“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

Or at least an invincible desire for summer ; ) And while weekend this weather remained numbingly cold outside, inside it was warm with the joy of companionship and the sweat of working out! My dear friend Michelle came to visit for the weekend, which was a godsend because I was sorely in need of cheering up. And it seemed like my apartment knew I had a guest coming, because (miracle of miracles) the water AND the Internet came back on! After school I tidied my apartment and cooked a new recipe I found (chicken with a sour cream/white white/chives/ground mustard cream sauce, with a side of hretchka [buckwheat] = easy and TASTY!) and poured two glasses of wine. I looked at the clock, and worried a bit that Michelle had missed the bus—she was supposed to arrive around 6 or 6:30 and it was almost 8! But just when I thought I should call and check her progress, there was a knock on my door and Michelle came in!

Now Michelle has to come to visit me in Sokyriany plenty of times, and I think she’s my favorite guest. She’s so easy to be around, and I feel like I can genuinely relax in her company. I was so proud of my cooking accomplishment, because Michelle is definitely more of a cook than I am, and having her say its delicious means a lot because she knows what she’s talking about! So we sat down to dinner, watched our favorite TV show (Castle, which she got me hooked on), and I felt the stresses and pains from the week slowly fade as I realized what a fun weekend we had ahead of us.

Saturday morning we woke up early, because I have a twice-weekly yoga date with my Ukrainian friend Olha, and we always do it Saturday morning before she goes to work. Michelle was actually visiting me the first time Olha came over for yoga—we had mentioned that we were going to do it, and Olha wanted to observe. She ended up loving it, and now its kind of our hobby. Olha even jokes about opening a yoga studio in Sokyriany! So we started the yoga video, and it was a fun hour and a half of chatting (in Ukrainian and English), falling out of poses, and making jokes about which guy was the cutest in the yoga video. Michelle and I have been doing the P90X workout series (its great when you’re apartment-bound all winter, and they really get you sweating!), which was created by a guy named Tony Horton. Olha has a huge crush on Tony, and we joke about sending him fan mail in Ukrainian. My favorite guy in the yoga video is African-American, and Olha refers to him as my “chocolate man.” Its so hard to stay focused on breathing when you’re laughing your ass off and failing at balance poses! But I wouldn’t trade these times for anything : )

After yoga, Olha sat Michelle down and pretty much told her that we were going to give her a makeover. I think I’ve mentioned before that Ukrainians aren’t very subtle, and they have no problem being brutally honest about appearance. Olha grabbed my love handles once and said “you need to work on this!” Sometimes I thank God for the language barrier, because by the time I translate it in my head, its funny and not quite as offensive. Its like “did you really just say that?” and laughing it off as I come up with a decent response.

Olha had mentioned that she wanted to give Michelle a makeover (many times, in fact), because Michelle has yet to conform to the tight, sexy clothes and polished, made-up look that 99% of Ukrainian women sport. I’m sad to say I’ve conformed—I see Olha (and teachers at school) every day, who have no problem telling me to put on some lipstick or do something different with my hair—in their mind, they want you to look your most beautiful, so its their way of showing they love you (I think). Michelle is comfortable wearing baggy jeans (she’s lost a lot of weight in Ukraine!) and doesn’t wear much makeup, which is shocking to Olha. So Olha told me before Michelle came that we were going to spring a makeover on Michelle so she couldn’t refuse. I gently suggested that we should ask her first, and she finally agreed that maybe we would ask before demanding she submit to makeover.

I was worried that Michelle would be offended, but she took it so well when Olha said, “its time for a change and we’re going to help you!” She even said she’d be willing to let us dye her hair, so after buying some hair dye from Olha’s store, we came back to my apartment and got to work. I thought Olha would pee her pants from excitement, and I was pretty excited myself. While Olha dyed her hair, I served as official photographer/paparazzi. Here are some pictures of the process:

Olha dying Michelle’s hair

After! Olha is very pleased with Michelle’s post-makeover appearance.

Michelle, completely made-over and looking wonderful : )

And as if the weekend couldn’t get any better, my nearest neighbor (Erin, a volunteer in the next village) came over for Sunday brunch with me and Michelle! Michelle and I were in the middle of another P90X video Sunday morning when Erin arrived, so she patiently waited for us to finish our kickboxing (we were doing Kenpo!) and laughed at my attempts at a high kick. Michelle and I both agreed that doing kickboxing makes us feel like we want to beat someone up, just to see if all the punching, jabbing, and kicking would work out in real life.

