Thursday, November 29, 2007

Georgia on Our Minds

Today we bid farewell to our good friends Jani, Phil, and Thomas. Last night, we celebrated our friendship at the Chicken Place, sharing good food and fun with the boys. Carter and Thomas devoured juicy bits of poultry and french fries (chips to Thomas) while Thomas entertained all of us with his renditions of "Wild Things," a la Sendak.

Today, the boys had one last chance for some afternoon play. Carter got to significantly delay his nap so that he could see Thomas a final time. Lea, Jani and the boys coincidentally met at the Mary statue, where they had met the first time. They fed the birds (of course), blew bubbles, climbed on the Taras Shevchenko statue, and ran around in the snow until it was time to come up to the apartment and say all of our goodbyes. Carter promptly went down for a nap, but just before he went to sleep, he told Lea "I had fun with Thomas."

Phil's new job takes the family to Tbilisi, and they depart for Kyiv tonight and to Georgia in a couple of days. We were incredibly fortunate to meet such a wonderful family with a son who has been such a good role model for Carter. Our sadness at their departure is eased a bit by our inevitable trip home - in one week for Carter and Lea. It is rare that you meet people and immediately become fast friends. We were quite lucky and hope to encounter them again somewhere in the world!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about Oviparous Animals

Recently, Carter decided that he wanted to know which animals lay eggs. This query led us to a wonderful website by a kindergarten teacher that includes a lesson about oviparous animals. Carter likes to play a game where he and the parent of his choice list animals that lay eggs. Frankly, we have learned alot too. Aside from zoologists and parents of toddlers, who knew that the only monotremes (egg-laying mammals) are platypuses and echidnas? [The only reason we know what the latter animal is at all is that the echidna is featured on Carter's "Animals of Australia" jigsaw puzzle.] The video does not feature Carter at his best, as he would only answer questions about these animals and not list them himself.

Lea: "Do platypuses hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "Um... yes."
Lea: "Do alligators hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "Yes."
Lea: "Do kitty cats hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "No."
Lea: "Do horses hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "No."
Lea: "Do caterpillars hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "Yes."
Lea: "Do fish hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "Yes. How about dinosaurs?"
Lea: "Right. Dinosaurs. What else can you think of that hatches from an egg?"
Carter: "Mommy pick."

Lea: "Do birds hatch from eggs?"
Carter: "They do. But they... some... do. How about mommy pick?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Fun in the Snow

As the snow has melted and a new snowfall came overnight, an update about Carter in the snow is long overdue. Carter has been enjoying both new snow activities, and some of the same activities, just with the snow. He really liked sledding, and Jani has passed along this video of Carter to share with readers.

Carter's old activities continue as well. A p
hotograph here by Jani shows the boys feeding pigeons. The bird feeding has continued, however, the birds are much more aggressive now, as seemingly Carter and Thomas are the only food providers in L'viv. One day last week, pigeons landed on both Carter's and Thomas' heads. An activity that Carter has feared until lately is the seesaw. He has decided that much of the playground equipment here in L'viv is dangerous. Despite his cousin George's protestations to the contrary, we must agree that some of the equipment is dangerous, as it is broken and no signs of repair have been seen during our stay. At least the snow covers the broken glass and jutting pieces of metal. Suddenly last week, Carter decided that seesaws were acceptable. Here you see him going up and down (courtesy again of Jani).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about the Solar System

As many of you know, Carter has shown a strong interest in the planets for quite some time. We visited a fantastic hands-on children's museum near Kansas City many months ago, and he spent much of the time in the space-themed room. He has a jigsaw puzzle of the planets and often draws them. For reasons only a two-year-old can fathom, he decided that Lea's parents live on another planet, prompting the following discussion about where he would like to live.

Erik: "Would you like to live on Mercury?"
Carter: "'cause it's too small 'cause it's high in the sky."
Erik: "What about Venus?"
Carter: "'cause it's medium, 'cause its high high in the sky."
Erik: "What about Mars?"
Carter: "'cause it's... no."
Erik: "Why wouldn't you want to live on Mars?"
Carter: "'cause it's... I'm not sneezing." [A note: Carter enjoyed the book Dogs in Space that we checked out of the Lawrence Public Library for many weeks. In the book, the dogs do not stay on Mars because the sandstorms cause them to sneeze.]
Erik: "Oh. What about Jupiter? Why not?"
Carter: "'cause I don't have a spot. "
Erik: "What about Saturn?"
Carter: "Mommy has a spot!" [A note: Carter thinks that freckles and other sorts of changes to skin coloration are "spots."]
Erik: "Mommy has a spot like Jupiter. What... what about Saturn? Would you like to live on Saturn?"
Carter: "No 'cause I don't have a ring on."
Erik: "What about Uranus?"
Carter: "I don't have a ring like this and like this." [A note: Carter distinguishes the rings of Saturn and Uranus by their position.]
Erik: "That's true, you don't. What about Neptune?"
Carter: "No."
Erik: "What about Pluto?"
Carter: "No."
Erik: "Why not?"
Carter: "'cause it's very small like this."

