·                     Sunday,30 April 2006

Cleaning up for my house guest

Next week our house-guest is arriving so I did a bit of cleaning in preparation for her.  The biggest challenge is finding a suitable place for her kitty-litter box! 

We are cat-sitting for a week.


It will be fun to have a feline friend staying with us for a while.


·                     Friday, 28 April 2006


E-Mail Excerpt Follows:

…I was trying to find my Mom's wonderful chocolate Mayonnaise cake recipe and my cousins helped me out.  My cousin Beth, found it in an old Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) cookbook that my Mom and her sisters used as a cooking Bible!  I'll insert the recipe below).

I will make a test version (weird oven, odd shaped pan and Ukrainian ingredients!) for a 1 May (Labor Day here) outing.  We are going on a hike to the eastern tip of the Peninsula with some Ukrainian friends - we will picnic there (I hope they will make Shashchlick - wonderful shish-ka-bobs that are unique to Ukraine)

I like to frost the mayonnaise cake with a chocolate butter cream frosting...very easy and quick and it satisfies any sweet-tooth or death-by-chocolate-freak. 

I am eager to share it because Ukrainians have such a love of dark chocolate and they put mayonnaise on EVERYTHING (even pizza!). 

If the first one turns out good, I may take one to English Club Wednesday.  At last night's meeting, several of the members were flipping through a Woman's Day magazine someone (thoughtfully sent me and asked about some of the foods and recipes they saw there. (FYI: magazines make great tools for language and cross-cultural games at English Club and when that group is done with them, we give them to secondary school teachers for their English Classes and projects.)  

One teacher said "Our food does not look like this!"  She was eyeing a green bean salad in an ad...you know the one: Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, green beans and French-fried onion rings! 

They were also intrigued by the cheesecake - I promised to make one soon!  Great excuse to indulge again!  8-)  There was a photo of blueberry pancakes which interested them, though there was lots of Russian chatter as they tried to figure out what blueberries are - not available here!  Several members indicated that pancakes are supposed to be big.  They do not really eat pancakes here, but know of them from literature, TV and movies...This started a dialogue on "Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast"....oh, dear, I am making myself homesick! 

Back to the mayonnaise cake - Beth mentioned the EUB cookbook and everything being made from scratch and oven temperatures state: moderate or hot.  That is how we cook here. No instant potatoes, etc!  Our ovens are tiny and do not have temperature gauges - just high and off really.  We experienced this in Spain too.  I like to bake so it can be frustrating...

OK, one more comment - do you know how the mayonnaise cake evolved (at least according to my Mom)?  During President Hoover's years some products were scarce so people learned to innovate a bit.  Frugal (or desperate) cooks found that mayonnaise is a great substitute for eggs and oil in a recipe so this cake started out as a "Hoover-Cake".  In this case, the substitution made an improvement to a rather dull cake and became a secret ingredient!

Soooooo, more later...I have bent your ears about cake, etc, long enough!   But here is the recipe my Mom used!  Try it - even if the thought of mayonnaise makes you squeamish - it is a very rich, no fail, deliciously moist cake! 

My Mom’s Chocolate Cake

1 c. sugar
2 c. flour
4 heaping T. cocoa
1 c. Miracle Whip salad dressing
1 c. hot water
2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. vanilla
Sift together flour, sugar and cocoa into bowl.  Add salad dressing and hot water (not boiling) in which soda has been dissolved.  Add vanilla.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Pour into 9 x 12 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Very delicious served warm.   


(Try the frosting I mentioned too!)

Typed on Thursday Morning, While my Kitchen Floor Dries

·                     Thursday, 27 April 2006

I thumbed through the “Kiev Post” (6 April 2006 edition of a expat-paper published in Ukraine) recently and a rather startling ad caught my eye.  It reads:



A chance of a lifetime!  Teach in South Carolina, USA, beginning July 2006.  Need qualified teachers with 4-year degree in teaching Math, Science, or Special Education.  No fees required of applicants. Salary, medical coverage, transportation, support and training included.  Apply online at www.FACESinc.org



I did a double take and then I laughed. 


Recruiting teachers from Ukraine to teach in South Carolina!


Before Mark and I joined Peace Corps, we taught at a South Carolina high school.  We had a standing joke that teaching in South Carolina was our Peace Corps tour! 


Obviously, there was some sarcasm in our joke, but, there were many days during our tenure there that we felt as if we were living in a foreign country. Local attitudes, living standards and cultural challenges presented us with daily opportunities to learn and grow. It was a character building experience being outsiders in that closed community.  It was also an area that is significantly economically depressed and quite isolated too. 


When we actually joined Peace Corps and headed for Ukraine, we continued to joke about how our Peace Corps experience would be a step up from our lifestyle in sunny South Carolina. 


In some ways, it has been a step up. 


I try to imagine what life will be like for the Ukrainian teachers who may answer the call to come to South Carolina. I wonder what their expectations will be.  I wonder what they will think once they begin to teach.


Many South Carolina schools are in sore need of strong, effective educators who can sustain the efforts necessary to engage students and help them succeed and grow.   


South Carolina is a lovely place, but for us, it is time to move on.


Hmmmm, maybe I could swap my delightful little bungalow in sunny South Carolina for a dacha here in Crimea…. 


Know any nice Ukrainian math, science or special education teachers eager to have an adventure?  We could talk!



·                     Wednesday, 26 April 2006 – 20th Anniversary of Chornobyl

“Are you dressed?” Mark called, as he walked through the door.


“Well, yes, I am.  It is only 8 PM, Romeo!”


“Get your coat then and let’s walk to the Chornobyl monument.  People are gathering there.  It looks like there will be some kind of ceremony,” my spouse informed me.


He was right.  The local community had a solemn candlelight memorial service commemorating the 20 years since the Chornobyl nuclear power plant exploded and the world witnessed the worst technological catastrophe it had ever known.  There were speeches, a 21-gun salute, and a dramatic procession of young women in flowing white gowns, each presenting a candle.  Individuals silently filed by leaving behind hundreds of bold red tulips and flickering candles.   


Twenty years after this hideous disaster, the world still does not have a clear picture of the extent of its impact.   It emitted radiation equivalent to  300 nuclear bombs like those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Last week, environmental watchdog Greenpeace reported that around 90,000 people will die of cancer caused by radiation from the Chornobyl explosion.  A previous UN report is significantly more conservative, predicting a death toll of 4,000.


There is obviously some uncertainty and it is likely we will never have an absolute figure.  When the disaster happened there were fatal delays in evacuating the communities (the city of Pripyat and 76 villages).  1,400 buses  arrived and evacuation began 36 hours after the initial explosion.  150,000 people left their homes with only what they could carry and never returned again.  They left a ghost town.


In Kiev, less that 90 miles from Chornobyl, the huge May Day celebrations took place as planned – Moscow tried to keep things quiet...to show the world things were under control  An area of 100,000 square miles was directly effected – in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.


