Friday, December 30, 2011

It's snowing!

And fireworks are going off left and right already....

The fun's not over yet....

My very serious scientific dissertation on the differences between the Ukrainian and American holiday seasons begins with this picture!
Kharkov train station
Government building
Many of my friends back home are probably thinking that the holiday season is already coming to a close...
.....but if you come to Ukraine the party's just getting started!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Freedom Square for the holidays

If you ever wanted to virtually visit Kharkov, now is the time. Check this place out at night! Wow! Freedom Square web cam

We made a couple of trips to see the sights, even (for me) a trip up this monstrosity. A fast scary ride is one thing....but this was a slow scary ride! And a very very cold one.

Markets and Trains

D and I have had the nicest, slowest week, sleeping late in the mornings and then staying up late with friends. I've accumulated a ton of photos of cafes and Christmas trees and am putting together some photo-posts...coming soon.

In the meantime, we visited the ticket office to buy train tickets for Crimea. Crimea!! : )

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blini Basics

A friend invited us over for a delicious evening of blini. In case you don't know, blini are a popular Russian dish and pretty similar to crêpes/pancakes. You can eat them with sweet toppings or more hearty toppings. We went with chicken/cheese (hearty) and tvorog (a sweet soft cheese).
Eggs, flour, and sparkling water. Also, I'm in love with her stove top burners. So modern.
Our blini expert at work, slaving over the stove:
video

Adding the toppings
Afterwards...
Then we moved on to the national pastime- eating sunflower seeds.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Brainstorming

Arghhh.....we left our holiday planning to the last minute and are now coming up empty-handed. The original plan was to combine a visit to Crimea with a visit to D's hometown/relatives also in Crimea. Then we entertained a long list of other ideas:
  • Skiing in the beautiful Carpathian mountains? Nah, too much like the last 10 winters in Alaska.
  • Bus tour of western Ukraine? Nah, too much constant traveling. (I took a bus tour once from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. It sounded glamorous but it actually took a month of hard traveling, waking up at 4 AM and cramming into a small van to make border crossing before the heat of the day began and repeating the following day...and the following day...and the following day.)
  • Awesome, awesome New Year's program in a health resort WITH DOCTOR CONSULTATIONS and LASER THERAPY and ECG? Hell yeah! Except that the program just ended. (Click on the 3 - 7 - 14 day programs for more info. All this for like $40 a day, including food and room and swimming pool with heated sea water.)
  • 5 day / 6 night New Year's trip through forests and mountains and caves? Sold out.
  • Travel to Hungry or Bulgaria or Poland would be fun, but if I leave my visa will be invalidated and I will have to pay a fine / won't be allowed back in Ukraine.
I do have a relative in Kiev that I'd really like to meet and a cool co-teacher to see and Lena, another good friend, but unfortunately Kiev is in the opposite direction from Crimea and D's grandmother is 88 years old....so now we're trying to plan a trip independently to Crimea. Any suggestions? We've got Bakhchisaray, Nikitski Botanical Gardens, and Sevastopol on the list. Maybe Evpatoria? Feodosia? Last time we went to Sudok, Simiyz, and stopped briefly in Yalta....but that was in the summertime.
   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry (Belated) Christmas to all you Christmas celebrators out there!!!!!! I hope you had a wonderful day. We did, starting off with this traditional breakfast from my childhood and ending with late-night Skype calls to family. Skype makes life so much easier. Anyways, back to the breakfast:
It's called a dutch baby. And it's delicious.
In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share the recipe with you. There aren't many meals from home that I can make here, but this is simple enough to practically make anywhere. Enjoy!

Crazy about Ukraine's Dutch Baby recipe
Ingredients
1/3 cup butter
5 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
Preheat oven to 425F. Pat butter in a 9x13 inch baking dish and set in a 425F oven to melt. While the butter is melting, put the eggs in a blender and blend on high for one minute. Gradually add milk, then flour (slowly). Blend for 30 seconds. Remove baking dish from oven and pour the batter into the melted butter. Return to the 425F oven and bake until puffy and nicely browned, approximately 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately with powdered sugar, syrup, fresh lemon wedges, yogurt, jam, etc.
It will look kind of like this when you take it out of the oven. We have an old Soviet oven that the gas company guy called "scary" with only 3 temperatures: off, low, and high. Your creation might look prettier after baking but I guarantee you it will taste fantastic however it looks!
Happy Holidays!!

Godspeed

Tonight we said farewell to one of our favorite teachers. She's on her way back to the American South to spend New Years with her grandkids. Kathi, you will be missed!
The train station on a winter eve. Kind of romantic, eh?

I took this picture looking up into the sky. The weather was windy and pelted us with tiny rain drops. The water froze when it touched the ground and created patches of black ice all around us.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 6

Since it's the holiday season, I proudly bring you "Snapshots of Ukrainian Life: The Shopping Edition".

The best discovery yet- "kids" toilet paper! Marketing gimmick or for real?
(Cleanser from the States vs. cleanser from Ukraine.) You can get practically anything here.....for half the price!
Ukraine offers an astonishing variety of juices. The one on the left is "Peach-Papaya-Strawberry". The only thing I've never seen is plain old cranberry juice. I think you're supposed to buy berries and make it at home, boiling them on the stove. D and I tried that once but it didn't work out that well.

Teas are pretty creative too!
Which is stranger: a paddling cow or sour cream in a bag? (Not only milk!)
Manicures are big here. So is the 1980s.

Sweet, sweet freedom!

