Friday, July 25, 2014

FinnTales in America

"It's just not as exciting…

So if you're not Facebook friends with me, or friends with me at all, then you might be able to guess the big news by this posts' title. I'm back in the American saddle again. NOT by choice. By evacuation. The calendar says it's been a month, but I don't know where that month went or really what I did during it. There are about 2 weeks left in our 'administrative hold', at the end of which we will either be sent back to Ukraine or Peace Corps will close our service and I will officially become an Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV)."

That was an attempt at reviving the blog in April. It's now the end of July. Huge success.

I don't really know where to start now, but I do know I want to start writing again. So many processed and un-processed emotions have fluttered around my head for the past 4 (I just had to count on my fingers) months, but I haven't had the guts to type any of these butterflies out.

This summer has been part extreme busyness/traveling, part roaming around the house in a moo-moo wondering which pillow I can fluff next. And I don't like it. I have had some job and school leads, but I'm currently in a perpetual purgatory of a waiting room.

Starting August 2nd, I have 3 destination weddings in 4 weeks, and then a week long trip to Turkey (and hopefully smuggling my way back to Ukraine for a quick visit). After that I'll either be starting graduate school and moving to D.C. for my new job, or donning my moo-moo and sending out more applications to the netherworld of federal hiring offices.

My camera's in Ukraine, or in a container ship crossing the Atlantic right now. So while I don't have any super interesting pictures from the evacuation, I do have some heartstring-tugging (for me) pictures from my last few months in my village.
So this @ my site mate's goodbye "baba/dedyshka & cosmonauts" party last May, but one of my favorite pictures of my time in Ukraine. 

Leramontov helped me cook up come shepard's pie comfort food during those cold, dark, winter days
My sweet Ukrainian BFF's birthday party in December. On a school night. I'm also pretty sure this was the "American smile" shot. (Tatyana is the beauty in the green)

My Christmas decorations! You can almost hear me singing "Oh Holy Night" to Lermontov.

New Years Eve with my family! Smiles all around.

NYE at some point took on an American Halloween flavor.

Sigh...this was about 2 days before we were consolidated at safe houses. We were told to try and pack up all of the things that we would want shipped back to us in America in case of an evacuation...

About 3 ft high. It didn't look much better when I put it in my suitcase.
Lermontov thought I had just built a huge fort for her.
So I spent 50% of my time just playing along.

I misses her so....

The traditional way of closing a service in Ukraine is by ringing this bell in Kiev. Since none of the evacuated volunteers got the opportunity to do so, the thoughtful Peace Corps post staff rang it for us. 

One of the best things about evacuation: this is how we skype date now. 

It was like looking into a mirror's reflection in a mirror.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

BORSCHT in the morning, BORSCHT in the evening, BORSCHT at supper time...

so last weekend, after I completed my previous blogpost, i decided i needed to do something to cheer myself up. something that would warm my soul for days or weeks to come. something, drastic. so i made borscht.

and it took so damn long, that i thought i should let the world know.

last christmas season my PCV bff & i made borscht @ her hobbit house and it was de-lish-us. we used her own vegetarian recipe, found here, and feasted. i haven't had the temerity to try it on my own until last weekend,  and it was so good the second time around that i decided it would become a christmas tradition for me. every year, a day devoted to borscht-makin that i can then share with my friends & fam. now for americans, the thought of a beet bustin, cabbage crawlin', dill & sour cream topped 'soup' will probably cause some friends to renounce me and family to shun me around the holidays in order to avoid me shoving borscht down their throats. but trust me americans, it's scrumptious and nutritious and you'll LOVE it (duff)..
a couple of julienned beets (note: they should be grated, but i like to bite into my beets)

the bloody beet aftermath.
i photographed my hands too, but it was altogether too gruesome for the internet.

an hourish later and the veggies are ready!

all the flavors becoming borschtie besties

after all that hard work, i shared some with my landlady
who swore that it was tasty, but not borscht…
according to her, my failure to grate the beets turned this
into something that i translated as meaning 'beet soup' instead.
whatever. it's all borscht to me.

added benefit of borscht: your trips to the bathroom for the next few days will be unexpectedly more fun. in a good way!