It took eight days, working night and day, in contaminated waters to avert danger of the second explosion.


Kerch is a long way from the Chornobyl site, yet thousands of local young men were among the 800,000 clean-up workers dispatched from all of the Soviet Republics.  Recent statistics say that almost 6,000 of the liquidators have died – the majority of them, young men in their twenties. 


There is more to the story…devastation, despair…


But the data is not all in.  Leukemia, lymphoma and thyroid cancer are among the challenges these people face. 


Almost 4 million people still live and are dying in contaminated zones. 


Twenty years after the fact, the event is still sobering to consider and is still changing the lives of people throughout this part of the world. 


We stood quietly, watching people mourn and sharing, in a small way, the grief they bear.


·                     Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Spring Cleaning

It is almost noon.  I spent the morning on my hands and knees doing the spring-cleaning on the old orange carpet that runs the length of the entryway to our flat. I stretched it out across the kitchen floor and assembled my tools. 


I managed to spill about a cup of the Ukrainian version of Mr. Clean (here he is called “Mr. Proper”). The large spot of undiluted soap made extra work of this already challenging project.  Mr. Proper’s usually pleasant grin seemed to resemble a smirk, as if he was trying to refrain from laughing at the foolish American woman as she scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. 


That man just stands there, arms crossed, looking all too smug if you ask me!


I wish I had thought to buy a pair of rubber gloves! 


It is amazing how dirty carpets are.  I am not a fan of them.  They simply collect dirt.  I prefer bare floors.  The maintenance is so much easier.


I guess carpets collect dirt and dust that would otherwise travel into the living area.   Any good Ukrainian homemaker knows this.  Guests and family all remove their shoes upon entering a Ukrainian home.  The host always has extra slippers to loan guests so they will feel at home.  It is engrained into the lifestyle here.


Not only is it inappropriate to wear shoes indoors, going barefoot or stocking footed is not appropriate either.  


Originally, I thought I would simply roll up the rugs ad store them away, but  there is really no adequate space for storing up rolled up carpet in this tiny flat.  And of course our landlady would notice their absence.  She was so pleased to provide them for us last October.


All winter I have dutifully swept the carpets each day. 


I use a broom because that is the accepted practice.  Most people do not have vacuum cleaners, but they are available (personally I think they are overrated too, but that is another rant, for another day!)


Occasionally I use a sponge to gather up hair.  Here, carpets are taken outdoors on accession  – they are beaten and aired and put back down.  In the winter, after a good snowstorm, people take carpets outdoors, lay them face down and place clean snow on them.  The residual dirt falls through into the snow beneath. 


A vacuum cleaner really is a status symbol here.  Like owning a washing machine is.  Homemaker’s here are beginning to acquire small appliances - things like toasters, vacuum cleaners, steam irons, hair dryers, microwaves, etc. 


Economic development is uneven here so there are significant contrasts in how people choose to spend their money.  As everywhere, there are wealthy people who have all the tools and accoutrements of the techno-society we in the western world take for granted.  But, at the working class level, houses, cars, appliances and most of the tools and items that are observed in homes on television are simply not reality. 


The contrasts still catch my attention. 


Of course, this is true in America in a different way.  People see life on television and want the things they see.  In the small town we lived in before coming here, there are many people who barely survive; people who may have a car and many appliances and a wonderful wardrobe, but are deeply in debt.


Here, people pay cash.  The credit purchase is still unusual.  In this country, people still pay cash for a house or a flat. 


But, it is only a matter of time…


These thoughts go through my head as I clean my carpet and prepare to begin on the second one.  I hope Mr. Proper’s smile will look more sincere to meme now that I have had a break. 


(Of course he is smiling – he isn’t scrubbing the carpet now is he?)




·                     Friday, 20 April 2006 – Good Friday (Orthodox)

All bundled up on a warm spring day…

The day is splendid here in Kerch, Crimea.  My windows are open and turtle doves coo outside.  I see men in t-shirts.  Tulips, daffodils,  and forsythia blossoms compete for attention.  I see a young child wobbling along the sidewalk on an ancient bicycle.  He is wearing a snowsuit, stocking cap and a muffler around his neck.  Women stride by wearing short, short skirts and bare legs. 


This bundling of children puzzles me.


Getting ready for a long weekend

The library will close for Orthodox Easter and Monday is a holiday too so Mark has three days on a row off!  It is a beautiful day and I would rather play hooky, but I feel duty bound o clean the flat before the chaotic weekend descends and wrecks havoc on the flat. 


I am usually good about tending to the basic clutter control, floor sweeping, mopping, laundry and dish details, but yesterday dawned grey and cold and I deviated from he to do list.  So at noon, I finished with some writing and decided to retire my pajamas and think about the daily chores. 


I had just slipped on my clothes when a knock at the door startled me. 


Of course, on a day when my tiny flat is in chaos, an unexpected visitor at my door.  I had not even run a comb through my hair and breakfast dishes still cluttered the table.  Sigh. 


My sense of justice and fair play were offended!  I am so meticulous about my basic chores it seems hardly fair to have a guest arrive with me so obviously unprepared.


I put aside my personal vanity, sponged off the table and graciously offered him coffee and chocolates.  We had a nice visit and I was able to provide some advice on his resume and opinions on purchasing a computer.  


“The Little Prince” and the advice of Fox…

This morning as I tended my chores I found myself thinking about “The Little Prince” and the lessons the Fox attempts to teach the young Prince.  Fox talks about how anticipation adds to the joy of a meeting.  He says that the ritual of a meeting is of consequence and enhances the actual experience. 


I consider this.  There is considerable satisfaction and joy in knowing a guest will come.  One selects the tea and cookies, decides which teacups to use and puts flowers on the table and maybe a tablecloth too, all the while thinking of how these gestures may please the guest.  As the hour of the visit draws closer, the happy anticipation builds. 


Now I consider how this can backfire.  We can become too consumed with the appearances and lose the joy of anticipation in the frenzy to set the stage perfectly.  The event becomes a chore, a chance to feel inadequate.  So inviting a guest may be delayed or avoided entirely – put off until things are just right (which they may never be!).


A spontaneous visit cuts through that part of the equation.  One is forced to look past the moment and ones feelings and simply strive to make the guest feel welcome.  It is too late to do anything else so simply be gracious and be grateful someone wishes to call.


I am not entirely sure which school of thought I prefer (oh, of course I am…I like to prepare and tend to rituals) but it is always nice to have a guest! 


But today, I my chores are done, our flat is cluttered, but clean, birds are singing, flowers blooming.  Tomorrow we have a guest!  THIS is the day to play hooky.  I am going for a walk by the sea!


·                     Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Toilet paper notes on a Bulgakov classic: “The Master and Margarita”…

There are tales of authors penning their works on toilet paper in order to evade censors and many of these tales are associated with works produced during totalitarianism in the Soviet Union.  At times, rather than penning their works, authors memorized them word for word or even had associates memorize pieces so that when the time was right they could transcribe their inspired works onto paper for posterity.  It is hard to imagine that kind of world, where ideas created so much fear and a book could be such a threat. 