Alive!!! I'm alive!!! Yesterday was the longest day ever. There were so many times when I thought I'd never make it, but sure enough, 10 PM eventually rolled around and you know- the day wasn't as bad as I was expecting. AM classes went okay (topic: success). The metro was mellow on the way there, jam-packed on the way back. That afternoon started off with me testing a low-level group of students, practically a mob really since we were on an unusual schedule and a bunch of other students got shuffled into my class. I had maybe 5 or 6 of my original students plus enough other students to create a class of 14. The testing method for the lower-level is pretty complicated; there's a system of 5 speaking tasks that every student must complete (5 tasks to be individually evaluated x 14 students = you can imagine!) but the group was a good group and I started off with a game and fortunately had a large bag of chocolate candies with me. Candy always works. Then, 2 hours of conversation clubs about philosophy which turned out completely enjoyable, small groups and enthusiastic students both times. The evening finished with my fun business English course.
Also, I received a lot of thank yous and some wonderful gifts:
One student brought a little personalized chocolate for everyone in class!
She also gave me this tasty "Happy New Year" chocolate. {Yes, I already started nibbling on it}
Tasty, tasty chocolates!
I'd been thinking of getting a picture frame for so long. This one is perfect!
More yum : )
Then D and I had a quick tea with 2 friends at Coffee Life. It felt unreal by that point in the day- I felt like I just got done with a marathon. This was a really tough semester but now that it's over I can say that I enjoyed most of it (and just survived other parts). The school chose me for the "US Teacher of the Semester" award, which was really sweet, and I got to meet a lot of really incredible students and even befriend a couple. I'm looking forward to going back in January, especially with a class load of 20 hours/week, yeah
The classroom where I taught both semesters. It's in an elementary school...I think it's where little kids take their Ukrainian grammar lessons. The classroom was pretty cute after the teacher decorated for Christmas!
A shot from the ongoing battle between me and the Soviet blackboard.
Back of the classroom
Books from the bookshelf.
"Ukrainian Language, 10th class"....and a biohazard sign?
Happy Holidays!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sorry, complaint warning ahead!

Thursday: lesson planning, staff meeting, regular classes, covering another teacher's class?, work Secret Santa activity that I would have wiggled out of but was told I "need to participate in the holiday spirit" (note how everything my employers say is mandatory involves the mandatory contribution of money).
Friday: nine hours of teaching, involving five hours of conversation clubs on the topics of Success and Philosophy (seriously, which topic is worse for English learners? I can't even tell), and another two hours of metro travel time to get there and back.

When my students speak to me, I'm so tired that it seems like we're underwater, and they're saying "glub, glub, glub" to me, and I say "Oh really? That's a very interesting idea" back to them. Yikes.
2. MORE. DAYS. OF. WORK.
MUST ATTEMPT TO SURVIVE.....

I will update this blog if I'm still alive on Saturday morning....

Curry

+
+
=
yum!

An ounce of prevention....

This is what $22 USD of medicine looks like. D was sick and tired of the occasional pharmacy run...and all the cranky pharmacists. He recruited Timur's help to create an everything-you-might-possibly-need-at-home kit.
This was my favorite part. It makes a lovely cup of tea before bedtime.
Chamomile tea- the real deal
They also picked up an anti-hangover medicine.
I thought this stuff was apocryphal but I guess we'll test it out at some point.
We're trying to be healthier in general. No luck yet in finding a local gym but we did succeed in tracking down some fresh lettuce. Yeah!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tips for Teaching English (in Ukraine and beyond!)

My early Christmas present to you, dear readers! (Ahem, specifically those who also teach English.)
Caveat: these are based on my teaching experiences in Ukraine over the past 4 months and loosely on previous teaching jobs in other countries during the past 5 years. I hope you will find these useful when working with beginning to advanced literate adult learners.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No more Sundays!!

No more Sundays!!! Today was the last one! Out comes the bottle of bubbly.
We is about to celebrate, yo

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Near Central Market

More recent city exploration....
Tsentralni Rinuk (Central Market) metro station. D prefers to shop for fruit and veggies at this market.
As always, cool decor!
Trains loading up....
Watch out- when these doors slam shut, they practically cut you in two. One time my colleague saw an old woman stick her cane in the door to try to prevent it from closing- the door closed on her cane and the train dragged her along before the passengers were able to free her by pushing out the cane. Travel here is not for the faint of heart!
Gothic lightning
Meanwhile....

Friday, December 16, 2011

Downtown

 Oops, I'm a little late in getting this out. After visiting this museum last month, Natasha, D and I followed up with a walk from Freedom Square to the Opera House.
The government building opposite Freedom Square
View from the front
And view from the other side...but wait, what's that sign? Let's take a closer look!
What? No being handicapped here from 8 AM - 8 PM? Then Natasha told me this sign means handicapped parking *only* between 8 AM and 8 PM. I'm an alien here when it comes to street signs, I guess :p
Monument to the poet, Taras Shevchenko in Shevchenko Park (that's where the zoo is!)
A university
Getting things fixed, Ukrainian-style
Graffiti in park across from the Opera Theater
More graffiti
Many wedding parties come to this fountain ("the mirror stream") to take photos. A lock is then placed on this fence to symbolize their commitment.
Ira and Sasha, with love, together forever! Sept 23, 2011.
Cool!
And last but not least, we hit up a cafe to warm up.
Chocolate "temptation", homemade honey-cake, toast with: ham and butter, cheese and butter, apricot jam, strawberry jam, chocolate.