last time i updated my book list was… a few seasons ago. so here's a look at the friends that have been keeping me company for the past few months & if i recommend that you delve into a friendship with them as well: finished Henry Kissinger's The White House Years (1979) and Rabbit, Run (1960) by Updike. Things Fall Apart (1959) by Chinua Achebe, Lady Chatterly's Lover (1928) by D.H. Lawrence, All the Pretty Horses (1992) by Cormac McCarthy, Nalpalm & Silly Putty (2001) by George Carlin, Life & Times of Michael K (1983) by J.M. Coetzee, Pride & Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen [delve!], Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone (1997) by J.K. Rowling [delve], Gone With the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell [delve!!], Great Railway Bazaar (1975) by Paul Theroux, Empire of the Summer Moon (2010) by S.C. Gwynne, A Hero of our Time (1840) by Mikhail Lermontov [5th or 6th time reading it, fall more in love with it every time. delve, delve!], The Miserable Mill (2000) by Lemony Snicket, White Fang (1915) by Jack London [delve], Hells Angels (1966) by Hunter S. Thompson, Kruschev: A Career (1966) by Edward Crankshaw [delve], No Country for Old Men (2005) by Cormac McCarthy [delve!], The Ambassadors (1903) by Henry James, The Counterlife (1986) by Philip Roth, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets (1999) by J.K. Rowling [delve!]. phew.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

oops, i did it again

a few months back i implemented a strict facebook policy, in order to avoid this sort of havoc. only one facebook login per day while i'm home, for only 10 minutes. this helps me to avoid the sucker punches to the gut that i feel every time i see a picture of friends and family together and notice a face that's missing, and hope they notice it too. this morning i was on facebook looking through friends photos, my photos, friends of friends' photos, stalking everyone and everything. i got sucked into a vortex of longing and before i knew it, my coffee was cold and an hour had gone by. i was sulking in my isolation. well, lermontov was sitting on my lap. without a doubt, the hardest thing about peace corps service (the answer to that million dollar question) is facebook. a boring/confusing answer for people looking for a lurid tale of bathroom mishaps or walking 20 miles in the snow, uphill, both ways to work. all of those things are true, but human beings can get used to almost anything. on that note, one of the great ironies of my peace corps service is how used to the heat i've become. when i lived in charleston, south carolina, the heat was the bane of my existence and i would do anything to escape it, including transferring to ohio state. when one thinks of ukraine, one does not picture the all encompassing humidity and uninterrupted weeks of sweating. just sweating all day, erryday. after a few days of inactivity, you just get used to it and start doing normal activities again. traveling, working out, chores around the house. i still complain (and certain people in this country can attest to that…) but my attitude to the heat has done some serious gymnastic flips.

anyway, back to the old FB. when you leave for the 27 month PC commitment, you think "MAN! my life's going to change!"not "MAN! everyone else is going to keep living!". indeed, i even tried to make some people sign contracts promising their inactivity for the duration of my service. but almost as soon as the wheels of my plane touched down in kiev, drastic changes were afoot in the states. 6 of my dearest friends are getting married during my time here. others are moving, getting promotions, buying houses, getting engaged, having dance parties, starting companies, and solidifying their lives in adulthood.

and it hurts. it hurts to not get to be a part of all that. i'm still struggling with what all of this can teach me. perhaps that i could never permanently live the life of an expat; that i never want to be more than a few hours away from my dad & brothers, friends & koshka. but i feel like it should still teach me other things, which it probably does but i haven't figured it all yet. however, this isn't one big pity party. my facebook rule is just one step in learning how to cope. certainly, reading other inspiring peace corps blogs, research and planning for future projects, and spending time with other PCVs helps a lot. but getting out and walking around my village does more for my sense of purpose here than any other self help tip. here is a community that i've literally dreamed, read, and written about for years. chatting with old babushkas at the bazaar, chatting in russian period, taking pictures with statues of soviet dictators that have fresh flowers ringing their foundations, spending 12 stuttering hours on a train ride gazing out the window at daily routines that have remained the same since the Great Patriotic War (WWII for all you capitalists), watching pigs fly by on 30 year old ladas, singing (listening) to ukrainian folksongs being sung by half drunk neighbors at holidays. god how much i love it. so my heart is continuously being pulled in two directions. i can't get this in cleveland, and i can't get cleveland in ukraine.  i'm doing something i always said i would: live overseas, speak a foreign language, try (sometimes in vain) to make lives better, more open. but i'm doing it without the people that matter most to me. growing up is tufff. so is spelling.