Sunday, November 25, 2007


After attending today's puppet theater performance, we now know the secret to Paul Verhoeven's source material for the lead law enforcement official in the futuristic dystopia of New Detroit. When we looked at the schedule, we saw that the title of today's play was the "Adventures of Робокопа." Erik joked that it was probably about a robot. Lea's superior Ukrainian knowledge shone through, when she said: "it is probably about Robocop." Indeed, the story revolved around three animals who proved to be a menace to Ukraine's streets by not following the rules of the road and were apprehended by a man in silver bejeweled gear: Robocop. To be fair to the animals, by not following the rules of the road, they were simply normal Ukrainian drivers. Robocop, whose anthem "Ya Robocop [I am Robocop]," a kind of Old School Ukrainian rap, was repeated several times during the performance, sent them to his driving school. While the offending elephant and monkey showed up, the bear skipped class, prompting Robocop to call upon children from the audience to help find him, which they did. Robocop's performance was Oscar-worthy - at least in Carter's mind. He turned to Erik during the performance, and with a look of wonderment in his eyes, said "Daddy, it's a robot!" The other children enjoyed the performance too, rapping "Ya Robocop" all the way out the door.

We suspect that this may be President Yushchenko's solution to the problem of the traffic police. He disbanded this unit - the GAI - and since then drivers have felt quite comfortable disobeying the rules. Robocop refused a bribe from the elephant, and was an upstanding civil servant requiring limited maintenance costs. Since beat police make around 500 grivnyas per month ($100), corruption is bound to surface. Robocop could solve everything, just like he did at the puppet theater.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holodomor Vigil

Today marks the official beginning of a solemn period for Ukraine: remembering the famine that killed millions from 1932-1933. We have written about this tragic event earlier, and about how it is interpreted by many as a genocide against the Ukrainian people. We have listened to the haunting music piped through the public loudspeakers all day, broadcasting events from Kyiv. Although the Holodomor did not directly affect L'viv, as the city was a part of Poland at the time, several hundred citizens participated in a candlelight vigil, shown in the pictures above and below. Today's commemoration, two days after the Thanksgiving feast, reminds us again (to quote Thomas Herron): "we have alot to be thankful for."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about Thomas

Question submitted by Grandma and Grandpa Herron:

Erik: "What do you like to do with Thomas?"
Carter: "Mmmmm... do the blocks."
Erik: "What else?"
Carter: "Mmmmm... mmmmm... mmm...the ball!"
Erik: "What else?"
Carter: "Just the ball."
Erik: "OK."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like the pilgrims a few centuries ago, we have adjusted our harvest feast based on the indigenous products and cooking techniques available to us. Fortunately, unlike the originators of the holiday, we are not at risk of starving over the winter (nor will we likely later commit genocide against the people living here before us). But, compromises to the menu had to be made.

First, turkeys are not readily available in Ukraine. They exist, but must be special ordered through a vendor at one of the markets and are fattened for January (Christmas). In principle, we could have done this. But, since our oven does not function, this is a moot point. Instead, we ordered succulent chicken-grill from the new Chicken Place (the Old L'viv restaurant). Second, without a cooked turkey, gravy had to be made without drippings. So, Lea crafted an ersatz gravy with bouillon cubes. Third, without an oven or a turkey, making stuffing proved to be a challenge. Jani loaned us a peculiar Czech portable stove that served us well. It is a pot with a lid that heats to one temperature, 155 centigrade. Lea made stuffing in this contraption. Fourth, Erik made squash, but had to braise it instead of baking. Other dishes were made in the standard way - mashed potatoes and kimchi (our addition to the menu since the Nam family joined us for many Thanksgivings in Lawrence. Lea's parents brought the spices from the US). We also had several contributions from our guests: Jani made cakes and brought cherry chutney, Ewa brought brussel sprouts as well as brusniki (a fair approximation for cranberries).

As the day progressed, other compromises were forced upon us. Our refrigerator decided to die and we discovered its fate shortly after noon. We had heard some strange noises from that part of the kitchen, but thought it might be the rumbles of falling snow - currently a real danger to pedestrians walking near buildings. The water on the floor and the warmth of the interior proved that the noises were not snow. We encountered a fridge problem earlier in our visit as well. Vasyl, the apartment manager, replaced our small fridge with a larger one. During the Bistaks' visit, it conked out. Erik shook it and somehow got it to restart. But, Fonz-like bumping, pushing, and shaking did not resuscitate the unit this time. Erik went to the management office to resolve the issue - we had food for 13 guests, plus other things that would spoil. The managers are on vacation now, joining many Ukrainians who are taking one last European trip before the hardened Schengen borders restrict access to Poland and the rest of the West in late December. Their surly assistant was unsympathetic when Erik explained the situation. She indicated that there was no replacement fridge available. Out of the corner of his eye, Erik saw one sitting in Vasyl's office and asked: "how about that one?" She did not directly object to us using it, but put up another barrier: there were no "men" in the office (since women are apparently incapable of lifting). After half-heartedly searching for something with wheels, she gave up. Erik decided to literally take matters into his own hands, hauling the fridge down the hallway on his own. The elderly cleaning woman offered to help him, holding out her hand to take a side of the refrigerator. Erik declined her kind offer. If the young assistant had offered to help, he would have taken her up on it. But, her senior co-worker was another story. Now, we have three refrigerators in the apartment: the old Soviet colossus that never worked, the new old fridge that broke, and the borrowed unit from Vasyl's office. We just hope that it was not there because it malfunctions... at this moment it is working.