Though I am no author, I did opt for taking notes on sturdy, brown toilet paper (which has not changed much since the Soviet era though perhaps it is more readily available now than it was then!).   


Why am I seated at the kitchen table, making notes on toilet paper? 


Well, simply because I was so engrossed in my reading that I simply grabbed the nearest paper at hand to jot down thoughts as I continued to read.  A roll of toilet paper is frequently found in our kitchen because it often serves as tissue for my runny nose and also as a suitable substitute for paper towels in the event of a spill.


I decided to finish reading “The Master and Margarita” by M. Bulgakov this morning and have been hunched over the novel since breakfast.  I have been rationing out the pleasure this book brings by allowing myself to read only a few pages each day. 


This morning I made a second pot of coffee, lighted the burner on the stove to take the chill off the kitchen, and resumed reading for a couple hours. 


This is a compelling novel and there are so many layers to it.  There are political subtexts, literary and religious allegories (Pontius Pilate), metaphors, fantasies (a Faustian talking cat), parallels, and polemic.  There is the very Russian character of the novel too.


This book (written in the 1930s but not published for decades) and the author (long dead) have a cult following around the world, and I can certainly understand why.  Of course, many people say that non-Russians cannot really fathom the book or its impact.  There are many discussions about how poor translations are and that this work can only be properly understood or appreciated in its native Russian language, etc, etc.  Ho hum. Regardless of the condescending, arrogant, patronizing attitude of that elite group, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book and have come away with many things to think about. 


One subtext concerns cowardice and courage…our ability to act and demonstrate compassion.  Characters wrestle with these issues. 


There is an interesting narrative about how shadows and how they are as important as the light…Jesus teaches by example while the devil uses provocation…and they work to the same end.  We are tested by one and shown by the other – we are to show compassion even under the most wretched conditions humanity can show us…we must transcend retribution, but many people fail. 


This novel, a mere 300 pages is packed with so many things.  I do not intend to elaborate on them or to write a book review though. 


Of course, you can just read this book and enjoy the roller-coaster story.  But, I find myself wishing I could speak with the author.  I want more.  And I have a wealth of ideas and literary, political and cultural allusions to explore and consider.


This book will remain on my shelf (when I am not re-reading it!) and is one I would recommend to those who love to read and think.


Oh – I found a quote in it that may become the epigraph on my tombstone (actually, I hope to be cremated and my ashes scattered):


“Time to go, my friend, time to go…”  - Pushkin


(in transliterated Russian: Pora, moi drug, pora…”  -Pushkin)


And with that, it is indeed time to go…or at least stop lingering over this novel and my toilet paper notes! 


It is after noon and Mark will soon be here for lunch on this fine spring day on the shores of the Kerchian Straits.



·                     Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Catwoman & Poodoo are back!

It is still a mystery why Catwoman was gone, but she and Poodle-Boy are back!  There are some very hungry cats who are mighty glad to see them.  We are grateful to have them back too.


·                     Monday, 17 April 2006 – My sister Rosemary’s Bithday!

Tried to call the USA…

Once again, we try to call the USA and the party we hope to reach sadly eludes us. 


We have three phone numbers for this Reno couple, including a cell phone, but do not, cannot connect. 


One call indicates the number has been disconnected; the next call reaches a voice mail system that does not respond when we poke buttons to leave a message, and then the cell phone, which just rings and rings and rings. 


This is not the first time we have failed to connect when trying to call these people, though we verified the numbers.  Sigh.


So, some bucks shorter now and feeling blue, we call our daughter and son-in-law and wake them up in far away Arizona.  We had a good conversation about nothing more important than simple human connection.


Logistics of phoning…

The logistics of making an international call are not as bad as they were during the many years we lived in Spain, but for us, making a call to America still involves gong to a phone center.  Given a 7-10 hour difference in time zones, and limited office hours, we plan ahead to find a window of opportunity to make a call. 


We give the number to the clerk who dials, connects and then hands over the cell phone.  We scurry into one of the small, Plexiglas, sweatbox booths and huddle over the phone, sweating and straining to hear the party on the other end.


While phoning the USA is cheap by an American standards, our three aborted calls and one actual connection amounting to about 50 Hryvnia ($10) cost more than a day’s pay for a school teacher, librarian or other similar employee here in Crimea. 


(Postal service is pricey here too – we are amazed to rack up mail charges amounting to several day’s pay when we mail small items stateside.)


We can, on and do the other hand, receive phone calls at home on our cell phone or the landline, though service is sometimes erratic.  (Callers should make sure they have an international calling plan or it gets pricey really fast -  like 15 cents as opposed to 3 dollars per minute!)


We were grateful for an Easter call from our folks in sunny California.  They found a webcam on a Kerch site and were watching the locals here stroll through Lenin Square and lingering in the warm spring air near the Hero City monument outside the local post office.  They were just starting their day in California and we were ending ours here.


A book and DVD orgy…

The other day, we received a wonderful and generous “care package” from one of my nieces.  Back in December, Carrie purged her book collection (Chad’s too!) and then made a trip to the local version of the “Dollar Store” for a dozen or so video disks of classic TV and old John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart B&W films.  She packed all this great stuff up and sent it to some very grateful recipients – US!  She also included a disk filled with much-appreciated family photos and a slew of delightful video clips (the kind people forward in their e-mail).  We really were like kids at Christmas time as we pawed through the books and paused to read back covers and titles.


All this stimulating Americana arrived via Media-Mail. So it has been enroute to our place since mid-December.  (Media-Mail goes space available for about $1 a pound – the ONLY practical way to really ship books, magazines, etc,)


So, after ooohing and aaahing over the paperbacks, we settled in for a happy orgy of video mania.   It is hard to decide whether to simply watch, enjoy and indulge in a viewing frenzy or to be practical and put some aside for a future day when America seems like a distant memory. 


One unexpected delight was a simple DVD with about ten hours of HGTV burned on it.  How I miss HGTV!  I become mesmerized by it!  I can easily be sucked into a video void for hours and hours and hours.  It is addictive!  So, needless to say, I parked myself on the hard, soviet-era sofa and pulled my laptop closer to watch the was decorators and designers work their magic.  (One show I really enjoyed is the one about designing for small spaces…our one room flat here is 3 meters by 5 meters!) 


So while most people in the USA were indulging in Easter and spring rituals this weekend, we were masking our homesickness and nostalgia for America with a serious video fix, thanks to Carrie and Chad, our official Easter Bunnies!  


