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Archive for December, 2015

One difference between American and Ukrainian culture is the quality of public bathrooms. Here, McDonalds probably has the nicest, cleanest public restrooms pretty much anywhere. Shucks, they are cleaned every 15 minutes (schedule is posted and signed off by cleaning employees).

I will take this moment to note that McDonalds here is a pretty high-class establishment. They are clean, fast, and always crammed with people.

On the other hand, I was recently in a government-run hospital (and most are, there are very few private hospitals here), and… I will just show you– and how happy for you, that I can’t pass on a bit of the smell to go along with the photos:

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That’s the norm for hospitals here, at least on the public floors. When I actually stayed in the hospital, the bathroom was relatively cleaner. When I was in the birth houses during births, one was dispicable, like this above. The other place was nicer,  with individual toilets in each room.

I’m mostly chalking this one up to capitalism. The clean bathrooms here are where the money is, I guess.

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The indigenous toilet paper here is like a thin, pliable version of construction paper. It’s cheap, too. I actually prefer it. The only time I buy otherwise is for the immediate post partum.

To each his own.

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And this is what our current TP holder looks like:

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I don’t remember ever making blini (crepes) before marrying Vitaliy. Blini are a pretty regular thing here. After 12 years and stacks upon stacks of blini, I’ve learned a few pointers.

First, getting a blini-making pan is awesome–they are lightweight, which is so helpful because of all the necessary pan manipulations. I also don’t need to grease the pan before pouring batter (they’re non-stick), and the low sides allow for a neat trick—I learned this trick from taking cooking lessons on smartkitchen.com.

Pour the batter onto the pan (I use a smaller-sized measuring cup), swirl it around, then (the trick) pour off the extra batter back into the bowl of batter.

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I’ve also learned that to make the batter not stick to the pan, the small amount of melted butter (or vegetable oil, either is fine) that in the batter is essential. Again, it helps the batter not stick.

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I just use a “basic crepe recipe” (google that) and double or quadruple it. It’s always worked great. Sometimes I add a spoon or two of sugar.

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Another trick I learned from a Ukrainian gal here– she went through cooking school here. And they taught them to only cook one side of the blini, not to flip it over and do both sides (which is what I’d always done). This cuts on prep time and one side is then a pretty, clean cream color with no cook lines, and they are great tasting.

Another thing about Ukrainian culture that it took me a long time to get into: 20151219_161234

Sweetened condensed milk.

It’s one of the most popular food items here. Ever.

The average Ukrainian has probably consumed gallons (liters) of it. We use it to replace maple syrup on pancakes, sometimes in coffee, and on our blini.

My kids are big fans. …. I love it, too.

 

Other toppings for blini (and there are perhaps endless variations): peanut butter, strawberry syrup.

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Again, there’s tons of stuff to eat with blini. For dinner, I had cooked chicken breast, lettuce, cheese, and dressing in my blini. Blini are very versatile.

 

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Standard sugar crystals here are larger than the standard sugar crystals I grew up with.

To compare, but I’m not sure how noticeable it is. Left: Ukrainian sugar; Right, some perhaps-German sugar.

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How does this affect my life?

  1. Stirring time. I remember years ago watching Vitaliy put sugar in his tea and stir. And he just kept stirring and stirring. And I watched the sugar crystals spinning around his cup, and it really did take them a long time to dissolve. And I noted this. …. Then about a year ago, we went to Czech to visit some friends, and their sugar pieces are finer. And I noticed that I put sugar in my tea, and stirred and stirred, and I realized I was stirring no-longer-existent crystals.
  2. The size affects the taste of some frosting or no-bake cookie, or something like that. I remember noting this a few years back. The larger crystals were kind of crunchy.
  3. My kids don’t like the taste of the finer sugar now. A friend gave me some foreign, fine sugar, and I thought, oh, what a treat!!! And I tried serving it on a special occasion and my kids made sour faces and went back to bigger-sized crystals.

Ukrainian sugar:

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Foreign sugar:

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I will probably cry as I am writing this.

How to even begin?

….

I’m sure someone(s) out there love this piece of furniture. Applause, kudos, showers of flower petals be upon you.

The Sovyetskaya Stenka (советская стенка) is the bane of my existence. And I looked up the definition of that phrase “bane of my existence” and it’s perfect! The urban dictionary says “bane of my existence::

Something that is so disagreeable with your spirit that it feels like its existence might negate yours.

This goes further than “hate,” and implies that you and the object in question are sworn enemies.

Can be used seriously or, more likely, exaggerated for comedic effect.