What is most important of all, to us, about Thanksgiving is to be thankful and to share the holiday with friends. In addition to Phil, Jani, Thomas, and Ewa, we hosted Brian (an American student at IFNU on study abroad from Western Washington University), Viktor, Walter, Anatoliy, and vice-rector Kyrylych. After a nice dinner, we retired to the living room for dessert and entertainment by Walter - who sang songs and recited poems for the boys. Carter and Thomas played, and we all chatted until everyone departed for their homes. For many, it was their first Thanksgiving and we hope that the tradition is successfully exported to Ukraine!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Things Work

In Ukraine, you can always "get things done." But, the Ukrainian approach to making things work breeds corruption that is palpable. A mundane example regularly occurs outside our window. Cars are not supposed to park along Prospekt Svobody (except for autos like the one we have dubbed "Ticketmaster" that advertises and sells tickets to all sorts of shows. We have used its services regularly, and you can see it parked with posters on its windshield in the pictures below). The men charged with the duty of keeping the streets safe from illegally parked cars are the crew of the Evacuator, the large flatbed vehicle with a crane that prowls L'viv for its prey. Once the crew of the Evacuator spies an offending vehicle, they pull up close to it, attach the car to large straps, and load it onto the back to take away. As the vehicle is hauled off, the crew leaves a sign on the ground telling the driver where to get the impounded auto.

At least, this is how it is supposed to work. We have watched this process several dozen times, and most of the time, it follows this pattern. The Evacuator crew finds a car and begins to slowly prepare it for loading, making sure to set off the car alarm. They continue to load up the vehicle at a leisurely pace, until, all of a sudden, the angry driver runs out and loudly talks to the men, weaving together some kind of excuse for the offending car's presence on Prospekt Svobody. The leader of the crew "shakes hands" with the driver, and then, for no obvious reason, the car is offloaded. Of course, one man's "handshake" is another man's covert transfer of cash.

To illustrate, first you see the Evacuator slowly loading up a minivan:

Next, you see the owner in the tan jacket running to his vehicle:

He identifies the crew leader:

And "greets" him (near the passenger side door). His minivan is then taken off the flatbed:

Of course, the civil servants charged with the duty of clearing cars make a pittance, and the money they get from drivers helps pay the bills. The driver gets off cheap, too. It is not only less costly to pay off the workers, but it is also less time consuming.

The notion that there is always another way to get something done permeates government, business, education, and every nook and cranny of Ukrainian society. Yuliya Tymoshenko accuses Viktor Yanukovych's party of bribing members of parliament so that they will not support her bid to become prime minister (this claim is unsubstantiated and controversial, but one of the stated reasons for the dissolution of parliament and early elections was this activity directed at the president's party members). Educators and students whisper about the pervasive bribery in higher education, an institution producing "professionals" whose credentials are only paper - the money it took to buy the degree and the degree itself.
This norm of behavior is why Ukraine ranks 118 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, and it is one of the reasons why this lovely country is often such a desperate mess.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

But My Dear, It's So Delightful...

We walked about town today, running various errands and snapping photos of our lovely, snow-covered, adopted city. The first couple of pictures illustrate the top-notch snow removal system in L'viv. The rest of the photos highlight some landmarks you have seen in photos on the blog, but lightly draped in white.

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful...

It started with a few flakes on Thursday morning, increased in intensity, then dropped off to a continuous light coating until late Friday evening. Our first winter snowstorm covered the streets, sidewalks, parks, and roofs with about 6 inches of wet, white snow. As we quickly discovered, snow removal in L'viv is even more poorly organized than in Lawrence, Kansas. The main difference is that L'viv actually gets snow. As the fluffy stuff started to pile higher, we saw construction equipment moving it from the street to another part of the street in front of our apartment, prompting cars to drive on the sidewalk. The solution? Put some wooden barriers on the sidewalk to dissuade drivers from creating their own detours. Sitting in our apartment late Friday afternoon, we heard a rumbling, then an avalanche as snow poured off of our roof onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. Note to self - don't walk near the buildings after major snowfalls. We canceled our Thursday evening plans instead of trudging through slush, large puddles, and ice (or having Ewa risk her life and limb coming to the center of the city). The sidewalks had become an icy, mushy, messy stream due to the foot traffic.

But Friday morning was perfect sledding weather, so Carter and Lea met Thomas and Jani at the Bogdan Khmelnitsky Park, which has a huge hill just inside the gates leading up to where a statue of Lenin likely stood a couple of decades ago. This majestic hill, with walkways up both sides, was the optimal place in L'viv for a sledding run. Thomas brought his plastic sled, and the boys were off. They loved it! Up and down the hill they went with smiles on their faces and some great wipeouts! After fun in the snow, it was off to Jani and Thomas' apartment for warm soup, play, and a haircut! Thanks to Jani's expert hand, Carter now looks like a little gentleman. The day ended with an appropriate activity - and Carter's favorite new game - dancing on the bed to the song "Snow Day."