·                     Saturday, 15 April 2006

Snowsuits in springtime…

The laundry snaps in the breeze as a young mother hangs up crisp white sheets on this beautiful spring morning.  Her long dark hair wafts invitingly in the breeze.  She wears a white shirt and a dark skirt; her legs are bare and make me think of summer days ahead.  The child who stays close to the woman’s side as she works, is bundled up in a sturdy red snowsuit with only a bit of his face peeking through to the fresh air.  Yes, a snowsuit!  Daffodils are in bloom, tulips will soon follow, but the youngest among us still wear snowsuits…hmmmmm…


This behavior puzzles me and I see it often.  Children are routinely bundled up, from head to toe as if a wintry blast may occur at any moment, while the adults are more appropriately dressed for the genial weather conditions of a spring day. 


There is also an obsession about drafts I this country.  Buses and marshutkas are like sweat boxes this time of year and do not think you dare to open the window for some relief…no, this is totally inappropriate and dangerous to your health according to the locals. 


You just have to sweat it out, like those poor little kids in the snowsuits!


Bazaar Behavior….

We stepped indoors at the bazaar to buy some vegetable salads.  There are about 15-20 women competing for business.  Each has open plastic bins, mounded high with a variety of 8-10 colorful pickled salads. 


We never know how to choose which vender to purchase from and often buy a salad from one vender and then proceed to another to make a second purchase – the spread the wealth around system. 


The women lure you over with offers to try their salad.  They stab some salad on a fork and extend a bit toward you.  You take it in your fingers, sample it and then wipe your fingers on a communal towel hanging in front of the sales table. 


Some customers make the rounds sampling, sampling, sampling and then wander off without ever making an actual purchase.  Once you have made a choice, you indicate how many glass-fulls you would like and then fill a plastic bag with whatever salad you choose.  Sometimes, often actually, they will add some salad you may not have tried.  This free salad may tempt you to return and buy some next week. 


People push and jostle one another while all this is going on.  If a customer lingers long at a given table, other potential customers are likely to arrive and queue up behind you.  Interest attracts crowds, something these venders learned on the job and not in a classroom.


We made our choice of venders, ruling out one where we observed a hungry young man gorging himself on forkfuls of wonderful pickled carrot salad directly from the open bin.  When he was done with the fork he turned it over to the woman who used the fork to stir up the remaining salad.  We ruled out making a purchase from this salad vender.


This week while we were purchasing our beet salad from one vender, the lady at the next table bagged up some seaweed salad and gave it to us.  “You are dobrovolets?” she asked (in Russian), smiling.  I said yes as she thrust the bag at me.  (Dobrovolets means volunteer, as in Peace Corps Volunteer)


“Take it,” she said.  “A gift,” she said, smiling again. 


Another salad lady gestured to us.  “Where are you from?” she said in Russian.  “Ahhhh, America!  My brother lives in Portland!”  Some phrase-book influenced conversation followed. 


Apparently the salad ladies have been discussing us and probably would talk about us some more after we left.  Not many Americans live around here.  


As we talked, I observed a large handsome dog staring intently at the meat counter as is trying to decide on a purchase.  I imagine the saleswomen might be in the habit of giving him a treat on occasion.  Lots of dogs and cats roam the meat market angling for handouts.  The venders seem to be a pushover for animals.  Soon I see a small sausage fly over the counter and the big dog gracefully snatched it from the air like a catcher might reach up to snatch a baseball.  He quickly finished his snack and resumed his vigil at the meat counter.   


The beer dregs…

We finished up our Saturday shopping at the bazaar and sopped for the local version of “fast food”.  You can get a hot dog – not what you might expect….kind of a sausage topped with shredded pickled carrots, cabbage and watery catsup.  We opt for something else more traditionally Ukrainian. 


While I wait for Mark to bring our lunch to the table, a “bag lady” appears by my elbow.  She reached for a couple abandoned beer bottles left on the ground by previous patrons.  People collect bottle here – recycling bottle is business her, but I was quite surprised when she held the first bottle to her mouth and drained the dregs.  I was spellbound.  She polished off the beer remaining in the second bottle and stuffed them in her collection bag. 


·                     Friday, 14 April 2006 – Good Friday (Aren’t all Fridays good?)

I am in a shoulda-been-a-social-studies-teacher mood today!

I spent an hour or so perusing some materials about how Easter is celebrated in Ukraine and Russia.  My head is full, so now details are about to spill out in this journal.


People are still recovering from about fifty years of Soviet-era fears and restrictions so conversations about things-religious are often contradictory and confusing.  I read a lot so my impressions morph a bit as I speak to people, observe life and try to make sense of what I have read. 


Last year, I missed the Easter experience since I was medivaced back to the USA and missed seeing how our host family celebrated.  Mark can tell that story. 


So here is what I know about Ukrainian and Russian Easter traditions, which are deeply rooted in a Slavic past.  Of course, here in isolated Kerch, we have more of a Byzantine influence I guess!


There is no Easter Bunny here, I know that for sure!  And I will miss the colorful Easter baskets filled with jellybeans; chocolate bunnies; and those sticky-sweet, toxic-waste yellow peeps!


Eat it while you can…

Maslenitsa (butter fest) seems to kick off the whole Easter experience.  It is generally a weeklong binge that proceeded the 40 days of Lent when the devout give up meat and animal products (that means not only meat, but also no fats, cheese, milk, etc!) as well as dancing. 


Of course, people are far less stringent about the dietary deprivations of Lent these days, but it is hard to imagine just what people could possibly find to eat in those days that did not have some kind of animal product in it!  During the winter months even now, it is hard to find much in the way of vegetables or fruit.  I envision day after day of boiled potatoes (no butter) and steamed cabbage with a side of boiled grains (kasha).  No wonder vodka was so popular!


In any case, in places like pre-revolutionary Moscow and St Petersburg, Maslenitsa was a time for dress balls and costumes and carnival festivities.  On the last day of the festival, a straw “Prince Carnival” was hauled around town on a sleigh while crowds cheered and yelled, “Stay with us forever!  Don’t leave us!”  The effigy was burned as the dark days of Lent began.


Now days, Maslenitsa is more of a bliny-festival.   People whip up 30-40 bliny (per person) and serve them with dripping butter and rich fillings.  These wonderful, small pancakes are delightful.


So, not much happens during the 40-day Lenten season, but people in these snowy paces really look forward to spring and Easter.  It is traditional to clean the house thoroughly just before Easter week.  People paint and re-plaster, take the carpets outdoors and beat them clean, and other heavy tasks associated with spring-cleaning.


Decorated Egg-stravaganza

One of the preparations for Easter that is typically Ukrainian is decorating Pysanky (Easter Eggs).  There are elaborately painted eggs painstakingly created by applying layers of beeswax to the egg and dipping them in a variety of colorful dyes.  It is much like the process of Batik work. 


Sometimes the elegant eggs will have what appear to be the letters “XB” – these are the Cyrillic and signify Christos voskres or Christ is risen.


These eggs are so detailed and are stunning collectables.  Children normally dye eggs in much the same fashion we do in the USA.


The egg dying tradition actually predates Easter. 


