Boarding School: My Bittersweet Experience

September 1st, Knowledge Day, marks the official end of summer and back-to-school day. One of the countries celebrating this date as an official holiday is Ukraine, the country where I was born and was residing when I started Grade 0  (preparatory grade) at six years of age.

Skimming Facebook this afternoon I noticed first of September throwbacks trending on people’s feeds. So rather than simply throwing my own photos out there, accompanied by a short witty caption, I decided to blog about it. This day was very significant to me because so many mixed emotions were tied to this experience. Now just a memory, I still can remember everything I felt that day and year and how impactful those feelings have been on my life.

Kyiv Gymnasium of Oriental LanguagesThe school I was scheduled to attend in fall of 1988 is the Kiev Gymnasium of Oriental Languages (School #1) and is considered a very prestigious educational institution. It is an associated school member of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization); “Educators for Peace and Mutual Understanding”. As well as being associated with the National Academy Pedagogic Sciences of Ukraine (established later, in 1992), this gymnasium is based on social pedagogic principles. Its mission was to instill patriotism as well as provide the students the education and ability to further aid the development of cultural potential of Ukraine. Social pedagogy is based on humanistic values stressing human dignity, mutual respect, trust, unconditional appreciation, and equality. It is underpinned by a fundamental concept of children, young people and adults as equal human beings with rich and extraordinary potential and considers them competent, resourceful and active agents of the world. The curriculum, taught in Ukrainian, also included Chinese (currently including Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Turkish, and Korean languages) language as the first foreign language and English as the second one beginning from grade 0 all the way through grade 11. So, without a doubt, this was considered one of the best schools in Kiev, if not in all of Ukraine. Educating and housing children of Kiev’s many elite (wealthy, politicians, businessmen), the school was not easy to get into. Twelve spaces were available in my grade when my mother applied. And even though my mother had ‘connections’, we still had to pass a lengthy examination process that summer before school started. The assessment tests were performed before a school board, mainly involving written and verbal questions to test a child’s level of knowledge, memory, and overall behavior. I remember being asked certain trivia questions, to read excerpts from a book, and to repeat words told to me in Chinese. I was barely six years old and had very little knowledge about other countries, let alone a country like China where the alphabet is made up of characters which looked more like abstract art drawings than letters or words. My mother and grandmother still remind me of when one of the members of the school board asked me to name some of the big rivers in the Soviet Union. I named Dnieper River because it runs down the middle of my home city, Kiev, and it was very familiar to me. Then she says, “What about the Volga River? The biggest river of them all.” (Volga is considered the national river of Russia and is a huge symbol of Russian culture). To which I replied, “No, Volga is a type of a car.” And that answer wasn’t at all incorrect. Volga was also a brand of an automobile which originated in the Soviet Union. So, technically I didn’t lose any points for that question and of course everyone present had a good giggle in regards to the innocent mind of a child.

After exams I went on vacation and goofed off the rest of the summer. Results were to be announced later and I was just glad the pressure was off. I even had my ears pierced on that trip because I was becoming a big girl, a student, opening a new chapter in my life. And I’m pretty sure I spoke about school all summer long, not concerned that September 1st was just around the corner. And becoming a big girl didn’t only mean starting first grade. Didn’t simply mean sitting in a classroom for several hours, doing minor homework at home and telling my mom about how my day went. This was the day when I was going to start living away from my family. At a boarding school with tons of strangers. Alone. This was the day the warmth and comfort I received while at home would be swept like a rug from under me. As the last few days of August crept closer toward September so did anxiety which crippled me emotionally. By then I already knew I passed my exams and was definitely going to attend and live at a school which was located somewhere away from the life that I knew. I was going to be allowed to go home on Wednesday evenings for one night and on Friday evenings for the weekend. The other four nights I was to live on campus, under the supervision of people whom I didn’t know.

Never will I forget that morning of September 1st, 1988. Everyone at my house woke up very early. Breakfast was cooking and coffee was brewing at the early break of dawn. My sister, who is one and a half years younger than me, was cared for and escorted to kindergarten by our great-aunt.  My mother paced back and forth as she multi-tasked all her duties. She dressed to impress, did her hair and makeup, and made sure I looked sharp. My Soviet style school uniform was brand spanking new (one of two required), adorned with a crisp white apron, cuffs, and collar. My hair was done in two pony tails, tied into bows with huge white ribbons which protruded from my head like Mickey Mouse ears. Looking back at the photos this dress style reminds me of an extremely bland version of the Japanese Harajuku fashion. As a matter of fact, that tradition is still practiced in Ukraine today. Except that it’s 30 years later and people are finally able to have some freedom of self-expression. I have seen recent September 1st photos of friends’ kids and some people actually alter their uniforms to be a bit more colorful and fun.

Kyiv Gymnasium of Oriental LanguagesButterflies truly went wild when I was riding in the back seat of Misha’s car on our way to the school. Misha was my mother’s then boyfriend. He was tall and average built, smelled like fresh deodorant, sported a mustache, and drove a car (which was considered a big deal back then for most people living in the Soviet Union). He had that mojo vibe oozing from him in everything he did. Misha is the person whom my mother left to America to be with exactly a year later (1989). I don’t remember if Misha stayed at our house the night before, but I remember him rushing, trying to get me from the house to the ceremonial assembly. He dipped through traffic, fussed at other drivers, as I sank into the leather seats of his car, wishing I was somewhere else. Finally we pulled into the school gates, Misha dropped us off and left for work. My mother took my hand and walked me along the side of a tall, gloomy building to the school yard, surrounded by the main building and the dorms. The warm sun was slowly rising as the grassless sports field buzzed with parents, kids, teachers, and a loudspeaker spewing out the standard welcoming speech addressed to newbie kids. I stood, listened, and my body was present, but not my mind. In my head I was counting down the last minutes before my mother would walk away that day, leaving me behind. Holding my tears back with all my strength, I proceeded with the participation in the ceremony. I did it for my mother mainly. I didn’t want to disappoint her. We prepared for this moment for months and I know about the amount of energy and efforts which went into securing my spot at that school. Believe me, I was holding those tears to the very last core of my strength until I finally exhausted myself and gave in. Kyiv Gymnasium of Oriental LanguagesI sobbed for hours, pleading with my mother to please not leave me there. The photographer who snapped my photos is a good friend of my mother’s, named Grisha. He arrived to the school shortly after we did, to photograph this event as a favor to us. Him and my mother did everything in their power to convince me that I will have fun at the school and that everything will be ok. They even called their friends Matvei and Liosha who came to help cheer me up. We walked around the front yard, back yard, inside the classroom, sat through the First Bell ceremony and socialized with the teacher, parents, and other students. At some moments my crying would cease, only to return as soon as the thought of being abandoned sprang to mind. Sometime in the early afternoon I finally accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be going home that day. I wouldn’t officially live at home again for an entire year.

