Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peaceful protests in Ukraine met with violence

Yulia and I traveled to Lviv yesterday to take part in the human chain that would connect Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, with the Polish border.
Yulia and her dad upon arrival at the chain

At the chain
The chain was supposed to be a sign of support for the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at the summit in Vilnius yesterday. It was a pretty big deal considering that the Associate Agreement would not even guarantee Ukrainian membership into the EU. The agreement was, unfortunately, not signed.

Since we got back home from the human chain last night a lot has happened in Ukraine. "Shuster Live," a Russian language news program that has a pro-government slant, aired its last episode last night. The show was supposed to feature the three leaders of the united opposition. But when it came time to broadcast the politicians and their opinions on the Association Agreement not being signed the TV channel suddenly played a serial drama instead. "According to lawmaker Iryna Herashchenko’s Facebook page, when lawmakers from the ruling Party of Regions learned that the opposition leaders had entered the studio, they blocked the doors from opening, saying that they weren’t on the list of guests tonight," says the Kyiv Post

This is exactly the kind of antics that the protests are about. Instead of being sure in their positions, the government and its puppet journalists instead censor all opinions other than their own. 

We also learned that the opposition will be holding a rally on Sunday (tomorrow). According to the Kyiv Post, they want to:
1. Form a coordinating committee to communicate with the European community.
2. To state that the president, parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers aren’t capable of carrying out a geopolitically strategic course of development for the state and calls on Yanukovych’s resignation.
3. Demand the cessation of political repressions against EuroMaidan activists, students, civic activists and opposition leaders.
 But this morning we heard very disturbing news coming out of Kyiv. At four in the morning, police starting beating protesters and journalists to disperse the Euro Maidan site.

And see this video by Reuters:

The US government has vowed that the Ukrainian government will face serious repercussions if they use force against the protesters. Well, they already have as of four o'clock this morning. 

Please help us try and right the wrong that the Ukrainian government has done to its own people. We love Ukraine and want to see it have a bright future. 

To help, please sign the petition to US President Barack Obama to impose sanctions against the Ukrainian government. There are other petitions as well. Please see our Twitter feed on our blog for those and other updates about the developing situation here. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Євромайдан: The pro-EU protests in Ukraine

In an earlier post, I wrote about the transformative power of art. I argued that Ukrainian society, specifically, needs a complete reset if the country is going to change for the better. I didn't know how prescient I was being. It seems that Ukrainians have realized that the only path to meaningful change is through a reboot--that is, a revolution.

Last week, the Ukrainian president suddenly reversed his pro-EU speech. He had a mysterious meeting with Vladimir Putin. No one knows what was discussed during that meeting. All anyone knows is that when he came back to Ukraine he was no longer sure he wanted to sign the Associate Agreement with the EU.

That was evidently the last straw for Ukrainian citizens. It seems that they have had enough of other countries dictating what Ukraine should do. Since Thursday night, there have been protests all across the country--and all across the world, in fact! People have been protesting in countries like India, Canada, South Korea, Great Britain, the United States, and the Czech Republic. These protests are called Євромайдани or "Eurosquares" (as in town square). The aim of these protests is to show the government and the whole world that Ukrainian citizens want to integrate into the EU. Ukrainians seem to have realized that deep change is needed in order to do this.

Yulia and I agree, and we attended the Євромайдан in Lviv yesterday. It seemed to be less of a protest and more of a rally. The local government is on the side of the protesters. Lviv is generally a pro European city (a European city is probably more accurate). Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor, even spoke at the meeting. See our video, an excerpt from his speech, on YouTube.  

"The EU is in Ukraine," is what this sign on city hall seems to be saying.

The goddess Diana is also pro-EU

Yulia and I just signed up for Twitter, and we have noticed what a big role it has played in these protests. Since Thusday, Twitter has been flooded with messages about Євромайдани across Ukraine and the world.

About two hours ago, there was a spike in tweets. I watched in real time as people called for help in a clash against riot police. They sent pictures and videos from Kyiv. Here is a video that shows the scuffle unfold (fast forward to minute 43 for the fight). Police hit protesters with billy clubs and used tear gas to try and disperse the crowd. The protesters are serious though, and they stood their ground. I am proud to write that the police ended up retreating.

