Saturday, October 25, 2008

Time for a Meeting as We "Fall Back"

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here together in the presence of Father Time and these witnesses to adjust the hour hands in our midst. Our group is diverse yet we share one trait: the ability to measure time. In our midst are those whose sole function is that of being a timepiece. Others report the time as a minor role with serving in other capacities. Each makes a vital contribution. Let us take a moment to welcome our honored guests.

On the left are watches, cell phones and, yes, even a thermometer. Toward the back stand the clocks of the household. In the center front is the computer with its two clocks, yes, amazingly two. On the right are our friends the timers of the home. These timekeepers, while perhaps less complex than the rest, function in a vital way, helping us get through the day in 15 minute increments. In fact, even as we begin to commence the rewinding of the timepieces, one timer is already on duty, counting down the minutes in the task set before us. Blessings on you, dear timer. Not an old timer by any means but still having served long and faithfully.

Our group today includes timepieces with special needs and these require our particular attention, yea, even demand it. The taller timepiece toward the back is the sentinel of temperature out-of-doors as well as within. He does this masterfully and quietly the year 'round. For reasons not fully understood, this fellow reports that today is August 25, 2003. We can help him with that issue. Additionally, he reports the indoor temperature is 28 C, or 82 F, which is correct although certainly not ideal. The indoor temperature is another subject entirely.

The CASIO watch also has special needs. Changing the time on this multi-function timepiece is rather complex and best attempted in private, after a moment of reflection and meditation with the instruction manual close at hand.

And then we have the cell phones, with their built-in clocks. The Motorola at the right is joining us today with a new SIM card and for the first time in a month, this phone lights up and responds. For this we are thankful. And although we could elaborate on that at length, we will spare you the details. At this time, however, the service provider is not recognizing the SIM card but we have hope for a good future for Mr Motorola.

Sadly, Natasha Nokia, the phone on the left is fairing a bit poorly today, comatose at the moment. Moments ago, Miss Nokia fell to the floor, en route to this every meeting. We so appreciate her presence here today and hope that she soon will be functioning normally.

As to the computer before us, the clock is easily adjusted. And we will attend to that shortly. Regarding the new clock gadget on the blog, I propose that we hold off on changing that until tomorrow, Sunday morning at approximately 6:00 a.m. Here's my rationale: It is one thing to change the clocks of a household, clocks all located in a private place. But changing the clocks in a public arena, that's another situation entirely, to mislead or confuse visitors. Having said that, let me add that we will not be arising at 2:00 a.m. to attend to the changing of that clock. Any objections? All in favor say tick-tock. All opposed, the same sign.

So we have it honored guests. Our analysis of the situation has come to an end. Let the semi-annual changing of the clocks begin. Hallelujah! Amen!

And behold the glory before us, the glory of a sunrise in our beloved city. Tomorrow, that sunrise will occur at 6:54 instead of 7:54. And oh what a glorious experience that will be. That of being awakened with the dawning of the new day set before us versus the seemingly unending darkness of night.

* * * * *

Ah yes, beloved blog readers. The changing of the clocks this weekend. At least for some of us, including those here in Russia.

How about you, dear friend: Has the time change ever caught you by surprise? Or, when traveling across time zones, have you forgotten to change your watch? Love to hear that. . . I've got some comp'ny on this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Joys of Being Ho- Ho- HOME

Tuesday evening I arrived back in Rostov after 4 weeks in Crimea. Oh is it comforting to be back in my own space, my very own place. And as much as I treasure the adventure, the new friends, the challenge of getting acquainted with another city, there's just no place, absolutely no place like home. Even for gypsy me.

Not that I have any choice in the matter. About the gypsiness, that is. And that's another story entirely. Anyhoo, Tuesday evening, friend and brother Misha picked me up at the station, not Rostov's main station but a secondary station in the west, up steep steps over the train line, down steep steps to the taxi queue with heavy bags in tow. No one has ever accused me of traveling light.

Waiting at home were two boxes from Dallas. Getting connected with these boxes has been an adventure and I've learned a thing or two about dealing with the local post office. So then after Misha left, in a rare moment of delayed self gratification, I decided to unpack, 15 minutes at a time - in true FlyLady fashion- and then open my boxes. Forty-five minutes later it was like Christmas around here.

My unpacking area in the living room. Oh boy, Oh Boy. One box open, another to go and a glass of iced tea. Can life get better than this?

This box has been around. See that tape? That tape tells me that Moscow postal folks have been checking through just to make sure there's no contraband in the box. Then they taped 'er back up, quite thoroughly in fact.

