Saturday, December 28, 2013

Now I Have an Oven!

Hi all,

Hope you all had a nice Christmas! With my family off in Hawaii, it was easier to face a holiday knowing that you weren't the only thing missing from home. In fact, it didn't really much feel like Christmas, but at least I didn't have to be at "work". School has mostly been evolving around "controlled work" and there's only so much benefit to that kind of observation. But I did get to watch some lessons, and it was good to see the teachers in action.

 I have made some friends.

It was one of my bigger fears when I found out I was going to be in the city - they say meeting people is much harder. Luckily, my school has some great young English teachers and even other teachers throughout the city have apparently heard of me. Also, the secretary for the Director studied to be an English teacher, and is hoping that she will have an opportunity to work in the gymnasium when there is position open. At any rate, she is very kind and excited to hang out - and invited me to a Christmas dinner! And by that, I mean that she cooked a huge feast for just me, Lila and herself. She lives in a gorgeous house, and even has an enthusiastic youngish German Sheppard. I had a lovely time, and even got try my first homemade wine from the region! It was quite tasty, and I am really looking forward to the wine festival from the 11-14th. Apparently you can do lots of sampling, and wine is at its cheapest... Anyhow, I capped off the night by watching The Vampire Diaries - apparently it is incredibly popular here. We watched with subtitles, and I realized how much slang and idioms the show contains. The ladies were particularly taken with the phrase "I think we just got dumped!" It was a lovely evening.

However, the reason why I was not in school on the 25th was that I was over in Uzhhorod, learning about the English Olympiad that I will be helping to serve as a judge at on the 10th of January. It's kind of like competitive speech, on steroids. It covers the four areas - listening, reading, speaking and writing. This is the third level of the competition - the top four (out of all grades 9-11th, it's a bit complicated) will progress to the national level in Kyiv. So I actually got to spend Christmas day with Hugo and the volunteer in Uzhhorod (name to be forthcoming). Once we made it there, at least. Hugo missed the first marshrutka (either it simply didn't come because Ukraine, or because it starts the route from the bus station and doesn't drive past his house like the other ones), and so he was a bit out of sorts and our arrival got delayed. However, we were met at the station by the other volunteer and whisked over to the institute she works at.

Then I had to drink coffee.

The volunteer's counterpart is a dynamo, which was something I noticed previously. She holds several important position and is rather brisk and no-nonsense - characteristics I can appreciate with someone I am working with. However, she took us to cafe for niceties and a little discussion, and asked for our orders. Somehow my request for "black tea" turned into "latte". Which, upon reflection, is probably the best option I had if I had to end up with a coffee beverage - as it contains mostly milk, I believe. I am not a fan of coffee, it makes me rather jittery which stresses me out and gives me headaches. This time I was lucky and only got a bit of a stomachache from not eating soon enough afterward.

However, the meeting with her did not last too long, and she also whisked us through the city. It has a very nice downtown area, and it is situated gorgeously along the river. I will definitely be coming back again soon! Also, I am sure it is picturesque in the spring time. We ended up going to a restaurant for lunch (after I found red lentils in the bazaar - a nice find after my last attempt to make red lentil soup turned into yellow pea soup...), and had a very nice time discussing. Our senses of humor match well, and there is some good overlap in our literary interests. It was also interesting to gain a viewpoint into the higher ed position she is doing.

Afterward, we meandered back to the volunteer's dorm/apartment. We had tea and talked some more. I made it back home around 6, and had stir fry for dinner. I was able to talk to my family, which was very nice. I was also able to show my parents the present they "gave" me (rather, enabled me to buy!) - an oven!

 Lila had trekked me through the majority of Mukachevo before announcing we would go to "Epicenter". I had assumed this was a geographic designation, but that was incorrect. We took a marshrutka to the nearest stop, and walked about 15 minutes to a HUGE store. Like, American-sized. It was like a Lowe's or Menards. Full of every household item you could need - including toaster ovens. We mulled over the 4-6 choices on display, before Lila asked a sales person for the difference. The young guy seemed to think that the silicone insulation was the most pertinent detail, so it was good when another employee approached and took over. He showed us a second display - containing the convection oven models. I almost swooned...we'd found it! Yes, it was pricier than I was hoping to pay, but it also came with a 2 year guarantee.

It turned out (as I rather expected it might), that buying it was the easy part. Getting it back the 20 minute walk to Lila's house (which was fortunately nearby), was more of a challenge. Luckily, about 10 minutes into the walk, her brother met us and took over. It's not incredibly heavy, but the dimensions were bulky enough to make it a very awkward endeavor. So I now owe him something tasty! We ended up calling a taxi from Lila's house, which wasn't too expensive, thankfully. My oven now lives on my kitchen counter, and will be broken in tomorrow with some pizza!

Reindeer Games

When I texted Lila on the 25th, after I'd gotten home, she said I should be to school for the 2nd lesson and asked if I could prepare a game. The teacher I would be observing with was feeling a bit under the weather, and it would be helpful to her. Of course, this was the 4-6 grades I would be dealing with, so that gave me a pause. However, I remembered the deer game that my language teacher played with me, and decided that I could easily convert it into a "Reindeer"game. I also, as a backup (paranoia now has me thinking I should always have one!), found a short poem.

The next morning, approximately 3 minutes before class started, I leaned over and asked how long she wanted the game to last. "The whole time" was the reply.

Uhhhhhh. OK...

Luckily, the first class consisted of 16 little 4th form hellions.

Truthfully, only the boys were behaving like hellions, but it kind of ruined it for all of them. The lack of attention was astounding. I knew it was going to be bad when I stood up in front, intending to use a silence technique to grab their attention, only to have it foiled by the teacher deciding to scream at them from her desk to stop yelling. And that was about the extent of help I got...random yelling from the corner.

To say it didn't go well would be a huge understatement.

It was actually kind of depressing...especially since I thought they were 5th form at the time. I literally had to yell my first lesson, and I got cursed by a variety of Harry Potter spells. Mostly expelliarmous, so it could have been unspeakable! I mean, the kids were all excited, it was almost break. There were no regular lessons, and I was an unknown. They were not understanding most of what I said (as I had thrown in the poem as a desperate measure of trying to compose some structure and add length!), and so it can't really be all their fault.

I am happy to report that by the 3rd lesson (2nd being 7 5th formers, and the last being 7 6th formers - smaller class sizes are great!), I had a structure:

I had an introduction using the date, and having them say what day Christmas in America and Ukraine was. I had approximately 10 Christmas vocab words, including those important for the game. The lines for the reindeer (numbered 1 through 8) were on the board. There was repetition, there was drawing the terms and the game was played standing next to desks (because circles in the back of the class = lawlessness!), students took turns first leading the game with words, and later just doing actions for their classmates to say. Next, I spoke about my Christmas traditions and asked them theirs. We talked about food and activities. I asked them what they wanted for Christmas, and if there was time they asked me questions.

A very precocious student, with a very earnest expression, asked me: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Now, first of all, they don't have Santa. They have Father Frost and (somewhat creepily) his beautiful and blonde grand daughter Snow girl. And kids get presents from him and also on New Years. However, I still wasn't sure how this question would correlate, so I simply answered "Well, I'm old..."

To which she simply nodded and smiled, and took that as an appropriate answer, apparently.

Anyhow, I think this has meandered on long enough - more to come soon!

Hope all is well,


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Television Can Cause Distractments...

Hello all,

At school there is currently a lot of what is referred to as "Controlled work"...which are basically assessment tests based on writing, speaking, listening and reading comprehension. I have been helping with some grading, including some note books with home assignments.

It's interesting to see all that cursive - and quite a challenge at times as well. As I was slogging through one of the assignments on the moral turpitude of television, I came across a gem of a run-on sentence. I really wanted to write it down, but it would have been pretty conspicuous, so I didn't. But, to paraphrase: Television can cause many distractments from childrens, such as sports, reading, intercourse...

The sentence went on. It was full of words that were very long, and clearly taken from the thesaurus. I was at a bit of a loss, so settled for writing a comment on the side of the page that the words were a bit nonsensical. Had I been more with it "I do not think that word means what you think it means.." would have been the perfect retort!!


I just got a funny phone call from one of my new friends from school, asking me to meet her downstairs. I went down, and she handed me a bag - beaming. I was confused, and then I looked inside: "Sushi!" she joyfully announced!


She'd actually invited myself and Lila to go with her tonight, but since her favorite restaurant is the next town over, and Lila was already committed for dinner elsewhere (we have stricter rules on travel the first 3 months), I had to take a raincheck. However, she did stop by after work and we had a nice conversation and tea time.

She's a sweetheart, and it totally made my night!

A funny twist to the story, however, was the text I got as I turned to go back up to my apartment. Previously, I'd fielded a phone call from Hugo (I'm his go-to domestic questions when his mother is unavailable, which is probably best for his eyebrows...) asking about mold and cheese, for doggy consumption. Anyhow, I received a text saying:

 "Ok, so, for the record, I know this is a stupid question, and yes, I know exactly the face you are making as you read this BUT - dogs don't get salmonella, right?"

Cosmic timing...and yes, dogs can - but according to the internet it doesn't happen all that often...

My sushi was delicious.


At any rate, I suppose I could talk about school somewhat. Like that today was St. Nicholas Day. I think the kids did something special in the elementary building (1-4?), but I was mostly with 5th form and above. I was given gifts by two of the teachers, which was so sweet. I now have some holiday decorations, chocolate, and a book on Renoir. And of course, sushi.

