How Pilots Should Talk

I got this from my dad, the retired airline pilot.  It's only audio but if you know him, see if you can picture him saying this...I know I can.

Campbell Pictures

You can't go wrong with family and friends by posting kid pictures; especially goofy ones.
I had no idea he was on a diet but he seems to be pleased that his weight stayed below 35 pounds.

There actually is video footage of this karioke session but I suspect that most of your anti-virus software would block it if you were to try to view it.  That said, my version of "Roxanne" is a classic.

Yeah, he's locked in a TV cabinet and I'm not afraid to admit it.  Child Protective Services don't have jurisdiction over here anyway.  I like the nose squished on the glass and little fogged up spot; it cracks me up every time.

Record Setting Month

I know all of you are about sick of my constant referencing of my traffic obsession but I really need you to help me on this one.  March has been a banner month for The Gaws blog.  I broke my previous monthly record somewhere around the 9th or 10th of the month and as I look at the tally leading up the last day of March (counted on Colorado time), it may be possible to reach 5000 visits this month.  Unfortunately the numbers have declined in the past week so we need a big Monday - which is usually the high point for the week anyway.  To ensure high traffic, I will be doing 2-3 short posts today so that I can get my usual readers to visit several times within the 24 hour block.  I tell you this to make sure that you keep an eye on the blog today (Monday) - I promise they won't be throw-away posts.


New (Old) Churches in Kerch

With the parents in town this week and the weather cooperating, we decided to get out and see the sights yet again in Kerch.  This time we opted for a few places that were new (at least to me) which turned out to be some great locations.  The 2 that I wanted to highlight are Orthodox churches.  These are 2 of the less impressive but more representative churches in the area - with the 2 nearer buildings being absolutely gorgeous (pictures forthcoming).  The first three shots are of St John the Baptist Church in downtown Kerch.  It is the oldest church in Ukraine, being dated to the year 717.  The dome that can be seen in the first picture is the original with two more ornate domes having been added as part of the later construction.                                                           

This plaque near the front door needed to be seen as it is both very Russian and very Orthodox-y.

This church is typical of the village churches.  Much smaller than those in town - sort of resembling cheap knock-offs - these churches are nearly always these colors.  The domes are painted yellow where those of their more glamorous cousins are metallic; appearing to be gold plaited.  When I get my rechargeable batteries back from Paul (yet another visiting guest), I'll stop by the 2 nearby churches for pictures that will better display the disparity.

I still love this little place for it's simplicity...I guess I can picture Jesus here better than in the gold roofed churches.


Am I addicted to our iPod or just World Soccer Daily?

Just an iPod question for you guys; here's the scenario...
I download World Soccer Daily most every day (I know I have already written about this) and IDEALLY, I listen to it on Sarry's iPod when I have spare moments of mindless activity throughout the day.  I think I've stepped out of being a social user and into a full-blown addict.  Yesterday I almost cut the headphone cord as I was listening...WHILE SHAVING!  Does this mean I have a problem?


Thursday 13: Best things about having parents visit (another continent)

I forgot one very important part of the "TT" process.  All commenters are to be asked to submit their own 13.  Since many of my readers are actually employed - and I'd like to keep it that way - I am only asking for all of you to take a few minutes and give us your Top 5.

So here it goes:

13.  Can I count backup child care for numbers 5-13?

12.  Getting to revisit all the places in town that you never get around to.

11.  Taking a chance and visiting a few new ones.

10.  An extra laborer for those jobs that you really don't want to do alone.

9.  Having someone to work with that speaks English (or maybe that is just my thing).

8.  Seeming for once, by comparison, to be very proficient at the local language (only me?)

7.  Spending less time on Skype/phone and more face-to-face.

6.  Campbell remembering what hanging out with Mimi and Pops is all about.

5.  Letting your parents see what your life is like now that you're all "growed up."

4.  Getting some phat family pictures.

3.  Having a functioning hard drive on your computer....I had to throw that one in there.

2.  An occasional allsome gift; which sometimes is just your own stuff that they brought with them

1.  New movies...that we can now watch on our functioning computer!

Ok, now give me your 5...

Stay tuned next week for the "top 13 items from my childhood that I wish I still owned."


I'm getting too old for this...

Every morning a wake up with a stiff neck (ok, this may be due to my pillow), a hurting right shoulder, and plenty of assorted creaking and groaning joints.  I turned 30, ran my first marathon and my body promptly gave out on me.  

I've realized now that years of abusing my body have started to catch up with me.  I have problems all over that I can trace directly back to some single or series of injuries.  Please see exhibit A, my knuckles.  This first photo is my left fist.  Notice the evenness of the knuckles?  This is how my right one used to look...

