Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 recap

While there were some massive changes this year- like starting in Ukraine, ending in the United States- one thing that didn't change was D's job. A programmer in any country is still a programmer :p I started the year with the goal of sharing a triple-digit number of posts on this blog... and just a few days shy of the New Year, here is #100!

January 2014

Tragedy in Kyiv, while Kharkiv lay quiet under a blanket of snow. D and I took what turned out to be our final trip to Simferopol together. All the winter weather reminded me of a winter spent in Siberia long ago. This post- Blue & Yellow- brought together images I'd been collecting for two years. With the uncertainty of EuroMaidan, the topic of leaving Ukraine came up.

February 2014

This blog hit 100,000 views! Dark things started happening in Kharkiv. On Feb 22nd, the (now former) President of Ukraine fled the country. The next day crowds gathered again in the city's main square. On the homefront I went through some old belongings of D's family and shared 24 pictures of Ukrainians going about their daily lives.

March 2014

It was my birthday and we went to the 4D theater for the first time. The city's zoo issued a plea for help and the community responded. Only spring and temperatures were already up to 64F/17C! Someone got his international passport and we visited an awesome fairy tale park. Meanwhile, the waiting game continued for the nation and the world.

April 2014

Read the newspaper a lot. The MTC Kharkiv International Marathon took place, a flower show came to town, and spring was generally welcomed by all.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas (and Kit photo sessiya)

З різдвом!

С рождеством!

Merry Christmas!

If this is a holiday for you, may it be a wonderful one : )
If this is a regular day for you, may it be a wonderful one : )

Decorations at the library... a good example of using what you've got!
My desk owl gets some holiday cheer.

In the last 8 years, 50% of my Christmases have been spent in places where December 25th is not considered a holiday. I think I've lost the Christmas decorating ability by now but it's been fun to see how talented others are at it around town. This year our home is plain save for these two things:
Tipsy Santa. Found him two years ago at the Ukrainian version of the dollar store. He has since become our treasured family holiday heirloom ; )

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sad Russian Poetry Night

No one can be as gloomy as a Russian poet. Go on, I dare you, try to beat this...

 Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека (Блок)

 Night, street, street-lamp, drugstore (Alexander Blok)

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

A meaningless dull light about.

Живи ещё хоть четверть века -
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.
You may live twenty-five years more;

All will still be there. No way out.

Умрёшь — начнёшь опять сначала,
И повторится всё, как встарь:
You die. You start again and all

Will be repeated as before:

Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.
The cold rippling of a canal.

The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

What do you think?

I encountered this poem years ago and it's dragged itself around in my head ever since. All the Russian poems I treasure are similarly mournful: последний тост (Last Toast) by the long-suffering Anna Akhmatova, и скучно и грустно (Weary and Sad) from Mikhail Lermontov, the allegedly-written-in-blood До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья (Goodbye, My Friend, Goodbye), composed a day before Sergiy Yesenin's death. 

Last year my Russian teacher insisted I memorize a poem for one of our lessons. I memorized Yesenin's poem, since it was mostly intact in my brain anyways. For someone who tends to be rather somber herself, she wasn't amused. Next week, she ordered, you're to memorize another Yesenin poem- Собаке Качалова (To Kachalov's Dog). I only got through the second stanza. To Kachalov's Dog is about a friendly and loyal dog, so there must be equally upbeat creations out there... but they just don't have that same je ne sais quoi about them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Kharkiv, Freedom Square. 2012.
Kharkiv, train station. 2013.
Portland, Pioneer Square. 2014.

Although these trees all look similar, it's a different feeling to be preparing for the holidays this year.

This year there will be a brief flash of activity on Dec 24th and 25th before regular life resumes, instead of solid weeks of celebrating and feasting. It'll be eggnog instead of champagne. Fake snow in storefront windows instead of real snow piled up outside them. (Gotta admit, that's a pleasant change.) This year I'll be working on New Year's Eve.

