Sunday, September 28, 2014

Okroshka! and other fun

Okroshka days are running short for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, so I wanted to get in my yearly attempt before the falling temps dictate a change of allegiance to borsch. D is the okroshka expert around here. His verdict: awesome! This time I used the recipe from Natasha's Kitchen. It differed from my first go at the soup- no radishes this time, sour cream instead of kefir (which seemed really, really weird but tasted fantastic) and it completely slaughtered our memories of the terrible beer-shrimp broth of 2013.

It's such a lovely soup to make. Chop, chop, chop...


Chill and serve!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Apartment hunting

Per tradition, it's time for the yearly Change of Scenery.... for the third year running.

In 2012 it was a chance to move out of company housing.

The following summer we traded in a foul-tempered landlady for a sweet young law student who rented us her apartment.

This year it's due to slight change in circumstances (ie, countries).

As much as I love apartment living, it's always a time-consuming, draining game of odds to find a good place and this particular city is no different. I'll tell you more about this city (whose identity will not be much of a surprise) and how we ended up here in a later post. The energy for this entry has been provided by the two Reese's peanut butter cups I just ate after nine hours of viewing apartments, so it'll be short.

Ukraine has ruined our casual easy-goingness when it comes to apartments. In addition to now having a pet, we have all these weird notions. For example, asking does this apartment come with a meat grinder? in America doesn't mean that you're a diligent housewife but rather a serial killer.

And O mighty parquet! I never really knew what you were before but now it's hard to live without you. Carpets are just so... carpety. As nice as they look when you move in, they cruelly never stay that shade. 

Also frequently MIA is the balcony. Where to store pickles or last summer's strawberries or to vigorously shake out rugs on passerby? And goodbye, poor domofon. You were a most useful household gadget. Don't even get me started on lights. A chandelier is sadly no longer the lighting fixture of the masses but instead an extravagant perk reserved for the wealthy. In fact, what's with this whole trend of no overhead lighting at all? "Oh, well, this area was designed for floor lamps." Fine, but does every room save the bathroom really need to have this dim-witted (haha) design?

But there are compensations to be had. Swimming pools and hot tubs, a fantastic modern appliance I'd almost forgotten about (dishwasher), painted walls instead of soviet-era wallpaper, no more permanently-remodeling-neighbor-with-drill, smiley building managers. It's all a tradeoff.

We haven't yet found a place that satisfies both our Ukrainian and American tastes but we're canvassing the streets in search of one. Every single day. Here are a few snapshots of that process, minus the boring paperwork stuff-

For a moment I looked for Lenin's face, then remembered where I was.
Sharknado 3: Road Rage. Coming soon.
A rare chandelier sighting(!!!) in one of the city's most well-known landmarks.
In between gray skies and downpours, this bit of grace.
Bike-powered smoothie. Worth it!
No girlfriend = plenty of time to improve your penmanship.
Commuter train line in the suburbs. Apartments are sooo much cheaper here.

Before I sign off, a huge thank you to those of you who have taken the survey from the last post!!!! It's been incredibly helpful to read your suggestions and file them away in my brain to percolate. The personal stories are great too- I love hearing what serendipitous events can lead to an interest in Ukraine.

The survey will be open until Sunday if you haven't had the chance to visit it yet!

Fall on the city streets.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Where do we go from here?

Office poster
A memorable- and true!- story from D:

Last year, on the train to Odessa, D was approached by a coworker from the company's customer service team.

"So, uh, I heard that you speak pretty good English and I was wondering if I could ask you a question."

"Sure, what's up?"

"What does the phrase 'take a dump' mean in English?"

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My last 3 days in Kyiv

Well, it feels like I'm living in a new world these days: not Ukraine, not America, but rather the land of pain. The assumed culprit, per a trip to urgent care? A kidney stone. Ugh. And OUCH. Any noble goal I'd had for the rest of my life has since turned into be gone, foul vermin! or, more often, let's wait just a little longer for the next dose of Vicodin. But being housebound means no more excuses, there's plenty of time to finally tell you guys about being in Kyiv several weeks ago.