This is the right...  See the difference?  Originally my middle knuckle (second from right) was the highest but now is sort of dropped.  I can thank Timmy for that one; he decided to crush it between a 50-pound roll of steel banding and a concrete floor.  It is harder to see in this shot but my pinky knuckle is also a bit droopy.  There is plenty of guilt to go around for that one but the perpetrators happen to be brothers; The Coach and Mr Cool.  The latter did the breaking while the former sealed the deal by diagnosing it as merely "out of socket" and yanking on it a few times.  According to Sarah, I have  what is medically known as "jacked up metacarpals," or a bent hand.
These are the kinds of things that make me feel 10 years older than I am.  It's a difficult thing with which to come to terms, but I believe that I will - to use the best line from "The Outlaw Josey Wales" - endeavor to persevere.


Welcome Back!

The parents made it and I have proof.  Not only that - and you Mac users should recognize this - but it was taken with the iSight camera on our now fixed and functional MacBook.  I'm loving it; all is right with the world...

Time Remaining: About 11 minutes

That is message I'm seeing right now as our Mac's new hard drive is installed with Mac OS X. Thank you Mom and Dad for bringing my computer a new brain.

Now it says about 10 minutes......

I am so excited to once again have a computer that tells me what it wants in English.

About 8 minutes.....

Ok, that's all the play-by-play I'm going to do on this. Get ready for a new post from my new hard drive.

About 7 minutes.....

I made it

Just a quick thank you for the prayers on my trip yesterday. All went according to plan as both planes (Paul's and my parents') arrived within an hour of their scheduled time - not too bad by Ukrainian standards. I was able to get Paul some McDonalds, watch "Anchorman" on his iPod and stomp him at a game of Phase 10 before Dave and Jan made their appearance. There was a fun little interlude just prior to their arrival...

The Simferopol airport is relatively small. The 2 flights that I was waiting for may actually be the only 2 flights that come into the city per day. This means that you can sit in your car and wait for the sound of landing aircraft to alert you to your party's arrival. We were doing this around the expected time and I surprised how quickly the transport bus (from the aircraft to the outdoor baggage claim area) pulled up. We got out to see if we could get a glimpse of them through the fence but noted that everyone on the flight appeared to be wearing matching track suits and had no intention of picking up checked baggage. My first thought was, "It looks like a football team," quickly followed by, "What is a football team doing in Simferopol?" It was then that it hit me that prior to learning about my parents' trip, I had been planning to come to Simferopol to watch my Ukrainian League team Shaktar Donetsk play here today (Sunday). Sure enough, as they walked through the security fence I began to recognize some of the more memorable players like Brazilian striker Brandao (pictured below). Not bad...I follow a team for 2 months and I've already run into them at the airport!

The drive back was uneventful if you don't count my lower extremities going numb and coming back to life with pain shooting down my legs.


Off to the Big City

Today I am making my first trip to Simferopol by myself. I will be picking up Paul Dunberg at 4:20pm and then finding a way to waste the intervening 5 hours before my parents flight arrives. It may be tough to see on the map of Crimea above but I will start on the far right side in Kerch and drive to the regional capital in the middle (which on this map is spelled Симферополь). I only know 3 locations in the city - the airport, the train station and the MacDonalds - so I hope to expand my knowledge today.

If you look very closely, the road to Simferopol goes through lovely Feodosia and then through the hills that parallel the Black Sea coast. It has been raining here for the past 2 days so I am hoping that this doesn't translate to snow in the higher areas - it can get fairly treacherous. Please pray for safe travel, wisdom in dealing with the language issues and a supernatural sense of direction so that I can get everyone back to Kerch in a timely manner.

A video idea I wish I'd thought of first

Just after I wrote my most recent recommendations of new blogs to read, I remembered a very funny guy named James Lileks who was in the cyber-"journalism" business. He's actually just a funny guy that the Minnesota Star Tribune pays to write stuff. He also does some blogging and has authored several books with great titles, my favorites being "The Gallery of Regrettable Food" and "Interior Desecration" (neither of which have I actually read). I just caught his most recent video blog which I enjoyed greatly. I think you'll like it especially if you tend to enjoy understated, deadpan-type comedy.

I also got turned on to Rod Dreher that blogs on faith and politics at Crunchy Con.


Ranger Update

In my last post I referred to what seemed yesterday to be the impending purchase of a new Polaris Ranger UTV. I have since discovered that while we will be getting this machine, it may not be as soon as we thought. I misinterpreted some of the communications and it will require a bit more money raised and probably some additional wait time. The earlier request for further donations to this effort via Global Action USA is obviously now even more relevant. I just thought it was important to keep everyone abreast the situation but I promise some photos of the beast as soon as it arrives.


