Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aunt Leetra!

Here's just one photo from last night.  Everyone was tired, but at least you can see proof that Leetra is here!  Right now everyone is napping, but this morning we took Aunt Leetra out for her first walk around Dneprorudnoe.  It's so good to have her here!

Friday, February 27, 2009

New template

I had already chosen this template for spring and customized it. . . and then today, while sitting here waiting for Will and Jaan to get back with Leetra, I saw that the designer came out with a new one that I like even better.  So, I'll use this one until spring really arrives, and then I'll do what I love to do: I'll switch again!  (If you want a really pretty, free template for your blog, look here. I'd be happy to help install it.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Studying skunks (and other stinkies)

Last week we stayed at our dacha until the sun had almost gone down. That meant we were walking back after dark. As we passed through the patch of "woods"* before the railroad tracks, we smelled something. Will and I simultaneously said, "Skunk?" To which Jaan and Raia simultaneously answered, "What's that?" I started telling them about skunks. It didn't sound scary to me, but for some reason they were absolutely terrified. As in, they were crying and expecting a skunk to jump out and eat them all the rest of the way home!

I remember how a trip to the zoo and long time spent studying the crocodiles there really helped them get over that fear, so as soon as we got home, I looked up pictures on the internet. Still scary. So, I Googled "skunk nature documentary" and found an incredible PBS show online. We watched the first part that night, and Jaan and Raia were able to go to bed with their fears relieved. The next night we finished watching, and now there aren't any fears left. We're all obsessed! Well, poor Papa didn't watch with us, so he has to hear constant stories of what we saw.

(Funny note: Asya had been too busy to nurse much almost all day at the dacha. She was enjoying the skunk show, sitting in my lap, pointing and commenting, until we got to the part where they feed orphaned baby skunks. She saw the milk all over their faces, flopped over sideways, demanded milk and didn't look up again.)

Now that we know everything about skunks , we know that what we smelled that night wasn't a skunk. So, what was it? We've asked around, and people have said ласка or хорёк, weasel or polecat (?). Although, the further I've gone with looking up animals in that family, the more possiblities I've found, and the more confused I've gotten with Russian, Ukrainian and English names. Will said that it's the first time we've tried to identify a critter by smell. It was probably a weasel (ласка), just because that's the most common stinker around here.

Now, this week's nature challenge just happened to be about skunks and badgers. (Did that really just happen, or did Barb do it especially for us? ) We had already watched the documentary, so we headed into some of the reading. I've been saving the Burgess Animal Book for later, but I thought Jaan would enjoy a taste of one chapter, so we opened it online and listened to it on Librivox. It was a little over Raia's head, but Jaan loved it.

Raia drew the cutest skunk ever, from this photo:

(Be sure to click through the link and look at Raia's skunk. Note the photo tags. ) We really enjoyed the artistic process. She noticed that the skunk's face is shaped like a triangle, or, as she said, "like a piece of pizza." Her drawing doesn't really capture that, but you can see the other triangle that she found: the black one, between the white stripes. Asya and I drew a polecat to go with Raia's skunk.

* There are no real forests in this area, because it's all empty steppe land. However, when they built Dneprorudnoe, they did an incredible job of planting trees. Some areas almost look wooded. . . if you don't turn your head to see how the trees grow in rows, sorted by kinds.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Baby Worm?

(I'm terribly sorry about the camera strap in the photo.  Our camera was not cooperating at all, so I didn't get many photos to chose from.  It's getting cantankerous in its old age!)  On Tuesday when we went to our dacha, Will dug up a huge worm, the size of the ones you buy to dissect.  He gave it to Asya, and she carried it around in a pot for the rest of the time.  She called it "Baby," and fussed over it like it really was her baby.  It was hilarious!  She would drop Baby and then say, "Oi!" and worry until we got him back into her pot for her.  She kept going around showing him to the rest of us; we all had to exclaim over him to please her.

Collecting happiness

I'm reading a book called Not Without My Daughter. All that little girl went through made me wonder where she is today. In a quick internet search I found an article with this quote:
These days, she “collects happiness,” an exercise she learned in a senior year psychology class. . . .

It’s simple: make a list every day of five things about which you’re happy. For Mahtob, one day that included cleaning out the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Another day, she viewed an old man and old woman talking and so obviously in love. One time it was a grandpa pulling a little girl in a wagon.