The first night at boarding school is a faint memory. I remember the entire experience of that year vaguely and in snippets. I still, however, remember the old wood smell of the classroom furniture, the smell of the freshly printed school books. I even remember that disgustingly awful smell of one of my classmate’s stool samples which we were ordered to deliver to class in match boxes so the samples could be tested for parasites. For a few days those matchboxes were kept inside one of the classroom’s cabinets lining the back wall. Quite sanitary practice, I know. Especially when all the children had access to it. Kids opened up those matchboxes and passed them around, sniffing and giggling, when the teacher wasn’t looking. Not sure if that had any affect on the test results.

Kyiv Gymnasium of Oriental Languages- School dormsBefore school started we were provided a checklist of necessity items each student was to pack with them. For the first time in life I was the one responsible for remembering to brush my teeth before bed and in the morning. I had my toothbrush and toothpaste in my little wooden bed stand by my bed, where I also kept my pajamas (a white, matching, long sleeve and long leg set, spotted with roses, which I received from ‘Santa’ under my grandparents’ silver faux Christmas tree). I don’t remember having toys at the dorms. My general memories of the school lead me to believe that we most likely weren’t allowed to have personal toys other than those provided to us during specific play hours. The girls and boys had separate sleeping quarters within these brick, four story, bare and cold walls. Each room was lined with several beds made of steel. The built-in springs supported a thin mattress on its frame and all the bedding smelled of bleach, as did the floors and toilets. The springs squeaked every time one sat down or got up from the bed. So whenever anyone got up to go to the restroom in the middle of the night, those sleeping lightly were immediately aware.

Classes began early in the morning. All the children were typically woken up, instructed to get ready, organized in rows like soldiers, and escorted to the main building for breakfast and lessons. Our cafeteria always smelled of delicious food. Presentation and service, on the other hand, was nothing close to what you would expect with a fine meal. The chef slapped portions of porridge, or whatever other food was being served, with a large spoon into our bowls, as we walked up in line, like prisoners, to receive our portions. Discipline was very much enforced. school 2The staff spoke to the children with stern tones and many times even ridiculed and shamed those who were not catching on quickly or behaving as well as expected. Maybe it was the Soviet era influence or the school mission to shape the kids into strong individuals, but for the most part it felt like emotional and psychological abuse. I was never physically assaulted, but I witnessed our  teacher whip a child’s hand as well as hit the desk with a ruler, in form of a threat, many times.  Our main teacher (I shall call her Mrs.Meanskiy) was an angry woman who never smiled nor said a warm word to her pupils except on occasion to those whose parents were ‘somebody’. She picked and chose whom to favor and whom to take her anger out on. I dreaded seeing her every morning when she walked into the classroom. And those few days that she was absent were the happiest days of my time at that school. I remember Mrs.Meanskiy wearing tightly-knit, thin, tops tucked into shin-length A-line  skirts. The click of her medium height chunky heels echoed through the hollow corridors as she escorted us from one place to another. She was a middle aged woman with a thick figure, not obese but definitely not slim. Her strut was that of a hefty little soldier on heels. The rosy cheeks decorated her expressionless ivory toned face which was framed by auburn hair, pulled up into a bun wig. I’m not sure how the woman felt about me personally. My family was neither wealthy nor ‘somebody’. My mother happened to be good friends with the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Sergei. Sergei is also the individual who destroyed the police report my father bitterly filed against my mother for ‘private and undocumented business practices with the goal of making money’. This was during 1980’s when she was accepting clients for hair procedures at our home, aside from working at the salon, so she could support my sister and I as a single mother. During the Soviet Era this was something that resulted in a hefty prison sentence. However, this was the only way for anyone to make above poverty wages during socialist Soviet Ukraine and most people made money ‘illegally’. Sergei handled quite a number of issues back then. He was a good person to have in one’s corner and one year during Christmas he dressed as Santa and brought my sister and l gifts. Sergei met with the gymnasium’s director and told him to make room for me in the class. That was my way in. And that was the way all deals were handled during Soviet times. Bribes (disguised as contributions), favors, threats, corruption, and crimes. So to no surprise, shortly after school began my teacher asked my mother to make her a new bun wig, my mother being the hairstylist parent from our class. Every parent had their obligation to the teacher. Mrs.Meanskiy shamelessly asked for favors and gifts. This was the norm then and, in Ukraine and Russia, it is still the norm now. Public schools, hospitals, as well as many other institutions and organizations accept bribe money. This motivates them to work more efficiently. The new bun wig was apparently a very huge deal to my teacher. She gave my mother a bundle of hair for the wig and waited patiently as my mother’s wig-maker friend worked on this project. Now, being a six year old child, I had no idea about these behind-the-scenes arrangements. All I knew was that suddenly one day the teacher began acting like a total witch towards me. I wouldn’t realize for years that the bun wig had created a major conflict between my mother and this mentally unstable woman. She accused my mother of using random cheap hair instead of the ‘top quality’ hair she provided. Denying this allegation, as well as growing upset at such a comical accusation, my mother told the teacher to basically get lost. Aside from working on this wig for many days, the wig-maker also added more hair to the skimpy bundle of hair provided. My mother was done dealing with Mrs.Meanskiy. And from this point forward I became the target of my teacher’s revenge on my mother. I always felt like I was fighting a battle at school. My work was never good enough. I was told that my reading was horrible. I was picked on and degraded in front of the entire class. I remember being asked dates of certain holidays during one lesson. I didn’t know most of them. The punchline came when she asked me to give the date of New Year’s Day. This came after a series of other questions I couldn’t answer. At this point I already felt humiliated and defeated. So I froze and didn’t say anything, prompting the teacher to shake her head in disappointment and insinuate that I am dense. You must be a stupid idiot… is what that aura felt like. All the children giggled and her favorite student, whose father happened to be ‘important’, quickly came to the rescue and gave the correct answer. I probably cried that night. I cried many nights in that place. Why did my sister get to live at home and I didn’t? I couldn’t understand why other kids lived with their moms and dads and I was being punished.

One of the few positive moments from that institution was when my piano teacher told me I had a good ear. He tested all the children for rhythm by beating his comb on the top of his piano. Piano lessons were fun. They were held inside a room adjacent to the dance hall, where we stomped in our dance slippers on the worn light yellow parquet floor. We learned how to write music in our music notebooks and the teacher was a very nice man in general. I also enjoyed studying Chinese. Learning and writing characters seemed more of a drawing rather than a language lesson. In all honesty I enjoyed all the other subjects which weren’t taught by Mrs.Meanskiy. Anything to get away from her.

