"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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Celebrating in Snow!

If you haven't heard, Ukraine has received quite a bit of snow. Especially in my region and the L'viv region just South of me. (Some photos from Aljazeera, here) School was canceled yesterday and Monday due to the heavy snowfall, a bridge falling, and terrible roads. Unfortunately it's not quite the right type of snow for making a snowman, but as soon as it is, I'll make a big one outside my house and post a photo. With all this snow, it seems like the best thing to do would be to celebrate some Winter holidays, so here are some brief explanations about some celebrated in Ukraine! 

Some of the students artwork for the Ukrainian Winter Holidays!

Winter holidays last for over a month over here, this year beginning with Hanukkah which began on December 8 and lasted until the evening of December 16th. Although a very small minority consider themselves Jewish in Ukraine, it was once a flourishing religion, with some 2.7 million Jews in the territory of modern Ukraine. Although some anti-Semitism (and lack of knowledge) still remain, Jewish communities are strong in their faith and celebrations took place in bigger cities, such as L'viv and Kyiv.

Today we're celebrating St. Nicholas Day (similar to Boxing Day if the Queen is your thing)! Last night, St. Nicholas left sweets and presents under the pillows of children and they were were quick to show off (and share) at school. Everybody was in high spirits, talking about St. Nicholas and spreading the holiday cheer. He is, after all, the patron saint of children, so how can you not have fun today!? Also, my English department really made me feel special today, collecting different things to make sure I wasn't forgotten on St. Nicholas Day! 

Always good to be on St. Nicks "Nice List!"

Traditionally, Ukraine's minority Roman Catholics (and protestants alike) celebrate Christmas on December 25th according to the Gregorian calendar while a majority -- Greek Catholics and Orthodox -- use the Julian calendar and celebrate on January 7th. That means I'll get to celebrate Christmas twice! Of course, December 25th is a workday for me, so I'll be teaching lessons, but I know my school won't let me forget that it's a day for celebration. Also, I'll be Skyping my family and friends around the world, opening my presents under the tree with them and celebrating together the birth of Jesus! 

Ukrainian Christmas (Jan 7) is much quieter, less commercialized, and more religiously oriented. New Years and St. Nicholas Day are the 'gift giving' holidays, but Christmas is a time to be at church and spend with family. January 6th will be a big evening meal with 12 "Lenten" or meatless dishes. Of course every Ukrainian has their own traditions for this meal, (and even every region/state) but I know that for sure Кутя  "kutya" - cooked wheat, with honey, poppy seeds and nuts - will be every table, as will Узвар “uzvar” - dried fruit compote. Christmas Day consists of going to church, and Колядники (kolyadnyky) -- caroler's (usually small groups of children) going house to house singing and collecting sweets and small amounts of money. 

Not surprisingly there are two New Years to celebrate as well! We'll celebrate with the World on December 31st/January 1st and then we'll celebrate Old New Year on the 13th/14th of January. I love Old New Year's because children will come to my house, singing again, but this time they greet each home by forcefully throwing sprinkling the floor/corridor with wheat seeds for joy and prosperity with the New Year. This usually happens pretty early in the morning, and you can't clean it for 3 days!

Happy New Year!

Fun fact: Carol of the Bells is a traditional Ukrainian song, usually sung on Old New Year's! It comes from an old Ukrainian folk song, and the original lyrics describe a swallow, flying house to house, proclaiming the plentiful year that each family will have. The title comes from the world Щедрий "shchedryi" which means generously -Listen to a simplified version: "Щедрий вечір" ("Bountiful Evening"). 

Of course, I'll be taking photos to post along the way. I'll be celebrating New Year's Eve/Day with Ukrainian friends in the mountains of L'viv, which I'm really looking forward to. It made me feel pretty good being invited! This will probably be my last post before Christmas, so I hope everyone has a very blessed and merry Christmas wherever, whenever, and however you celebrate! 

Христос народився! Славімо Його! (Christ is born! Let us praise him!)

Friday, December 14, 2012


This is the first weekend I've been at home in the last couple of months, and it feels really wonderful! This past 8 weeks or so have been spent with friends, as our moments together were few before they left to go home to America. In fact today, December 14th, would have been the last 'official day' of my Peace Corps service in Ukraine had I not extended...and, if anything, this week has reminded me that I am so glad that I've stayed and yes, the goodbyes were difficult, but my work just wasn't quite finished.

The snow started in Kolky on December 1st, and hasn't really let up since. There have been some blue skies occasionally  but I've braced myself for another bitter, grey Winter. I'm more and better prepared than ever, and this third time around, I am 100% confident in saying that the warm weather will come back! 

My chilly front door!

The orchard to the side of my house

The "Furnace" as I like to call it - this is what heats both schools, and my house!

