Saturday, November 15, 2014

A series of well put-together cats

Our two cats were born just two days after arriving in Ukraine in 2011 when Yulia's grandmother's cat had kittens. Ever since we started this blog I've been wanting to dedicate a post just to here it is.

Introducing Laska:

And Levko:

Their arrival in the world coincided with our arrival in Ukraine. Therefore, we cannot conceive of being here without them. They have been our companions ever since we moved here.

Their names are both Ukrainian. Yulia chose the name, Laska, and I chose Levko. Laska means both tenderness and affection and, interestingly enough, weasel. Levko is a man's name in Ukrainian, but it also translates to "little lion." I had a little lion stuffed animal when I was very young, and so I sort of named Levko after him.

Levko shortly after opening his eyes
He had such beautiful blue eyes as a kitten!
Laska was pretty darn cute too!

Levko and Laska are a never ending source of entertainment. Levko has no shortage of funny faces. From scary serial killer looks...

to affectionate hugs with his sister.

We didn't force them to pose like this. They did this naturally. We swear!
He is very expressive. We can look at him and know just what words are going through his head.

"Who put me in this oven???" (He crawled in there by himself)

"What is that apparatus in your hand?"

"What--you've never seen anyone sleep in an overturned hamper balanced on a pile of sand before??"

Laska is the relative vegetarian of the pair. Along with meat and cat food, she will steal cucumbers and persimmons from the table. 

Laska snacking on a persimmon

While Levko is the more rugged of the two (I found him sleeping on a pile of nails in the garage once), Laska cannot take such a beating. She's the one that will perch on our windowsill and look in at us staying warm by the fire on cold, rainy days. It's hard for us to resist letting her in...until she swipes a persimmon from the table. She would look particularly battered after I gave the cats flee baths when they were young. 

Sorry darling! We did it because we care about you!

Agile Laska also prefers stalking small flashy objects such as ribbon on a string or a wiggling finger.

She'll jump four feet in the air to catch it and then growl at Levko to stay away from her kill. As adults here in the countryside she goes for mice and salamanders. Levko prefers big game such as hamsters, rats, and, no kidding, small hares and weasels! One day Yulia informed her parents and me that, "Левко вбив ласку" ("Levko killed laska" [remember laska is both our cat's name and weasel). We had to pause for a second. 

"What? ... Seriously??" Yulia's dad asked. Either Laska the cat or a weasel were equally improbable to us. It ended up being a weasel and not our cat.

In conclusion, we think Levko and Laska have made us cat people. Take a look at this picture.

I woke up one morning and decide to make Yulia breakfast in bed. I was on a sourdough bread/pretzel kick at the time. So what did I decide to make Yulia? Something resembling a heart and two cat heads (Yulia had already eaten the "I" and "U" shaped pretzels by the time this picture was taken).

I think it's pretty safe to say that these furry little creatures have penetrated our psyche. They have made our lives so much more rich and interesting since their arrival. The good news for them is that, sometimes, all they have to do is just sit there to get the job done.

Laska and Levko's eye

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Health and sickness

Getting into the water at Rakovets Spring just outside of Lviv. People say that wading in the water here is healing.

Before I met Yulia in my mid twenties it was common for me to get sick. Most of the time I would just get colds, but I also experienced maladies like strep throat, the flu, and shingles. I considered getting sick several times a year normal.

I have always been interested in healthy eating, but I was usually a couple steps away from health. I knew eating fruits and vegetables was important, for example, and considered microwavable dinners and pasta sauce to be a good source of these foods. Microwavable meals usually have a section with vegetables (and a fruit cobbler for dessert), and pasta sauce is made out of blended tomatoes, peppers, and other healthy things (I thought). I was definitely consuming a proper balance of grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs--just like the food pyramid taught us in school. Nonetheless, I didn't realize that I wasn't as healthy as I could be.

