Friday, May 8, 2015

'Tis the season and other shenanigans

By Yulia

Right now our Ukrainian village is bustling and the villagers are hustling. We are in the month of Apri-May and the weather is more than suitable. 'Tis the season. That is, the season of the potato, and the corn, and some more potatoes. Old, rusty, metal cans are making their ways to the fields, while leaving trails of noxious aromas. The men inside of them are just as rough as their industrial beasts. A brand new mini tractor, not yet touched by the elements, can be spotted quietly rumbling away in another nook of the village. It is mounted by a part-timer. His life is in the city. He has the resources. Firas, the good, old fashioned horse and carriages, are making their rounds also. Filled by adolescent boys and grown men alike, looking to prove their self-importance, the firas garishly zoom by.They all have a common goal -- to turn the soil. 

Over the next few days, perfectly straight rows in the fields will be filled with potatoes and corn. This yearly ritual (almost) never fails in the Ukrainian countryside. For (almost) any villager will tell you about the importance of stacking up on sacks and sacks of potatoes, rightfully dubbed Ukraine 's second bread, for the winter time. Corn grown by the villagers here is usually not consumed by people, it is destined to be dried and used to feed their poultry, and perhaps, some domestic bunnies. It is still a mystery to Michael and I why so many potatoes have to be grown here. The majority of people's plots are dedicated solely to this root vegetable. Why not plant more trees or diversify your crops a bit more? Don't get me wrong -- the locals do grow other things. There are plenty of fruit and nut trees, mostly, sour cherries, apples, pears, grapes and walnuts. Also vegetables such as beets, carrots, onions, garlic, cabbage, just to name a few, are grown. But no other crop gets as much attention and space, both literally and metaphorically speaking, as a potato does. 

In the midst of this potato planting extravaganza, we decided to go to the city to take care of a few things and to visit the Lviv City Market.

After running some errands on Saturday morning, we grabbed a marshrutka (a small city bus) and headed downtown.

We don't visit this part of the city (where the market was taking place) very often. And there's always something new to discover in Lviv, like this interesting statue that I'm seeing for the very first time.
This pair was found by the fountain near where the Lviv city market was taking place. Judging by its look, it must be newer than the previous one.

A fellow with a wine barrel. 
And here's something odd.  This large boot in the middle of the street is made out of live plants, although they look rather grey right now.  Not sure why it's there, might be for a local shoe company or a store?
The area in front of the Opera House was full of people.

The small wooden booths are set up for the ongoing Easter fair, which will end next week. They sell all things Easter related and more.

The Lviv city market promised to showcase stylish, good quality and delicious products made in Ukraine. As their FB invite said: " Не “скігліть”, а підтримуйте наших місцевих виробників", meaning: " Don't wine (complaint), but support our local producers." I can definitely agree with that! It was a pleasure to see young, local (mostly from the Lviv area) artists, bakers, crafters, brewers, performers, photographers, clothes makers and just all around creative folks in one spot. This is what it looked like at the Lviv city market.

We bought a loaf of homemade sourdough bread from these people. They also had all kinds of home baked goods: strudel, cheesecake, muffins etc..

Little forest creatures. Michael got one of their prints for our veranda.

More cards, notebooks etc..

I love succulents!

Bow ties and suspenders -- yes and yes! 

These people are amazing. They are one of the reasons I wanted to visit the market. We purchased a couple of spoons from them. 

Block printed t-shirts with a ukie theme
A unique way of brewing coffee. These guys from the "Alternative coffee" were very popular with the visitors. 

In the bottle next to the stuffed creature is a cold brewed coffee, no heat has been applied. The guys told us that it takes about 3 hours to drip-brew it, which results in a less acidic and more full bodied coffee. 

Michael wanted to try some of their coffee. It was very acidic and strong.
We liked their cat and reindeer lamps. 

While most of the vendors were from the Lviv area, this duo came all the way from the capitol of Kyiv. They were very friendly and knowledgeable showing us their vintage Polaroid cameras from the 60's and 70's, as well as some new models. 
It was a hot day. The sun was beating down on us and somewhere half way through the day, feeling like two sardines stuffed in a can, we started to grow weary of the city. Before heading back home, we grabbed a late lunch with a friend at no other than Green cafe. Somehow we always find ourselves there.
Raw borscht, fresh grapefruit juice and uzvar.

Michael had a Mexican soup and carrot juice.

Some ammazing pink tortellini with a rich sauce. We couldn't believe they were plant based. 