Thursday 13: The most awesome things that have happened this week

I'm about to choke the computer as this is the sixth time I've tried to write this post. Since it's Russian I never know what it's telling me in error messages, but when Internet Explorer just dies and takes all my work with it, I get the basic message.

So this is my T13 that should be good enough to make up for skipping last week: The 13 most awesome things that have happened this week.

13. The weather is getting really nice and spring is in the air.

12. I saw a 140 lb dynamo named Dima demolish a concrete patio 12ft long by 8 ft deep by 3 ft tall (and the 2 staircases that went with it) in less than 8 hours of work...by himself...with only hand tools.

11. I saw Lil' Trucker ride his first tricycle....

10. ...without a helmet! I didn't wear one, he shouldn't have to either.

9. We haven't had liver once this week.

8. I've gotten to have a bonfire almost every day with all the junk wood I have collected.

7. Liverpool won once, Shaktar twice.

6. My parents finally committed completely to coming next week (actually Saturday). Flying standby is tough, but it does get them here!

5. Cam learned with surprisingly few spankings that even though he CAN escape from his crib, he is not ALLOWED to do so.

4. I am on the run of a lifetime in our semi-nightly Pinochle league...I'm talking some seriously awesome hands.

3, 2, and 1. The Hope Center is getting one of these!

It's a 2008 Polaris Ranger 4x4 UTV and it represents a serious answer to prayer. About 2 weeks ago I started talking with some people about donating to getting us this little truck. We have a great contact at Polaris who suggested this vehicle to us at a huge discount...he then proceeded to talk with their Scandinavian branch who offered to cover the shipping and customs costs for getting it us down here. We are almost at the amount that was quoted but I expect some tax and other costs. If you would like to donate to put us over the top, let me know and I'll explain how.

Thanks to those of you who have already given, you know who you are and I am truly thankful.


What I'm Reading

Back in the good ol' US of A, I used to like to read. I loved discovering a new author at the library and walking out with 3-4 of their books...the anticipation was fantastic. Here in Ukraine I have been pacing myself (read procrastinating) on the one book that I have and have been in serious spy novel withdrawals.

I now do most of my reading via the internet; news, blogs, etc. Now every time I find a great new blog, I get a little bit of that "new author" feeling again. Since bloggers are usually at least semi-obsessed with traffic numbers, I wanted to recommend that you visit and inflate the traffic at the following sites:


a little R & R - This is the blog of Sarah's longtime friend Jenny, dedicated to her twin girls. If you like to occasionally laugh till you cry about hilarious kid stories, stop on by. I still use one of her daughters lines as often as possible; "I'm an expert at everything; except disobeying."

It is Quite Cool - Amanda is the wife of a guy I've known almost my whole life and an English teacher in Greeley. Good writing and funny commentary.

And the Others

BooMama - This is one of the funnier writers I've found. Her topics aren't always up my alley but I sure like how she writes about them.

Global Voices/Neeka - Global Voices is a group of bloggers who monitor news or other blogs for commentary or interesting content which is then reposted/linked. One of GV's people is Neeka, a Kyiv native; I read her personal blog for an English-language Ukrainian perspective. Plus she linked up my Fortress Kerch post on GV yesterday and I thought I should return the favor.

Update: Although I've linked to it before, I forgot to explicitly mention that Slick has a new blog and that his last 2 post are very good.


Ukrainian traffic problems

I just returned from helping with an anti-smoking presentation in one of the local schools. We do these types of presentations on a variety of subjects (one each month) at a handful of school in Kerch and the villages. Thus far, I have attended or helped with those pertaining to drugs, AIDS and smoking, but we also have them for alcoholism and human trafficking. If you're at all like me, that last topic seemed a little out of place among the issues that are likely to affect the daily lives of the school children of Ukraine.

Since I'm a fairly curious type of guy, I looked around a little bit to see how prevalent human trafficking is in Eastern Europe. In its 2007 report on human trafficking, the US State Department placed Ukraine (along with Russia, Belarus and Moldova) in the tier 2 watch list on their 3 tiered scale. The watch list designation indicates that it is on the verge of being moved to the 3rd tier (worst category). This means that it is currently in the same category as Mauritania, a country that just criminalized slavery last year and is estimated to have 20% of its population still in bondage. That is not a good record.

The State Department report indicates that Ukraine is a source, destination and transit route for human trafficking. Eastern Europeans have historically been highly prized as slaves by traders across Europe, Africa and Asia. During the 300 years of Tatar rule in Crimea, an estimated 3 million Slavic prisoners were seized and enslaved in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, their distinctive physical features (pale eyes w/ darker hair, high cheek bones, etc) make them particularly valued in the areas of sexual exploitation.

