Friday, November 28, 2008

Imperfect JOY

My Aunt Rose sends me about 10 e-mail forwards a day-- I rarely forward them on and never worry about the commands at the end---but this one had a line in it I wanted to share with my niece Sara and here:
"But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect."

I am thinking it's like building muscle---when you work hard --it hurts--but that is a sign that new muscle fibers are growing. Becoming bitter is like refusing to move again.
I am growing new heart fibers---it hurts but my heart is growing.
oh, it really hurts...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day 3: Uzhorod, Ukraine: Sleepy Day

By the third day we were all very sleep deprived. Chris had to be with his band, but the kids and I could sleep in, so we did. The trouble was we had no cellphones, did not speak the language, and knew next to no one. While this gave me a tad bit of anxiety it was actually quite nice to be in circumstances that required all of my brain capacity so that none was left to ruminate on my personal melancholia.
We wondered through the quaint town coming to this square where an enterprising business person had set up a car and bike rental service for kids. For 5 hrvnya per 5 minutes we rented bikes and terrorized random passerby with our superior driving skills.

There was a festive holiday mood on the stone boardwalk. The banners hang over the walking bridge across the Uzh River.
Later we went to a museum. There was an open air portion, a castle and a small art gallery and souvenir shop. Chris and I really liked this piece. The Mama is so happy.

Xander liked the embroidery.

We strolled through a beautiful outdoor museum with housing and buildings from Ukraine's history. XuMei noticed that this, and other log cabins looked just like the ones described in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House Books. I just finished reading these books to Xander and XuMei last year and we had wished we could go see the museum in Missouri where Pa's fiddle and other artifacts still remain. In Ukraine we saw wheat grindstones and plows, yolks, bedsteads, hitching posts, even a fiddle. How ironic that we went 5683 miles (straight as the bird flies) to visualize tools, and objects from our country's short history. Photography was not permitted inside the buildings.
A wooden church spire with the telltale onion shape.
This was probably a chicken coup but it was fun to imagine that little people lived in this tiny hut in the backyard of one of the cabins.
Iryna, M.D. and Vice Director of the Rehabilitation Center of Uzhorod, invited us all back to her house for dessert and aperitifs.

Steve, Hank, Sara, Jack, Theresa and Logan above, with Vita on the end below.Ira worked very hard to arrange our Tour of Uzhorod, set up gigs, keep us in translators, feed and entertain us all.
Her home was beautiful, the walls covered, salon style in art her father had collected through the years. Liesl, Hailey and Jolene heard the story of the acquisition of the gold mirror behind them. I believe it may have been payment to Ira's Father for services rendered. He was also a medical doctor.
Ira lives with her parents, both retired doctors, and teenage daughter as well as this little munchkin named Jennifer Lopez!

XuMei took this photo of me. Can you tell, I liked the cake.?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cheddar Ice

I loved reading the books and so easily enjoyed getting wrapped up in the delicious distraction of the movie hype for Twilight.

Twilight the movie had the perfect amount of schmaltz and coolness. It was cheddar on ice.
Thoughts on the movie:
Casting Cedric Diggory as Edward was hilarious at first,

ridiculously sexy in the end.
Oh, yea...and there is a really cute girl in it too.

Alice was perfect.
Badly cast was Doogie Howser as Carlisle Cullen.
The special effects were comical---Edward running could have just as easily been sped up footage of Wiley coyote.
But all in all I am always up for some good girly porn and this is it.
I consider it a feminist protest move to see the movie as many times as my pocketbook will allow. I suggest anyone who is into it do the same. Let's send a message to the Hollywood powers that be to make more movies geared toward women that are sexy, funny, and entertaining.

