A Chocolate Life

“What is today?” I ask my students, inflecting my voice to emphasize the question (probably annoying at 8:00 a.m.).  And they respond all blasé, “Monday”, or “Tuesday”, or whatever day of the week it happens to be.  I follow-up, “Why is today special?”  My students look around at one another and shrug their shoulders.  So, I give them a bigger hint, “What American holiday is today?”  Usually, one out of the bunch will guess, making that introduction worth something. 

Well, tomorrow, I can make a safe bet that they won’t guess St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s not unheard of but quite off the radar here.  When you start to talk about little mystical men, rainbows with treasure, rivers of green beer, and being pinched, you kind of start to wonder about the holiday yourself.  A taxi driver told me though, that holidays in Ukraine are excuses to drink vodka and eat salo.  I have to agree.  But Irishmen, unlike Russians, don’t need an excuse to drink.

To add to the joviality of today—me, minus a Guinness or the St. Paul parade or a green get-up–I’m coming home in two months.  In the spirit of Ukraine, things came together quickly.  The GRE I had cursed taking in Kiev, mostly due to its overnight train ride, hidden location, and high school math, turned out to be worth it.  So did a fall spent upping my chances of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, typing and re-typing grad school applications.  Considering it’s the English Department we’re talking about, I was up to my neck in essays.  It’s the “chocolate life” for me now, as Ukrainians have told me.  It’s like our “the good life”, “the stars are aligned”, or “all is right in the world”.  And for the most part, it’s true.

I will pursue a Master’s in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) at the University of Washington-Seattle and at the same time, work for the ESL (English as a Second Language) program as an assistant and teacher.  The surprise?  I should begin on June 16th in Seattle.  That means two weeks at home in Minnesota before U-hauling it cross-country.  No, I haven’t ever been there, but “Sleepless in Seattle”  is a guilty pleasure and some of my best Peace Corps padrugas will be in the Pacific Northwest, so we.  I know I’ll like the city action, green spaces, ocean, markets, microbreweries, cherries, kayaking, hiking, skiing, diversity, rain?, coffee, bookshops, and all that jazz.  And I’ll really like having visitors!

What’s more “chocolate-y” to me though, is finally getting to catch up with family and friends.  It will be so nice to be present in the flesh.  This summer will mark a whole other round of “firsts”, maybe not forever firsts like in Ukraine, but “firsts” starting from being back.  And, like I promised, according to our deal, I’ll be home to celebrate Grandma Margaret’s 90th birthday.

It’s still too early to get sappy and weepy about leaving my second home, like I know I will.  If we’re using drinking metaphors (because, this is Ukraine and today is St. Patty’s Day), this one’s to the near future!

While I don’t want to wish away time, I think it’s healthy to have a “things I’m looking forward to” list going.  So, here are a few to give you an idea.

-Take a long, hot shower with great pressure 24/7

-Drive.  Because there’s nothing like being alone, on the open road, windows down, wind blowing, and music blasting.

-Run. And not worry about getting chased and bitten by a pack of stray dogs, harassed by drunk men, honked at by coal trucks, run over by speeding Ladas, or twisting an ankle in a pothole.

-Smile at strangers.  And not get hit on or given a weird look.

-Stand in lines.  Lines in which people do not push, shove, and budge.  I like this kind of order.

-Get a new hair-do.  The mullet cut since has grown out but my hair has been pretty neglected.

-Drink tap water.  Not worry about ingesting lead, mercury, and other chemicals and heavy metals.

-Get re-acquainted with American culture.  Where being on time is the norm and sandwiches come with a bottom and a top.

-Enjoy happy hour on an outdoor patio or rooftop. Half-price appetizers, what are those?

-Stock up on my favorite, grab-bag foods.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream, hummus, kalamata olives, …well, not your typical American hamburger, but my favs all the same.

-Speak with a normal accent.  (Albeit a slight Minnesotan twang).

-Play and cuddle with my dog.

-Make a Target run.  Getting those few things all in one place.

-Have a social life with people my own age.  Not that I don’t appreciate my older and wiser friends.

-Wash my laundry in a real washer.  I’ve made peace with hand washing but boy, it puts the “C’ in “Chore”.

