Monday, 6 May 2013

What I'll miss... what I'm looking forward to...

As I sit here eating a "peanut butter blossom" (thanks, Ben, for bringing us more peanut butter!), I have a mixture of emotions about leaving Kiev in 21 days. In some ways, it seems like an eternity, in others, it's not long enough. In Minnesota, every time I say goodbye to someone, it's quite likely that we'll meet again. Here, chances are that I won't see the majority of our new friends again.

So... rather than dwell on missing people, here's a list of what I'll miss, and what I'm looking forward to, back home.

1. I'll miss the gas stove, but I'm looking forward to not wondering if I'll get burned every time I use a match to light a burner (one burner is especially scary!)

2. I'll miss the simplicity of living in a small space, but I'm looking forward to being able to pass someone in the kitchen without a collision and to having an oven that actually fits a cookie sheet.

3. I'll miss the walking, but will look forward to having the freedom of driving a car again.

4. I'll miss the awesome grocery carts they have here, but look forward to being able to read all the labels at the store.

5. I'll miss the extremely cheap potatoes, onions and beets, but am looking forward to seedless grapes, more variety of fruit and strawberries that might last more than one day after bringing them home.

6. I'll miss the $5.00 a month cell phone costs and less than $10.00 a month for internet, but will look forward to being able to deal with such things without needing a translator.

7. I'll miss the front loader washer and the sunny porch to hang things to dry, but am looking forward to a washer that is not microscopic.

8. I'll miss Kiev Christian Academy, but will look forward to homeschooling my kids again next year.

9. I'll miss the exercise we get walking up 7 flights of stairs, but am looking forward to being able to simply walk out my door and be outside.

10. I'll miss having the store a 5-minute walk away, but I'm looking forward to not carrying all my groceries home by hand.

11. I'll miss pelmeni, vareneki and Ukrainian bread, but look forward to softer bread and ice cream that I can scoop instead of slice.

12. I may miss meeting my friend, Gulmira's baby if he's not born before we leave, but I'm looking forward to meeting my best friend since 7th grade's baby who was born in November.

13. I'll miss the simplicity of not having a pet, but be glad to have our cat back again.

14. Mostly, I'll miss the amazing Ukrainians, Americans, Koreans, Kazakhs, Dutch and others I've met this year, but "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold"...can't wait to see all my Minnesota friends and family... I've missed you!

If you're a Kiev friend, please visit if you find yourself in Minnesota in the future. Mi casa es su casa!


Sunday, 30 December 2012

Europe vs. America

 Mohn Family December 2012

Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland
Chivalry is not dead!

We've just returned from a 5-day trip around Europe in a Ford 9-passenger van that we affectionally dubbed the "Mohn Marshrutka" (after the "mini" busses that are all over Kiev). My sister, Kristine, and friend, Poonam, left after a 12-day visit, and I have 9 more days of Christmas break, so it's time to write another blog after 3 months.

In case you're wondering, I've been loving teaching at KCA and my Christmas concert was the highlight of my professional career.

OK, enough about me. On to the topic of my blog: differences between Europe and America, for better or worse.

1. Bathrooms

Many toilets in Krakow, Budapest (did you know it's pronounced BudaPESHT???) and Vienna had 2 flusher buttons--one for a big flush and one for a little flush. Brilliant! I think it's a much better idea than mandating low-flow toilets that you have to sometimes flush multiple times. We also experienced the cleanest gas station bathroom ever in Hungary. Way to go Hungarians!

2. Stoplights:

Sir Josiah
The good: They turn flash green before they turn yellow and then turn yellow after red before going to green. It's kind of nice to have extra warning.

The not so good: In many places, the stoplights were on the near side of the intersection, so that when you pulled up to the intersection, you either had to look straight up to see the light, or couldn't really see it at all.

3. Driving:

They have white lines down the middle of the road, as well as for dividing lanes. I suppose it's all what you're used to, but I think 2 colors gets rid of much confusion!

I was very happy that drivers were more "normal" outside of Ukraine. I would NEVER want to drive in Ukraine--most drivers seem to be aggressive and crazy and I pray for my safety on every trip.

