Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

A somewhat believable approximation of a dog was wandering around the house today, then went to a baby playgroup with other similarly clothed kids.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Walking is HARD!

Sometimes Jack doesn't get his hands out in front of himself in time. Gravity is a bitch. If you listen closely, you can hear a bit of a sickening 'thud' although it is masked somewhat by my exclamation of concern. Oooh!

Two minutes later he was squirming to get down and walk again. He is resilient.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Falling leaves

Jack gets a kick out of riding up high. Generally it involves squealing and banging on my head. Very entertaining.

And a new, fascinating phenomenon. Things fall from the sky and you can just pick them up and carry them around.

We did a lot of that.

Lviv, Continued

A throwback to Soviet times? I guess back in the day Beatles LPs were surreptitiously traded along with samizdat. Now the LPs are on sale in squares. But seriously, LPs?

This was a little used book market set up in a little square that we walked through. Too much on the ground for Jack to grab, so we kept moving.

Love is all around. Both on Saturday and Sunday, everywhere we went there were wedding parties taking photos. By the Taras Shevchenko statue, in Market Square, in the Italian House. Everywhere. Lots of people getting married in Lviv these days.

A new wrinkle to our traveling ways....timeouts for playgrounds.

And plenty of stops in cafes to have snacks.

One for Jack...

...and one for me.

Even as an only child, Jack is a very generous boy...

Lviv, Continued

Where else would one stay in Lviv, Ukraine, but the Hotel Vienna (Wien)? It's the cream building in the background. Just off the main Market Square. Very nice...well, nice anyway, plus good breakfast at the cafe of the same name downstairs.

The aforementioned market square. It is what it says it is. A big, central square, lined by beautiful 17th and 18th century houses, many of which have been given a nice facelift, and many of which are now museums. I was once again catapulted back to 1992 when we entered one place and had to slip little moccasins on our shoes to protect the wooden floors. I had flashbacks to 1992, Marty and I skating around palaces in St. Petersburg.

Lviv is named for some guy's son named Lev, which means Lion. As such, lions everywhere. Like on buildings.

Cobblestone makes it tricky for someone new to walking to keep his balance. But it sure is fun.

People in high places

Yes, former Sec. of State Colin Powell had the opportunity to have his photo taken with me last week.

Here's proof.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


A lovely weekend in an equally lovely town in Western Ukraine. Touted as Prague 10 years ago by some, a town similar to Krakow, Poland by others. Why can't it just be Lviv, I say. Either way, it was a great weekend. We were lucky with the weather and enjoyed just kind of wandering down the cobblestone streets. Jack makes everything take a bit longer, and also requires us to make many pit stops for playing, napping, and eating, so it's a bit of a relaxed schedule.

Don't mind it a bit.

The old city in the background, taken from the Visokyy Zamok (high castle).

We went by overnight train on Friday night. 10:20 pm departure. Jack went to bed at 8:00, got up again at 9:20 to catch the train. He did a good job.

Trains in this part of the world require certain provisions. We arrived at the station in time to load up. I was taken back to 1992, riding trains most weekends from St. Petersburg to wherever. First always a purchase of vodka, champagne, water and bread to keep us fortified through the long night. I was much younger then, and able to bounce back quicker. Self-control is a much more important attribute these days.

Okay, I didn't have a lot of that on hand.

Jack had his own bottle to drink. He went to bed next door while Diana and Alan's compartment was the party room.

More pictures later. Now time for bed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kyiv Visitors

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Kyiv for a speech sponsored by the Pinchuk Center and the Kyiv School of Economics (Victor Pinchuk is the second wealthiest man in Ukraine) and some meetings and made time to stop by the Embassy this morning for a quick meet and greet. Very nice of him. I even got my picture taken with him (as did most people), but I don't have it yet. For now, this will have to suffice.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Man. United on the march

Ronaldo sets up the second goal. Caught it on camera while watching it myself. Not until later did I notice the jerk in the hat in front of my camera during Rooney's finish.

Here's what the camera missed. Not a difficult finish. Even my football-ignorant self could note that in the commentary picked up on the video.