-Be hugged and give hugs.  The cheek-kissing just doesn’t cut it here.  A nice, firm handshake would be good once in a while, too.

-Inhale less secondhand smoke.  I can smell cigarette smoke from my neighbor’s apartment through our walls.  Yeah, they’re thin.

-Go barefoot on grass.  Not worry about stepping on any number of dangerous objects.

Well, that’s all for now, folks.  My list goes on but it only goes downhill from here.  Stay tuned for that sappy, weepy note I promised, come next month.

My Mother’s Daughter

I’m my mother’s daughter.  At least as far as hostess-ing goes.  Most people say I resemble my dad (I agree, our smiles are uncannily alike) but when it comes to throwing a party, that’s where we diverge.  I do recognize Costco and Mama Maria’s catering, but I’d just rather do it myself.  Same goes for having real plates, even if they’re chipped and by no means a matching set.  Perhaps you’ll get lucky and have one of my two forks or soup spoons.  Otherwise, it’s a tea spoon or my train spork for you.  As you can see, I’m not the quintessential “hostess with the mostest”—I smoke out the kitchen and have to open a window, I always manage to burn myself or the rice, and have to run back out the store around the corner for something that was on the list but I still managed to forget.  For to me, it’s all in the company and the spontaneity that make a party.  And glittery decorations can’t hurt either.


I jazzed up my lamp a little for the occasion and I just might leave it.  A fiesta every day!

I jazzed up my lamp a little for the occasion and I just might leave it. A fiesta every day!


Too poor to buy flowers? Paper roses!

Glittery name place cards--Sergey, Tonya, Brenton, Sara.

Glittery name place cards–Sergey, Tonya, Brenton, Sara.

Last night, I threw a Mexican fiesta in my apartment.  I invited Tonya, my fifty-something padruga (gal pal) who sells newspapers, magazines, crosswords, horoscopes, lottery tickets, and  the birthday cards I send to you in the little post office shop. We met in June 2011, my first summer in Snezhnoe.  Take into consideration my affinity for snail mail and imagine my frustration as the forms in Ukrainian became a barrier between me and writing to you all.  She saved me by translating into Russian.  From there on out, we were friends.  I visit at least once a week to catch up on the latest and have been lucky to be her guest many a time, which includes fasting for the entire day.  There is no getting out of second helpings, not to mention dessert.  So, I thought it was about time she be my guest and have elastic pant of her own at the ready.


After eating, drinking, and being merry!




Tonya sewed this bag as a surprise…just in case anyone in town wasn’t yet aware of the Amerikanka in their midst:)

 Brenton, my American pal from the next town over came for the event, so we had a 50/50 female to male ratio going on for once.  Her husband, Sergey, had a partner to drink cognac with, while Tonya and I got tipsy on wine.  The four of us had a cheerful dinner party and cheers-ed to our fated, if not unlikely friendship—for a former-Soviet career military man like Sergey would have been carted off to prison for carousing with the likes of us Americans.  Sergey was digging the hot sauce and the fajitas and quesadillas were a real hit, while the kidney beans in spicy tomato sauce over pearl barley (like fat brown rice) were exotica.  The bar included: cognac, vodka, red wine, or white wine by taste.  There was even a fireworks “show” with a front row view from my balcony i.e. drunk people from the café next door celebrating and setting off car alarms.

The same rule applies in Gorlovka, Ukraine as in Vegas: What happens at girls’ banya weekend stays at banya weekend. But I suppose I can let you in on the basics.  First, excuse me for taking for granted that you speak the same mishmash of English and Russian and nonsense as I do.  A banya is a bathhouse.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the Russian bathhouse?  I’m not sure what you picture, but I envisioned the sauna packed with putrid-smelling, fat Slavic-looking men elbow to elbow, sweating profusely, laughing loudly, and drinking excessively.  Our banya experience diverged slightly from this scene though the former pretty picture I painted for you is in fact, common in these parts.

Instead, we were seven American girls barely managing to sweat it out for 10 minute stints in the sauna, finding relief in an ice-cold XXL bucket bath or dumping bucket on a string (like at a carnival).  During the sauna intervals, we sat ourselves down at the kitchen table for veggies in french onion dip, prized contraband from America, baked goods, citrus fruits, and plenty of lemon white wine spritzer to go around.  There, we all indulged in extra-hot showers before going outside with wet hair (and not dying).  Not much has changed from fourth grade sleepovers except maybe the addition of alcohol and the added element of Peace Corps, where among best friends, no subject is taboo.