All the pine and sugar cookie scented candles, all the whimsical rolls of wrapping paper at the grocery store, all the Christmas lights in windows, don't make up for the fact that when I talked to my neighbor the other day, he casually dropped the words "this is the worst time of year." It's true we were talking about getting together for pizza and he meant that this is the worst time of year for meeting up, but in a way it really could be the worst time of the year. The expectation is that it's the most wonderful time of the year, of course, but unlike Ukraine the focus is more on shopping than seeing friends. Trending articles of the moment have titles like "7 Easy Mays to manage Holiday Anxiety!" and "4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Soothe Holiday Stress". And have you heard this song yet?

I think the biggest problem is the lack of time. In America we decorate more, buy more, mail holiday cards, wrap more, and yet the only time we take off work is... 3 days. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. In this phone survey of 786 adults, 56% reported work stress as the greatest source of stress during this time. In Ukraine the work load is slowing down right now. At my old English school, students and teachers are wrapping up classes and preparing for a long break. At D's old work, the whiskey in the break room starts making the rounds at 2 PM rather than 4 PM. Instead of a mad push to finish up everything in time, this month is a cool down of societal machinery. Then comes January and its one-to-two weeks of freedom for many. (D says this isn't always time off work, but rather time at work spent not working.)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Kharkiv Cat Mafia

There's a crumbling brick house off Pushkinska street, wedged between a real estate agency and an apartment building. For most of the people who live in this area, it's nothing more than a mundane parking spot. Others, though, can tell you what this place really is: home of the Kharkiv cat mafia.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tea tour

To totally misquote Tinie Tempah, I live a very very very tea lifestyle. It hasn't always been like this. I blame it on D; he says he never remembers a time in his life when there wasn't tea. "My parents probably put it in my baby bottle", he laughs.

It all began when we started dating. D lived in a tiny dorm room and his black Walmart coffee maker was pretty much the only amenity. For that entire year we nibbled on late-night snacks of bananas and ramen. His mom and dad would drive up from the tiny community of Delta Junction with huge ziploc bags of dried bananas and D would stash them away in a dresser drawer. Delta Junction, by the way, has the highest percentage of Ukrainian people in the United States per Wikipedia. Per me, it's really cold there. Crazy cold! And the city we were in was a hundred miles north of that, even colder. We'd use the coffee maker to heat up water for ramen and tea on chilly Fairbanks nights (aka every single night). That was the first time tea became a part of my lifestyle. Back then it was one big box of cheap black tea... now it's nearly as extensive as some people's shoe collections.

We have tea for every part of the day. Black tea for the morning.

Herbal teas for the day.

And something uncaffeinated for the evening. Before bed D always goes for a cup of decaf Earl Gray. I don't trust decaf so I pick something out of my private anti-stress collection. (Basically I will buy anything that promises de-stressifying properties.)

In Ukraine we always had a shelf-sized tea collection but it's now grown and requires an entire corner of its own. This is one of my favorite places in the whole apartment.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ukraine and the US, Part 1

The streets of Kharkiv, this spring.

Part 1 of a post months in the making... Do you remember when I was still getting used to things in Ukraine? This is our fourth month back in the U.S. and while we're all a bit more adjusted- D gets to speak his beloved English again, Кит likes to hang out on his new balcony and spend hours sniffing the leaves that fall onto the concrete floor- there are a few things that have taken some getting used to.

The streets of Portland, today.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snapshots of American Life

It's Thanksgiving! I remember trying to get the day off last year in Ukraine, to an answer of "Oh, a holiday of your people?... How nice!... Now get back to work." ; ) One year later and no one's going into work today (except hopefully the people at the grocery store so I can grab some sunflower oil to make a last-minute морковый салат).

In honor of this very American holiday, here's a peek at recent American life:
Science fair!
Hamburger and beer: food for patriots.
Boats moored along the Colombia River.
Reading an old sci-fi book while waiting for the train.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interview with an Elections Interpreter

The statue of Lenin on the main square of Kupiansk. I have seen a lot of Lenin statues in my life and I think this one is special. Usually they picture Lenin staring forward or pointing with his right hand in that direction, which means showing the way to the better life in the future. But this one doesn't point forward. I don't know if you can tell it from the picture, but his outstretched hand doesn't point anywhere. It is frozen in the middle of some motion. Dancing...? Or he was about to drop the hand down and say "Ok, it didn't work out! Go wherever you want!"