In May, close to the end of the school year, I celebrated my seventh birthday. And as tradition calls in Ukraine, the birthday person brings candy and other sweets to class to treat one’s fellow classmates and staff. My mother packed a birthday package for me to take to school and gave instructions to open the treats only after lessons are finished. Coincidentally, as soon as lessons were over Mrs.Meanskiy left the students under the supervision of another educator for the remainder of the day. Who then made sure to direct us to our extracurricular activities, yard time, supper, and supervised us to the dorms. So, next day Mrs.Meanskiy found out I had a birthday celebration after she departed and she became visibly upset. This time she called for a parent-teacher conference. How dare my mother instruct me to celebrate after lunch? She felt insulted, humiliated, and left out. During the conference my mother was questioned about her intentions and clarification about what actually happened. And instead of them meeting privately, I was present for this entire spectacle, in the hallway of the main building. “Did your mother specifically instruct you to wait until after lunch when I left to celebrate your birthday?” the teacher questioned me tyrannically. Both my mother and her waited for my answer, each one hoping I’d answer in her favor. My birthday which was supposed to be a celebration for me had somehow became yet another reason  for battle between my mother and my teacher. I don’t know who was right or wrong, but at that point I answered, “Yes”. I immediately felt like I betrayed my mother. All because I knew I had to survive being in the presence of this monster-of-a-person in the future. I answered truthfully. My mother did tell me to wait for the evening teacher to arrive before celebrating. She wanted me to enjoy my birthday as much as possible, not have this bitter woman potentially ruin it.

I wanted to move home. I was exhausted. Wasn’t this gymnasium based on social pedagogical principals? Love? Respect for human rights? Intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity? Something didn’t add up. There was a girl in my class who always looked homely. Hair hair wasn’t combed and it appeared as though she didn’t bathe much. I think she was treated the worst out of everyone. We were small children so we didn’t discuss these issues because we accepted that situation as the norm.

Kyiv Gymnasium of Oriental LanguagesOne evening on our way to the dorms for the night we passed a group of young, rowdy teenage boys. They were running and shouting while playing with what seemed like a kitten. The school had a little animal farm on its premises. We had several animals including cats, dogs, pigs, ducks, chickens. I don’t recall any large animals, but sometimes our class was allowed to come socialize with the ones we had. To think of it now, we were probably fed those same animals we played with. Cats frequently roamed the campus and were petted by the children. Sadly, that morning, after seeing the older kids playing with the kitten, the little creature hung by its neck from a high metal mesh fence. My heart sank even deeper and I was terrified. I was living in a place where abuse seemed tolerated, if not cultivated and promoted.

My mother finally took me out of the gymnasium at the completion of that year. She was scheduled to leave Ukraine for the United States that fall. Misha left for America after I started school and had been living in New York for almost a year now. He had somewhat established himself and now had the means to request for my mother to follow. Actually, he requested for my sister and I to come as well, but my father refused to sign the permission document for us to migrate (He would finally give permission two years later). I’m not sure why he didn’t want us leaving Ukraine. We weren’t living with him and he hadn’t even attempted to visit us for a few years at this point. Nonetheless, since my grandparents were to be our primary caretakers, after my mother’s departure, having me living at home would be the best option for them. The local school was a five minute walk from their apartment and I was considered old enough to walk to and from school. Another summer zoomed past and as fall descended upon us, I prepared for first grade. And one might think that I must have dreaded school at this point, but that would be a wrong assumption. I was so excited to leave the gymnasium that when I was told I would be attending the local school, I knew it could not be worse than what the gymnasium had been. I figured some kids from my old kindergarten may be attending. As well as other kids from the neighborhood. Besides, this was the school both my mother and father went to. This is where they met some 10 years prior. Some staff members who knew my mother and father personally still worked at this school. And I truly felt the welcoming vibe as soon as I stepped foot into my classroom. The children were all friendly, the teacher’s mood-uplifting. If I was scoring 3s and 4s (on a 1-5 grading scale) on my assignments at the gymnasium, now I was bringing home mostly 5s. I was no longer a bad student who was repeatedly told that my results weren’t good enough. Not only was I suddenly an excellent student, I also managed to earn the President of Class Award for two consecutive years. I was thriving and I loved learning. My mother insists that the only reason for my bad experience at the gymnasium was my teacher. Remove that variable and the school is wonderful and outstanding in all aspects. Which leads me then to question how such a top notch institution can employ a person who completely destroys its reputation. When searching for some current information about the gymnasium online, I came across one site with student/parent reviews. Reading some 48 statements, split evenly in half as positive and negative, I came to understand that what I experienced was very much real. Many people described almost identical scenarios to mine. My view was not a spoiled, misbehaving child’s figment of imagination. Unfortunately, parents were not able to open their computers back in 1980’s and scan-read school reviews. People trusted the system and the system took advantage of people’s trust at the expense of their children. Parents send their children to chosen educational establishments expecting the school to deliver what it promises. We all want what’s best for our kids. We want our kids to thrive and to grow into well-rounded, psychologically stable individuals. Exposing a child to a nourishing environment is probably the most important factor during one’s stages of development. Therefore I have to agree with some of the reviews which mention the idea that we can’t expect modern methods from teachers who have been teaching since the era of Communism. Their ancient beliefs that humiliation and suppression of individuality is what will shape kids into fine adults is very incorrect and dangerous. Discipline must be conducted with respect, simply out of respect for humankind and ultimately of oneself.

Today I can understand and appreciate that experience for what it was. My time at the gymnasium taught me independence, resilience, patience, fearlessness, to name a few characteristic traits. Such early exposure to life’s harsh realities gave me the ability to tackle many unfortunate and difficult situations I faced in my later years. Hardships are very necessary and when we overcome them we gain notches under our belts. Isn’t it ironic how life becomes easier with every single notch?

Soup Cleanse Summary and Conclusion

Soup Diet Begins TodayToday my 2 week soup cleanse came to an end! During these couple of weeks what I mainly consumed was a variety of different vegetarian and pescatarian soups. Aside from soup, the only thing I ate was a hearty oatmeal in the morning and some fruit snacks here and there. Oatmeal BreakfastA few times I had a small salad without dressing, but sprinkled with lemon. Oh, and once I had a cheat meal where I consumed 10 pieces of sushi. Oops! I was celebrating 2 years together with my honey 🌸

However, overall the cleanse proved to be a much needed procedure. I eliminated sugar, oil, fried foods, grains, salt cured foods, and any processed foods in general. Fish Soup OptionSuch elements which we don’t realize are clogging our bodies until we rid ourselves of them. The most incredible part is that we immediately begin to see the results on the exterior and feel the improvement in our organism on the interior. As happened with me in the past 2 weeks. If one observed the photograph at zero weeks, it’s pretty obvious that my body was slightly bloated. And by the way that photo was taken first thing in the morning before I ate breakfast. I had some fat stored in my lower abdomen as well as in my arms, legs, and butt. I couldn’t seem to get rid of these fat pockets. And I’m generally a pretty healthy eater. Diet UpdateHowever, after having a baby, 7 months ago, I allowed myself to relax on food control a bit. Being a nursing mom, craving calorie-rich foods and carbs is especially normal. But that’s not a reason to munch away at everything we come in contact with. Definitely not if we want to be in our best shape, healthy, strong, and youthful.

