Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Snowfall

Photo: Had to wipe off my car before I went to the gym this morning.

We had our first snowfall last night.  I awoke to sun glistening on snow.  

Sylvania rooftops and trees were dressed in a light dusting of white.  A very pretty sight.  

I remember feeling like this during the first snow in Ukraine.  Coming from Florida, it was a thrill to see snow falling on cedar.  It made me realize I missed the four seasons.   I think it inspired my move from the Tampa Bay area to Ohio

So I checked the weather in Ukraine. Temperatures there are about the same, weather about the same, but so far no snow.    

When I lived in Starobelsk, in far-eastern Ukraine, our cold fronts came from Russia and Belarus.   Now they come from Canada.   

No matter how the wind blows,  I’m relishing the advent of winter amid the holiday season.  Will I feel this way in March?

Ukraine's climate
The climate of most of Ukraine is temperate continental with adequate amounts of precipitation to support grasslands with increasing amounts of woodlands towards the northwest border of the country. It is not bitterly cold like Siberia, but can best be compared to the U.S. state of Iowa. Exceptions are the damp Carpathian Mountains of southwest Ukraine (similar to the northern Appalachians), the rocky coast and mountains of Crimea, (similar to sunny mountainous regions along the Mediterranean coast, but colder in winter), and the moist Shatsk Lake region in northwest Ukraine (similar to lake regions in the Midwest). During your travels around Ukraine, be prepared for heat, thunderstorms, and brief downpours from June to August, frequent rains in October and November, snow December through March, and changeable weather all year round.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Blues

“This is the fourth Thanksgiving of economic hardship.” a CNN reporter lamented.  “Where’s the leadership coming from the White House?”

Workers especially, blue collar and white collar workers, the base of Obama’s support, core Democrats usually, have had it.  They are anxious and fearful; jobs are scarce, the future looks bleak.  

The president is sliding in the polls, now down to a 44% approval rating. His economic advisors are nowhere.  Are they all in the pockets of the wealthy corporations?

Obama’s foreign policy is all bombast and bombing, all war, no peace. What a sad spectacle.

After the disappointment of Hillary’s loss, I supported Obama. Wholeheartedly.  It was a historic election and I had lots of hope. 

Those hopes have been shattered.  Obama thinks the Occupy movement is like the Tea Party. He acts as if it’s okay to compromise the interests of the majority for the 1% who control most of the country’s wealth and power, and that the anger this causes ordinary Americans will dissipate before the next elections.  He seems to think that fighting multiple wars that are not in America’s self-interest is okay, that spending money on foreign wars is better than spending money at home.  He thinks that the US can go into many different countries, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, all of them, to tell them how to behave, bombing whatever targets we want, whenever we want.

Americans do have short memories, like forgetting that the Reagan and Bush administrations began this downward economic spiral through their embrace of  “deficit spending,” decreasing taxes for the rich, and creating and enforcing wars and federal policies supporting wealthy  corporations like Halliburton, banks and Wall Street financial mega-institutions.   

These institutions profited from government welfare for the rich, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These are the same folks who literally sold Americans down the river, got government bail-out money (OUR money), then used it to enrich themselves at the expense of working Americans.  Many of us are reeling from the results and effects of these policies.

The anger is real, widespread, and deep. The sense of injustice and unfairness that inspires the Occupy movement is one symptom, the sliding polls another, the dissatisfaction of workers another, the disappointment of loyal Dems another.

Worse of all, the Obama administration has created an audience ripe for the Republicans’ multi-billion dollar PR machine, now gearing up to blame it all on Obama, to get Obama.     

But if Americans turn against the Democrats in 2012, it won’t be because of the Rove, Cheney, Halliburton PR machine, which will be formidable.

It will be because after four years of the Obama administration Americans are not better off.  America is at war, not peace; we are in economic crisis, not economic prosperity, not even close.  The Obama that once meant hope, now means despair.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Comfort Zone in Troubled Times

Photo collage: Alli and Chase;  a happy grandmother on Halloween night with grandsons Josh the monster, Kyle the soldier,  Philip the transformer and Chase the pumpkin; Josh and Philip, Philip next to Chase, holding Tony's leg, with flowers for his mom;  exploring on Main Street: "What is this?" falling off my couch, in fun; and Elissa's kids Julia and Tony.  
When the news gets bad, like it is now, and the world seems to be falling apart, I find comfort in the closeness of my family. We are close geographically for the first time in years, Elissa and Michelle and their kids, all happy to be almost next door to one another, and we are close emotionally and socially. We share daily life; we share Chase; we share stories; we share time and events; and we share gratitude.

