Thursday, November 20, 2014


Sorry for the radio silence of late, readers. Last week's snowpocalypse-that-wasn't (for this area at least) closed a lot of the city down and resulted in a day off. I used that day + the weekend to finish unpacking boxes, clean house, and just catch up on a billion little things. It felt great!

Then back to work this week. Today I completed my first monthly report on the job:
A couple of years ago I was the instructor and my boss was the education coordinator. Now I'm the coordinator and someone else is the instructor. It's really weird to see things from the other side. I understand my old boss so much better now, why she had so many piles of paperwork everywhere and never enough time. Many days I wish I could call her up and ask her for advice but then I remember that she eventually moved on, dropping the position for school, the same decision that my predecessor at this job made. Is that some kind of sign?

Between classes, phone calls, emails, intakes, and paperwork, I set up this little tea shrine:
That mug was a going-away present from Karina, a student-turned-good-friend. I love it! The sides show many of the city's famous landmarks and a cup of tea always brings back good memories. This last summer, as the temperatures crept higher and higher, Maxine and I would head over to Karina's apartment for an English/Russian language exchange. Karina would always have a table full of good stuff to snack on: chocolates, strawberries with sugar, champagne. And served a smile. Always the same huge smile.
The one and only Karina : )
Anyways, this is just a short post to check in. Got a couple more posts in the works, coming soon! In the meantime, here are some fun photo galleries from a Ukrainian photographer in Lviv. Benches is my favorite- what's yours?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Down came the rain

Rain, rain

Go away
Come again
Another day

It's that time of the year- I hope you've got a nice umbrella : )

DC rain...
...and Seattle rain too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sand and sweets

This little seaside park in Edmonds, Washington is a favorite of D's family. We spent several afternoons here in August, beachcombing the chilly waters and eating pizza at Marina Beach, his sister's namesake park.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New job

Life in the U.S. feels more familiar. The foods we eat, our daily routines, the smell of pot in public places, it's all an expectation rather than a surprise. Days will go by when I hardly think of Ukraine until suddenly, some piece of news will present itself and the country will again materialize in front of us. Last week this stunning piece of art on an old building made me smile. Sunday's news of an explosion in a pub in downtown Kharkiv did not.

At the sight of anything blue and yellow- even an IKEA store...

It's hard to find any news on Ukraine at all now locally, which can falsely lull a person into thinking the situation there is calmer. Fortunately a neighbor started leaving his copy of the Wall Street Journal out for us and it's often possible to find an update or two in there. Friends in Ukraine keep in touch but they rarely add anything to their emails about politics, negotiations, or troop movements. Who would?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The colors of fall in Portland

Fall is a time of year that I've never really taken time for before.

In Alaska's interior, it was a hurried explosion of color, soon dampened by snow. In Ukraine I was too busy looking at people and signs to pay much attention to something as commonplace as a season. But now the changing face of nature has captured me completely.

I think part of this fascination is the hyper-awareness we have of the holiday season in America... as in Halloween- load up on candy! costume thyself! Thanksgiving- buy! consume! Black Friday! Christmas- decorate! shop! eat! Here, it's impossible to forget that this is fall time. Holiday-scent candles, autumn-inspired teas, gift sets, anything and everything with a seasonal theme is for sale. I got the aforementioned tea collection about two weeks ago: pumpkin spice, caramel apple, chocolate truffle, cranberry bliss. And then what should appear at the store yesterday but the winter edition already ; )

The over-commercialism of the holidays is always a popular rallying cry but I'm not going to join in this time. This year it's a consolation prize for exchanging Ukraine for the U.S. So, that limited-time-only deal? Yes, please. Plus all the advertising for pumpkin spice lattes and "spooky cookie dough for only $2 extra" has actually directed my attention back where it should be- outside.

On a non-money-related note, I'd like to bring more conscious tradition into my life and create a few rituals as in Every year we do [insert something funny or cool] on Holiday X. Recently I've noticed that this is one of my weak points, getting stupidly surprised at things that happen on a regular basis. This could be a big thing, as in looking at the calender and realizing Halloween is in two days, but to be really honest, it happens with the most predictable things too. For example, knowing that I need to leave for work at 8 AM but still finding myself in a panicked scramble for housekeys and brain at 7:53 AM. Every single morning.

Thus it's no big shock we missed out on celebrating Halloween. I'll blame it on moving in and the new job. My parents [did I tell you how WEIRD it is to live in the same state?!] fulfilled their civic duty of handing out sugar to small children. 160 of them, phew! Even the dog, in her Halloween costume, eventually stopped running over to investigate at the sound of the doorbell!

How they do Halloween.
Now all the sweets and horror makeup are marked down and Thanksgiving is taking up the end caps and displays. For the past 3 years this day meant sorting through my stack of holiday lesson plans and choosing something fun. One year there was a special dinner, a hodgepodge of Peace Corps and Ukrainian friends and whatever dishes people could scramble up. 365 days later- and it's super bittersweet to write this- the news was filled with talk of "the revolution!" and we had a small, sober gathering around our glass coffee table.

Our last Thanksgiving stateside was in 2010. It was snowing that day and we stomped through tiny snowdrifts on a nearly-empty campus to attend the sorry you had nowhere else to go free cafeteria meal offered by University of Alaska. Later we drove the 60 miles out to where D's parents lived. As grumbling as I was at times, I miss those days now. Days we sat down to an odd mix of Ukrainian, Tatar, and American foods washed down by cognac and vodka. Days his father spent much of using Russian to curse the chaos that is the English language. Now that we're in Portland, perhaps we'll share the day with my family, an event that hasn't happened in probably a decade.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mystery city

I took a trip!

And then when I got back and looked through the pictures, I realized how much certain buildings and views resembled those of Kharkiv.

View from our apartment in Kharkiv:

View from the mystery city hotel room:

What do you think- does it look like Ukraine at all? And can you guess what city this is?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Army guns + Voting booths

These photos shocked me.

This is not the festive Freedom Square of New Years Eve. This is no longer the place where it's possible to see someone casually walking their bear on a leash. Gone are the days of Verka Serduchka and Boney M singing to a tipsy and cheering audience of thousands.

Instead, this is the new reality. This is life during war.

These photos showed up in my inbox a few days ago, along with a short message from the same friend who contributed to the previous post. His text follows in different font.