Ukraine's economy is improving at a fantastic rate (only tarnished by very high inflation) but the lull of international work for great wages still entices many Ukrainians to leave home in search of greater lifestyle. For many this proves to be lucrative as they earn comparatively high wages which they can bring home to improve their situation here. For others, the lure of work is a trap used by traffickers. Once outside Ukraine, the traffickers can take all identification papers making escape nearly impossible. Last week, someone here was telling me that their father went to Turkey for work and was enslaved as the member of cargo ship's crew for 4 or 5 years before he was able to escape. Tragically, for many of the women caught in this, their work is not nearly so wholesome. Prostitution and domestic servitude (often involving sexual exploitation) are common for those who leave their homeland without a trustworthy support structure as protection.

The report also indicated that there are serious issues of slavery within Ukraine - sort of a mirror image of the situation for Ukrainians outside the country - seeing a growing number of foreigners held here against their will. Due to it's geographic position, Ukraine has become a crossroads for traffickers moving people between Europe, Asia and Africa.

Now, having become more educated on the situation and the dangers it presents, I am glad that we are addressing this serious issue with both students and their parents in the upcoming months.


Fortress Kerch

Yesterday we took a little excursion to the fortress in Kerch that is usually referred to as, "no, the other one." I posted earlier about the 18th century Turkish fort of Yenikale which is by far the more famous fortress in Kerch (so famous that it is the photo you see in our banner at the top of the page), but yesterday we got to visit a newer but vastly more interesting location. Part of my fascination with "Fortress Kerch" is that I literally cannot find any information about it online...the internet doesn't know a thing about it; at least not in English. I can't even figure out when it was built. I'll give as much as I know and show some of the pictures that either we took or I was able to find online.

According to the pieces I was able to hear and retain from our tour guide (who was one of the 3 caretakers of this location), this fortress was built during the Imperial Russian era at some point. I personally saw soldier's inscriptions dated 1890 and have been told that there were some much older. The confusion I had with dates may stem from the fortress having been an ongoing project, constantly being revised, updated and renovated over a long period. At the very least, it was a base for Russian/Soviet soldiers for several major wars in Crimea.

The entire complex used to contain over 300 buildings, most of which were at least partially underground. Today about 150 structures still remain. With its green rolling hills and grassy meadows, the area doesn't look at all like a military base. Part of this is from lack of use (it was closed to the public for a long time), but also because it was intended to be a confusing labyrinth of concealed magazines, bunkers and garrisons all connected by subterranean tunnels. Much of the area has a basement level of additional facilities underneath even the tunnel system. It was designed to be able to withstand an assault by a far superior force through constant troop movement, confusion and pre-determined ambush points. The thought and planning that went into its construction are remarkable. We were told that the walls were as thick as 7 meters (about 22 feet). The masonry is fantastic with large lengths of limestone (I think) walls still standing perfectly straight. I would almost say that with some new windows and doors, some of the structures would be every bit as nice as many of the inhabited buildings in Kerch itself...and that's after the Nazis assaulted the fort!

This place is by far the most interesting historical location I've seen in Ukraine and I will endeavour to discover more about it's background and military significance. Until then, here are some of the pictures that I found or took. Some were "borrowed" from some kind person who uploaded them to Google Earth.

This is the kind of strange architecture that is found in most of the facility. Relatively ornate walls fronting mostly underground buildings. The large opening is a tunnel to another open area of the facility. We have pretty much the same picture but I snagged this one since the grass was a little greener (isn't that always the case).

To give you an idea of the scale of this fortress, we spent 2 hours with the tour guide moving quickly from one point of interest to the next and I don't believe I ever saw this particular building.

I never did figure out for sure, but this is a bunker either for personnel or for long-range, vehicle-mounted missiles...I guess maybe both. Either way, it is clearly one of the more modern portions of the facility.

Structures like this are a dime a dozen here but each is still amazing.
The tour guide is on the far right of the main group in the brown coat. His interest in the fortress is largely due to his father having served there during WWII. At the time of the photo, he is describing an incident in which his father was smoking while standing guard at this gate. A commissar (sort of a Communist Party representative within the Soviet military), thinking he was using the cigarette to signal the Germans, stood him up against this wall, intending to execute him on the spot for treason. His life was only saved by the commissar's discovery that he was part of some secret spy/commando team that was based at the facility.

After walking in the cold sea air for over 2 hours with a tired 2 year old, we were less than pleased to learn upon the conclusion of the tour that the bus wouldn't be back for another hour. Since we would just be waiting by the road and it looked like rain was coming, we decided to start walking back to the camp. I figure the walk would have been about 3 miles had the bus driver not returned early and picked us up about a mile into our trek. I never knew how heavy 35 lbs of child could be after a while...