For me the surrealistic political drama now playing out with the so-called Super Committee, in which we are merely pawns, is on my mind.  The committee charged with reducing the national debt, a debt that grew under the Bush presidency along with the gap in wealth and income, is super deadlocked.  Maybe that's good. Maybe the committee's failure might be better than "deals" and "compromises" that send the 99%--ordinary Americans, workers, and seniors--down the river without tax increases for the super rich, the 1% .    

But Thanksgiving is here, a time to give thanks for what we have: a roof over our  heads, food on the table, health, and family.  It's a time to pray for those less fortunate, and for a government that helps the poor and powerless, listens to the majority and restores the American dream.  For now, I'm a happy grandma, and I am grateful for that.        

Saturday, November 19, 2011

ALERT: Will Supercommittee THUD

Matson's World, flikr photo. 
“I don’t  think I've ever seen Washington more out of touch with the mood of the country. America is talking about how to make the economy work for the 99%. But in Washington, Democrats on the supercommittee are offering "deals" that contain huge cuts to Medicare and Social Security while doing little to make millionaires pay their fair share.1 If we do nothing, these cuts could be agreed to next week."  Daniel Mintz

This is an ask letter from moveon, but it is also an ALERT.  The so-called "supercommittee" of 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats is about to make "compromises" that will hurt average Americans, the majority of Americans.  The leaks, the articles and media news have not been good for "the 99%." I think the "Occupy" movement, an urgently needed public education campaign (that's how i see it), has the right analysis, but who's listening?  Not Washington, as Mintz said.  Maybe a call to Committee members and members of Congress will at least make you feel like you are doing something.  So I made the calls.  Do I feel hopeful? Not really.

It's gets back to a matter of values and one's view about the role of government in leveling the economic playing field and restoring the American dream for the majority of Americans.  It's not about big government or little government.  The government is already way overloaded with privileges and welfare for the super rich, not the poor, not working Americans, not seniors, but for the mighty corporations and Wall Street financial institutions. The ones who got us into this mess.  The ones we bailed out.  The ones giving themselves huge bonuses, as if to flaunt their wealth and power in our faces.  I understand the outrage.

Optimism is fading. I feel like a Ukrainian. Pessimistic and powerless. It just seems hopeless.    

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Food and Friends

Jud and me with Bob and Joanne.  And below, Ukrainian best borsch (yahoo photo).

My friend Jud Dolphin, a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) whom I met in Ukraine when we were in training in Chernigov, is a great cook, and he loves sharing this skill, actually all of his skills, like watercolor painting, with his many friends.

He cooked a fantastic Ukrainian meal of Russian bread, borsch and varenyky for our RPCV friend Elizabeth, now a graduate student at Loyola (see 11/11/11 blog).  He made lemon chicken with summer squash and apples for a delicious and delightful meal with his friends Bob and Joanne, whom he has known since his seminary days more than 30 years ago.

Bob is an assistant pastor at the historic 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, founded by a former slave, John F. Cook, in 1841, the first black Presbyterian minister in DC.  Joanne is a substitute teacher, Cape Cod lover, and enthusiastic Baptist, which added spice to our wide-ranging conversation. 

As a former DC resident and historian I was especially mindful of the 15th Street Presbyterian's illustrious history.  The Rev. John Cook was an early freedom fighter who never gave up.  His aunt, Althea Browning Turner, purchased his freedom from the proceeds of the sale of her vegetables at Lafayette Square.  Imagine! A fascinating story, one of many that define Washington's African-American history.  And the 15th Street Presbyterian has witnessed it all, from slavery and the Civil War to the long struggle for freedom and Civil Rights.  The church has moved around a bit--it's now on 15th and R, NW--but it's still there, carrying on the legacy of the Cook family, Rev. Henry Garnet, and the renowned Francis Grimke, a Civil Rights pioneer.   

Friends and food, history and stories.  What could be better?   It made my recent Washington, DC visit a trip down memory lane and an adventure in friendship.  Jud even encouraged me to try my hand at watercolor. He's a good teacher and he has a special talent for making and keeping friends. I'm glad to be one of them!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Politics and Prose

Most independent bookstore in DC, like elsewhere, have closed, but one of my favorites, Politics and Prose, is still around; it seems to be thriving, even in this age of e-books, kindles and online resources of all sorts. Jud and I walked up Connecticut Avenue toward Chevy Chase Circle on another blue-sky fall day to visit the iconic bookstore and immerse ourselves in books.

This bookstore, whose intrepid co-founder Carla Cohen sold the bookstore to two reporters before her recent death, initiated authors' talks and signings, book discussions, book clubs, writers’ support groups, and wonderful book events and networks from its early days in the 1980s. It linked the world of prose and the world of politics in unique ways, appropriate for its location in the nation's capital. It remains a book lovers’ haven and social network.