The police, in fact, have been acting against the interests of the citizens they are supposed to be protecting. I read an article in the Kyiv Post that describes how they protected the statue of Vladimir Lenin in Kyiv. Protesters tore down a tent that is manned by the Communist Party of Ukraine. Representatives from the communist party have been keeping watch by the statue 24 hours a day since it was vandalized in 2009. The protesters then attempted to destroy the monument, but the police protected it.

It's odd to me that they protect a piece of rock, but beat living people. And this isn't even a statue of a Ukrainian. It makes the police (and the president, for that matter) seem like they are foreign occupiers. The statue is in a public space. If the public does not want it there, then it should be taken down. It should not be imposed on Ukrainians in their own capital.

I'll hold off on making any conclusive comments just yet. I'm sure there's more news to come. We'll have to wait and see how this all ends.

If you are interested in seeing a live video feed from the protests in Kyiv, see this site.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Сьогодні не забудьте!! Свічка пам'яті жертвам голодомору 1932-1933рр. 


Today don't forget!! Candle for Holodomor Victims 1932-1933.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Images of America: Our visit from Ukraine

Yulia and I have been living in Ukraine since the summer of 2011. About a year ago (November of 2012), we decided to go back to America to spend the winter and spring there. We decided to work on several farms while in the States in order to get more experience with gardening and to spend the winter in a warmer place than Ukraine. We wanted to get this experience before moving into our own home, which we planned to do in the spring of 2013.

I'd like to devote this post to discussing our experience of America during those months. As you may already know, I was born in America, and Yulia lived there for 11 years. We intimately know what life is like in the US. We went to school there, worked there, and got married there. But after spending a year and a half in Ukraine, we visited America and saw it with new eyes.

We'd like to reflect on this experience before our memories become too distant. Seeing America from a Ukrainian's perspective was enlightening for us. Most people in Ukraine have an unrealistically positive image of the US. They think that life there is better, that everything is just easier. We came to Ukraine with an image of America that we had developed from first hand experience. But after living in Ukraine for over a year, the life is so much better "over there" mantra of Ukrainians started to seep into our psyche. We began to question ourselves: Did we actually make the right decision in moving to Ukraine?

Our trip to America gave us our answer. We realized that we had made the right decision in moving to Ukraine.

That does not mean that we totally hate America. In fact, there are some aspects of America that we want to bring to Ukraine.We'll write about that and our trip to the US in general through a series of textual snapshots or images. These are our reflections on America:

"Hi, how are you?" a cashier at a small organic grocery store asked me.

I hesitated for a second as I walked into the store.  "Is he actually curious as to how I am feeling?" I wondered. I then remembered that "How are you?" means "Hello" in America. I said, "Great," and smiled. That also means "Hello." At this moment I realized that I was seeing America from the eyes of an outsider. What was once commonplace had become foreign.

The first shock Yulia and I experienced after arriving in the US was the grass. Instead of gardens of flowers and vegetables and fruit bearing trees planted everywhere, we saw grass. It encompassed all the land around people's houses in some cases. The grass was neat, shortly trimmed and green, but it seemed to be merely a filler. No one used the grass for any purpose. We didn't see families having picnics on it or children playing American football here. It is just the next best thing to bare earth.

This is saddening. It shows a total lack of imagination and care for outdoor space. Each household has a plethora of space between it and the road-- and between it and other houses. However, this space is void of anything at all (besides grass) so that the effect is that each house is plainly visible from just about everywhere. The ample setback from the street accomplishes nothing. The noise of cars speeding by is not softened by anything. The neighbor's house a quarter of a mile away is clearly visible. Nothing to fill the empty space here either. So why the setbacks and enormous lawns?

In Ukraine, if there is a field of grass, either cows graze on it or children play soccer here. Empty space by the roadside is dedicated to rosehips, hawthorn, and fruit trees. The land around someone's house is planted with fruits and vegetables. At its worst it is planted with monocultures of potatoes and corn, but it is not left idle. 

We spent several months on the west coast, in California and Oregon. Here we were overwhelmed by a plethora of another kind of grass--the kind you smoke. Pot seemed to permeate the very culture there. We had not heard so much talk about pot since high school. Yulia and I do not smoke, and we don't feel we have the right to tell others what to do (just as we dislike others telling us what to do), so we won't prate on the reasons not to smoke.