Seven American girls getting ready for the banya. *Photo courtesy of the lovely Kristen Hartman.


Homemade lemon, white wine spritzer chillin’ on snow. Nothing but class.


Sweating it out in the sauna.


Ice cold bucket shower or ice cold dunking bucket? Tough choice.


What sleepovers are made of, whether you’re twenty-something or still in middle school.

 And the funny kid stories continue to roll in.  In my fourth grade class, I asked, “Do you know any cities in America?”  All of their hands shot up.  Dima: “London!”  Me: “No, that’s in a different country, England, across the ocean.”  Daniel: “Gotham City!”  At that point, there was no holding my laughter in.  Me: “Umm, like Batman?  I don’t think that’s a real city.  Well, it might be!”   Then, Alona: “Chicago!” (with a hard emphasis on the “Ch”).  Thank goodness for the Ukrainian Diaspora in Chicago or I just dunno.


The cutest darn fourth-graders practicing table vocabulary and phrases. “Black tea or green tea?” “Do you want cake?” “Give me sweets please!” A fun lesson.

 And on Valentine’s Day, one of my eleventh grade girls buttered me up and complimented me, “Miss Sara, you look beautiful today.”  Aww.  Not to be outdone, her friend adds, “You smell like toilet water.”  Not getting a response from me, mortified, for I had showered just that morning and heck, it’s February, she clarified, “You smell like chocolate toilet water.”  Clearly not getting the message in English, she gave it in Russian.  The intended phrase: “Your perfume smells like chocolate.” “Eau de toilette” is not equal to “toilet water”.

 In other news, the final countdown is on.  Cue Europe’s “The Final Countdown”, put on your leather pants, and wear your mullets with pride, for yes, the end of Peace Corps Ukraine is drawing near.  I officially say dosvedanya to Ukraine on May 29th, 101 days from today, and will take the long way home, travelling the Silk Road, Far East.  The kinks are yet to be worked out but the goal is to be home in time to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Bring on the barbeques, the lake swimming, the legitimate firework shows, the parades.  I’m ready for you America.  Are you ready for me?

Snezhnoe in Technicolor: Videos Galore

Check out these albums of Snezhnoe in video by my students and yours truly.  This can be your dream come true.  Come visit!

I Show You My Hood:


Students Show You Snezhnoe:


Students Show You School:



Champagne Supernova

As a child of the 90s and all it entailed—pleather, boy bands, Hubba Bubba bubble gum—can I then claim stake to Oasis’ “champagne supernova”?  For a month and counting, I have been celebrating—Christmas Eve and Day, Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve and Day, New Year, Old New Year,…  And this list is not an exhaustive one.  Just eating the mayonnaise salad and praying no one piles a heaping helping of seconds, thirds, fourths, or fifths, after asking why I am not eating.  What we call food pushing in America is good hospitality in Ukraine; feeding is what Ukrainian mamas do best.  Thus, after not having been paid for overtime, my stomach is now on-strike and my liver is out setting cars on fire, having taken to the streets, rioting.

But let’s backtrack to how I became this champagne supernova.  I left in the swirl of a mid-December snowstorm, spending a quality two hours at the bus stop with my 60-pounder suitcase, drunk chatty old man, and the young mechanic I practically begged to save me from the old man’s peskiness, and finally, hopping on my white horse, err, I mean, catching the last bus outta town to make my flight home to America the next morning.  It was one of those days I was stranded, cold, and hungry and was so blessed to be on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers.

Along the way, I had the chance to pay it forward when a Ukrainian woman Canadian-bound and I both missed our connecting flights out of Amsterdam.  Not often do I find myself in a situation when I can help by speaking English.  Usually, it’s the opposite; me, the struggling foreigner, so it was nice to make use of myself for once.  Plus, I have a place to stay in a mountain village in the fairytale land of western Ukraine.  And with Ukrainians, that’s not an empty promise.