4. Snow removal:

How did she do this???
Happily in other countries, it was in the 30s-40s and there was no snow. In Ukraine, the sidewalks are covered with INCHES of packed snow/ice, as are the side streets. I feel bad for the babushkas and hope they don't fall and get hurt.

5. Babies

I wonder how many things we accept as fact in America are just traditions or old wives' tales? A KCA staff member told me that she doesn't hold Ukranian's babies anymore because the mothers get mad at her for how she holds them. They don't bend their babies at the waist, because it's better for them to be straight, and don't put any weight on their feet until they're older because evidently it might be bad for them. I'm sure we do things in America that they think are equally weird. I'd love responses on what some of those things might be!

6. Currency:

We were in 6 different countries (including Ukraine) with 5 different currencies. 210 Hungarian Forrents to the dollar, about .75 Euros to the dollar, 3 or so Polish Zlotys to the dollar...I'm thankful for one currency in the US! It is fun to have all the different types of money though!

7. Costs:

Go to Poland or Hungary. Prices are very reasonable ($70 for an apartment with kitchen that sleeps 7 per night!). Austria is very expensive. Also, don't go to Austria on Christmas. Most places were not only closed on the 25th, but also on the 26th and 27th and I don't know for how many more days. We couldn't buy groceries. Most restaurants were open on the 26th, so that helped! I am glad, however that workers get the 25th off!

8. Restaurants:

Poonam paid 1 Euro for a pat of butter! They brought her rolls and charged her for how many she ate. There were some great restaurants, but I do like the American system of having the cost of your condiments built into the cost of the meal. Austrian Apple Strudel is AMAZING and I highly recommend it.

9. Toll Roads:

Oops. We were told to buy a sticker for the Austrian motorway "at the border". There is no longer any border control and we missed any signs if they were in English that told us how to buy a sticker, so we thought that maybe our road wasn't a toll road and then forgot about it. On the day we left Austria, a cop came up to us at a gas station and fined us 120 Euros for not having a sticker. Live and learn. We bought a sticker for Czech Republic at a gas station for 17 Euros (kind of steep for one drive through the country to Poland!) I do like the sticker system though better than having to throw coins into toll booths every so often when driving across states like Illinois.
Never forget what happened...Auschwitz Crematorium

10. Concentration Camps:

We went to Auschwitz. I'd recommend going to a concentration camp at least once. It's powerful and important to remember what happened.

11. English:

It was really nice to have more people than not speak English when outside of Ukraine. It was also a much-needed break for my brain to not have to read the Cyrillic alphabet for a few days. I'm so thankful to speak a language that is fairly international across Europe!

12. Kendra's "best ofs"

Prettiest countryside: Czech Republic
Best city: Budapest
Best castle: Wawel in Krakow

Coolest tradition: Legend has it that at a church in Krakow, a trumpeter in the bell tower has played the same melody on every hour every day since the 1200s to commemorate a trumpeter that was shot in the throat while playing a warning of attack. The player stops at the exact spot where the original trumpeter stopped when he was killed. 800 years time 365 days a year times 24 hours a! I wonder if visiting trumpeters can volunteer? If you read more about it, that may not actually be the real story and there have been times when they didn't do the trumpeting and it hasn't always been every hour. It's still fun though.

Best restaurant: Hole in the wall pub in Krakow where we had great food (including 2 of the Polish Christmas dishes from Veggie Tales Christmas, for those of you who know the song I'm talking about!) and a choral group of some sort was in the next room and they kept singing and it was GORGEOUS!

Best side trip: Across the Slovakian border so we could say we've been there.

Airline: Wizz Air was great!!!

Thanks for reading...have a great day!


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cooking in Kiev, Part 2

Cooking in Kiev, Part 2:

We were fortunate to have someone who left the school this summer leave us a lot of household items, so we didn’t have to buy much. However, our kitchen is microscopic compared to what I’m used to.

Our stove is a gas stove that must be lit with a match. I’ve lit more matches in the past 4 weeks than I do in a typical year. I haven’t singed my skin yet, but I’ve come close. The oven dial has no temperature markings, so it’s all guesswork until I find and buy an oven thermometer. Even then, I’m guessing I’ll have to tape a metric conversion chart to something nearby so the temperature will mean something to me.

