Last Days, New Beginnings

The incredibly long flight back to California from Ukraine – but surprisingly awesome with good company, constant feedings, and free individual movies.

This is the weather that greeted me upon return – no big surprise, you win again San Francisco!

But the next day, and for a good bit after, glorious!!

What follows are mostly photos of my final days in the capitol of Ukraine, Kiev, before the end of my service. Lots of things didn’t make it onto my camera. Like last visits and hard goodbyes. Wonderful reunions with fellow volunteers that led to incredible spicy Chinese food. And the best live music I’d heard in Ukraine at this chill bar Divan (Couch) – they had Serafini illustrations up on their walls too – crazy cool! Not to mention the buildup of excitement while meeting various Californians at the hostel and talking favorite places.

The girls seeing me off at the bus station ❤ Literally could not have left without them as the bus I had wanted to take was full, and they helped get me and my bag across town to catch a different one. I’m one lucky girl to have such awesome friends ❤

Me ringing the Close of Service Bell on my final day as a Peace Corps Volunteer – I’m officially a RPCV!

After finishing in the office, I made my way to my favorite area of Kiev, the Podilskyi District.

It was a gorgeous day and once I walked up out of the shadow of Andriyivskyy Descent, I got to meander in the golden afternoon sunlight.

Church-goers lined up to kiss the relic.

A school group running around playing tag.

View from the backside of the National Museum.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

St. Michael’s Cathedral

Vladimirskaya Hill a lovely park surrounding both the upper region on the bluff behind St. Michael’s and extending down into the Podil.

Birthday love declarations.

View of the mighty Dnieper River.

My absolute favorite spot – St. Vladimir of Kiev – ever since getting lost and stumbling upon it during training. This area has always felt rich in history to me, and was even more so after having finished Bulgakov’s White Guard.

Some excerpts I liked in the book describing Kiev and these regions in particular:

“In winter, as in no other city in the world, a calm fell over the streets and lanes and the upper City, over the hills and the lower City, which sprawled out at a bend in the frozen Dnieper, and all the mechanical noise retreated into the stone buildings, which softened and muffled its growl.”

“All the City’s energy amassed over the sunny and stormy summer spilled out in light…the City played, overflowed with light, lit up, and danced, flickering all through the night until morning, when it died out and wrapped itself in smoke and haze. But the electric white cross in the hands of the gigantic St. Vladimir on St. Vladimir’s Hill shimmered best of all and could be seen from far away, and often in the summer, in the dark haze, in the tangled twists and turns of old man river, from the osier bed, boats saw it and by its light found their way to the City and its docks.”

I love riding the funicular!

How I feel about Kiev and my time in Ukraine ❤

Thank you to everyone for your friendship, comments, emails, packages, and support during my service. It means the world to me.

As for what comes next, I’m working on it! But wherever this next beginning takes me I will always have these incredible memories, experiences, and friendships in my heart.


Miss You

As I wrap things up here in Ukraine, it’s inevitable that my mind is already aware of what I’m going to miss when I’m back in the States. So this post is in an attempt to keep the memories vivid. And I apologize in advance for the War and Peace length of this post – it’s a long one.

So let’s begin!

Easily what I’ll miss most are the excellent people that I’ve met here. Thank gawd for friends and the fun we have had together!

Photo of our last meeting together at my apartment. I’m going to miss them so much!! If you’ve been following my posts, these girls have become my close friends and been essential to the good times that I’ve had here in Ukraine. Smart, fun, beautiful, open-minded and the list goes on, these girls are incredible and I’ve been so lucky to know them. All I can say is thank gawd for the internet and the ability to keep in touch after I’m back in the States.


For the past two years, two girls in the older grades took the time to get to know me outside of classes and we met regularly, becoming friends. We always had coffee, something tasty to eat, good conversation, and usually ended up watching something on the computer (they got me hooked on The Vampire Diaries – I was Team Elijah myself :P). These our a couple pictures we took with the self-timer when we last got together – fun! I’ve missed not having them at school as they started university this semester. I am so looking forward to seeing what these kind and amazing girls do in the world!


Of course, of course there’s the pupils!! There are many moments and classes that I have loved teaching. Teaching can be such a difficult and time consuming job, but oh such a rewarding one! When an activity works, when ideas are expressed and words remembered, well, it’s a great feeling for everyone.