Our Sunday brunch consisted of blinchiki made from kefir (like pancakes made with soured milk?) and covered in strawberries, baked egg boats (Click on the link to see the recipe, which I actually discovered with Michelle!), orange juice, and lots of coffee. I was so stuffed and content after lunch that I probably could’ve easily fallen into a food coma, but we started talking about summer plans and agreed that we should plan a trip to Crimea together (Crimea is located in southern Ukraine, on the Black Sea, and is a huge tourist destination in Ukraine). We even researched cheap hotels and considered dates we were all free in the summer, so I think this is going to happen! This is my last summer in Ukraine (and Michelle’s too!) and I want to see as much of this country as I can before I leave. If I’m going to say I lived in Ukraine two years, I need to have seen all the best places here! I can’t wait for Summer 2012… it will bring new adventures, warm SUMMER weather, and my dear little sister for a visit!

So all in all, this was one of the best weekends I’ve had in ages. Thank God for good friends, both the Ukrainian ones and the American ones ; )

Sending you all my love!


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Rory’s Reading List

In college, I didn’t have much spare time for reading anything besides what my course-load required. In fact, by the time I graduated I was worried that college had cured me of my love for reading, seeing as it’d been so long since I’d actually read anything for fun. But Peace Corps has provided plenty of time to rekindle my reading efforts, especially during the cold Ukrainian winters where the daylight disappears by 5pm. This winter in particular has been great for reading (considering all the freeze days we’ve had!) and a fellow PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) even started a book club on Facebook. So for our first annual PC Book Club, we’re reading a book about the rise of Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, through the eyes of the American ambassador and his family. Its one of the first non-fiction books I’ve been thoroughly engrossed in, and I would definitely recommend it. It’s called “In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, And An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.

My list of books to read has also been greatly expanded this week by the addition of many titles from Rory’s Reading List. Rory is one of the main characters of the TV show Gilmore Girls, which I was a big fan of back in my high school days. If I ever got home in time to watch it, I always turned it on and watched it with my Mom. In fact, one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was that my relationship with my mother was like Rory and Lorelai’s (the main mother-daughter duo), because we’re so close and very open. If you’ve ever watched the show, you know Rory is a big nerd who always has a book in her hands. She’s trying to read a huge list of books as part of her college prep work, and thinks that she’ll be well-rounded by reading all these books. Well, I found THE LIST online, and its pretty massive. In case you’re a fan of Gilmore Girls, or if you just have lots of spare time for reading (I’m looking at you, PCVs!), I’m sharing the whole list with you. (I bolded the books I’ve already read, and italicized the ones that I’m adding to my own personal reading list. I gave my favorite reads three stars (***) so you would know which books I personally recommend reading.)

Without further ado I give you Rory’s Reading List!

1984 by George Orwell                                                                                             The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Archidamian War by Donald Kagan
The Art of Fiction by Henry James
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Babe by Dick King-Smith
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
The Bhagava Gita
The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews by Peter Duffy
Bitch in Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel
A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays by Mary McCarthy
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Bridgadoon by Alan Jay Lerner
Candide by Voltaire
The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman
Christine by Stephen King
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
The Collected Short Stories by Eudora Welty
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty
A Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Complete Novels by Dawn Powell
The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Cousin Bette by Honor’e de Balzac
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Cujo by Stephen King
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
David and Lisa by Dr Theodore Issac Rubin M.D
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Deenie by Judy Blume
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx
The Divine Comedy by Dante
The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Don Quijote by Cervantes
Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhrv
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
Eloise by Kay Thompson
Emily the Strange by Roger Reger
Emma by Jane Austen
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethics by Spinoza
Europe through the Back Door, 2003 by Rick Steves
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer ***
Extravagance by Gary Krist
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore
The Fall of the Athenian Empire by Donald Kagan
Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The Fellowship of the Ring: Book 1 of The Lord of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce
Fletch by Gregory McDonald
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
George W. Bushism: The Slate Book of the Accidental Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President by Jacob Weisberg
Gidget by Fredrick Kohner
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Godfather: Book 1 by Mario Puzo
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy ***
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Alvin Granowsky
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
The Gospel According to Judy Bloom
The Graduate by Charles Webb
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
Henry IV, part I by William Shakespeare
Henry IV, part II by William Shakespeare
Henry V by William Shakespeare
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
Holidays on Ice: Stories by David Sedaris
The Holy Barbarians by Lawrence Lipton
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
How the Light Gets in by M. J. Hyland
Howl by Allen Gingsburg
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
The Iliad by Homer
I’m with the Band by Pamela des Barres
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Inferno by Dante
Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Iron Weed by William J. Kennedy
It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
The Jumping Frog by Mark Twain
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Just a Couple of Days by Tony Vigorito
The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini ***
Lady Chatterleys’ Lover by D. H. Lawrence