Our oven is about the size of an “Easy Bake Oven”. I’m hoping someone invites us over for Thanksgiving because there’s no way I can make a turkey in it! The first time I put our cookie sheet in the oven, I discovered that it’s too big and you can’t quite close the door. I made a pizza on the bottom of a cake pan last week because it fit, unlike the cookie sheet.

The successes: the apple crisp I made turned out better than it ever has at home. I just have to be sure to ration the 6 pounds of brown sugar that I brought with me.  The homemade pizza (see above) turned out great too (just don’t buy a frozen pizza here…yuck…we won’t do that again). We used some sort of frozen dough that makes a flaky croissant like thing for Stromboli and it was excellent. My first ever peach pie? Made in a casserole ‘cause I don’t have a pie pan, but it turned out great too, I just wouldn’t use as much sugar next time.

The failures: Muffins…they burned on the bottom and wouldn’t come out of the cups and the blueberries they have here are sour. Pancakes…we need an electric griddle. Making them in a small, warped frying pan and trying to regulate the gas burner so they turn out just right has proven to be a challenge.

School lunch: we have an amazing lady named Zoya who cooks homemade Ukranian food four times a week. We had hot lunch two of the days last week and it was amazing. The “meatball, rice, sauce and salad” that we had one day was seriously the yummiest thing Bill or I have ever eaten. The kids even loved it!

The water: undrinkable. We’ve had a water cooler so far with water from a company. We brought a distiller with us, but left the cord in Minnesota. Oops. A new one will be shipped to us soon…

The dishes: we happen to have a dishwasher and discovered that the detergent that we were told to buy by someone who has been here for a while is actually for laundry. Our sink is also very small, so we have a dish tub on the counter and rinse the dishes in the sink.

Interesting facts:
-Eggs come in 10s instead of dozens…metric system!
-Lots of things are sold by the kilo or gram here that aren’t sold by weight in the US. Even soft serve ice cream cones say how much they cost for 100 grams, or whatever amount.
-Chips: they have typical flavors, as well as mushroom and ham flavors, but  no tortilla chips.
-Ketchup and other condiments come in a bag instead of a bottle.
-Ice cream comes in a bag.
-Milk comes in a small bottle or in shelf-stable cartons, in 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5% varieties. You can get milk in a bag too!
-The macaroni I found is about twice the length of American macaroni and kind of spirals around…I love it! There are no boxes of mac-n-cheese or tuna helper though.
-Spices come in little envelopes instead of plastic containers. It’s kind of nice that you can buy one envelope for maybe 20 cents instead of a whole bottle if it’s something you don’t use much of. On the other hand, it’s easy to spill them!
-I found some German redi-whip type stuff called "Schlag Wunder" that is amazing. It actually stays puffy and doesn't "melt" quickly like redi-whip does. 
-Vanilla comes in a little packet and is called "vanilla sugar" or something like that. It's a powdered flavoring or some sort.
-Sugar and salt are much coarser ground in Ukraine than they are in America.
-Most bread comes "open stock" on the shelves. The loaf Bill bought this morning was still warm!
-Things they don't have here (or at least not in many places): chocolate chips, tortilla chips, cooking spray, baking powder, brown sugar, ranch dressing, pancake syrup (I made my own from sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and water and it is amazing!), sliced lunch meat and pre-shredded cheese. We'll have commissary privileges at the American Embassy soon to be able to buy some of the above items. I'm sure things will be expensive, but it will be nice to perhaps buy a bag of chocolate chips or tortilla chips, or maybe some cooking spray.

After four weeks, I’m feeling like I’m getting the hang of “cooking in Kiev”. I made a devil's food cake from scratch today (no cake mixes here!) and it turned out great, although I don't think they have powdered sugar, so I didn't make frosting. When we come home, I’m be excited to have items that I’ve missed, and cooking will certainly be easier, but I know there are new items here that I’ll miss too…maybe I can have you all over for some Ukrainian dishes that I’ll learn to cook this year.

Until then, have some ranch dressing and chocolate chip cookies for me!