Does anyone care about these random historical explanations of the Crimea? If not, I can certainly put more time between them.


How long have I been sitting here?

According to my blog's index, I began this little experiment on the 11th of January last year with my inaugural post dealing with why I left MySpace. At that point I was pleased to have 10 people check in - accidentally or on purpose - on a given day. Today, more than a year and 220 posts later, I get no less than 100 actual visitors even on a slow day (why, I really can't say) and I've become minorly obsessed with it.

The other night I was trying to sleep after an evening of tooling around on the site and the thought occurred to me. Someone should invent a "priority filter" that could be installed to only allow the user to cruise around the blogosphere if he/she has nothing better to do.

You haven't played with your kids today? No Powerline for you, young man!

Oh, you haven't read from your Bible all week? Stay off LGF!

Your wife is still strongly hinting that her neck could really use a massage? Ragamuffinsoul can wait till later!

Anybody else think this would shut down blogging worldwide? I love it, but you have to admit, it does tend to sap time like a black hole - not to mention energy and motivation. Since many of you are only blog readers, not writers, you can let me have it without fear of too much hypocrisy...


Congrats to Corey and Bucknell Women's Basketball

Sarah and I want to wish our most heartfelt congratulations to our brother-in-law Corey Laster for his Bucknell womens basketball team's recent victory over Holy Cross. Corey is the top assistant for the Bisons who earned the Patriot League title with this win and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament this year.
They were not considered one of the favorites going into the post-season but played well above their seeding throughout. The tournament seeding on Monday the 17th will determine their opponent for the opening round. You should all watch the seeding on ESPN now that you have a team to cheer for.

Lil' Trucker

This little kid (pictured here eating a snack while watching this weekend's HopeCenter soccer game) is awesome! Nothing particularly special inspired me to write this. A few minutes ago he woke up crying as he does sometimes and watching him cling to his mama with all four limbs looking like a chubby, green-clad Spiderman was a happy moment for me. That's it....


High culture and low standards

A few days back I posted on guilty music pleasures, the idea for which didn't materialize in a vacuum. Any of you who have ridden in my truck in the past 5 years know that I have an annoying habit of listening to talk radio constantly; I've sort of abandoned listening to music altogether. Here in Ukraine my talk radio equivalent is the weekday broadcast of World Soccer Daily. I catch the 2-hour podcast the following morning so I am provided with spunky football discussion Tuesday through Saturday. Much like talk radio, this leaves a weekend gap with no iPod talker-tainment.

It was in the midst of this gap on Monday evening that I opted to listen to our entire Relient K catalogue. This isn't the first time that I have listened to them - I actually spent good money to purchase their album "The Anatomy of a Tongue in Cheek" from iTunes when we first arrived - but it struck me how much I enjoyed their lyrics. Quickly, I realized that they are sort of guilty pleasure for me. They may not seem as bad as some of you readers' disclosures but I am a bit embarrassed for liking them so much for the following reasons:

  1. A number of their songs (and many of their more popular ones) are related to high school life and being 30 years old, that could be construed as pathetic on my part.

  2. They are nothing if not bubble gum punk and my 23 year old self would beat me severely for appreciating their tasty harmonies.

  3. They are in that no-man's-land between new/cutting edge and classic - sort of like Poison in '92 - where I appear to be trying to be cool like the young kids, but struggling a few years behind.

I just can't help it, for me they are a great mixture of irreverence, wittiness and poignant commentary. The lyrics are entertaining and I can honestly say that listening to them constitute a spiritual experience. I guess the real embarrassment comes from finding a teenage, Christian, pop-punk band as inspiring as I do... like calling a dime store novel great literature. Oh well...
Do any of you have this problem?

Program, Hope Center and general goings on

I promised that I would be giving more updates and in honor of daylight savings time, I have decided to go back in time (update-wise). Actually blogger was giving me problems on my last post so I only got the later photos uploaded before it gave up the ghost. Here is what should have been the first 4 photos on that post. I forgot to mention that in the interests of conservation, the Hope Center will henceforth be known as the HopeCenter....like SportsCenter. I like the way it looks.

This is Jim. Jim is one of the coolest guys I know and a fantastic asset to the Hope Center. He was the original American here and has returned (sadly, without his wife Sheri who is in TX helping care for her mother) to teach drafting and woodworking as well as anything else that needs doing. I am trying to learn as much as possible from him before he heads home in May. Having lived in our apartment last year, he is well acquainted with how to do quick fixes around here.

