Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Chickens and Easter in Ukraine

By Yulia

As I'm writing this, a powerful spring storm is taking place outside. The wind is blowing with full force (We lost our electricity for about five minutes). A heavy rain is feeding the crusty earth beneath us. This is a good thing. Everything is opening up right now, pulling its juices from the soil. The plants need water. The smell outside is heavenly! I've always loved spring and summer showers. They come after hot, heavy days and fill the air with a dulcet freshness and peacefulness.

Do you remember me writing about our first plantings in the garden? I had to use branches and sticks around the small seabuckthorn beds to keep them safe from possible cat and/or chicken invasions. Well, those preventative measures proved to be useless. One beautiful morning a few days ago, I ventured out into the garden to check if anything had decided to start sprouting yet. The scene that unfolded before my eyes was disheartening: all of the compost in my garden beds--where I had planted the seeds--was turned upside down! A sharp blade of anger hit me in the head. And here, right before my eyes, my love for chickens faded all at once. However, I quickly managed to snap out of it since I knew we would be spending the day in the city. There is no use to be angry at something I cannot fix at this time, anyway. Right?


Discovering my garden being vandalized brought me back to a distinct memory from a few years ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (in the U.S., for those of you not familiar with the city). My last apartment in that city was in a house that was divided in half. The landlord also owned two more rental properties, similar houses, right next to it. The three rental places had a shared backyard, a nice feature to have in a city. The one aspect of this backyard that I was especially pleased with was its tiny garden. It was my first time renting a place with even a small plot. And as soon as I moved in, I wasted no time getting started with my planting. Initially, my Nepalese landlord had plans to grow tomatoes in that space. One day he showed up with his wife and a car full of seedlings. He quickly learned that I would be using the garden. According to him, I was the first renter who expressed any interest in planting something there. It must be in my Ukrainian blood. Hmmmm... I don't know...

I wasn't the only tenant living at the house. The first floor was occupied by a young couple who would often have tattoo fiestas in their apartment (apparently their good friend owned a tattoo parlor in the area, but was also good at making emergency tattoo home visits). A buzzing of the ink needle was always accompanied with the fresh stench of burning flesh. An abundance of booze and terrible music added to their image as non-gardeners. So I didn't bother asking. And I was correct that they were not interested in tending a garden.

Another young couple with a small child rented the house right across. They never talked to me, or anyone, for that matter, but they surely had a lot to say to each other. The loud bickering would always escape through their windows and travel to my place. Once, as I was sitting around with some people in the backyard, I noticed something inside of the neighbors' hanging basket. What I discovered were not flowers, but a dead squirrel! Now, what was a dead squirrel doing in a hanging basket on their porch -- I don't know. Nonetheless, I decided to bury it. And I did. A few days later a loud yelling outside caught my attention. I peaked out to see what was happening. It was the young couple looking for their dead squirrel! They, too, were not interested in gardening.

The third house remained vacant, until a young single mom of four rowdy boys moved in. She didn't introduce herself to me, and I didn't introduce myself to her. Greeting each other with "hello's" became the extent of our relationship. She never expressed any interest in sharing the garden, either. Or so I thought.

By this time, the summer was in full swing -- it was July. My garden was filled with all sorts of goodness: potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, sunflowers, herbs etc..

That particular day we had a nice storm in Milwaukee. When I arrived home from work, I went straight to my garden to check up on it. But something was not quite right. Once I inspected my garden closer, I realized that half of the plot was turned upside down! The garden has been carelessly vandalized. No more veggies were to be found on that bald patch of earth, except for the long, droopy limbs of catnip that were joylessly hugging the ground. I could not believe it! Who would do such a thing! I was livid. Something had to be said. With hot anger burning inside of me, I started marching toward the house of the single mom. It had to be her or her boys, I figured. I knocked on the door and was soon greeted by my neighbor. The single mom was standing in the doorway and staring at me with a half smirk on her face and a cigarette in her hand.