Our main question is (and this is for the establishment as much as it is for the pot counter culture); why is growing medical marijuana legal while the growing of industrial hemp is illegal? Industrial hemp is not a drug. It will only give you a headache if you smoke it. It is sort of a wonder plant though. It is easy to grow. The seeds are really nutritious--and tasty too! They can be eaten whole or made into an oil. Hemp can also be used as a fiber for textile purposes or used to make paper. It doesn't destroy the soil like cotton and it doesn't take as long as a tree to grow to maturity.

One thing Americans can learn from Ukrainians is how to dress in public. One does not need to wear a top hat and cane, but some sense of decorum should be established while in public in America.

The first store we went to was Wal Mart. It was a complete shock. Here we are back in the richest country in the world. The roads, even in the countryside, might as well be made of glass they are so smooth. Most houses must have running water by law. Horses and wagons can only be found in Amish country.

One would think that in such a highly "developed" society (as Americans like to describe it), people would be immaculately dressed too. This is not the case. As Yulia describes it, people go to the store dressed like Ukrainians do when they dig potatoes.

I have my theories on this. Poor dress may be a misplaced way of displaying how modest and humble people are. The reasoning goes, they must wear sweatpants in public to show that they are just "average Joes." Putting on a clean pair of trousers would unnecessarily elevate them in the eyes of others.

It may also be a product of Americans' extreme reliance on cars to transport them from place to place. You do not have to walk through mud puddles in a car. You do not have to brave the weather in a car. Therefore, the clothes you wear do not matter. You are eternally in a climate controlled environment.

It must be said, this is specific to location. We found that the best dressed people were in New York City. They were not Wall Street bankers, but "average" people on the subway. The well dressed people were of all ages and races. In New York City one usually does not use a car. One has to walk on muddy sidewalks and through the rain and snow to get from place to place. It wouldn't make sense to wear pajama pants while waiting for the bus because those pajama pants would be completely infused with automobile fumes by the end of the day. Best to have a separate outfit for going outdoors.

Yulia and I were very excited to go to New York City's "Green Market." The Green Market is a very large farmers market located at Union Square. I first learned about the Green Market through John McPhee's piece, "Giving Good Weight." The article, written in the 1970s, describes the market as a place where farmers come to the city to people watch. He makes the social dynamic seem very interesting. The farmers seem to be self assured and full of common sense while the city slicker customers come off as naive and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Having fallen in love with Ukrainian bazaars I wanted to see this famous market and what it had to offer.

Yulia doublefisting smoothies at the Green Market

It was a rather large market with lots of fresh vegetables even in November, which was nice! But it became a bit odd when Yulia had bagged up some sweet potatoes and was looking for the seller. He or she was nowhere to be seen. She meandered around the tables, looking for someone with a scale and cash box. No one presented themselves. She said a man surreptitiously took some pictures of her. She didn't know what to think of that. When she finally found a seller, he informed us that those veggies were not his. He sent us over to a man sitting off to the side. He was the man taking the pictures! He didn't say anything, but weighed the potatoes and that was it.

It was very odd. It was as if he was trying to catch Yulia shoplifting. Wouldn't it have made more sense to just say, "You can pay for that over here." These were not the folksy and down to earth farmers that McPhee portrays. I realized that they were just smug.

The rest of the market was like this too--with mystery produce sellers. One would think that at such a large and famous market the sellers would have a better system down for payment. Yulia and I have been to farmers markets all across the country and we didn't see anything else so confusing.

We met a lot of people in America who had a close connection to the land around them. My parents and their friends have serious gardens, orchards, and apiaries at their homes in Pennsylvania. They live in an old Ukrainian community where wild strawberries and mulberries grow by the roadside and where houses once occupied by old Ukrainian immigrants have orchards. We also met and lived with many farmers who have a similar connection to the land. In South Carolina we saw a culture that was seriously into hunting. Before we left for Ukraine (the first time) we took a course at the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. They use local materials like clay, sand, and wood in their architecture.

The inside of the library at the Cob Cottage Company. I don't think the lumber used for the ceiling was purchased at Lowe's!

But many other times we felt completely disconnected from the land (that is, nature) around us. On more than a few occasions we went to a beautiful place only to be greeted by the dreaded sign: "Fee Area." While driving in Arizona, bored by monotony, we were thrilled to find that we were near Meteor Crater. After driving off the highway for fifteen minutes we arrived in the parking lot to learn that we had to pay $18 to see the crater.

