Categories
Inspiration

One Perk of Living Here

(This post first appeared on Assist News Service in December 2014.)

Here in Western Ukraine, fall is gradually morphing into winter. We actually had our first snowfall back in October, and though it melted off with the return of somewhat warmer weather, it let us know that winter was not far away. The trees are bare, and the world has taken on that dormant look that comes after the autumn harvest is over and the plants prepare for the cold, dark months ahead.

In our family, the passing of the seasons is marked most vividly by the changing availability of seasonal produce. After a long winter relying on root vegetables, cabbage, shrivled apples, and imported citrus fruits, it feels like a holiday when the first strawberries appear in late May. We celebrate by consuming two or more quarts of the delicious berries per day until they disappear from the farmers’ markets about a month later.

Categories
Inspiration

Culture and Language through the Eyes of a Missionary Mom

(This post originally appeared on Assist News Service in October 2014.)

As I write, I’m sitting in one of the cute little cafes that abound in the city where I live in the western part of Ukraine. I love this city. It’s not too large, but big enough to have just about everything an expat like myself could want, including well-stocked grocery stores, markets where you can buy Western groceries at discounted prices, movie theaters showing most of the American blockbusters (not in the original language, unfortunately, but that detail isn’t too much of a hindrance to me anymore), and a wide variety of places to eat out. Granted, there are no American fast-food chains here yet, but I’m not a fast-food kind of girl anyway. In my opinion, the prevalence of unique, inexpensive cafes more than makes up for this lack.

I’m in this cafe for two reasons: to have a little bit of time to myself free from the constant demands of small children and never-ending housework and to experience the culture, language, and city on my own. My husband and I were talking recently and decided that both these goals were important enough to warrant him holding down the home front for a few hours each week.

My husband has been living in Ukraine for much longer than I have. I’ve been here for eleven and a half years, which sounds like a long time, but I still feel like a newbie compared to his veteran twenty-two years.

Categories
Inspiration

Between Two Extremes

Hatne Sunrise

(This post first appeared on Assist News Service in September 2014.)

It’s early morning, my favorite time of day, and almost the only time when my mind is alert enough and our home calm enough for me to write. Unfortunately, years of late-night studying in college, over a decade of being married to a night owl, and the last seven years of breastfeeding our four children have so altered my sleep patterns that until recently, if I managed to see the sunrise, it was most likely because a small child’s unwelcome interruption had me stumbling around groggily at that hour than because I got up early enough to greet the new day. Or it was the dead of winter when the sun doesn’t rise until about 8 a.m. at our latitude anyway.

We live in Ukraine. Until recent events brought Ukraine to the forefront of international news, I wouldn’t have expected many people to be able to find the country on a map. Even though I have always loved geography, I had to get a map out myself and look for Ukraine after I met the man I was going to marry, an American who had been living in Ukraine since the age of 16 when he moved here with his missionary parents. All I knew then was that it had been part of the former Soviet Union, but I wasn’t very familiar with all the republics that had splintered off with the break-up of that regime.

Fast-forward thirteen years, and my outlook and experience are much different.

Categories
Baby Joys Inspiration

Four Birth Stories, Part 2

This post is a continuation of an earlier post. If you haven’t already, you should read Part 1 first. 


Nothing is as precious as a newborn; this was our third-born (photo credit: Oksana Dyachenko)
To me, nothing is as precious as a newborn; this was our third-born
(photo credit: Oksana Dyachenko)

These contractions were stronger than the practice contractions I’d been experiencing for months, but they didn’t establish the textbook pattern of getting stronger and closer together. I was in frequent contact with my medical-school friend, and we decided that it must be false labor. But false labor or not, it seemed to be accomplishing something, and I was reminded of my first labor, when I had experienced weak, irregular contractions for 48 hours before finally going to the hospital and finding out that I was already 7 centimeters dilated, almost ready to have the baby!

The anxiety I had been experiencing turned into a strangling sense of dread. This oppressive feeling blanketed every waking moment, like the foreboding that a prisoner on death row must feel as his execution date nears. Frantic from the suspense, I was almost ready to check into the hospital and brave the medical system, but my husband, ever calm and logical, convinced me that was a bad idea.

