Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Old Lady Linden

At the end of our last post I mentioned a hundreds year old linden. It's a beautiful tree that stands next to a path going through the vast fields near our village. We don't know how old it is, but it must be important to someone other than us because there is a cross next to it. In Ukraine, this usually means that something is significant.

We have more questions than we do answers about it. How old is it? How did it get into the middle of such a wide open field? Why are there no other lindens around? Did there used to be a forest here? If so, is this all that remains? Why was just this one tree left behind? ...Or did someone plant the tree a long time ago? Why did they choose this spot?

Aside from its beauty and sheer size, the other thing that attracted us to this tree was an enormous fallen limb that we noticed while exploring the thicket from the last post. We're doing our best to collect all of our own firewood this year, and, after finding this linden, we're doing a pretty good job! The dirt path was too muddy the first day we drove out to try and collect some firewood, so we had to wait for drier weather.

That's our truck on the crest of the hill. We had a hard enough time making it that far through the mud, and since the last hill was the biggest and steepest, we decided to wait. That patch of bushes on the right is the thicket from our last post.
After a few days we gave it another go. I'm glad I made sure Yulia's dad helped because, in all, we got two truckloads of wood out this fallen branch, and it was a lot of work. When you look at it, it seems that the fallen branch is just sitting there waiting for you to take it, but in reality it takes hard work, forethought, and coordination to cut it up and haul it away. The branch was unstable in many places. We had to make sure that when we started cutting, the chainsaw wouldn't get caught in between the two branches as they settled under their own weight.

While we chopped and sawed, Yulia spent her time collecting sloe, which grows along the paths next to the linden. It's best to collect it after a few frosts--otherwise it will contain a lot of tannins and make your mouth feel sucked dry when you eat it. Similar to an unripe persimmon.

It's nice to travel here just for the view. When conditions are right and the air is clear, it's possible to see the Carpathian mountains from here. Not on this trip though, but still a great view!

Some of it was easy work--nice, fat pieces of wood waiting to be plucked and taken away.

Other times we needed to stop, think, and scratch our heads before making the next cut.

A random skull we found made for good photos.

The harvest was good...

...both fruit and wood!

We found this birch on another excursion. The wood is so beautiful that I don't think Yulia wants to actually use it as firewood! Makes a better prop!
The linden branch has had some time to cure, so it's good to burn right away--though a few pieces could still use some time to dry. To be sure, linden is a softwood, so it won't burn as hot as ash or oak, but we find it gets the job done. We basically followed what this firewood website says about linden (referred to as basswood on the site):

I would not turn down a free load of basswood firewood.  The real decision is how much effort should you put in to cutting, splitting and stacking the wood if it's not free and already processed.
I hate to see any tree just rot in the woods especially if I can find a use for it.  If the tree is already down, easy to get to and still in good shape I'll cut it up and burn it.  
That was our situation. The limb has been down for some time, and it's right next to the road.

I find that it burns well and produces a wonderful aroma. I can even smell it outside.

That's our woodpile (pre-linden). The linden filled in the remaining space here. On the left are some ash branches that we bought from a neighbor for five dollars in the spring. On the bottom right is the cherry we found in the thicket, and above that is an acacia that should be cured--just a little wet on top from rain. We have a whole other wood pile about the same size next to this made of freshly fallen wood. We'll let that cure for a little before using it. 

Thank you, old lady Linden! May you live for many more years to come!

Monday, November 30, 2015

A two minute drive into the vast, open fields near our village...

A two minute drive into the vast, open fields near our village...

brought us to this lonesome thicket.

Not much to see from the outside. We thought the most interesting treasures were the ones that we could first see. A great hawthorn...

...(here it is again)...

and this dried up old pond.

To the left--a field. To the right--a field.

But the inside was a world of its own!

Moss and ferns--in the middle of this place??

Yes. Even an old cherry cut down in years past. They wanted the trunk, but left the big branches. So we brought home the harvest.

There are worlds within worlds when you take the time to look.

On to the hundreds year old linden. Yes. Right there. Up top. The one you're looking at. That's it.

But that's a topic for another post...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Problems which lead to solutions which lead to problems

By Michael

In two and a half years of living here in our Ukrainian village, we've had more than enough of our fair share of electronics that have broken. I could go through the list, but that would just be too depressing--for me. To give you an idea of the kinds of things I'm talking about though, we've had vacuum cleaners and blenders break or stop working seemingly out of nowhere.