Teachers have been welcoming, and the non-English teachers have tried to communicate with me. I need to be more proactive, they are very kind and will likely appreciate my muttering. I met a German teacher today...who also seems to speak good English, but professed that she's much better in Hungarian and Ukrainian (and I feel that a third language was also bandied about...).

The school has 3 buildings, so I've often gotten to bop around several each day. Students have been so excited to see me. Now most of them know my name, before I'm introduced! I had one girl vibrating in her seat with excitement. It's very flattering...and I'm hoping the novelty lasts through next semester...we'll see...

I've had some great conversations with the 11th form as well. They're pretty advanced, and my deadpan humor seems to go over well with them. We had a talk on the topic of "If you were a scientist/inventor, what would you invent?" I had one student go off on a massive rant about how everyone hates going to hairdressers and barbers because they always give you awful haircuts, and so he would make a machine that would give you only good ones. It was punctuated appropriately with enthusiastic, but well placed, mild obscenities. I was pretty impressed.

He has a point.

Also, on that note...all young women (and I guess I mean girls up to women who are unmarried) seem to have long hair here. So I really would have fit in 5 years ago, before I chopped it all off. Unfortunately, I'm rather attached to the new shortness, although I also could use a haircut now. I also need some gift ideas that I can do before Wednesday.

I have been recruited to go and do some Olympiad judging (like speech, but different???...will let you know later), and will be going next Wednesday. So will be spending Christmas with a few Americans. Seems weird...but it'll be good. Also got invited to dinner the night before, so that's exciting too!

Anyhow, I'm wandering around my post, and still want to try to fit some studying in tonight.

Hope all is well,


Monday, December 16, 2013

To Serve Under Conditions of Hardship, If Necessary...

Hi all,

Before my first swearing-in (which makes me giggle a little as I type that, because it's ridiculous...), the Country Director shared some words of wisdom with us. There's no snark in that last sentence, just some general admiration. I took notes, but one thing that really stood out (again, as he mentioned it in his welcome speech) was that we were "real volunteers".  I mean this beyond the sense that he'd be swearing us in from trainee status.

You see, Ukraine apparently has an image of being a "plush" assignment. We of course hear that we're just on a different "development" tier. I won't be the one to bring water to a village who previously had to trek 4 miles. I won't be the one who will be the first to tell a child they can do whatever they aspire to do. Hell, most of the kids have WAY nicer cell phones than I do!

Not only this. I mean, I knew that I was coming into a country that was at a different stage in "development" than many in the Peace Corps. We were assured we'd have our own challenges. There's a long history of "inner circle", a defense and survival mechanism of keeping to one's own and creating incredibly tight networks of trust - or alternatively, distrust. We were told that perhaps our counterparts would have no interest in us - since the Director need only appoint a person, who would be essentially saddled with us whether they liked it or not.

We were told that we could have some rough living conditions - the shift is going towards village living, and I was prepared to live there: I brought the majority of my clothing in the mindset that I would be handwashing it. Water would probably be drawn from a well. Transit would be tricky, slow, and potentially unsafe and uncomfortable. English levels would be challenging, teachers could be resistant or even antagonistic towards new methods or our very presence. Students could be disinterested - we would need to gain everyone's trust. The list of helpful precautions went on and on...

This is what I thought I was signing myself up for.

I was perversely disappointed when I looked down at my site announcement. A city?! But...but...but..what? Then, when my regional manager announced I would be living in an apt he wishes he could move his family into, I don't think I could have blushed any more. This is just all wrong. I thought to myself. This is not what I was expecting. (This is particularly amusing, as my mantra is usually "If you don't have expectations, you can't be disappointed.") Hell, I thought I'd pretty much talked myself into the most rustic experience possible in Ukraine. No water? No problem! No heating? I'm from Minnesota! I'm not the only one with a wicked sense of humor, apparently.

So I was in a slight state of shock.

Then I arrived. I'd hit the counterpart jackpot - Lila is smart, kind, funny, playful, speaks great English, is completely committed to the idea of our partnership, ready to take on new projects, and is down to Earth. She seems to know everyone, who are all lining up to meet with me, work on their English and hope to improve their teaching and English skills. I already have been contacted by another school who wants to work with me as well. I have been reached out to by a community member who has lived abroad and says I can call anytime for anything - and would love to help me in creating a community club!

You guys...I am being so welcomed!

My fears of not being a "real volunteer" have abated a little - their is a genuine need being expressed by the people I meet. I have already encountered some interesting challenges, quirks that perhaps come with being too popular...but I already have an incredible support network. I may not be having the "typical" experience, but as I have stated to myself - it will be what I choose to make of it.

My goals stem from my own abroad experience. Once I returned home from Germany, I had a new incite of how I viewed myself and America - a more critical yet somehow open viewpoint. I also humanized the world. When the Greek economy started to crumble, I had a face to put to it. I wondered how she was, and if her family was affected. Likewise with the tsunami in Japan, the typhoon in the Philippines, etc. Foreign policy was no longer abstract. I learned that despite cultural, language and philosophical differences that you can connect to people as humans. That all sounds rather lofty, but it was a very humbling experience. And it's the one I want to pass on.

Realistically, most/some (hard to say, as it's a higher-level school...) of my students will probably never use English in a practical way in their life. It won't matter that in 6th grade they can say a phrase that is technically difficult, but they will never use- "The woman is wearing a bracelet as a decorative element." But maybe, in the time when Ukraine is facing political upheaval, stretching to find where it wants to put it's future, I can give them a face that is not the "Big Bad US" or even the glitzy, Hollywood-based "reality" that they see in the movies.

I want them to see me as a person. To express that there are many facets to American culture, and that there is much that we have in common. I want to give them a spark of passion - for whatever is important in their life, for whatever goal they want to pursue regardless of the role of English. Through clubs, conversation, praise and even perhaps setting some boundaries, I want to express my respect for them as individuals and a culture. I want an exchange, to proffer what little I have and hope they will also open their hearts to me in return. I will work hard to be worthy of this.

Maybe I can also help push their English teachers to the next level of their professional development - inspiring them to push themselves and each group of students that they teach. My novelty factor will no doubt wane with time, but perhaps they will just settle for my friendship. I will try to bring the resources that they desire, and the methods that I have been taught, but mostly I just want to be able to look back and say that I was able to leave part of my heart in Ukraine, and take parts of my friends back with me. (Not that I'm getting ahead of myself at all here...).

So, that should be a breeze, right? At any rate, there will be many challenges and dark days ahead - you know, life. So I am putting this out there as a testament, a way to be able to look back and hold myself to a standard that only I am setting. This is not a competition, this is my life.

Hope all is well,

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Arrival, Ready or Not...

Hello all,

So, it looks like a double-header, but of course the timing is all off. I actually wrote that post about a week ago - but couldn't figure out how to upload it through a program on my tablet. So please forgive me for the odd timing - but I hope you enjoy!

I arrived in Moo-town (because, why not?) at about 8:40 am. Far from the seething-hot train ride I'd been promised, the heating was broken and it was a rather frigid 14 hours on the train. Luckily, I got a little sleep. It was just as nerve wracking as going to meet my counterpart, or meeting my host family for the first time. Both times with a good lack of sleep happening, so there's a trend I hope to reverse in the future. At any rate, we were rushed off the train and staggered off to the waiting car. I didn't have time for a proper goodbye, as we were mobbed at the trainstation by everyone's escorts. I was able to say a brief goodbye to Hugo, but lost Zim completely. It's the first time we've really been separated for the last three months...which seems weird, even though I had not met them for the 26 years before that!


I had also been informed that we were going straight to school. This induced a slight amount of panic (we'd been drilled and drilled over the importance of making a good first impression), as I was decked out in yesterday's outfit of jeans and a sweater. Lila (counterpart) laughed off my concern, saying that she was wearing jeans too! Of course, she was a known entity, and I was hoping to be able to hide in some more formal attire. However, the course was set and off we went! We arrived at the school a few mere minutes later - not enough time for me to either relax or build up into a full panic. I was whisked (after gingerly making my way across the ice-cobblestone path) up to the second story of the high school building (all these terms are relative, but that's a story for another day), and presented to the acting Director (who is really the Vice Director...). She's a lovely woman, who despite having limited English did her best to put me at ease. She took us down to the cafeteria and gave us a quick breakfast - and then announced we would go watch a demo lesson.

So I found myself staring at the back of the heads of approximately 20 4th graders, as part of a line of 6 teachers and a methodologist (more on them later...), watching a teacher run them through an incredibly elaborate and student-centered lesson plan on adjectives - at least, I'm 95% sure it was adjectives, but it was a Ukrainian language class, so I may have that wrong in part. I was slightly stunned to see a projector and screen, and the lesson had animated elements (along with a memorized dialogue between students, and a whole lot of question/answer routines that were incredibly - too incredibly - polished...).

Why am I here again?

That's a horrible little voice to have in your head, but I was made uncomfortable - this was a stellar lesson. Admittedly, it had a distinctly rehearsed feeling to it, but her methods were wonderful. What could I hope to bring that they did not already have, except for my native speaker-ness.

Anyhow, on that cheerful note I was told we would now go to my apt. I had also been told about 5 times by Lila that I needed to smile more, because my face looked too sad. I should have told her it was my overwhelmed face! At any rate, we were shown to the apt by the Landlord's employee. That sounds better than bodyguard, right?

