Travel to Kiev, and pray for the Ukrainians

As we follow the terrible news on TV and pray for the Ukrainians, I pulled my picture album and reminisced about my business trip to Ukraine in April 1997.

Located on the Dnieper River. Kiev (or Kyiv) is the capital and largest city in Ukraine with a population of three million inhabitants. It dates back to 560 AD and enjoys an authentic Eastern European culture.

Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) is on the historical boulevard Khreschatyky. It is the focal point of the Independence Day celebrations every August to celebrate Ukraine’s breakaway from the former Soviet Republic but it is also remembered for the Orange Revolution of 1994.
The Dnieper  is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in the Valdai Hills near Smolensk, Russia, before flowing through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea.

As the program manager for a contract in Ukraine, I flew to Kiev with three people from our lab in Ohio, and met with our Belarusian driver, Sergei, who had driven from Minsk, Belarus, with two chemists we previously trained on analytical equipment.

We spent our first evening in Kiev, strolling through the main avenues, discovering the city, and admiring the beauty of the colorful cathedrals with golden domes, churches, statues and monuments.

Marinskyi Palace that serves as the official ceremonial residence of the President. The palace lies on the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kyiv.

Some of you may remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Two explosions resulted in radioactive dust spread around the area, mainly to Belarus which is at 20 km north of Chernobyl and to Kiev at about 130km south of Chernobyl.

In 1997, my company was contracted by the DOD to equip and deliver a mobile laboratory to a military base in Uman, in Central Ukraine, about five hours away from Kiev. The two GC/MS—gas chromatogram/mass spectrometer—and other smaller instruments we installed would allow the detection and analysis of toxic substances in hazardous waste samples.

After a week of work installing and testing the equipment, I left the staff to continue the training and returned to Kiev to fly back to Munich, and then to New York. For my bad luck it was May 1st or Labor Day in Ukraine and Europe. Little did I know that the big avenues were blocked for a military parade with the President heading it. Sergei and I had to use the backroads. I had the chance to visit St. Sophia Cathedral and a fabulous monastery, but I almost missed my plane.

Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, is a monastery’s cluster of gold-domed Orthodox churches built on top of a labyrinth of ancient caves. 
Closer view of the green dome church in the monastery.
Motherland Monument on the Dnieper River. We could see it from far away.
Saint Sophia Cathedral is a unique monument of
architecture and monumental art of the early 11th century having the biggest preserved collection of mosaics and frescoes of that period.

Kiev is such a beautiful city. The pastry is delicious and the amber jewelry out of this world. I bought amber necklaces, brooches, bracelets.

Pray for the Ukrainians’ safety and for peace.

HEAL MY HEART is set in Belarus. In a far away country, a baby girl, four little boys, and a handsome doctor may teach Dr. Jillian the true meaning of Christmas.

AMAZON

Family Christmas

In elementary school, one of our teachers used to ask the class to write a paper about the meaning of Christmas. What does Christmas mean to you? This sentence still echoes in my ears after so many years. I had no trouble filling the pages, writing how my grandparents organized Christmas for their family of six children and families. Christmas meant getting together with the many cousins, enjoying a fun time, a delicious dinner, innumerable cookies and desserts. “Christmas is family time,” my grandmother often repeated. Yet she always added to her guest list the friends and neighbors that were on their own on Christmas day.  

And then my grandfather passed. A year later, my mother took over. The Christmas get-together moved to my parents’ house, with my grandmother’s menu and a few new recipes. By then I was married with small children. So were the invited cousins. The reunions continued, with thirty guests attending, all related — my children playing with their relatives, creating life-long bonds of friendship within the family.

When my dad passed, Mom lost the desire and energy to prepare big gatherings. It was my turn to maintain the tradition that came with a lot of work but so much joy for children and parents. For the last thirty years, I’ve been starting the cooking and baking three weeks before Christmas. Even after we retired and moved to Florida, our children and relatives kept visiting for the holidays. This year, I will entertain twenty-five guests on Christmas Eve, relatives and a few lonely friends. My daughter will handle the Christmas Day dinner. The family reunion continues with my grandchildren befriending the cousins’ kids.