As I frequently admit on this blog, I am not a handyman, but my knowledge of all things home repair is growing. When we first arrived here I at least had some experience from wood and metal shop in junior high school. I am naturally interested in building things with my hands, and when I was younger I enjoyed sawing wood and creating things in my parents' basement.

Unfortunately, I didn't know the first thing about electronics from a practical standpoint. I went to a "Blue Ribbon School of Excellence" in the US of A and could fill out all sorts of worksheets about complicated circuitry in my high school physics class. However, when I arrived at our house I couldn't even hook up an outlet.

I first got the idea that I better learn about electricity when we moved in. A friend of ours--a local from Lviv--said that if the lights flicker, then that mean the electricity is not that good. I asked him what he meant, but he wasn't able to expound on that statement. It turned out that our lights did flicker, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Then, last December, there was an "electricity emergency" in Ukraine because a major power plant was having some problems (I wrote about it here and here). We read on the internet that there was a risk of power surges and to not use electronic appliances during peak hours in the morning and night. I think there were one or two weeks when we didn't have power for a period of time every day.

And this past September I was talking with my brother and sister-in-law, who just bought a small voltage stabilizer for their laptops and tablets. They explained that a stabilizer helps protect the batteries and the equipment itself. They let me know that Yulia and I could get a small one like that or a big one for the entire house. Thanks for the tip, guys! :)

Yulia and I talked about it and planned to get one before installing a washing machine sometime in the future--until our vacuum cleaner just stopped working out of nowhere last Saturday. We hadn't even owned the thing for a year, so we suspected a power surge messed up the motor. Yulia was vacuuming on a Saturday night, which is a peak usage time.

This twisted our arm, and we bought a voltage stabilizer for the whole house earlier than planned. My father-in-law helped us connect it a few days ago. Luckily it was very straightforward.

Bam! Problem solved!


Not so fast, Michael and Yulia!

It works the way it is supposed to. I don't think we'll have problems with power surges anymore. It cuts off all the electricity if there is a really dangerous power surge. This has already happened several times. It cuts the power for six seconds and then turns back on.

However, the new problem is that it hums and make a loud clicking sound. It mainly clicks during peak usage times (mostly in the evenings), but it also sporadically clicks in the middle of the night. We had to hang the stabilizer in our dining room, which is right next to the bedroom, and the clicking is loud enough to wake us up.

To get a good night's sleep we turn off the power to the whole house using the circuit breaker, though I'm not sure if that is a long term solution. I'd like to hide it in a wooden cabinet like the one I built for the circuit breaker. It will hide the stabilizer, breaker, and electric meter and hopefully muffle the humming and clicking sounds.

When I'll find the time to build a cabinet for the voltage stabilizer is another question. My father-in-law and I have been digging a trench for sewage pipes. Our septic tank was just delivered and it's been waiting in the city for me to take for several days now.

I managed to dig a descent sized pit this week--a particularly drizzly week and mostly by lamplight after dark. I just don't have any other time to get it done.

So here we are in our never ending cycle! Problems lead to solutions...which lead to problems again.

Unstable voltage? Get a voltage stabilizer!
Got a voltage stabilizer? It's gonna make some a cabinet to muffle the sound.

Want to build a cabinet? Try finding time between teaching English on Skype and digging trenches and holes in the November mud. And do it in the dark!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The autumn is here (or I couldn't think of another title)

By Yulia

It seems just yesterday the spring was upon us and we were impatiently waiting for the warm season to come. And it came. It came suddenly, full of greenery and flowers, endless sunshine and refreshing breezes, chirping, humming and buzzing. It offered us its abundance of food. Speaking of food, here are some snapshots of our fall harvest. 
These are Thelma Sander's Sweet Potato squashes. A good producer here. Its mellow taste reminds one of a potato and can be used like any other acorn squash, although I found it to be less sweet. We mainly used this squash for making so-called "lazy varenyky" ("lazy pierogy") or "palchyky" (aka "little fingers"). This variety ended up being my mom's favorite, because she doesn't like a strong pumpkinny flavor. I saved some seeds and we'll be growing these again next year.

Some smaller specimens of squash. Most of these didn't reach maturity, but make for a good fall decor on our windows on the veranda. 

Boston Marrows on the other windowsill of our veranda. These were best made into creamy, spicy soups with ginger, rosemary and cinnamon. 

This is Galeus D'Eysines squash. We haven't tried it yet, so no feedback yet. 

And this is green turban squash. 