"Yeah, hello.... Did you want to plant something in that garden?" I asked.
"My boys wanted to plant catnip, so we planted some with them today," she replied.
"Ummm, yeah, did you know that there are things growing there already?" I asked, while not being satisfied with her 'catnip story.'
"You know...we can plant some good herbs in there," the single mom replied, while completely disregarding my question.
I continued staring at her.
"You know what I mean....the good stuff..." She continued.
I couldn't find the proper words to answer her.The storm outside was subsiding. I decided that there was no more to talk about and that it was time to leave.
"Yeah, OK," I uttered and headed out to my apartment.

Fast forwarding to modern times. 

We came back from Lviv in the evening. The following day the weather was beautiful and I was out in the garden. And here, again, I was staring at the damage. I was looking at my vandalized garden beds with all of their guts hanging out. I kept staring at them. Although I was sad looking at my hard work being destroyed, there was no more anger in me. I guess I've realized that I would never win an argument with a chicken. 

Lesson learned: cover the beds and hurry up with the fence around the property,

Anyway, this story turned out to be longer than I thought it would be. So let me move on from the tragicomedy and do a short recap of our Ukrainian Easter.


This year Ukrainian Easter was April 12. My parents are in the States right now. They had their Easter with my sister there. So Michael and I spent Easter Sunday with my grandparents (my dad's parents). Since they don't have any other close family here, it was just the four of us: grandma Kateryna, grandpa Roman, Michael and myself.

Our contribution to the Easter brunch: my attempt to make a healthier version of paska, which was pretty much a vegan carrot cake; Michael's oatmeal/raisin cookies (he put those together on Easter Sunday while I was still asleep); potato varenyky
I thought that I completely failed with my paska. It turned out to be very soggy and I had to re-bake it twice, but it ended up being very tasty. Also, it was my grandma's favorite, which was my biggest compliment. I laughed at Michael when I first saw the cookies, "what did you put in them?" I asked. Oh, how wrong I was, because these were delicious. They were my grandpa's favorite. 
The varenyky were good. They always are.
After our brunch and some chatting, the hot weather called us outside. 

       The three of us--grandma, Michael and I--ventured out on a walk along the river.
The Dniester river 
Grandma Kateryna 

Michael enjoying the sunshine
    On the way back: These gnarly trees are part of an apple orchard planted long ago.

   Some of them are funny monsters, like the one on the right "Grrrr I'm gonna get you...!"

This pine is absolutely stunning.

This was one of the most stress-free and unorthodox Easters we've ever had. We didn't have all the "right foods" that Ukrainians normally have for Easter. And we didn't do all the "right things" that are typically done for this holiday in Ukraine. My grandparents were completely fine with it. And Michael and I were completely content. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Some of our current favorite Ukrainian music

Here's some of the music that Yulia and I are listening to lately:

Vivienne Mort - Сліди маленьких рук

A passionately played song. This is one of Yulia's current favorites!

Vivienne Mort - Грушечка (українська народна пісня)

And here's another one from her. It's an old Ukrainian song called Грушечка (a small pear)  in a modern interpretation. 

Lemko Bluegrass Band - Буковина

This is a folk band from Lviv (where the video takes place) playing a fun song. This is the way life should be! :) 

Один в каное - Небо
Remember my date with Yulia? We took a walk through Lviv and got some excellent cookies from a colorful bus?
This music video takes place by that bus! It's so wonderful to see a music video filmed at a place we feel we know so intimately!

Onuka - Look

This is minimalism at its best. We especially like the bandura solo. It's great to see them integrate traditional Ukrainian instruments into something cutting edge and modern.

Sophie Villy - Here and Nowhere Else

This is a Ukrainian-Georgian singer. The song is sung in English. It appears that the video was filmed in Georgia. The repetition of video clips throughout the song reminds us of memories. We often repeat the same scene over and over in our heads when we try to remember a particular period of time. We'll play the same images over and over and cut to others in one continuous stream--just like this video. The images in the video seem very happy while the music is quite sad--like remembering a good time in your life that is long past.

