Friday, August 28, 2015

Our house: One Big Mistake

By Michael

I've been absent from our blog for quite some time now, but Yulia's been doing an excellent job with her always inspirational updates. I hope she continues to write and inspire you just as much as she inspires me. She has a quirky, playful knack for storytelling that's just perfect to convey our quirky, playful life here!

I removed myself from blogging to better wrap my head around what needed to be done with our house--cover it with siding, trim all the windows and build a small addition. I have no experience with building--aside from the two years we've been living here--so I needed to focus.

I'm now done with a large part of that job, and I've realize something very important: Our house is one big mistake. I can't begin to tell you about all the mistakes I've made.

I started hanging the siding, for example, thinking I would do it by hammering the tongue and groove boards through the center with nails. I got to the second board when I learned that this would not do. The boards were too thick and hammering them in with big nails was too violent an action. The board would bounce as I hammered it to our old, uneven walls, loosening all the other nails

I didn't know what to do. I had the whole house to cover and had no idea how I was going to do it. I watched some videos online. One Ukrainian guy on YouTube installed this kind of siding with screws through the grooved end of the board. They used nail guns in all the American videos I watched.

I tried screws through the grooves, but every time I did it, the screw would split the wood. I didn't have a nail gun, so I couldn't do it the American way either. I was stuck. I walked around our property a few times. Thought. Complained. Felt nervous every time a neighbor would walk by wondering what I was doing. Then I realized I had some perforated metal straps for drywall. I cut these straps into short pieces, screwed one end into the back of the siding and used the other end to fix to the wall. I can't describe it very well with words, but maybe this makes more sense:

This was actually more of an elegant solution for me than using a nail gun or driving screws through the grooves. The old walls of our house are wavy in places. These metal straps are flexible, so that if there is a valley in the wall underneath, the strap will bend, but not force the whole board with it, allowing the siding to "float" and remain relatively straight.

Another big problem for me was our door. The day I brought it home was very windy. Yulia wanted to see it, so I unloaded it off our truck and leaned it against our open garage door, so that she could see it in the daylight. The problem with that idea is that the garage door is fixed on hinges. I walked away to get Yulia and then heard a gust of wind and a crash. The wind had swung the garage door and tipped over our brand new door!

It was not totaled, but both panels had popped out a bit. I tacked them back into place and fixed it up as best I could. But do you think that was the last of the problems with the door??

The next day I started to bore into the wood with a drill and chisel to make room for the door handle and lock. It was a few hours of work, but by sundown I had carved out enough room for the mechanism. I got too excited and wanted to show Yulia the new door handle in the door. What I didn't know at the time was that the lock cylinder did not fit the mechanism (something the seller at the store should have known when he recommended I buy the two!). When I screwed in the lock cylinder, I used a drill instead of a screwdriver and the screw got forced into the mechanism and became stuck. I could not pull them out again and so was forced to cut them out with a saw.

I wasn't going to give up though. I glued the wooden door together, let it dry overnight, and was up with the rising sun the next morning to sand it down. It took about an hour to sand a few square centimeters. I didn't admit defeat. Now that it is lacquered, it is hard to see the two groove marks from the saw.

Never admit defeat!
I have many other stories like this, which brings me to one conclusion: this was one big mistake. But I consider every mistake a lesson. When you realize you've messed up you have a choice. You can turn around and stop. Or you can keep going.

How do you handle life's mistakes?

Friday, August 21, 2015

In the midst of August

Greetings from Ukraine! Lots of sunflowers over here. How about over there?
Buckle up, everyone, it'll be a loooong post.

In the wilderness of our garden.

Some sunflowers are being feasted on by the flying creatures and also by me.

More herbal goodness over here.

Freshly harvested gojis with a few red currents. Experimenting with drying these out in our hot sun. By the way, fresh goji berries have an interesting flavor. They're not very sweet and have a slight bitterness to them. And just so you know, gojis are extremely easy to grow. The bushes grow fast and produce a lot of fruit early on. 

Grow, grow, little one! This is one of our baby watermelons. I believe it is the Sweet Dakota Rose variety. We shall see if it reaches adulthood.
Another one. Don't remember the name.

The scenery to the west: the red terracotta shingles on the neighbor's shed.

Our corn/squash/bean jungle out in the fields.

There are probably about 15 varieties of winter squashes, marrows and pumpkins growing here. Maybe we'll do a recap of them all at the end of the season and let you know which ones were our favorites.

Yes, because you've never seen cucumbers before :) This is for Mama and Tato who have asked about our cucumbers. The cucumbers have been producing well until the drought period hit us. The last time we had rain was just before the last full moon, which was at the end of July. The lack of rain is unusual for this part of Ukraine, since we get the most precipitation here than in any other part of the country. I'm used to hearing Michael's sighs every time it starts to sprinkle outside: "Oh, No! Not again...!" This is the hottest and the most low-rain summer we can remember here. The water in our well is extremely low. In fact, it has taken on a yellowish tint of an orange juice from the clay at the bottom. The well cleaners were correct -- our well is very shallow and not the best quality.We're trying our best to water what we can in the garden, focusing on tomatoes, cucumbers and melons in order to conserve our water. It almost seems odd to write this...water is not something we thought we would ever lack here. Sometime in the near future, when we have some extra time, rain barrels will be set up to harvest the precious sky-water. Fortunately, we have a natural spring nearby, and we have been visiting it more often than usual to get our drinking and washing water there.

