Monday, April 27, 2009

Borrowing Canaan...

I just had a really good afternoon today, one that could have been really boring, slightly irritating, and possibly even embarrassing. But, I avoided all those things by borrowing Canaan. That's right, I had an errand to run, so I borrowed Canaan to make my life easier and it ended up being more fun too!
You see, I had to go to the post office. Several of you have heard about my first trip to the post office here in Kharkov. It wasn't pleasant, in fact, it was emotionally difficult on me. I got yelled at by the ladies behind the counter, they yelled at each other and I was frazzled by the end of the experience. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back, it really left a mark on me emotionally and I avoided going out alone for several months after because I was scared.
But then, I went to the post office with Lucy, Max, and Canaan. Wow, what a difference. Our good experience had nothing to do with Lucy or I... it had everything to do with the kids. Ukrainians take one look at the kids and their sympathies and patience level increase significantly. So I made a mental note: borrow kids next time.
And that's exactly what I did today! Canaan was so excited to get out into the warm weather with me, he practically ran to the post office (a 10 minute walk away). We looked at all sorts of things along the way, marveling at especially the trucks, tractors, and motorcycles that passed us by. Then we got to the post office. We waited in line for about 30 minutes until we were finally helped, then we waited and worked with the ladies behind the counter for another 30 minutes getting the package all sorted to be mailed internationally. (They really are in no hurry to get anything done.) I filled out one form they gave me, then another they gave me. Then they threw the first slip away that I filled out because I didn't need to fill it out. Then they opened my package and weighed each thing inside individually, writing the weight of each object on the customs form. Then I filled out the customs slip again because I had misspelled "magnet" in Russian. After all that and 8 stamps to make everything official, Canaan and I were finally out of the post office. Canaan was incredibly good there, we played together in line, talked about all sorts of things around us, and he even got to flirt with one of the girls we were in line with. Did we get yelled at? Not once! They were actually really kind and patient with my limited Russian!
After the incredibly long time at the post office, we went and got a milkshake at McDonalds for our walk home. He certainly deserved it after being fantastic for such a long time in line!
It was a win-win situation: Canaan got a milkshake, the McDougles got a lot done at their house, and I walked away happy and encouraged from my post office experience! :)
Note to self: keep borrowing kids! :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Easter in Ukraine

Our team celebrated Easter yesterday, a week later than most of you around the world, but on the day it's celebrated here in Ukraine. We did a few "traditional" Easter things, but also brought in some of our traditional fun and it turned out to be a great day.

First of all, here's a few snapshots of how Easter is celebrated here: Easter is mainly an Orthodox holiday, celebrating Jesus' resurrection. Next to Christmas, it is one of the most popular holidays here. On Saturday, they go out to the graveyards of their dead relatives. Saturday is also the day they go to the church to get their Easter things (cakes, baskets,eggs, etc.) blessed by the priest. On Sunday, no one works, everyone just celebrates with family. Our language teacher told us it was a sin to work on Easter Sunday. On Sunday, everyone greets one another the traditional way:
First person greets: "Христос воскрес!" ("Christ is Risen!")
Second person replies: "Воистину воскрес!" ("Truly, He is Risen!")
Then they kiss each other 3 times.
They decorate eggs and also have a special Easter bread (see picture above) that is only made for this holiday. Here is a video that gives more info about the Orthodox Easter celebration:

Our team got together on Sunday for a special time together. David and I cooked up a feast: brisket (yes, we found all the ingredients needed to pull it off well!), green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and homemade rolls. Yummy! To top that off, I made cherry and blackberry cobbler. We all ate and had a great time together. After sharing a meal, we had church (the kids and I studied David and Goliath and David led the other adults in a time focused more around the communion), then the boys were off for naps. After they woke up, we got ready to decorate eggs. We brought out the crayons and all of us decorated at least one, then we stuck them all in dye. The kids were in the middle of it all, so we had a few eggs with more cracks in them and Silas walked away with a pink hand. :) For the most part, the 6 adults managed to keep the dye in the bowls and the messes down to bare minimum. Malachi and Canaan were especially great and followed instructions well! After we dyed our colored eggs, we moved onto these Ukrainian egg decals (see picture below). You basically slip them over the eggs, stick them in hot water and within seconds they are molded to the egg and look fabulous. Some of them were pictures of Ukrainian stories for the kids, some were traditional Ukrainian designs, and others said "Христос воскрес" (Christ is Risen). We were all proud of how it all turned out and had such a great time together! After all that, we ate pizza (thank goodness we found one place open who delivered as most things were shut down for the day), then shared some traditional Easter cake. It was good, not that sweet of a cake and a little dry, but not too bad! :)

