Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Traditional American Thanksgiving in Kiev

We want to experience a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, Anya said. And we will help!

But, of course! I had met Anya at English Club - a Let's Start Talking follow-up outreach of the church here - and we clicked immediately. I had been praying for a language teacher for myself and wanted a guide around Kiev. She offered to be both and refused any payment. So Anya wants a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner? 

You got it, girlfriend!

As the saying goes, all's well that ends well. And bottom line, we had such a nice evening.

So tell me what you know about Thanksgiving, I had asked Andrey, below right, as we were planning. Well, you prepare a big meal with a turkey on a large platter, the father carves the turkey and you go around the table and talk your blessings.

That's exactly right, I had to laugh. Every family in American is like that. At least in the movies, which is his source of information. 

Oh, allow me to introduce our Thanksgiving day bunch: Andrey, right, set to carve turkey. Andrey lives here and so do I while his parents are in the US. Next on right is dear Anya, the instigator of this dinner idea, from English Club and a special friend, next is Aunt Sofia who's a houseguest too for several weeks, far end is our brother Vladimir, wrapping up a 3-month stint in Kiev as local evangelist, then is Slava and Oksana, both from English Club. And finally Masha, Andrey's friend. Oh, behind the camera is. . .yours truly. 

This was the perfect number of guests considering the space available. Besides that, one guest cancelled and five others were no-shows. But we won't talk about them, will we? Anyway, it meant more pumpkin pie for the rest of us.

Everybody had notions about the presentation of the turkey: That he should be brought in whole on the platter and carved at the table a la Norman Rockwell. That works for me as long as someone else is making the fanfare and doing the carving. Andrey got nominated to carve because he is studying to be a surgeon. Later that evening when I was sorting through the meat and looking over the turkey carcass I reminded myself that Andrey has been studying surgery of the bile duct. Another kettle of fish, so to speak, than sawing through wings, gizzards and dark meat.

Anyway, back to the pre-dinner analysis of resources, as I like to call it. Since I'm a guest here myself, I needed to do some scouting around.

Oven racks. Besides one regular oven rack, the oven has a shelf, below, typical of Soviet-style ovens. So we had two oven shelves, a good thing indeed. Check.

Pie pans: There's one pie pan in stock in this household. That's 100% more than most households in Kiev so we're making progress.That other form won't help us much with pumpkin pies... 

Progress: found aluminum pie pans at Karavan, the local ultra-super-modern supermarket. Pie pans, check.

Now on to location and space. The living room would be our dining area. Andrey had a special plan for transforming the coffee table into something more substantial. Here's the Before picture.

The Oven: In the post dinner analysis, this oven and I had our differences. We didn't understand each other. We speak different languages. More than just the Celsius - Farenheit difference. 

Let's get in close to the oven temperature control. Thanks to a magnifying glass, I learned and the number at the 8:00-o'clock-position says 150 degrees Celsius. That's medium heat and that's where we want to cook our turkey.

But oh, if only it were so easy. You see, just because Oliver Oven says that's medium heat, doesn't mean that it will be medium heat. See, it's a communication problem. I'm learning to understand this oven. The secret is to pay less attention to the temperature setting and more attention to the flame. An oven thermometer or, even better, a meat thermometer would have made all the difference in communicating about what was going on in the oven. And if there are any of those in this town, it's a well-kept secret.

Bottom line, after Tom Turkey had been in the oven 6.5 hours, when I decided to call 'er done. And a slow oven has a domino affect on other things that need to go in the oven too such as Oven Roasted Potatoes, Beets and Onions.

So our meal was ready at 8:00 rather than 7:00 as planned. Fortunately guests were easily amused in lots of ways. Including the video, Universal Studios Free Photo Booth. Thanks to cousin Marilyn who pointed me toward those amusing videos. When I first saw them myself, I laughed until I cried.  (Rated PG.)

Oh and another one:Jay Leno and the Universal Studios Free Photo Booth.

Besides videos, people played UNO. And they watched television. The neat thing about Russian folk, Ukrainian folk, is that they're so low maintainence. They're so easy to cook for. So easily entertained.