The village met us with its cool, refreshing air of the early evening. And our neighbors greeted us with their usual inquisitiveness:

"Hello! We haven't seen you at all today. We're always used to seeing you work."
"Hello! Yes, we were gone. We were in Lviv." I assured them.

It's good to be home. Tonight the frogs are serenading each other. Their melody will lull us to sleep. 

Sweet dreams everyone!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

From talking to doing: How life at our new home has changed me

When Yulia and I first moved into our home, I was a different person. I was good at reading and talking about what we wanted to do at our house. My relationship to and understanding of home repair and gardening was nearly all theoretical at that point. I knew it through books and websites, not through my senses and experience of actually living it.

I already knew how to move into a new place--if that place were an apartment or dorm room. You put all your stuff in boxes, bring it to your new home, wipe off the kitchen counter tops, throw out a few things that the old renters left behind, and unpack your things. Piece of cake.

However, things were much different when Yulia and I moved into our house. There were four buildings full of old stuff. There was no trash service, so it was not possible to get rid of old things just by putting them out on the curb. There was a musty smell. The main corridor had no floor--just a few boards loosely thrown down. I spoke the local language poorly, and Yulia had never lived in this country as an adult. There was no internet, no running water, and there were over two acres of 2 meter high woody weeds. Our neighbors were mostly senior citizens who had lived completely different lives than us...I could keep going, of course, but I think I have made myself understood. Completely different. My past experiences had little relation to this experience.

Some of the first trees we planted. The weeds in what is now our orchard were horrendous. We've reclaimed the area little by little, and this is how we got started. 
In the past, when I lived in bigger cities, I could at least go somewhere. I could go to a cafe if I wanted to see something other than my kitchen or living room. I could go to the bookstore. I could find other young people like me. Find any kind of food my heart desired. I could use the internet and talk with friends and family who were very far away. I had access to many different comforts that helped me adjust.

Our little village, on the other hand, had few of the comforts of the modern city. I could not go to cafes or bookstores like I was used to. We had no internet for the first summer that we lived here, so whenever Yulia and I went to L'viv I would download news articles and blogs to read later. I wrote the first entries for this blog without internet access and uploaded them when in the city.

Moving here has made me realize that it's really important to have coping mechanisms when making such a drastic change in your life. On our first night, for example, we had tea outside on the front stoop instead of in the unfamiliar house. We anchored ourselves in the only familiar parts of the environment there were--the evening clouds and the stars that followed. To this day I still find myself concentrating on the sky during trying times.

A picture taken from the roof of our house last winter. I had to climb up there to replace the internet cable going from the antenna to our modem. It took the internet company two months to come out and install our internet. I wasn't about to wait around for them to come help us again. Local incompetence has helped me become more self sufficient.
Maintaining your sanity is also important if you have another very big thing in your life that you did not have before--a partner. On top of all the challenges we have come across, I have had to take care of Yulia, and she has had to take care of me. We've developed shared coping mechanisms. Even without running water, for instance, we always make a point of washing every evening before going to bed. Only after we are scrubbed and wearing clean pajamas do we get in bed. No matter what troubles we had or how dirty we got during the day, we do not bring that with us--literally or figuratively--to bed.

I balance the physically and emotionally hard work I do here with sufficient periods of rest. I recognize that it is up to me to provide Yulia with a descent home. Right now, for example, I'm giving it my all to finish our bedroom as soon as possible (I initially wrote this post several weeks ago. Since then, I've finished the bedroom, and it's splendid!). It's been a long time since we've had a clean, comfortable and cozy room to sleep in, and I want us to finally have that kind of space. I still need to Spackle the drywall, install sliding doors to the bathroom and closet, sand and lacquer the floors, and finish everything with molding. When I think of all that has to be done I want to work night and day to get it done as soon as possible. On the other hand, I need to constantly remind myself that when I'm overly tired and stressed, I get crabby, and that is how fights start. I'm not taking care of Yulia if I'm testy from overwork, so I have become very aware of my physical, mental, and emotional limits.

After painting and putting trimming above the garage door I entertain myself (and Yulia, the invisible, but just as immature, person behind the camera) by measuring the width of Toma's butt. 
Since we've moved here and changed our lifestyle in a big way, we've noticed that many people settle for talk or changing their image as if it's the same thing as action. As a result, we've become more skeptical about what we read. It's one thing to pontificate on a blog or YouTube about health, diet, or lifestyle. It's another to live it. Yulia and I realized soon after moving in that living the way we live is not for armchair philosophers. Such people fail very quickly in the environment we live in. That's why we strive to not only write about what we think, but show what we actually do. We think it's a sign of a neophyte to come out with guns blazing: "I'm right. Everyone who thinks differently is wrong. I've read a few books and websites about the issue..." And so on. Armchair philosophers rarely discuss what they have done and how that informs their opinions. Yulia and I try to write about what we do, what worked, and what didn't. We try to fill in the gaps in the discourse. What aren't people talking about? How do we see issues differently?