[Sledding photo by Jani]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about Helicopters

Carter has been unwilling to grant new interviews lately, preferring to play other games at the apartment. But, here is one from the archive.

Erik: "You can fly the helicopter with daddy. Whoa! You landed it on the camera. What sound does a helicopter make? What sound does it make?"
Carter: "Zzzzz. Like a bee."
Erik: "Like a bee. The helicopter sounds like a bee?"
Carter: "Like Zzzzzzzz!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Social Butterflies

Our dance card has been full lately, with invitations to visit the homes of many friends and colleagues. In addition to our lunch at the vice rector's home on Sunday, we had events on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

On Monday, we traveled to Ewa's apartment to celebrate her birthday. Ewa is another Fulbright scholar who is teaching at Ivan Franko National University. She studies gender and politics as well as film. She is teaching courses related to these areas at the university. Our trip began inauspiciously. We thought that Ewa's apartment was on a trolleybus route, and since we hate riding on marshrutkas, we took a tram to the trolley and settled in for the ride. Lea realized that we were not going the right way, however, so we got out in the cold, windy, wet streets of L'viv to find a cab. We finally hailed one and made our way to Ewa's, late and freezing. Several guests had already arrived and were enjoying a delicious nut cake from Tsukernya. We chatted with some American students in L'viv for the semester, students from the university (one of whom took classes from Erik's colleague Dennis when he was here two years ago on a Fulbright), and some of Ewa's departmental colleagues. Carter was very happy because he was able to snack on cookies and grapes.

Yesterday evening, we visited Lyuda, a journalism faculty member who has been meeting regularly with Erik to chat about various things. Lyuda was a Fulbright scholar in the US a few years ago and worked with one of Erik's former students in Washington, DC. Her husband, a well-known poet, was in Kyiv where he works at a literature institute, but her daughters were at home. Nadia (16) and Olesya (13) fell in love with Carter and immediately whisked him away to play. Carter is usually a bit reticent with new people, but he took to them on the spot and enjoyed talking to them and doing various activities. Lyuda had prepared a lovely meal of borshch, potatoes with a Georgian hot sauce, pelmeny, meat cutlets, and salad. We had a wonderful evening at Lyuda's as well!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Snowy Day

We awoke yesterday morning to a beautiful coat of snow on everything. Soon, it became apparent that the temperature was above freezing, and that if we were going to play in the snow, it had better be soon. So, after Carter was up and moving around, he and Lea headed out to the middle of Prospekt Svobody to make tracks with their shoes, to throw snowballs at trees, and to draw with a stick in the snow. While they played in the snow, L'viv residents looked at them as if they were aliens. After coming in, warming up and drying their clothes on the heaters, they headed back out to meet Thomas and Jani at Ivan Franko Park. Fortunately, the snow in the park was not melting as quickly as that on the main boulevard through town, so the boys were able to play in the snow. They built a snowman with some help from their moms, threw snowballs, chased crows, tried to climb trees, and had a wonderful time in the first snow of the year. There were a few people out, and even small children who had built another snowman, but the park was quite empty compared to most days. Perhaps Ukrainian children do not play in the snow as much as their American counterparts.

[Photos by Jani]

Monday, November 12, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about the Park

Erik: "Carter, what bird did you see in the park today?"
Carter: "A woodpecker."
Erik: "A woodpecker? What did the woodpecker do?"
Carter: "Peck like... like this... like that!"
Erik: "Oh yeah? What did he peck?"
Carter: "The tree?"
Erik: "Will you show me again how he pecks the tree?"
Carter: "Does this... like that!"

I Wanna Rock 'n' Roll All Night

During our trip, Erik has been collecting and listening to some contemporary Ukrainian music. He has assiduously avoided campy Euro-pop acts like Ruslana and has instead been focusing on bands that merge some elements of Ukrainian traditional music with more contemporary arrangements. He has listened to popular bands like Mandry and Okean Elzy (the lead singer is son of Ivan Franko National University's rector). Not long ago, he was directed to a band celebrating its 20th anniversary - Vopli Vidoplyasova - or "VV." In fact, we encountered the lead singer of VV a couple of months ago. While attending a music festival at the outdoor Museum of Architecture and Daily Life, a man came toward us (to chat with the people behind us). The crowd applauded and swarmed him. Erik took a few photos, assuming that he was famous. It turned out that he was Oleh Skrypka, lead singer of VV.