And I must say that the pumpkin pie was excellent, made with real pumpkin, topped with real whipped cream.

So, at the end of the day, we had a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. We carved the turkey at the table. We went around and mentioned our blessings. Everybody went home happy. And feeling stuffed. And thankful. Check.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sweet Hour of Prayer: Consider the Blessings

Fresh out of high school, I found myself anxious about heading off to college. My worries were typical of an 18-year old: studies, social life and tuition. The usual.

But in the middle of packing, in a rare and wonderful moment of self-reflection, I took a break to jot down each worry and possible solutions. It was a do-it-yourself counseling session with the adult-me talking to the child-me. Then I prayed through the whole thing. I've hung on to that piece of notebook paper and when I'm rummaging through stuff back home and run across it, I end up misty-eyed but so grateful.

Sorry to say, I made only one such list during those years. I wish I had made a list each year, maybe every semester. How nice it would be now to have a look into my heart at 21-years of age, to know what was I thinking, how was I praying as a college senior, for instance, when I agreed to teach in Australia for two years.

It's never too late to start though. In recent years, I've been jotting down my prayers, pen to paper. It may have started when I got serious about serving in Russia, 1996 or so. And during my years in Rostov-on-Don, I've kept up the habit, writing a prayer journal. A page or two here, five pages there. . . and over the years, that adds up to a stack of journals. 

I like to list 10 blessings of the last day or two but find that it's easier if I go in reverse order and think of three blessings of the evening, then three of earlier in the day, then three of the morning and soon there's more then 10. And with each item I'll add a request or two. The writing, the communication, the prayer has been so useful, a way to verbalize my thanksgiving, my requests, my needs. And a way to chronicle what on earth I'm stewing about, smiling about, dreaming of.

The exercise of writing prayers keeps me focused. Otherwise I get distracted and start filing my nails or daydreaming. Best of all, it helps me look back and see how God has been at work in my life. Now that's powerful ammunition when the Enemy whispers in my ear, trying to persuade me that my prayers go no higher than the ceiling.

It's amazing how time absolutely flies during this. Just 5-8 minutes on each item and soon there's 30 minutes or an hour gone. I like to think of it as an hour invested. 

Consider keeping a journal in which you list blessings. Let it expand to include prayer requests. I've found keeping a prayer journal a boost to my spiritual life. It serves as a monument to where I've been, where I am and where I would hope to go in my walk with the good Lord.

How about you dear blog reader. If you are a pray-er, have you ever written your prayers? Or, what tips do you have for developing a life of prayer?

Friday, November 21, 2008

"From Russia with Loathing"

Cathy Young and her parents emigrated from Russia to the US when she was 17 and so her perspective on things Russian has particular merit. In her op-ed piece, From Russia with Loathing, in today's New York Times the author overviews Russian attitudes and offers advise to the new administration.

In the post-Soviet era, many Russians are angry because their country has neither the stature nor the living standards that they believe it deserves. . . most actually favor a Western way of life. . .(and find) it is easier to blame an external force than the country's own failings. . ."

Ms Young also notes that in recent years, propoganda on government-controlled television has cultivated public fears and thus many feel some level of paranoia toward the US. As a result, 43 percent of Russians believe that . . . One of the goals of the foreign policy of the United States is the total destruction of Russia.

As if the US has nothing better to do. 

She advises that president-elect Obama and his administration respond to Russia with both firmness and flexibility while not seeking opportunity for confrontation.

Cathy Young is author of "Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood." I've marked her blog, The Y Files, and plan to visit often.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lifeguard Shortage in the USA

Is there per chance a shortage of lifeguards in the US? This sign in the Kiev metro got me to wondering. . . more about that in just a minute.

You see, earlier this week, I headed to Kiev's international airport to reconnect with friend Cindy from Virginia and her group who had been in nearby Zhitomer for 10 days. Back during our college years, the two of us lived in the same dorm (Yeah McKenzie!) but hadn't seen each other for ten years. So I wanted to catch up on with Cindy and hear about their Zhitomer adventures.