An interesting historical reference to eggs and Easter is the story about the original Faberge Egg.  Czar Alexander III (1884) asked his court jeweler (the original Faberge!) to design a special gift for the fortunate Czarina.  The result was a white ceramic egg that opened to reveal a yolk in the shape of a golden hen with tiny red eyes.  The hen bore a regal crown with a ruby pendent in it.  The Czarina was suitably impressed and began sharing this kind of decorative eggs, though I presume far less valuable versions, with her court and others.    


Other Easter Traditions

Other Easter traditions here in Crimea include baking a Kulich, a special fruit and nut cake baked in a tall, tall pan, glazed and inscribed with XB.  The other traditional Easter delight is the Paskha, a Russian confection made of rich cream, pot cheese, eggs, raisins, almonds, etc.


(Here’s one of the things that confuses me – in Ukraine the word Paskha seems to be more of a bread or a cake which has many superstitions associated with it.  Like everywhere else in the world there are disparities in what people say and what people do…..)


The Kulich and Paskha will be lovingly placed in a basket lined with embroidered towels, nestled among decorated eggs and small amounts of cheese, sausage and other items that will be served to family and guests on Easter.   The baskets are taken to the church at 11PM on Saturday night.  The priest will bless them during the 4-hour services.  The church is packed with people, there is incense burning and chanting, a procession around the outside of the church.


At 4AM on Easter, people return from church and gather in their homes to begin feasting.  They begin with wonderful zakuska, an assortment of rich, often salty or savory hors d'oeuvres eaten with frequent shots of vodka.  The main course will follow, and since Lent is over, there is lots of meat and fat! 


People eat, eat, and eat.  It is traditional to linger and books say they will simply rest or nap, but keep returning to the table until Sunday evening.  Once source says that for three days, no cooking will be done and nothing will be reheated, so the preliminary preparations are important! 


The Kulich and Paskha are savored with hot chai (tea).  There is impromptu singing and dancing and there are egg-cracking contests among the guests as people, tired of the long grey winter, take delight in the simple pleasure that spring is in the air.  Easter is a sign of renewal. 


Christos voskres!  Voistinu voskres!  (Christ is risen!  Truly he is risen!) 


(Easter is this Sunday in the USA, but here in Ukraine it is not until 17 April this year.  I explained how the date for Easter is set in my Thursday journal entry.)


Now, class dismissed!


·                     Thursday, 13 April 2006 – Maundy Thursday (John 13:44)

We do it twice here – Easter tales.


There is a full moon tonight.


This is the first full moon following the vernal equinox so for those of us following the Gregorian calendar so this Sunday is Easter.  Here in this post-soviet era country that for so many years did not have the freedom to share religious holidays, Easter will not be celebrated for yet another week.


We get to celebrate twice!


This delay in celebrating the holiday here in Ukraine is somewhat confusing, but essentially those who follow the Julian calendar experience a thirteen-day lag.  This is compounded by the tradition that Easter must follow the Jewish Passover, and cannot coincide with it. So, Easter celebrations in Ukraine will always e from one to five weeks later than Easter services in the USA and many other parts of the world. 


The traditions we observe here are such a mix of pagan, religious and soviet-era tradition – resulting in quite a mix of customs and rituals.  Here in eastern Crimea, we are more influenced by the Russian soul than by the Ukrainian heart, so our experience differs vastly from that of Peace Corps Volunteers living in western Ukraine. 


Breakfast and Dacha Daydreams

We woke early today because the bright sun broke through the grey skies of the last few days to bless us.  We thought we had overslept. 


I dozed off again and Mark got up and started the breakfast ritual.  Some time later, I pried my eyes open and made my way to the kitchen.  I looked at the clock and was surprised to see it was not yet 7AM.


Over morning muesli and lots of hot coffee, Mark and I had a leisurely conversation while we observed the neighbors in our courtyard emerging from their flats to start their day.. 


As often happens, the entrepreneurial part of our personalities kicked in.  Soon we were making elaborate plans for a retirement village based on the idea of individual dachas (think small, rural cottages) set on a central courtyard. The ideas spilled out. I could almost see the happy retirees working in their gardens and caring for their cats and dogs. 


I believe if I had the money, this is one enterprise I would actually pursue back in the USA. 


SERENDIPITOUS NOTE: “The Rest of the Story”…

It is much later in the day that I write the next couple paragraphs, but I feel compelled to interject them here.  I just had one of those rather amazing moments of serendipity!


I just looked up “dacha” in my Merriam Webster Dictionary because a friend and I recently discussed how it is pronounced in English.  I asked my computer to tell me what word rhymes with dacha (which, by the way, means small Russian cottage often used in summer months).  The unexpected answer delighted me.  It suggested the word “kwacha”! 


Now kwacha may be a rather obscure reference for most people, but kwacha is from the Chichewa/Bantu language in Malawi and literally means: it dawns.  It is also used to refer to the money of Malawi.  Of course, I know this because my brother has made Malawi his home for over 15 years!   (There are photos of kwacha in “My Malawi Journal” on our webpage.)


Soooo, it dawns on me (pun intended!) my daydream retirement community can be called: Kwacha Dacha! 


(FYI: Dacha and kwacha rhyme with the English word “gotcha”)



My plans for today…

One of my activities today involves drafting a letter to send to a variety of libraries and small business centers in the USA.  My basic purpose is to find ways to develop the budding Internet Center at the library.  Networking… 


I hope to learn what kind of training other libraries consider appropriate for managing a computer center and to explore options for using the Internet Center as a community resource (ie: business workshops, etc), and I just want to network a bit.  Of course, I am also interested in funding – how do people do it?  At this point, we are just trying to get up to speed on a variety of issues and develop a network out there – brainstorming through technology.   


Since we are not library professionals and as Peace Corps Volunteers we have a limited amount of time to set any wheels in motion here in Crimea (only about a year left here!), we probably seem a bit brash.  A sophisticated library professional might use a different tactic or strategy.  I just hope we can find professionals interested in partnering or mentoring our organization or at least willing to share, suggest, guide, nurture, cultivate, etc.,


Sustainability is important too, but I am not too concerned about that at this point - The local central library director is such capable, enterprising woman with great confidence, charm and determination so once she gets behind an idea, she can make it happen.  (She is also lots of fun!)  She would make a wonderful general!


Time to start my “official duty day”…just one more cup of coffee and a cat break at the kitchen window first!


·                     Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Mark came home with a camera full of daffodils and grape hyacinth.  He took photos of the colorful signs of spring on his daily walk to and from work.  The leaves indicating day lilies are thick in the park too. 


In keeping with custom, the monuments (and there are many) commemorating the Great Patriotic War are heaped with spring blossoms recognizing the anniversary of Kerch’s liberation from fascism on 11 April 1944.  The flowers generously heaped at the base of these statues are presented from the heart and not as part of some organized ceremony, so they are all the more impressive.


