• Friday, 30 September 2005

One can live magnificently in this world

if one knows how to work and how to love.

- Leo Tolstoy

The Big Excursion…

At 0800, we boarded the southbound marshutka and headed for the last stop on the line.  Mark carried a rucksack laden with picnic supplies, flashlights, the camera, jackets and everything else we needed for the trip. 


The Kerch Central Library and branch offices are closed today because it is Library Day.  All the employees are off on an excursion on this fine fall holiday.


After a false start (we boarded the wrong marshutka, but thanks to a mobile phone call we resolved the problem) we found our way to the waiting group of 53 women. We all clamored aboard a bus and after about half an hour bouncing down a narrow, windswept road we arrived at the end of a narrow peninsula on a hilltop overlooking the sea.  The panorama was beautiful! 


Our guide assured us we could ask her any question about the fortress and she would have answers that would keep us interested as long as we could listen.  No detail is too small to escape her attention and she encourages us to ask questions as we stride along behind her.  She advises us that we will take an express tour of the fortress so we will not have to exhaust ourselves with strenuous walking.  There is much to see, but we will tour the underground munitions storage area, the barracks and kitchens, the corridor, and the beach.  There will be many places where we can take stunning photographs.  


L., the interpreter/translator that recently began to work at the library part time, has come on the excursion, though she is not fond of hiking or picnics.  I am glad she is here to help me decipher the guide’s comments and to talk with as we wander along the paths.


L. likes to read so we engage in conversations about books.  I am delighted to hear her talk about reading “Gone With the Wind”.  She admires Scarlett O’Hara for her resilience.  I mention “Anna Karenina” and L. responds that she is not typical of Russian women and prefers  “War and Peace”.  


We talked about movies too.  I laughed when she mentioned “The Blues Brothers” – a classic I guess.  She also enjoyed “Paulie” (sp?) – a rather charming, romantic comedy about a parrot who becomes a matchmaker of sorts.  Our good friend and housesitter J. loves that film so it was interesting that L. mentioned it as a favorite of hers too.  (She spoke of her own two parrots – sadly, one died of cold and the other died of heat!) 


W continued our tour of the fortress which dates to the 1800’s.  It is built at the southern tip of the Kerch peninsula and is on the highest point.  The view is splendid and certainly no ships could enter the area without being observed.  It is clearly a strategic location.


It took the soldiers and workmen only six months to construct the massive limestone buildings. 


This fortress was occupied by Germans during the Great Patriotic War (what we know as WWII) and there are chilling reminders in the graffiti etched into the walls.


At one point, after considerable discussion and advice from the guide, we enter a dark tunnel which circles around the complex.  We are told to grab hold of the person in front of us and to place our right hands on the wall.  A cautionary tale concerning tourists who failed to follow directions gives us a healthy respect for the adventure ahead. 


Inside the tunnel it is indeed, pitch black.  The ceiling is only inches from my head.  We walk for what seems a long time with no glimpses of light.  It is claustrophobic.


L., whose hand I am holding, begins to tremble.  “Let’s go back!” she squeaks in a small voice. 


I put my arm around her shoulders and speak calmly to her in a comforting tone.  I remind her to breath and I share a tale about my fear of heights.  I repeat assaying I recently heard: “When you are going through hell, keep on going!”  I laugh a bit and encourage her to laugh too.  I feel her relax a bit.  We are both glad when we reach the end of the tunnel and come out into the bright sunshine.     


The hike continues.  We take lots of photos.  The women find rose hips and black berries and other wild snacks.  Many of them collect wild flowers and spices as we walk along.  Mark picks up a few sea shells from the beautiful, sandy beach. 


As we walk, I observe how the women are dressed.  I have not seen women dressed this casually in my experiences here in Ukraine and Crimea.  Many actually wore sport shoes and denim.  There were several in skirts and attractive pant suits that would have been suited for an office atmosphere in the USA.  A few women wore stockings and could have been on their way to church.  The younger librarians wear jeans and midriff-baring shirts.  There is one woman in a black t-shirt with what looked like a heavy metal concert shirt.  


L., and I continue to talk – she speaks of her relatives who served in the Great Patriotic War.  Six million people, about 1/15th of the population died in that war and this figure does not include the soldier who died.  Not many families survived without a loss.  The war was for the Motherland and people wanted to serve.  L.’s grandfather was only 22, a young soldier, when he died.  There was only one photograph of the handsome, blue-eyed soldier. The young widow wife mailed the snapshot to her dead husband’s sister and the photo disappeared without a trace, never arriving at the destination.  All that is left is a memory of those blue eyes.


The terrain was rugged, the sun hot, and the pace fairly swift.   The wind off the sea kept us comfortable, but we were all ready to stop when at last we returned to our picnic site. 


