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.