This last week at school was my week to say goodbye to my classes and them to me. Structured it with having them write something/make something in English that I could take back with me as a souvenir. I have no doubt if I ever need a pick-me-up all I have to do is take these treasures out and remember. I’m sorry, but I had a very hard time narrowing these down so it’s long….so much love!

First up, let’s go to the Pedagogical College:

Course we brought some snacks, drank some tea, and let loose with the paper and markers! Even played some Mafia 😛

From my awesome colleague and friend Masha ❤

And my other awesome colleague and friend Yulia ❤

Love the star theme that cropped up in this meeting

From Dima, the one boy at our meetings.

A couple of the girls made me some gifts, and as a whole they made this amazing video:

Easily some of the funnest lessons were the one’s we had together. Such a cool, creative bunch of students, and they are going to be great teachers!

So, I’ve read a lot of books since coming to Ukraine, and they have found a new home with my friend Masha and the students at the school. Nothing like some extracurricular materials on zombies and such to learn English 😀


And moving on to my primary work site, School Number 18:

My counterpart Irina and I. The impetus behind me coming to my site, the person I turned to when I needed help, I’ll always remember her.


Irina’s 6A Class.

He worked so hard all period on this, frickin’ awesome!!

Love the face on this ❤


Such cute faces.

Tropical beach of Ukraine?


Irina’s 8B Class.

I find I’m doing this and reversing my n’s now too…


…inside “Made in Ukraine”

Sponge Bob usually makes an appearance.

Like a ray of sunshine.


Irina’s 7B Class. The phrase ‘herding cats’ applies here – so enthusiastic and into themselves it’s sometimes difficult to get even simple things like a group photo taken.

But they’re sweeties 🙂

The envelope…

…the insides.

Lots ‘o Britain in the house.

Even Dima got into the swing of things by copying some randomness out of his book – good for him!

The cover…

…the inside.

Bingo and the letter ball were always a big hit 🙂

I love the togetherness ❤


Irina’s 7A Class. I got really close to this class as their homeroom teacher was my counterpart.

Sergei told me there’s 50 stars there! And inside…

By the end of our time together, this boy was perfectly saying hello to me and trying during our lessons. He loves to draw. My teacher’s heart swells thinking of how awesome my pupils are!

“Thanks for tenderness of your eyes and kind smiles” – we would always smile and talk to each other; I’m getting a little teary thinking of her own sweet smiling face and enthusiasm

I love this one stark heart out above the grass and under the sun.

Love my pupils using what they know themselves and just trying to communicate = it works perfectly for me ❤

“I’m very prudence” – gotta love dictionaries 😀


Irina’s 9A Class.

This class’ theme – boats!

These boys are a bit of a handful, but kind hearts and usually give it a go at our lessons which is great. And frickin’ cool as heck – some transliterated Victor Tsoi lyrics (of my favorite Кино which I’ll mention below). AWESOME!

Beautiful right?

“USA Free America” and the British flag.


Vitaly’s 11A Class. They surprised me with the most delicious cake *mouth waters* Nothing like a crazy amount of cake for breakfast 🙂

Beautiful shawl made by the mother of one of my pupils and gifted to me ❤

Pupils are def into origami here.

“Live in the rythm of hip hop” – heck yes! Moments like this, so good to be a teacher ❤


Simpsons still going strong.


Irina’s 9B Class.

The skull – Halloween forever!

Love the eighties vibe I get from this.


Tatiana’s 8B Class.

Saddest cat eyes EVER.

I’ll always be a Darling ❤

When in doubt mention New Year’s and the ideas are flowing – everyone’s favorite holiday here 🙂


Tatiana’s 5 Class.

“You beautiful woman!” These kids are gonna give me a complex!


Tatiana’s 6 Class.

These two from Julia are quite amazing! I only had a few months with this class, but I’m so glad to have had the opportunity as they were so much fun!

“We you love” – It’d be a good shirt ❤

Check out the awesome portrait of me, side-braid and everything! Though I swear I don’t have a smiley shirt…

Yes! I was hoping to get a couple of Halloween cards.

I love seeing kids who struggle put their all into something – it makes it all the more special ❤

Love these bats.

Bet you don’t have any ninja turtles giving you heart balloons!