Over the years, I've come to realize that peanut butter must be considered contraband by certain folks up there in Moscow. Either that or somebody there loves peanut butter. You see, several boxes have never reached me. And those boxes had something in common: they contained peanut butter, crunchy and a big jar of it. Yep, sounds like contraband to me.

Before anybody gets emotional about this, yours truly in particular, let us think carefully and logically about this issue of the disappearing peanut butter. As I recall from research classes waaay back in grad school, we can not jump to conclusions about cause and effect: We can not say that it's because of the peanut butter that the boxes never made it. But we can say that there is a positive relationship between peanut butter and the loss of the box. (How's that, Dr Sue Couch?) See, what we need here is a larger sample size. As I recall from statistics (Hey, Dr Gorman!), we need a sample size of at least 40 for the data to be even remotely valid. And so in practical terms, if 38 more people will send me boxes of peanut butter, then we will have data that means something.

Oh, but no need to to send me peanut butter now. Thanks anyway you volunteers, you may put your hands down. Peanut butter is available locally now, crunchy or creamy, imported from Kentucky at about 3 times Louisville price. But it's here intact at the supermarket, all that peanutty contraband.

Speaking of nuts, look - something yummy in here. And what a nice surprise - a hand-written note.

Well ain't this simply special? Laurinda enclosed two bags of of pecan-almond-peanut clusters, a new product that they're making at Frito-Lay, where she works. Yum! What a God-send that Laurinda is. She handles business-related stuff for me -- paying bills, making deposits, collecting my mail -- and she does it as a ministry. Lucky me. The nut treats are optional. They're also. . . they're also. . . well, they're history.

Oh look - magazines and publications and clothes from Lands' End. Oh am I excited because even better than that, there's stuff to read in ENGLISH. And that is my native tongue. I can speak English and sound like an adult. I can and do speak Russian and sound like. . . a child. But that's a subject for a whole 'nuther blog.

But at the top, the very tippy-top of the list of things I've been waiting for is my Day-Timer refill. This, oh this, Oh This is what I have been waiting for. Oh Day-Timer, my precious, my beloved Day-Timer. My Day-Timer follows me everywhere I go. Except perhaps the shower.

My Day-Timer is my brain. Really it is. I've carried a Day-Timer since 1983 (Thank you, Rita Davenport!) . It's my 2-pages-a-day planner, my month-at-a-glance calendar, my telephone book, my notepad for on-the-go jottings. I depend upon this trusty little system. The only thing my Day-Timer requires from me, is a set of refills come Sept 30th of each year.

Since I moved overseas in 1999, my refill reaches me way early. But this time, not. This time I was in Ukraine for a month in September when the box arrived and, although I had gone earlier to the post office and done the paperwork and talked to the supervisor of the Dept of Packages to make sure it would be held until my return, things went awry.

Late September when I returned from travels for a week and went to the post office to collect this box, alas - alak, some ditzy clerk had already sent it back toward the US as undeliverable. But there's good news: The administrator of that department managed to have it intercepted in the Moscow post office before it left the country. There was also bad news: They intercepted and re-routed package arrived back in Rostov a day or two after I had to leave again for Sept-October. That meant I was without my October Day-Timer refill, a critical situation in my mind. But we made do. The earth continued to spin on its axis, they say and now at long last, my box and I have been connected.

That nice lady at the post office, that supervisor of packages - I'd say she deserves a nice bouquet. Here in the land of Customer Dis-Service, she was head and shoulders above the norm. Jotting note to self in Day-Timer, pick up some flowers for the P.O. lady. But as for the Clerk of Ditziness, the young lady who caused all this in the first place, no nut clusters for her. No peanut butter either. We might let her take a look at the flowers that her boss will receive and take a whiff or two, but that's limit. Also I would like to see some contriteness. Oh ho ho, now there's a wild fantasy.

Oh my stars - My favorite publications. No worries that they're months old. They're brand spanking new to me. Be still my beating heart. Peace be still, peace be still.

Dear blog readers, have you lived overseas and enjoyed receiving care packages? Please tell us about when and where and if your boxes included. . . spreadable contraband.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wrapping up in Simferopol, Crimea

Amazing how time flies. Four weeks in Crimea and suddenly it's time to head back to Rostov. To the train station today for tickets. McDonald's and an ATM are nearby and so I invited two favorite 16-year-olds to accompany and provide personal security. Or something. First, to the Simferopol train station.