Upper Ground Sweet Potato squashes. Not our favorite variety this year. They are supposed to get sweeter with storage, so we'll see--perhaps the taste will improve. 
Our last flowers of the year. Something for our little bees and other insects to rejoice about this late in the season.
I once faintly heard one of our neighbors refer to himself as a craftsman behind one of the baskets at another neighbor's house. So...a few weeks ago while looking at our one and only wicker basket, I thought perhaps that neighbor  wouldn't mind making a few more for us. I asked his wife and voila -- we receive these two lovely baskets! I wanted to pay the man for his work, but he found my sum of money way too high and didn't want to accept it. Instead, we settled on a barter. I gave his wife a few pumpkins and squashes, plus a bag full of pears. (Pictured above is the New England Sugar Pie pumpkin, which we used to make, you guessed it right -- pumpkin pie! Also, apples and some of the last elderberries from our orchard/garden.)

        More apples than we know what to do with. (These are obviously not all of them. We have over 20 apple trees, although we are/will be getting rid of some of the old and sick ones.)
 While all the other apple tress are completely bare at this point, this one is still full of fruit. I slowly pick them off the tree and make apple/kale juice from them.
These clusters of edible mushrooms (we consulted my parents to confirm this, since we're not fungi experts) have sprouted all over our lawn in front of the house next to our evergreens.
    Our corn wasn't the best this year. And the mice decided to feast on the little corn that we did have.

 Our cauliflower was tiny this year. It didn't get enough water during our drought period.

Also, more grapes than we know what to do with. These are wine grapes. They are sweet, but also have a lot of acidity in them. You can't really eat more than a handful. The previous owner used to make wine every year, so he had planted more than a few of these grape vines on the property. We're gradually getting rid of them, since we're not big on wine making. Instead, we've planted a few of our own sweet varieties. My grandpa shared some of his own grape creations with us. He breeds his own varieties. A grape enthusiast of a sort.
Here's the grandpa himself. He's 83. One of the best guys I know. And the best dresser ever -- "Grandpakins, I love your style!"

There is still some food available in our garden. These are late fall radishes and borage leaves. We also have turnips, rutabagas, collard greens, cauliflower, sprouting broccoli, mache or corn salad, kale, plus other greens and salads.

A few weeks ago, while my parents were visiting us, we took a quick trip up the hill to collect some rose hips. It's very pretty and incredibly quiet up there. The whole area is a green vastness of forests, agri-fields and long hedges in-between. It is in those hedges that we find our rose hips, sloe, hawthorn, wild flowers and herbs. 
The bushes are full of thorns, getting nipped by them is inevitable. 

My dad walking with his bag full of rose hips to the car and Toma's butt, because she's always nearby. 
My mama 
The harvesters.
Our loot. 
Aside from harvesting food, our lives here are also full of other experiences. Michael says that animals really like us, because all kinds of creatures keep congregating at our house. This adolescent domestic pigeon spent a few hours sitting on the roof of our mudroom.  
Our Laska was a bad cat so I had to lock her -- temporarily -- in the mudroom. There was a weasel (also called laska in Ukrainian) running around our patio and Laska wanted to go after it. We already have experience with one of our cats, Levko, killing one of those weasels and I didn't want to let it happen again. Laska didn't seem to mind being in there. She just plopped her butt on top of the apple and stared out the window looking pretty.
 Turns out we have another spring in our tiny village. It's hidden among trees and doesn't have much of a set up. Some villagers have told us that the water here is great for making spirits.

Things we find on our walks out in the back fields: Chemical trails. Naturally, the local agribusinesses are all about protecting and maximizing their crops. Their choice is now clear to us -- a crop protection product from South Africa -- not natural. Oh, where would we all be without our precious chemicals!? I'm giving this both of my thumbs down. 
Levko makes a bed out of a lot of different things. I wish I could sleep that easily.
On another walk up on the hill from our village. This time we were on a hunt for hawthorn (it's the red hued tree in the picture) and sloe. 

We assume there was a natural pond here at some point.
We found Toma in our apple orchard two years ago on Halloween. She's our little ghost child who appeared out of nowhere. And she surely scared us. We were terrified, not knowing what to do with this little pup. We didn't want a dog, at least not yet. There were so many other things to think about and to take care of, and having a dog was not on our list. But, we had no choice, or rather -- there was only one decent thing we could do -- to invite her to be part of our family. Today, we can't imagine our lives without Toma. 
!Adios, amigos!