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Baby Joys Inspiration

Four Birth Stories, Part 1

Just as each individual is unique, so every birth story is different. I have four to prove it.
Just as each individual is unique, so every birth story is different. I have four to prove it.

My children have been born in four different cities on two continents under four sets of very different circumstances. Of all my births to date, I was the most nervous before the last one, my fourth baby. 

Categories
Funny Quotes Inspiration Laughter

Hereditary Colorblindness?

Unlike the United States, Ukraine does not have many dark-skinned people, or Asians, for that matter. It's a fairly homogenous white society, which means that anyone of non-European descent stands out and might be exposed to ridicule, or worse. However, although I'm half Japanese, I've been fortunate.

I have not  experienced any racism here. Until recently.

Categories
Inspiration Kitchen Joys

Budget Lasagna Recipe

I love lasagna.

No, that sounds too trite.

I adore lasagna.

My earliest memories of this comfort food are from my grandma making it. Even though she was something of a health nut and always prepared nutritious meals, lasagna was something she did well. Her method was simple. She'd layer the pre-cooked noodles in a casserole dish with her savory meat spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese, and shredded mozzarella. Knowing her, I'm sure the cottage cheese and mozzarella were low-fat varieties, but the result was always delicious.

Once I moved overseas and set up housekeeping on my own, it wasn't long before I wanted to try my hand at making my own lasagna. But I couldn't find lasagna noodles. Or cottage cheese. Or a decent mozzarella that didn't cost an arm and a leg. So I set about experimenting and substituting. Thankfully, my husband is a good sport about such things and offered me valuable feedback. (Usually some form of, "This tastes great, Sweetie!") I discovered several delicious combinations that, while not strictly lasagna, satisfied my craving for my favorite food. I found that I could toss cooked pasta with my own savory tomato and meat sauce, curds, and a shredded hard cheese and bake it all in a casserole dish for something that had the taste (if not the texture) of lasagna. I also experimented with replacing the lasagna noodles with cooked brown rice and layering the rice and other ingredients for something that was more reminiscent of true lasagna. At the height of the summer produce bounty, I also discovered that I could use sliced zucchini and eggplant in place of lasagna noodles for a surprisingly delicious and satisfying meal.

And then the economic crisis hit Ukraine. 

Categories
Inspiration

Boys and Girls

One afternoon not too long ago my husband and I were on a date. All we were doing was sitting on a park bench talking, but since we didn't have the kids with us, it felt like a holiday. One nice thing about being out and about without kids is the ability to people watch, and on this day we saw something fascinating. It was a mother with three daughters about the same ages as our three sons. (That would be 5, 3, and 1, for those of you keeping score.) She parked her stroller by a bench, let her toddler out, then sat down and opened a book.

Categories
Encouragement Household Joys Inspiration

Come On In!

Boys creating chaosI just had an epiphany. Why is it that it bothers me when guests drop by unexpectedly, and I haven't had a chance to clean the apartment beforehand? I've never questioned the embarrassment that fills me as I hastily move piles of unfolded laundry to make room on the couch, while clearing toys off the floor by kicking them toward the wall, before I run to the bathroom to make sure that no one has peed on the floor or left traces of poop in the toilet bowl since the last time I was in there. I've never questioned that embarrassment, until today. After all, what in the world have I got to be embarrassed about? I have three preschool boys at home, for crying out loud! Of course my home is a perpetual mess! Who am I trying to fool?

And that's when I had my epiphany.

Categories
Household Joys Inspiration

The House is for People

We recently had lunch at the home of a friend. When we entered she told us that we didn’t need to take off our shoes, because her floor wasn’t very clean. She said this matter-of-factly, without a hint of embarrassment or apology. When we still removed them because we felt awkward about wearing shoes inside, she suggested that we don houseslippers. We did, and she immediately gave us a tour of her house, making us feel at home. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch while our kids and her 5-year-old son played inside and out in the expansive yard.

The house and grounds boasted two cats, three kittens, one dog, a pen of chickens, and two flocks of geese, including a bunch of goslings. After we finished eating, our hostess showed us her chickens and collected ten eggs to send home with us, then she walked us to her vegetable garden, where she harvested some radishes and green onions for us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, and we didn’t mind her dirty floors one bit. As we were leaving, she said something that has stuck in my mind.