The apt was huge and modern, everything I'd been told to expect became reality. Sure, it has some quirks - one wardrobe is outside the bedroom it serves, there's a sparsity of furniture or decorations that make it slightly cavernous, some of the kitchen set are a little broken, etc - but I have nothing I can actually complain about. I was bustled about, while Lila took charge of collecting details and straightening concepts out. I was told he'd be back to turn on the heat (it was pretty frosty) and that the cleaning lady would be coming in about 20 minutes.

Yes, back THAT train up.

I was also informed I could keep her services (this was the initial clean out - the fridge and a closet had some belongings left by the previous inhabitant), presumably paying out of pocket, or not. What even. My brain was spinning, but I managed to retort that that was not a possibility, and I was perfectly capable and willing to clean my own apartment. Luckily, Lila was totally on my side with this - although I should probably double-check to make sure she passed that message on.

Lila left to let me unpack, and have time to nap and take a shower. The lady who cleans showed up, and soon left me to my room - which I had unpacked the previous 30 minutes and had been waiting. My nerves were strung pretty tightly at this point - I had not had any time to process school, let alone the apartment. I felt like I was holding on to myself, while on the edge of incredulity. Then I got a text from Hugo (the eternal optimist), stating how perfect his house and school were.

So I lost it, just a little bit.

Lack of sleep, pushed into so many new environments, worried about the impression I was making, desperately wanting to convey my happiness through my worry, thinking I was going to not be able to understand anything that was being said to me in Ukrainian and just the newness of everything hit.

Needless to say, a phonecall, shower and a (far too brief) nap made an incredible impact on my mood.

When I met up with Lila again, I was somewhat rejuvenated as she briskly set to familiarizing me with the neighborhood. It was also quite a bit - and I soon discovered she was under the impression that my emergency form was to be completed on the first day. Once I made it clear I had a week (and wasn't pressured, as my apt came with wifi - already), she relaxed a bit and we called it a day. She's absolutely a gem.

I was too tired to do anything except eat, a try to process by way of an audio blog. I checked in with the rest of the group, except one person, and we all survived our first day with varying degrees of success.

The Director of Peace Corps reiterated his 7 days speech - that we shouldn't consider leaving until we'd had 7 terrible days in a row.

My arrival day was not the first. It was hard, but most of it was me making myself worried - and I was taken in so warmly. I had some major philosophical reservations (to be detailed in another post...), but I made an uneasy peace for the day.

It's been several day since then, and I'll talk more about them hopefully tomorrow...

Hope all is well,


And then I got Sworn In...Twice!

Hi all,

Just have time for a very brief update. Things have been a little heated in Kyiv, although we have been nowhere near the center where the action has mostly been. So we've been very safe. However, the embassy is more central, and the Director was uncertain that we would for sure be able to swear in today. So we all got a big surprise yesterday evening, where he swore us all in at the end of his session. We had a 100% success rate! which apparently is the first time that any of the Ukrainian staff could remember! We were all a little agog, and think it's probably the first time they had to do that...

However, even though it took an hour and a half to get there, we did make it to the embassy. We had some talented volunteers play the anthems, and Hugo got to write/read part of the speech. He did magnificently, with much aplomb. I think he almost ate a finger or two from stress, but it was really well received. Needless to say, I need much more practice!!

OH! My counterpart is AMAZING. She's young, energetic, and was just as nervous as I was! She speaks great English and is super nice. So the bonding has begun, and I feel like we have started a strong foundation for our next 2 years together.

Anyhow, I will write more less that 18 hours I will be in my new home!

Hope all is well,


PS. Passed my language with an adequate score

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mukachevo Bound

Hello all,

I have to say, I probably owe you all an apology. I was back-reading some of my blogs, and I definitely used to be funny. I'm not sure what happened, but I think we can safely blame life. At any rate, it was a big day today!

I got to wake up before the sun did, which always helps to start a morning well. I put my few items in my purse and trudged out the door. I crammed into the exceedingly crowded mashrutka, scanning frequently to make sure Hugo managed to squash in as well. Zim had texted to say she was at a different stop than we'd decided on previously, but it shouldn't be a big deal. Both stops had lines of transportation to Kyiv. After an interminable ride of feeling cozy and claustrophobic (but not cold!), Hugo and I realized that the early mashrutka did not, indeed, go to the stop we were looking for. We hopped off before we got too off-base, and hiked the 5 blocks to where Zim was waiting. We, and 2 of the Russian-speaking link group got on the minibus to Kyiv.

We arrived before I anticipated, and had my first unfortunate incident of the day (oh yes, there were multiple...). I quickly had jumped up to follow everyone else, and in the kerfuffle, managed to drop my very nice gloves and leave them behind. Some very lucky woman now has a very nice pair of gloves. True, they weren't the warmest, but I gave myself a harsh chiding. Gloves do not grow on trees, even in Ukraine.

Then we had a 20 minute wait, but were glad to see the PC van pull up for us. Inside, we discovered our Region Manager (who also shares the same first name as Sparta, but more on that later...) cozily tucked inside. From first words, I could have sworn he was American. He has amazing diction and accent, and had studied in the US. He's very modest, but we were all incredibly impressed. We discussed the political situation at length, as he said he didn't want to tell us about our postings until we met up with the rest of the group. He did say that the 4 of us in the car were all going to the same region: Zakarpattia (Carpathian). Apparently the region has a strong tourist economy, built around the mineral and hot springs, and is renown for its good wine and cheese. I know, torture me a bit more, right?

So that was relieving to hear. He went on to say that so many of us were going due to the fact that so many current volunteers were leaving. We would outnumber the ones staying, and apparently the region was known for always having tightly knit groups. I took a good look at Neville, and then assured him that evening though he was weird, we'd take him in. When he heard the full story later, he thought it was entertaining. He shares our brand of humor and said that we were either going to be a really good group, or potentially catastrophically crazy. Given the maniacal glint in his eye, I'm pretty sure we'll be fine either way. We've already thought of the possibility of a book group...

When we finally arrived at the institute we'd have the formal debriefing at, it was good to see a few more faces. They, with the exception of one person who will also be in my oblast working as a teacher training, were going to the other 2 oblasts in the PC region. We got fancy packets with some basic information on our towns and school (very, very basic!) and then a rundown on our living arrangement(s - in some cases!). I was shocked to see a rather large amount of zeros in my packet...I had gone on at length about my comfort level of living in a small town - and certainly didn't expect to wind up in one of approximately 100,000 people! Mukachevo, the second (?) largest town in the oblast, will be my home for the next two years. I will work in a local gymnasium (a higher grade of school, so hopefully with good English-comprehension!) and will work with grades 5-10, with two groups of 5th graders, 3 of 8th, two of 9th, and one each of the remaining. So that's kind of a daunting prospect, but I'm sure I will adapt! Additionally, most of the class sizes will be around 15 students, so that is pretty cool.

Now for the hard news. You probably got sick of my going on about how "Yes, even though Ukraine is not is the same socio-economic sphere as some other PC countries, I will probably have quite a bit of hardship. And yes, I have a flush toilet right now and a washing machine, but that will all change when I go to site." Now, I have learned, it probably won't. I apparently will have an extremely nice apartment (due to some interesting political machinations, that only make me slightly...intrigued?). This threw out daydreams of a small yard (maybe a puppy!), and a garden. I had tried very hard not to have expectations, but I admit I was taken by surprise.

I have faith that there are good reasons for why PC seems to think I will be a good fit, and I will do my best to rise to the challenges I will face with integrating in a bigger community. Honestly, I see it as a harder challenge for me. I've done the small community-living, I kind of know how it works. So this will be completely brand new. Also, I will make sure that my open-door policy is known, and hopefully can host a lot of PCVs that need to pass through or want to visit. Hugo is only 30 minutes away, and is getting to live much more rurally. He has a house, outdoor plumbing, garden and 20 minute walk to school that I was expecting. So I expect I can work out a good trade deal, and he said if his garden spot is as expected, I may have a corner.

Zim is 1.5 hours away, but also looks as if she has a rather lovely living situation and a community that is super excited to have her. She has a slight case of castle-envy (oh yes, I have a castle, and the town history is quite thrilling - it used to be part of Transylvania, and later belonged to the Habsburg empire), but I hope she visits a lot! Plus, there's a lot of heartbreaking WW2 history as well. I can't wait to explore.

Anyhow, after our long debriefing we had a few minutes to grab a bite before continuing back home. On the last leg of the trip, Hugo reminded me to text the Region Manager so he'd have my cell. I did so, and then texted Sparta to ask if we could all come to watch a film tomorrow at his house. I received a text back. From my regional manager. Asking if I'd meant to ask about a film...whoops. Already made the mistake of texting the wrong name, and must make a change in my phone book! So that was embarrassing.

However, once we got back to Obukhiv, I found the most adorable puppy roaming near the bus stop. He couldn't have been much more than 6 weeks, if that. His plump little belly gave suspicions of worms, but he adorably let me pick him up. I know, I know, but he was so. darn. cute. Hugo also melted, and I was told not to get attached. It was hard to put a puppy down so close to a major road and with packs of semi-feral dogs running around. Did I mention I had hardwood floors? Sigh. I probably wouldn't have time to be a responsible puppy owner...but the appeal of having a cuddle buddy as I sipped good wine and wrote out my lesson plans does hold incredible appeal...

Anyhow, off for the night...

Hope all is well,


Sunday, December 1, 2013

...Did I Mention I'm Still Alive?

Hi all,

So...yeah, long time no write.