These are all Ukrainian artists that are not very well known in Ukraine, let alone the world. We think they all have great potential, and we hope they continue to expand the definition of what it means to be a Ukrainian musician!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My reflections on a man who understands what is happening in Ukraine

"I remember a Ukraine that . . . was not the vassal of the Russian empire begging for membership in Europe but the beating heart of the continent." 

Who do you think made this comment? Maybe a politician standing on the Maidan in Kyiv? An idealistic young Ukrainian activist? Well, no. And no. These remarks, in fact, were made by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy in a recent article. He has emerged as a strong supporter of the Ukrainian people

I put off writing about people who don't understand what is happening in Ukraine for quite some time because Yulia and I don't want this to be a blog about what we don't like. We feel like it's too easy to disagree with things, too easy to put others down, and that it's too easy to be cynical. In the end, writing about what doesn't work won't provide the framework for the kind of world we want to see. 

But after reading Levy's piece, "Remembering the Maidan," I jumped at the opportunity to share it here. His article was heartening and uplifting. He sees Europe--and the whole world, for that matter--as interconnected. In the comment above he shows that he understands that what is happening in Ukraine affects him as a Frenchman and European. He continues, addressing the two countries' shared roots and intertwined future:
"European, indeed, were the Ukrainians because they were the children of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and the great Taras Shevchenko, and—soon enough—because in the Maidan, for the first time in history, young people would die clutching the starry flag of Europe."
He doesn't think of the Ukrainian revolution as something that only concerns Ukrainians. And when he was at the Maidan, he saw that the revolution was not about Ukrainian superiority:

"I remember the emotion that suffused me when, as I spoke, I spotted among the many Ukrainian flags several blue, star-studded flags of Europe and even a tiny red, white and blue flag of France almost indiscernible in the huge crowd.
I recall my surprise when I realized that before me stood a mixed crowd of Tatars and Poles, Cossacks and Jews, the grandchildren of the survivors of the Holodomor and of Babi Yar, sharing the same European and revolutionary zeal."
Personally, Yulia and I feel that being Ukrainian patriots also means being responsible European and world citizens. 

Interestingly enough, we don't think it makes us parochial. Our concerns are worldwide in scope, and we do not like the idea of creating boundaries between groups of people. We think improving the world begins with us, then grows to include our families, village, country, and world. 

On our blog, for example, we try to include posts that are about cultures other than our own (like this recent entry about a new TV show made by and about the Cherokee Indians). As Levy says, "I remember the moment in my own life when I realized that I had made your cause my own." Like Levy, we don't view the people of the world as broken up into groups, with each group only being interested in its own cause. We strive to create connections, not deepen divisions. 

We are saddened by a world that does not allow some people to travel freely. Ukrainian citizens, for example, cannot travel to the neighboring European Union without a visa. Why treat Ukrainians this way? How, by being born in one country and not another, are they different from people born elsewhere? Why does that make them less worthy? 

We are sometimes overwhelmed by negativity caused by problems like this, and that is why Levy's article was so important for us to hear. "I had made your cause my own." We'll remember this--especially the next time we begin to feel alone as world citizens. Other people are fighting for us--and with us. We'll be there fighting for them.

Headaches and snow in April

This is what we woke up to this morning:

Snow. In April. Not unheard of around here, but certainly unwelcome. We've been having very warm weather and this turn back to winter was quite the surprise.

Yulia and I had headaches the whole day today and being cooped up inside because of the weather did not help. The snow melted during the course of the day, but as of this writing (just before midnight) the snow is falling yet again.

On the other hand, being inside gave us the opportunity to enjoy our house, which is becoming quite livable compared to what it used to be.

Remember this?

This was the corner of our bedroom a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, it now looks like this:

The hole is covered with new floorboards. The drywall is up, and the poles and shelves are in the closet. We got a call from the store today, and the sliding doors are ready for pick up.

I spent a long, dirty day sanding the bedroom floor. And I spent another staining and lacquering it.

But we finally have a squeaky clean room to sleep in!