I’m not exaggerating this for comedic effect, but I have made my peace with it. I’m not crying as I’m typing. I’m numb.

Sort of.

So, we rent old apartments. I’ve made my peace with that, too. It’s nice when the kids are at the ages where they’re writing on the walls. Or breaking cabinet doors.

But each and every one, in the living room, has the traditional, old “Sovetskaya Stenka” (literally, the “soviet wall”).

Here’s our current one:

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It often has an old tea set or set of cups left in the glass section for display. Like this:

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Cups (or a tea set) to which someone once had an emotional attachment (but not me).

When we rent, we can ask them to remove certain unnecessary furniture, if they have somewhere to store it. But not the sovyetskaya stenka. Never the sovyetskaya stenka. It is immovable. It is a wall.

For my Russian-speaking friends, here is an interesting post about the sovyetskaya stenka, and particularly the style named “Helga”. It has several interesting historical facts in it. Tellingly, it is listed under “items of an era” (1922-1991).

Anyways.

I will now exit myself from this for-me painful subject.

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I know that front-loading washing machines are world-wide, but for me, they are associated with my Ukrainian life.

I don’t have a huge opinion on liking front- or top-loading washing machines. And we pretty much just use whatever machine is in the apartment we rent. Here is the one that is in this apartment. The tops make nice counter space for the bathroom, if the machine doesn’t shake terribly in the spin cycle. This one shakes somewhat and screeches terribly during the spin cycle, but things don’t fall off.

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I’m having a housekeeping issue with front-loading washers, and after twelve years and at least 4 different machines, I’m ready to deal with it.

Mold grows in them.

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I know I can leave the door open so it dries, but the kids (and we) will just break it off, as they flap in the doorway.

I recently saw and read a blog post about how to clean the mold and prevent it in the future. So then I started searching for bleach. I couldn’t find any straight bleach in the laundry section, so I gave up on that.

But then I asked on the Viber chat the girls in my church have. (We chat about tons of daily issues there, mostly concerning our children’s illnesses.)

One said she puts vinegar through on the rinse cycle once or twice a month to prevent it. Another says she leaves the door open. Another says she puts citric acid through once month (or week? don’t remember).

Then I was talking to Vitaliy about this, and he said that I was searching for the wrong Russian word for bleach (I was using ХЛОРКА). And he told me the right word (БЕЛИЗНА), so I went to the laundry section, and it was right there!

Vinegar on the left, bleach on the right.

20151217_154730 So I did bleach on the rinse cycle, to almost no effect. So last night, I did what I’d read about on the English-language blog, and laid a bleach-soaked towel in there all night.

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It made a bit of difference.

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I wiped out what I could and now I have the fan going on it. I think I’ll just keep up a routine of bleach or vinegar rinses with fan drying over the next few weeks.

I may conquer.

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But that’s my Ukrainian tidbit right now.

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(I write ” ‘ze” because also culturally, linguistically, there is no “th” sound in the Russian language, so it often becomes ‘z’…. Speaking of which, this could be a whole other post– sounds that do exist in Russian, that do not exist in English. This topic intrigues me.)

Bags.

I admit, it took me years before I caught on to this. Having a collection of bags is important, and I think every Ukrainian woman has a stash. I have three stashes of bags currently.

This is my in-the-entryway-grab-before-I-walk-out-the-door stash:

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The bags in that collection are mainly medium to large size and used for grocery shopping.

Here, bags cost money. When I go through the check-out, the cashier asks me if I want a bag. She means if I want to buy one or more of their bags, which they carry in three sizes (small, medium, large). Many people try to just re-use bags so they don’t have to keep spending money on buying new ones each time.

Now, generally and not at the check-out, there are also the nicer bags–the ones that are thick plastic, some pretty picture or design. These I mainly use when passing things along to another person. Like the baby clothes we share with each other. Or some gift. This is a level-up type of bag.

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Now, I also have a large stash of gift bags (kept in the large nice plastic bag you see below) that we use and reuse for baby showers, parties, birthdays, etc. I’ve also seen gifts bags used as temporary purses for various functions. And they are also good for passing along used clothing items.

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My third stash is in the kitchen in the bottom drawer.

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These are very thin, small bags that we re-use to wrap partially-eaten food items in. We get them at the grocery store–they are free, they are for fruit or to cover meats so the juice doesn’t run everywhere (OK, those I just throw away), and for other smaller purchases. They can become quite *everywhere* and explosive if I don’t throw a good number of them away.

Bags are a big detail in a woman’s life here.

 

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