Instagram Stories Diet UpdateAfter one week of the cleanse is when I noticed the main difference. The fat just began melting off. No matter how many times I do cleanses it never ceases to amaze me how quickly our bodies begin to react to the food we feed it. My cheeks began leaning out, my shoulders began showing signs of toned muscle, and my belly shrank right before my eyes. Mind you, I was eating constantly (about 5-6 times a day and snacking in between) and not forcing myself to ever feel hungry. Every morning I cooked a pot of soup for that day and would simply fill a bowl whenever I felt like eating. So, not only was this cleanse beneficial on a healthy level, it was also incredibly time-saving. On average it took me 30 minutes to cook each bowl of soup and relieved me of the worry about what I was going to eat or cook next. Combine that with the instant oatmeal for breakfast (which pretty much cooks itself) and fresh fruit snacks which are ready for consumption at all times, and you have a huge opening in your schedule all of a sudden. Diet SoupBeing a mother of two kids, who are both at home with me mostly (during summer break especially), having extra time in the day makes a huge difference! So, as the fat melted, so did the negative thoughts regarding lack of control and beating myself up for throwing garbage into my body. I began to feel the power and confidence returning. That feeling is something one cannot describe in totality to others. It is a feeling that those who have been there know and can understand when I also say that you begin feeling like a totally different person. Once our bodies rid itself of the toxins and debris, they also begin the healing process.

We have more clarity in the mind and our physique prepares to almost reverse, but definitely slows down, the aging process. Skin is clearer, glowing, and the movements in our bodies are so much lighter. You can cross your leg easier when you sit down, your jeans are suddenly looser and a permanent smile has now found itself planted on your lips. It’s a wonderful feeling! And anyone who comes in contact with you can see your glow and most definitely notices the improvement in your emotions and behavior.

Also speaking of runs, I am so tempted to get outside and begin my jogging routine. August is now coming to an end and the weather is cooling down, allowing me to be able to jog while the sun is still out. I stopped exercising while I was cleansing because I don’t ever want to strain my body. But now I am ready to get back into my fitness routine which includes weight training and some cardio. Health is wealth, guys… Let’s love and enrich ourselves by making smart choices.

Two Years with Babe!

14117806_10209403647102596_1547399053887976168_n (2)

Two years ago today I met this babe. I was sitting alone at a table on a patio of a food stand, overlooking a small lake, drinking a pint of beer. The darkness of the late evening hour had enveloped me and goosebumps slowly began creeping up my arms and shoulders as I contemplated my next move. This was the first day of the Zaxidfest Rock Music Festival, somewhere in Rodatychi village near Lviv, Ukraine.

14191900_10209403650582683_6555963292350058202_nThe festival is an open air 3-day event with an incredible atmosphere. Thousands attendees set up camp in a forest and live in tents as they stage-hop, vibing out to 50+ music bands from all over the world.

Earlier that day my friends and I arrived, built our tents, and dumped our baggage before rushing off to the main stage zone. Tons of people were already dancing, head-banging to the sounds of rock coming from the loud speakers. People ate, people drank, people smoked, people did whatever their hearts desired…and more people kept arriving to the festival.

14045924_10209403648142622_7482979691557193755_nSitting on the soft grassy field with my newly made friends, we smoked a spliff and laughed and joked for hours, as the sun set in the horizon. Life seemed free and perfect until cold started setting in… So I said my goodbyes and see-you-laters and headed back to my tent to get some rest 14191896_10209403652342727_8513512548390908918_nand warmth…

Now imagine walking into a dark forest, slightly buzzed, with thousands of tents being illuminated by a fluorescent light from somewhere in a distance…And you realize that all the tents are identical to one another. Where’s my tent???

I call my friends, no one answers. I walk around, call my friends, still no answers.

So there I was, sitting on this patio, wondering whether I’d be waiting until morning for my friends to arrive. And out of nowhere comes this blue eyed blondie, offering me his sweater and some company. We sat and talked and made friends with others. We even walked around for hours with a group of people looking for my tent, peeking into random strangers’ tents, as the forest raged with sounds of people partying, to no avail. Later I understood that losing my tent location that night was one of those meant-to-be moments in life.

Somewhere around midnight my friends finally came and we achieved our goal. And my blue eyed, blonde friend told me to keep his sweater for the night and that he would collect it the next day. We didn’t even exchange numbers nor made any plans. And just like that he said ‘good night’ and walked away. His blue knit sweater kept me warm that night.

14117842_10209403649222649_3573651443967357593_nI woke up hungry, thirsty, and still tired. My next door tent neighbors never went to sleep. They made sure I got the full rock fest experience by playing their guitars into the wee hours of the morning. But how would I come across complaining about loud music at a music festival? So, I got myself together and hurried to breakfast with my friends, across the road, on the other side of the forest.

14100390_10209403654462780_3888544987811036624_nOut of the thousands of people and tons of food trucks at this festival, guess who walks up to me that morning at that particular breakfast joint? Yes, yes, it’s true…
Vadim and I spent the rest of the festival together ❤️

On the last day we knew we were leaving to different cities and, to rub salt into the wound, Vadim would be moving from Ukraine to Poland within a week. So, when he kissed me before we parted ways I wasn’t sure I would ever see him again. Despite the sweet talk he laid on me those days we spent together at the fest. He asked me if I’d visit him in Poland, if he could visit me, that he’d do everything in his power to make sure we see one another. A bunch of sweet nothings which sound too good to be true.

14102231_10209403653022744_7748218676980388653_nOn my 5 hour drive back home from the fest, we must have exchanged hundreds of texts.

Vadim was in Kiev two days later. My man spontaneously decided he had to see me one more time before he left for Poland.

Do men like this exist anymore? Do people like this exist anymore? This was the perfect person for me to meet at this particular time in my life. I was at a cross road where I was closing my Ukrainian life chapter and deciding on what I would do next. Move to another European country? Move back to New York?

“What would you say if I asked you to eventually move to Poland with me?” Vadim asked me before he left Kiev that day. I knew at that point that my life would be taking another interesting turn.

Within 9 months Vadim moved Soleil and I to be with him. I was pregnant with our daughter Isla, nesting in our new apartment as I asked myself daily if this is for real. I remember writing an entry in my journal describing a life I want for myself. My reality isn’t so far from that fantasy.