I browsed the various sections: fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, children’s books, DC history, biographies and, of course, politics. Jud and I had a cup of coffee at the nice cafe.   I remember how many hours I had spent there, the people I had met, the booksigning I had for my book Urban Odyssey, essays exploring DC’s migrant and immigrant history.

I could easily have purchased more books than I could possibly carry back to Sylvania with me.  It's a blessing when noted institutions that help define a city hang on for years. Politics and Prose is one of them, and DC is lucky to have it.  Maybe books will survive afterall.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

DC Scenes: Threads of Time

Photo collage above: RPCV Elizabeth with Jud and me at our "Ukrainian" dinner; Dupont Circle and the ever-popular Farmers' market; Howard and Don; Rock Creek Park from Taft bridge on the way to Woodley Park and Van Ness; orchids at the market. Top left: Jud and Suz in Adams Morgan. Top right: iconic image of Marilyn identifying the Woodley Park neighborhood (yahoo photo); below, with Suzanne in Adams Morgan after dinner at Meskerem, an Ethiopian restaurant (photo by Jud).

I lived in Washington, DC for almost 15 years so I had made many friends and have lots of memories. Many people I knew from my neighborhood, the ANC, work, the larger community, the cultural community, are gone now, retired, moved, in other realms. The memories are

good, bad and mixed. Still, I love being here, walking the streets, seeing the sights. Fifteen years is a long time for memory-making, and being in DC taps into all of them.

That’s why it was special to have brunch with Howard and Don, dinner with Suz, lunch with Sharon. Jud and I shared a meal with PCV friend Elizabeth, who is living in Towson, MD and attending Loyola, majoring in psychology. For that dinner, Jud, with a little help from me, prepared a full-scale Ukrainian meal: borsch, varenyky, cucumber and tomato salad, and fresh-made Russian bread. We toasted with wine rather than vodka, and in English rather than Russian, but the memories flooded back, weaving in and out of our conversation like a Ukrainian embroidery. The threads of memory.

The threads of memory from the complex quilt of my days in DC were as wonderful: Dupont Circle, my home place; the architecture and gardens; the restaurants and shops; the Farmers' market, still going strong after all these years with a cornucopia of colorful and healthy produce, apples, flowers, and people buying and selling.

Jud and I walked up Connecticut Avenue from Dupont Cirle to Woodley Park, a grand walk and as glorious as I remember it--solid, historic, elegant. We crossed over the Howard Taft bridge, guarded by those four large black concrete lions and stopped to admire the natural glories of Rock Creek Park below us, ablaze in ultra-colorful fall dress at its peak. DC beyond the mall is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a great place to live, and a great place to return to again and again.

But wait, Jud's calling me: "Redskins are playing Miami Fran!" Okay. Gotta go!

Friday, November 11, 2011

DC Creative: Watercolor, Bread-making, and All that Jazz

Photos: Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center alive with jazz band and dancing, and a few nature photos taken from Jud's patio, including those golden leaves and the last rose of summer. Right, my fall leaves watercolor with the help of Jud; our yummy Russian bread.

Jud led his last watercolor class a few nights ago. I was happy to be part of it. He offers the classes for members of his Coop building in DC, sharing his talent and experience. He is creating a nice group of new artists. Nancy worked on a lovely tree, and Bo a scene of fishes.

I focused on turning the fall leaves I had collected on our walk from Van Ness to Tenleytown into little paintings, of sorts. I don't consider myself very creative, and not at all in the medium of painting. I guess you could say Jud plays with watercolors the way I play with words. But painting feels so much more emotive and visual. Jud showed me how to outline the leaves in a combination of watercolors and cornstarch, press them on a paper washed in yellows, and let the “water do its work."
That was a whole new concept. Now I have a few little creations to bring home with me. Autumn momentos.

Jud also loves to cook, and so one day we baked Russian bread together. It’s a great, even a physical, labor of love. The recipe calls for a surprising mix of flours, spices and ingredients. I had no idea. Chocolate, vinegar and molasses? Really? Yes! Like a Mexican mole'. Now I'll be able to sample the bread like we sample a glass of wine, swirling, sniffing and sipping, trying to identify the taste and the bouquet. My kids will be amazed at my breadmaking skills, with Jud’s expert instructions in my ear of course!