Besides that I wanted to practice getting to the airport on my own. From here to the train station takes an hour by metro and then the shuttle bus to the airport takes 50 minutes. That's no small feat especially during rush hour. Which makes it all the more exciting.

When I was on the metro escalator, this advertisement grabbed my attention. Something about the USA. And immediately you, dear blog readers, you came to mind. I knew that you would want to see this for yourself. Camera, camera, camera, where is that camera. Hurry, hurry.  Work in the USA as a lifeguard. Let's try for another shot. . . 

Come on camera, come on. You know with these digital cameras, there's a lag time between the pressing of the button and the lens action. An absolute eternity at a critical moment. I need to get closer for a better picture. Maybe on the way back from the airport. 

Well, here we are, quick as a wink at the airport. This a waiting area at Borispol, Kiev's international airport.  

These nylon bags are common luggage in Russia. The neat thing about them, they're nearly weightless. And that is a major plus, is it not. Oops, we're  not in Russia at the moment. I forget because so many folks in central Ukaine and on eastward are Russian and speak Russian. Anyway, I expect that these nylon bags are popular throughout the whole area.

One thing to love about Russian and Ukrainian folks, the average person is low maintainance, has few requirements for comfort, for food and is easily comfortable at the airport, at train stations. These folks travel light and, as I like to say, seems as though a Russian person can live for a week out of what fits in an envelope. That in mind, the owners of the matching luggage set, above, might well be moving overseas. You'll forgive me for not inquiring about that, right?  

Oh yeah! Found Cindy and her group. Learned that they kept busy in Zhitomer teaching Bible classes, crafts lessons, visiting orphanages and senior citizen centers. Over the years, this bunch and others from their usual group have made so many trips from the US to Ukraine, maybe 15 trips. 

And here's the fine folks from Zhitomer who brought them the 2 hrs by van. Vitalik is the preacher and Natasha coordiates the children's program for the church there.


As we head out the door, one more look at bags. Of course one negative is that they aren't wheeled. Also they're far too easily opened. Still there's always a plastic wrap station where, after customs inspection, a person can have their bag wrapped around a few times with plastic film. Now that will keep a thief out. For about 10 seconds. But surprisingly, doesn't seem to be much of a problem.

Back to the metro and I'm determined to get close to the lifeguard signs. Oh look, here's another sign about working in the US. There's a website there if you want more information. Oh - of course you might already work in the US. . .

Okay, here we go. Went up and down the escalator an extra time to get nice and close - especially for you. Here we go: 

Work in the USA as a lifeguard.Summer of 2009 for students. Pay is 8 - 15$ an hour. Recruiting is limited - hurry! 

Imagine training a Russian-speaking lifeguard to work at a beach in the US, assuming of course that it's a beach where people speak English - or, more accurately, a beach where people do not speak Russian. That could make some interesting scenarios. Just trying to imagine training these new lifeguards. Phrases to know: 1) I can not swim. He, she, it can not swim. 2) Help me! Help him, help her, help it! 3) I am drowning. He, she, or it is drowning. We are drowning! You are drowning! They are drowning!

Believe it or not, back in the previous millenium I worked as a lifeguard myself. And two classic questions for my memoirs: 4) Can you find my dentures? I must have lost them in the lake. 5) Can you find my glasses? I had them on when I went off the diving board. . .

I managed to retrieve the glasses, amazingly, off the lake bottom. But the dentures . . .they're probably still out there at the bottom of Akron's Turkeyfoot Lake. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kiev's Statue to the Motherland

As part of my visa adventures, I'm in Kiev for a few weeks. And in-between language lessons and church responsibilities, there's time to be touristy, thanks to friend and guide, Anya.

It happened that on November 11th, Veteran's Day in the US, we visited Mat' Rodina, Kiev's statue to the Motherland. The surrounding complex and museum chronicle Ukraine's history during World War II.

Say, look carefully at the photo above - see me waving? For once I feel petite! This Motherland statue is taller than Lady Liberty by 9 meters. Details following. . .