From this exercise, she learned a lifelong lesson.

“We all face challenges in our life, we all go through difficult times. I really believe our attitude, more than anything else, determines the outcome. Collecting happiness is all about attitudes. Every time I turned a corner, there was something else,” Mahtob said.

So, here I'm following her example, as I continue my gift list. This time it's just five things from today.
671. Bright sunshine all day!
672. Watching sparrows take dust baths
673. Visiting someone from church
674. Cut flowers with a little bird in them
675. Asya's response to the little bird: she thinks it's real and is in awe!

If you want to share a collection from your day, please comment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Studying squirrels

That squirrel in the park was a recent nature highlight for us. Last Sunday night we were talking about it again, and we decided to draw what we had seen. Of course, we can't draw squirrels in real life, when we've only seen two in nine months of living here. So, we turned to the internet. Just for fun, we watched a bunch of videos of red squirrels. Then we looked at photos, and finally chose this one from Wikipedia:

(Look closely, so that you can compare it with our drawings.)

From there we took off drawing. Raia is our artist these days, so she was in her element. Don't you love her squirrel?

Jaan's not very interested in drawing, so I wasn't sure what he would do. When we work on art projects, I usually make him start out sitting with us, but that's about all. He insisted that he couldn't do this, so I just had him watch, while I began sketching. We discussed every line I drew, and before long, he took over! We continued to work together, with him actually leading and directing. Our drawing is quite detailed, and it took several days and several sessions to finish, but we're both pleased with it now.

In doing this, I rediscovered a blog that I was really impressed with before. I love "The Outdoor Hour" challenges there. In the preschool stage where we are now, nature study is just spending time outside, discovering and enjoying creation as much as we can. The Handbook of Nature Study blog was above our level. However, as I was looking at it this time, I realized that a lot of our recent observations fit in with what she's been writing about.  This post goes with the squirrel challenge.  (But only 10-15 minutes on a nature walk?  We usually spend hours!)  I added Jaan and Raia's artwork to her gallery.  We've also just recently seen two hares (one this morning!) and some bats.  Maybe we'll study those, too.  So, you might see even more nature posts here, as we learn and record. Of course, our focus is still on the time we spend outside, not the study part. Recording our findings is just a side benefit, but we'll see. . . .  And, yes, there's a whole lot more to our life than nature study, but it's one of the areas that we really love!

Oh, and just wait until I write about skunks and other stinky creatures!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

We don't really celebrate Valentine's Day, but we had fun with decorating for this month that includes it and our anniversary. Jaan and Raia don't really even know that today is a holiday. Here's what they made a week or so ago: a display of pictures of some of the people we love, with tons of hearts.

(And happy birthday to Natalie! I always think of you on this day.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sunny dacha day

We spent Monday at our dacha.  In spite of a grey forecast and a wet start to the day, we had sunshine!  You should see the forecast we had for the week.  (Laura inspired me to capture it.)  I'm glad it was wrong.  The sun is breaking through a little today, too.


Asya discovers something she likes
A yummy plant!  We found mint.  I'm working on teaching her that she can eat this plant, and not others.  We're getting there.  So far, she'll ask me: point to a plant and say, "Nyum?"  It helps that there aren't too many to choose from yet.

Something I like!
It's a mystery plant, but I think it should be some kind of flower.

Planting seeds

Watching a ladybug

The day's work
It's a little early to plant.  We have some cold nights coming up.  Still, I wanted to try.  We planted sorrel under a window, and we made mini-greenhouses out of bottles to cover some green onion and morning glory seeds.  We'll see what happens.  Also, do you see that row of parsley to the side of where the girls are standing?  It survived under the snow!

Jaan really was with us.  I think he was just moving too fast the whole time.  I didn't catch him in a single photo.  He worked hard to help Will clear weeds and start pruning trees.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Squirrel and gardening

I've written about the cute red squirrels here before.  We saw our second squirrel!  Yesterday we went out for a walk in the drippy weather.  Usually I take the children out by myself in the mornings, and that's Will time to get something done at home.  This week he's been going with us more, and it's so much fun!  As we were going through a wooded part of the park, he was telling Jaan and Raia about "the dangerous wild animals that live there."  Then every time they would look away, he'd throw something through the trees to make noises.  Jaan, Raia and I sneaked away to explore a little area very thickly planted with young pine trees.  Right away we saw a squirrel!  And at the same time, Will randomly threw a huge stick and almost hit it.  We were very upset with him!  But the squirrel didn't seem to mind.  We followed it around and watched it for a while.  I went back out onto the path to where Asya was waiting in the stroller, and Will went off to try and get pictures of the squirrel.  He ended up chasing it right out in front of us.  Asya was thrilled.  It wasn't very afraid and hopped around in front of us for a while, before wandering off.  What a wonderful adventure to brighten up a grey day!