VV has embarked on an all-Ukraine 20th anniversary tour that came to L'viv on Sunday. Erik decided that he had to go. About 18 years ago, Erik attended his last rock concert in this region of the world and the sights and sounds of this event were burned permanently into his memory banks. While studying in the USSR, one of the American students found a poster for a show by "СОНИК ЮТ" - Sonic Youth. A fan, Erik immediately got tickets to the show and went with some other American students. The show was a real window into late-Soviet youth culture. The crowd included young people dressed like London punks from 1977, hooligans clad in all-black, and dowdy Soviet college students intrigued by this obscure American group. At the time, the only Western bands in the Soviet Union were big acts like Bon Jovi playing Lenin Stadium. The Sonic Youth show was at a small hotel in a dance hall with a Soviet retro-70s design. Three local bands opened: one was a blues band, another played so-called "acid house," and the third looked and sounded like Echo and the Bunnymen if that band sung in Russian. Finally, Sonic Youth took to the stage. The young people were perplexed by the dissonant, aggressive noise, expecting a more straightforward three-chord DIY sound like the Sex Pistols. During the second song, someone threw what appeared to be a shoe at the bass player. Her husband, the lead singer and guitarist, took offense and kicked the unfortunate hooligan in the face. A fight broke out, concluded by the bizarre security guard making martial-arts contortions and hissing sounds. The band returned, with some unkind words directed at the crowd, and played most of their now classic recording "Daydream Nation." Erik fended off questions about what SY said from some unsavory looking lads (fearing that he might be punished for the band's negative comments), and tried to explain Sonic Youth's "style" in response to an inquiry. In the end, a good time was had by all.

As it turns out, VV opened for Sonic Youth in the band's Kyiv gig on the Soviet tour. Like U2 or REM, VV was a low-key (not quite underground) band that got famous and later experimented with its sound. VV has a vast repertoire, including Ukrainian folk music, dance songs, ballads, and straight-ahead rock with, of course, the addition of a bayan. When Erik arrived at the L'viv Opera House, the site of the show, concert-goers were not yet allowed in. Erik positioned himself to get inside immediately after the doors opened to avoid a long line at the coat check. But, when he got inside, the coat check staff had not started work. He bought a ticket for a first-floor private booth (shared with four other people) to get a better vantage point; so, he found the booth and went inside. The theater was dark, with the band performing its sound check. Erik realized that he was not supposed to be there, so he quietly sat back, watched, and listened as the group discussed the song arrangements, practiced, and finalized the set list. About five minutes before the show was supposed to start, the band left the stage and fans started filling their seats.

The fan-base was a fascinating pastiche of young and old, men and women: scantily clad young women, couples with infant children in their arms, and middle-aged professionals in suits and ties all crossed Erik's path at the show. His favorite fan was this woman to the right, wearing a white fur stole and bouffant hairdo (prompting Erik to ask himself - did this band really open for Sonic Youth?). The crowd started to get restless as the band failed to take the stage, applauding and politely demanding that VV start the show. About 30 minutes late, the band entered to thunderous applause. Oleh Skrypka told the crowd that the set would be acoustic, and the band started to play some of their classics.

During the show, Skrypka showed that he was a master at working the crowd. He invited the audience to submit suggestions on paper of songs for the band to play, and he reacted to these throughout the show, often to comic effect.
Fans expressed their appreciation for the band, tried to pick up other concert-goers, probed Skrypka on his opinion of another musician (who just beat VV out for an MTV Europe award), and of course, requested songs. Skrypka played guitar, trumpet, and bayan, as well as singing and dancing. One crowd-pleaser (not Erik's favorite) was a dance tune with a Bollywood video on the big screen and Skrypka doing Bollywood-style moves. The show was well-paced and surprisingly not loud. The video below gives you a brief sample of one of the traditionally-inspired up tempo tunes by the band. Although VV did not play Erik's favorite song about Cossacks tricking a young woman, he thoroughly enjoyed the concert. In true L'viv rock-'n'-roll style, he was back home by 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Lunch Date

Today, we were invited to lunch at Vice Rector Kyrylych's home. He is a mathematician by training, and he visited us in Kansas a couple of years ago. Erik has seen his lovely family on all of his visits to L'viv. His children are both college-aged, bright, and ambitious, and his wife is a wonderful chef.

Upon our arrival, Carter was immediately enamored of the orange fluffy cat Ruzhe, and the big, friendly dog Linda. Carter has been afraid of dogs since an unfortunate incident at a park in Chelsea (MI) when an inconsiderate dog owner let her animal run loose and it surprised Carter, jumping on him. The dog was small, but still bigger than Carter, and he has been reticent about canines ever since. However, gentle Linda won him over, and Carter stroked her fur and kept asking for her after she went outside. Carter's greatest pleasure was harassing the infinitely patient kitty (see the photo above). The Kyrylychs prepared a delicious meal of borshch, chicken stuffed with mushrooms, potatoes, salads of all kinds, and sweet apple tort for dessert. Carter was particularly grown-up, feeding himself borshch (and spilling just a little), as well as a healthy helping of chicken and potatoes. But, he decided to eat cake on Erik's lap (on the right). We all enjoyed the delicious, hot Ukrainian comfort food, and the warm Ukrainian hospitality, on a cold autumn day.