·                     Tuesday, 11 April 2006 – Anniversary of Kerch’s Liberation (1944)


A Little History Lesson is in Order: Kerch, the Hero City

The Great Patriotic War (WWII) devastated much of Europe and took its toll in Kerch, Crimea too.  Despite everything, the indomitable spirit of the local citizens helped them survive. 


An amazing story unfolded on May 20, 1942, when Hitler’s troops occupied the Kerch Peninsula and over 10,000 men, women and children hid underground in the Adzhimushkai Stone Quarries where they remained close to starvation until late October 1942 -  after 170 days they prevailed and were free to come out again!  


The courageous citizens of Kerch proved their stamina again in November and December 1943 when the historic Kerch-Eltigen Landing Operation took place and battle blazed on Mount Mitridate, right in the heart of the city. 


April 11th, 1944, the city of Kerch was finally liberated from their German invaders, but not before 30,000 inhabitants were tormented and shot and 14,000 people were removed to Germany. 


This day is now set aside locally to celebrate their liberation from the Fascists.


The city of Kerch was officially recognized as one of the 12 Hero Cities of the Soviet Union, honoring the incredible courage and bravery of the local citizens and soldiers during those cruel years of the Great Patriotic War. 


Using Water…

When I am in America, I will take a veeeeeeerrrrrry long, veeeeeerrrrrry hot shower. 


I am not complaining; just anticipating a pleasure that I will relish when we return to the USA sometime in June or July next year.


America has good plumbing.


I am self-conscious of all the water we use here on a daily basis.  I know as an American I am accustomed to simply turning on the tap and using hot water, but in my efforts to be culturally sensitive, I become so aware of my habits and find myself changing my behaviors.  I may be getting a little paranoid though.


I wonder if the other people in our flat are conscious of how much water flows through our pipes and down the drain here on the first floor.  Do they even care?


“Those crazy Americans certainly use a lot of water!” I imagine Tanya saying as she stirs a bit of sugar into her tea.  “What do you think their water bill is, Svetlana?” 


“Oh, who cares, Tanya?” Svetlana might say, nodding her head thoughtfully.  “All Americans are rich!  If I had that kind of money, I would not spend it on hot water.  No, I would buy a new spring coat or a pair of boots.”


Our landlady advised us to unplug the hot water heater at night – save a few kopeks you know!


I can hear the water flowing from the flats above and next door.  I hear their televisions and their phones ringing.  When warm weather arrives and windows open for a cool sea breeze, we will no doubt hear more. 


Diminished Sensations…

This morning I lingered in the shower and used all the hot water.  I consider my shower as a small vacation or an actual hobby.  I take such great pleasure in the act. 


Since my surgeries last year, some of the pleasure in showering has diminished; I have lost sensation in most of the left side of my torso.  I cannot describe it well, but I do not really feel the heat or the water.  It is a vicarious experience – my head knows, but my skin does not. (This can be dangerous since I love really hot water, but cannot actually feel the heat…I could be burned.)


When you have surgeries, you often do not know what small (and large) pleasures you are giving up in exchange for the results.


When I catch glimpses of those foolish make-over programs on television (yes, sadly, “The Swan”  and its ilk, are aired around the world) I wonder if those individuals having this cosmetic surgery know or have a clue what goes along with the transformation.  They may come away from the operation looking wonderful, yet they may have lost sensations and they may feel as though they are living in someone else’s body. 


There are terms to the contract that I think they may not understand.  Would they make the same choices if they had a second chance? 


Of course, I did not really have a choice.


But I am here, taking hot showers…


Update on the Courtyard Cast of Characters

Still no signs of Catwoman or Poodle-Boy.  It is a mystery.


Thankfully, a woman in the end building where the arbor was recently built has been feeding the courtyard cats at least once a day.  She is not systematic about it nor does she supervise the meals so dogs wander in and can create some havoc at the diner site.  


A new dog, Spot, has joined the cast of courtyard regulars. There are not many dogs around here with actual spots so he stands out.  (His brown spots on his white body resemble the spots on dairy cows actually).  Spot showed up recently and has taken to napping in our garden, displacing my cat friends.  Spot is afraid of people and runs when we come and go. 


Spot does not seem happy.  He lets out s loud, sonorous, mournful howl periodically day and night.  Mark finds it disturbing.


When I hear Spot howl, I want to howl too.   It is as if I can feel his pain or melancholy.  The howl has a visceral effect on me. 


Was I a wolf or a dog in my previous life? 


Spot’s howls also remind my of Miss Zoë, my quiet Siberian Husky, who only speaks in howls.  I sometimes (often) joined in when she howled and found it rather satisfying.  It seemed to encourage her when I chose to “sing” along, throwing my head back and giving into this primal ritual.


I miss Miss Zoë.  I could howl right now…


I am glad Spot has taken up residence in the courtyard.  Though Mark may not like it, I know Spot and I will become friends.


There’s a full moon Thursday night…



·                     Monday, 10 April 2006

Grand Opening, Jubilee and More…What a Weekend!

The weekend began early with an 8 AM breakfast with an American Embassy representative.  We were asked by the library director to “host” him during his brief visit for the Grand Opening of the Library Internet Center.


Following breakfast, we boarded a marshutka along with about ten visitors to the community for a tour of town.  Our tour guide is the director of the local museum so is a wealth of facts ad details. 


We headed to the northern end of town, slowed down for a windshield view of the Adzhimushkai Monument marking the entrance to a cave where 10,000 men, women and children hid for 170 days during WWII German occupation of the city.  It is quite a story and a testament to courage and strength of the local people who survived.  I hope we can visit that museum one day


Our actual destination on Friday AM was the Tsars Burial Tomb dating from the days of the Bosporan Kingdom (6th Century BC). 


We stopped at St John’s church (the oldest church in Eastern Europe) and went inside.  It was filled with the smoke and smell of incense, candles and hundreds of devout babushka-women, bowed-heads covered with colorful kerchiefs.  It was a religious holiday associated with Mary discovering she was pregnant. 


Our van crawled up the hillside of Mitridate Mount (94 meters) for a panoramic view of the area and a discussion of Panticapaeum, the ancient Greek city that once occupied this area, which is now the city center of Kerch and was the capital of the powerful Bosporan Kingdom. It was cold, grey, and windy with rain threatening, so we did not linger there.


We arrived at the library just n time for the Grand Opening ceremonies.  We looked rather bedraggled and windblown.  I felt particularly attractive with my frizzy, graying hair flying loose.  Sigh.  


The library staff was well organized and they, as well as the library itself looked fresh and bright, thanks to their hard efforts.  The library was decorated with balloons and photographs were on display.  Each guest received name badges and a folder with pamphlets and newsletters and a special bookmark, which was an invitation to the Library Jubilee that night.


The mayor arrived and the TV, radio and newspaper crews shoved cameras in people’s faces while we watched the grand opening ceremonies and listened to the prepared remarks.    L, the library director did an outstanding job of coordinating the events and people. 