But that's not all that's in my ears! This is "DC Creative" afterall. Friday night we went to the Kennedy Center and heard a wonderful jazz concert on the Millennium stage, free and open to the public. The place was jammed. The Eric Felton Orchestra turned out to be a fantastic "swing" band playing the old favorites from Duke Ellington on up to Irving Berlin and Frank Sinatra. Singer and trombonist Felton has a clear, warm voice and the musicians were fantastic. The dance floor was also hopping, literally, beginning with free lessons and transforming into glorious swing dancing, cha cha and jitterbug, to the big band sound. People of all backgrounds, ages and ability having a good time. Even Jud and I took a turn on the dance floor. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!" How uplifting and joyous that music.

Next to us, an elderly woman, slight, spry, with a twinkle in her eye, moved to the music. "Tomorrow's her 98th birthday," her daughter leaned over to tell me. An inspiration. Her son took her on the dance floor several times. It was magical. You could see the age melting away. A beautiful young woman emerged, graceful on her feet, full of energy, blue eyes sparkling, dancing the night away.

On the other end of the age spectrum I met a young couple who noticed my Ukraine Peace Corps pin and asked, "Oh, were you in the Peace Corps?" Yep, I told them. "So were we," they marveled. They had served in Mozambique, learned Portuguese, worked in a small village. We had a wonderful chat, talking about our adventures, swing music in the background, the dance floor alight with swaying figures in lavender and gold. What a lovely night, followed by a great Thai dinner under an almost full moon!

Now, with these songs in our heads, and hope in our heart, big band sounds in the background, here is Jud's bread recipe:

Russian Bread ala Jud Dolphin
3 cups rye flour
4 cups unbleached white flour (can substitute up to 2 cups whole wheat)
3 cups bran flakes crushed to 2 cups +/-
2 scant tsp of salt

2 tbls caraway seeds crushed
1 tbls fennel seeds crushed
2 tsp of instant coffee
1 ½ tbls cocoa powder
1tsp onion powder

Combine all of above in large bowl and then combine the following in a small bowl

2 ¾ cups very warm water (like a baby bottle)
¼ cup + 1 tbls margarine
¼ cup molasses
2 packets of yeast (yeast should get bubbly after 4 minutes)
Combine wet ingredients into dry and add ¼ cup vinegar

Mixture should be pliable and a little sticky…so add more water if needed or more flour if too sticky.

Knead for 10 minutes until mixture is elastic and like the bottom of a baby.

Warm oven to 200F and turn off.

Place dough into large greased bowl, turn over and let rise for about 60 min. in the warm oven that has been turned off. Preheat oven to 350F and divide dough into two lightly greased loaf pans.

Bake for 50 – 60 min. or until the loaves sound hallow when thumped and edges are brown like toast.

Sacred Spirits/Washington, DC

Our nation’s capital is beautiful in the fall, shimmering in gold, red, and yellow foliage, white marble gleaming in the light, water fountains catching the rays of the autumn sun, monuments bold against gold-leafed trees swaying in breezes that foretell the coming of winter white.

I’m visiting my PCV friend and travel buddy Jud Dolphin, who now lives in Washington. Our conversations are sprinkled like golden leaves with memories of Ukraine and lots of laughs at our survival mechanisms and mistakes. These are definitely fall conversations, leaves falling from changing trees. Intimations of snowflakes on sunflowers against a deep blue sky. The colors of the Ukrainian flag draped over the splendor of the living neighborhoods in the shadows of the nation's capital.

Yesterday we walked from the metro stations (Van Ness, where Jud lives, to Judiciary Square) to the National Building Museum, a powerful museum of architecture, crossed over to Pennsylania Avenue past the Museums of Art (the East Building, the Pei building, covered in scaffolding for some fixing up), and across the National Mall, the Capital glistening at one end, the Washington monument at the other. We stopped to admire and reflect, reveling in the place and the majesty.

In front of us shone the unique and breath-taking National Museum of the America Indian, rising from the earth, curving in four directions around the sun and the moon, resplendant in native surroundings and gold trees on a crisp and overcast day. “We are still here,” this museum tells us. The message whispers, sometimes shouts, as we take a guided tour beginning in the symbolic center of the building, the Potomiac Atrium, with its large colorful medallion sculpture of red cedar, paint and copper, called ‘The Beaver and the Mink.” The building alone astounds, round and natural, flowing yellow sandstone, weaving its way around itself. The permanent exhibitions and the new exhibit “A Song of the Horse Nation,” tell about the lifeways, history and art of Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere. It's about the present as much as the past. It’s a spiritual place.

How wonderful to be in the political center of the nation and the world and to feel the presence of its native peoples and its native spirit. This is Washington, DC at its finest, away from the cacaphonous hustle and antics of political voices, in native dress, in harmony with the environment and the sacred.

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