The visitors center that blocks the view of Meteor Crater

The vast emptiness that drove us to exit the freeway and see something interesting
On occasion we did pay the fee whenever we planned a trip somewhere, but this eliminates spontaneity. It makes it difficult to just come across something and discover it. If we did "discover" someplace it usually turned out to be private property where we were not supposed to be. To us, making nature into a fee area or private property creates a sense of separation from the world around us. Nature becomes something apart from everyday life, compartmentalized in an invisible box.

Boxes seem to be a major theme in the American imagination. The big boxes, in fact, have taken over the American landscape. To anybody who has not seen America, this is what it looks like regardless of the state you are in:

Notice the "Best Buy" electronics store. That is what a big box store looks like. Although it is on the horizon, it is actually only two doors down from the hotel we were staying at (where the picture was taken from).

This was not a new discovery for us, but we have noticed that this pattern of building is being adopted in Ukraine too. There are now places in Lviv that look just like this American moonscape.

So this is my message to those living in America: please, please, please think about the kind of places you are creating. They are not only being replicated across the country, but across the world. Other countries, like Ukraine, unquestioningly use all things American as an example to follow. That goes from mundane strip malls to the corrupt banking practices of the "too big to fail" banks. Make sure the American example you create is a good one. It has worldwide ramifications.


We saw some wonderful things in America too.

A few days after arriving back in Ukraine and moving into our new home, our friend Taras brought his family and some new friends to see our house. They were interested in the experience we had working on small farms in the States and inquired about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business model. A CSA, for those who are unfamiliar, is a practice whereby customers buy products directly from the farm. The customers usually pay a sum of money before the season starts to help the farmer with start up costs. Then, during the growing season, the customer receives a box of fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs--I've even heard of fish CSAs in Massachusetts--every week.

Our friends wondered if this was true. Do customers in America really trust farmers enough to pay them up front for vegetables? We assured them that this was true. It was wonderful to realize that this system of trust exists in the States. It is something that we take for granted. We hope that this mentality is eventually exported and adopted by skeptical Ukrainians.

American friendliness is, in our opinion, one of the treasures of the country. We also would like to see this American export in Ukraine.

The best example of American amiability that we saw was in South Carolina. Descending from the Smoky Mountains into the hills of Upcountry South Carolina, we stopped by a roadside produce stand by the highway. Here we bought ourselves some wonderful local pecans and fudge (candy is a rare purchase for us) that were the epitome of real ingredients and authenticity. The shopkeeper was an older man with suspenders. "Come on back now," was the only thing he said after we made our purchase.

We worked on a small farm near Greenville, South Carolina. The city itself is making wonderful renovations to the city. It has revitalized its main street, making it super pedestrian friendly. Traditional American main streets, though a bit of a nostalgic cliche, are one of the best inventions of American city planning. We were heartened to see one thriving so well.

How Greenville is rehabilitating bad city planning. They have created a garden space free of automobiles under the elevated highway that cuts through the heart of the city.
The character of the people in Greenville matches the warmth of the city's revitalization. I was in a grocery store there where a man needed to get by me. "Excuse me, sir. Thank you, sir," is what he said. He was twice my age. The "sirs" were not a sign that he thought I was old, but simply a gesture of respect towards a stranger.

Ukrainians remain very closed off towards strangers until they know who they are. This is bad if you are a stranger, but good if you are not. Once a Ukrainian knows that you are a friend or family--watch out! Expect a table full of a family's finest foods and plenty of cheerful conversation. Ukrainian hospitality rivals that of Southerners, though it is not meted out as freely.

We met many new and interesting people during our trip to America. To write about them all would be too much for this post. One person, however, stood out to us as an inspiration for the kind of people Yulia and I want to be.

We only spent a few hours with this man, but we were able to see the good life he was trying to lead despite his limitations. His name is Eugene, and he worked for a date farmer in the desert of southern California. We met him while working on this farm.