Thanks to Mary for reminding me that I can close my eyes during creepy trailers.
Kat for the awesome title.
And Cassie for being as into this silly movie/book dealio as I am and helping me to not feel like the biggest dork in the theater and for reading the series so I can obsess with someone about it.
And Sara......thanks for being you!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 2: Uzhorod, Ukraine

We all tried to sleep as much as we could that first night even though our bodies told us it was the middle of the day. I counted the minutes until morning and I was happy to discover the hotel Atlant had a generous continental breakfast:
juice (random fruit-pineapple, papaya, orange)
coffee or tea
apple, cheese, or sausage stuffed crepes
eggs: fried (sunny-side up and not cooked through--ew!) or soft boiled
hot dogs (just laying, all lonely and bunless, on a plate with a bag of mustard on the side)
slices of ham (from a can) & cheese
cucumbers & tomatoes
butter (lots of butter)
bread (a whole loaf)

The tour guide book said, "Don't try to take pictures of the security guards/police/military." So I waited to snap this shot of them from behind. There was a bank on every block and one of these fellows in front of it. They also patrolled the city and told the farmers (usually older women) who had dropped a sheet on the sidewalk and put out their wears to "pack it in".
Even though we saw plenty of police/security types there seemed to be a general disregard for the law. A kind of "Wild, Wild, West" mentality.
I noticed teenagers drinking beers openly on the boardwalk and said, "Oh, that's not legal in the U.S."
Our translator, Lisa, said, "It's not legal here either."
That first morning, we walked a couple blocks to the grocery store. It was small but well stocked and swarming with people. The deli counter had a line about 10-15 people long. The prepared foods were delicious and many families used this as a method to reduce work in their home kitchens. It was described as Ukraine's version of fast food. When women work all day outside the home they don't go through a drive through for dinner, instead they bring home traditional fried cutlets, meatballs, fish, and vegetables from grocery store deli counters.
At one point a fish jumped out of someone's hands and flopped around on the floor--Xander was excited by how fresh the fish was.
The store had a bulk section in the frozen foods.
It had many choices of flavored whip creams:

I wanted a small amount of milk and could not find anything that looked like a milk carton. There was lots of dairy but I was not sure if it was kefer, yogurt, cream or some other dairy product. I checked my travel guide and found the word for milk: moloko. A kind man who spoke English helped me to see that the moloko had been right there all along. In bags. Bags of milk.
The lowest fat percentage was 2.5% (I am used to skim--XuMei loves cream so was thrilled) .
The cashiers were all seated. We had to pay extra for plastic bags, most people bring their own bags. As we left we noticed this playground across the street from the grocery store:

Walking home from the store:

When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by everyone frantically trying to put the marimbas together so that photos could be taken of them and delivered to the border crossing. They still weren't convinced these "instruments" should be let into their country. They stared putting them together in the hotel lobby but quickly realized that wasn't going to fit so we moved out into the street. We were quite a spectacle.
View from across the street:
For those of us who are familiar with marimbas, this sight might not garner our attention, but for Ukrainians, who have never even seen marimbas, this scene stopped traffic. People pulled out their cell phones to take pictures, shook their heads, stopped and stared.
We packed up the marimbas and headed off to our first gig. It was in front of the equivalent of a city hall where weddings happen. We were met by some Roma children. Many Ukrainians call them Gypsies. This was a powerful and difficult moment for us, Xander and XuMei had never met a homeless person and had not realized that there could even exist homeless children. Everyday after this we packed up the extra bread and meat and cheese from breakfast and handed it to the first homeless people we saw.

Our new friend, Kate. She is the granddaughter of Katherine, an English teacher at the Linguistic Gymnasium (a local high school):