We were sent some plastic Easter eggs from the States, so the kids will probably go Easter egg hunting during the retreat this next weekend. The place where we are staying has grass, so we'll be saving the egg hunt until then for that luxury! Which, we'll be leaving on Wednesday for this retreat, so please keep that in your prayers. We hope to have some good time away as a team and get a lot accomplished, specifically looking back at what we've accomplished so far, what we can do better, and planning for starting ministry.

On another note, David also started our garden last week. We have several cherry tomato plants growing, some peppers, strawberries, and lettuce. We're growing them all on our balcony; it's heaps of fun and David is doing a great job. I'll take some pictures and post about that soon. He also surprised me today by bringing home a microwave , so we have that up on top of our fridge now... it's nice to have one again!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and snapshot into what's happening over here. Our holiday was great and we're excited that Spring is here!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Around My Kitchen

First of all, I should start by saying it's really not my kitchen. Yes, I feel like I have control of it, but really, I don't. David is in there cooking now-a-days just as much as I am. But, I still can't help but call it my kitchen! David and I are both good cooks, however. I am what you call a Recipe Follower and my husband is what you call an Experimental Cook. We've found we do not do well cooking together, it just causes too much conflict in the kitchen. However, I am appreciative of a husband who can and actually enjoys cooking. Especially here in Ukraine, where you can't always find the ingredients for every recipe, my husband thrives well... and I stand back and make a batch of brownies to go with it. :)

Finding our way around the grocery store and then making those ingredients into a good meal at home has been quite an adjustment since we've moved to Ukraine. Because of that, I thought I'd take a couple minutes to post about our kitchen and some of the foods we buy here.