This week, the conclusion of my 'Water Project' was posted. You can check that out here: Kolky Lyceum Water Project! There's a little story of what we did with our grant money and the impact that it's been making! A fantastic cause worth supporting if you're feeling extra generous this holiday season! 

Also, as of today (the last possible day...) I'm legally registered for the next 7 months in Ukraine! The registration process began back on Halloween in Moldova and finally concluded today with a lot of stamps, a lot of back and forth, and a lot of patience. My school was so wonderful helping me out and supporting me with all of the necessary paperworks, letters of guarantees,  etc. They really showed me that they're willing to go a long way to keep me here in Ukraine just a little bit longer! 

Done with this paperwork FOREVER! 

Of course, it wouldn't be December in Kolky without the annual "Hello, We are Looking for Talent" contest! Students from 1st-11th form took the stage this last week, performing their little Ukrainian hearts out. There were 3 concerts, totaling about 8 hours over 2 different days. A few photos from my phone are of my 5th and 7th Formers!  

5b doing their thing! 

The 7b Ensemble

A group of 5th-7th Formers

Now I'm just waiting for Christmas and New Years! Christmas will be another day of lessons, but I have a feeling my school won't let it go unnoticed! I put up my tree earlier this month and although it doesn't have lights or a start (I've since put a Santa on top), it does have it's first package, which arrived early December! Thanks Grandma Jerry! 

Soon I'll post about a Teacher's Seminar I took part in planning and implementing, and some more plans for 2013! And of course, more photos from the White Winter Wonderland that is Kolky these days! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Going Clubbing, Some Thanks, and a Bітаю!

At the beginning of the year, I told myself that English Club, this year, was going to happen. Not only was it going to happen, it was going to be on a regular basis, and I was going to be intentional about it. And, as it turns out, English Club has become something I enjoy and look forward to! It's a relaxed and safe environment for students. The numbers vary depending on other activities that week, amount of homework, and of course, the memory of over-stimulated middle-schoolers.  

Some of the more 'successful' EC lessons have revolved around holidays, (see the Halloween post a few days weeks ago) but we're having a blast whatever the topic, whenever the season.

I haven't been very good about bringing my camera, but my iPhone catches a few moments! Take a look at what we've been up to!  

Magazine Poetry!

Creating, Writing, Speaking, Learning!

Team Activities!

Singing Songs!

Crosswords...always a favorite!

Decorating our 'Thankful Turkeys'!

I want to end this post with gratitude and thanks for the many, many blessing in my life. I am so fortunate to be where I am and couldn't be more appreciative to the people that have helped me along the way. I have the most amazing family in the world, supporting my crazy adventures and overwhelming me with love and encouragement. My friends, at home, in Ukraine, and all around the world inspire me with their talents and gifts, and shape me to be a better person...and haven't forgotten about me! This experience in Ukraine couldn't happen without all of you, so I humbly say thanks. As a wise woman once said, "It takes a village". You all are my village.

Other things I'm thankful at this moment in my life:

  • My health and the health of those I care about so much;
  • The last of this seasons apples and the peanut butter that accompanies them oh so well;
  • Great Internet! (I have wifi now. Let's Skype! Seriously.);
  • My electric kettle. (How do you people live without one!?);
  • The love that is shown to me in Kolky every day;
  • Celebrating election victories (and not having to watch election ads);
  • Ukrainian friends that are going to keep me sane without my soon-to-be departed PCV gang;
  • High-5's from my kiddos;
  • fresh milk. 

aaaaand one last thing. 

Two great friends of mine from Cal Lu got engaged this weekend! A HUGE ВІТАЮ (Congratulations) to my friends Danny and Blythe! They are two of my favorite globally minded, do-gooders that are literally changing the world with each adventure they take on. I'm so excited for this next one of theirs! 

My CLU Family!
(Danny and Blythe are on the right!)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Home and Family"

A few weeks back, a reporter friend of mine, who had written a story on me a while back, asked me for 5-8 family recipes for a magazine his newspaper publishes. "Home and Family" published 3 of the 'dessert' recipes the other day! I haven't found a hard copy yet, but I found the article online! 

The photo, I'll admit, is quite misleading because I certainly did not make that cake - but rather was gifted it from my school and Tanya, our head cook on my 24th Birthday in March.

I've translated the short text below, and then it's followed by Bread Pudding, Banana Bread, and Apple Crumble recipes shared from me and my family! Смачного

Taste Banana Bread from Colorado

"A Volunteer from Colorado, Benjamin Hogue, has been living in Kolky for two years. During this time, the American has not only loved Ukrainian food, but also learned to cook. (Side note: I didn't learn in Kolky, but rather the necessity has been heightened and enthusiasm honed.) And besides borsch and varenyky, 'the guy' enjoys food which he loved at home. Ben has shared with 'Domovychk' recipes, that his family makes overseas."

This article has been shared with permission from the author, and my friend, Андрій Соколовський (Andriy Sokolovsky) 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Finishing October Right!