The station is lovely and better yet, it's user-friendly for train passengers as they arrive in Simferopol, known as the gateway to Crimea. Here's the station's clock tower, the symbol of the city, as seen through the McDonald's patio.

Got tickets, got cash and oh what a view. Here's the clock tower through one of the arches. White arches with bas relief embellishment - a term I might have just dreamed up - a bit different from the golden arches. More importantly, my body guards are there waving in the shadows.

Here they are again, against the bas relief of the walls. Nice to relax on this little excursion, knowing that these two are looking out for me, and will put themselves between me and harm's way. More or less.

We're heading over toward McDonald's now but oh, look - flags fluttering in the breeze. Time out for a picture. These girls know one of the hazards of accompanying a photographer-wanna-be anywhere is time out for photos.

Flags are so photogenic. Waiting for a breeze to catch them at their best is another story. Come on breeze, come on, come on.

Quite a few shots later, here's what we'll settle for:

From the left, the flag of Ukraine, then the flag of Crimea and. . .what's the flag on the right? Probably the flag of Simferopol.

Enough dilly-dallying. We've got a friend awaiting us over yonder.

Oh our dear Ronald McDonald with Julia, left and Oksana, who seems to be fielding a call, probably related to our safety and trip home.

My favorite part of a trip anywhere is Sunday and worship and getting to know brothers and sisters of like precious faith. Zhenya preaches for the Simferopol church of Christ, a church plant out of Donetsk that he and Elena helped start six years ago.

The church rents a room at the Palace of Culture. And here we are last Sunday.

We like to sing and among the singers is a group of teens from a local orphanage. They and their caretaker come to worship each Sunday.

Zhenya has such love for this little church. He and Elena have such love for orphans such as those in the front row. Guess that's why they adopted five teens last summer.

This evening, a absolute highlight was using SKYPE for the first time. We talked with Jay, our buddy from Atlanta. Do you SKYPE? You probably have done it for years. But not me, not this bunch. This is new and novel to us. Guess we're SKYPE-etteers. Eventually we'll be honest-to-goodness SKYPE-ers. But for now, we're just easing into the scene.

Here we are, Sunday 9:00 pm Ukraine time and 2:00 pm Eastern Time in Atlanta. We loved talking with Jay.

What an interesting experience. Got to admit that I've been intimated by SKYPE. Granted, I downloaded the program and set up the account. No sweat there. Zhenya dug around and found a microphone, that was a major step. But then to actually connect somehow, that's a step I've never taken myself.

I really must try that in Rostov. Have some things to work out with my internet provider first. Access tends to be slow and the more megabytes received, the more expensive. But thanks to this little nudge from Jay, I just might take the next steps.

How about you, dear readers, do you SKYPE? Please tell us all about it! Did you just jump right in and use it - or where you resistant, anxious, hesitant?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Whirlwind Trip to Yalta and Black Sea

Oh, what a sight: The Black Sea as seen from Yalta, Crimea at sea level.

Looking straight south toward Turkey. Do you see Turkey across the waves? Me neither. It probably has something to do with the curvature of the earth. Not to worry. Let's just enjoy the smooth rocks, the sparkling waters.

But first, a quick geography review. Where in the world are we?

We are in Crimea, the part of Ukraine that dangles into the Black Sea, the red arrow. Of course I'm based in Rostov-on-Don - and sometimes, whenever possible, 90 days out of 180, that's where I am - and that's the yellow arrow up there. But for the moment, we're in Crimea. Okay so we're settled on general location.

Flash back to the Black Sea: Here it is through poplar trees lining the path at a very nice resort that had been frequented by The Party elite over the years. Never been accused of being Party Elite, but we're allowed to stroll around for a bit.

Where exactly are we more specifically? Let's zoom on in closer.

My travel companions and I are on a whirlwind trip from Simferopol (1) the capital of Crimea, south to Yalta (2) and then back via Sevastopol. Care to come along for a few sights along the way?

Starting into the mountains, heading south toward Yalta. Or maybe we took a wrong turn and ended up in New Hampshire.

We. . . we. . . we: Who exactly is this editorial plurality?

Meet my traveling companions. Above from right are Zhenya and Elena, my dear host family here in Simferopol. They're the brave souls who have opened their home to five foster teens in addition to their own daughter. Far left is Ron, visiting from Missouri and in Ukraine for a couple of weeks. He has made many missions-related trips to Ukraine. We decided to escape the house while the kids were in school. So here we are, escapees.

More mountains as we head south toward Yalta. Notice the jagged rocks, the wires and tram lines. All part of the view.