Dynamo Kyiv v. Man. United - Champions League matchup

We'll be there. 9:45 pm game time. Grandma and Grandpa will stay home and babysit.

The National stadium is just around the corner from our apartment. If you watch the game, look for us at midfield about 15-20 rows up.


Dynamo falls 2-4 to a tough Man. United team. Ferdinand and Rooney score one each, with Ronaldo scoring twice. I don't know who scored for Dynamo. Either way, 2 quick goals in the first half for Man. United took the sails out of the home crowd. It was a pretty staid affair.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nasoyashie Ukraiintsi

Alan, showing that he is getting into the act of being a 'real Ukrainian'. This afternoon Diana, Katherine and Alan enjoyed some lovely Salmon caviar on a small piece of crispy potato and some sour cream, with a side of Ukrainian vodka.

Jack, showing that he is a 'real Ukrainian' by wearing sweaters,* eating bread, and peering deep into the soul of his mother.

Both Jack and I are recovering from a weekend bug, thus the limits on both our diets. We each had some bread and chicken broth and noodles for dinner. Delicious.

*I don't know that wearing a sweater makes one a real Ukrainian, but it doesn't hurt.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dancing machine

Today was a trip to the Pecherskaya Lavra, an old monastery on the Dnieper. I was homebound, felled by some illness (either what's been going around the embassy, or foodborne, hard to tell). But I'm told it was lovely. And cold. Jack was a champ during the 2 hour tour, including the caves that hold the remains of monks past.

Towards the bottom of the caves, Katherine had finally had enough of Jack in the sling type thing, and turned him over to Alan, who fireman carried him back up the hill, stopping once or twice to rest. Big hill.

This afternoon Jack let us know that, in addition to his love of Orthodox Churches and dead monks' remains, he likes the music of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole too.

Video #1

Video #2

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Is here. There it is, five flights down.

5 flights up the stairs. We felt sorry for the guys. Not bad enough to lug boxes, though. What is becoming a pretty regular occurence, our house full of boxes. The only new wrinkle is Alan Wilson peaking around the corner. He arrived this morning, Diana this afternoon.

Jack got into the swing of things, helping to move things around. Thankfully, the grandparents took him away to the park while the real work was done.

He was glad to be reunited with his good friend, Buddha.

Tomorrow the living room curtains come down. Tuesday the living room and entryway get painted, later next week the woman comes to figure out new curtains. Pretty soon we'll have a real home here. We just need our heat to be turned on now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Getting boring

more jack.

The walking means more bumps and bruises...and big scabs on noses.

Gratefully, we bought a TV and DVD player on Saturday. Jack and I were very excited. Sunday, as you know, we got cable.

Then we fell into a TV trance.

On Sunday Jack was very happy to be reunited with Aviva, his friend from FSI daycare.

Our boy talks...sort of.

He says 'ba' (ball) and 'da da' (dad, chair, food, I'm tired, let's go over there, other things), but he signs like a champ. A reluctant champ sometimes, but a champ nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

To show that we are not alone...

...other parents film their kids eating things that make them cringe.

Thanks to Anna, Goeffrey's sister, for sending it along, thus showing the world that we are not monsters, just normal parents with a digital camera that also takes medium-quality, shaky videos of our son eating things he doesn't like.

T Minus

36 hours until Alan Wilson is in residence.

42 hours until Diana Dietrich is in residence.

42 hours 2 minutes until Katherine turns Jack over to Alan and Diana and takes a nap.

We thought we had a part-time nanny all lined up for about 16 hours a week, thus giving Katherine a bit of time to blaze her own trail, sans baby, through Kyiv. She had a great recommendation and we could tell when we met with her that she would be fantastic with Jack. She was to have started Monday at 1:00 PM. At 1:30 PM Monday Katherine called to say she hadn't shown up. So I called her and she said, 'oh, I tried to call you earlier this morning. Turns out I'm not going to work for you afterall, I got a full time job this morning.' I hung up on her. Then I called her back and bitched her out for being unprofessional...just for good measure.