As stated in my previous post, some exciting events are happening in my neck of the woods. My Lyceum held our Olympiad last week and we had quite the turnout. I'm pretty sure that everybody was excited about the English test and not just wanting to miss some lessons. Results are finalized and this was to help us determine who should go on to the next round in the region (county). If they place, they go to the Oblast Level (State) and then possibly to the Country Level!

The start of the Olympiad - Quite the crowded room!

The 7th From starting their Listening Task

Volodimyr Mykolyovitch proctoring 'Listening Comprehension'

Working diligently!

Ira, Dima, and Roma at the head of the room

Also, I spent a weekend with Ukrainian friends in L'viv. Most of them were locals, and showed me a side I'd never seen before! One of them being atop the Administrative Tower in the center of the city! 

One of the last beautiful days of Fall!

Looking at the Greek Catholic Church and a bit of the city center!

"High Castle"
Many, many stairs will get you to the top - just ask my Mom and Dad!

High Castle with the city in the foreground

One of my favorite cities in the world

 Then, we went to the Lviv Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life, or rather "Shevchenko Grove". It's an open air museum with 100+ different structures, buildings, houses, monuments, etc. There was even a Cossack Wedding while we were there, so we watched a little of the procession!

The Bride and Groom

Of of the Wedding Party/Cossack Ensemble

One of the Churches

This isn't an exactly hidden treasure in L'viv, but it was the first time I'd been there and cannot wait to go back. I feel like we only saw a fraction of the territory -- much to be explored! 

And then it was time to celebrate Halloween. Well, there was no carving of pumpkins, but there was a lot of candy, 90 minutes worth of games/Halloween entrainment, plenty of costumes, 2 pre-carved pumpkins, 40+ children and one English Club facilitator...me.

I was slow with the photos, because frankly I had my hands a little full. Costumes included a ghost, lots of witches/vampires/princesses, a couple of cats, a real PCV (me in a traditional Cameroonian outfit), some movie stars, etc. Activities included: Halloween Vocabulary Concentration, Mummy Wrapping with TP, Put the Stem on the Pumpkin, a presentation about Halloween in America, watching a short clip about 'How to Carve a Pumpkin' and of course, a Costume Fashion Show.

"Put the Stem on the Pumpkin"!

Mummy Wrap!

More mummifying!

What's left over of our Vocabulary Concentration Game and our 'stemmed' pumpkin!

I'm leaving for Moldova tomorrow, so I'm spending a few days in Kyiv exploring while on Fall Break. Hopefully the VISA reapplication process goes smoothly and I'll be back with some fun stories and photos from Moldova...and I guess a VISA. It started snowing off and on here in Ukraine on Saturday. That's nothing compared to Sandy -- praying for the best for everybody in the East!

Happy Halloween to everybody! Eat some Candy Corn for me please! (Photos of the Candy Corn brownies I made coming soon...)

Dodging the rain/sleet/snow in Kyiv with some Windmills and Pysankys!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Reign has Ended!

I'm recently back in Kolky from an awesome weekend in Kyiv where I had a Volunteer Advisory Council meeting on Friday. It was a productive meeting, and my last as President of the VAC (one year term limit) but during my extended time here in Ukraine I'll still be representing the other PCV's that have chosen to extend. I'm excited for the little bit of extra free time that goes with giving the position away and still excited that I'll be serving on VAC. In other "Extending News", I'm going to Moldova to get re-register my Visa. That will be at the end October, so I'll blog about that next month!

While I have internet momentarily, I'll upload some photos from the past month or so.
They include: The 2nd Annual Potato Harvest! Of course these photos were taken about a month or so ago when I could get away with wearing t-shirt and shorts at 4 in the afternoon. The sun is setting a lot earlier these days, but as of yesterday, I have heat in my apartment, so life is good!

Doing what we do best!

Carrying the buckets into the shed

About twice of what we had last year!

What's a potato harvest without celebrating afterwards?

Not very often do you get to eat sunflower seeds right from the flower itself!

Teachers Day - I was given an award by my regional Administration for "Commitment to Excellence in the Classroom, Promoting Modern Methods of Teaching, and Leading Workshops and Seminars for Teachers of the Oblast". Other teachers were awarded for various accolades and accomplishments!
The teachers  and Administrators from Kolky Lyceum who went to the Regional Award Ceremony/Concert

Some of my "loot" after a fantastic and eventful teachers day celebrationUnfortunately this doesn't include the cake my class gave me!

"How sweet it is to be loved by you!"Thanks again for the LOVE via my care package :)

Kolky's Bus Station got a paint job!
(I wonder how "Slovyanka" feels next door?!")

Plans for the future include Kolky Lyceum's English Olympiad on Thursday and Monday's English Club celebration of "Halloween". I'm going attempt to supervise 10-13 year old's carving pumpkins for the first time. Wish.me.luck.