the time the spring came they were all gone! It was sad, to say the least. We're not sure what had caused it. And the odd thing was that most of the hives had zero dead bees in them. Michael started stacking up the empty beehives outside of our "bee-room" shed with no intention of repopulating them with colonies any time soon. But the local bees decided to start moving into them without an invitation. They found our hives suitable to their liking. Now, we have 4 full beehives. You lose some, and you never know when you will find some.

A view to the south: open fields.

A generous plum tree from the abandoned lot next door is offering one of its fruit-filled branches to us. This year is abundant in fruit and berries.

A view to the East: the neighbor's red house.

Isn't she a beauty!? She's a Blue Beauty. That is the actual name of the tomato. It's a true purple/blue tomato, and the color is visible early on. Not like other "purples"we've grown before (Cherokee Purple, for example), where you're like:" Ummm, excuse me, tomato, but on which side is the purple!?" (Just saying: Cherokee Purple is not really purple, and a Black Plum tomato is nowhere near being black. Although, before I start receiving hate-mail from the nightshade family, let me throw this in -- they're all equally delicious and good-looking in their own way!) The seeds, were bought from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This is part of their Wild Boar Farms edition from the "tomato guy" Brad Gates in the California Bay. You've got to love the Baker Creek folks, for they are doing us all a huge service by seeking out and preserving the best heirloom and long-forgotten varieties of seeds, while keeping their stock 100% free of GMOs. Thank you! While purchasing your seeds, especially corn and soy beans, making sure you get them from a reliable GMO-free suppliers is definitely worth the effort. 

Here are the actual tomato plants out in the garden. And this is the Black Plum tomato I mentioned earlier. It is one of our more abundant and healthier varieties this year.

Another successful variety is the Sungold.

More tomatoes, because they can't take selfies! (Grushovka, Green Gage, Sungolds, Black Plum, Indigo Blue, Orange Icicle)

 Indigo Blue, a smaller sister of the Blue Beauty.

We have so many tomatillos in our garden this year! I don't know what it is about these little guys, but I really enjoy growing them. And the best part is that they're all self-seeded this year. These deep purple ones are my favorites. Although, to most taste buds the flavor would be just OK, tomatillos can definitely be eaten raw. If you're more into cooking with tomatillos, one can make an excellent green salsa or add them to ragù for sourness.

And here they are undressed from their yellow jackets. 

Ahh, a pretty sight. The sea buckthorn berries are looking better and better!

The hot weather keeps everyone low and motionless. Resembling roadkill. Like I said -- you lose some, you gain some :)

This one seems to be still breathing. 

The time we saw a million dollars on our street. I'm not kidding you! There was a whole parade of New Hollanders -- about ten of them, riding up the street. These huge combines were the size of a house. Even though I've never seen the film, Michael described the combine parade as a scene from the Transformers movie. I believed him. As the machinery was making its way up the road, our neighbor was sharing a piece of his mind with all those able to hear him. He was complaining about the heavy machinery using our local road and messing up something he's been working on on the side of the street. Later, he made a comment to Michael: "You see!? And they say there's no money in Ukraine...there is money! This is who's got the money!" Yeah, we agree. There is money in Ukraine, there's a lot of money in Ukraine! But like in a lot of other places in the world, it can never be found in the places most needed or in the hands of those who need it the most.

On Sunday, we had to take a trip to the city. It was hot and overwhelming. Here is some randomness from Lviv:

Unfortunately, our favorite dining spot was having a culinary workshop in the morning. They were going to be done in an hour or so, but since we were starving and it was wicked hot outside, we decided to find a different restaurant for lunch. Big mistake! Once again we realized that we need to stick to what we know and like. Want to know why?
Long story short: we sit down and are treated to some breads/dips without a single word from the waitstaff; we think it's complementary from the chef (or something like that); we eat most of the breads/dips; the waitress charges us for it; we get upset that she does that; we ask why we're charged for it, since we didn't order and you didn't tell us; she says because we ate them (!); we ask her to take it off of our bill; she gives us an attitude but takes off the charge; we leave with frowns on our faces. The End.

And, yes, that's Darth Vader on the streets of Lviv. Did you know that he was running as the head of the Internet Party of Ukraine at the last elections? You can read about it here. Seeing him in Lviv was not what surprised me the most. The oddest thing was that nobody, I mean nobody, even took a second look at him passing. I guess he's a local now. Oh, and I bet the poor fellow was sweating buckets in that black mantle.  

So... life continues here. Growing, creating takes time. Every day here on our land brings us an opportunity to learn something new and we are growing along with the trees, and the bushes, and all the flowers and little blades of grass. We are changing with the seasons, crying with the rain, and smiling with every the bright ray of sun. Of course -- there's good and bad, and I dare you to find a place on Earth where one exists without the other. Creation is a delicate balance. It is all inclusive and never exclusive of anything. Inspiration drives creation. And that in itself requires us to feel, to let go and least a little. 

 До зустрічі!