[Photos courtesy of the Kyrylych family]

Carter Answers Your Questions about Penguins

Question submitted by Aunt Laura:
Erik: "How do penguins walk?"
Carter: "'cause they waddle like... like... like... 'cause they waddle like this!"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about Playground Equipment

Question submitted by Cousin George:
Carter: "Yeah."
Erik: "What do you like to play with at the park?"
Carter: "Merry-go-round."
Erik: "What else?"
Carter: "No-NUH-nuh-no just... swing."
Erik: "Just swing? Anything else?"
Carter: "No."
Erik: "No slides, you don't like playing with the slides?"
Carter: "'cause they dangerous."
Erik: "They're dangerous? Slides are dangerous? Why?
Carter: "'cause I can't go in them 'cause they big."
Erik: "They're big. Is there anything else dangerous at the park?"
Carter: "Nuh-nuh-NUH-nuh-nuh-nuh-no... the swing and the merry-go-round broked."

For clarification, Carter IS allowed to use the slide at the park. Of late, he has decided that many things are "dangerous," though we don't really know why. At one of his parks the merry-go-round is broken, and he fell of a swing at another (the second swing at that park was broken as well). But, there are several nice parks with modern equipment that Carter frequents in addition to many dilapidated ones scattered about the city (mentioned in an earlier post).

Celebrating the Harvest

On Thursday, Lea and Carter were invited to watch Thomas' preschool class perform. Ordinarily that would be something anyone, other than possibly (and only possibly) the parents of the performers would want to attend. But with cold, rainy weather preventing outdoor adventures, Erik's need for some quiet to work, and some morbid curiosity about what a preschool play in the former Soviet Union would look like, we were off on the trolleybus to watch. Lea and Carter arrived at a two-story building a couple of blocks from the large food market near the train station. Immediately across from the door was an auditorium. This looked like an auditorium found in any cultural center in any former communist country. In front of the room was a long row of 3- and 4-year-olds dressed as various parts of the harvest - a cucumber, a pumpkin (Thomas), a potato, a sunflower (that boy looked thrilled), and as in the US, the costumes varied in quality based on the amount of work put in by the parents. They were singing some song in Ukrainian. Then, one by one, the children stood up and read a memorized poem about their vegetable/fruit/other harvest item, with a woman in front of them mouthing the words and occasionally saying the words for them. One could imagine that not long ago, those poems would have included some words about Lenin. Meanwhile, two women ensured that the other children sat quietly. After each handful of poems, there were breaks for songs or dances including a dance around a teacher who held an umbrella. Toward the end, there was a huge dance production starring Thomas as a rooster followed by the chicken dance. Yes, that chicken dance. The rest of the poems followed. Meanwhile, the parents clustered in the front rows of the audience, as the chairs had been pushed back so the last few rows were unusable. Parents and grandparents snapped photos of the children and held large bunches of flowers to give to the performers and their teachers. They clapped thunderously for the children after every poem. This seemed to be the part that Carter enjoyed the most, clapping with everyone. It was a humorous preview of preschool plays in our near future.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions about Toys

Erik: "Carter, what are you holding?"
Carter: "Sticks."
Erik: "What do you do with the sticks?"
Carter: "Tap them like... this."
Erik: "What else do you do with the sticks?"
Carter: "Do this"
Erik: "Anything else?"
Carter: "Do this... do this... do this... DO THIS... do this... that works nice... [unintelligible]"

Carter has acquired these sticks over time, by taking them from the flags given away by political parties during the election campaign, and from balloons he has collected at various locations. He has several games that he plays with them, making letters, numbers, and shapes, and tapping them (as he demonstrated). Okay, maybe he only has two games with them...

Thanks for your response to our request for questions! Please keep sending them and we will keep asking them. But, it may take a little time to get your answers online as Carter is not always willing to grant interviews.

The Art of Making Proper Scones: Lessons from Ukraine

On Wednesday, Phil's mother Sybil, from Manchester (UK), taught Carter and Lea to make scones. They were delicious! They were fluffy and tasty, and a recipe that will definitely be repeated in the Herron household. Carter really enjoyed helping out, and will have to learn to do more cooking at home. Lea reciprocated by teaching how to make American-style biscuits, but, as she readily admits, they pale in comparison to the scones! Here are a couple of great photos by Jani of the boys cooking with Sybil.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

If the Shoe Fits

One of the domestic chores on our to-do list has been to get Lea's 7-year-old boots repaired. Winter is approaching, with snow in the forecast, and her leather boots had a 1" hole by the zipper. Shoe repair shops are scattered about town, so we put off the task. Shoe repair is a big business for two main reasons: shoes are very expensive and L'viv's cobblestones devour them (especially the heels we wrote about in a previous entry).

The price of goods has been a hot-button issue of late. Inflation is high, but Ukrainian prices have a perplexing inconsistency to them. Some prices are extremely low, such as bread and mass transit. Some prices are extremely high, such as electronic goods. And some prices are about the level of the US. For instance, a really nice loaf of bread costs about 50 cents. The more pedestrian white bread costs about 25 cents. As we have noted in the past, a ride on the tram is 10 cents. The other day, Erik was in an electronics store and noticed Carter's DVD player (or the European version of it). He paid about $85 a year ago in the US. It cost over $200 here. But, a bottle of diet Coke is just about the same as in the US (a 2-liter runs from a little under $1 to $1.25, depending on the store).