We were rather isolated where we were in Imperial County, the poorest county in California. We were a two hour drive from the affluence (and natural grocery stores) of Palm Springs. Although he did not have a car and had little income, Eugene was able to live a remarkably healthy lifestyle. He had much experience as a raw food chef and knew what he was doing. He was quite the resourceful person, in fact. Eugene used the supply of dates he had access to in order to make a fermented beverage similar to kombucha. He had a mini fridge full of these drinks. Although the soil here was too sandy and the climate too harsh for a conventional vegetable garden, he grew his own micro greens. He sprouted sunflower seeds and made wonderful salads with them. He made up his own salad dressing too using the limited ingredients he had access to (like oranges and flax seeds (see post script)).

It was wonderful to see someone who did not have access to easy money or resources able to make such fine foods. In America, healthy eaters are often stigmatized as overly privileged, disconnected, and fussy people. Eugene was nothing of the sort. He had a warm heart and shared much of what he made with us although he had little for even himself. He wrote up several of his recipes for us so that we could make similar food for ourselves.

Too often, Ukrainians think that life is better "over there," meaning in the US or other rich countries. What Yulia and I want to adopt and show through example is Eugene's perspective--that you create the kind of life you want to live despite external circumstances.

When Ukrainians ask me if life is better "over there"--just as Myron, a seventeen year old boy from our village, asked me a few days ago--I say that sometimes I think it is and sometimes I think it is not. It's an honest answer. Understanding both cultures (and others as well) will only help create the kind of world we want to live in--regardless of where we are.

PS: Eugene's Orange Flax Dressing

  • 3 peeled oranges
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1.5 cups olive oil (1 cup is enough)
  • 0.5 cup gold flax soaked in 1 cup water (do not drain)
  • 0.5 cup blanched almonds
  • 0.5 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
  • 1 tablespoon Celtic salt
  • Handful of fresh herbs--parsley/dill or parsley/tarragon
  • Black pepper to taste medium grind
Blend all ingredients holding back the oil, herbs, and black pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil--turn off blender. Add herbs and pepper--pulse in. Do not over blend. Bottle and refrigerate.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Moral obligations to animals, shame, and our reflections on finding an abandoned dog

Written on Sunday, November 3rd

Yulia and I were traveling through Mount Shasta, California early this spring. While we were there we took a ride up the majestic mountain and found ourselves in a fairy tale wonderland.

Mount Shasta

The view from Mount Shasta

Yulia, in her unceasing ability to convert beauty to action, said that the whole world once looked this way and that we can make it be that way again. She's right.

We drove up the road that winds up the 14,000 foot mountain. We made it up to Bunny Flat before the road became impassible due to snow. Here is a view from Bunny Flat. There's still a long way to go to the summit!

Bunny Flat

We stopped here to use the public restrooms and discovered an injured bird flying around the entrance to the building. We found it in a miserable state. It could not fly.

Yulia immediately said that we needed to take the bird with us. I was not so sure. I reasoned that it's a wild animal. It may have a family in the area. Blah, blah, blah. The usual excuses.

We were debating what to do when a man walked out of the restroom. The bird was sitting helpless on the ground in front of the doorway. We watched in horror as the man stepped not two inches from crushing this little animal. Both the man and the bird had no idea what almost happened!

That decided it for us. We took the bird and put it in a box. We took it to the base of the mountain where there was an animal shelter. The people at the shelter informed us that they were closed and to come back later. We told them that we had an injured bird with us and that it needed help. Without hesitation they invited us inside. A receptionist did some quick paperwork with us and a couple vets came from the back room into the lobby. Everyone seemed genuinely concerned about this little bird!

They thanked us for bringing it and said that they would return it to Bunny Flat after treating it. The receptionist gave us a big smile, clasped her hands together, and gave us a namaste bow of the head.

Everything worked in this situation. Ordinary people (Yulia and I) had the means (a car) to take this animal to safety. This small mountain town had an institution (an animal shelter) already in place to help the bird.

It was easy to do the right thing.

I am sorry to now write that we were not so helpful to a dog recently. It's not easy for me to write about this. I feel sadness. I feel shame. But it's important. I won't let my pride stop me from writing.

On November 1st Yulia woke me up to tell me that there was a dog in our back yard. I got out of bed and met her outside. Sure enough there was a dog. It had its tail between its legs. It was shivering. It was scared of us.

We reasoned that she came in through the only opening in our fence. The gate in back has been broken since we moved in.