The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 by Gore Vidal
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Lottery: And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Love Story by Erich Segal
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Manticore by Robertson Davies
Marathon Man by William Goldman
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman by William Tecumseh Sherman
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Mencken’s Chrestomathy by H. R. Mencken
The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion by Jim Irvin
Moliere: A Biography by Hobart Chatfield Taylor
A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman
Monsieur Proust by Celeste Albaret
A Month Of Sundays: Searching For The Spirit And My Sister by Julie Mars
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and It’s Aftermath by Seymour M. Hersh
My Life as Author and Editor by H. R. Mencken
My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru by Tim Guest
Myra Waldo’s Travel and Motoring Guide to Europe, 1978 by Myra Waldo
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
Nervous System: Or, Losing My Mind in Literature by Jan Lars Jensen
New Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Night by Elie Wiesel
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John P. McGowan
Novels 1930-1942: Dance Night/Come Back to Sorrento, Turn, Magic Wheel/Angels on Toast/A Time to be Born by Dawn Powell
Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Old School by Tobias Wolff
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan
Oracle Night by Paul Auster
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Othello by Shakespeare
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
Out of Africa by Isac Dineson
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition by Donald Kagan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ***
Pigs at the Trough by Arianna Huffington
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
The Portable Nietzche by Fredrich Nietzche
The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill by Ron Suskind
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Property by Valerie Martin
Pushkin: A Biography by T. J. Binyon
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Quattrocento by James Mckean
A Quiet Storm by Rachel Howzell Hall
Rapunzel by Grimm Brothers
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad by Virginia Holman
The Return of the King: The Lord of the Rings Book 3 by J. R. R. Tolkien
R Is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton
Rita Hayworth by Stephen King
Robert’s Rules of Order by Henry Robert
Roman Holiday by Edith Wharton
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A Room with a View by E. M. Forster ***
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
The Rough Guide to Europe, 2003 Edition
Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller by Henry James
The Scarecrow of Oz by Frank L. Baum
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman
Selected Letters of Dawn Powell: 1913-1965 by Dawn Powell
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Sexus by Henry Miller
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Shane by Jack Shaefer
The Shining by Stephen King
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
S Is for Silence by Sue Grafton
Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
Snow White and Rose Red by Grimm Brothers
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World by Barrington Moore
The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht
Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos
The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker
Songbook by Nick Hornby
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare
Sonnets from the Portuegese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
A Streetcar Named Desiree by Tennessee Williams
Stuart Little by E. B. White
Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Swimming with Giants: My Encounters with Whales, Dolphins and Seals by Anne Collett
Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Term of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
Time and Again by Jack Finney
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Tragedy of Richard III by William Shakespeare
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Trial by Franz Kafka
The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962 by Sylvia Plath
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Unless by Carol Shields
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
The Vanishing Newspaper by Philip Meyers
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico (Thirty Three and a Third series) by Joe Harvard
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Walden by Henry David Thoreau (on my reading schedule for this summer!)
Walt Disney’s Bambi by Felix Salten
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
We Owe You Nothing – Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews edited by Daniel Sinker
What Colour is Your Parachute? 2005 by Richard Nelson Bolles
What Happened to Baby Jane by Henry Farrell
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë ***
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


Wow after getting through that list I feel incredibly unread… oh well, I still have 8 more months of Peace Corps (and 2 more months of crap weather) which will afford plenty of time for reading : ) Hope you feel inspired to read more too!



We’re Growing People… and we need your help.

I hope you’re not sick of hearing about my grant by now, because we still have a long way to go in fundraising! But we’re definitely headed in the right direction: the original request was for a little more than $2500, and as of today, we only need $1900 more. So a huge THANK YOU goes out to anyone who has contributed to the first $600, its such a great feeling to check the Peace Corps website and see the money donated slowly accumulating to something bigger! So far, 25% of the funds needed for the grant have been donated. 75% to go, and there is still a huge need to be met—are you at all interested in helping us meet this goal?