Clothing and shoes are goods that cost much more in Ukraine than in the US. So, Ukrainian shoppers try to extend the life of their shoes by having them repaired. Our search for a shoe repair shop that would handle Lea's boots thus seemed like an easy task. Erik dropped in one with the boots (and a pair of her heels which had been broken by the cobblestones early in our adventure). The repair shop could handle the heels - fixing them for $2. But, the boots required a sewing machine which the shop did not have. The next stop was to a shoe repair place near the university. Entering the shop, you could see four workspaces with gruff middle-aged men stooped over boots and shoes, with piles and piles behind them. As Erik waited, a woman asked for her order - the cobbler struggled to find them amid the vast sea of footwear. Mind you, there are no receipts or tags, just piles of shoes. When Erik finally asked about Lea's boots, he was told once again that there was no sewing machine. But, he might find one on Bankivska Street. Off to Bankivska, and a similar response. Go to Knyaza Romana.

Today, after our jaunt to the market, he went to the shop on Knyaza Romana Street. The line was long, and the only option was to wait. As he waited, the line got longer and the crowd grew surlier. People tried to push past each other to stick their heads in the tiny windows in the wall, behind which the masters pursued their craft, to ask if their shoes could be repaired and for how much. The cranky men at the sewing machines generally growled at them to wait in line and read the sign on the wall (a tiny typed price list hidden among the masters' diplomas, various government registration documents for the business, and a Cabinet of Minister's resolution about the shoe industry). This shop specialized in shoe sewing - the sign on the wall warned customers not to even ask about purses or clothes as the shop only sewed shoes. One unlucky soul incurred the wrath of a shoe-tailor by asking about heels. "GO NEXT DOOR!" he yelled, noting that the store that fixes heels was one door down.

After waiting for over an hour, and an especially long time behind a woman having four zippers put on boots (a side note - you have to bring all of the supplies. The shopkeepers just sew), it was his turn. In Erik's version of surzhyk - the hybrid Ukrainian and Russian language common in many of Ukraine's rural areas - he asked if the master could fix the boots. After inspecting the boots, Erik was told that there was a more serious problem than the zipper being unattached to the boot near the sole, so he could not fix the boot. Erik asked him to sew the zipper anyway and was told that the work could not be guaranteed. For 20 cents, the master sewed the zipper back into place in about 2 minutes. Hopefully it will be enough for Lea to last her final four weeks in Ukraine!

Carter Answers Your Questions about Food

Question submitted by Grandpa Bistak (who will be disappointed that the answer is not something more exotic).

Erik: "Carter, what is your favorite food?"
Carter: "Mac and cheese?"
Erik: "Why?"
Carter: "'cause they happy when we cook them and I gonna eat them!"

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Happy Anniversary?

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power on the territory of the former USSR. Based on all of our earlier blog entries, you will not be surprised by the lack of October Revolution celebrations in L'viv [Note: The revolution took place in November according to the "new" calendar. The revolution fell on an October day according to the Julian calendar used in Tsarist Russia]. Presumably, elderly comrades in an eastern (and northern) direction are out in full force today, carrying red banners decorated with hammers and sickles, and remembering the good old days.

Carter Answers Your Questions about L'viv

Off camera, Erik asks Carter about L'viv...
Erik: "What do you like about being here?"
Carter: "'cause we're gonna take a nap 'cause there's no TV to watch
or... or Colbert or eagle or B or duck."

Carter's response requires a bit of elaboration. Many of you know that Carter is a night owl and not much of a sleeper. He regularly stays up for the Daily Show and Colbert Report back in the US. He is a huge fan of both. He started saying "earth" and pointing to the spinning globe on the Daily Show at 1 1/2. In order to placate him here, we purchased a Sesame Street A to Z video starring Stephen Colbert as the letter Z. He calls the video Colbert, and this has seemed to serve as a temporary substitute, although it is not part of his nightly routine.

The references above are all to Colbert - there is an eagle on the title sequence, and the credits end with a fish swallowing a heron, followed by a letter B swooping across the screen. Carter calls the heron a duck.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Carter Answers Your Questions

We are introducing what we hope will be an ongoing, interactive feature of the blog: "Carter Answers Your Questions." Today's question is "What is your favorite animal?" The transcript follows:

Erik: "Carter, what's your favorite animal?"
Carter: "Koalas."
Erik: "Why?"
Carter "'cause they start the letter k!"

Please submit your questions for Carter to answer. We will post your submissions, and his answers, on future blogs.
Because video clips are large, we can only upload small files. So keep your questions short!

The Sounds of L'viv

Today, as Carter and Lea were walking back from the puppet theater (he insisted on returning and enjoyed today's performance about chickens hatching), the streets were strangely silent. It was a reminder that we have intended to write about the many sounds of L'viv, as we have written about the sights, and even a little bit about the smells.

The streets were crowded with people, as usual, but it was a very cold day, and it made one wonder if they follow the advice Lea's grandmother gave: keep your mouth shut out in the cold to keep the warm air in. It is now up to 37 (and yes, that is Fahrenheit), but was colder this morning.