Helloweenn! This vamp and skeleton are the ultimate in radsauce!


As a final farewell, I laid out a spread of cookies, candies, and tea for my school’s teachers, gave a little speech in Russian thanking everyone, and presented the three English teachers I worked with and my director with certificates of appreciation. A nice way to end our time together.


Foodwise, it’s rather difficult to say what I’ll miss most. The first thing I made myself while here was taught to me by my host mom during training – Яблочная шарлотка or Apple Charlotte – super easy, super quick, and super tasty.

I loved eating lunch during my ‘window’ between lessons at the school cafeteria – such wonderful, kind ladies work there and the food was always so tasty. It was there that I first came across my favorite Russian ‘Korean’ Carrot Salad (Корейская Морковь). One woman even got me the correct grater to get the long slivers of carrot. Borscht, plov, akroshka, and other dishes I’ve learned and made here I look forward to continue eating back in the States as the ingredients aren’t difficult to find.

Not everything will be so easy to recreate though. Where will I get my salty delicious копченый сыр косичка or smoked cheese braid – so perfect with beer. My favorite here being Chernihivske White (Чернігівське Біле) – a “triumph of primeval taste!” And the many, many varieties of candies! I especially like those produced by АВК with Королевский шарм (Royal Charm) being my favorite, a kind of chocolate cover wafer with a creamy nut middle, mmmm. Their truffles are quite good too 😀

Music discoveries I can pretty much take with my – lucky! What I’ll miss though is that mood that happens when something comes on that I like and know – like the first time I heard someone blasting Кино on the train, awesome! I’ll be forever grateful to my language teacher during training who introduced me to him. There’s even a Kino tag here in my town – Victor Tsoi forever!

Other random musicality that I’ll remember: the alternating sound of oldschool Soviet movies or songs coming from my neighbor’s apartment, with the songs primarily being sung with gusto as he left to and fro to go outside to smoke. I couldn’t ever pick out specific ones, but they’re usually in the vein of this:

This is a song about the mining region Donetsk I live in called Спят курганы темные (Sleeping Dark Mounds) from an old 1939 film Большая жизнь (Big Life). Check out another version with the lyrics here.

A lot of the music I listened to was on the radio, where I alternated between the mostly English-language rock station and the oldies station, Радио Мелодия, while preparing my food in the kitchen. This earworm from the year of my birth seemed to be a go-to selection:

Юрий Антонов – Не забывай/Мечта (Yuri Antonov – Don’t forget/Dream). I could watch this video forever. It’s also well-played on local route marshrutkas/buses. That and lotsa pop/dance/techno music.

I’ll miss my apartment, the way the westerly light shone through the kitchen in the afternoons. Such a glorious feeling to make some tea after lessons and finally sit down and soak up a bit of calm with a lovely view to look on.

And there’s lots of other people, places, and things that I will miss that I haven’t mentioned. But this post becomes ghastly long and my time remaining is short. Time to live and contemplate later.

Homeward Bound

Today is the one month left mark until I get on a plane back to Cali. I’m both excited to return stateside and nervous as well. My flight is booked and I’ve started preparing to go. With anything, there’s the final paperwork (of which I’m not done…still…though what’s left has to be done in the final days), figuring out what to do with stuffs, and starting to say goodbye. This last part is strange, but I keep being grateful for that connection that the Internet provides between faraway people and plan to exploit it as I can!

Sooooooo, other than this the most exciting and fun I’ve had was at the wedding of my best friend here in town. It was so amazing to be included in the festivities, and festive it was!

The day started out at the bride and groom’s house. Getting ready included the girls setting up a skit whereby the groom had to pass a series of ‘tests’ when he arrived in order to prove that he was fit to marry the bride. This is part of many traditions of the day, some we have in the U.S. and many we don’t. Then we headed into town…

…there are tons of photos out there, as with most weddings, but I just wanted to include a few that I managed to snap. This was on our way to the registry office for the official ceremony in town. Here there were some traditions, such as the couple stepping onto a ceremonial towel to see who would be the head of the family, and the official signing of papers. There was a lot going on, more than I can do justice to here. Suffice to say, it was beautiful, full of emotion, and incredibly moving to watch.

Afterwards, we headed to the park for pictures and some refreshments before heading to a cafe for the reception.