Right away I knew it'd be different than our previous trip to the capital. To start with, the ads on the fast train were for war bonds this time, not hotels and spas. Last year no one was throwing around terms like Putlir, Luganda, and Donbabwe. And Ukraine is now a place where a taxi driver will first assume you are a journalist instead of an English teacher.

Speaking of the middle-aged taxi driver, he was extra careful to avoid squishing the fresh eggs he was transporting home as he put my bag in the trunk. Just after that, his phone rang- "No Mom, I can't talk now. Really, no. I have a client. I'll call you back. Yes, soon." It was kind of cute.

We got to talking during the 30-minute trip to the hotel and he revealed that he supported Yanukovich, saying things are much worse now than they'd ever been under the old President. I questioned him about this. "Don't you think things will now improve?" "Ha!!" he barked back. "It'll be one hundred years before we recover from this!" "Oh no, definitely not a hundred years", I replied. "Well, okay then. Ninety five." was his answer.

But this opinion most definitely seemed a minority one as I traveled around Kyiv for the next few days. References to current events were everywhere and overwhelmingly in favor of a new, European-ized Ukraine. Every block had the same billboard for a construction company with the words A new country, a new apartment! printed on a blue-and-yellow background. An AK47-armed Taras Shevchenko could be made out among scrawls of graffiti on a main road. And I know I told you before that blue and yellow were popular colors but as of last month, every single thing in Kyiv seemed to have turned blue and yellow. Here's a sampling-

Friday, August 29, 2014


Even 5500 miles from Ukraine, it's still possible to enjoy some of the same foods : )
Tonight I've been thinking about chebureki, those tasty fried turnovers that I can never refuse to "sample" (by which I mean, of course, to devour 3 or 4 of them). In the Alaska days, D's mom would often make them for the family and I remember thinking they were soooo complicated to prepare. As her and I continue to bond over food though, a discovery has been made: the American-style cheburek is actually so easy to prepare that it's almost scandalous.

So I'm going to show you the process here and I know you'll be scratching your head too over my previous cheburek-preparing fear. Although honestly, back then even making blini was an intimidating idea, so +1 for a couple of years of life in Ukraine!

Package of tortillas
The filling: Ground meat + preferred spices or cheese 
The usual mind-boggling amount of oil (for frying)

Step 1: Slightly dampen the tortilla with some water. Put a small amount of the filling on the tortilla, fold in half, press to seal.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three stories from Kharkiv

Late July: the days of packing.
It's been a month now since we've last had our own place. Nothing makes you feel college-age again like crashing with relatives ; ) I always forget how long it takes (and how awkward it is) to land somewhere and build up a new life. It is happening, though, and someday this will probably even seem like a brief intermission between completely different worlds. In the meantime, here are a few stories from the last world we inhabited.

By the way, if someone from the Ukrainian post office happens to read this, have you seen these boxes anywhere?

The New Tenant

Balcony/office corner. Hope the new tenant likes plants!
The landlady phoned a week before our move-out date. "Can you be around tonight?" she asked. "The realtor will come by with someone who wants to see the apartment." Sure enough, a few hours later came an eager knock and there stood the same eternally-excited estate agent who had shown us the place last year. Behind her was a willowy blonde in her early forties, the potential new tenant.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pictures from America

Proof of my old lady lifestyle- pretty much the only name tag with a real name instead of a twitter handle. 
Last weekend D convinced me to join him at TechFestNW, a two-day extravaganza for lovers of technology, utopian futures and long TED-style lectures. I think it's safe to say that he got a little more out of it although I sure enjoyed the walk down to the event.
Here's one of those homes-afloat that we dreamed of for about 5 seconds.
Afterwards, a long walk along the waterline showed off all the things that prove Portland merits a new calender of sights each year (and if you haven't seen this 3-min video yet, you should):
Looking for artwork and/or bongs? You've come to the right blanket.  Nearby signs included "You can't spell healTHCare without THC". (More about this on Wikipedia.)

Spot anything unusual here??
 That's right:

Whatever #FIATATSEA is (ack! twitter again!), I bet a lot of people want one after seeing this:

Anyway, this is not going to become a Portland blog- in fact, we're not even there at the moment. We've practically worn a groove traveling between the Pacific Northwest cities of Portland and Everett.

Guess how many trips?