"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Celebrating St. Varenyky Day

My favourite Ukrainian comfort food has got to be Varenyky. I still remember the first time I tried Mama Lecia's freshly cooked, perfectly soft, sweet cheese filled varenyky with kalina berry sauce and sour cream on top! That day I fell in love with the Ukrainian filled dumplings and have been hooked ever sense. 

Monday was St. Andrew's Day in Ukraine, but probably better known as the Varenyky Holiday. Pretty much every Ukrainian name has a Saint and a "day", but only Andrew's day is filled with such delicious and "all knowing" treats. I was invited to celebrate my final night in Kolky for 2011 in style with a Varenyky-Making-Party with my Counterparts and some friends.

In the process of making the "Surprise" Varenyky
Most commonly, varenyky is filled with mashed potatoes. Other fillings include liver, onions, mushrooms, berries, and cheese. Our first round were my favourite, mashed potatoes, but then the second round, after the meal is finished, the surprise ones come out!

Had at work filling some with sweet sunflower seed mash!

Preparing Dinner

Our surprises included cotton, salo (pig fat), a black bean, a hunk of onion, apple, or pear, and even notes! 

Some of the surprise filling!

Chopping up the salo (pig fat), onions, apples, and pears!

Yes, it quickly turned into a 9-shot feast, but there is no complaining when chasing with varenyky.

Quite the table...without the main dish yet!

Usually, the holiday is for children, but why can't the adults have some fun? Girls usually put notes with boys names in their dumplings, and the first name they get will be their husband. We put fortunes and well wishes in ours.

Surprise! I got a note!

"Be Wealthy"

Another note found!

"Good Luck!"

"Merry Christmas!"

Finally, Sveta got a note!

The perfect last night in Kolky for 2011...celebrating with some of my favourite people, eating some of my favourite food! 

But why was Monday my last night in Kolky for 2011 you might be asking yourself!? Well, Tuesday night I took the train to Kyiv and greeted Group 42 at their Transition to Service Conference and Swearing-In Ceremony on Wednesday and today. It was a fun opportunity to meet the new Volunteers, share a little of my experience, and reflect on my past year at site. I still can't believe that a year ago, I swore in and moved to Kolky. Tomorrow is my mid-service medial check-up and dentist appointment and Saturday I will be back in Colorado (!!!) spending some time at home for the holidays. Look forward to some Stateside posts in the near future for sure!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Powerful Message of Hope

One of my favorite Staff members, Iryna Krupska, recently published this note to Volunteers in the quarterly magazine put out by PCVs in Ukraine. I wanted to share her message -- one that gave me chills and reinforced both my love for Ukraine and also for the Peace Corps.

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

-Iryna Krupska, PC Ukraine Training Manager

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Goodbye Post to Fall, Grime, and JK

A little drizzly and wet today in Kolky. Winter, according to Ukrainian standards, began on the 1st of December, but so far we haven't had any drastic weather changes (not that I'm complaining). I remember quite a lot more snow this time last year, slugging around in my huge winter boots. I hear it's supposed to be a muddy Winter this year, which doesn't make me too excited. When I asked each of my classes on Thursday what they were most excited for in December, a handful of them in each class enthusiastically said "Snow!". No extra points from me on that one.

This weekend, I'm enjoying time to myself in Kolky. Tomorrow, I'll head to Manevychy to be on the jury for the Regional English Olympiad. While critiquing nervous students certainly has become a hobby of mine, I am more excited to see my ten students participate. When I started at Kolky Lyceum, I was astonished at some of the students English levels. They could communicate with me effortlessly and, although some explanation or sentence restructuring occasionally happens, most of my work was already cut out for me. For a few months now, I have been holding "English Olympiad Prep Club" for these students and I am excited to see their hard work pay off.

The Olympiad and school commitments kept me from going to Kyiv with my friends to see my Jon off (more on him later), so with no where to go and nobody for me to see, it was time to tackle my Winter cleaning. No that is not an fancy way to say I laid around all day watching West Wing and reading Kurt Vonnegut novels, I actually did clean everything!