I've been a teensy bit busy, and honestly a little too stressed. Since I last wrote...a lot has happened? Plus that whole revolution thing that's kind of sort of making front-page news right now. Rest assured, PC has made sure that we know we are not allowed to travel into Kiev...and is keeping the situation carefully under consideration.

Oh, Those Cultural Gaffs You've Been Waiting For...
That's right. I know there are some faithful readers, who have followed along through several countries/continents of misadventures - mostly wanting to hear those stories that make me cringe at the time of writing them. I don't blame you, I'd laugh too if they happened to you!
Actually, I laugh anyway, once I get over being mortified.

I managed to hit not one, but two inappropriate language gaffs a few weeks ago. It all happened one evening as I was drinking tea with Leanne. Oda came in to talk to her mom, and Leanne gave her a stern talking to - explaining she hates when the kids write on their hands. Eager to share, I informed her that my mom also hated when I wrote on my hand when I was younger! Except, y'know, that whole "conjugation" thing. Writing happens to really close to, well, pissing. (Pay-sah-tay vs. pee-sah-tay). So, I proudly announced that I use to pee on my hand. Naturally, Leanne thought this was hilarious.

However, I was not content to stop there with my embarrassment for the evening, oh no. The question came up regarding then next day's topic for the 8th grade class. I had just learned the Ukrainian for "Poetry" and proudly spouted it off.

Well, "learned" is perhaps a stretch.

I kind of forgot a syllable at the end, which resulted in me implying that we were going to be teaching "poses", which apparently is fairly strongly connected to the concept of the Kama Sutra.

So there's that as well.

Once again, Leanne pretty much lost it, and my face probably couldn't have gotten much more red.

Oh, by the way, I'm heading west...
After a VERY long day on Friday of waiting for a call (which we only found out later we wouldn't be getting because our very helpful language teacher informed his superiors we weren't at site, due to it being our "personal day"), I got the call on Saturday. I will be in what they call "Region 4" - which encompasses 3 of the most southwest oblasts in Ukraine. Zim and Hugo will also be going to the region (although we could be hours apart), while Curly got the region above us, and Harmony is more central. Outside of my cluster, there are another at least 5 people going, including one couple. On Wednesday we will travel to Chernighiv (again, the first place we came to in Ukraine and place we had the PST University mid-training) for the day (a nice 5 hours of transportation = reading!), and we will find out the exact location.

My language instructor met us coming back from Kiev, where we had gone for the day (before the prohibition, and staying away from large groups, per instructions) to the Great Patriotic War Museum (WW2). Poor was definitely a depressing museum. We only got through about half of the exhibits after several hours - there were info sheets in each room, but 98% of the info was in Ukrainian. German came in handy a little, but not really. We will definitely have to go back once our Ukrainian is better.

At the museum, Hugo brought up the soccer team that became famous for its resistance during the war. Apparently there's a good book on it: "Dynamo: Triumph and Tragedy in Nazi-Occupied Kiev", and they made a movie about it with Sylvester Stallone and Pele. My guidebook only had the shortened version of the story, and hopefully I'll get it put on my reading list at some point.

Anyhow, I could tell so much more: I'm done with teaching, my first real discipline moment (I hear I got scary, which I'm choosing to consider a compliment...), my demo lesson involving McDonald's, our grammar book, forgetting my key, and our Thanksgiving extravaganza.

However, it is getting late and I should get some I will just have to write sooner...?

Hope all is well,


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Potty Mouth

Hello all,
Well, I have returned from PST University - revitalized and reassured that I will survive the next month (eeek, and that's singular!). Met a several awesome current volunteers - with some very wicked senses of humor, I was in good company! They were very inspiring and down to earth. Also had my interview...which I'll expound on at the end of the post. However, announced: Potty Mouth...

In Toilet
So, everyone loves prepositions, yes? (That is my new Ukrainian speech pattern...questions are only indicated by upward inflection, and throwing a "tak" on the end has become a probably less-than-endearing habit now...). And while we were trying to understand that there are two prepositions for being "in" (at?) a place, we were told that "Na" (transliteralized) was used for open places: park, bazaar, etc. And also for formations that you could not literally be in - such as the fountain at the park.

All well and good...until we get to toilet. It seems obvious, one cannot (should not!) be in a toilet...right? However, the word toilet in Ukraine is actually a false friend. When Ukrainians say toilet, they actually mean the room that a toilet is in - which is usually separate from the shower/sink room. The actual noun toilet has it's very own word (which I have yet to learn/memorize...). So it actually turns out that we say that I am in the toilet. Which may cause some confusion to host nationals as to why that sentence is being said with a smile, as it is a pretty uninteresting concept...and may cause them to wonder exactly what you are doing in there...

Another Interesting Tidbit
So,I am not sure if I mentioned this previously or not, but I was a bit surprised at how items get randomly scented here. I am still slightly traumatized by the nectarine-scented Kleenex, for example. The avocado-scented wetwipes are still a personal favorite, but I have to admit that the scented toilet paper threw me. In a culture wary of artificial flavors and convinced (rightly so...) of the superiority of natural products - naturally including vodka that has yet to make me go blind... - it seemed strange that scented products would be promoted for such a...sensitive area. However, I soon figured out (maybe?) the driving idea.

Sewer systems are a bit dodgy in the rural areas. And by dodgy, I mean they range from non-existent by way of "bio toilet" to the more modern toilet room, which cannot handle any paper products. This is slightly amusing as my town is known for producing toilet paper, but I digress. At any rate, this results in the paper basket, usually tucked in a corner of the toilet room. They are usually small, and thankfully emptied frequently. Suddenly, the appeal for scented toilet paper is extremely's not for your direct benefit.

Anyhow, any further details of toilet culture will probably fall into the TMI category, so I'll move on.

Thank Your Parents for Raising the Ideal Volunteer!
That's a direct quote from the Ukrainian Language Lead Specialist that I met with for my Site Placement Interview. Us lucky Obuhkiv people got to have ours during PST University, and so it was a little nerve-wracking. However, in the end it doesn't really matter what you say - as long as you are honest about your abilities. You can ask for anything, but the simple fact of the matter is that they have so many sites, so many volunteers and no wiggle room. For me, I've found that most things are easier in life when you do not have any expectations - it is harder for me to be disappointed. Likewise, this flexibility is prized and sets a strong precedent. If I have a problem down the line, they will be able to say "Wow, she really went with whatever we needed. She said she would learn whatever language - and then committed herself to studying it. At the interview she said she would go rural and that it was what you make of the situation that will count. And now she may need something, but we know she wouldn't ask if it wasn't important". I over-simplify, of course, but this is a simple recipe.

And it's true. At my interview they asked what sorts of requests or things I thought would be necessary for me to succeed. I had a very hard time answering. I have lived in small communities for most of my life. I learned how to integrate into a close-knit community, and the benefits and challenges of trying to find your place. You need something? You are then motivated to connect with people to find out what they have and need, and then try to work out something that will benefit everyone. You work hard, and people will see that - even if you do not always succeed. They will eventually come to trust you, and you will have a support network.

However, I know that this process takes time - especially with a language barrier and the culture. So I did say that I would like another volunteer to be relatively close-by. This of course can backfire, if we clash personally or if they have a different idea of what service entails - but most likely they will be committed and interested in sharing resources and support. This may not be possible, but I think that it is likely already a strategy...

Anyhow, I should probably get back to developing some resources and we are also planning on playing soccer again in a bit.

Hope all is well!


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Today I Am Happy I am Not A Jellyfish

Hello all,

So, I definitely have been neglecting my blog...which I was reminded of as I signed off from a Facetime conversation with my parents and overheard my Dad ask my Mom if I'd posted before the connection was cut. I would feel bad about this, except I simply have enough stress on my plate that I'm afraid it doesn't make the cut! Additionally, you'll have to pardon the expression, but I feel as though I've been living in a bubble. I basically go from home to either school or my language teacher's house and then back home again, where I either work to prepare a lesson or make an attempt at homework.

Most nights I'm up until at least midnight, and if I really want to push myself, I've been trying to get up to run - since it's too dark by the time class finishes and the roads would soon mean a twisted ankle. We did manage to play soccer the other day. It was a lot of fun - we played after our cross cultural session on Saturday on Gender roles an dating in Ukraine. Have to say it wasn't the most helpful - but reinforced the idea that one should not date a local who believes in sorcery. I don't believe this is typical, but the dating video made by volunteers was entertaining.

Our interim language teacher was amazing. She has SO many great activities, and really kept things moving. It's so humbling to realize how much we've been "taught" that we still have yet to grasp. Rudimentary communication is definitely here, and every once in a while I find a word or even spit out a correct sentence. It's hard to savor those moments as much as I should, but I try.

Lessons have been...challenging? We did not teach last week because the students had a break - but we were kept plenty busy! I wish I could say I developed all my resources for the manual we are making for our community project...but I really have yet to start. I know it will get done, but mustering the energy to really jump in is daunting.

Tomorrow we leave for PST University - a crashcourse in a bunch of topics relative to being a volunteer in Ukraine, and also a sort of testing of the things we are supposed to know. We have a site interview (very scary?) and I admit I am stumped when they ask what I want for a site. After watching Hugo struggle without internet and water (although it's more because his babusya won't let him shower after dark because he will certainly take sick and die...), it has hit me that I am already struggling with time management with 2 lessons a week...without taking into account time to draw water, boil water and keep up on laundry. At the same time, there are plenty of volunteers who have managed it - and who are reassuring us that we will live through training - and soon will be bored!