Not to be outdone, Campbell took Jim's lead and did a little repair work on the kitchen chairs. Like Jim's, his beater is also cordless and though it lacks some of the basic components necessary for his task, you can see that he is making the zhhhhhhhh noise as though it does.

We visited the village of Bagrava about 20 minutes west of us to hand out some bags of fruit to some of the poorer children at the school. We normally bring hot food for our feeding programs but we are already doing this at a number of locations and aren't in a position to increase the program yet.

I also didn't mention that Saturday was Women's day in Ukraine, sort of a mixture of Valentine's day and Mother's day. It is a national holiday and widely celebrated. Since I skipped Valentines day this year - saying that since it's not celebrated here, I shouldn't act like a foreigner - so I was obligated to redeem myself on this holiday. I got Sarry a rose that was big enough to use as a walking stick which had thorns like medieval battle axes. Unfortunately their flower-growers don't seem to see the value in actually keeping the flower intact and after 35 minutes it had fallen almost completely apart. This is the last photo of it alive. It actually looks a lot like one of the pictures from our wedding except that one has Sarah staring blissfully out the window instead.


Every day here is like everyday life

Sarah and I have both recently come to the conclusion that we need to post more about our experiences here; the raw, tip-of-the-spear kind of ministry experiences that I expected to have and I know many of you expected to hear. The reality is that after a while, every day is just everyday life. Do we see some great and encouraging ministy going on? Of course, and we are honored to be a part of it. What I'm trying to say is that when you live the events as we do, sometimes it's easy to forget that you, our friends and readers, aren't living it with us.

Well, I am definately going to make an effort to convey the status of our projects and the emotions involved in being a part of them. Here are some shots from around camp and Kerch with a little explaination of each. Due to some formating quirks in blogger, these may not be listed in chronological order.

This weekend we had a bit of a cookout for our summer camp volunteers. Usually this means shashlik (the Georgian version of shishkabobs), my favorite Ukrainian dish but I was a bit dissapointed when I discovered it was more of a weinie roast. They did conceed to cook the sala (normally uncooked pork fat) and we had some lovely salads and cakes.

Sunday lived up to its name and was very nice weather. We had a chance to go for a walk to a nearby park where we played (until I had to go home with a full bladder) on the surprisingly nice playground. Minutes after this picture was taken, Campbell purposly went down this slide all by himself! Even at 2, the confidence of facing his fears changed his entire attitude. At first he was very quiet and just watched the other kids play but after the slide, he couldn't tell them all enough about how awesome he was (at least that's what I assume he was saying). That night he even showed off and told us about 20 words in his books that we didn't think he even knew.

We also got to walk around a funny little castle thing but the exploring was cut short when I discovered that "stone playground castle tower" and "homeless and drunk person outdoor toilet" are the same word in Russian.

I spend a few hours with a chainsaw Monday carving this stump into a little throne for the kids this summer. I plan to do a little touch-up later when I have a sharper chain.

This afternoon we finally had a full-on game of football with the IVA guys. During the week we usually have too much going on and the local students go home on the weekends. It was a good test for me as I was required to be humble in a 5-5 draw which saw me at fault for our opponent's final goal.

I have more shots but blogger won't let me add them right now...and the spell check is irritable again. Stay tuned.

Urgent request for expertise

I need some help, people. My older sis is in trouble and could use some expertise. Is it legal advice she seeks? Of course not, she's a lawyer! Medical? No, she has her bachelors degree in sports medicine. What she really needs is a movie dork that can tell her the origin of the following quote:

"So what are you going to do, spoon me to death?"

Any ideas? I know that at least 2 of you out there know movie lines better than your family's birthdays, so lets figure this one out.


Guilty Pleasures

I am going to speak for all of us under the age of 40 when I say this - and don't any of you try to weasel out of it! Every single one of us has, at some point in our lives, had a song or a band that was a "guilty pleasure." Though most of you are already flashing back to hair bands or way-too-catchy pop songs, I will define what I'm talking about.

It is music that you can't help but love...yet can't tell anyone. It is:
  • ...still trying to learn the words to "Ice, Ice, Baby" well after it started plunging down the charts.
  • ...being a 20 something male and singing Sarah McLaughlin in your room when you think no one is at home.
  • ...rolling up your car windows so that you can crank up Kelly Clarkson (another one for you guys).
  • ...having any fond memories whatsoever about New Kids on the Block.

Sadly, some of these aren't hypothetical!

I'm not counting Marshall's unabashed enjoyment of Pink in this...he has no problems singing it in public. I mean the kind of thing that you fear could ruin budding relationships, get you fired from your job and uninvited from the family Christmas.