Not a bad thing on a day like today.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My reflections on outsiders who don't understand what is happening in Ukraine

Living here in Ukraine, I look to America and am often confused by what I see. On the one hand, many people here think of the United States as a world leader. On the other, I hear many Americans say that the US should not be involved in international affairs at all. They want the US to stay away from Ukraine. They say this is Russia's backyard. They feel guilty for their country having started so many wars abroad in the past. To them, I have this to say: It's one thing to disagree with some things the American government does. It's another to disagree with absolutely everything about it. I suggest you try and help the government make what you think is the right choice, not prevent them from making any choices at all.

In 2003, for example, I was a cadet at an American military academy. I took interest in the news and was skeptical during the build up to and subsequent invasion of Iraq. It wasn't easy to be against the war in that environment. Many of my classmates never uttered a word about Iraq before March of that year, but they suddenly became war hawks after the invasion. I could not understand their reasoning, if they even had any.

I am glad that I thought for myself at the time. It was an important learning experience for my eighteen year old self. Twelve years later, I still think that it was wrong to go into Iraq and that America did so under false pretenses.

As an American living in Ukraine during a Russian invasion, I am shocked how few Americans care about what is happening. I hear many people say that it was wrong to get into Iraq, and we shouldn't get involved in any other countries because of that. I agree that America has made mistakes in its past, but does that justify doing absolutely nothing internationally because of that? Anyway, if you were against going into Iraq because of false pretenses, shouldn't you be against Russia invading Ukraine for similarly fabricated reasons?

As an example of the kind of people I'm talking about, take two blogs that I used to follow--those of James Howard Kunstler and John Michael Greer. The former blog is about American culture, and the latter is about cheap oil and the end of the industrial era. Neither of these writers is an expert on Ukraine, and I doubt if either of them have actually been here. But all of a sudden, they sure had a lot to say about the country.

Here's a particularly sloppy argument that Kunstler makes (and callers to talk radio make all the time):

"War hawk kibitzers on the sidelines (e.g. The New York Times) are making a big deal of the 40,000 Russian troops marshaled around the border of eastern Ukraine. So what? That’s just a few thousand more than the 33,000 US troops deployed to Afghanistan, America’s current “nation-building” project."

In short: America does bad things, why can't other countries do bad things? Inherent in Kunstler's argument is the idea that what Russia is doing is wrong, he just doesn't care. In another post, here's how he characterizes Ukraine:

"Really, the best outcome for western Europe would be a return to the prior condition of Ukraine as a mute bearskin rug with oil and gas pipelines running through it to the oil and gas starved West."
About a year ago, when I was still a reader of his blog, I suggested in the comments section that Kunstler was getting basic information about Ukraine wrong. I also saw little evidence of original ideas in his posts about Ukraine. Most of what he was saying was simply regurgitated from Kremlin propaganda. It was strange for me to have someone sitting in New York tell me what was happening in my own country.

I normally wouldn't write in the comments section of a blog so disconnected from reality, but I was a follower of the blog up until that point. I commented because I was disappointed to see someone who I respected as a thinker get so many things wrong about a subject I obviously knew more about. A couple people responded reasonably, but I was told by one person, "You people should watch out because Russia will take all of the country--even western Ukraine."

Of course, many Americans don't even think it's possible that Ukrainians were responsible for the revolution. John Michael Greer is against helping Ukraine in any way because America actually did all the work here:

"The current Ukrainian regime, installed by a US-sponsored coup and backed by NATO, means to Russia precisely what a hostile Canadian government installed by a Chinese-sponsored coup and backed by the People’s Liberation Army would mean to the United States." (source)
What a glib assessment of what happened here! Ukrainians didn't stand for months on end on the Maidan. They didn't get tortured, beaten and executed by the police. A hundred protesters weren't shot by snipers in the middle of the eighth most populated city in Europe. America did it! Where's our thank you, you good for nothing peasants??