We did not immediately coax her into going through the gate and back to where she presumably came from. She seemed in too sorry a state to simply chase her away. I brought her some cat food and placed it about 15 feet away from her. She did not go for it. I moved it a few feet closer. Still no. So I moved it to almost right under her nose. Nothing.

We left. Ten minutes later we came back to an empty bowl. She was running around beyond our fence. Problem solved, I thought. The food gave her the boost of energy she needed to go home.

Around midday we noticed that she had not left. Rather, she was milling around by our front door. I opened our front gate to let her out onto the street. I called to her. She did not budge. I tried to herd her through the gate. She went sideways instead of straight out the opening.

My neighbor across the street asked me who I was talking to. I showed him the dog and asked if he knew whose it was. He said he had never seen it before. It probably wasn't from around here. He said that it is cute and that he would take it, but he just took in an abandoned dog a few weeks ago.

He encouraged the dog to leave: "Come on out, doggy. Michael and Yulia can't keep you. They go to the city often. You wouldn't want them to leave you alone like that, would you?" Our neighbor was right. We're getting ready to go to Lviv for the next few days, in fact. We have two cats and set them up with plenty of food and a huge bowl of water when we leave. They catch mice and go potty outside. But leaving cats for a few days is one thing. Leaving a dog that we don't know all alone in our house is completely different. It would be irresponsible I think.

So I took some old oatmeal cookies and put them by the road. I figured she would take the bait and then find her way home when on the familiar street. I left the gate open for her and went about my business.

Yulia and I were sitting inside when it started to get dark out. The dog had not left. She ate the cookies and had settled onto our front stoop. I noticed that she was absolutely covered with fleas.

I do not like fleas. Two years ago, when our cats were kittens, they had a bad flea problem. We could not get a handle on it. No matter how many times we bathed them with flea shampoo we could not kick the infestation. Then fleas started appearing everywhere. In the bathroom. In the kitchen. On our bed. Yulia started getting bitten by them too. It was miserable for everybody. There was no one thing that kicked the problem finally. Ointments, shampoo, essential oils, washing the bedding, and several months eventually solved the problem.

So when I saw that this dog had a bad flea problem (she was actually whimpering because of all the little bugs), I gave her some flea ointment for cats.

I didn't have the heart to force her onto the street. It was dark out and getting cold. The dog was shivering and crying. My compassion got the best of me. I gave her some newspapers, a towel, and a box to sleep in and some warm food.

The dog slept all through the night. The next morning she woke up wagging her tail. There was a massive die off of fleas. Her bedding was covered with hundreds of them! They were on our front stoop too and on our shoes and sandals that we keep by the door. She was still scratching and biting at her legs though. They had not all died.

We led her out onto the road and closed the gate behind us. She did not leave, but sat crying in front of our house. We tried ignoring her for several hours. She did not leave. We saw our neighbor, Maria, leading her cows out to graze. I heard the dog bark at them and saw one rear up in fright. There is one stray dog in our village. When she came around, this dog and the stray started viciously barking at each other.

I told Yulia that I didn't think that this would work out. The dog was not going anywhere. If the dog hurt herself or someone else we'd have an even bigger problem. We decided to search the internet for an animal shelter in the area. The only one we could find was in Lviv. Their website says that they basically fix stray animals and then let them go. This wouldn't fix the problem of finding a home for this dog though. And who would drive an hour out from the city to pick up a dog? There are many strays in the villages around Lviv. Why would they come out for this particular one?

I decided to take a walk to the spring. If the dog followed me, I thought, maybe she would recognize her home and go there. Or maybe someone would recognize the dog, and we would find its owner. The dog followed me to the spring and back. She did not leave me. No one recognized her. This just served to break my heart more. The dog followed me like a true companion. I've never seen anyone (or anything) offer so much loyalty for so little!

But we continued to leave her on the street. Yulia and I exchanged uncertain looks with intermittent tears in our eyes the rest of the afternoon and evening.

The story doesn't end well. When it started to get dark out I went to the well to get some water for washing. I heard our neighbor yelling. He was whipping something--I'm not sure if it was an actual whip or a tree branch--at the dog. The dog frantically barked at him and ran in defense. That's the last time I saw the dog.


I am left with only uncertainty after this experience.