I am now giving you all a chance to come clean, expose your secrets and live in the light. Give me a comment on your all-time worst guilty music pleasure. You can even do it anonymously if you'd feel better...


News and Updates

FYI for North American readers:
New for this year, while you have just made the change to Daylight Savings Time, most of the rest of the world is still on standard time for another few weeks. This means that temporarily, you mountain folks are now 8 hours behind us while you Michiganders and eastern folks are only 6 behind (Texans are clever enough to do the math themselves).

Calling all Irishmen (or really just one):
If you are reading this and are an Irishman named Chris who is engaged to a girl from Kerch, please email me at matthewgaw@hotmail.com. It isn't urgent but I realized that you offered help if I needed it and I never got your contact info. Plus, I'm curious whether you were able to get your copy of "Gladiator" back from my countrymen. Thanks.

Back in the saddle

After months of having our office staff here make out the 30-day paper licenses for Sarah she finally decided to brave the combination of crazy drivers, crazier pedestrians and an unfamiliar clutch. She took a few laps around the camp to get her touch back and then we went to the store. It wasn't a long drive - I've run the route before - only 10K round trip, but she distinguished herself well.

Things got a little tense on the return trip when we had to pass the ever-present GAI officer and again when she was yelled at by an old babushka for having the audacity to try to allow her to cross at the crosswalk.

All in all, it was great trip and I was very proud of how well she did.


Only boys...

A few days ago I got a Skype request from a friend of Marshall's from Liverpool who I met once about 4 years ago in Colorado. The invitation included his personalized message saying that he was finally on Skype and that we should chat because we are both fans of the greatest football (not throwball) team in the world. I of course accepted but had not made any contact with him until today. With Liverpool having won twice in 4 days by a combined score of 7-0, I thought it would be a perfect time revel in the victories.

I started off by congratulating him on the great result and we then proceeded to move into discussing the upcoming Champions League tie with Inter Milan. We were a solid 10 minutes into our discussion before I realized that I was chatting away like we'd been friends for years. To review, this is a guy that visited my house one time 4 years ago and with whom I have not had any contact since. When I mentioned this, Sarah laughed and said, "Only boys..." It appears that the combination of sports and the Y-chromosome make small talk completely unnecessary.

Actually I had a lovely but too-short chat with Tim about where we both are what we've been doing in the intervening years since our introduction. I look forward to cheering the Reds together and getting better acquainted with him and his wife Becky....at least as much as you can via the internet.

PS - Blogger is running stupid today and the spell check is ignoring me. If you see a serious typo, just comment it and I'll fix it. Who needs a spell checker when you have literate friends?


The Vagueries of the Innermet

So today I finally was able to log onto my blog tracker to satisfy my curiosity about how things have been going and I was shocked to discover that I became ridiculously popular about the time of the "The Big Mac Meltdown." I know I've written about this before, but this time its even more crazy. I jumped from an average visitor count of about 50 per day to over 250...for 2 days. Only on Monday and Tuesday did I experience these huge numbers with Wednesday and today looking just over average. What makes it so strange is that the increase is almost entirely due to 1 image on an old post. The Mexican flag seems to have gotten incredibly popular earlier this week but is now back to normal. I just don't get it.

Thursday 13: How you know you're in Ukraine

Today's 13 deals with our experiences here in Ukraine. This is 13 ways that you know you're dealing with a COMPLETELY different culture.

13. When it's normal to be berated on a cold day for not wearing a scarf by a stranger lady with nothing covering her lower half but a mini-skirt the size of a band-aid.

12. When the answer to "is that legal?" is always "sort of."

11. When you know that if you ask 10 people to explain a situation, you'll get at least 11 different stories.

10. When you are told that you must be prepared for something at 5pm, which could either mean 4:15 or 5:30 - but nothing in between.

9. When you are dealing with an office setting and people feel that talking to you and helping you is more important than what they're doing (definitely not an American mindset).

8. When you call your internet provider to learn why your connection is alternating between stupid slow and nonexistent and they just say, "we know."

7. When you are told by a person that will fill his entire sedan to the roof with farm produce that pick-ups are not practical...

6. ...and this makes you start counting the pick-ups that you do see and looking at them longingly.

5. When ping-pong is considered a "man's game" and it sometimes causes tempers to flare.

4. When it's normal to see a lady in stiletto heels move like a ninja across a broken and rubble-strewn street that Americans would use 4x4s on.

3. When you have 'salad' for every lunch and dinner but can go 3 months without having a scrap of lettuce (I love mayonnaise).

2. When you have to get a new drivers license every month.

1. When you can't learn the language right because even your own name changes spelling depending on the context.

Please add your own little pearls from any of your international experiences.