What a novel concept.

And of course, life goes one. Even within the tiny cosmos there is always the drama of everyday life. Challenges and misunderstandings with host families. Events happening at home that you feel a strong connection, and at the same time disconnect, to. Trying to take one day at a time, while also trying to plan ahead for the big upcoming events (Master's Teaching - ie, observed lesson, making a test, teaching a young learner's class, putting together the manual, facilitating a workshop for the teachers with the materials, etc.) proves to be an overwhelming task at time.

Stress management is surely key. I know I will make it through, and that I have a good support system now...(can't even contemplate later...arg). I have been fairly competent in the classroom (no decent into anarchy), and know that once I have my 'own' class that I will feel more in control. Not knowing what they know and not having access to materials for trying to do advanced planning has certainly been a hiccup. For example, today we were having English Club (Curly and I planned a session on the 5 geographic regions of the US, and due to her brilliant ideas it came off very well!) and our teacher counterpart said she would come. We later find out all the teachers were told they needed to go to a meeting in town, and so they all had to leave...without stopping in to drop off materials, or leave them on her desk.

Since we are supposed to teach 2 lessons on Monday alone, this is already problematic, as we leave town tomorrow at  7AM. So hopefully we will somehow have the materials when we get back on Friday - and there goes the weekend. But Hugo and I have become a pretty effective team. I also taught a lesson with Zim to the 8th Form - which went all right. We did not get through the lesson plan, so maybe we can use the application exercise next week. Zim was great, and the kids liked her activity. I was trying to teach the concept of reported questions (and now I know all 3 the way!), and the teacher told me afterward that I need even more direct translation. So I need to get creative. Probably make some cards that have parts of speech on them, that I can use when I am trying to diagram sentences and tenses.

Part of the problem is also student buy-in. They know these words, or should be able to understand them, but I think the confidence and interest is lacking. Hopefully, at site I will be able to have a better connection with them - and help motivate them to be more invested. While we were playing soccer on Saturday, two of our 9th form students wandered over. With the advice of the language teacher, Hugo invited them to play. They were tickled pink. Not literally, because that'd probably cross some lines - even in touchy-feely Ukraine!

On Monday, guess who our two best volunteers were?

So that was pretty cool. Anyhow, I've subjected you all to a very long and windy blog. Clearly I am stressed and probably a little culture shocked at this point. BUT. I am happy I am not a Jellyfish. The struggles and joys of living may be pretty intense right now, but it's a good affirmation for feeling truly alive and having a purpose. I'm pretty sure jellyfish can't say the same.

Hope all is well,


Friday, October 25, 2013

And Then I Pet a Puppy...

Hi all,

So, if I really were a good blogger, I would have done a better job of putting descriptors on my posts for future cross referencing. Because, indeed, I did not die. What was once my key phrase with Schmee in the village for avoiding the topic of death, made me giggle as I got covered in tiny actual puppy kisses. I already looked into bringing a dog home (to ensure good mental health through plenty of snuggles) and it will simply not be feasible. But really, it's the small things these days.

Not to be mopey - as I really have no cause. Things have just been plenty busy and the start of the week was full of nonstop action. I taught two lessons with Hugo this week - our 9th form on Monday, which went quite well, and then we ended up with the infamous 8th form on Wednesday. I really didn't think they were so bad. We definitely got some attitude, and their teacher was in with the 9th grade (don't ask me to explain how they schedule classes, as it seems it is basically a well-choreographed form of chaos...). But they seemed to get the concepts, and almost all of them did a great job with participating. Our cultural teacher was observing, and she was very pleased.
Immediately following, we facilitated a tech session on tips for teaching grammar. You guys, you know my strong love of grammar, so it should be no surprise that I was slightly stressed out by this. However, Hugo did a great job with some of the more technical aspects as they surfaced, and I think it went well.

Also, my iPad is practically the best thing ever.

I mean, sure, I can't seem to be things to load properly and I had to upload to Dropbox, resave the outline in Pages and the reopen in Dropbox so that the highlighting would load, but it makes the lesson SO much easier!

Museum Trip!
Anyhow, though I'd jump around a bit. Last week (although it feels like ages ago!), we got to go to the city museum. It was pretty cool. We were ushered (unfortunately a bit too briskly) by this incredible man who works as the curator. He is in his later years, and time has not been kind - both hands were sans several digits. Despite this profound disadvantage, this gentleman has produced hundreds of clay figures (made from clay from a local mountain that his son brings him,of course...) in several truly stunning dioramas that depict the history of the region. I don't have the pictures, though I shall attempt to get them from others,but his 6 to 8 inch tall figures were so lifelike. He also gave a brusque talk as we wandered through, and answered the question of how long it took to make a diorama with a simple shrug and answer that he simply did it in his free time. He also did a bunch of wonderful paintings, and works closely with a talented wood worker to produce some of the amazing displays.

We had gathered together some money to pay for the tour and admission, which he flatly refused. Our translator told us he k ow we are like students, and they never have enough money. But something had really touched me. This man has so obviously put his soul into the museum, and has taken much pride in its development and upkeep. So, mustering as poetic a phrase as I could manage, I asked our cultural teacher to please tell him: food cannot feed our souls, but this museum can. With a smile that reached his eyes, he declared that this was a sentiment he could not refute, and this was then obligated to take the money. I will keep insisting I am a realist....

Pizza and Money
We undertook a quest to find the local pizza place that a local volunteer had assured us was not populated by students. Curly was ecstatic to find a place she could have a quiet beer to unwind, and Hugo undertook the unenviable task of ordering. We ended up with three perfectly edible pizzas (with only one moderately surprising topping of slightly-pickled cucumbers), and enjoyed them with a great deal of culinary gusto. On the way back to the bus stop, we caught one of our link mates picking up the money. This is even more strange than I initially thought, as I have observed that even the panhandlers in Kiev do not stoop to picking them up! Apparently there is a belief that every coin (and it may be correlated to its value, not certain) will translate into a number of tears you will have because of it. I am sure the history behind this practice, and will attempt to discover it.

Kiev, Kiev, Kiev

Perhaps there will even be sunshine tomorrow? One can hope. We went again yesterday to Kiev to receive (and then immediately hand over) our residency documents to complete the first stage of becoming a legal temporary resident. This also meant that we got to visit the Roshen outlet store - which is the premier brand of chocolate in Ukraine, and is very tasty. We also had lunch again, and did some serious exploration. Found a large bookstore, branch bank, museums of natural science and literature, the opera house, an underground mall (with the most insane shoes I have ever seen!) and plenty of other shops as well. Our new language teacher (oh yes, to add to the stress we got a new language teacher for a 3 week rotation) was a great sport. We were going to go to a free art museum, but that fell through once we got to the door and discovered they were closed between exhibitions. Another time, I hope.

However we are going tomorrow, and it will hopefully be less stressful that the previous times, as we somewhat have our bearings down. I am not on a mission to find anything other than a tea ball and perhaps Biscoff, but the atmosphere is a nice change from the village.

Anyhow, signing off for the night.

Hope all is well!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I Will Kill them for Monday!

Hello all!

So, I suppose the title needs some kind of explanation? However, I think that in order for you to properly enjoy it, some back story should be told first...

They Said it Would Happen Eventually...
But I was hoping for a grace period! Flushed from our first Demi-success of teaching, Hugo and I sprang to action with the present perfect lesson for 7th form...whom we had not even matter! We decided to refresh them on past participles, since it was in their practice section of their books, and then jump straight into forming positive/negative sentences. If that all sounds confusing, believe me, I had to do some refreshing too! We out together a solid plan with the help of our cultural/tech tutor, and  prepped our materials well. This, however, soon fell to pieces as we were soon informed that, actually, students had NOT been taught past participles. Soooo, I did what I thought was probably the second-worst possible action...I shut up. This may not have been my usual first approach, but I had reached a point in my cold of sounding like a frog.

Fortunately, Hugo was fearless and endeavored to stagger onwards, while I tried to quickly patch together an alternate plan. Unfortunately, pretty much everything hinged on them knowing the pp verb form, so we ended up spending the majority of time drilling over those. Mercifully, time finally passed, and we left a wake of probably very confused students... The teacher ran out of the room quickly,as we stood in a numbed silence, knowledge of our failure stifling most reactions. We braced ourselves as she came back in the room, and I steeled myself to say - "Well...that didn't go so well..." To which she certainly did not disagree... She asked why we didn't introduce vocab (because we weren't given a list and have no idea of which words would be problematic, and you're about to have your baby and we feel bad about calling you??) , and then informed us there was a list of pp verbs onthe back of their book, so, really we needn't have worried about actually teaching them. So, that was unfortunate. However, she also told us not to feel bad, and gave us a piece of chocolate and a sincere smile before we shuffled out the door.

Luckily, Hugo is not one to dwell, and so we immediately decided that while the lesson was undeniably a complete failure (although we didn't lose control of the class, so we get a brownie point there, yes???), it was also good motivation for figuring out strategies for mitigating the situation in the future. Needless to say, I think it also put a damper on the thought of our next lesson on Wednesday (today) with the 9th grade, as it was also highly grammar-intensive. Albeit with easier topics of comparative/superlative formation and some work with vocab.