Thanks my love for being you. You’re an unusual human being. I love you!!

My Ukrainian Roots

My Ukrainian roots are currently traceable as far back as the late 1800’s. However, before I introduce you to my ancestors dating back 4 generations I want to tell you a brief history of Ukraine, which dates back 1,400 years.

As far as we know Slavic tribes occupied central and eastern Ukraine in the 6th century A.D. and played an important role in the establishment of Kiev, my hometown. Christian missionaries spread the Christian faith and the Cyrillic alphabet influencing Kiev’s leader at the time, Prince Volodymyr, to convert the population to Christianity in 988. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus (very prosperous era for Ukraine) was, geographically, the largest state in Europe, but internal conflict among its lords led to decline in the 12th century. To add to the devastation, Mongols raided Kiev repeatedly in the 13th century. By 14th century most of the Ukrainian territory was conquered by Poland and Lithuania. Ukrainian peasants who fled the Polish effort to force them into servitude are known as Cossacks, a very popular traditional Ukrainian style many are familiar with: loose-fitted clothing (tied at the waist), long moustache and shaved head with a long ponytail at the top. In 1667, Ukraine was again divided, this time between Poland and Russia. In 1793, when Poland became divided, Ukraine was mainly integrated into the Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) Empire in the west and the Russian Empire elsewhere. During this time also, writers and intellectuals tried to stir up the nationalistic spirit by trying to reestablish the Ukrainian state with linguistic and cultural traditions. One of those poets and artists is the famous Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861). Imperial Russia, however, imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian culture, even banning the use and study of the Ukrainian language.

Somewhere around this time (late 1800s, early 1900s) my great-great-grandparents were born. My paternal grandfather’s (Leontii Dudenko) mothers’ (Anna Galina Mukha) parents were Arseniy Mukha and Antonina. Leontii’s father’s (Ivan Dudenko) parents were Kondrat Dudenko and Ganna Izubinko. My maternal grandmother’s (Svetlana Chemikos) mother’s (Nina Chuiko) parents were Ivan Lisenko and Alexandra (Shura) Lisenko. Unfortunately, almost no information is known to us about my great-great-grandparents’ childhood except what we can imagine according to the general history presented to us of that era.

During the earlier 1900s World War I and the Russian revolution shattered the Habsburg and Russian empires. Ukrainians declared independency, forming The Ukrainian People’s Republic. This independent state was very brief because the Soviet Red Army forced the Ukrainian Army out during Russia’s Civil War (1917-1922) led by Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin and Ukraine became incorporated into the Soviet Union, which ended up lasting almost 70 years. In 1924 Stalin came to power and created totalitarian terror. During this time millions of people were executed or exiled to Siberian labor camps.

Arseniy Mukha with his cow (For which he was arrested and labeled Kurkul’)

My great-great grandfather, Arseniy Mukha, fell victim to the Bolshevik raids of the Ukrainian villages during this period. The goal of the Bolshevik party was to create socialism/communism among society by forcefully taking personal belongings from people and dividing it equally among all peasants. Using such excuses and tactics the Bolsheviks were basically robbing people of goods and taking them elsewhere, some for personal use, but definitely not dividing anything equally. They destroyed tons of villages and many lives. Those refusing to give up personal property were called Kurkul’ (fist; penny pincher; cheapskate). Arseniy owned a cow which he was supposed to have reported and presented to the authorities. When a raid hit his village officials discovered the cow and arrested my great-great-grandfather, immediately forcing him to deport to Siberia for tough labor work as punishment. His wife, Antonina, had already been deceased, leaving Arseniy as the sole provider for his two young children, Anna Galina (my great-grandmother) and Musya. Arseniy said his goodbyes, suspecting he would never return and left his children who were under 12 years old to fend for themselves… Anna Galina would later retell the stories to her children of her extremely tough childhood, working any and every job she could just to survive and provide for her younger sister.

Arseniy Mukha with his Russian (second) family

Arseniy Mukha was never heard from again. Story has it that shortly after his arrival in a Siberian camp, Arseniy escaped and changed his name to Ivan Mukhin. Only years later did his abandoned children in Ukraine became aware that he had created a new family and a new life in Russia with his new wife, Maria, and three children, Nina, Vanya, and Gena. Interestingly enough, after such an intriguing discovery all siblings met and became extremely close, closer than most biological siblings.

Alexandra Lisenko (Great-great-grandmother; center), Nina Lisenko (Great-grandmother; left), Anya Lisenko (Great-aunt; right)

Meanwhile, my maternal great-great-grandparents met and were becoming close in south-central Siberia, area near Lake Baikal (not far from the Mongolian border and surrounded by mountains, forests, and wild rivers), hometown of my great-great grandmother. Ivan Lisenko traveled through this particular region likely while working for  Russia’s Trans Siberian Railway system. Soon after meeting Alexandra (Shura), Ivan married and whisked her away to Kiev. Alexandra and Ivan had six  children in total: Two kids who passed in very early years (likely due to illness), my great-grandmother Nina (1919), Anya (1922), Volodia (1927), and Tamara (1929). The Lisenkos lived a very decent life in Kiev: A nice home and an abundance of food for all members of the family. Ivan Lisenko was a member of the Communist Party as part of his career advancement to Chief of Kiev Railroads, providing a certain security for his family unable to be afforded by most living in the Soviet Union.

Dasha (Great-grandmother)
Anna Galina (Great-grandmother) with all five of her daughters

As I mentioned before, my paternal great-grandmother Anna Galina (1912) was an orphan, living in a Severinovka village, working odd jobs to survive. Great-grandfather Ivan Dudenko (1911) was living in a nearby village called Chernogorodka with his family, also experiencing a peasant’s life during these times of Civil War and Bolsheviks’ invasion. Little is known of my father’s mother’s parents’ history due to a lack of surviving family members and broken communication. We do know that my paternal mother’s mother was Dasha who married a Polish immigrant Jan Wojtkiewicz, my great-grandfather. Jan likely changed his name when he arrived to Kiev, having escaped Poland’s anti-Semitic vibe toward his Jewish heritage, as well as to avoid being drafted to the military. My great-grandfather left Poland an elite conductor/musician and arrived to Ukraine a fugitive shamed by his family for having left his “responsibilities” to serve his country.