So Tuesday night we interviewed another woman. In 10 minutes she admitted she was kind of scared of little kids, she asked if we use a leash on Jack when out in the park, and said that the last little girl she cared for ran around alot and she hoped Jack was calmer.

We didn't end up hiring her.

Saturday we are meeting with another woman who is coming highly recommended. Only problem is she isn't available nights and weekends, so we'll still be chained (so to speak) to our house from about 8:00 pm onwards (our baby monitor has a good range, but it, unfortunately, doesn't work down the pub).

Sunday, October 14, 2007


So, we have skype now.

What we don't have is a headset with which to use skype.

But we'll get one. We thought we had one, provided by our technology-related benefactor Marty. Maybe we did. We don't seem to now, but we do have a fancy camera.

As such, if you have skype, and would like to be in contact with the fabulous people who administer this here blog, well, send an e-mail to me or the woman who sometimes posts here (she goes by Katherine), and let us know your skye handle.

It's Sunday night. Katherine and Jack are in bed, and I'm using our high speed internet while watching CNN courtesy of our new cable connection.


And walking jack...

In honor of high-speed internet at home...

Here's a picture of the opera house.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Christianity - Ukraine style

Rival Orthodox churches clash over treasured monastery in Ukraine

Rival Orthodox Christian churches clashed on Thursday over the handling of a treasured 11th-century monastery, with a Kiev-based church accusing a rival loyal to Russia's main church of destroying a landmark arch.

In an angrily worded statement, the Kiev Patriarchate alleged that the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church had dismantled the 19th-century arch because it was hampering construction work, calling it a "blatant insult of the history and culture of the Ukrainian people."

The golden-domed Kiev Pechersk Lavra that dominates the Kiev skyline is controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate, which answers to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II. But it is considered a sacred symbol by both rival churches.

Archbishop Pavel of the Moscow Patriarchate denied the accusations, saying the arch was brought down in order to prevent an accident after parts of it collapsed, according to his press office. He said the arch would be restored soon.

Archimandrite Yevstratiy of the Kiev Patriarchate also accused the Moscow Patriarchate of pursuing commercial rather than spiritual aims, and endangering the holy monastery by allowing its officials and parishioners to drive cars on its grounds and using heavy construction equipment.

"I estimate that soon the number of shops on the grounds of the Lavra will equal the number of cathedrals or even be higher," Yevstratiy was quoted as saying by the Unian news agency.

The Kiev Patriarchate split from the dominant Moscow Patriarchate after the 1991 Soviet collapse. Since then, the two churches have fought over control of parishes, influence and property in the mostly Orthodox Christian nation of 47 million.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Beware of babushkas with canes

Apparently there is an appropriate way to park your car on the sidewalk. While Jack and I (Katherine) were out walking yesterday we were on one street where a car had parked so that no pedestrian could walk on the sidewalk but were forced to walk on the street. I didn't think much of this and just cautiously moved to the street. Well, this one old Ukrainian lady was displeased. As we passed her carefully stepping off the sidewalk onto the street she was muttering to herself. She took a few steps and then picked up her cane and hit the front of the car. She kept muttering and walking and then I heard the cane hit the back of the car so hard the car alarm when off.

Sweet old babushka.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

If it's Tuesday, it must be...

...sweater weather.

Luckily, Jack has a few dandy sweaters that work quite nicely, compliments of Grandma Bonnie.

...time for a drink at the kiddie playground.

Katherine and I have adapted wholesale to the Ukrainian idea that it is perfectly fine to drink beer pretty much anywhere. I have a 40 minute walk to and from work. On many days, I stop by a kiosk near work, make my choice (Slavutich Premium, usually), and enjoy a lovely beverage during my stroll. We also spend quality time at the park with the stone fish and a few cold beers. And we are not out of place doing so. Ah, Kyiv.

Jack, meanwhile, plays while we sip, or chug, as the case may be.

...time for Vodka. Actually, in 3 weeks, we have yet to sample any of the vodkas on display in the vodka aisle at MEGAMARKET!!!! (I've decided the all caps isn't enough, it needs exclamation points), or any vodka, for that matter.

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you the vodka aisle.