I am Getting to the Point...
Well, Tuesday night found Hugo and I rallying to put together a super lesson. We did a word search, on gridded paper (actually wall paper...) Hugo enjoys precision work. After being productive for several hours (we may have been overcompensating a bit), we were roped into a break (after a startled look-in that revealed us to be sitting in a chaotic assortment of papers and craft supplies...). Which is how I ended up drinking my first real Ukrainian beer, or half of one, while eating smoked braided cheese. It was delicious. We also got some history, including that of the Cossacks from my host dad, Beren, most of which we were able to understand. Then, more beer mix! This time, it was unfortunately lime and gin, which I unsuccessfully tried to point out was not actually a juice, and nor should it be mixed with beer...I was made to drink it anyway, after I made a comment on drinking Christmas trees, and was relieved to discover it was only mildly gin-ny. However, this put a damper on our initial inertia, and I resigned myself to a 7 am morning to finish the last poster.

It was with mild apprehension that I entered the class, but soon we were in a good groove. The teacher actually started her maternity leave today, but will still be in school sporadically until she has her child- which may still be several weeks, it turns out. Anyhow, our technical trainer was observing, although I was able to pretty much tune her out. Earlier I had watched Curly and Zim teach 5th form, and was comforted to find out that others were struggling to gauge student knowledge  bases as well. They did a great job of changing their lesson on their toes and attempting to attack the issue from several angles. I think they felt bad about the lesson, and I am sure it wasn't made any easier by having 3 observers! Anyhow, knowing that we were all struggling with the same challenges and fears made it somewhat easier to walk into my lesson.

We did not end up covering everything we had set out to, but were in the process of giving out home task (apparently the Brits use this term instead of homework), when we discovered the children did not have their workbooks, because the teacher had not given them back yet. So we improvised...later, when we stopped by the lounge, we found our partner teacher and explained how we had been caught out, and asked what we should of done. The teacher, bless her, immediately got a peeved look and exclaimed:

"I will KILL them for Monday!"

...and then proceeded to inform us that that they had flat out lied. I have to give them props, because there was no cross-talk when they mentioned lacking the workbook, so I assume this was a planned event. Fortunately, we will get to see their faces on Monday, when she will be giving a strongly-worded lecture...So that should be fun.

Not So Fun...
I haven't yet mentioned the weekend, as it was a hard one for my host family - most especially Leanne - as her father passed away. I tried to be out of the house as much as possible, as I did not want to add to her stress. Even though they had a funeral, she still ended up sending no less than 3 people to make sure I'd eaten, and tried apologizing!! Unfortunately, the sentiment of saying I am sorry for your loss is not present in this culture, but she eventually figured it out. I was finally able to explain to the English teacher friend she sent over that I could actually not only make my tea, but also cook for myself...and even listed what I had cooked earlier in the day as proof.

However, the weekend still had some very nice highlights, and I enjoyed spending most of Saturday with Curly and Hugo. We played soccer in a nearby soccer field, and studied ay Curly's house. She has also been kind enough to provide me with a wealth of new music to further my (obviously lacking) education in music appreciation, and I will listen to some after I complete this insanely long post.

Well, it feels that way at any rate, due to the whole iPad keyboard situation. I am also appalled as I look back at the spelling atrocities it lets me commit, with weird spaces and so on....

Anyhow, I am off to Kiev tomorrow for paperwork and city exploration!

Hope all is well,


P.s. I am super excited to be practically, almost back to normal health!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Performing Achievment: Pizza!

Hi all,

Today I was proud to inform my group that we had moved to the 4th stage of group work. We seem to have passed through most of our storming stage, and are now hitting the "performing" stage...and just in time too! However, it has been a while,  so I am going to back this post up and start a bit earlier...

So I am Kind of a Teacher Now..
I don't feel as though I have remotely earned that title, and am sure it will take trial by fire and much stress and survival-mindset to ever feel as though I can actually call myself a teacher! I team-taught with Hugo, and things went quite smoothly...although we kind of ran out of material. We had plan for this contingency, but it was an awkward happening where we had only 3 minutes of extra time at the end. Certainly not enough time to really get anything achieved, but a long time to perseverate. When we approached the teacher after class, and (cringing a little inwardly, in my case) asked how she thought it went, it was hardly the most reassuring comment - "We'll, it was only your first lesson." Very true, and honestly, I thought we did pretty well.  We had some good and focused moments, and I am a pretty good patroller, and picked up on the class clown pretty fast. When he answered that he wanted to go to a city to shop (prompting a cascade of tittering from the female population, and some hearty guffaws from the guys...), I fixed him with a grin and asked "shop for what?" This prompted furious muttering as classmates raced to provide him with ideas, although he got stuck on trying to remember how to say "jeans", which, rather amusingly, is a complete cognate. We will teach them again on Wednesday, and also took on teaching a class of 7th form on Monday....which was probably pretty idiotic, as we have not see the class but decided to jump at the opportunity to teach grammar!! Oh boy. Luckily Hugo is incredibly smart (and has a knack for punditry that proves detrimental to our homework at times...) and has a fairly strong grasp it seems on grammar. Which is fortunate, as I definitely took MUCH more literature, and seemed to have repressed most memories of my sole grammar class in college. However, we at least did not have a student proudly present the tooth that they lost during class - that honor went to Curly and Zim.

Oh, and I am Sick
I won't even mention the mucus. I don't even want to think of it myself, which has become impossible as it seems to have taken over my life. It started with sinus pressure, and has kept on with a vengeance. Not taking me completely down, but definitely been a wearing factor. It also seems to be developing into a nice hacking cough, which I simply do NOT have time for. Unfortunately, I doubt my cold is a native English speaker, and Sparta has refused to teach us any particularly naughty words...probably with pretty good reason. The poor man starts off most day with a good measure of vim and vigor, but I think he is just as tired as all of us by the day's end. And his patience is astounding. However, I think he might actually enjoy us, for the most part, as he allowed me to make pizza today after class, and then suggested we all watch a movie too! All without the  slightest indicator that he would rather simply crawl into bed and pretend we didn't exist for a few hours! So, onward to pizza!

Well Actually, I am kind of Scared of the Oven...
This statement came straight from Sparta's mouth as four of us sat crouched around the gas oven, named Greta, and attempted to discover exactly where the gas should be lit from. This ,rant adjusting the heat was tricky, and I had it going pretty darn hot, according to the incredibly un-helpful temperature arrow that sits on the surface of the door. Luckily, I like to bake my crusts at a high temp, so this was ideal. We did get it figured out eventually, and I think Zim has photo documentation. I had had a slight meltdown the previous evening - between a sorely chapped nose, my attempt at being proactive and making a verb list failing due to conflicting resources, the pressure of two class preps, feeling inadequately qualified to have a community project be grammar resource development, and simply not being able to get away from everyone for a while to do some processing. This, added to the fact my shower would have to wait because laundry got put in, which then screwed up my shopping plan for pizza and just mad me grumpy in general.

But then I had a dream. And, it wasn't that my teeth fell out, which has been a reoccurring theme in other stressful time. Instead, I was at my cousin's wedding (who really is getting married this weekend!), and kept running into people who knew me and kept professing their confidence in me. So I woke up Ina very positive mindset, and then was ver successful in working up the nerve And vocabulary to ask a rather harried (and therefore slightly intimidating) Leanne if I could borrow her garlic press. I blurted out a quick stream of Ukrainian...and got a quick nod and smile of comprehension and permission! This was wonderful.

My groupmates were all very enthusiastic about pizza, and were a lean, clean, kitchen crew machine! Everyone pitched in, and it was very smooth sailing. The results were very scrumptious, with the homemade sauce being incredibly tasty, and the toppings being all vegetables. The nearest butcher only carries whole chickens (although I did learn the word for breast today, oddly while learning about the names of months....) and we have some other dietary restrictions that just made that the easier choice. Next time I hope to have the gumption and energy to actually make it into the town proper, and get some more specialized ingredients!

Everyone's favorites!! Those charming little tidbits of Ukrainian culture that make you cocky our head and make you aware of your current placement on the culture shock curve. Such as: scented Kleenex. Even the brand is here, but I swear I have never seen nectarine or strawberry scented ones before. I can't tell if I am ridiculously out of touch with Kleenex subculture, or if this is just as abnormal for America as I think it is. Nevertheless, I am Not a fan, as it makes me acutely aware of the fact that this is practically ALL I can currently smell! Another fun fact: dropped money becomes dead to least if it is a coin. You see them quite often...on the floor of the minibuses, on the streets or in the parks, here and there. Yet no one seems to pick them up. Sparta expressed confusion over why we would even ask about them, and shocked we would think of picking them up. I'm guessing they probably don't have the 5 second rule here either... Finally, a misunderstanding of something I read online had me cautioning Hugo about accepting pumpkins from women. The actual tradition is linked to if a young man has made a proposal to the woman he is courting, she would signal her acceptance by presenting him with a pumpkin. Still probably not a good idea to accept pumpkins from strange women, although you could them,are a tasty pie!

Anyhow, that is it for me...

Hope all is well,


Sunday, October 6, 2013

In Which I Discover the Milk and "The Bitches"

Hello all,

Ian luxuriating in the fact that I got to sleep in to 9:30 this morning, and am currently enjoying my tea with milk. Several days ago the milk bottle ran out, and I overheard Leanne telling her husband to it forget about the milk, with just the edge of exasperation in her voice that seemed to indicate this was a common occurrence. So the next morning I was not too terribly surprised to open the door and not see milk. This trend has continued the past three or four days and I gave up even looking. Then, as I was waiting for my tea to cool, Oda - the girl twin, came into the kitchen to prepare cereal for herself and her brother, Vad. After carefully pouring her cereal out into bowls, she padded over to the fridge and withdrew...milk. In a bag...which had probabably been there all along. I watched as she  clipped the clothespin back on and tucked it into a fridge drawer - but not before getting a a splash in my tea! So a new twist on milk. And I don't think it was super-pasteurized, so that was good as well. Although I would think it would be a rather awkward way to try to stock a cooler in a grocery store, and I will try to investigate this next time I am in a store!