The Picnic…

We settled on a site under a large tree.  It was obvious these women have picnicked before.  They proceeded to spread out blankets and towels, covering a huge area.  The library director shook out a large tablecloth and spread it atop the blankets and immediately women began rather unceremoniously emptying their bags onto the cloth.


They piled whole tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, bowls of boiled potatoes, large sausages, eggplant dishes, bags of salo, chunks of cheese, juicy apples, and much, much more.  Bottles emerged – several bottles of vodka, some wine, a few bottles of water and a couple thermos’s filled with chai found their place in the center of this impromptu table on the ground. 


Tiny plastic plates (the same ones used for tea parties at the library) were passed around and small plastic cups ere doled out.  The feasting began, the vodka splashed into the cups and the toasting began.  Shortly after, the singing began. 


The women sang and laughed and sang some more.  A couple of the women stretched out on their stomachs and sang and drank.  The songs were lively and many of them sounded sad.  They asked us to share American songs and when we were slow to respond they got us started on “God Bless America” and even knew the second and third verses (much to our chagrin, because we did not!).


Late in the afternoon the bus arrived to take us back to town.  And so ended the marvelous excursion with the delightful ladies of the Kerch Library.


  • Thursday, 29 September 2005

A Day all to Myself – Shoe Shopping Should be Fun…

It is a beautiful autumn day.  There are a group of regulars lingering at the outdoor café outside our window.  I can hear their voices rumbling as they swap stories and discuss politics.  They sound older.  I cannot see them, but I smell their cigars.  I imagine they sip on vodka, but perhaps they indulge in chai (tea).


From their seats on the terrace, they can see the Black Sea shimmering at the end of the street adjacent to the park.  These men seem to meet every day and share a ritual drink and camaraderie.   


There are many public plazas and parks in this community.  There are pedestrian streets too. .  Lenin Street, a tree-lined avenue, is filled with young people each night.  The music plays and sidewalk cafes lure people in.    Everywhere local entrepreneurs set up karaoke kiosks, or horse rides or places to purchase refreshments.  People walk arm-in-arm and enjoy the outdoors.  People take time to enjoy life – they do not rush.


The chill winds off the sea will remind us of how lucky we are to be in Kerch where winters are actually fairly short and mild.  Crimea is labeled semi-tropical, but the locals tell me to expect about two months of wintry weather.


I imagine in a few short weeks the outdoor cafes may close for the season.  In the park, the bars, discos, and amusement rides are closing.   The chairs are stacked up and the umbrellas are gone.  The warm fall day is delightful, but the empty places foreshadow the long days of winter.


I abandoned my original plan to stay home this morning and departed the apartment about 8 AM when Mark headed off to work.  I walked with him as far as the library. 


I went to the open air market or bazaar.  Here in Kerch, they call the central rinok.  My mission was to find a pair of comfortable walking shoes. (We are going hiking tomorrow and I was advised that sports shoes would be good.)  I failed to find anything suitable, but I did try on a few pairs of shoes. 


Shoe shopping should be fun.  I love shoes and would love to be shopping for a pair of wonderful boots, but walking shoes are a challenge...  Adding to the challenge is my shoe size.  I wear a size 9 ½ and, like in America, this size is not readily available.  Larger sizes and smaller sizes are on the shelves, but the illusive 9 ½ is not.  In fact, I think they do not stock half-sizes here at all.  I examined several boxes at different locations and did not see any half sizes.


Inexpensive shoes cost 50-150 grivna (about $10-$30…plastic) and better shoes run 200-500 grivna (about $40-$100…leather).  Most shoes have very pointed toes.  They often have lots of bling-bling – rhinestones and glitter are fairly common on shoes (and clothes).  Even some of the sports shoes have stiletto heels.  



  • Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Meeting More People…Lunch and Later the Library’s English Club…

We are back from yet another luncheon where I had the opportunity to meet more people Mark works with.  The business and work luncheons are not like our American ones.  The table is set with glass dishes, table cloth and tea service.  The director served us three courses - a dish made with delectable mussels and rice, a tasty salad course of tomatoes, onions, etc with a little sour cream dressing, a course of fresh fruits (apples, melon and grapes) and finally a box of excellent chocolates with a bit of smooth brandy for dessert.  This is a mid-day luncheon at work. The brandy started the meal (the obligatory toasts) and appeared throughout the experience.  The Ukrainian way is to be hospitable and they show their hospitality with food and drink.

Later today we will head back to the library for English Club where there will be more food - cookies and tea most likely. 

Despite all the eating, people are generally slim and fit looking here.

Enroute home, Mark and I stopped at a second hand shop and inventoried the available clothing items.  Mark bought a lovely full length rabbit fur coat for me (about thirty dollars) which will protect me from the sea winds when winter settles in.  People here commonly wear furs, but it feels a bit ostentatious (and for me, out of character).  And of course I will need a suitable  hat, scarf and boots now since mine are not appropriate or attractive with the new coat.  The saying "...beware of enterprises which require new clothing..." seems apropos here.