I was trying to think of ways to encourage you, my readers, to donate without being trite (or annoying with the frequency of my requests for help), when I found this quote:

If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want a hundred years of prosperity, grow people. (Chinese Proverb)

I think this quote is a beautiful way of explaining what we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, are doing in Ukraine. Its not so much that we’re teaching English (although we are), but we’re changing deeply entrenched attitudes about education, about America (and Americans), and even about the world itself.

I’m currently reading an incredibly depressing history of what was Ukraine under Stalin, called Bloodlandsand the title is sadly very historically accurate. Ukrainians truly suffered under Stalin and the USSR, and as a result, their national identity is quite pessimistic and they have very low expectations about life and the potential for achievement. This is a huge difference for me as an American, because Americans are raised on slogans like “if you can dream it, you can do it” and “anything is possible.” I think the best way to highlight this contrast in worldview is to tell you the opening line of the Ukrainian national anthem: “Ukraine is not dead yet.” If that’s not pessimism, I don’t what is.

So yes, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English in Ukraine. But what’s more important, I’m a PCV introducing radical concepts like hope for the future, honest academic achievement made through putting in the work required to learn a language (instead of buying grades), and even crazier concepts like volunteerism (unheard of in Ukraine), and world friendship (for those of us not too cynical to believe this might be possible).

A lovely lady named Iryna, who serves as Peace Corps Ukraine’s Training Manager, sent all volunteers a little encouragement via email last month that pointed out the importance of our work here, for days when it feels like we’re accomplishing nothing. I was really inspired by her words, so I’m going to share them with you:

“Although 20 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the changes in the mentality of our nation, which hopefully will be followed by the changes in the spirit – from “Ukraine has not died yet…” as our national anthem states to something more optimistic and engaging like “Ukraine will live and prosper and each of us is part of it… ” – are not happening overnight and might require several generations. So, what I want to say, is that when you are interacting with my countrymen in your communities (be it in a work setting or while drinking tea or playing football) and sharing the genuine beliefs you brought here with you that “Life is not what’s happening to you, but rather it’s something that depends on you” and yes, “You can do it and I trust in you!”, you are influencing their mentality and it IS, in my opinion, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you could do. No global indicators (which are being developed now) would be able to measure this growing self-confidence, belief in ourselves and overcoming this passiveness and pessimism which were fostered and enforced by the system which expected everyone to feel and act like a dumb nuisance and never to stick out. It is the sparkling eyes of your students, the pleasant feeling people around you are experiencing after having done something for their communities, the excitement of speaking up about your personal opinion, the joy of understanding that we are no longer an enclave of the Earth but rather a part of this global world, which makes Peace Corps very relevant in Ukraine in this very dramatic time when our country is still torn between its authoritarian past and democratic future.”

I truly believe that the experience of writing a dream grant, raising money in my community in my Ukraine, and being blessed with the financial help of interested friends and family members from America, will be just important as the creation of the English Resource and Technology Center, because it will prove to my Ukrainian co-workers and students that they can achieve their goals and dreams through hard-work and determination (and a little help from their friends, in the words of the Beatles!).

Maybe they see me as an American anomaly, coming to live in their town for two years and work for nothing. But this grant and the new English center will stand as proof of everything that I’ve said: that Americans are truly interested in helping make the world a better place, that fundraising is a legitimate concept where people give money with the expectation of getting nothing back, and that the future is bright and change is possible, even in Ukraine where agnosticism about life and the future is so prevalent.

I’m so passionate about this project, and wish I could kindle just a little bit of this spark in you. I think the teachers in my school don’t believe this project will ever reach fulfillment; they’re skeptical at best when I tell them that strangers in America will donate $2600 before the end of the school year. Help me prove them wrong, and not only will you help us create an English Resource and Technology Center (with things like real textbooks and a new computer!), but you’ll also be helping me change Ukrainians’ perceptions of Americans, of education, and of all the possibilities the future holds for them.

Okay, I’ve said as much as I can to convince you of the merit of this project. If you feel so moved, you can either click on the “Donate” tab at the top of the screen and follow the instructions, or follow this link directly to the Peace Corps website. On the right side of the page, just enter an amount and click “donate” and it’ll guide you through the rest. Please comment below if you donate, because I’d love to email or call you personally to thank you for your help! 😀

And if all those words weren’t enough to do the trick, I have a secret weapon to ignite your generosity: pictures of the very people who your donation will help the most— my students!