Got to Love the Welsh
So Hugo and I have our first team teaching on Wednesday, and have been trying to do our lesson planning. The further we got, the more apparent it became that we will have to do a lot of planning the day before, after we have observed her teach the class on Monday. The structure of the lesson is very strict: warmup/motivation using review information, presentation of new material, controlled practice of new material, application of new material, and summation/ homework for new material. So we cannot do our warmup until we know what is being focused on the previous lesson ( we only got a copy of the two page spread we will be focusing on for Wednesday), and have to talk to the teacher about what will be covered Tuesday and what sort of homework we should have.

However, we have looked into the actual material stage and we have the grammar construction of the verb "to visit" and also they are supposed to work on learning how to phrase recommendations. Since it will be 9th form, we wanted to look up some additional information that the book mentioned. Key among them: mt. Snowdon, St. David's Cathedral, and Ramsey Island. Ramsey island is a 3.2 kilometer sized island that has a human population of 2 permanent residents who served as preservation wardens,  and then thousands of nature-seeking tourists who come to see a variety of birds and seals. Also listed in the wiki link (quality researchers that we clearly are), was an enigmatic link to "The Bitches". So of course that had to be investigated. The Bitches is a very small rock outcropping that is very close to Ramsey Island, that attracts many experienced extreme kayakers, who like to test their mettle around its tortuously devious undertows and water patterns. Clearly, there is not a great fondness for these rocks....

There you go, random spot of arcana for th day, which has the bonus of getting to use a naughty word with a straight face. Which we will not be utilizing as a fun fact on Wednesday, gem though it may be.

Anyhow, I still have some homework to get done, so am going to sign off.

Hope all is well,


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Peel Your Teeth

Zim filling the dumpling dough with spiced apples, while Harmony rolled.

Hello all!

Though it might be hard to discern from today's posting title, our topic of the day was actually food and preparation of dishes for vocabulary building. We learned that the same word is used for peeling carrots as
"brushing" your teeth. Since apparently you are merely peeling off a layer of plaque, I suppose this makes sense! However, one must chop vegetables and cut wood. However, "Super Soup" is funny in both languages, so that's a win. But, first things first - the visitation!

Dignitaries and Tea
 So we naturally needed to buy groceries for cooking, and also had to make sure we were stocked up on cookies and tea/coffee. We had the country director come and visit, and we could tell that he'd been looking at his print out. Especially since he not only told us, but also accidentally left his packet behind when he left...He and his second in command, a lady Ukrainian-native filled us in on odd facts about Roshen brand chocolate (the country's premier maker who has been a politician and other such nefarious positions). Apparently the chocolatier gave Russia's P-man's advisor a good talking to about Russian media spreading a rumor that they were making tainted chocolate (with the EU joining proposition sitting on the table, things have become a little tense,to put it lightly, in the trade world between Ukraine and Russia).

We were also encouraged to share stories, and so several misadventures spilled out for their enjoyment. When warned about the bathroom, the Ukrainian lady informed me that she had locked herself in that very room previously!! So that made me feel better as well! It was a lovely time, and nice that he makes the effort to at least briefly visit each group as we are settling in. He had to run to a meeting with the president of the Ukrainian professional soccer federation, as they are looking to partner on events at games that would involve free HIV testing.

борщ and вареники
So, that was our menu today. Contrary to what I had believed before coming to Ukraine, borscht is not only made from beets. In fact, the only thing that seems to differentiate the two is that soup does not contain beets. Curly took the lead (and yes, it is a challenge to have two alpha cooks in a kitchen, especially with 3 other people in a very limited space!) and after some intense discussion of the recipe (which was feasible only in some aspects), we were soon all hard at work and having a good time. Sparta enjoyed pestering us with questions about what we were doing in Ukrainian (we had just "learned" verbs for mixing, chopping, shaping dough, etc) and we had to be quite creative with our limited resources. Thankfully, Hugo 

Hugo, Who made this especially pouty face especially for his blog debut
Or is possibly just sad because his Babuysa wouldn't let him shower again...

brought his potato peeler, measuring cups and spoons. So that was great for measuring flour for the apple dumplings and peeling the potatoes. The food turned out stupendously. I'd had my doubts about not using bouillon, but I'd eat Curly's borscht any day! We also got compliments from our technical advisor and Sparta. (Who, upon discovering he indeed did not have sour cream for the borscht, ran out and bought some!) So we were pretty proud of ourselves. Unfortunately, I think I got a bit overheated in the kitchen, and after lunch did not feel the best. However, I perked up about an hour after getting home. I am sure that cultural shock is due to set in soon, and I am promising myself to take it one day at a time! Luckily, my days are structured, I genuinely enjoy my clustermates and teacher, and I find the work so far rewarding.
I have two more picture for you (Curly kept dancing around to her iPad as I was taking them of her, and so they were blurry, but there is also a better one of Harmony with Zim!).

Hope all is well!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wedding Saga Continued...

Hi all,

So I have some disappointing I was leaving my tutoring session with Sparta yesterday, I asked him about one of the wedding traditions, which led to a rather awkward conversation in defining cross-dressing and the ultimate realization that this wedding was chocked full of regional charm. So, not everyone gets a week of wedding. Which probably for the best, as I would suppose one would end up spending a few years otherwise engaged in attempting to not be a functional alcoholic due to all the wedding vodka consumption - to say nothing of the odd glass of champagne, beer and wines of all variety as well!...on to the cross dressing!

That Video, Has such a Shame...
While looking over photos for the third day of the wedding, chickens featured prominently, along with some very awkward photos of rather disturbing cross-dressing. Including, or rather mainly, the inlaws, who got quite creative with their expression of gender. Lets just say I wouldn't want to eat several of the produce pieces that were modeled! When asked about a picture that showed the day being filmed, Leanne clattered into her tablet which spit out : that video has such a shame" and then : "Lawlessness". So I am guessing that got taped over, or perhaps simply burned!

4-7th Days
Honestly, it is pretty hard to trump day three of the festivities, but there was still more to come. The inlaws got duped in the pond at some point (explained with a vague comment about her husband being the youngest...?) and the bride bringing garbage to her maid of honor's house - to imply a sort of relatonship cleansing??? On the 5th day, they apparently break into friends houses and steal items, which they proceed to sell back to their friends the next day... Finally, on the 7th day they count their money and (of course) drink more vodka!!

And then I'm guessing they take go back to work with barely functioning livers.

Tomorrow we are supposed to meet with the principal and also observe one of the actual school teachers do a typical lesson. After a debrief we will have language as usual. We have been having some challenging group dynamics, and are definitely "storming" right now. Of course, it will all come out all right in the end - one way or another. All my clustermates definitely have a lot of valuable skills and experiences to offer, and I have high hopes (and a few murderous thoughts through the last insanely-over committed last group) for the final project.

Anyhow, hope all is well,


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weddings, in a Nutshell

Hello all,

As I type, I am very much aware that I am missing the culminating event of the summer for Jack Pine Stables: the skill showcase. Hopefully everyone does their best and has fun. I have been promised pictures, and hopefully can share one or two soon. Meanwhile, my laptop has been rather uncooperative for pictures and poor Internet connection, but I shall press on nevertheless.

Why Weddings?
Well, it all started a while ago, with my host mother wanting me to bring my language teacher over to watch her wedding video with me to provide commentary. He wasn't too thrilled by this idea (matched only by level of embarrassment of actually asking him after several days of hounding!), and we settled on a plan to have me watch and write down any questions. However, then Hugo was invited to dinner. Leanne had already drilled me on him, and knew his name before anyone else in the group. She feels very sorry for his "deprived" situation, and last night I actually discovered why. Well, I actually learned a lot. Maybe even possibly too much. He arrived and she immediately said that she had a secret. Through the help of her translation program, she explained that she had wanted to host a boy, and her husband a girl. They then rock/paper/scissor-ed it out, with her winning. However, when Sparta informed her there was only one boy coming, she agreed the more spartan living conditions would be easier for a boy. So I was slightly chopped liver. I made the joke they would send me home and not Hugo, but apparently I have met at least basic expectations and they'll keep me.

Anyhow, we ended up looking at her wedding album before her friend the English teacher and husband came home to eat...which culminated in her and Hugo having 6 shots of vodka...oddly enough (by Ukrainian standards) her husband does not drink vodka, and she was happy to have a guy to drink with. I was not offered, but at is not really a path I want to explore. My low and abrupt tolerance would probably not do me credit. Thankfully Hugo is an archeologist, and has plenty of field experience....

On the First Day of the Wedding...
That's right! Weddings are apparently yet another thing we do wrong! Thankfully, not all traditions around world have been lost. On the first day they dress in what looks like typical western-world wedding garb- and Leanne looked GORGEOUS. They brought along a intricately designed loaf of decorated wedding bread, which got blessed by their mothers. They stood on what looked like a table runner, beautifully embroidered by Leanne, and got married by a priest. Next they headed to the Dnieper to take pictures and drink champagne. When the bottle was empty, they blew a wish in, along with a slip of paper and chucked it into the river. (Perhaps not the most ecologically-friendly practice, but quite romantic, no?) Then the real fun started. On the way back to the party, the groom must carry his bride across 3 (different, we clarified) bridges, including the vast Dnieper in this case. So that was impressive. Next? We DRINK!