What a cutie huh 🙂

At the reception there was lots of dancing, lots of delicious food, lots of toasts, and lots of activities that went between tradition and fun for all.

Definitely an unforgettable day ❤

The other big happening of late was the Close of Service Conference for my group of volunteers. Step this way:

To the bomb shelter at the hotel where the conference was held in Chernigiv. Actually, it was a nice place I thought – worth the travel for the real beds and hot showers!

So during this time, they facilitated sessions on how to finish up our service: completing the paperwork, providing programmatic feedback, options for what can come next, and such. I wish there had been one more day just set aside for us to reconnect with people; there were some that I hadn’t seen since training. And some I met while there – we were a big group, especially when considering the similarly big group that arrived just two weeks prior to us! Plus, the geographic divide is not small thing as a train ride across the country takes over 24 hours so unsurprisingly I didn’t come to know many people who served in the central or western regions.

My training group as we are now – Vasylkiv!

Here’s my training group and linked group together and then check us out below from two years ago:

Wild to think of how little I knew back then in terms of language and my comfort level with being able to live here compared to now. Makes me feel pretty proud given everything.

The entirety of Group 40.

And so to now…I’m trying to retain some semblance of normalcy in my final days here at site. Looking forward to Halloween lessons (oh, but I could do a whole month!). Waiting for the central heating to be turned on – it’s cold and I’ve already returned my heater. And simply enjoying spending time with people that I know here in our shared moments together.

Beginning Of The End

Oh, September! I love and hate you for all that you bring and end. The beginning of school and the end of summer. The beginning of autumn and the end of long days.

It’s been a busy time for sure. I’m glad to be at school again, seeing the students reaffirms why I am here and brings the unexpected back into my days in full force.

September 1st was my last First Bell. Here’s the ringing of the bell and the beginning of the school year.

I really like this tradition, a day celebrating Knowledge. A nice way to start getting back into studies after the summer holiday and begin with a clean slate.

On the busy days front, my counterpart and I were invited to attend an advisory meeting in the capital regarding the TEFL program. It was a good opportunity to discuss our experiences and look at the revised framework of the program which I think will provide further benefit to those serving after me. Amazing to think on the number of lives this program has touched since its inception…

In social news, one of my good friends is getting married soon. And sooooo, there is the fun of a bachelorette party!

Girls on the local marshrutka/bus on the way out to my friend’s house. Bride-to-be on the far right ❤

Batya being cute with a lip-licking pose.

Hens for our ‘hen party’ as the Brits would call it.

The girls organized some sushi making! Some ingredients…

and the pros at work.

I swear, I did make a couple of rolls!

One plate of the delish finished product 😀

Lots of laughter and silliness as we finished the food, played some games, and had a great time! I’m so happy for my friend, appreciative of everyone’s friendship and being included, and looking forward to the wedding itself!

And in other news, at two months left, the wrap-up for my service here in Ukraine has begun and with it the questions of what comes next. There’s the reporting and final paperwork. Arranging upcoming travels for Close of Service stuffs. Again with the packing. And the slow strange process as people (myself included) begin to realize that I will be leaving soon and beginning something else.


Spain Part Dos

It’s been so wonderful to look through these images again – another chance to relive that carefree time of being on vacation. So without further ado, here’s the final portion of my trip.

We went on one organized tour during the trip, to Figueres, home of Dali’s Theatre Museum, with a stop first in Girona. Girona was a beautiful city with a picturesque way about it that was quite lovely.

Little alleys, shops, a lovely plaza surrounded by outdoor eateries for a tasty lunch, and the shaded path along the river made for pleasant first leg of the excursion.

My awesome sis – on the bus, onward to the museum!

Facade of Dali’s museum. Love the eggs adorning the roof!

Entrance to another part of the complex. Not shown are the bazillion of people that were everywhere. Apparently a lot of tours make this journey. But worth it, I think.

Grammy awards in different poses.


There were a number of different portraits of Gala, his wife and muse, among the collection.

Loved the Mae West room!

Loved this series of paintings of beach materials in female forms.

Just some of the many things shown inside. Didn’t have time to visit the jewelry portion which I’ve heard is quite something as well. Different mediums, different subjects, definitely an interesting excursion all round.

Saw lots of pro freedom and democracy graffiti in places around Barcelona, and then here in Figueres too.