As they walked through Rynok Square, they could hear the familiar clip clop clip clop.
No, it was not the horses pulling carriages by our apartment on Sunday afternoons. It was the sound we hear constantly outside: stiletto heels on the cobblestones. It is amazing that women wear these things outside. Lea broke her only pair of heels the first time out on the treacherous streets of L'viv, and just got them fixed (it would have been sooner if only we knew it would cost $2). The sound this morning was accompanied by beautiful recorder playing by a man in his regular Rynok Square spot.

There is a great deal of music we hear as we stroll around L'viv. This morning, the blind bayan player who sits outside our window was in his regular spot, and his background music, audible in our apartment, always reminds us that we are in Eastern Europe. Two women often sing next to the pirozhki stand on a nearby corner, and we often hear the guitarist on Rynok Square (who has been there for years, we understand).

And then there are the noises we don't enjoy. Mostly car alarms, screeching tires and brakes, and horns. As mentioned previously, there is a great deal of traffic in front of the apartment. For several weekend evenings, a car pulled up on the sidewalk in front of the apartment and put up a projection screen and showed cartoons repeatedly. And occasionally we hear drunks singing late in the night. Most of the other noise is cell-phone-related, as everyone seems to have one permanently attached to their hands.

However, being in this prime location means that if there are the sounds of a political rally or protest, Erik has been able to jump up and head there. Concerts, performances, and even religious services take place within earshot of our window. Many of these sounds will be missed once we return to Lawrence, but we look forward to the sound of the birds. As long as we can hear them past the roundabout traffic.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Remembering the Famine (1932-1933)

This year and next year, Ukraine marks the 75th anniversary of the 1932-1933 Holodomor (famine). The exact number of people killed in this tragic event is unknown, but the number of victims is in the millions (probably 3-7 million). The famine is another example of a historic event that serves as a hot-button issue. In the western part of the country, like L'viv, it is considered by many to be a government-sponsored mass genocide against the Ukrainian people. [An important note: L'viv and other parts of western Ukraine were not yet a part of the USSR. They were incorporated as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in the WWII era.] For many in the eastern part of the country, the famine is acknowledged as a horrible event, but its cause is not attributed to intentional Soviet government policies aimed at eliminating Ukrainians. The weight of evidence supports a more western interpretation, though whether or not it was genocide aimed at exterminating Ukrainians (or an effort to eliminate opponents of collectivization and Soviet power, many of whom were in rural Ukraine) is a matter of interpretation. UNESCO recently approved a resolution calling upon member states to remember the Holodomor during its 75th anniversary, but did not call the event a genocide. President Yushchenko has declared 2008 to be the Year of Holodomor Remembrance. This will not only raise awareness of the horrific and tragic event, but will likely spark political controversy in Ukraine.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

It's Time to Play the Music, It's Time to Light the Lights...

Yesterday was our first chance to meet the puppets at the L'viv Regional Puppet Theater. It was no Muppet Show, but where else, for 80 cents per ticket, can you find dancing mushroom puppets? Definitely the highlight, particularly enjoyed by Carter, who said as the mushrooms left the stage: "mushrooms will come back." Sorry Carter, they did not return (as they were picked to be devoured later by a squirrel), but there were many animal puppets.

We started our morning with a visit to the L'viv National Museum, which had a great collection of icons and some nice, realistic pastoral 19th century scenes. Erik's favorite was the image of the couple dragging the drunk home on a sled through a beautiful rural snowy scene, appropriately entitled: "Dragging the Drunk." After the usual admonitions by staff about Carter sucking his thumb and not wearing enough clothes (he had on long sleeves, long pants and long underwear, and was inside without his coat since we were, as expected, told to leave our coats in the coat room) we finished gazing at all of the exhibitions and moved on. After some souvenir shopping, we headed on to the puppet theater.

We arrived at the theater about 20 minutes before the noon production and got 5th row tickets. We went inside in search of the coat room. It was downstairs, where kids were purchasing and eating pre-packaged chips, cookies and juice boxes from the bar. The bar also had a full liquor selection and sold cigarettes. Seemingly an odd selection for a puppet theater, we decided that the basement area must double as a club or bar (or at least hoped that was true). After a break for Carter to eat healthy snacks we brought along for him (raisins and peanuts), we went off to find our seats.

The theater was old, small, and smelled like a marshrutka on a hot summer afternoon. It was packed with kids feasting on candy, alongside their parents and grandparents. The seats, when folded up, were sort of booster seats so that small kids could see the stage. This is the only place we have found where you buy tickets for kids.

Then the production started. As best we could figure out, it was a story about a cat and dog whose parents fought, but they fell in love. They ran off to the woods, where a dangerous wolf and dancing mushrooms lived. A forest fire broke out and the parents thought their children were gone, but an animal (that we think was a squirrel) put out the fire. The squirrel, along with some ducks, helped them back to their families, who were happy to see them. Erik understood a little bit more than this, but it was probably more interesting if you did not speak Ukrainian than it was in reality.

Carter inexplicably loved it and wants to see more puppet shows. The Puppet Theater is a great activity for the cold days ahead.