Day 2: The Dirty Work
So, the next day when they get together, it is a time of some real family bonding...the mother-in-laws test the respect of their new children in a ver interesting way. First the bridegroom washes her legs, which she has generously smeared with earth. Then a second washing with vodka, and he presents her with new socks and boots. Then the bride must wash her mother in law's equally dirty face with water and vodka. Since they will likely live in close quarters with at least one half of their family for the rest of their lives, these are not particularly empty gestures...

Anyhow, I am flagging here, so you will have to stay tuned for the continuation, as there are still another FIVE MORE DAYS to cover...and some of it is pretty unbelievable, even after seeing the photos!!

Hope all is well,


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Washing my Rainboots...

Hi all,

So it was another eventful day. We trooped over to the school, which is terrifically close to my host family's house. We got a tour of the school in English from some students, one of which is Curly's hostsister. We also got to poke our heads in some classes, and I got a wave from the twins. One of my clustermates, Harmony, caused a bit of a stir. She's a true blue Brooklyn-Eric, and is African American. Sine there is about zero pro cent racial diversity in terms of skin tone here, she soon attracted a gaggle of children. I have already been told I look Ukrainian ( which is sure to come with its own set of problems) but in a culture where individuality has long been considered a dangerous and undesirable trait, I would not want to trade her places and have much respect for her.

We also heard from some teachers - including Leanne's friend I met at dinner. We got a better idea of the functionality of the Ukrainian school system in practice .... And we thought we had budget issues! At least we Have a budget back it is beg from parents! We also found out that soon it is (just reread this...clearly my syntax is already off!) a special holiday to celebrate teachers. A whole day of pampering! They come to school and get their hair cut, students do their nails, parents bring chocolate and nummy food for lunch. Meanwhile the top two forms take over teaching, which is probably to Really guarantee they get an understanding of how thankful they should be!!! We, alas, will probably not get to see this in practice, but it is a pretty cool concept!

Washing my Rainboots
So, I had heard about how fastidious Ukrainians are about keeping their shoes nice (they use portable baby wipes to clean them off as they enter buildings, for example) and this had given me pause in my contemplation of whether or not rainboots are exempt. I reasoned that since they are constantly getting dirty and stay in the mudroom, surely they don't require the same constant vigilance. I was wrong. Last night, as I went out to meet Curly on her way to my house to study, Leanne drew my attention to a demonstration of how to properly clean ones boots (/maybe all shoes???). They keep a basin the tub, and you place your shoes in it and use a sponge kept specially by the sink for this purpose. (I don't know what the other two larger sponges in the tub are for yet, and undoubtedly my language teacher, Sparta, would say "ask ask ask!" - but one day at a time!) thus, armed with the knowledge, I told her I would do it after I walked Curly home and she was satisfied. I did indeed wash my boots, and it was a mostly unremarkable experience.

Now, that's not a particularly exciting story, so I'm glad to say there is more. I discovered that there is also a second, equally important step in this process as I headed out the door today. It hinges on the fact that Rainboots are just as watertight on the inside as out...and splooshed my right foot as I made this observation. Had a good little puddle going on! Clearly I am not as competent as I'd like to think, and I am quite glad there were no witnesses!!

My Amazing Host Family
I will admit I was initially a little concerned that I was the only one not getting a tried-and-true host family, but I feel I have really lucked out. Tonight I spent HOURS studying with Leanne...she doublechecked my homework, and corrected some pronunciation: which was particularly helpful as I found out I was saying the verb "to sleep" as "prostitute" (also impressive as it does not have a verb action ending...). Which makes me think Sparta must be one hell of a poker player!! Additionally, between sleep and prostitute, I managed to also hit upon "to spit", so this could prove problematic.
She is also working on her English, so we joked that in 3 months we will just have our own hybrid language, instead of surjek (Russian/Ukrainian). And, of course, the children are already so dear that I'd throw myself at a bus for them. Slippery things, children...they slip so easily into your heart!

Anyhow, going to try to FaceTime with , my mom.

Hope all is well,


Monday, September 23, 2013

Tima Attack

Hello all,

Once again on the iPad. Drained my battery (and had a minor heart attack that the plug was not going to fit into my adaptor until I punched out a plastic piece) looking at pictures with my host mother, Leanne. She showed me lots from a thumb drive and I showed her family ones I had uploaded from old albums for my parents' 30th anniversary this summer. We had a good time and conversation wandered endlessly. We started talking about technology, she claims Ukraine is 10 years behind the US...although some houses here still do not have running water and thus no indoor plumbing. So I got to share my own story for the day...

In Which I Have My First Blush
 Yay! Cultural differences! Well, to be very honest, one can get stuck in a bathroom in America - but I can almost guarantee that the bathroom would not double as a kitchen as well. It was my second trip in for the day, having washed up dishes from tea break. I had noticed that the door did not close properly - no large hardship as our meeting room is 2 rooms away. However, as I entered the room, the door shut smoothly. When I was ready to leave, I attempted to turn the handle...without any results! Left, right, shimmying up, down, sideways...I tried it all. Now in a state of moderate disbelief, I whimpered "dopomojheet?" (Transliteration of 'help!' in Ukrainian...) to absolutely no effect. Mind racing, I came to the realization, that yes, this was going to end in embarrassment. Now, dont't get me wrong, I know it is inevitable, and sure to happen more times that I will care to admit - but I was really hoping I could get through at least a full day of classes! Clearly, this was not to be. So, in graduating modulation, I began to say one of my clustermate's name... "Curly?...CUrly...CURLY!?!"

Now, it occurred to me that perhaps this was only going together worse before better. Bad enough to be stuck, worse to not be able to fix it myself, but having to holler at full-volume was not making this any easier on my psyche...But I steeled myself and started yelling help inUkrainian. Because, damn it, if I have to go, I am going big! Well, that brought not only the lone male (Hugo) of my clustermate's scurrying, but out instructor as well. Just to really drive the embarrassment factor higher, the door clicked open with the tiniest of gestures on the part of my instructor....leaving him bemused and me redder. Mustering a thank you, I flamed my way back into the room, to the giggles of my clustermates. Had it not been me, I know I would have been immensely amused as well, and so I am glad they all have a good sense of humor. Hugo also was kind enough to mention he had fallen into the same trap earlier, so I was somewhat mollified. However, Leanne laughed uproariously when I communicated the story in the middle of cleaning up dishes - only to erupt once more into a fit of giggles several minutes later. So I am proving myself to be entertaining, if nothing else!

Signing Off...
At any rate, it was a rather long day with a full 3 hours of language and then several technical sessions. While it would be easy to be overwhelmed, I feel that SIT prepared me well - annnnnd, Tima, the family cat just jumped up on my bed and scared the crap out of me...I have been in my room for over 2 hrs - with nary a peep from him. I think he saught refuge from the overly enthusiastic attention from the children and was apparently hiding under my bed. He has now been removed and I will finish by saying that I will remember to keep positive and have faith that hundreds of volunteers have come before me and certainly many will come after with success....

Hope all is well,


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Short, Sweet, and Picture-free

Hello all,

So I promise I started a blog yesterday, but this iPad simply has me outsmarted. I apparently need to have a picasa album to take them from but cannot find a free app for that. So I will have to transfer my pics to my laptop and the post from there. However, it is already getting late and I was told to bring my computer tomorrow, so I did not want to run down the charge. I will go more into detail on my lovely host family tomorrow, but we spent most of today together. Cracked out the UNO and then spent several hours working on vocab. At 7, the kids are the perfect age to work together to learn.

Tonight we went out to dinner ( although my language teacher told me this very rare and told us not expect it to ever happen - as they are responsible for feeding me meals 2x a day during the week and 3x on weekends out of a stipend the PC provides for them). It was decided around 5, to meet up with the couple of friends I had met Saturday night. However, we were soon behind time and 7:30 turned into 8. After a near brush with mortality (driving is interesting, and I am glad I buckled up - although it was not my host father who was the reckless one), we stopped by the friends car. By the ditch...which we then proceeded to tow. I had assumed that we were going to go to a mechanic shop to drop it off, however, it fortunately turned out that they had merely ran out of gas. Hard to say if this routine or not. We then drove into the next town over to the restaurant.

 I was introduced to a woman who I figured out ( as much as I could...?) that she is an English teacher at the local school and had taught the children last year. She asked that I work with them (after the parents wanted her to ask to make sure I did not find them a bother) and I told her we would practice together. I was also able to ask her to ask permission to put photos on the blog of the family and they said they were happy to allow me. That is what I thought, but you can never be too careful! Anyhow, a highlight of the meal was when what looked like a platter of cut up hot dogs was suddenly set aflame. And burned...and burned...and burned...they used their forks to stir the flames up and eventually out. I am happy to say that there certainly no  taste like any accelerant when I got some. Indeed, they were a much nicer sausage than any hotdog. It was a very nice evening, and I admit it was nice to talk to someone with a good grasp of English. My host father is pretty magical with the words he manages to remember from school, and my host mother tries incredibly hard, and uses her translator when we get stuck (as long as google cooperates).

Right now we are in the honeymoon, but I hope that their interest and mine stay strong on language learning. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a young family who appear to be great parents and funny, sweet and slightly mischievous children.

Hope all is well,