And TONS of Arundo everywhere too.

The next day I headed out on my own for the day to the Labyrinth Park of Horta. It was amazing to leave the bustle of all the tourist sites and just meander through the green.

“Woodland” is the translation but I just love this awesome don’t feed the pigs (?) portion of the sign.

I set off on the side trails to get away from the few folks about.

Took me up a ways to some views of Barcelona.

Came out behind the main portions of the park.

Neoclassical pavilion with ginormous koi in the there!

I love how the front is all beautifully kept and the back is awash with tags.

Absolutely incredible to be in a real labyrinth after tales and movies from childhood.

And it did takes some doing to figure out how the heck to get out of there! The shrubs were grown over fences so no cheating allowed.

The whole time there I felt a sense of quiet that felt marvelous. And there seemed to me to be an odd undercurrent of strangeness to the place that I quite liked.

Beauty but perhaps darkness too.

Met up with my sister to head to the hills and check out Tibidabo, which has the claim of having an amusement park and a church on a mountain overlooking Barcelona. Serious fun was had here!

Sadly, the ferris wheel was no longer there, and the replacement take-you-into-the-air-for-a-look ride wasn’t that great.

Crazy hair.

Krueger House was one of those go through a series of scenes from horror flicks with actors jumping out at you. And it was amazingly well done, and I might have screamed something very inappropriate that won’t be repeated here. We somehow ended up being first in the group with folks talking way too fast for me to catch stuff in Spanish, which was funny. Oh and it was the dwarf in the room full of children’s toys that got me. Good times.

Fog rolled in at night making for some ghostly-ness.

Then it was goodbye to tasty, bad for you park food and get ready for the next day where we flew over to one of the Balearic Islands, Minorca.

And stayed at this incredible hotel with this incredible view of the sea!


My sis on the trail we took to check out the neighborhood.

Sis in the drink at a sweet beach. There are photos of me out there, I just don’t have them 🙂

We’ll just have to be content with self-portraits. And this is what I did for the remainder of the trip, lounged around the beach and pool alternately, eating, drinking oh and enjoying the luxury of running hot water and a real shower. Reading what I bought at the airport and then what I raided from the amazing lending library where we stayed. Pure heaven.

‘Course it all had to come to an end. It was amazing to spend this time with my family. Another great birthday!

Creepy cat on the building outside my hostel back in country.

And a view from my train window as I head back to site to finish out the last few months of my service here in Ukraine.

Spain Part Uno

Hola amigos! Summer has been flying by, and me with it. I had the most amazing trip to Spain for my birthday where I got to meet up and travel with my mother and sister. Sooooooo much to do and see and eat. I took a bazillion pictures while there so am going to split the trip into a few posts. And without further ado, let the post begin!

So as usual there was all of the crazy long travel to even get to the point of leaving the country. Two buses and an overnight train. But this time I had the pleasure of meeting up and staying with my friend who lives in the capitol once I got there. It was so good to catch up with her, talk with her about her upcoming wedding plans, eat some delish vegetarian food, and get a little bit of shut eye before heading over to the airport for an early morning flight. Great way to start my travels!

Caught a taxi into central Barcelona from the airport. A great meshing of cultures for me with a driver that knew both Russian and Spanish. Met up with my family and headed over to La Plaza de Catalonia – a beautiful plaza with fountains near our hotel.

We walked about for a bit, ate food, and started planning for the upcoming whirlwind of days in Barcelona.

The next day saw us on the second deck of a tourist bus, getting on and off as we pleased to see some sights. First stop for us, this amazing Gothic cathedral.

It’s rather strange to be amongst buildings that are so old. Growing up where I did I stand now in awe of such pieces of history. They nip at my brain, stimulating thought and pleasure at the continuance of things in different forms.

Arches lift our eyes up and the dark corners keep them searching.

Thar be a unicorn up there!

Gaggle of hungry geese in a lovely courtyard.

Warm light in the alleys.

Stencil of the Virgin Mary that reads “Unbelievable!”

My sis crackin me up!

Loved the scooters everywhere.

The quintessential picture of my mom taking a picture of me taking a picture of her. We all took a lot. Behind us is one of the beaches in the Barceloneta area.