Kate is learning English. Katherine is wonderful and treated us like old friends, inviting us to lunch and a play date for the kids. I felt like I'd known her my whole life.
They played as we waited for the happy couple to emerge married. Apparently the violinist is the usual wedding day entertainment, so we kinda took his gig. He played along with the music anyway:
Kate, Xumei and Xander jumped and played as we waited.
And then there they were! A more resplendent wedding I have never seen. The glitz and glamour was top notch. Hours and hours as well as thousands of dollars had been spent on hair and make-up alone.
It was fun watching the expressions change on the bride and groom as they realized the Maharimbas were playing for them.
Break for editorial input:
(as I write the last sentence Chris thinks it should be:
It was fun watching the expressions on the bride and groom change as they realized the Maharimbas were playing for them.
What do you, dear reader, think????)
XuMei has always loved weddings. She asked for and received a wedding dress for her 3rd Christmas. She loved this wedding.
Everyone who attended dressed to the nines as well.
After the wedding, the kids, Steve (husband to band member Jolene), and I went to a nearby park to play.
XuMei asked why there were empty bottles and other garbage at the park. We played "soccer"-football with a bottle cap and tried to decipher some political posters.
Then we walked the board walk that runs along the Uzh River.
And we were invited to sit in on a master dance class. Somehow it had gotten out that Chris and I like to Salsa dance. We have been taking Cuban Salsa lessons for about a year with a group in Corvallis called Rumbanana. Ira (Vice director of the Rehabilitation Center and one of the organizers of gigs for the Maharimbas) asked us to give a short demo of our dancing! Yikes!
These dancers were athletes, and very professional. I felt a little silly dancing in front of them. But it was fun to show them a style of dance that is more "down and dirty" than the ballroom style Salsa they were familiar with.
After we walked back to the hotel we found out that we were going to have dinner with a local family. In the photo below, Kate is telling me that this street is usually a bustling street market. The gray building on the right opens up and is loaded with merchandise.
Then we had dinner at Magda's house. It was wonderful. Magda and her son Roma hosted. Roma is a music teacher and played guitar for us beautifully. He also showed us a music video of his band, 9 Caliber . The gist of the song called Mamma-Mia, was about how all people (rich, poor, Gypsy, Ukrainian) are one under God.
Then Magda sang a song for us, while Roma played. They stopped and bickered before finishing the song. Vita laughed. Vita then translated that the song was about a mother and grown son having a disagreement.
In Ukraine, hosting is very different then what I am used to. Especially since I am notoriously bad at hosting. I always mean well. I might remember to ask if a guest would like something to drink, but I rarely remember to actually get it. I am more the "feel-free-to-act-like-this-is-your-own-house" type host.
But in Ukraine, everywhere we went, we felt well hosted. Drinks were poured before our glass was empty, food was abundant and delicious, and conversation flowed, in spite of the language barrier. Magda's was no exception, and she shared with us my first taste of cognac. Uzhorod has a cognac factory that just happens to be where Magda works. So along with the conversation, the cognac flowed. There is a tradition in Ukraine that even numbers of flowers, toasts, drinks, etc. are reserved for funerals. Happy occasions must be celebrated with odd numbers. After my first shot, I had to have a second because it was delicious and one is not enough, but after my second, I had to have a third. After the third my judgment was gone, so I had a fourth and than tradition dictated I have a fifth. After that I really don't know.....:)
I do remember one thing: Magda's toast.
Her wish for all of us: Love.
Not like the sun, because it is to hot and can burn,
not like the moon because it is too cold,
rather like the sky.
From left to right:
Vita (translator who just got back from a year in Philomath), Magda, her son Roma, Steve (husband to band member mentioned above), Jolene (band member), Chris, and in the front XuMei and Xander.

Magda must have cooked all day. Xander said the food was better than a restaurant. This is an enormous compliment from him. I couldn't stop eating (and didn't want to try). But I exclaimed that I was unable to leave any of the delicious food on the table! Magda told us a Ukranian folk story/joke/parable about a woman who goes to the doctor and asks for help because she eats everything her husband and children leave on their plates because she can't bare for anything to go to waste. The doctor suggests to the woman that she get a pig to help her. The woman gasps in horror and says, "Then I'll have to finish the pigs leftovers, too!!!"
Magda invited her twin granddaughters over to play. They brought their best friend.
Biatta, Kate and Renatta. (Sorry--it might be Renatta, Kate and Biatta!!:)

Even with very little English, the kids were playing in no time. At one point the girls insisted that Vita translate the directions for a game to Xander and XuMei even though Vita tried to tell them she was sure XuMei and Xander would know how to play Hide-and-Seek.

I can hardly believe this was only one day, and I am sure I left a bunch out. Even though we were busy all day we still went back to the hotel and struggled to fall and stay asleep for what was our usual daytime hours.