Young women in colorful Ukrainian costumes stood by entrance to the center.  Several small children performed to an adoring audience and finally the mayor and the embassy representative cut the symbolic ribbon.  People crowded into the renovated room to see the new computers. 


Following the ceremony there was a generously catered cocktail party and live music.  Of course, people made presentations (flowers) and toasts.  It was very festive and quite elegant.


At 4 PM, we boarded marshutkas and were ferried to the Palace of Culture for a choreographed program celebrating the libraries’ 150th year.  It was over the top!  L, knows how to put together a function. 


Again, girls in colorful Ukrainian costumes stood by the door.  They performed the welcoming ceremony offering the distinguished guests salt and bread as they entered the door.  Musicians played Ukrainian music.


The theater was packed with several hundred spectators.  On stage, the program began with a video on a huge, theater-size screen.  Then the master and mistress of ceremonies arrived (Dressed as in the character of Harry Potter and Mary Poppins no less!).  Each member of the library staff appeared on stage emerging from the pages of a huge book.  L. introduced each one and presented them each with flowers.


The program continued with singing, dancers and more speeches, presentations and flowers, flowers, flowers.


Following the solemn ceremony, as they called it, we adjourned to the banquet hall where we dined on snacks, sipped vodka and champagne while yet more presentations continued and of course more flowers and speeches.  We dined and danced until about 11 and then rolled away, tired and happy, in the marshutkas that had brought us earlier.


A Sunday Excursion…

Two members of our English Club picked us up at 9 AM to visit one of the forts that bracket the city on the straits.  We were surprised to find a van, driver and a tour guide waiting for us when we headed out of our courtyard with our picnic lunch and cameras.


We arrived at the tip of a wind swept peninsula south of town just as the sun decided to come out an bless our adventure with blue skies and warmth.  The day unfolded nicely with lots of walking up d down the hills and in and out of the 300 building that comprise this unique underground fortress.  The engineers who designed it back in the early 1800s wanted it to be camouflaged so those entering the straits would not know a fortress was there.  They succeeded by building the structures and then burying them under mounds of dirt.


The view (about 115 meters high and the highest point on the Kerch Peninsula) is spectacular!  The city of Kerch stretches about 57 kilometers behind the fortress and looks stunning contrasted with the blue sea.   Across the Kerch Strait, we could see Russia and Tusla (sp?) Island.  On the opposite tip of the area is a Turkish fortress (Yeni-Kale) which we plan to visit another weekend)


From this bird’s-eye view, we got a peek in the distance at the tall ship that is “parked” behind tall walls about two blocks from our flat.  All we can usually see are the masts extending high into the sky.  It is a training vessel, which travels around Europe during the summer months.


It was interesting to hear about the logistics of how battle was waged from this place during the Crimean War.  Kerch itself suffered significant damage during an assault by 10,000 French, 5,000 Brits and 5,000 Turks.  They sacked the town and destroyed a tremendous collection of antiquities when they destroyed the ancient Kerch museum on the slopes of Mitridate Mount. 


We observed a militia vehicle and a couple troops doing some work as we walked around the closed fortress.  Occasionally live armament is found n the site so the militia must come and investigate and/or detonate them. 


We also saw some paint-ballers having a wonderful time on the hillside.


After a full day (Mark’s baldhead got sunburned!) at the fort, we returned to our flat and ended up picnicking at our tiny kitchen table and talking about the events of the day.  The late afternoon sun was so inviting we ended up walking over to the seaside park a block from our flat to stroll along with the rest of the happy Kerchians enjoying the fine spring weather. 


·                     Thursday, 6 April 2006

“What do you want on your Tombstone?”…

I need Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoonriver Anthology” excerpts, before next Wednesday AM.  This material is for English Club.  Yep, we are discussing epitaphs!  It should be interesting.


It is hard to be without Internet, but now that the library Internet center is opening, Mark may be able to accommodate some of my search needs more easily. 


The system limits set by the library are pretty small for what patrons can download during each visit.  But, it is free Internet. 


Speaking in the Internet - Mark was shocked (dismayed, angry…) to learn that the numbers quoted by the agency reflect kilobytes rather than kilobits (or is it vice versa?).  In any case, it seems like a case of misrepresentation.  So the library may have a battle ahead.   Once the Grand Opening festivities and the huge 150th Jubilee function are history, this will be something Mark will address with the director.  Could get pretty interesting!


·                     Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.

- Peace Pilgrim


Getting’ Wired at the Library…

Well the computers finally arrived at the library’s Resource Center – the Grand Opening is Friday so Mark is scrambling to get things wired and ready to go.  He is happiest when he is working on the machines I think.


Almost every step of this project has been an opportunity to learn about how Ukrainians/Russians think.  The planning, the deviating from plan, the disregard for plans, the final product…all very interesting and enlightening.  Observing how decisions are made and how disagreements are handled…just the kind of psychosocial stuff that intrigues.


There is a tremendous amount of energy and creativity going into the big function on Friday. 


Presenting Caleb’s Birthday Gift…

Once the Grand Opening and Library 150th Year Jubilee are history, we will (finally) present the Narnia books to the library.  We made bookplates and wrote presentation notes in Russian.  We found a Russian version of the series and ordered an English version through the Internet.


I spent time last week working on some things to add to the CALEB Library Project site.  I prepared some bookplates people may place in the front of each book they donate.  I also prepared some bookmarks, which can be printed and laminated.  I thought people may share them with people who donate books or give them to people who are interested in donating books.  The third item I prepared are address labels, which can be printed and taped on each box in the Media-Mail bag.  I hope to get them uploaded soon, but first I need to make the explanation page.


I have many site related plans.  I have some photos from Malawi provided by a visitor who is part of Melton (sp?) Foundation in Germany, which I hope to post soon.  He happened to be visiting Rainbow Cottage when their M-Bag arrived and got some great photos!  Another page I want to add is a brief biography of Caleb with a few photos.  I also want to include some links on organ donor opportunities.


Tourism Stuff…

Peace Corps Ukraine has a site that includes an area to post tourism information.  (www.pcukraine.org  - created and maintained by Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine…you have to register to access stuff I think)


I have been compiling some materials for that site recently.  It is interesting reading and research.  Many of the materials I find are somewhat inconsistent – dates vary, details are different, facts are vague and may not actually be factual.  And of course the translations are often confusing, vague or, in many cases, downright entertaining (and not intentionally so).


Once I get the Kerch stuff posted, I intend to add information on Feodosia  and Stary Krim area.  Our summer travel with my in-laws will provide an opportunity to add information to other areas too.


We Watched “Miracle” DVD…

Last night we watched a DVD loaned to us by a friend.  It as a Walt Disney film about USAs’ 1980 Olympic Hockey Team.  It was an excellent film about bringing out the best in people.  The USA team takes the gold from the long-standing, seemingly unbeatable world champions – the USSR team.  I is based on a true story.  The DVD included some interesting interview video of the actual coach and some of the original team members too.  Great film to share with young people too.  “Miracle” is the title.