Six months ago, Petro Poroshenko was elected President of Ukraine. The same friend who worked with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) elections observers before is back, this time with stories from last month's Parliamentary election. This was a slightly smaller-scale campaign as the OSCE had 600 short-term October observers compared to May's figure of 900. Two of those short-term observers were lucky enough to work with my friend Timur, a very nice guy who taught himself English over the years while working the night shift at a factory. Below are his words and photographs.

1) Timur, this was your second time working with the OSCE observers. What were the logistics like this time?

I told you the story of my first mission. I thought there was danger from separatist groups who wanted to assault people on elections day in May. But most of the troubles I had were from situations inside my team. On the second day the team broke apart and I had to balance between two observers: one kind and polite and the other rude, unpredictable and selfish.

So my biggest worry was – who were my clients going to be this time? It turned out they were nice people. The rest was easy! Our team covered the same region as the last time – Kupiansk. I had the same driver, Alexander, who knows every road and each village. The same hotel “Oskol” with the best restaurant in town. And I knew many chairpersons in the PECs (Precinct Election Commission). Some of them became members of the DEC (District Election Commission), which was also helpful.
With observers Lori and Robert near the hotel "Oskol".

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Sorry for the radio silence of late, readers. Last week's snowpocalypse-that-wasn't (for this area at least) closed a lot of the city down and resulted in a day off. I used that day + the weekend to finish unpacking boxes, clean house, and just catch up on a billion little things. It felt great!

Then back to work this week. Today I completed my first monthly report on the job:
A couple of years ago I was the instructor and my boss was the education coordinator. Now I'm the coordinator and someone else is the instructor. It's really weird to see things from the other side. I understand my old boss so much better now, why she had so many piles of paperwork everywhere and never enough time. Many days I wish I could call her up and ask her for advice but then I remember that she eventually moved on, dropping the position for school, the same decision that my predecessor at this job made. Is that some kind of sign?

Between classes, phone calls, emails, intakes, and paperwork, I set up this little tea shrine:
That mug was a going-away present from Karina, a student-turned-good-friend. I love it! The sides show many of the city's famous landmarks and a cup of tea always brings back good memories. This last summer, as the temperatures crept higher and higher, Maxine and I would head over to Karina's apartment for an English/Russian language exchange. Karina would always have a table full of good stuff to snack on: chocolates, strawberries with sugar, champagne. And served a smile. Always the same huge smile.
The one and only Karina : )
Anyways, this is just a short post to check in. Got a couple more posts in the works, coming soon! In the meantime, here are some fun photo galleries from a Ukrainian photographer in Lviv. Benches is my favorite- what's yours?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Down came the rain

Rain, rain

Go away
Come again
Another day

It's that time of the year- I hope you've got a nice umbrella : )

DC rain...
...and Seattle rain too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sand and sweets

This little seaside park in Edmonds, Washington is a favorite of D's family. We spent several afternoons here in August, beachcombing the chilly waters and eating pizza at Marina Beach, his sister's namesake park.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New job

Life in the U.S. feels more familiar. The foods we eat, our daily routines, the smell of pot in public places, it's all an expectation rather than a surprise. Days will go by when I hardly think of Ukraine until suddenly, some piece of news will present itself and the country will again materialize in front of us. Last week this stunning piece of art on an old building made me smile. Sunday's news of an explosion in a pub in downtown Kharkiv did not.

At the sight of anything blue and yellow- even an IKEA store...

It's hard to find any news on Ukraine at all now locally, which can falsely lull a person into thinking the situation there is calmer. Fortunately a neighbor started leaving his copy of the Wall Street Journal out for us and it's often possible to find an update or two in there. Friends in Ukraine keep in touch but they rarely add anything to their emails about politics, negotiations, or troop movements. Who would?