A number of metal detectors, airstairs, airline safety speeches, popping ears, and complementary in-flight beverages later, I landed on American soil in Atlanta, Georgia.  Southern accents and big, white smiles greeted me.  I was shellshocked.  There was a Starbucks in every terminal, can you believe it?  The place was full of loud English talkers everywhere, and I felt like I was eavesdropping on every conversation.  Here, I have the choice to block out Russian if I so choose.  The pants size was considerably larger but I just couldn’t get over the wrinkly clothes (Don’t they have any pride?  Do they not own an iron?) in the casual style, a fashion phenomenon I try (and fail) to explain to my classes, for apart from Adidas track suits, the look hasn’t yet caught on here.  So, here I was, in my polyester cheetah dress, knee-high boots, and Ukrainian braid feeling somewhat like a fake.

Normalcy resumed quickly.  It began at the arrival gate at midnight in Minneapolis International Airport, where my dad was waiting for me.  I was elated to be claimed by my family.  A minor case of jet lag aside, with the help of Tylenol P.M., I slept like a rock in my own bed.  I forgot how good that felt.  And to wake up in my bedroom.  Then, to have an overflowing cup of coffee and Mark Ryan custom-order omelets with Allie and Joey.  Now, that’s a treat.

My first field trip was to the DMV, where I was issued a new Driver’s License, one of those essential things for suburban American survival.  After that, I was set to tend to some business.  I stopped by the dentist to check the pearly whites and the hair stylist to cut away any trace of a mullet.  I ran errands, too.  Target was a highlight.  On those days when errands literally have you running all over town, we dream of this place.  It has everything.  So dangerous.

Oh, and the choices.  So. Many. Choices.  A shopping trip to the Mall of America happened at the front end of my visit, in the thick of Christmas shopping.  As a difficult shopper to begin with, the choices were overwhelming to say the least.  I had to remind my mom that picking out nylons at the stationary store counts as a shopping trip in Snezhnoe.  But, after a minor meltdown and self-imposed time out, I pulled it together and enjoyed the deals, people watching, and beautiful Christmas decorations.

The Christmas spirit was alive and well and I was ecstatic to decorate the Christmas tree, more than I can say for my bro and sis, who grudgingly helped, probably out of guilt.  The cousins came over, making Joey the minority as the only guy representing, as usual.  With our moms, we continued the Bake-Off tradition for the 34th year (and counting).  The outcome were homemade caramels and Christmas cookies decorated by yours truly and company.

On Christmas Eve, we had the big Ryan Christmas Eve shindig.  All the relatives came over, where we feasted on the not-so-traditional-but-nonetheless-delicious Italian menu, thanks to Mama Maria catering.  Hey, our numbers are up to forty-ish by now.  While there was no dancing per Ukrainian tradition, there was plenty of drink to go around and we made merry our Irish kind of way.  On Christmas Day, we had dinner with Mom’s crew, a more intimate dinner than the night before, and one that included artichokes to be dipped in lemon butter.  And how could I forget, Santa stopped by!

Post-Christmas, things died down, if only a bit, and for the first time in several years, the majority of the Mahtomedi girls were reunited over brunch at Key’s.  In the space of an hour or so, we caught up and enjoyed being together in-person.  We had a Dad date and watched the new James Bond flick, “Skyfall”, in a real movie theater and afterwards, drove to the other side of the St. Croix River for Caribbean food at one of our favorite haunts in Hudson, Wisconsin, San Pedro Café.  One day, my mom treated my sister and I to manicures and pedicures and a pizza night in.  Another night, I spent catching up with my Winona State girls out on the town in Minneapolis. 

In between that, I had a visit with Grandma, played bar BINGO, did laundry with a washer and dryer, learned how to knit a scarf, and indulged in what I had been pining for: Mexican, seafood, green vegetables, kalamata olives and feta cheese, sushi, old fashioned black licorice, ginger tea, dark beer, Malbec, Italian pasta, French baguettes, goat cheese, sandwiches, avocadoes, berries, yogurt, milk, coffee, ice cream.  While I didn’t get a bite of everything I had missed, it will be waiting for me when I get back.  Plus, it was my ultimate goal to spend as much time as possible with family and friends just hanging out rather than to gain a few pounds.  So, mission accomplished.

Unfortunately I took my mission so seriously that I didn’t take very many pictures…opps.  So, until I round up some more from friends and family, here’s what I got of my two weeks in heaven, I mean, Minnesota.