Quite honestly, I'm so sick of the smug attitude many Americans have about Ukraine that I can't even think about it anymore. Here is how things appear to me. As the protests were heating up through the winter of 2013 into 2014, there was very little American news coverage of the protests (save for On Point with Tom Ashbrook, a daily radio news program from NPR and WBUR). When the revolution reached a crescendo, I was deafened by the silence of American media. I wrote to many of my favorite radio shows and asked, "Um, do you guys know there is a revolution happening in Europe right now? Are you not aware of it or are you purposefully ignoring the events?" To their credit, Wisconsin Public Radio did do a show on Ukraine a few days after I wrote to them. I'm not sure if it was because of me, but either way, I count that as a good thing.

Another show I wrote to, On the Media, also finally ended up covering Ukraine for a few minutes of their hour long program. However, most of what they said focused on "right wing" groups involved in the protests. Again, as someone living here, I was confused. They only gave a few minutes to Ukraine and when they did, they talked about the right wing in Ukraine?? In the elections that followed the revolution, neither of the right wing parties got the 5% of the vote they needed to pass the threshold and gain seats in Ukraine's parliament. On the other hand, France, the darling of many American liberals, has been moving in a much different direction. The leader of France's xenophobic right wing party, Marine Le Pen, would win the country's presidential elections if recent polls are correct.

To sum up, I watched the American news media largely ignore Ukraine for as long as they could. When Americans finally started talking about the events, they got basic information wrong, insulted the country, and made bad arguments.

I look at Americans, the people I used to live among on a daily basis, much differently now. I wonder what they think of Yulia and I as Ukrainians. What kind of crazy, misinformed notions do they have of us? How many people have we known who would rather Ukraine just be crushed under Putin's heel? It's a strange feeling, but like I mentioned earlier, I read and respected the thoughts of two intellectuals (even linked to their blogs on our page here) only to find that they could care less about the place we call home.

Thankfully, not all Americans are so clueless. In my opinion, Timothy Snyder, an American historian, is forming a new way of thinking about the changes happening in Europe--both in the EU and outside of it. Here's what he had to say at a recent conference in Germany (He starts speaking at 17:05):

"The propaganda which has been loosed upon you, and, with which the German press and German intellectuals have so earnestly engaged in the last year, is meant to be contradictory. It's meant to make it impossible to think. If I say, as Russian propaganda has said, that there is no Ukrainian state, but the Ukrainian state is oppressive; there's no Ukrainian nation, but all Ukrainians are nationalists; there's no Ukrainian language, but Russians are being forced to speak it; and if I'm a pro-fascist anti-fascist, I am filling your minds with things that contradict, and the worrying thing is how little we have noticed this."
I think Snyder is out ahead of the pack here, and it may be some time until everybody else catches up. To hit the point home, he concludes by pointing out just how successful the Kremlin has been in the EU and what an utter failure it has had in Ukraine itself:

"In the last year--and now I believe I'm speaking from the Kremlin's point of view...things have gone much worse than expected. Kharkiv is still in Ukraine. Odessa is still in Ukraine. Even a good deal of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are still in Ukraine. There's no way the Russian offensive was about getting bits of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the Crimea. It was much, much more ambitious than that. Things have gone, for the Russians, worse in Ukraine than they've expected. But the propaganda tactics that were applied to you, that were applied to Europe, these have worked much better than expected...So Europe has proven to be a softer target than Ukraine."
It's been a while now since I've been in the US. And it's been even longer since I've been to western Europe. But from my perspective here in Ukraine, I do get the sense that the West has been had. I get the sense that Ukraine is a much more exciting place to be living right now. I think it's at the forefront of some big changes that will effect not only it, but all of Europe as well. The West still has its money and comfort, but it has taken on a sluggish complacency along with it. I look forward to positive change on the horizon for us in Ukraine, and we will know that it has been hard fought. It may even lead the way for the rest of Europe in the future.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As of lately ~ in pictures