Seems like every place I visit I end up at a cemetery. Guess I’m emo that way or something. But I like the quiet that accompanies these places. Here we went to Poblenou Cemetery.

I was somewhat surprised at the lack of green space here.

A goodly number of maritime motifs to be found.

And vandalism.

Heavy metal Jesus.

Font heaven.

Loved looking at the old photographs and artifacts that people have left for their loved ones.

The Forum.

Lots of tagging about the city. Looked like Pac Man hieroglyphs.

Moor and Byzantine design of the Monumental Bullring.

By far the most incredible building of the trip was the Temple of the La Sagrada Familia designed by Antoni Gaudi.

I loved this particular sculpture – like lovers embracing.

The natural lighting of the place was incredible! The stained glass and white interior. All lines slightly leaning.

Delicate. A place to worship.

Oh light!

Yup, went up in one of the spires and walked these down. Oh man, never again…

Even with the bazillion tourists there and the construction everywhere, it was still very apparent that this place was inspired, something that makes me proud to be human.

On we went. Fresh fruit and vegetables.

I like the dinosaur.

A couple days into the trip was my birthday. Everything was in bloom.

We took the funicular up to Montjuic Castle and enjoyed gorgeous views of the city along the way. A nice respite after so much walking.

I like the Catalunya region flag.

Then we headed out to Palau Reial de Pedralbes. This was part of the exterior, and the palace itself wasn’t much to look at. But the gardens inside were nice and the trees were filled with green parakeets which was a trip.

I remembered seeing this building on Pinterest at some unrelated point and snapped this blurry pic off quickly while on the bus.

Gaudi’s La Pedrera.

The craziness that was Las Ramblas. This was the beginning of it and I never walked any closer.

Park Guell

I like that the lizard and little girl have the same pose 😀

The mosaics were so colorful, quite in contrast to the grey of the day that fell toward the afternoon as a thunderstorm came in.

Here’s as good as place as any to stop. I’ll edit some more pictures and conclude the trip soon. Thanks for reading ya’ll 🙂

Winning Day

It’s official. Summer is definitely here as evinced by my worship of the struggling fan in my apartment and every little breeze that occurs outside. Combine that with shade and you’ve got it made. So, first up on major events in this neck of the woods is football (I’m just gonna go with the common world designation for the sport instead of soccer, k) and Eurocup. Though we didn’t have tickets, my group of friends and I decided to head into the nearby city where some of the matches were being held and soak up some of the atmosphere. Some pics from our trip.

Sitting in an early-morning marshrutka, waiting to get on our way. It was already beginning to clue us in to the humid heat we could expect all day.

The match didn’t begin until the evening so we decided to pick up tickets to a nice, air-conditioned movie for later. Us inside the mall where it was located.

A before and after. With that taken care of, it was lunch time and we would be remiss if we didn’t visit our favorite sushi joint. It’s a good thing this place is a couple hours away cuz I would be fat and penniless otherwise.

The Kalmius River runs through Donetsk. And you can see why we were battling humidity. Before one of many downpours that occurred throughout the day. Here’s a link to check out the embankment in nice weather.

We took a quick survey and got these free ribbon/banners that were nice while we had them (had to throw them away before entering the fanzone because they were sponsored by a political candidate and not allowed). Good to show some pride while walking around.

I love a good pic with someone on the phone 😉

This guy is a popular meme over here. As I understand it, he’s always being rude and shouting. Thanks internet!

Лень в пень – something like ‘Lazy on a stump’. A zipline place in Shyerbakovo Park. I just like the bear.

Oh sweet, sweet airconditioning! Rocking our shades while waiting for Madagascar 3. It was my first 3D film in a theatre and pretty excellent.

Blue sky!

A proclamation of love to Lena, a girl in slippers!

After the movie was some blue sky. We kicked it in the fanzone for a bit, looked at the sites and people, and tried to see about late buses back to our town but there weren’t any. So we head back home to enjoy the game.

Waiting for the right bus to get back to the center of town.

It was good that we went back when we did. The weather started turning dark soon after. Here’s a few window snaps of a nearby town.

Love the colored balconies.

Ended up being a huge downpour with crazy thunder and lightning that postponed the game for about an hour. It was exciting to watch the game, even though we didn’t win the match. We did however having a winning day of enjoying the city, the atmosphere, and each other’s company, woo!