I don't know if our neighbor actually whipped the dog or if he whipped near the dog. They were on the other side of the fence, and I couldn't see much in the half light. I ran out to talk with him when I heard the commotion, but the neighbor ran after the dog by the time I got to the street. I might still ask him about it, though he might not want to talk about it. He called the dog cute yesterday. He has his own abandoned dog that he took in. He obviously likes the animals, so I imagine that it was hard for him to chase this one away. I'm not sure what prompted him to whip at the dog. Maybe she attacked his dog. Maybe she attacked his granddaughter who was playing out on the street. But talking about it with me might be too emotionally difficult for him. We'll see.

He was wrong to be violent though, and I'm not sure if I want to talk with him after seeing what he did. Sure, it's a means to an end. He got the dog to go when I couldn't. But that does not make it OK.

Written on Friday, November 8th

I was writing the above post last Sunday morning while Yulia was still sleeping. I was planning on writing a homily about animal cruelty. I wanted to know what you, our readers, thought about the situation.Although I consider myself a defender of animal rights, I genuinely did not know the right thing to do. Keeping the dog and ignoring it both seemed to be bad solutions.

But when Yulia woke up she asked me how the dog got back onto our property. I asked her what she was talking about, and she showed me.

The front gate was ajar and the dog was back!

I'll keep the remaining story short. We vacillated back on forth on what to do on Sunday. In the evening a neighbor came and said that he would take the dog on Monday and give it to his sister. His was a bit drunk (he even told us that he had been drinking), so we didn't know if we could trust his word.

We waited around most of Monday and left on the 3:30 bus, with regret, for our planned trip to the city. The dog was still faithfully waiting by our front gate as we drove away on the bus. The neighbor never came by.

The guilt and uncertainty was too much for me. It started raining and pouring on Monday night and I broke down in tears. I told Yulia that I couldn't take it anymore. We decided to take the dog in.

On Tuesday, armed with a collar, leash, flea shampoo, and super healthy dog food, I went back by myself to our house. The dog was no longer at the gate. I didn't feel optimistic about either scenario: either she ran away or the drunk man had taken her. I went into our back yard, teary eyed yet again, when the dog showed herself, wagging tail and all.

Friday--that is, today--she is free of fleas, has a hand made dog house and a belly full of food (and lots of high calorie butter). I constantly reassure her that she will never be cold or hungry again. We decided to name her Tulip. She faithfully sleeps by the front door every night.

Tulip--she might be part German shepherd. What do you think?

Her dog house. We expect her to get big, so we built it with plenty of growing room.

This is one heck of a smart dog! I have been able to teach her how to sit already. She likes to jump on us a lot though. Any advice on how to get a puppy to not jump on people? Can you teach us any tricks to teach her?

Tulip licking her lips. I wonder if she knows that she has a life full of lots of yummy food to look forward to?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wine making

"Why aren't you guys picking your grapes?" is the most frequent question we get at our house. Despite our neighbors' concerns that we are not harvesting the grapes, we are actually putting them to use.

Yulia and I found some large glass bottles and fermentation tubes in the attic, so we decided to make our own wine.

To make a contraption like the one pictured above takes about a full day's work.

First you pick the grapes and crush them all. I did it by hand. You could also use a press or tread on them with your bare feet if you are dealing with large volumes.

Next you put the crushed grapes, juice and all, into a bottle like the one above. Yulia's dad advised me on how to make wine, and he said that our grapes are not sweet enough. He recommended I add some sugar help feed the yeast. I dissolved several scoops of it in water and added that to the crushed grapes.

Then you let the crushed grapes and sugar sit for about a week or two, swirling the bottle every day to make sure no mold forms.

Once fermentation begins, it is time to strain the seeds and grape skins from the wine. Refill the bottle with the half fermented grape juice.

You then need to seal the bottle so that gas can escape, but not enter. I used two methods to do this. One is pictured above. I wrapped Play Dough around the special tube and sealed the mouth of the jar with it. Then I filled the u-shaped part with water (up to the round sections). You can watch the gases emitted during fermentation bubble through the tube. It's pretty neat, actually! Take a look:

The second method involves sealing a plastic tube with Play Dough. You place the end of the tube in a jar of water. It bubbles as well.

The second option

Yulia and I don't drink much, so we'll be saving it for those special occasions when we have guests...and you know what that means. We are waiting for you! So come on by!