New Keyboards

\\\\have you ever moved from the computer to which you've grown accustomed to another computer\\\\/ \\\\you know...the keys press differently, the mouse moves faster or slower than yours, the layout of the keyboard is unfamiliar.

\\\\perhaps instead of a long rectangular left shift key, there are 2 keys...the closer of which is the forward slash key. \\\\\\\\\\thus every time you try to capitalize a word or select a question mark, you actually just create a long series of \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\. \\\\\\\\it's not that \\\\\\\i am experiencing this, \\\\\\\\\\i just wanted to see if any of you have struggled with this issue recently.

In all seriousness, we have been completely blown away by our friend Tanya's generousity in lending us her personal laptop until we can resolve the issue with what will now be known as "My beloved Macbook" or MBM. She has allowed us to maintain contact with all of you through this brief tech struggle and we are very greatful.

Oh, I also forgot how a non-automatic spell checker works and since Tanya's computer has \\\\\\\\\russian \\\\\\\\\windows, \\\\\i can't figure it out. \\\\\\\\\sorry for any typos.


Unwanted Vacation From Blogging

I have lowered myself to blogging from a PC today. Why, do you ask have I left the friendly confines of my beloved MacBook? Was it that I got tired of closing programs from the top left corner? Nope. Was my mind being confused by super-slick tabbed browsing? Na. Was it that my grammar and spell have gotten so good that I no longer need Macs built in spell checker? Not really. Perhaps it was the fact that my hard drive sounds like it has rocks in it and will do nothing upon start-up aside from showing an error icon that, according to my tiny MacBook manual indicates that the hard disc could not be found....

If this was your answer, you win the door prize!!!!!!!!!!

My 5 month old MacBook has bought the farm and done so roughly $400 in shipping away from the closest Mac service location....and that's one-way.

I tell you this to explain that this site, which I have spent so much thought and effort to maintain, will likely slow down considerably in the next few months until I can get our laptop back the US, repaired and back in my hands. Just thought you might like to know.


And while I'm at it...

Since I'm tossing out links to good posts today, here is one from Slick that I promise is worth the 9 hrivna it will cost you see it... oh wait, I forgot you don't have that problem.  If you don't know about "shipoopi," you must see this video immediately.  Actually if you have a fast (and unlimited) internet connection, a pair of headphones (if you're at work) and a pile of spare time you should look up Vern Fonk on YouTube.  But go to Slicks post first...

Lazy (Malaise-y?) Saturday, pt 2

I know it isn't still Saturday - here or in the States - but I just wanted to do a little follow up on the response to the previous post.  Nearly all of the feedback I have received (through comments, emails, Skype messages, verbal communication, pony express, telegram, etc.) has echoed what I am feeling.  I have heard from friends and family alike who are suffering through a spiritual malaise similar to that which I wrote about.  I have been heartened to hear the advice and solidarity in this struggle but also saddened that it is so prevalent.  Please, let's keep asking and caring and sharing these issues with each other.  I am reminded of 2 relevant quotes (or paraphrases) for which I hope one of my English teacher friends can help me with the sources:

"Men live lives of quiet desperation."
"No man is an island."

As a semi-post script, I want to give a little recognition to a great post by The Coach. Unbeknownst to either of us, we wrote post with much the same subject.  It is touching and poignant and it really brightened my morning.  I hope it does the same for the rest of you.


Lazy Saturday

Have you ever heard the quote that goes something like, "Don't be so heavenly focused that you are no earthly good?"  To be honest I find it to be somewhat simplistic if not outright wrong - sorry to any of you who are fond of the expression.  If you are SOOO heavenly focused then you cannot but have the vision and passion of our Lord, making you very earthly focused.

That aside, do you ever have those days when you feel like you're neither?  What I mean is this...  I'm in a spiritual rut.  Foolishly, I think I subconsciously expected that upon becoming a "missionary," I would somehow miraculously be granted this amazing insight, faith and dedication.  I guess I'm not shocked to discover after a few months that this isn't true, but my awareness of the situation doesn't seem to make it any better.  To add insult to injury, in recent days I've been feeling increasingly that my list of things I do poorly or not at all is getting longer while my list of strengths is staying the same - short.

So the situation is this, I'm not growing like I want to be spiritually while I am simultaneously feeling less and less useful.  Don't get me wrong, I love living in Ukraine.  I am NOT second guessing having chosen to move here.  Just the opposite, in fact.  I feel like I am not currently serving them as well as they deserve and I need to correct this.

I really don't know why I decided to write these thoughts on our blog but I hear venting and sharing is cathartic.  I must say it doesn't feel good at all to be this vulnerable...

Let me know what you think.  Maybe you can solve all my problems with an insightful comment.

What I used to think