Christmas meant family togetherness for church, dinner, and play, when I was a school kid, and it still has the same meaning. My grandmother must be smiling from up there at my grandchildren and her many descendants bonding together.

Yes, the holiday preparations can be exhausting. What do you do after a long day of preparation? Wouldn’t it be nice to lounge in front of a fire or curl onto a couch or even in bed with a sweet romance novel, forget the latest lousy news and escape into a warm Christmas story that would cheer you up and reassure you there is still love in this world?
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Here are a few warm Christmas stories to lift your heart:

 

 

Holidays Decorations

Most of us decorate our houses for Christmas and the holidays. I get my fake tree up the first weekend of December to put myself in the holiday mood.

But do you decorate your house for other holidays?

My daughter has made it a tradition to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Spiders and pumpkins are set in the front yard, at the door, and in the living room.

Three years ago, when I screamed after hitting my head against a spider dangling from a lamp in the kitchen, the kids squealed in delight, and made sure they multiplied their cute decorations—I call them disgusting.

Two days before Halloween, my grandchildren invite a dozen of friends who arrive in costume and with a pumpkin to carve and decorate in the backyard. Pizza is served to the hard-working artists and at the end of the party, they fill their basket with candies.

On the following weekend, the Halloween decorations disappear in a plastic container and the Thanksgiving ones come out. This time the celebration is a family gathering with adults and children around a big table. During the traditional dinner of turkey, green beans and sweet potatoes, and dessert of pumpkin pies and pecan pies, each guest, grandparents, parents and children take turns telling us what they are most grateful for.

Setting traditions and building memories is important to raise happy children according to my daughter, a pediatrician who knows her business.

A Challenging Year … Enter “Mattress Mack” by @TaylorLeeWrites

To say this has been a challenging year is a massive understatement. But then how do we describe, much less fathom, a year when half a million Americans have died from Covid 19? Add that millions of people have lost their jobs, foodbanks are running out of food, schools are operating at half-mast… the list goes on. A breathtakingly challenging year indeed.

But I’m an optimist at heart and was beginning to think we might be turning the corner. On a personal level, my “guy” underwent months of radiation treatment and his prognosis is encouraging. We made it through the holidays. Hopefully next year I will be able to celebrate with my daughters and grandsons. The election drama is over. Help from the federal government to people in desperate need seems to be on the way. I got my first vaccine shot. Yep, I thought, maybe the challenging year was behind us and things were beginning to look up. I decided we might be able to get back to living life again.

And then the storm of a decade (century?) hit Texas. As of Sunday, more than 14 million Texans were under orders to boil their water before drinking it–or did not have water. Millions lost power.  We saw pictures of families putting on all their clothes and huddling under covers with their kids in below zero temperatures. Across the state, neighbors lined up at municipal spigots for water, melted snow to flush their toilets, and lined up for food at poorly stocked grocery stores and food banks. The scenes were devastating. So much for optimism.

Just when I was about to give into depression, along came Mattress Mack! In case you missed the story, Mattress Mack, otherwise known as James F. McIngvale, is a Houston furniture store owner who was known to dress up in a mattress in his television commercials. According to the Associated Press, seeing his fellow Texans cold and hungry, with little shelter from the winter storm, Mattress Mack opened his doors. In the last week thousands spent a few hours on armchairs and couches to warm up, or slept on their choice of beds in the 100,000 square foot showroom. Little kids played on playground equipment. They ate donated food or food paid for by Mr. McIngvale. McIngvale said, “When my people are dying and freezing, I am going to take care of them,” he said. “That comes before profit every time.”

I don’t know about you, but knowing that there are people like Mattress Mack, selfless beacons of hope in decidedly crummy times, is inspiring.  It might even confirm that being a “cock-eyed” optimist is at least worth considering. Onward.

On a decidedly optimistic note, my latest book goes live today.

Challenging Year

He’s a hard as nails police chief.  She’s a feisty ADA. The one thing they have in common is arrogance.  Sparks flare when the challenging duo face off. You Can’t Always Get What You Want is the third standalone book in The Olive or Twist Saga, a steamy romantic suspense series. If you like smart characters, cops, courts, and scorching passion, then you’ll love this sizzling thrill-ride. Grab your copy of You Can’t Always Get What You Want to get hot under the collar today!