Last week we had some special guests here in Ukraine. It was our family ;) (Hello! O&Z) They were in Lviv for a short time, but wanted to see and do as much as possible. We suggested the Lviv Opera Theater, since they've never been there. We ended up seeing Die Fledermaus (The Bat) or летюча миша in Ukrainian. The operetta was funny! Everyone did a marvelous job. After seeing this operetta, Michael and I decided that we need to go to the Opera theater more often. Once we have more time, we definitely will. Our family also enjoyed it and wanted to go back there the next day!
At the entrance hall of the Opera Theater. People always take pictures there. I don't blame them, it's a beautiful space!
Dining out was another thing we did a lot of while our family was here. Michael and I don't get to do it very often and having them here gave us an excuse to go out for lunch or dinner, or maybe even both. We visited our regular spots, such as Green and Veronica's. We like going to those places, because we are confident in finding delicious and nutritious plant based dishes there. However, we think we discovered yet another favorite -- Amadeus. It has the same owners as Veronica's. The decor and the menus were, indeed, very similar. Our family had been there before. They stumbled upon it on their last trip to Lviv and had nothing but good things to say about it. We are happy to have agreed to visit it with them this time. We feasted on delicious green salads with sunflower sprouts and pea shoots, green curry and poppy seed varenyky.
The picture above is of the panting that hung by our table at Amadeus. Her name is Anna D'Austria Regina Gatta IX and she has a cat babe? Bizarre and cute! 
This year nature gifted us with another early and warm spring. Therefore, I happily started planting in our vegetable garden. It feels soooo good to dip my hands in the soil and dream of all the veggies we will soon have :) Pictured above are two of our small seabuckthorn beds. We have 12 of them lined up. We built these by encircling our seabuckthorn trees with some rocks we found around the property and adding compost. These two have been planted with mache salad, turnips, lettuce, garlic chives and more. I had to put some branches/sticks around the beds to keep cats and chickens out. Our cats love using fresh soil as their toilet. And although we don't own any chickens, the adventurous chicken from next door always finds her way into our garden. Later, it's a big drama trying to get her out. She always seems to forget her way back home. 
This long bed was planted with fava beans, carrots, beets, spinach, different lettuces, greens, and dill. We have four such beds in the veggie garden.
Two more composting bins were added. The way we garden requires a lot of compost and our household also produces a lot of organic waste--kitchen scraps, garden clippings, other organic materials etc., so having large composting bins is a must for us. (or any gardener, for that matter)
Our pond is still waiting to be be finished. The previous owner dug it up (by-hand!) and started lining it with rocks. He was hoping to connect it to the natural spring, which runs not too far from us. However, one of the neighbors didn't want the pipe to go through his property, so he put a stop to the project. We will have to figure something out in the near future and turn this into a nice water feature. 
Home remodeling continues. Work is being done in our last room. We are dividing our bedroom in half, in order to have enough room for a bathroom and a closet. This shot shows the future bathroom area.
Michael working hard, as always. 
And the wall is up. Drywall was used to construct it. Although, not our kind of building material, but the previous owner had bought it, so we decided to put it to good use. 
Spring is moving forward. We're discovering more flowers, like this Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis).
It's time to gather medicinal herbs again. It is my first year harvesting coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) flowers. We have a small patch of  them growing on our property. These are some of the earliest flowers in the spring. The flowers come up first and the bees love to visit them. Later, once the flowers are done blooming, the leaves appear. I will collect those also and combine them with the blooms to make tea. 
And more crocuses. These are quite large in comparison to the other ones. Also, beloved by our bees. 
There is also some flowering happening inside the house, Bright red flowers add cheer to our veranda.

We hope you're enjoying spring as much as we are!


Monday, March 16, 2015

DIY Home Repair Videos

If you are new to home repair and need a place to find instruction and how-to videos, I have found this site useful: The host, Dominick Amorosso, makes short videos that focus on one aspect of a job at a time.

For example, Yulia and I have some drywall that was already in the house when we moved in. We may have never thought of using it before we came here. But since it is here, we figured we might as well put it to use.

Since I don't know left from right when it comes to drywall, I found Amorosso's videos really helpful. In this one, he talks about how to install a corner bead:

I'll keep this one short. Just thought I'd share this in case there's anyone else out there taking on similar projects.