To be honest, I am sympathetic to many poseurs and armchair philosophers. To me, their attempts to change their image, shopping habits, and so on shows that they yearn for authenticity. I see this most clearly in what is emerging as a new type of man in modern society. This is how Willa Brown of The Atlantic describes them:
"The first one I met was at an inauguration party in 2009. I was in a cocktail dress. He was in jeans, work boots, and a flannel shirt. He had John Henry tattooed on his bicep. He was white. Somehow, at a fairly elegant affair, he had found a can of PBR. Since then they’ve multiplied. You can see them in coffee shops and bars and artisanal butchers. They don't exactly cut down trees, but they might try their hand at agriculture and woodworking, even if only in the form of window-box herb gardens."
This is more of an urban phenomenon than it is a rural one, but it does seem that many men nevertheless value hard physical work and the outdoors. They just don't have the means or the drive to actually follow through with it. Later in the article Brown writes:
"Both then and now, the men who sought these identities were searching for something authentic, something true. But that 'authenticity' often came at the exclusion of real working men and a romanticization of 'real' work."
I understand this search for authenticity. It's not always easy to find, but I think that even the search for authenticity reveals a certain degree of honesty about a person, and I can respect that, even if such people are more image than they are substance.

I am less sympathetic to those that go on the offensive to prove their own authenticity at the cost of others. More often than not, they are distracting people to hide their own perceived inadequacies, whatever they may be. Talking tough on social media (like this "Vegans are gay" page on Facebook), for example, will only fool so many people. Yulia and I are somewhere between vegetarian and vegan. We wear wool and eat honey, but we do not eat dairy or eggs. We've found a certain degree of health and contentment in living this way, but find no need to align with one group and bash all others. Whether you're moving to Ukraine or hoping to start a small farm or homestead, from our experience we've found that it's best to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you want out of life before you change your lifestyle in a big way like Yulia and I have. It's best not to do this if you're out to prove something to yourself or other people. We've found no solace and no pleasure in mocking others. It will never give you piece of mind, only more anger and resentment.

Every couple of months Yulia and I will make time (even if there isn't any) to go out to a vegetarian cafe in the city. We like the food there and feel comfortable in that environment. Don't like vegetarian cafes? That's fine with us. Do what you need to. Our eyes are open. If your diet, lifestyle--whatever--makes sense to us, we'll notice.
Lately, I'm less interested in defending my viewpoint or attacking those of others and more interested in sharing what I've done and how I did it. As a result, I have become less cerebral, but more focused on my emotions. Sure, I've become stronger from carrying bags of sand and chopping firewood. I've learned how to wire outlets and light switches. I do value my physical and cognitive development.

However, they seem to me to be both very simple and primitive changes--perhaps not even interesting to write about. Of course working hard will make you fit. And why should you listen to me when it comes to hanging drywall or making a no till garden when there are already so many resources out there? For me, what's been hardest is dealing with the unexpected and the unpredictable. My father-in-law taught me how to wire light switches and outlets. He showed me the tools and materials to use.

But what do you do when it is 4 pm in late December and darkness is swiftly falling? The lights in your house are off because you're rewiring the light to your garage. You are shaking from the cold and can't hold your hands still enough to fit tiny wires into tiny holes with fat fingers. Your hands are cracked from the weather and bleeding from being poked too many times by the sharp ends of copper wire. Your wife is sitting inside the house in the growing darkness wondering when the lights will come back on. You say you'll be done in a second, but every time you bend the ancient wire, it breaks. Then, when you think you're done and flip the breaker, you find the connection is no good and have to do it again, only for the wire to snap again. You wonder when you yourself will snap..."The wiring should have been changed long ago! It's a safety hazard, for crying out loud! Why is it so hard to find a qualified electrician around here!" And so on...

But I've also learned not to snap. A simple joke will break the ice at times. Or, no matter how deep you are in something, realizing that it's not the end of the world if you don't finish is alright too. There's no one thing that will help every time. That's why reading and talking about lifestyle change will only get you so ready. You'll learn the rest of what you need to know by doing.