Baba Anya (Great-aunt) with my sister Yuta
Grandmother, Svetlana Chemikos

Under Joseph Stalin’s leadership the Soviet Ukraine also experienced Holodomor or Famine-Genocide (1932-1933) intended to murder the Ukrainian population by man-made starvation. Some believe that the famine was planned by Joseph Stalin to eliminate a Ukrainian independence movement. Soviet officials confiscated all household food and rejected outside aid, causing 7-10 million people to perish within months. Cities and roads were littered with the corpses of those who left their villages in search of food. There were even widespread reports of cannibalism. My great-aunt, on my mother’s side, Anya (Lisenko) used to tell my younger sister and I bedtime stories about her Holodomor and WWII experiences. As a 10 year old child, she recalls scraping tiny bits of grain from shelves and attempting to make a meal out of anything possible, rationing her food into a few bites per day, hungry rats crawling at her feet during nighttime. I used to love listening to Baba Anya’s (granny Anya, as we called her) childhood stories about everyday struggles during Stalinist Era. She made them sound like eerie thrillers, instigating more curiosity within me. Only as of recently when I began researching the detailed history of Ukraine did I realize the significance of Baba Anya’s tales.

Karyl’s’ke Village (today)
Monument in honor of the Soviet soldiers who died during the liberation of the Karyl’s’ke village from the Nazi invaders

During World War II (1939-1945) Kiev again was heavily damaged. 200,000 people were killed and 100,000 were sent to Germany for forced labor. My grandparents, from mother’s and father’s sides, were all born around this time. Their stories of childhood during wartime are horrific. Everyone lived in extreme poverty and food remained scarce. In many cases Nazis ended up feeding Ukrainian people during their occupation in exchange for room and board. The Soviet Army, on the other hand, ended up murdering tons of their own with careless war tactics intended against the enemy. Great-great-grandfather, Ivan Lisenko, evacuated his wife (Alexandra) and kids (Nina, Anya, Volodya, and Tamara) to the Karyl’s’ke village (Chernihivs’ka Region), 255 km away from Kiev, seeking shelter from German invasion. His ties to the Communist Party almost guaranteed exposure by neighbors and execution by the Nazis had they raided their home. The year was 1941 and my great-grandmother Nina already had a 4 year old child (Svetlana Chemikos, 1937). Baba Sveta (as we call her) remembers carrying food supplies in her little apron, provided by German soldiers. She said that had it not been for the Germans who occupied the Karyl’s’ke village her family and other villagers would have starved. The Soviets were less concerned about feeding their people as they were about forcing the Germans out of the territory. Baba Anya’s tearful account of her siblings, Volodya and Tamara, being bombed by the Soviet Air Forces in front of her eyes was very heartbreaking to hear. Forty innocent civilians were killed that day as they stood in line to collect honey from the German soldiers. She told the story, shook her head in disappointment and muttered that that was how they lived.

Leontii Dudenko (Grandfather; 1946)

My paternal grandfather (Leontii Dudenko, born in 1936) and grandmother (Svetlana Dudenko, born in 1939) had also come into existence at the brink of WWII. Ded Leontii (grandpa Leontii) says looking at his ribs and skinny-starved frame in the mirror reflection is a clear memory in his head to this day. The village (Chernogorodka) he resided in with his parents also endured bombings, shooting, food shortage, and hostage captivity by the Nazis. One day, in search for food, Leontii and his father, Ivan, journeyed to a neighboring village through the forest. Encountering Nazi soldiers, they were escorted, rifle tips shoved in their backs to a nearby abandoned school where a group of Soviet partisan prisoners were already awaiting their deadly fate. The Nazis called Leonti a “little partisan” and his father whispered, “Nahm kapetz” (basically meaning that we are in big trouble and this is the end for us). They were forced to scrub the school spotless before being released, but only after being identified and verified as ‘innocent civilians’ by other locals.

Leontii Dudenko (Grandfather; 5th grade)

Kiev was liberated on November 6,1943, by Soviet troops. However, the post war years in Kiev were marked by intensive restoration of the damage caused during the war and a new kind of waves of Stalinist terror. Ded Leontii tells me that in 1947 Ukraine experienced a second type of Holodomor (man-made famine) where again food was very scarce (rationed by coupons) and more purges, executions, and mass exiles to Siberia took place. The worst features of the Stalinist police state began to dissipate during Nikita Khrushchev’s (1953-1964) and Leonid Brezhnev’s (1964-1982) leadership. As the new leader of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev’s conservatism and carefulness resulted in sustained political stability within the country. However, his hostility towards reform and active cultivation generated a period of corruption and socioeconomic decline.

Svetlana Dudenko (Grandmother) with my dad, Vyacheslav Dudenko
My mother Marina Chemikos

Both of my parents were born during this era. My father, Vyacheslav Dudenko, was born in 1961 to Svetlana and Leontii Dudenko. My mother, Marina Chemikos, was born in 1963 to Svetlana and Leonid Chernomaz (her biological father, later being legally adopted by her step-father and adopting his last name). My maternal grandmother, Svetlana, already had two children, Irina (age 8) and Marina (almost age 1), by the time she met Anatolii Chemikos in 1963. She was working as a teller for the Ukrainian Railways and Anatolii was a frequent visitor to the station, purchasing tickets for the military, as part of young soldier duty. They flirted and immediately fell in love, marrying months after their first encounter. With Irina and Marina in tow, Svetlana and Anatolii Chemikos began a new life together, completing their family with a baby girl Anastasia Chemikos in 1967.

“The current generation of Soviet people will live under communism” was the final phrase at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union congress in 1961, promising that communism will be built fully by 1980. Such is the aura that enveloped Kiev and all of Soviet Union for these first 20 years of my parents’ lives. “Russification” was the main objection, a process during which non-Russian communities, voluntarily or not, give up their culture and language in favor of the Russian one. Literature was repressed, no one was allowed to travel abroad to the forbidden capitalist world, consumer goods were in deficit, “breadlines” (name adopted for lines of any type goods) stretched around blocks. My mother recalls sewing and re-sewing clothes just to have options other than one outfit. Some people took risks by traveling to nearby European countries and smuggling clothing back across borderlines. Those who had “connections” negotiated and traded goods and services on the hush. My maternal grandmother often provided hard-to-come-by railway tickets to customers who would in return bring her fruits, chocolates, and meats unavailable to the masses. The country’s military and urban population volunteered, or was volunteered, to lend a hand in harvesting and storing kolkhoz (farm) crops and do community work. School kids were forced to wear uniforms with the Komsomol (youth division of the Communist Party) star of Lenin and the red scarf (pionerskiy galstuk) of Young Pioneers of Soviet Union. The Soviet economy continued to falter and encouraged the black market and corruption in the Communist Party. Vodka, however, remained readily available, and alcoholism was an important factor in both the declining life expectancy and the rising infant mortality rate. This type of stagnant life was simply accepted and when Brezhnev died in 1982, the next leader attempted to reform the system by relaxing controls, completely collapsing the economy as a result. My mother gave birth to me six months before the end of the Brezhnev Era…

Small Town Magic-My First Winter in Poland

December is here and the first snow of the season has fallen. Not a huge amount, but it brings the magical holiday feeling with it nevertheless. As a little kid growing up in Ukraine we had four seasons and back 30+ years ago snow used to fall a lot heavier and thicker. I remember walking through waist-deep of snow, bundled in my little Soviet coat (shuba) and galoshes, snow crunching like popcorn under your feet, scratching a primal itch that just feels so satisfying. Beginning of every winter season I become a kid again, nostalgic with memories of childhood, warm cocoa, cookies, and the anticipation of presents from Santa. Just makes you want to curl up in this memory like a warm blanket, covering all the cold unknowns and unexposed realities of tomorrow. Bury yourself in its warmth, the glowing days of pure joy and limited worries.