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cooking in Kiev, Part 1

Different cooking equipment, different ingredients…some days, I feel like I’m learning to cook all over again. Most things have turned out great so far, a few not so good. I hope you’ll enjoy a bit about my experiences with grocery shopping and cooking in Kiev (which by the way is pronounced KEY-ev—a two-syllable word with the stress on the first syllable. I heard Ki-EV, Keev, Cave and finally asked what was correct and found out that you take the typical American way and switch which syllable is stressed).

The hot dogs were individually wrapped within the package.
 Part 1: Grocery Shopping:

The market is a lot of fun, and forces you to attempt to communicate with people more than you need to at the grocery store, where you can pretty much say nothing, unless you’re going to the deli or meat counter.

All sorts of produce are available inexpensively in the market, as well as dried beans and fruit, honey, etc. Then there’s the meat. As an American, I can’t stomach buying meat that has perhaps been sitting out all day without refrigeration. If you want to buy a pig’s head, no problem…you can buy one in the market. Bill came home from the market today with what must have been a 30-pound watermelon, based on the price per kilo and walked up the steps to our 7th floor apartment with it.

You can also stop at all sorts of stands selling cell phones, electrical cords, plumbing supplies, dishes, or pretty much anything else you may need to pick up. It’s a fun experience and I look forward to trying to patronize the same stands so I can get to know the merchants a bit.
Ketchup Aisle
Domino's delivers

The grocery stores have a lot of familiar and unfamiliar products. What they don’t have is tortilla chips (having to have potato chips with fajitas are a little weird!), chocolate chips, sliced lunchmeat, salsa, marshmallows and peanut butter. Oh, and syrup, ranch dressing and brown sugar and probably other stuff I haven’t missed yet. Fortunately, I’ll be able to get a pass to go to the commissary at the American Embassy to buy some of the above items (for a price, I’m sure) when I really want them.  At least I can make my own salsa and I made my own syrup from water, vanilla, sugar and brown sugar (that I brought with me).

What there’s a lot of: a whole aisle of various types of ketchup. In America, there are like 3 brands of ketchup plus the generic in various sizes. It’s all just ketchup, or maybe catsup just to give it some variety. Here, there are probably dozens of varieties of ketchup filling up an entire aisle. I bought Mexican ketchup last week, hoping it might be like taco sauce. It’s pretty much ketchup with a tiny taste of Mexican seasoning. There is also an entire aisle of different types of oil and another entire aisle of types of yogurt. The new yogurt varieties I’ve tried so far include kiwi-wheat and apple-cinnamon.

Oil Aisle

Lemon Juice
Another item that I love is the great variety of vegetable sauces that are available. There was one we had with pelmini (ravioli type things) last week that was AMAZING. I don’t know what’s in it ‘cause I can’t read the label, but it was wonderful. Tomato based sauces may never “cut it” again.

Unlike American grocery stores, the cereal section is very small. There are probably more choices for hot cereal, but for cold cereal, there’s a very small section with small boxes--no Malt-O-Meal large bags.

In fact, most things come only in small quantities. It’s hard for me to get used to, since I like to buy one big package of something and then not buy it again for a long time. It makes sense though that things are in small quantities. A lot of people don’t own cars, so they are walking home or taking public transportation with their purchases. Buying a 24-pack of toilet paper wouldn’t leave you much carrying space for other items that you had to carry home.

Grocery stores are relatively new to Ukraine. There are definitely elements of the stores in America that I miss, but there area few things that are different in the stores themselves that I love. First, the carts: all four wheels turn in all directions so that you can go sideways, as well as forwards and backwards. It’s SOOOO much easier to navigate crowded areas with these carts.
My favorite chocolate so far

Secondly, the cashiers all sit down. It may be more efficient to have standing cashiers, but I’m guessing the cashiers here appreciate not being on their feet all day. They probably get tired of the sitting. Maybe a happy medium between American and Ukranian checkouts would be the idea.

Finally, they are geniuses in the produce sections and other areas where things have to be weighed. In the produce area, you put each item on a scale with a worker who hits the appropriate code and puts a sticker on your bag. She is VERY efficient with this task since it’s all she does. When you get to the checkout , it goes much faster because everything is scanned and there is no looking up of codes by cashiers. It probably saves money too to not have scales built in to all the checkout lanes.