My apartment is beautiful, top to bottom -- or rather ceiling to floors. I even scrubbed out the fridge and oven, tackled the shower, dusted those spider webs in each corner, and sorted my clothes. Fueled by coffee, reheated curry, and podcasts of This American Life, I was a machine this morning and afternoon. The accomplishment is satisfying and the reward...indulging on the aforementioned media. Now my house is going to be a little damp because I'm drying my sheets all around the house, but I think it'll be worth it. 

The clothesline that goes along my kitchen-bathroom!

Using every available "hanging" space!

As I mentioned before, my best friend Jon Kidd is leaving Ukraine tomorrow to go back home to Colorado. He arrived to Ukraine a year before I did apart of Group 37 and has completed his 27 months of service. He lived about an hour away so we hung out pretty often and drank the occasional frosty brew. If a new Volunteer gets placed at his site in Lutsk, they have big shoes to fill. We will all miss him around these parts, but he's going on to do some pretty awesome things in the States. Watch this guy move up the political ranks pretty fast. 

See you in Colorado, JK! We're all praying for safe travels home, a smooth transition back, and plenty of doors to fling wide open!

Working Kolky Community Clean-Up in April

So long, JK!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving Thanks

Celebrated my favorite American holiday in style this week.

First, I started with English Club where we had a fun Thanksgiving Party. We watched a little Charlie Brown, made some crafts and hand turkeys (gotta do the hand turkeys), said what we are thankful for, and feasted on fruit, cookies, candy, homemade treats, and punch.

Making a "What We're Thankful For" Collage

Helping out with the collage


Finishing Touches

Hand Turkeys!

The feast awaiting to be eaten.

Way too much sugar...

The Thanksgiving Group

Having lots of fun with my favorite little pup Via this week as well. She's missing her partner in crime Scout, who was given to my neighbors, but they see each other sometimes when Via wonders off. She's sleeping in my hallway at night because it's pretty cold, but she LOVES exploring and bugging the students when they are having recess.


Ms. Via prancing

Also I was invited to attend a neighboring village school's English Week Concert entitled "We Love Our Dear Ukraine". Ukrainian dances, singing of traditional songs, speeches about Ukraine's history, people, cities, and culture...all of the above in English! I was even invited to tell about my time in Ukraine, my impressions, what I do, etc. Their English was great and they did a terrific job performing. Makes me wonder why they all wanted my autograph...

Dancing the "Hopak"

"My Ukraine"

Dancing the Kyiv Waltz

The final act with a Ukrainian Flag Balloon

Squished in the middle

Then on Saturday, I celebrated with 16 other American's at my friend Valarie's place. People traveled long and far to make the great feast (I only had to travel 45 minutes) so it was really special. My entire training link (10 of us) were together again for the first time since Swearing-In. The food was fantastic, but catching up and laughing was my favorite part.

Dessert...missing 2 apple pies.

My shirt says, "Stuff the Turkey, Where's the Booze"
Perfect shirt for Turkey Day? I THINK SO!

The feast! So much food :)

The dishes included: Roasted Chicken, Deviled Eggs, 2 types of mashed potatoes, green been casserole, cabbage casserole, Veggie Lasagna, Jello Surprise, Homemade Stuffing (ME!), Carrot & Apple Salad, and Baked Mac & Cheese. For dessert we had pumpkin and apple pies, caramel corn, and dried apples. It was everything Thanksgiving should be and more.

My plate. (It was a small plate so I had to stack!)

Of course Thanksgiving was missing my family from back home, but they called on Thursday to send me love. It's making me that much more excited to head home for a short vacation over Christmas and the New Year to celebrate with them. 

This holiday has always meant a lot to me, but this year especially I came to the realization that I am incredibly blessed just to be able to give thanks. I'll conclude with the prayer I said at the table on Saturday.