This season is undeniably magical and even though I am an adult now I am still lucky enough to be able to experience the enchantment through my kids. This past weekend we even got a chance to put our new snow sled to the test. Once I deliver the baby I may even give it a go for old times’ sake. We have an adorable park nearby our house with all the perfect accommodations- plenty of space, hills, magical enchantment and history.

As you may already know my family and I currently reside in a Polish town called Czestochowa. Czestochowa lies among the Jurassic rocks of Krakow-Czestochowa Upland, topped with the ruins of Medieval castles with a population of about 240,000. For the majority of Poles, Czestochowa is associated with the Jasna Gora Monastery (where the park is located) and the icon of the Black Madonna (a shrine to the Virgin Mary), credited with many miracles. The sanctuary is famous as one of the world’s greatest places of pilgrimage, the most important pilgrimage destination of the Christian world. However, its beautiful 15th century architecture also lures many tourists, amounting to 5 million a year. This city plays a crucial role for the Roman Catholic Poles, being a kind of spiritual capital to them. And I can’t deny that this place is truly spiritual. Not even from a religious standpoint, but from a metaphysical aspect. The beauty about this town and its people is that a divine, holy presence is in the air, but it is very light and pleasant as opposed to the heaviness and melancholy accompanying other religious institutions I have visited. During the Communist Era authorities made quite an effort to turn Czestochowa into an industrial center in order to outweigh the religious importance of the city, and they succeeded to a large extent. Apart from the most representative street, Avenue of St Virgin Mary, that starts at the foot of the Jasna Gora, Czestochowa seems to be rather provincial. Lucky for us, we live in the center and are a stone’s throw of the main street, monastery, and park.

The history of this cute little town is also very interesting. Apparently, Czestochowa is almost 1,000 years old, having been founded in the 11th century by Czestoch (or Czestobor, Czestomir). Intense development began with the arrival of the Pauline Order from Hungary in the late 14th century, which established the monastery on the top of Jasna Gora Hill. Soon after, the monks received the icon of the Black Madonna, which began to draw in a large number of pilgrims. Jasna Gora was besieged by Swedes (1655), Russians (1800s) and Germans (early to mid 1900s).  Within that time (1819) construction began on Avenue of St Virgin Mary. Today the promenade is lined with adorable shops, cafes, and restaurants. The opening of the Warsaw-Vienna railway in 1846 linked the city with the rest of Europe and many new factories and manufactures emerged. During World War II, practically the entire Jewish community of about 40,000 people were killed by German Nazis. The war finally ended with The Red Army entering Czestochowa in January 1945 who saved the Pauline monastery, which had been mined with bombs by Germans. After the war, the industrialization of the city continued and today it remains an important industrial and academic center.

Few people know (myself included as of recently), but somewhere around 1930s my great-grandfather (paternal grandmother’s father) escaped Poland and migrated to Ukraine at the brink of the Second World War. During Poland’s Interwar (internal among Poles) years 1919-1939 roughly about 3 million Jews experienced terrible treatment by its own society led by the anti-Semitic political parties. From 1935 to 1939, anti-Semitic feeling in Poland gained in intensity. Most Jews migrated to America and other neutral countries to escape enlistment in armed forces, to seek better opportunities, and to avoid religious persecution. My great-grandfather’s name was Jan Wojtkiewicz and he was a Jewish man residing in Łódź, Poland around this time. This blows my mind! I had no clue that I had Jewish roots, let alone Polish Jewish relatives. Jan was a popular conductor/flutist/musician and an intellectual who ran in elite circles in Łódź, as I am told by relatives who are still with us. They too have very limited information. Reportedly, he fled to Ukraine because he had no desire to fight in the war and rightly so. Had he not done so I may not have been here today. My father named me Yana (Jana) in honor of his grandfather whom he never met, but was fortunate enough to obtain Jan’s conductor baton as a single keepsake. He keeps this antique treasure on display, locked in a glass case in his work office.

The universe has recently led me back to Ukraine (2013), after a 22 year absence, seeking answers to many questions I have since resolved. Now, I am here in Poland with loose ends to tie, undoubtedly. My great-grandfather’s hometown (Łódź), and a lot of history that goes along with it, is only 130 kilometers away. Who knows, maybe Jan Wojtkiewicz once walked these same streets I now frequent? Maybe I have Polish cousins whom I never met and are residing within a couple hours’ drive from me? It’s not an accident that I am here. But for now the saga remains a mystery enveloped by the foggy winter chill in the air…

To be continued…


Sore throat- Herbs or Meds?

A sore throat is a common ailment usually caused by infection with any one of a large number of viruses or less commonly bacteria. It is a common ailment during the fall and winter seasons. However, during the summer, air conditioning can dry out your throat and produce sore throat as well… I’m not exactly sure how I conceived the bugger this time, but I have a hunch that it was due to the heating in our apartment. The air gets fairly dry and by morning I usually feel the dryness in my throat, earning for a glass of water or a hot cup of tea… Now, we turn off the heating or place wet towels on the batteries to humidify the air, but the damage is already done and now I must battle this cough and irritating feeling in my throat. Luckily I don’t have a fever and am able to take a natural approach.

Entering my 35th week of pregnancy today I am naturally concerned about avoiding the consumption of harmful products. During pregnancy our goal is to stay healthy and strong, so that we don’t cause any damage to the developing fetus. My personal goal during both of my pregnancies was to eat super healthy, load up on vitamins, partake in some sort of daily exercise or physical activity, and definitely keep away from toxins. But even when I am not pregnant I like to try and heal my body during any kind of illness with a more holistic approach. Especially if the symptoms are minor and are barely in the beginning stages.