Catwoman Watch…

Still no sign of the missing woman or Poodoo and no evidence of food yesterday, but this morning someone put out some food at the usual spot. 



·                     Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Catwoman Update…

There is no update. 


No sign of Catwoman or Poodle-Boy.  The queue of disappointed courtyard cats has dispersed since no morning meal appeared. 


We saw no evidence of an evening meal last night either.


Cleaning the leaves from our garden worked its purpose: to discourage the cats from congregating in our yard.  We hoped it would encourage them to return to their previous nest outside Catwoman’s door.  But now with no evidence of their (until lately) loving and dedicated caretaker, the cats are probably puzzled and unsettled and hungry.


Of course, I know this will resolve and, in many ways, my concerns only serve to diminish my own ability to be part of the solution.  (In the past Catwoman has arranged for regular feedings when she had to be away…like the cats, I am puzzled and, like the cats, cannot really communicate my concerns and questions in language.)  So the mystery continues.


Spit Shines and Sunday School…

I spread newspaper in the middle of the kitchen floor, pushed up my sleeves, and began applying a thick coat of shoe polish to our shoes and boots. This is one of those mindless, repetitive tasks that psychologists say allow the creative part of the brain to come out and play. 


I associate the shoe polishing ritual with good experiences so even the smell of the polish can take me back to sunny Sunday mornings in Iowa, sitting on the back steps with Dad as he buffed his church shoes and explained to me about spit shines and caring for things.


On Sundays, Dad seemed more relaxed, more ready to interact.


When I was around 7, Dad was my Sunday School teacher.  We attended a tiny church in Alton, a tiny town about 15 miles from Le Mars.  This charming little church could only hold about 40 people, but because it was scaled down, it never felt small or empty. 


Most of the members were older women who had experienced many adventures in their lives.  They enjoyed telling me their tales and I enjoyed listening to them speak of singing in the opera, crossing the Atlantic on a cruise ship, serving in the Boer-war and WWI, running a newspaper, etc.  They made the large world alive for me.  Their lives were large.  I wanted to see and experience things too.


The smell of shoe polish takes me back to that place and space and those people.  It seems so real, I can almost feel the sun streaming through the windows and the sound of the pianist playing one of Mary Baker Eddy’s hymns.  The details are vivid – the golden oak lecterns glistening in sunlight, the intricate designs in the backs of the carved hardwood chairs, the rich eggplant-purple velvet of the collection bags, the quote on the wall (“God is Love”) and my family, attentively listening as the readers shared the weekly lesson-sermon.


Originally, I planned only to polish the shoes I plan to wear Friday to the Internet Center Grand Opening and the Library Jubilee.  But as my mind took my on a tour of my past, I continued polishing.  Seven pairs of shoes and books stand at attention in the middle of the kitchen.  Soon I will have the pleasure of buffing them, before I return them to their proper places near the front door.  A little spit won’t hurt!


(Does anyone my age ever polish shoes without thinking of Barney Fife’s shoe polishing speech on the Andy Griffith Show?)


I’ve Got Mail!...

Mark arrived home with a full jump stick – I’ve got e-mail!  There are about 300 messages to wade through and delight in.  


·                     Monday,3 April 2006

Something is Not Right…

I feel uneasy this morning, a bit blue in fact.  And I am troubled, perhaps for no good reason. 


The woman who usually feeds the numerous courtyard cats has not fed them yet today.  It is almost ten AM, long past their usual breakfast hour and no sign of Catwoman.


The cats have recently taken to curling up in our fenced garden each morning to soak up the sun.  We have piles of leaves mulching the area and they make an inviting mattress for the cats.  The fence protects them from surprise visits from aggressive predators or annoying children.  They have been staying inside the fenced area all day long lately.


I occasionally (every few days) put a handful of cat chow on the garden bench and the cats come running, leap onto the bench to snack on the treat.  I am purposely erratic with my treats and I am not too generous with my snacks, but the cats always come running to me when I come out.  Basic psychology – they know I may have a treat for them so they come to me, just in case.


Catwoman feeds the cats on a schedule.  She cooks rice and fish and serves it up twice daily (three times a day in winter).  The felines know the food will be there at certain times so they queue up in the shade outside her door around mealtimes.  When she come out, their tails point straight in delight up and they sail, as a group, across the dirt yard to the feeding spot. 


Lately though the cats have remained in the sunny garden spot.  They don’t move for much of anything.  Mark observed Catwoman in our fenced area yesterday. She physically grabbed cats.  Apparently, several of the cats did not come at mealtime.  They are not so hungry now that the weather has warmed, and they are so comfortable in the sunny, protected space, but Mark pointed out that Catwoman seems disgruntled or maybe her feelings are hurt because her cat family seems to have adopted us.


And Where is Poodle-Boy?

Mark and I discussed this and in our conversation, we realized we had not seen Catwoman’s precious Poodle-Boy in quite a while.  She invariably carries the small red Poodle-Boy with her as she guards over her cat-children during their mealtimes. 


Poodle-Boy is about a year old and not much bigger than a cat.  He is usually in her arms, but on occasion, he runs through the courtyard chasing away outsiders, but he is always closely supervised.  He is Catwoman’s baby-boy and is a quite pampered,.indoor pet. 


So, we have not seen Poodle-Boy in at least three or four days.  Maybe longer.


We decide to clear out the comfy piles of leaves so the cats will be less inclined to linger in our garden and I will refrain from any treats until things seem normal again. 


Sunday afternoon Mark cleared away the leaves so no cats under my kitchen window today.


Our conversation of yesterday made me realize I have not seen Catwoman’s granddaughter lately either.  This past week was spring break so she may simply be visiting someone else, but it may be more than that. 


Corruption and Police Involvement...

All winter the granddaughter was picked up and dropped off by her father who would often arrive in his police vehicle.  He would drive through the courtyard rather aggressively (it is not designed for vehicles) and his headlights would shine through out kitchen window like spot lights.  The routines were predictable, and now they have ceased.


Yesterday, a teacher at the Institute told us interesting political news.  The local drug enforcement division of the police had been involved in a political maneuver that resulted in the arrest/detainment of many of them (we have socialized with one of the policemen who was arrested).  It is a confusing situation, and the police appear to be innocent of wrongdoing, but in a country that rates high on the list of the world’s most corrupt places, innocence is not a matter of great consequence.


So, this morning I am wondering if perhaps Catwoman’s son was involved in this unsettling incident.  I am troubled about the whereabouts of Poodle-Boy.  I feel bad about inadvertently coming between Catwoman and her cats. 


So, I am a bit troubled. 


Of course, it would be much easier if we could really speak – the language challenges and cultural issues are not huge, yet it is a challenge to have even a casual conversation or really know that the listener understands.


 And of course we may be reading into these behavior and conjuring up a min-drama that is, in fact, totally fictional.  But, I remain uneasy.