Wednesday, July 17, 2013
My name is Michael, and my wife’s name is Yulia.
Yulia and me wearing a green clay maskI am proud to finally write that we have just moved into our first house and that we have been living here for about two weeks now. We live in a small Ukrainian village. It is located in western Ukraine. The land around here is spotted with small villages, which are scattered about the undulating countryside of fields and forests. Our village has a lovely spring that is well taken care of by the locals. In fact, an older man who lives close by has been busy at work laying down a brick-tiled sidewalk by the dirt road adjacent to the spring. As far as I can tell he is doing the work by himself using his own funds. Our village, like most Ukrainian villages, is densely settled. This leaves plenty of open space for natural fields and forests and farming around the residential core. We are within earshot of our boisterous neighbors across the street, but by the time you get to the rear edge of our property you are amidst fields and one heck of a big sky. And I’m not exaggerating. The sky here is big. Like Montana. During the day the clouds float above the crown of your head like an ethereal blanket, and at night the stars are smeared from horizon to horizon.
The big sky
Our house is an older timber framed, waddle and daub clay plastered abode. The property is beautifully adorned with flower beds, climbing grape vines, 27 apple trees among other fruit trees.
There is a half finished pond. It is half finished because, sadly, Pan Oleh died last fall while living here and making improvements to the property (Pan means mister is Ukrainian. Neither Yulia nor I knew Pan Oleh while he was alive, but we are friends with his family. I therefore use pan as a mark of respect.). He was improving and beatifying the house and landscape before inviting his wife to move out here from the city. This piece of land has belonged to his family for several generations, and Yulia and I are sincerely grateful to Oleh and his family for this gift of true potential. And that is how we think of it. As a place of true potential. Yulia and I have been planning how to continue beautifying the already beautiful place. We hope to have children here and have them grow together with all the little sprouts and mighty trees we plant.
It is about time that we write our first blog entry and get things rolling. We have been searching for a home for about two years now and have been talking about a blog for nearly as long. We want the start of our blog to correspond with the start of our life at our new home. By writing this blog we hope to get out the story of what we are doing. Yulia and I want to inspire others, tell interesting stories, discuss our family’s lifestyle and cultural musings, and attract like minded people to be our neighbors.
Yulia and I are grateful for the countless sources of inspiration we have gleaned from over the years. We have, for example, compiled a large collection of interior design and gardening photos from various websites—anything from cup holders to greenhouses. Just seeing the DIY projects from others has sparked our own inspiration and creativity. We want to pass that on.
Yulia and I are also story tellers. Yulia always says that she can make up a story extemporaneously and does it for the simple joy of storytelling itself. I think there’s something to storytelling. It makes sense that narrative is the way that people understand the world. Our lives are one big story. That is how we experience the world—as a sequence of events. Narrative applies to so much in life. I remember reading a French philosopher in graduate school who theorized that cities were literally stories. For as one walks down a street a story unfolds, and that story is the city itself. I could prattle on and on about this, but I’ll stop myself here.
What’s more important is to introduce who it is we are and what our lifestyle is like. In a nutshell, Yulia and I met on a farm in the state of Wisconsin. I think we were both searching for a way to get out of the city to a job that would require us to work outside in the fresh air. We found our similarities in gardening, eating, and the arts. We clicked by growing and eating purple potatoes (purchased from The Outpost natural food store in Milwaukee) and drinking kombucha while going to see plays for Yulia’s college drama course. While I was born in the US and Yulia was born in Ukraine, we were able to speak to each other in two languages—Ukrainian and English—right from the beginning. My grandparents immigrated to the US from Ukraine and passed on the language and culture to me. Being newcomers to our new house, Yulia and I are in a state of transition right now. And more than that, we are spread across the US and Ukraine through our families and our own experiences. We find that we are outsiders or don’t quite fit into our surrounding cultures a lot of the time. It has made us very reflexive, and we hope to share these reflections in our blog.
As opinionated, vegetarian, artistic, family oriented Ukrainian-Americans, we realize that it’s not so easy to label and understand us right away, but we also realize that we’re not quite so odd as to be completely misunderstood. We hope to use this blog to foster a cross cultural exchange on many different levels. First of all, we’d like to make sense of Ukraine to an American culture and America to a Ukrainian culture (and to those reading from outside those two countries, Ukraine and America to the rest of the world). Ukraine and America are not what they are made out to be through the lens of the media, for example. We want to portray and shape this cross cultural exchange from our own perspective. We also want to reach out to other like minded people who may share some or all of our values. We are interested in maintaining our existing relationships with other people and creating new ones. Because we are in a new house in a new place, this is very important to us at the moment. And we are serious about people visiting us, even finding new neighbors to join us. Please, let’s all keep in touch.
Lastly, I want to address why this blog is called, “MY Pichka.” First of all, “MY” is an acronym for Michael and Yulia’s. In this way, Yulia and I can each say, “It’s MY blog,” and mean that it is our blog. And pichka is the Ukrainian word for oven or, more specifically, masonry heater. The explanation for this involves a short back story. When Yulia reads, she often reads out loud to me. That way, as she puts it, she can talk about what she’s reading with someone and feel like a more active, rather than a passive, reader. She often will come across a writer who uses French words in the middle of an English text and remarks on how odd it is that French is one of the few languages (Latin is another one of these, of course) which is permissible to insert in an English text. In some cases, it’s stylistic. In others, an elitist form of bragging. And sometimes there is no good English word to use that has the same definition as the French meaning. Yulia mentioned that we should start doing that with Ukrainian. So here is our first attempt at it. Pichka is a traditional brick or earthen oven used to cook in and heat homes in Ukraine. It is often the centerpiece of the home, quite large and used for multiple purposes (like drying fruit and sleeping). It is not quite the oven one would find under a gas range, nor is it, say, a pot belly or cast iron stove. The English word, masonry heater, is a bit too clunky and awkward for my taste. It lacks the brevity and cuteness inherent in pichka. And the word pichka is very similar to the Ukrainian words pachka and kachka, two of the many nicknames Yulia and I dotingly call each other. This only adds a more personal relevance to the word pichka for us. We therefore recommend people start using the word pichka in a tongue and cheek attempt to introduce it to the English language. This blog will be our pichka, a gathering place for friends and family, full of warmth and domesticity.