...the Maidan. Maidan, as you all know, is Ukrainian for ploshad, which is Russian for square. All very confusing. So the Maidan Nezalezhnosti means Ploshad Nezavisimosti means Independence Square. Get it? Me neither. But in the background is the area that hosted the Orange Revolution in 2004. The whole area was a tent city where thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands...well, maybe tens of thousands, swelling to hundreds of thousands at various times (what do I know, I wasn't here) of people forced a change in Ukrainian political leadership that ushered in the presidency of Viktor Yuschenko, and relegated Viktor Yanukovich (yes, two Viktors, very confusing) to Prime Minister when his party won the NEXT elections, but not the elections I just monitored last weekend (yes, lots of elections).

Yanukovich's party, The Party of Regions, had a stage all set up in the background for some concert/gathering/protest/celebration/who knows what.

Speaking of fun with language, yesterday I was walking home after tennis (it was a bit xenophobic, I have to tell you) and stopped into a restaurant near our apartment to see if they delivered. Rock and Roll Cafe! With a name like that, serving Asian food of course, but good Asian food we've heard.

Anyway, here's how the conversation went, translated from the original Russian, of course:

me to a group of 3 waitresses lounging by the bar: Do you have exhibitions?

waitress: What?

me: Do you have exhibitions?

waitress: This is a restaurant.

me. I know, do you have exhibitions?

waitress: What do you mean?

me, getting frustrated: Exhibitions...of food.

waitress, turning to her colleague: What is he talking about?

me: You know, I call from home, order food, and you send it to my apartment.

waitress: You mean delivery?

me: wha..oh, yes, delivery...not exhibition.

waitress: No.

Now, in my defense, exhibition and delivery are somewhat similar words.



And I'd just seen a sign at a museum advertising an...yes...exhibition, so it must have stuck in my brain.

Nevertheless, I slinked out of the restaurant with my proverbial tail between my actual legs. They do do food to go. I think I'll send Katherine to pick it up when we finally do order from there.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Columbus Day, Kyiv style

So Happy Columbus Day. We were going to go out for the big Columbus Day parade but then a Native American group was protesting so we thought we'd take a pass. Didn't want to get caught up in some kind of scrum between the Italian Americans and the Native Americans.

So instead, we are heading to MEGAMARKET (with a name like that, it just feels better in all caps) for our first big shop. Katherine's been a few times and picked up what she can carry home, but today we're going to really shop. Very fun. We'll get a taxi home, we'll be so weighted down with delicious food and drink.

We have a fireplace. However, due to some government regulation that some lickspittle back in DC came up with just because there is no safety standards for fireplaces here and, you know, a fire in the fireplace could easily become a fire outside the fireplace, in the walls, chimney, whatnot, it is bolted closed. I guess they don't trust us to just follow the rules and, well, not start a fire. Anyway, Jack has decided the angled, slippery stone hearth makes a nice perch from which to survey his domain.

So, a fireplace. One that we can't enjoy on those cold Kyiv nights, but a fireplace from which our son will undoubtedly someday fall, probably resulting in required medical attention, but a fireplace nonetheless. Sweet!

A safer place is his temporary toy box. Ingenuity is our middle name. Well, not really, but people made fun of my middle name when I was a kid, so maybe I'll change it to ingenuity.

This afternoon I'm going to try out tennis in Ukraine. I think it will be similar to regular tennis, but, well, more Slavic, and maybe a little xenophobic, but interested in integrating with the rest of Europe.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More Jack

So we are (okay, Katherine is) teaching Jack some baby sign language from a few books we received from our kind and talking-kid having friends Marty and Cyndy. Jack has mastered one so far. Fish. Pucker lips..that's a fish.

So in the bedtime book we read to him (yes, WE) when we get to the page with the fish on it Jack lets loose with a litany of puckers. Turns out, the kid really does know it means fish, and it isn't just an auto-response to a page in a book.

Here he is at our local park saying hello to the stone fish.

Now, our son isn't exactly deprived, like, say a distended-bellied African child who has naught to eat and only a stick with which to lazily stir the dirt. But he does only have the toys we packed with us, our stuff being somewhere that is decidedly not here. So he, like kids that have all the toys in the world anyway, has taken to playing with pots, pans, cell phones, belts, books, and basically whatever he can get his hands on.