Back to the sea through the poplar trees: The folks above might be descendants of The Party faithful. Wishing perhaps they could turn back the clocks to the glory days, long gone. Imagine they're thinking back to childhood days at this very resort, remembering when they got to stay here free-of-charge because of parents' position in The Party. Imagine they're distraught about the cash they're handing over for staying at such a place. And I have two words for those folks up there leaning over the rail. Don't jump!

Up closer, lovely. No sand here though, just rocks. They're smooth rocks but try walking on that barefoot. Lovely, nyet.

At the beach, we happened upon a gypsy. She seemed nice enough and even posed for a picture.

We asked her to sing a gypsy song from her homeland far away. Imagine our surprise when she warbled through Yankee Doodle for us, free of charge. In the end, we give her a few coins just to get her to quit the singing.

Moving right along. . .

We left Yalta and the gypsy woman, heading west and through magnificent rocky cliffs and landscapes. Take my word for it - we wanted to get photos. But that requires persuading the driver to stop the vehicle and. . .well, we did stop once to get the view above.

How about you dear blog readers - ever been to Crimea? When and where? If perhaps your family tree includes Party Faithful, please spill the beans. We want the scoop.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tell Us About America: Visits to Local Schools

This week I was invited to visit two schools and make presentations in the classes of the teenagers with whom I've been living here in Simferopol. It was a lot of fun. Actually, it was beyond fun. To me, being in the classroom is pure passion, it's euphoria. Especially because as guest-for-one-day, there are no papers to grade, no major issues to deal with. Only the responsibility of providing some enlightenment and perhaps entertainment for an hour or two. I'd say we managed to accomplish that. It was hard for me to leave. In fact they basically had to push me out the door ~ a slight exaggeration perhaps. But first Tell us about America, they said. And so I did.

Above is Julia's class. This school is an academy of sorts and the kids there are the sharpies. Every single student has a home computer. Amazing then, that they loved singing There Was an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a FLY), all eight verses from the fly to the horse. Does that song count as talking about America? Well, it just might.

I talked mostly about Texas and the Ukraine, comparing the two. Thanks to the internet, lots of good information is literally at ones fingertips. For instance you might already know this: 1) Texas and Ukraine are almost exactly the same size. 2) The population of Ukraine is twice that of Texas. 3) About Texas geography: woods in the east to desert in the west. 4) About industries in Texas - especially stereotypical Texas - cattle industry (cowboys), oil business (wealth and how fickle it can be) and cotton growing (I recall living in Texas' panhandle and seeing those big bales of cotton first-hand. 5) I talked about Crawford, Texas and my visit there the spring after The Crawford Summit (maybe fall 2001) when Russia's President Putin visited President Bush and they did a press conference in the high school gymnasium. Told them about visiting students there and talking with them about Russia, giving souvenirs, teaching them a song in Russian.

Oh, and to Julia's class I also took apple-raisin-walnut cake along with the recipe, measuring cups and spoons. We talked about measuring ingredients, food preparation and such. Lots of bonus points for taking a genuine, all-American snack. Since of course families nationwide snack on apple-raisin-walnut cake on a regular basis. Could have made brownies, I suppose. . .

Last weekvisited 8th grade geography classes. Besides the Texas-Ukraine information, the teacher wanted a lesson on western Ukraine, since I had offered. So we did a PowerPoint Slide Show of Ivano-Frankovsk and Lviv, cities of western Ukraine that I've able to visit recently as part of my gypsy adventure. The culture there is somewhat different - more European/Polish/nationalistic Ukrainian influence and less Russian influence than here in eastern Ukaine and Crimea.

Here are the best questions students asked: 1) Of all the places you've visited in America, which is the most interesting. (I answered that as much as I love the US, visiting Ukraine and Russia is more interesting to me nowadays.) 2) How has this week's financial crises in the US affecting people and what do you think will be the outcome of this. (It affects people right where it hurts, in the pocketbook, especially those looking at retirement soon. But that I figure this is a good time to buy-buy-buy while the market is low. But of course only God knows what the future holds.)

Most interesting response: 1) Question: Texas is the 2nd largest state in the US. Who might know - what is the largest state? Answer: Canada (This answer came up twice).

That's okay, I guess. Got to confess that even in recent years, I've had to double-check about Crimea, never imagining that I would be spending time here. I've learned that although Crimea is a part of Ukraine, it is an independent republic.