First of all, this is our kitchen/dining room. It is a small little place, but we've made it work well for us. We do not have a microwave yet, but plan to get one soon. It took some time to come up with a place to put it since there isn't a lot of counter space or plug-ins. (We finally decided to put it on top of the fridge when we do get around to buying one!) Anyway, our kitchen is abnormally nice for kitchens in Ukraine. You may think our oven is small, but really it's bigger than most ovens here. Our fridge is also gigantic... most fridges are about 1/2- 2/3rds this size. We are blessed and love the extra fridge and freezer space!
  • You may also notice that we have dishes drying in our cabinet above the sink. That's very traditional for over here since dishwashers are extremely rare. They drip dry above the sink and it has a nice little pan at the bottom to catch the water. It's not only convenient for a kitchen with little counter space, but it also hides the mess.
  • Between that cabinet and the sink there are Ziploc bags drying... my sister taught me that handy trick! Who would have known they'd just stick to the tile by themselves?
  • In the picture to the right, there is a white thing hanging on the wall next to the window sill. That is our radiator for the kitchen. These are in each room of our apartment, turned on in October and should be turned off sometime soon. There is no regulating the heat that comes from them, so we open windows when it gets too hot (which happens almost every day, even in the winter!).
  • Also notice the water jug on the floor. Tap water isn't good for drinking, so we refill jugs like these from a water truck that comes to our neighborhood once a week. So far, we've found two good trucks that come not far from our apartment, one on Thursday between 4:30-5:15pm and one on Saturday between 11:30-12:15pm. It's sometimes hard to be home around that time, plus a little bit of a pain to lug all that water up to the third floor, so we're looking into other options right now. Until then, we set our alarms to be home on time and are strengthening our muscles!
Now onto some of the foods we buy here. The first picture to the left is an array of some of the items in my fridge. You can probably pick out the milk, juice, mustard, and hot dogs.
  • Next to the hot dogs is one of the cheeses we buy. Cheese is not easy to pick out here. It may be labeled "Parmesan," but it will taste nothing like it. Most of the cheeses are white as well, so it's hard to pick out based on color. Honestly, we finally found two we like and have stuck to just those two cheeses. We've tried numerous others and liked some, but when we go and buy the exact same cheese the next time, it tastes completely different. We're happy we at least found two good cheeses! Another interesting thing about cheese here is that it does not melt completely in soups.
  • Next to the cheese is our butter. Butter doesn't come in "sticks" but rather "slices" that weigh 200g. It's close enough to 2 sticks, so we just round up.
  • In between the juice and the mustard is our sour cream. I have a funny story with that one. We buy most of our products in the supermarket right now, but here lately we've been getting less and less pleased with the quality of what we're buying. I mentioned this to our language teacher and she started talking to us about where she buys most of her food-- the bizarre (or outdoor market). We'll be looking into that more really soon. But, she buys almost everything there: meat, vegetables, milk, etc. etc. Even her sour cream. She says she brings it home and tests it (especially the sour cream) on her cat. She'll pour some up for her cat and if her cat eats it, she knows it's good. If her cat smells it and walks away, she knows it's bad and will throw the whole lot out. Interesting!
The next picture is items in my cabinet. You can certainly pick out most of the items here. The flour comes in bags like it does at home, potatoes in netting, etc. The sugar is in a little different container (in front of the flour) and the coke bottle looks different, but it's still easily recognized in the store.
  • On the far left is our version of canned tomatoes. They come in jars like these, whole and with their peels. So, for most recipes, we have to take the peel off and then cut each tomato up. Just a little extra work.
  • In front of the tomatoes is a sachet. That's our version of canned cream of mushroom soup. We add water, cook for a bit and it's a pretty good substitute.
  • Next to the sachet is a bar of chocolate. There are no chocolate chips here, so we buy the bars and chop them up every time we make cookies.
  • Next to the chocolate is our powdered sugar. It comes in a little different bag, but we were really happy to have found that item. You wouldn't believe how many different bags I would put my finger on (because the powder was on the outside) and then taste trying to find powdered sugar before we ran across this.
  • The squares next to the powdered sugar are our chicken bullion cubes. :)
  • Just above the powdered sugar and bullion cubes is potato starch. Another "find" of ours. They don't have corn starch here, but they do have potato starch which works the same. I had to find that the "finger taste" way as well. :)
I'm also including some pictures of a part of my spice rack. The spices come in sachets like the one to the left of this first photo. It's hard to keep those sachets sealed up properly, so I got these little metal containers and then labeled them all. My labeling system has the spice in English, then in Russian, then finally in Ukrainian. (See close up picture.) We are learning the Russian language and everyone here speaks Russian, but everything in the store is in Ukrainian. Sometimes Ukrainian is similar, sometimes it's not even close. So, knowing all three names for the spice is important.

The final picture is of a few frozen goods. You can pick out most of these, but probably not the top two. The long item is pastry dough. We can't buy crescent rolls in a can here, so we buy this, thaw it out, and cut it to suit our needs. It works quite well! The bag next to the pastry is ice cream. This is the way most of the ice cream is packaged here, but we also buy it in the plastic tubs (see just below it) because it's a lot easier to work with--the bags get messy quick. Ice cream is something we miss because it just doesn't taste the same over here, nor do they have many choices (including David's favorite mint chocolate chip). But, we've found one good chocolate we like, so we're happy we at least found that!

We are really pleased with how many things we've found over here in the grocery stores, many things we thought we'd have to bring back with us or do without. Grocery shopping for us has been quite the adventure, sometimes an exciting adventure and sometimes a frustrating adventure. But, almost 6 months later, we know where to go to get what and have adapted quite well. I hope you enjoyed this post about our kitchen and some of our foods... I enjoyed sharing!