Problem is when he ends up ass-in-pot and can't figure a way out. Then we have sad Jack. Luckily Katherine was smart enough to grab the camera before extricating Jack from his little predicament so I (and now you) could share in the fun.

And he does a pretty good job of feeding himself.

Today we took a walk around the neighborhood and were by the Vladimir Cathedral (very nice, survived the war and Stalin) just when the bells started going off for the afternoon service. Guys in the bell tower were working hard, creating a kind of syncopated rhythm, calling people to the service with both God and a beat you can dance to in their hearts. Two Orthodox Priests were outside greeting the people as they arrived, then they kind of straightened up and stood at attention as a silver Mercedese 700 series (does that exist?) with tinted windows jumped the curb and came to a stop next to them. The door opened and the Patriarch of Kyiv emerged. Tall hat, flowing black robes, long white beard...he looked the part. Only his choice of conveyence a bit incongruous. I guess the Orthodox Priests don't take a vow of poverty.

So, Kyiv

And yes, that is how I'll be spelling Kiev from now on as it has been thus ordered from on high that the official name of the city in which we now live, the city that has welcomed us to her bosom, the city that seems to have fireworks displays nightly, the city in which motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk then honk testily if you don't run screaming out of their way fast enough, the city full of beautiful tree-lined boulevards, 19th century buildings, and home to a walking 10-month old American kid, is Kyiv. Not Kiev...Kyiv. Got that?


So here's Kyiv. On our first Saturday we went for a little tour of the city. Jack seems to enjoy the cold, although we are having trouble getting him to keep his hat on. He turns it into a kind of game, albeit a game that only one player likes playing, and it ain't me or Katherine.

So the tour. We are in Mikhailovsky Square, with the entrance to St. Sofia's Cathedral (and the Cathedral itself) in the background.

Mikhailovsky Monastery. We've enjoyed relatively warm weather since our arrival. Smart of us to come a month earlier than initially planned, even if it meant missing my cousin Brit's wedding, which we heard was wonderful and she was relaxed and lovely throughout. Congratulations Mike and Brit.

Our abode. Well, on our way to our abode. We are about a five minute walk from a great park. Shevchenko Park. Everything in this place is Shevchenko something, Taras Shevchenko being Ukraine's greatest poet, writer, artist, something. Anyway, we are on the fifth (and sixth) floor of a five floor building. But it has an elevator, which is great.

But this is the elevator....

Which doesn't allow for alot of stuff, people, or an uncollapsed stroller. But, we just heard from a colleague about their 5th floor apartment sans elevator + 2 kids and a dog, so we've stopped bellyaching about our small but fully functioning elevator.

As previously reported, Jack has now evolved to a fully erect bi-pedal creature. No more crawling around on the floor like some sort of animal. Well, okay, when he really wants to get somewhere fast he drops to all fours and motors, but he increasingly looks a bit more like this.

He don't need no stinking walker...although from the looks of it he went down right after this photo was taken.

He's also decided he likes talking on the phone. Katherine on the home phone, Jack on my cell.

So loading pictures on dialup is just as I remember it from our early days in Laos. No damn fun, and very time consuming.

But, glory be, Monday is a US holiday, so I will strike out into the forbidding city in search of Volia, the high speed internet provider in our area. Then maybe you'll see video of our boy walking. Bet you can't wait for that!

Katherine and Jack are going to a play group this morning and I'm going back to bed (having taken the early shift this morning). This afternoon a few potential new Vone's are coming over, and tonight a birthday party at a colleague's house. Tomorrow a long walk through the city and lunch with another colleague and his wife. Such a full life we lead.

But our home life is still a stark white, our stuff all being somewhere between DC, Belgium, and here. Living out of suitcases gets old, especially when all we have are light jackets and the weather is starting to turn.

But do take note. We've figured out how the guest bedroom will be set up, and it will be ready to receive guests in about two weeks, which is just one week late for our first guests, Diana and Alan, who arrive on the 18th.