2 of my favorite fourth graders, in traditional Ukrainian costumes!

My smartest 7th graders… they’re a blast 🙂

The 6th graders, who are loud but smart!

My favorite sixth grade girls, who light up my life 🙂

Look at those cute faces… every dollar you donate helps THEM get a better education. So what are you waiting for? 1900 dollars to go, and less than 2 months to raise is. Donate today!

Valentine’s Day, Murder, and a Puppy

Ukrainian kids really know how to spoil their teachers, and Valentine’s Day was no exception. My desk was full of flowers, chocolates, and valentines in a variety of languages (include Ukrainian, Russian, and one in English). I was preparing for my lesson with the fifth grade, and teaching some of the munchkins how to say “Happy Valentine’s Day” in English, when my student Ihor (like the Russian name Igor, only Ukrainians pronounce the “g” as a “h”) walks in with a live, squirming present for me—a PUPPY! I always talk about dogs in example sentences in class, and Ihor decided I needed a dog of my own, so he brought me a purebred Pekingese puppy as a Valentine’s Day present. Once I got over the shock of it, I was excited and pleased. Passing around the puppy for all the kids to hold and discussing puppy names effectively derailed our English lesson, but it was hilarious and I really didn’t mind. We narrowed down a list of twenty names to six: Sharik (which means “ball”), Foontik, Barbos, Reechie, Roman (“Romchick” for short), or Bohdanchik (who could be “Beau” for short). After class I told Ihor I couldn’t take the puppy home with me right away, because I had no dog food and no place for him to sleep. I also had to think about whether I could feasibly have a pet here, given how often I travel and knowing that I’m going back to America at the end of the year. So Ihor agreed to keep him until I could make arrangements.

After school, the presents kept coming! I stopped at the post office to see if I had any mail, and a huge package was waiting with my name on it! It was from my friend Liz, who was a fellow PCV in Ukraine until November, when she finished her service and went home to California. She sent me a huge care package full of goodies, including peanut butter, Mac n’ Cheese (in prehistoric shapes, haha), Pez dispensers and candies, and even some gossip magazines from the states so I could stay in the loop. It was a lovely surprise, and I busted out the peanut butter right away : ) Thanks again Liz!

Valentine’s Day was on Tuesday, which happens to be the day I have English Club, so I planned the lesson around the valentine theme. Our warm-up was students practicing giving compliments, which was hilarious and precious at the same time, because we have a huge majority of boys at English Club and only 2 girls who attend. So these two girls got showered in compliments, and didn’t mind it at all ; ) The funniest compliments I heard were, “Nastya, I like your shiny hair” and “Pavlo, you have nice big eyes.” I also taught them some slang words (they love learning slang), such as “hottie,” “heartthrob,” and the verb phrase “to have a crush on someone.”

But the highlight of the lesson was the Bruno Mars music video, “Just The Way You Are,” which the students listened to and wrote down all the words they heard. Then we translated the unknown phrases, and everyone agreed that Bruno Mars had some smooth moves. The girls even mentioned how attractive he was, which shocked me a little, because I’ve found that usually Ukrainians are pretty racist and Bruno Mars has definitely got some chocolate to his skin tone. But I agreed that he was a “hottie” and the girls giggled. I love my English Club kids 🙂

Here’s the Bruno Mars video so you can see for yourself what positive parts of American culture I’m sharing over here in Ukraine… haha.

Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day ended on a very bad note. I’m reluctant to even share it here, but I’d really like to request prayers (or even just positive thoughts if you’re not the praying type) for one of my students, Ira. Her mother was killed last night, and they found her body this morning in a snow drift outside of school. Sokyriany is a tiny town where murders don’t really happen, so they even had to call in police from the nearest city (3 hours away) to handle the investigation. The good news is that they already caught the murderer—it turned out to be the boyfriend she was living with, who was enraged that she was trying to leave him. He confessed when he was arrested, so its good to know he’ll be brought to justice and there’s no murderer wandering our streets. But the really terrible, heartbreaking news is that Ira, who is 12 years old and in my 8th grade, is now an orphan. She has no other family members living in our town, and we’re not really sure who she’ll end up living with, or if she’ll even get to stay in Sokyriany. So please, please keep her in your thoughts and prayers, I’m sure today was the worst day of her life and its not going to be any easier when she wakes up tomorrow.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading my friends.