Maybe some think that Canada is in independent republic of the US? (Apologies to you dear Canadians!) But. . . but is it possible to find there an old lady who would swallow a fly?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Visiting the Orphanage

For three weeks now, I've been staying with a very dear foster family here in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, part of Ukraine. Zhenya and Elena have adopted five teenagers from a local orphanage and life here with them is quite lively.

Things got particularly lively when Petya was fanning himself and everybody else with a fish tail snatched from dinner-in-progress.

But several evenings a week, the household shifts from fun and games into an academic mode. I caught our high schoolers above one evening recently when mama Elena was tutoring kids on Shakespeare. That went on for 90 minutes and nobody budged. Elena made it fun somehow and the next day, everybody got good grades in literature. Other evenings, papa Zhenya tutors them in algebra or physics.

But the previous Sunday evening, Jay - a favorite visitor from Atlanta, invited me to the nearby village orphanage in which these dear children were raised.

Our hero, Jay is in there somewhere. He's the big kid and he's great at rumbling with the rest of them.

I'm really great at being on the sidelines and shooting at people. With the camera of course.

Jay and his ball-playing buddies. Wonder if they really like him. They could be pretending just for appearances sake. Or maybe not.

Our kids were once part of this group. Their care-taker, the blond lady in back, really misses her favorite kids.

Jay and buddies inside just heading into the dining hall. You can bet these guys would give their right arms, hidden from view here, to be taken into a foster family. Neat kids with lots of needs.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Missionary Lynn Marries Today

Today Lynn married Victor Stephanovich in Donetsk, Ukraine. Here they are one Sunday in July when I caught up with them. This couple is extra-special.

For one thing, Lynn is a missionary from the US and she's marrying a Ukrainian brother, Victor Stephanovich. Lynn has served in Donetsk nearly ten years and she has known Victor and his family for many years. Last year, Victor lost his wife after a long illness.

Thing is, Lynn hasn't exactly jumped into marriage. No need to announce anybody's age here, but I figure Lynn is on the leading edge of the baby boom generation, which is to say that no one can accuse Victor of robbing the cradle. I'm absolutely thrilled about this marriage. Have to admit to a bit of jealousy though. Lynn gets to live with a native speaker of Russian. This means she's going to zoom way past me with her language skill. Now is that fair?


Sniff, sniff.

Oh well. Congratulations, Lynn and Victor Stephanovich! Wishing you much joy in the days, weeks and months ahead. Can hardly wait to hear the stories you'll have to tell!

PS: Quick update! Here are some photos of Lynn and Victor's wedding over the weekend. Thanks to Ray, Lynn's co-worker for his speedy posting photos in his on-line Picasso photo albums. And thanks to dear friend Melissa for the tip.

Ah, true love. Ain't it just simply precious. Oh, that reminds me of a riddle that came with some Bazooka bubble gum. Question: What did Cinderella say to the photographer. Answer: Some day my prints will come. Love it. Congratulations to Lynn - she waited for her prince. =)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Morning Glories Flourish, Instruct

Each fall, a cascade of morning glories tumbles over the corrugated metal fence at our church building in Rostov-on-Don.

These blossoms are so beautiful and they beckon us come closer. Okay, we're zooming, we're zooming on in.

What a rich, deep blue. Simply breathtaking.

New growth coming along. The future's looking good.

From blossom to bud, here's the whole life cycle. Some blooms are in full glory, others past their prime and fading. But oh, the new growth. The buds are there, one with a hint of color, eager to open.

I've been thinking lately about new growth as it applies to ministry. Interacting with fresh faces who want to serve comes with joys and challenges. The goal of missions is that of working oneself out of a job. No news there. That's easily said but when a newby marches in, openly critical of those who have been there for the long haul, that's not easy to take. I pray for wisdom to be gracious, to take a step or two into the background and ask how I can be supportive versus critical. How I can others to grow and flourish even while they're blossoming. When my help, experience, support is needed although someone might not recognize or particularly value it.

The cycle of developing, blooming and fading is part of life. It's lots of fun to be on the upward slope, moving on to promising opportunities and challenges. But as time speeds past, I find myself working through some new challenges. These morning glories are a good illustration. There's something admirable in the flower that blooms and blossoms but then is willing to let others do the same when their time comes, not clinging to a role, to a ministry, to an area of service, not grasping to dominate. Similar in some ways to the pruning process.

Please share your thoughts, experiences...What has helped you to be gracious to the know-it-all rookie? =) Or perhaps you have been one, yourself. Gotta admit, there have been more times than I'd like admit that I've been in that very spot, myself.