Georgia: The Country and An Early Gift from Santa

It all depends on your audience.  When you tell Americans that you’re going to “Georgia”, it is to The Peach State, but to Europeans, say “Georgia” and it’s the wine country.  So, I make the distinction; Georgia: the country.  Fall break has become an anticipated, coveted week of vacation, as winter travel proves a perilous venture.  We arrived a couple of hours later to the new Kakheti airport, an hour, give or take, outside of Tbilisi.  Partly-finished, without toilets or an ATM due to waning government funding, we were nevertheless impressed by the mini-bottle of Georgian wine presented to us by customs, the officers giddy to see an American passport come through.  Once our marshrutka had filled up, our driver took us away from the airport plopped in a goat field.  First stop: a gas station with real toilets and even toilet paper, a sink, and soap! where we could do our business and uncross our legs.  Second stop: an exchange shop where we could hand over some dolla billz for some lari.  Third stop: a marshrutka station somewhere in Tbilisi.  Used to doing things the hard way, Steph and I weren’t fazed by our directionlessness but instead, haggled with the taxi driver and settled on being only slightly ripped out, as we were ready to drink that airport wine at our hostel (which we did…in bed).

A small, walkable city, we strolled up and down Rustaveli, bumped into Freedom Square, followed the cobblestone veins into Old Town, and crossed the bridge over Mt’k’vari River.  At times Asian and at times, Western, Tbilisi did the body and soul good.  The subtropical climate, boasting cerulean blue skies and 70 degree weather we were happily overdressed for, allowed for outdoor café-hopping and ample wandering.  Despite qualms over eastern European gondolas, we rode in the cable car up to Sololaki Hill for an unmatched panorama of Tbilisi and an up-close view of the 20-meter high, aluminum Kartlis Deda, or Mother Homeland statue.

The sequence of events are fuzzy but over the course of several days, we indulged in the following treats.  The squirrel mascot at the “Smart” supermarket caught our eye and so we went up and down the aisles, where we mostly just looked at the German-imported goodies.  One evening, we made a date night of it and watched the only Russian film playing that evening, “Taken 2”.  It was a good flick and because it wasn’t too philosophical, we were able to follow.  It even smelled like an American movie theater.  After a cold shower at the hostel, the banya called out to us.  It didn’t disappoint.  We joined the local ladies and got a scrub-down and massage after steamy showers.  Afterwards, we felt radiant.  The Museum of Soviet Occupation in Georgia piqued our interest, as life now is so intertwined with this past.  One thing on our to-do list included finding the train station, which was hidden under the auspices of a mall and in Georgian script.  This led us to a detour—the bazaar, where we were invited to several meals and partook in a swig of cha-cha and eluding further invitations by fibbing that our train left in an hour.

I must mention that we ate and drank well.  The national cuisine includes khachapuri on the streets (a tad greasy but a steal at mere cents for lunch), clay pot of spicy kidney beans , fried eggplant, bread, cheese, shashlik (lamb and pork), cucumber and tomato salad with parsley and fennel  (a twist from Ukraine, which uses dill, parsley, and ample sunflower oil), sautéed wild mushroom caps with cheese, dumplings (bypassed as not big dumpling fans and available in Ukraine).

A fellow Peace Corps friend tipped us off about the marshrutka rides to Kazbegi in the mountains, saying that the roads are rougher than those in Ukraine.  Disbelieving, I brought along a small supply of Dramamine and thank goodness, since those roads lived up to their reputation.  Marshrutkas at breakneck speeds, swerving around potholes, hugging the curves, dodging animals, people, cars, or whatever crosses its path.  Babushkas sold fruit leather and nuts wrapped in fruit leather on the side of the road, sheep fur hats, colorful patterned knit socks and hats, seeds and nuts sectioned in plastic containers, scooped by the same glass cup I have in my kitchen and in all ex-Soviet countries using for measuring.  The moment we got off the marshrutka, a local guy called our guesthouse owner, Vano, to pick us up at the stop in town, as they are all on a first-name basis in this village.  Vano, speaker of Georgian, Russian, English, Japanese, though we couldn’t verify all the languages he claimed, proved a bit overbearing, wanting to drive us everywhere, but incredibly hospitable.  Vinera, his mother took care of our alimentary needs and beyond, cooking us some hearty dinners– omelets, meat and potatoes, piroshkies that we packed to-go and donated to some hungry town doggies.