You Know Its Cold When…

School is cancelled, not due to snow but due to the temperature! This week my school had three “freeze” days where school was cancelled, because the temperatures were below -25 Celsius every day (about -15 Fahrenheit!). Other schools in the area had the whole week off, but my school only took off Wednesday-Friday. I’m not complaining though, three days at home plus the weekend was plenty of time for me to be completely lazy and get bored with the idea of staying home every day. But the weather was so bad I didn’t want to leave my apartment either, so towards the end I was going a little stir crazy.

You might ask what I accomplished with all this free time, but sadly, the answer is not much. I spent oodles of time on Skype (which is time well spent, in my opinion!), did a little more research on the “life after Peace Corps” chapter (which commences in 8 months!), and caught up on my favorite guilty pleasure, the TV show Dexter. I recently acquired the whole fifth season, which was guess-starring Julia Stiles, and it was such a good season that I ended up watching the whole thing… in less than three days. In my defense, I had nowhere else to be! And it was really hard to put down : ) I was really impressed with the character development of the fifth season, but I guess when you go through a whole season in 3 days, you notice a lot more about a show then you would if you spaced out the episodes to one a week, like you do when you watch it on T.V. But I would definitely say that season 5 of Dexter is the best season yet, hands down.

As for the online research, I found a really useful website with information about grad schools that have a special relationship with Peace Corps and offer RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) top priority. I was mostly focusing on the degrees in law and international development, but one program caught my eye sheerly out of location—HAWAII! The program is for a doctorate in Cultural and Community Psychology at the University of Hawaii, and takes five years to finish, but offers really interesting specialties such as Conflict Resolution or Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance. Plus, part of the program is built-in graduate research in New Zealand at the University of Victoria, so I’d get to live in Hawaii AND New Zealand! I could see myself applying for this program just for the locations ; ) That and I really loved the psychology classes I took in undergrad, so this isn’t a huge stretch for me. I need to modify my list of potential plans for life after Peace Corps to include this!

And the last way I’ve been enjoying my “freeze” days is by planning a trip for Spring Break—one that gets me out of this siberian winter and onto a beach! Its my way of getting back at the wintry weather… I sit here in my apartment, all bundled up and as close to the heater as possible, plotting my trip to Egypt and shaking my fist at this Ukrainian winter that seems determined to wear me down. I thought it’d be easier, knowing this is my last winter in Ukraine, but the weather here has definitely got me down. And unfortunately, my spring break destination is not complying with my travel plans. The news from Egypt has been pretty dismal, with reports of kidnapped tourists and more protests. But my friend (and former room-mate from when I lived in Cairo in 2009) Becca, who currently lives in Cairo, said that the protests are just a result of the one year anniversary of the uprising, and an expression of the people’s disappointment with the limited progress that has been made since Mubarak was overthrown. She’s keeping an eye on the situation and I’m holding off on buying a ticket until March, but she feels quite safe where she lives in Cairo and I know this is probably my last chance to get back to Egypt and visit her and my Egyptian friends before my Peace Corps service ends. So I’m trying to make a wise choice, while I feel like my heart already committed to going. Well, for now I’m waiting and praying a trip there will be not only possible, but safe : )

One option for the trip would be spending most of our time out of the city, most likely in the little town of Dahab on the Red Sea. Becca and I traveled there in 2009 and went snorkeling, because Dahab is world-famous for its coral reef and the “Blue Hole” dive site. And if we stayed in Dahab, we’d be far from any protests or danger in Cairo… plus, we’d fulfill my beach requirement ; ) Another option is visiting our Siwan friend Ismail, who lives in the desert oasis of Siwa, a 12-hour bus ride away from Cairo and in the middle of the Sahara desert. Siwa’s an incredible little town, untouched by time and full of fun things to do. Ismail really wants us to visit and promised to arrange everything, so that’s an option too.

But for now, all I can do is sit in my apartment and stew, longing for better weather and for an end to this miserable winter. I hope you’re staying warm, wherever you are!

All my love.

Party in the UA!

I’m trying to make my blog titles more succinct and less rambling, and this one is based off the Miley Cyrus song “Party in the USA.” A fun volunteer I know loves playing this song acoustically and its currently stuck in my head. Seeing how this blog post is about a birthday party, I guess its a fitting title. But why “UA,” you might ask? That’s actually the abbreviation for Ukraine. UK would’ve made more sense, but the United Kingdom had already nabbed that one. So UA it is (you learn something new every day!).