Good and Gracious God,

We gather together today with thanksgiving:
For the blessings of abundance that this meal represents;
For the adventure we continue on, that we take each new turn as an opportunity given;
For health and wholeness of mind, body and soul, empower us to do our best in the toughest of times; 
For support and love, both near and far, from those seen and unseen;
And for this opportunity, to celebrate and come together as family,
May we never forget to give thanks for gifts we receive, from each other and from You.
With humble hearts and hungry stomachs, we say thanks.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Catching You Up

A big hello from foggy and drizzly Kolky

So sorry for the hiatus. Gray skies have made for not the best internet, but it doesn't stop my camera from taking plenty of pictures! Check out the following from the past month or so!

The Day of Vyshyvanka - Kolky Lyceum celebrated this very nationalistic and traditional Ukrainian holiday in style. We welcomed many of the regional Ukrainian Literature and Language teachers for a seminar and showcase of our school. Majoirty of students and all teachers (including me!) wore our Vyshyvankas to school.

The 6th Grade Ensemble welcoming guests to the Day of Vyshyvanka

A vyshyvanka is a shirt that contains traditional Ukrainian embroidery. Embroidery is a big part of Ukrainian culture and history, dating back to the origins of the cossacks. Usually each Oblast (State) has their own vyshyvanka colors, but the national colors for a vyshyvanka are red and black. The red symbolizes the love Ukrainians have for their country, the black representing the sorrow of their past. My vyshyvanka is my favorite and most cherished tangible gift that I've received in Ukraine.

With two of my counterparts in my very own vyshyvanka!

Students from the 9th Grade presenting their crafts

Nadiya and Sveta

The student's work. Some of those are beaded pieces of jewelry, other are embroidered cloth.

Vika presenting at her table

The Kolky Museum (one display room) happens to be in my Lyceum as well. Guests were invited to take a tour of it, learning more about the history of my village, the revolution that made it famous, and some of the movers and shakers since the year 800.

Some of Kolky's founding fathers...or better yet, henchmen.

I have a page in the school's scrapbook!

No celebration would be complete without a concert!

Teachers and students put on a short, humorous skit about a wedding

Singing some traditional songs.

I also had many trips to Kyiv for different reasons (actually 4 weekends in a row) and stumbled on an English speaking Lutheran Church...of the German persuasion! Interestingly enough, it can be found in the middle of Kyiv, next to the center of the capital, on "Lutheran" Street! 

I knew I was close when I found #13, Lutheran Street!

The church service and the people we met were so wonderful and welcoming. It even smelled like a Lutheran Church! It was so nice to worship in English with some of the same liturgy, prayers, and hymns that are so very familiar to me. I'm so happy to have found a place of worship for when I am in Kyiv. I think I told someone that I'd be a "regular on an irregular basis" -- whatever that mean.

The beautiful Lutheran church in the center of Kyiv.
Quite different from what I the orthodox ones!

I also made a trip back to my training community, Kivshovata! What a wonderful stay I had with Evan and Asia, my best buds/clutermates from Pre-Service Training.

The village where my Ukrainian self grew up

Kivsho lovin'

Some of the beautiful Autumn colours.

Asia and I got our hands dirty and helped her host Mom in her back field clear some of the weeds and dead shrubs! Quite the experience, I'd say.

First time using a long-handled sickle....only in the former USSR I guess...

Doing quite well!

Visiting Evan's host Mom for some wine, homemade vodka, and dessert.

Me with Evan and Asia

Now I'm gearing up for Thanksgiving. Although Peace Corps gives us the day off on Thursday, I'm going to still teach and celebrate at school. Then on Saturday, I will travel to my friend Val's place about 45 minutes away for a big feast. I think there will be 17 of us (whoa) for dinner, so I'm excited to celebrate with my PC Family.

Lastly, these are a few of my best friends in Ukraine. Not sure why the girls wanted to do a family photoshoot, (must be the holiday season) but I really like them.

From L to R: Grace, Ben, Egle, Jon, Val

Better known as IceV, JK, Weez, BBug, and E$ (L to R)
Adorable or cheesy? Not quite sure which...

Can't wait to show off more fun photos of how I celebrated Thanksgiving both at school and with my PC Family!