At lunch: sometimes the cucumbers turn into this -- a simple salad with dill, lovage, onions and lemon juice. Speaking of lovage, this is a new herb for Michael and I. The flavor is a cross between parsley and celery, well -- almost. It's very aromatic and imparts a strong flavor to a dish. In traditional Ukrainian herbalism it was used to create love spells. Has anyone tried it? I mean lovage, not the love spell. Perhaps, both?!

We had about 10-12 hives at the end of the fall and by the time the spring came they were all gone! It was sad, to say the least. We're not sure what had caused it. And the odd thing was that most of the hives had zero dead bees in them. Michael started stacking up the empty beehives outside of our "bee-room" shed with no intention of repopulating them with colonies any time soon. But the local bees decided to start moving into them without an invitation. They found our hives suitable to their liking. Now, we have 4 full beehives. You lose some, and you never know when you will find some.

A view to the south: open fields.

A generous plum tree from the abandoned lot next door is offering one of its fruit-filled branches to us. This year is abundant in fruit and berries.

A view to the East: the neighbor's red house.

Isn't she a beauty!? She's a Blue Beauty. That is the actual name of the tomato. It's a true purple/blue tomato, and the color is visible early on. Not like other "purples"we've grown before (Cherokee Purple, for example), where you're like:" Ummm, excuse me, tomato, but on which side is the purple!?" (Just saying: Cherokee Purple is not really purple, and a Black Plum tomato is nowhere near being black. Although, before I start receiving hate-mail from the nightshade family, let me throw this in -- they're all equally delicious and good-looking in their own way!) The seeds, were bought from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This is part of their Wild Boar Farms edition from the "tomato guy" Brad Gates in the California Bay. You've got to love the Baker Creek folks, for they are doing us all a huge service by seeking out and preserving the best heirloom and long-forgotten varieties of seeds, while keeping their stock 100% free of GMOs. Thank you! While purchasing your seeds, especially corn and soy beans, making sure you get them from a reliable GMO-free suppliers is definitely worth the effort. 

Here are the actual tomato plants out in the garden. And this is the Black Plum tomato I mentioned earlier. It is one of our more abundant and healthier varieties this year.

Another successful variety is the Sungold.

More tomatoes, because they can't take selfies! (Grushovka, Green Gage, Sungolds, Black Plum, Indigo Blue, Orange Icicle)

 Indigo Blue, a smaller sister of the Blue Beauty.

We have so many tomatillos in our garden this year! I don't know what it is about these little guys, but I really enjoy growing them. And the best part is that they're all self-seeded this year. These deep purple ones are my favorites. Although, to most taste buds the flavor would be just OK, tomatillos can definitely be eaten raw. If you're more into cooking with tomatillos, one can make an excellent green salsa or add them to ragù for sourness.

And here they are undressed from their yellow jackets. 

Ahh, a pretty sight. The sea buckthorn berries are looking better and better!

The hot weather keeps everyone low and motionless. Resembling roadkill. Like I said -- you lose some, you gain some :)

This one seems to be still breathing. 

The time we saw a million dollars on our street. I'm not kidding you! There was a whole parade of New Hollanders -- about ten of them, riding up the street. These huge combines were the size of a house. Even though I've never seen the film, Michael described the combine parade as a scene from the Transformers movie. I believed him. As the machinery was making its way up the road, our neighbor was sharing a piece of his mind with all those able to hear him. He was complaining about the heavy machinery using our local road and messing up something he's been working on on the side of the street. Later, he made a comment to Michael: "You see!? And they say there's no money in Ukraine...there is money! This is who's got the money!" Yeah, we agree. There is money in Ukraine, there's a lot of money in Ukraine! But like in a lot of other places in the world, it can never be found in the places most needed or in the hands of those who need it the most.

On Sunday, we had to take a trip to the city. It was hot and overwhelming. Here is some randomness from Lviv:

Unfortunately, our favorite dining spot was having a culinary workshop in the morning. They were going to be done in an hour or so, but since we were starving and it was wicked hot outside, we decided to find a different restaurant for lunch. Big mistake! Once again we realized that we need to stick to what we know and like. Want to know why?
Long story short: we sit down and are treated to some breads/dips without a single word from the waitstaff; we think it's complementary from the chef (or something like that); we eat most of the breads/dips; the waitress charges us for it; we get upset that she does that; we ask why we're charged for it, since we didn't order and you didn't tell us; she says because we ate them (!); we ask her to take it off of our bill; she gives us an attitude but takes off the charge; we leave with frowns on our faces. The End.

And, yes, that's Darth Vader on the streets of Lviv. Did you know that he was running as the head of the Internet Party of Ukraine at the last elections? You can read about it here. Seeing him in Lviv was not what surprised me the most. The oddest thing was that nobody, I mean nobody, even took a second look at him passing. I guess he's a local now. Oh, and I bet the poor fellow was sweating buckets in that black mantle.  

So... life continues here. Growing, creating takes time. Every day here on our land brings us an opportunity to learn something new and we are growing along with the trees, and the bushes, and all the flowers and little blades of grass. We are changing with the seasons, crying with the rain, and smiling with every the bright ray of sun. Of course -- there's good and bad, and I dare you to find a place on Earth where one exists without the other. Creation is a delicate balance. It is all inclusive and never exclusive of anything. Inspiration drives creation. And that in itself requires us to feel, to let go and least a little. 

 До зустрічі!