Yogurt Aisle 

Shelf Stable Milk
Now if they would only print their labels and signs in English just for me, then it wouldn’t take me so long to figure out what I’m buying. At least there are a lot of items with multiple languages. Sometimes, there’s English, sometimes German or something else that is easier to figure out than Russian is. I’m even discovering that when I sound out Russian words that there are a lot more cognates than I ever thought there would be. Even so, until they change the labels just for me, I guess I need to keep studying Russian.

Mushroom flavored chips
Vegetable sauce
Check back for part two in this series: Cooking in Kiev.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

First, some pictures to share, then a blog about our weekend!
 Turkish Airlines provides earplugs and a mask for sleeping!
 Babyn Yar monument--over 100,000 people were killed and put in a mass grave here during sad and moving to actually be in a place where such atrocities occured.
 In a metro station
 Outside our apartment on the first day of school
 In the commons/lunchroom of Kiev Christian Academy
 A walk in the forest
Edward's family (read below about them)


We've enjoyed a long weekend because Friday was Ukrainian Independence Day and didn't really go anywhere on Friday or Saturday other than to the store, to school to work and to the nearby forest for a walk.

Today we went to our church, called ICA (International Christian Assembly). It reminds me a lot of our home church, and has a pastor from Green Bay,Wisconsin. It is such a blessing to have an English speaking church since we wouldn't get much out of a Russian speaking one at this stage of our language learning.

We met a family at church last week and went to their "flat" for lunch today. Actually it turned into dinner too because we were there for so long.

They droves us to their house in their new Opel with a fold-down seat in the hatch so it seats 7. They have 5 kids, so 4 of the kids had to take the metro/busses home so we could all ride in the car.

They live right on the edge of the northeast quarter of the city. The view from their 21st floor apartment was gorgeous--fields and a reservoir. Their building was much cleaner that ours is. Must be a higher rent district.

Their apartment was very nice and very European. Every bed becomes a couch during the day, everything makes use of limited space and their silverware had slots in the handles so it hung on a rack on the table. I want silverware like that!

Edward, the dad, doesn't speak English, so his college-aged son, Valentine translated for us. Poor "Valie" could hardly eat because he had to keep translating! We were served the yummiest borscht (beet soup) I've ever had, and then for dinner we had amazing chicken, tomato salad, mashed potatoes and the best chocolate I've ever eaten.

We learned a lot about Ukraine from Edward and got to hear about how great Ukraine is, especially the food. I guess I've loved everything I've had so far, so I can't argue there!

Josiah was called an "Indian" because of his messy eating habits (Apologies to my Native American friends--I don't think you're messy!). They also told us that Bulgaria has made a lot of movies about Native Americans and they always win the battles instead of the Americans winning!

After two meals and lots of conversation, we found our way home on the "Marshutka" (bus) without getting lost. Tomorrow, the first full week of school starts.

Please pray for me as I teach middle school and high school choir. They each meet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I'm nervous since I've never taught choir before, and since I'm more of an elementary aged kid person. I want to bless these kids with a good choir experience and know I can only do it with God's help! I found out that I evidently have to choose four kids to take to an honor choir in Budapest in will be more like they are taking me since I have no idea yet how to travel around Europe!

Thanks for reading this and for praying. I'd love to know how I can pray for all of you. We're each praying for two people off of our list of prayer and financial supporters each day, so we'd love to know specifically how we can pray for YOU.

Love you all, and good night!


Thursday, 23 August 2012

August 20th in Ukraine

August 20, 2012

We’ve been in Ukraine for a week. It was pouring when we arrived and now, a week later, we’re having a thunderstorm. We did manage to have a couple of sunny days in between, but not many. Sunny and cloudy is a good way to describe our experiences, like the joys and trials of moving to a new country.

Living in a place where I don’t speak the language has definitely given me more compassion than I had before for people who come to America and don’t yet speak English. I am working on Russian every day, but I know it will take a lot of time before I have enough vocabulary and grammar to be actually useful. I went to the market today and bought 12 buns ($1.50), garlic (12 cents) and hot peppers (also 12 cents). At both the garlic and hot pepper stands, I couldn’t understand when they said when I asked how much it cost and I couldn’t even read the numbers when they wrote them down because they write their numbers in such a funky script. They each turned out to be 1 Griven, which, when abbreviated, looks like the Greek letter gamma, p, H.