so with being smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, i thought it best to remind myself of what i should be grateful & thankful for.

here's what i get to appreciate when i stroll around my village (pics taken during one of the last evenings of summer):
village sunset

the old men & the sea of geese

i need an invisibility cloak

gnarled snarly apples

husks of former collective farm storage facilities

playground equipment

have i mentioned that my village was completely destroyed during WWII?

gossip girls

they're always watching

parsley for sale!

village graveyard

fake flowers are a MUST

a traditional tombstone for aleksiy ivanovich vasilov

a country that rests on the backs of old women

porta-potty at the cemetery

i love this one

this cow was less than thrilled with me

so much so, that it started moo'ing hysterically as soon as i passed it in order to alert the
dogs at the house of my intended pillaging

dogs took up their post and barked their little heads off, preventing me from
getting a good shot of the perfect pile of watermelons & gourds


Saturday, August 31, 2013


The buckeyes won. So that's reason enough to celebrate with a pictures post. Tomorrow (fingers crossed) I'll give an update post.

This has been one of the longest and shortest summers of my life. Being a teacher, I have a chunk of the year that is all mine. To do with what I want. After working for 3 years in the 'real world' post college, I fully realize and appreciate how much of a difference this is from other working joe schmoes out there. For the entire 3 months of summer, I had approximately 3 weeks of downtime. The other 9 weeks were spent camping, glamping, traveling, and sleeping on a train. So here are some (way too many) pics from my summa summa time, summa time.

First camp! Two hours of English teaching + 4 hours of laying on a beach = perfect balance

my buddy

7 puppies I came home to after a camp

the house that kolya built this summer. soon we'll have piggies and chickies.

an impressive teekva growing in our garden

my neighb, billy

baby watermelons

the only way to cool down during summer afternoons

iced coffees

the chase

the hunt

the capture

baby wine in my yard

Alyona's Birthday Bash!

prettiest holodets (aka meat jelly) i've ever seen

there is nothing wrong with this picture



birthday girl and my favoritist landlady

the siberian cohorts (not joking)

get it gurl

party favors

how to take a shot (of apple juice...) without hands is taught at the ripe old age of 9

tha girls. we spent about 85% of the time on the dance floor

kitten purse
Camp Model United Nations! and brick face.

BiH doing some research

'nastya, hold up our sign!'

killing it, as usual

this is what donetsk does


honeymooning in donetsk

like a school girl

my heart was all a'flutter at finally meeting this stadium

coal mines in the distance that built this city

it's just pretend

more honeymooners

WWII understated statue

you've got some coal dust there, right on your face

dead cat pose

our first restaurant in budapest, OFFERED HOT SAUCE!!!

our second restaurant in budapest, we ordered all the things

not a postcard, or hogwarts, or a torture chamber

we touched the iron curtain, and survived. but cody slept through it.

hero's square


reunited with my love

croatian farmer's market

someone had a late night

he's on vacation

i'm on vacation
oh yea, we witnessed croatia officially joining the EU

led by this guy

then we went here: Plitvice Lakes National Park
i never wanted to leave


my happy place

are they just floating in air?!

on the road to dubrovnik, down the croatian coast

no one was home

saw a pirate ship during our island hopping tour in the adriatic sea. NBD
camp EXCITE counselors!

ukrainian dancing my tail off

me and a camper, coordinated ukrainian flag nails

teachin 'em the dance of the irish
she learned some new skills this summer

So that was the majority of my summer in picture form. Missing are pictures from the actual city of Dubrovnik because...well those are on a disposable camera that hasn't been developed yet. Someone's camera ran out of battery and someone decided not to take a charger with us on vacation so someones had to purchase a 1990s style kodak camera from a souvenir shop just to get pictures of one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. Anyway, on a more random note, here's a blog post from my friend McLain that accurately spells out a lot that I've been wanting to say for the past few months. So read it.

Yay summer but even more yay is FALL!! I can't express how happy I am that the weather is cooling and football is back on. Even if that means that first bell starts tomorrow. Happy buckeye season!