We hiked up a steep trail to the Holy Trinity Church at the top of Mt. Kazbeg, where we lay in the churchyard for three hours picnicking, soaking up the sun (Steph and her fair skin got a sunburn) and took in the mountains that surrounded us, the village in the valley.  A mountain dog befriended us and escorted us down the mountain, much of  which we spent sliding on our butts down the steep grade and loose rock, laughing all the way, still tipsy on red wine, making it all the funnier.  To top off the day, we enjoyed coffees at new, swanky “The Rooms” hotel, where we pretended we belonged, to watch the sunset.  Then, we snuggled in our “hammock” twin beds pushed together, all the blankets piled on, the gas heater in the room across the hall, the mountains cold at night.

Flash forward two marshrutka rides, a metro trip, and a taxi drive when we arrived to Nato and Lado’s Guesthouse.  Here, we confused our host with our nationality, him expecting a couple of American girls and us greeting him with “zdrastvehtye” instead of “hello”.  Lado quickly became a fast friend, the proof being the free-flowing cha-cha together. The welcome tray enjoyed on the terrace was a sign of what was to come: Turkish coffee, red wine (to the brim), white wine (orange-infused), a shot of cha-cha (two double shots).  That first day, we had to lie down for a little afternoon nap.  The time here was spent wandering, eating, drinking, photographing, and socializing.  Signaghi, the little town on a bluff in wine country is a place to come back to.  I fell in love with the slow pace.

Once more, I found myself in Tbilisi but this time without Steph, as we were taking different routes back to Ukraine.  At the hostel, we met lots of international travelers, the cast of characters including Sam from Leeds, England, who has biked across Europe and after a flight, will continue across Asia to reach his final destination, Australia, the Polish crew who ran the place, an Irish lad who has been travelling for nearly five years after quitting his job as a lawyer.  With this merry band of pranksters, I spent my last night kicking up my heels.  The Poles in-residence took us to an underground, local Georgian establishment where we shared an extremely cheap and delicious family-style meal, followed by a shot of cha-cha on the way to a hole-in-the-wall bar, and ending with dancing at a dive of a club before catching a taxi to the airport at 2:30 a.m.  Hey, this could have been the liveliest nightlife I will enjoy for some time.

Well, maybe not.  Santa Claus delivered my present early this year.  He said I was a good girl and has arranged for me to go home home for Christmas this year.  I will be in Minnesoooota from December 15th until December 28th.  My wish is to spend every minute catching up with family and friends.  I can’t wait to see you!


Sara bakes egg hot dish.

Among the few weapons in my students’ English language arsenal is “How old are you?”  It’s a question they review each year, joining the likes of “What is your name?”, “Who is in your family” and so on.  So I say, “I’m 25”.  Then, they pause to think, translate it into Russian, “Ahh, davatset piyat.”  I usually can’t tell if being 10-ish years their senior is a lot or a little.  “Yes”, I say.  And I inquire, “How old are you?”  They pause, surprised to get the question back, think a moment, and return with an age in the 7-17 range.  I point to my heart, smile, and say, “but I feel young” and I think they get it.

 Although it’s considered taboo to ask a woman her age—especially a woman in an authoritarian role— all bets are off with me.  Yes, I admit that I don’t hold much of an authoritarian role with the students.  And I’m okay with that.  It’s a trade-off.  I don’t scream at them, make them memorize and repeat vocabulary lists and grammar charts, or interrupt them to correct their every teeny-tiny mistake.  Instead, I let them make fun of my lousy Russian accent, expose my oftentimes embarrassing cultural mistakes, maintain eye contact and truly listen and remember what they say, and make an effort to know each and every one of them (tricky when there are four Katia’s and three Roma’s in one classroom).