The Motherland Statue is part of the Memorial Complex and Museum. We enter the area through this passageway. Patriotic music is playing. To hear it, turn up the volume on your computer. (Did that help? ;)  )

These bronze sculptures depict the bravery of the border guards, the courage of people in the countryside and defiance of urban dwellers.

The Nazi invasion affected every family - the old, the young, moms and dads. Museum literature says that Hitler's Operation Barbaroza was the largest military undertaking in history. Three million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941 - the longest day of the year.

The sculpture honors all who helped - peasants in the fields, factory workers making weapons and tanks, everyone.

Moving right along, literally in the shadow of the Motherland Statue are bronze and marble monuments, I counted 13 in all, each one honoring a Heroic City of the Soviet Union.

Praise to the Heroic Cities.

Here's a salute to VOLGOGRAD, the city where the Nazi's were stopped. Sacred soil from Volgograd is included in this monument.

Mercy me, it appears that we're being invaded! A brigade of school boys is charging down the steps toward us and to the museum, most likely. Imagine young people so interested in history. What a tribute to their heritage.

To think that they want to see first-hand what all their grandparents endured. Wait, they seem to be veering off in another direction. . .

But of course! They're heading straight toward two tanks, painted with flowers, absolute kid-magnets.

Tanks, but no tanks for me. We're focused on the statue here. Climbed up the hill and dear Anya captured me near Mat' Rodina.

Here's the view straight up. Now let's compare this Motherland statue to Lady Liberty. The young lady before us is 62 meters high and sits on a 40 foot pedestal, 102 meters total. Whereas the Statue of Liberty is 46 meters high, on a 47 foot pedestal, totalling 93 meters. So Mat' Rodina wins by 9 meters. (Not that anyone's competing, of course. Of Course. )

In a nutshell: When choosing scale, the Soviet Union went for massive: Huge buildings, mammoth memorials, gigantic Stalinesque architecture, even plus-size ladies.

From the foot of Mat' Rodina, turn around and here's the view northeast. On a clear day, past the monostery and all you can see the Dneiper River. 

Anya and I went down to the museum. This poster was at the entrance, in English, no less.

After a couple of hours inside the museum, this is the view of the area in the late afternoon sun. The complex was officially opened on Victory Day, May 9th, 1981, a day of parades and even after all these years, emotion and awe and gratitude to the veterans.

Saved the best photo for last: Mat' Rodina back-lit by the sun. Doesn't get better than that.

Say, from YouTube is this video: A fellow who visited Kiev captured Mat' Rodina, the sculptures, Dneiper River, lots more. It's not professional video by any means yet it provides a good overview of the memorial complex.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Welcome *Expat Blog* Readers

Welcome to my blog. Recently learned that the *Expat Blog* had picked From Russia with Love to be their STAR for November. So here's to 15 minutes - make that 15 sentences - of fame.  I am thrilled to represent the many fine blogs written by expatriates.  I mean, the new logo and the limelight - it's right up there with being crowned homecoming queen.  Not that I've ever been there. Not yet! 

Anyway, visit the Expat Blog site, click on Blog of the Month and there's the whole scoop. Including a fun photo taken last month at the Swallow's Nest in Yalta. With a big eagle perched on my shoulder. So welcome to my blog. It's my privilege to offer you a glimpse into life in Russia. . . and now Ukraine.

Russia Hopes for "Second Wind" in Relations with US

In his first state of the union speech, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that he hopes the election of Barack Obama will make for a second wind of relations between the United States and Russia.

Speaking of national leaders and their ages, President Medvedev is 42, born in 1966. And just as the US experienced a post-war baby boom, so did Russia. This cadre of kids-now-grown is known as the Spuntnik generation, named for the Russian satellite launched in 1957. 

News flash: Oi! This just posted at Russia Today, Obama's Adventures in Russia, the story of his being held at a Siberian airport for 3 hours in 2005. I'll bet some airport officials wish they had handled things a bit differently.