But an interesting thing happened after I met Yulia--I stopped getting sick. After we started living together, doing laundry together, traveling together, and doing pretty much everything together, it only followed that we ate together. I adopted some of Yulia's ways--eating wholes foods instead of packaged foods, and Yulia adopted some of my ways--going out to eat very often. This eventually blended into a new way of eating that made sense for the both of us. Even though I was eating a balance of foods before I met Yulia, there were many, many foods that I ate and Yulia didn't.

Yulia didn't drink alcohol much, for example, and she didn't like being around people who drank a lot. Although I was fond of drinking at the time, I figured that cutting down so that I could date the most beautiful and interesting women I had ever met was an acceptable trade off. Although Yulia would drink a little here and there when I first met her, we don't drink at all at this point in our lives.

Yulia didn't eat any processed foods and food additives. When we would go shopping together, and I would get something that had these things in it, she would point them out to me on the ingredients list. What she said made sense to me. What good do artificial flavors do to your body, anyway? People have lived for a long time without them. Surely it would be possible for me to survive, so I gave it a try.

I also stopped eating meat after Yulia and I started dating. This actually wasn't a big step for me. I had dabbled in vegetarianism a few times before that, so it was easy to make the transition. For about three years now, we have also almost stopped eating dairy and eggs and have continued feeling pretty good.

I'm not sure what, exactly, contributed to my better health after making these changes, but I know that there's something about taking these things out of my life that changed me for the better. In fact, Yulia has not seen me sick the whole time she has known me.

Unfortunately, I did come down with a really bad cold and sinus infection in September. I suspect two culprits--a severe lack of sleep and an increase in the amount of junk foods I was eating.

The lack of sleep was due to a trip to Poland to pick up my car from America at a port on the Baltic Sea. I only got three hours of sleep while resting my head on my rucksack on the seat next to me while on the overnight bus there. On the drive back to Lviv I got approximately one hour of sleep. I remember dozing off before driving through Warsaw. When I woke up I could still see the glow of the city lights on the horizon. Mix that with several spoon fulls of bureaucracy induced stress, and I think that sets up pretty good conditions for a weakened immune system.

But although I suspect a lack of sleep to be one of the reasons why I got sick, I don't think it's the main reason why. I've dealt with heaps of stress and no sleep in the period I've known Yulia and never came down with a cold as a result of that. It makes me think that the straw that broke the camel's back was the junk food that I was eating at the same time. I had to go to Poland in the middle of my parents' visit to Ukraine. For the two weeks they were here we treated everyday like a holiday. On holidays like Christmas and Easter I allow myself to eat food that I normally don't eat--things like cake, for example, that have sugar, milk, eggs, and, depending on the baker, food coloring. But I suppose that eating this way for an extended period was just too much. I should have known better, but I let myself go.

While I was sick, Yulia's parents took my parents, Yulia, and me to Rakovets Spring just outside of Lviv to enjoy some natural beauty and drink some spring water. People say that wading around the pool of spring water there is healing for all sorts of maladies. Yulia and I got in and walked around just for fun. I can't say that my sinus infection was healed, but I did feel a small sense of accomplishment after I got into the very cold water and toughed it out.  It does get easier to stay in the water after walking around the pool several times.

But what I really learned from this whole experience is that there are no quick fixes. I have found a way of living that has helped me stay healthy for long periods of time and that I should not compromise, especially when I am around people that I care about. Instead, I should probably use family get-togethers to show people how Yulia and I eat and live and to encourage them to try it out. If how we live works for other people, great. If not, they will hopefully be motivated to find a diet and lifestyle that work for them. I now think that it is possible for most people to make the common cold an uncommon event.

By writing this blog post I hope to reinforce my own commitment to staying on track. I hope that talking about my experience in a public way will make me less likely to slip up in the future. Secondly, this will serve as a heads up for friends and family who read this blog--so hold off on the cheesecake the next time I visit. OK? :) Lastly, I hope that all readers of this blog might take a moment and reflect on their own habits. I, by no means, am an exceptional person. I have plenty of flaws and have made plenty of mistakes in my past, but I think its worth embarrassing myself. I hope that by writing about this, others might notice similar patterns in their own lives and make some positive changes to fix their own unhealthy patterns, regardless if they are similar or different to my own.