And then gardening. . . in Russia, when we got to weather like this, I would be itching to start planting something.  Here, I felt like there was hardly any winter, and even through the weather feels like spring should be coming, I hadn't been feeling like it was time to plant yet.  But now I do!  There's a fun site that gives lists of what should be planted each week.  I don't know what our official frost dates are, but I've heard that the weather here is about like Ohio, so I randomly chose a zip code in Ohio (45211), with frost dates of April 29 and October 13, and I've checked with those a few times.  Today I got my first list of what to start this week: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, head lettuce, onion seed, parsley.  Now I'm excited. I definitely want to grow some of those!  According to this nice chart, it's still a little early to plant, but I think we'll try anyway.

About the climate: in Kovrov, our weather was almost exactly the same as what my aunt in Vermont observed.  Who has the same weather as us now?  Has anyone been comparing?  I've been thinking that I could go back through the temps and figure out my own last frost dates, but I haven't had time yet.  (If I had a child old enough, I'd assign him the job. )

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Today's bird

We saw a new bird today!  It's actually not a great birding day.  We went out for a long walk and didn't see anything.  Then, when we were heading back in, a very mixed flock of little birds stopped us.  I would have liked to have camped out there for a while with binoculars and a bird book, but everyone was tired and cold.  The one new bird that I was able to identify for sure was a Hawfinch (Дубонос - детям очень нравится название ).  With such a mixed group of birds, the flashes of pink, yellow, white, brown and black as they all flew off were pretty amazing!

Will took the photo below.  You can see what kind of day it is here.  Actually, that's the kind of day we've been having for a few weeks now.  That's still ice way out there, though.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I wrote this way back at the beginning of December, and it never made it out of Drafts.  I was going to list some current gifts, but it was really fun to find these!  So, that's one gift:

676. Remembering gifts received earlier

. . . and then on to sharing older ones:

“It has been coming to me of late, that our Master’s words about gathering up the fragments that nothing be lost, may touch more than life’s loaves and fishes. I think I must gather some Love-fragments up, and give them to you, or the wind of Forget may blow them away to Oblivion.”
--From Sunrise Land, page 74

677. November, painted in blue and brown

678. December ahead of us, all bright and sparkly (at least in my mind.  In real life, it's rather grey right now.)
679. Grey weather that makes us want to snuggle in and prepare for Jesus' birthday!
680. Another sighting of the Jay: this time Will saw it, too.
681. The jewel-like beauty of pomegranates (Yes, I am thankful for the color and flavor, even with the whole kitchen is splattered with bright juice and my children have mysteriously changed color.)
682. Thankfulness from little hearts
683. Relatives coming to visit
684. Bright sunlight, glowing through fall leaves

685. Little helpers, putting away the stroller all by themselves. That's a big job!
686. Little applesauce helpers, sawing away with butter knives
687. Asya's hugs

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A snowy dacha day

These are actually from a few weeks ago.  All the snow is gone now. I really enjoyed the endless Fall here, but I'm not so sure that I want early Spring to go on for so long. True, the mud isn't knee-deep like in Russia, but it's pretty soggy out. And there's no sunshine or warmth for anything to start growing yet. Just no snow. Weird.

I've heard various jokes about Florida (and North Carolina) along the lines of having four seasons: Humid, Hot, Hotter and Christmas, or something like that.  I think south-eastern Ukraine has three seasons: Swamp, Desert and Christmas.

But back to photos. . . these are from a beautiful, snowy, sunny day at our dacha a few weeks ago.  Will had moved the wood stove from the chicken house inside, and we tested it out.  Much better with a happy baby and a way to warm up!  (Remember last time we froze and Asya was miserable?)

Getting ready to go

Climbing up to the dacha

Enjoying the snow

Bringing in wood

Hot chocolate and Ukrainian
(Asya was asleep on the bed, under that pair of old jeans.)

He toasted his socks!

On the way home