Just watched the video and I'm still shaking my head.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Celebrating Middle Age: You Plan To, Don't You?

Hey you young whipper-schnappers out there: Buckle your seat belts and look both was before crossing the street and it's very likely that some day, you too will reach middle age. Oh, but of course you knew that. . .

Even here in Kiev, Ukraine, people imagine themselves forever young. Twenty-five years from now, this bunch will look at this photo and laugh themselves silly. But for now, this look works.

Saturday I was at a youth event here in Kiev. The theme was Youth: The Church of Today and Tomorrow. They allowed youth group alumni such as myself to attend too. Oh yeah!

Not one person said Hey Eileen, you should be home with your knitting. A good thing since I don't knit. But this lady does.

By the way, how to say knit and purl in Russian? I haven't a clue, komrad.

We baby boomers figured that we'd be forever young, thanks to the dawning of the Age of Acquarius, the Age of Acquari-uuus, Acquar-eee-us. Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding. . . Oops, reminded me of a song from the past. . .

Anyway, a year or maybe 20 years ago, back in a previous millenium, I decided that I would officially be middle-aged when my youngest brother Ben turned 40. You see, when I graduated from high school (Go Manchester Panthers!) he was a little blond tyke, two years old. Well, lots has happened since then and this past August, our Ben turned 40.

And now he's got a little blond tyke or two of his own.

Not everybody is as lucky as I was, to get a baby brother at age 16. So here's another definition of middle age: You know you've reached middle age when you work for someone younger than you.

Are you there yet?

Or, in an interesting twist: You know you've reached middle age when youre older than the nation's president. As you may be aware, President-elect Obama was born in 1961, the final wave of the baby boom generation. He's not the first baby boomer to be president, of course.

Presidents Clinton and Bush were both born summer of 1946, on the leading cusp of the baby boom. You know, if this election had gone differently, maybe almost everybody would feel younger. Who isn't younger than John McCain? ;)

Politics aside, there's something refreshing about having young blood, young energy in leadership.

How about you, dear blog readers: How do you define middle age? How will you know when you've reached that milestone?

Monday, November 03, 2008

When a Diamond Slips Through Your Fingers

Greetings from Kiev. I'm off on another gypsy journey, this time to north- central Ukraine. This is part of my on-going visa adventures. . .

But look where all I've been lately. If you're one of the five or six dear souls (wink, wink) who visits this blog, you'll remember about Russia's new visa law and the adventures it has brought me. In a nutshell, those of us with religious activity visas or business visas are permitted to be within Russia only 90 of every 180 days, in other words half the time. Imagine, being forced to travel. (Note to self: Check about a frequent flyer type program for train travel.)

Anyway, I've been really looking forward to returning to Kiev for a couple of reasons. One is to get more photos. But photographing Kiev in autumn was a minor reason for wanting to return. But time out for a quick look at a few highlights of Kiev. Because of course you really, really want to see some. . .

St Andrews Cathedral of Kiev.

The World War II exhibits honoring the common people affected by war. With a sprinkling snow, that would be extra interesting. 

Then there's the main square in downtown, central Kiev. Thanks to CNN, you may have already visited there.

Oh and then our good buddy, Yuri the Ukrainian folk singer in traditional garb. (Is his name Yuri? Maybe, maybe not. . .)

But at the very top of my list was to sit and visit with Rick Pinzchuk.  I've been collecting stories from heroes of faith and, amazingly, the first I heard about this fascinating man was at the very end of my last visit. And there was simply no time to get together..

(Photo Erik Tryggestad: Christian Chronicle.)

I was absolutely shocked to read that he died abruptly and suddenly of cancer just two weeks ago. And I'm just sick about missing that chance. Thanks to Erik Tryggestad for the fascinating story about Rick's life and ministry, a pioneering evangelist to Ukraine. Since arriving here in Kiev last Friday, I've gotten to visit with several who knew him and worked with him over the years. Still, I missed a golden opportunity.

Dear blog reader, can you possibly relate to this? Letting a treasure absolutely slip through your hands?

Carpe diem! Seize the day!