Today the cultural norm is to run to the pharmacy at any sign of a cold or a flu…We are so influenced by the media and society, in general, that we seek solutions for the simplest illnesses or body aches in medical synthetic drugs. I know people who seek a doctor’s prescription for a minor headache or take NyQuil every night just to be able to sleep, not even for a cold or a flu. Insane how dependent on drugs we have become. Doctors prescribe meds for anything and everything nowadays – for a paper cut if you’re willing to go for it… Most doctors and pharmaceutical companies are not really concerned about our health. Their goal is to keep us sick and consuming. The more medication we consume the more immune we become to the ingredients and the cycle never ends. That’s why if I can help it, I try to not take medicine unless absolutely necessary. Of course if symptoms are worsening and you develop a fever and an infection then seeking help from a physician may be the only option. But I would like to encourage you to always question standard medical practice. Seek other, more natural solutions before drowning yourself, and especially your children with syrup and pills at the first sign of a cough. If Dr.Sebi, the Honduran vegan herbalist, healer and naturalist of holistic medicine was able to cure people from AIDS with food composed of an Alkaline diet and herbals then I feel silly not to at least try to beat a cold without drugs.

Children are even bigger targets for meds than adults and they have no choice when it comes to medical treatment. Just like with any other products on the market, marketers use ads and even cartoons to manipulate kids and moms into buying all kinds of pharmaceuticals. I’ve been to friends’ homes where I saw cupboards and drawers fulls of children’s medicine. And these are healthy kids in general. My question is “WHY??” Thankfully, my daughter has been sick a total of five times within the seven years of her life. Only one of those times we had to complete a treatment advised by her pediatrician. She had bronchial inflammation and was visibly not improving over the course of some days. And even then I felt so guilty giving her 5 different drugs for an entire week. All the other times we treated her with herbs and natural products. During a couple of incidents she developed a cough when I dropped her off to a relative’s house for the weekend. She was given syrup before bed (which bothered me when I found out because it was without my permission) and the symptoms remained. However, as soon as she came home on Sunday her health began improving, with no sign of a cough by Monday. After a couple of such visits we realized that it was the environment she was in that was causing her cough. The bedroom she slept in was poorly ventilated and had not been thoroughly cleaned in a long time. Of course I demanded that the home be completely disinfected before I allowed her to return. The problem never reoccurred. This is a perfect example of why I never immediately choose the option of medication. Prevention and natural healing works 90% of the time, in my case. I personally prefer to keep my family healthy with a nutritious diet and very minimal medical invasion.

I’m a vegetarian and I don’t consume dairy products which helps reduce the mucous present in my body to begin with. And we all know that mucous is what causes most diseases… So, this cough and sore throat should definitely go away on its own, but I will share with you my favorite, healthy, and pregnancy-safe home remedy for soothing the process:

  • Chamomile Tea- Chamomile is naturally soothing. It has long been used for medicinal purposes, like soothing a sore throat. It’s often used for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and astringent properties. I drink chamomile tea usually before bedtime since it is known to relax muscles and causes one to feel sleepy. I sleep like a baby after a cup or two.
  • Peppermint Tea- Peppermint contains menthol, an active ingredient that functions as a decongestant and expectorant, discharging of mucus from the respiratory tract. I pretty much drink peppermint all day long.
  • Propolis Liquid- In ancient cultures, propolis (or bee resin) was often used for abscesses and minor wounds. Bees, in an effort to close gaps in hives, use propolis as a precautionary measure to keep out dangerous microbes and fungi. Propolis discourages infection, is a natural antibiotic, and it boosts the immune system. I add a few drops of it to my herbal teas a couple of times a day.
  • Ginger Tea- Ginger is an analgesic (pain killer) reducing the pain associated with a sore throat. It is also antibacterial and antifungal and may help fight the infection causing a sore throat. I make hot tea with grated raw ginger root and drink it all day, alternating with peppermint tea.
  • Raspberry Jam and Pure Raspberry Juice- The high level of vitamin C in raspberries helps to protect the body from free-radical damage and boosts the immune system. I add homemade raspberry jam to all my teas. A friend of mine grows raspberries in her home and she brings me fresh squeezed 100% raspberry juice. It is so delicious!!
  • Garlic- Chewing raw garlic throughout the day also helps because garlic is a natural antibiotic, effective against bacteria and viruses. I chew a clove usually when I know I will not have to go out in public immediately afterwards. 
  • Salt and Baking Soda- Salt and baking soda help kill germs and halt the development of yeast and fungi in the throat. Additionally, salt helps loosen phlegm in the throat. I gargle a mixture of warm water with one teaspoon of each twice a day (morning and evening).
  • Ricola Lozenges- Cough drops with natural herbal ingredients, cultivated on Swiss soil without any use of pesticides, insecticides or herbicides. I suck on these any time I feel dryness in my throat.
  • Heating Pad- One of my absolute favorite items in my “medicine cabinet”. I use the heating pad for sore muscles, back pain, and any kind of bodily pain associated with sickness, and sometimes simply for a little extra warmth. I apply it to the effected area and usually feel the relief immediately. The key is to take breaks and avoid overheating or burning the skin.
  • Steam and Essential Oils- An excellent way to soothe a sore throat is by inhaling the steam of boiling water containing a few drops of some essential oils (Peppermint, Lemon, Eucalyptus, Clove, Thyme). I boil the water, add a few drops of oil, drape a towel over my head and sit over the steam, inhaling it for 5-10 minutes. 
  • GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract)- This substance is used for killing a wide variety of bacteria (such as: Salmonella, E.Coli, Staph and Strep germs), viruses, herpes, parasites, and fungi, including Candida. It is effective against more than 800 bacterial and viral strains, 100 strains of fungus, as well as a large number of single-cell and multi-celled parasites. It has also proven to be effective against food poisoning and diarrhea…Not to mention its antimicrobial uses for sterilizing and disinfecting external surfaces such as in laundry, carpet cleaner, humidifier, and even for animal feed! I discovered this miracle product only recently and will be using it as prevention and cure, if necessary, by taking 5-10 drops orally on a daily basis (at least during the cold seasons).
  • Gardimax Medica- A spray which contains the anti-irritant and pain associated with infection and inflammation of the mouth and throat. This is a drug which effectively and quickly relieves pain associated inflammation or irritation of the mouth and throat. This product contains dihydrochloride chlorhexidine (disinfectant and topical anti-infective agent used also as mouthwash to prevent oral plaque) and lidocaine hydrochloride (indicated for the production of topical anesthesia of irritated or inflamed mucous membranes of the mouth and pharynx). I have this spray in my home as plan B. It is safe for small children to use and I resort to it when I have nothing else to relieve the feeling of a sore throat immediately. I used it the first day I woke up coughing, before purchasing all the other natural ingredients.

Two days have passed and I definitely feel better. As I mentioned before, I don’t have a fever and am feeling pretty good otherwise. Two more days and I should be as good as new! Remember: stay healthy, strong, grounded and drink LOTS of water…

*You will know if these remedies are working if there is lessening in the severity of symptoms such as coughing should be apparent within the first 48 hours. If not, please check with your physician. Please be advised that I am not a medical doctor or expert in any medical field. Please do not consider my opinions to be substitutes for medical advice of any kind.