This weekend was my first weekend venturing out into the cold, and it was for a very worthy cause—my dear friend Michelle’s 26th birthday! Our friend Tammela hosted a birthday party in Michelle’s honor at her apartment in Sniatin, and we had a small gathering of friends come to celebrate. Michelle wanted to have a home-cooked meal on her birthday, and seeing as she has no kitchen at her place (she lives in a university dormitory so she only has a hot plate), she insisted on doing all the cooking herself. The result? YUMMY fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and a veggie medley Tam contributed. I love having friends who are so talented in the kitchen. Michelle even brought a bottle of wine for us to share that she’d bought in Spain last month, which was a real treat. It turned out to be almost a Ukrainian birthday celebration; in Ukraine, the birthday person is responsible for planning and cooking for the birthday party, and that’s pretty much what Michelle did, despite our efforts and attempts to spoil her as the birthday girl! I guess we’re almost Ukrainian after more than a year and a half here. 

Group hug! 🙂

After dinner, I introduced everyone to the joys of “Phase 10,” a ridiculously fun and addictive card game that my friend Justin introduced me to at Christmastime. At the time I didn’t understand why he loves it so much, but it truly is a blast and we played until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. Its funny how much I looked forward to and enjoyed this week of staying in and chilling with friends… After being apartment-bound for the last month due to the extreme cold, just being in the company of friends made the night wonderful. And of course, celebrating Michelle’s birthday added to the fun!

The next morning, Michelle and I got up early to catch the bus back to the city. We were both asked to judge the regional Olympiad competition in English, and had agreed to help. I might’ve declined if I knew how cold it was going to be… we had to take a trolleybus across the city to the school where the Olympiad was being held, and the temperature was definitely in the negatives. I’m pretty sure this is the coldest winter I’ve ever lived through, and being on a bus with no heating (and windows frozen solid) definitely does not help. I’ve thought of some examples to explain exactly how cold it is, because words truly fail to describe how frigid it is here. Its so cold that your hands freeze through your gloves, and you lose sensation in your fingers after 20 minutes. Its so cold that your boogers freeze on a five minute walk (sometimes even less!). Its so cold that you breathe like a dragon on public buses, with steam coming out of both your nostrils and your mouth when you breathe… I think that should give you a better idea of how cold we’re talking 🙂 (Hopefully you’re not grossed out by my reference to boogers, haha!).

We finally made it to the school, where the Olympiad was just getting started. Many volunteers from our region had been asked to judge, so we were in good company and it was nice to see some volunteers I haven’t seen for a while. The Ukrainians in charge of the competition started off by asking us (the American volunteers) to make a key for the written portion of the exam. Our attempt at making a key really made me sympathize for the students who had to take the exam! If five Americans who speak English as their native language can’t come to consensus about the grammar and what constitutes a right answer, how are Ukrainian teenagers who speak English as their second language supposed to come up with something?

After a delicious traditional Ukrainian lunch, the volunteers were split up and assigned to different classrooms to judge the speaking portion of the competition. It took some creative maneuvering on my part to secure a grade where I wouldn’t be judging any of my own students from Sokyriany—I had students from the 10th and 11th grades competing, and I really didn’t want to be put in that position. So I traded with another volunteer and ended up judging 9th grade. The students I observed were truly the cream of the crop in terms of English ability, and I enjoyed hearing their answers. I was helping two Ukrainian teachers judge, and they were very keen on hearing my opinion about which students spoke with the best accents, had the best grammar, and would do the best at the national level of the competition. It was truly an enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stay to see the conclusion of the competition because I had to catch the bus home with my students from Sokyriany. Students from neighboring schools, such as Romankivtsi (where my friend Erin works) were on the same bus, so it was nice to see so many familiar faces on the ride home. The roads were treacherous sheets of ice, covered by fresh snow in places, so the ride home was slow. Our region is hilly too, so it was terrifying to be at the top of a hill and know going down we might slip off the road or into oncoming traffic. Snow removal is not very widespread, especially in rural areas in Ukraine, so getting home has hard. The ride ended up taking more than 4 hours when it usually only takes 2 or 3. I was definitely thanking God we made it home in one piece : )

The first thing we did when we got back was check the Olympiad website for the students’ results—my 10th grader Leana got 10th place, and my 11th grader Nastya got 3rd! So despite the cold, the weekend was a success in my book : )

Thanks for reading, stay warm!