It’s amazing how the little things feel like huge accomplishments when you are in a totally foreign place. Learning how to take a bus (I had to learn to say “4” so I could pay for four tickets) and that you have to punch your ticket on this little thing to prove you paid, finding out after several trips that the kids are free on the metro and just plugging in our alarm clock without blowing it up on the first night were major accomplishments. (Our American power strip did go “poof” when we first plugged it in, but it still works!!!!!)

Our apartment definitely has some nice American conveniences, like a dishwasher (which we didn’t know how to run until today…the directions are in English but they don’t actually tell you how to turn it on!), a microwave and a wide screen tv with dvd player, surround sound and a karaoke mic. There are other things that are a big change though, like the microscopic washing machine (we’re doing laundry every day!), which I suppose is so small because you have to hang out everything to dry (fortunately we have an enclosed balcony with clotheslines in it). We have to use a match to light the gas stove burners, which is actually kind of fun. Don’t tell anyone, but Bill accidently lit a towel on fire!!!! Then there’s the elevator. I don’t even want to know what year it was installed, when it’s last safety inspection was or what the chances are that I’ll be stuck in it someday.

I was feeling pretty good about things at school today as I mapped out the year for music classes and managed to answer seven people’s questions in the office, even though I haven’t been trained in on anything yet, except how to log in to the computer system and that this one drawer has money in it and has to be locked every night. The kids and I stopped by the market to get the above mentioned items and then walked home (5 minutes from the school).

We got to the outside door and I asked Katja if she wanted to open it and she did. It uses a thing with an electronic chip of some sort inside that opens the door. I decided I better be fair and asked Josiah if he wanted to try to open our apartment door. You do have to turn the key around about 3 times, but I figured something as mundane as opening a door was something I could let an eight-year-old do.

Wrong. He didn’t put the key all the way in and then turned it a quarter turn or so. There is stayed. Stuck. Never to move again. I wiggled and jiggled it for a few minutes. I then decided to try to call for help. I have about five people’s phone numbers in my phone, one of whom was a man we met at church who only speaks Russian, so I had four possibilities to actually get help. As I called each one, a recording came on in Russian, and then English telling me I had a wrong number.

What?????? It turns our that the numbers were right, but I hadn’t added money to the phone account yet, and it was out of minutes. Anyway, I couldn’t call anyone.

So the kids and I walked back to school for help. I told the headmaster, Cathy, what had happened, and she got Velodya for me. Velodya is pretty much the most amazing person at the school. He speaks some English and is in charge of transportation, grounds and the building. He’s the go-to guy for anything you need. Velodya drove us home in his van and tried to get the door open. He returned to the van for tools and tried some more. In the meantime, our neighbor came out to see what was going on. Then some other neighbors passed by. There are 4 apartments on our floor and I think we saw everyone who lives on the floor. Velodya left to go back to school for a drill. We somehow told the neighbor that he went for a drill and then she came back out of her apartment with a drill. Later she brought out glasses of water for us and then apples. Bill and Katja had to use her bathroom, which was barely big enough for the toilet and didn’t have a sink.

Velodya returned and broke about 3 drill bits and the key trying to drill into the lock to release it. Then he called the landlord and finally a locksmith. The locksmith was into our apartment in about 1 minute and then put in a new lock all for the price of 550 griven (about $70). Since we now have new keys, our old keys will make a nice souvenir of our time in Kiev. Especially the broken one.

I did start crying at one point when Bill and the kids were outside. Velodya said “don’t cry” and “don’t let your kids see you cry” and told me about another staff member who had to call him once when she got locked INSIDE her apartment.

Our landlord, Mikail, came in the meantime and worked on hooking up our phone (which is not done yet) and brought us some more stools for the kitchen counter/table and didn’t seem to be mad about the whole key incident.

The $70 sort of makes up for the cheap garlic and peppers (and the other produce that is incredibly cheap) and we have a good story to tell.

I know there will be lots of joys and challenges during our time here. I’m especially excited to start school on Wednesday so we can begin our real work here: supporting the families of missionaries by teaching their kids. Now if we can only get our internet hooked up so I can actually post this blog …

Until next time, I love you all who might actually take the time to read this!