 I do play the part to the best of my ability.  You know, for appearances and all.  It makes things a-o.k. on the teacher side of things.  I wear high-heels so I can click-click-click quickly down the hallway.  I put on lipstick because all of the other teachers do.  That’s why we have the teacher’s room.  That, and to gossip.  Oh, and to check the ever-changing schedule of lessons.  Skirts and dresses are my prerogative, though rarely do I see dress pants on the women at school.  Fancy hair-dos are secondary to leisurely coffee drinking in the early hours before school but I try to at least look presentable each day.  I remember when I was in school, sitting for 45 minutes, looking at my teacher, picking up on his/her ticks.  Darn  kids notice everything.  Plus, there is a tendency here for me to be the last to know about that meeting with the mayor or that photo session —“Oh, I didn’t mention that to you?”  Always ready.  Never surprised.

 I also never thought that at 25 I would still be making cold lunches to take to school.  I like it.  If I can help it, I’ll be taking cold lunches to school for the rest of my life, whatever and wherever I call school.  That’s what led me to baking egg hot dish.  What’s a girl to bring?  Keep in mind, convenience is not a thing here.  We have caviar-flavored chips but no shaved, smoked-turkey lunchmeat to be found.  It’s a good day when my chicken lady at the bazaar has fresh filets for me because even she knows there’s no way in heck I’m buyin’ a kilogram of chicken livers.  Sometimes, you just want the comforts of home.  Inspired by Grandma Margaret’s recipes, not only famous in the Ryan circle but a hit at Mother Mary Holy Catholic Church in Burnsville, Minnesota, I whipped together an egg hot dish.  After washing it down with a cup of tea at my desk today, I have to say it didn’t disappoint.

 So, while I have those days, just like every normal human being, things have more or less fallen into place around here.  Only took a year, give or take.  I “get” why I’m here for twenty-seven months.  Things are rolling now.  I like to think that I’ve been around the block (if only once on training wheels), older and a little wiser to the ways of the world here.  And it feels good not to be shook up all the time, save those marshrutka rides.  Just a healthy dose of being shook up every once in awhile.  There ‘ya have it, Sara bakes egg hot dish.

The ABC’s of Ireland

As I have gushed in earlier accounts, the much-anticipated family meet-up in Ireland has come and sadly, has gone.  Although I told myself I wouldn’t shed any tears when it came time to go our separate ways goodbyes have a way of sneaking up on you.  They are made all that much more difficult when it will be another 10 months, you are the sensitive one, and after spending so much truly fun quality time together.  So, the mascara did run, giving me a minor case of raccoon eyes, but it’s only because I love my family that much.  Now back in Snezhnoe, I feel rejuvenated, stomach still full of Irish food and drink, endowed with “the gift of gab”, and like every year, excited to go back to school.

See for yourself what we did in my photographs, and please don’t judge too harshly.  We did do other things besides drinking.  It’s the culture, okay?  Below is a scattered list of people, places, and things that made Ireland everything it was and more.

***Go to my “photographs” page for a link to the latest shots.

A: Atlantic Ocean

B: Bulmer’s Cider, Blarney Stone, backseat riders, Barna, bathroom stops

C: Corkscrew Hill, Cliffs of Moher, Celtic Sea, cows, Claddagh ring, “Cheers!”, car-sleepy

D: Dingle, Dublin, Dan Dooley’s Rental Cars, Dubliners, durok card game, Daniel O’Donell

E: European Union, Emerald Isle

F: “Forty Shades of Green”, Ford Galaxy, fish and chips, ferry, family reunion

G: Guinness, Graffton Street, Galway, guitar

H: hurling championships, happy hour, hiking, harp

I: Irish breakfast, Irish fern

J: Jameson whiskey, James Joyce

K: Killarney, Kilkenny

L: lamb stew, the luck of the Irish, the Liffey River

M: Muckross House, Abbey, and Inn, maps

N: navigating

O: opposite side of the road, O’ (your last name here)

P: Penney’s Department Store, pony carting, pony trekking, pubs

Q: the Queen

R: Ryan’s Pub, red-heads, the Rose Festival, rummy, rain showers, roundabouts

S: strong, black coffee, spotty sun, soccer, “straightaway”, soda bread, sheep, seafood, scenic views, shenanigans, St. Kevin’s Monastery

T: Temple Bar, tea, “traffic calming” (a.k.a. merging), Trinity College

U: United Kingdom, umbrella

V: vegetable soup

W: “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, wool sweaters, Wicklow Mountains, walking streets

X, Y, Z:  Help a girl out!


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