We also stopped at a furniture store and looked at dressers, tables and shelves.  We have plenty of chairs in our apartment, but no storage space.  My oversized luggage is covered with a bit of fabric and does dual purpose as a coffee table (sound familiar?)  and a place to store clothing.  We have not found used furniture stores, but by American prices (and American salaries), things are actually very inexpensive.  (By Crimean standards and wages,  prices are very high.) 


We are living on a salary that is similar to what Crimean’s earn so we must be cognizant of this when we make our spending decisions.  The stove I the apartment is adequate (an old two burners model) and the one table and shelf are not attractive, but functional.  A cheery tablecloth helps. We may make a few purchases, but today we just looked.  There is not much room in our small home for any additional furniture actually.

Earlier I mentioned my old asthmatic “friend” in the dark, cave-like entryway to our apartment -  I am referring to the refrigerator that wheezes and shudders as if it is dying. A friend observed, "...
you ought to name the refrigerator.   It sounds like an old Russian character---wheezing and moaning---sitting in a dark hallway with a bottle of vodka tucked out of sight." 


I believe I shall name him Ivan Ivanovich.  It, or should I say he, really is a scary looking appliance.  Another volunteer I know says her refrigerator dances - it vibrates so much it comes unplugged!  8-)

I have done a few loads of laundry already - this involves scrubbing clothes in a tub and wringing them by hand and hanging them out to dry.  I find it is best to wash a few things every day.  It is time for me to bring the laundry in before we go to English Club. 

I look forward to getting our website up to speed...it is a bit neglected like a garden in need of attention...pruning and cultivating, etc...  I want to post photos and journal entries there.  The gift of time will help make these things happen.



  • Tuesday, 27 September 2005

The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving.

In giving gifts, we give what we can spare,

but in giving thanks we give ourselves.


- David Steindl-Rast

Hanging Out the Laundry…Meeting the Staff…

Mother always enjoyed hanging the laundry on the clothesline.  She viewed it as an opportunity to be outdoors; a chance to feel the warm sun on her skin; a time to smell sweet smells from the flower beds and hear the neighborhood children at their games.   


“The sun provides you with Vitamin D,” she often reminded me.  Her slim arms were strong and firm. 


There was no need to go to the gym back in the days before everyone had washing machines and driers, vacuum cleaners and prepared foods.  A homemaker could maintain a very healthy fitness regime simply accomplishing the daily chores.  A walk to the market and the post office or the library or school added another element to this healthy routine.


Why am I thinking these thoughts?  They came to me as I hung out my first load of laundry in our home here in Crimea.  It is a fine fall day and while I work, I ponder over many things.  (This is another benefit of physical chores – there is time to think!) 


In Ukraine I observed the people and noted that while people eat heartily and often, they are generally not an overweight people.  It appears to be so here in Crimea as well.  Can this be attributed to the amount of physical activity involved in regular daily events?  People walk to work and to market, they chop food, they hand wash clothes, they sweep the floor with a broom, and routinely climb and descend several flights of stairs to their apartments.      


Hand washing clothes - I know from personal experience, doing the laundry by hand demands some stamina!  During training, our hosts taught us the rudiments of laundry and of course the PCVs discussed this challenge during breaks in our language classes.  I imagine a scrub board would be useful, but no one seems to use them nor is there evidence of them in the marketplace. 


I started the process last night when I soaked several t-shirts in a pan of cold, soapy water and also soaked a couple pair of trousers in a pan of suds.  .  After a long soak (an hour or so usually, but in this case, overnight), I returned to start the rinse cycle.  This involves removing all the suds from the fabric.  I turn on the cold water and added fresh water.  I squeeze the fabric and swirl it about.  I add more fresh water and wring the garments a bit. 


Finally I begin the “spin cycle” – I wring the clothes by hand.  This is a demanding task which is great for building the upper-body and arms and the hands too.  I squeeze and wring, wring and squeeze.  Water pours out, but there is always more lurking deep inside.  Jeans are particularly hard to wring out!  Once I am exhausted or have determined the clothes are dry enough to hang on the line, I venture out to the clothesline. 


There is a small line adjacent to the sidewalk leading to our entryway.  The line is inside a small fenced piece of yard and affords a little security.  I do not want my favorite jeans to “take a walk” nor do I like to hang my personal undergarments out for all the world to see, so I am glad for this clothesline.  It is, however, very close to the building so air does not circulate well here.  It stretches above some abandoned raspberry canes which claw at me as I make my way to the line. 


I begin pinning the clothes onto the line, stretching to reach for pins and garments.  The sun feels good.  I smile as I watch the neighborhood kittens scrambling about in the courtyard.  I think about my mother and how she accomplished these tasks with patience, humility and also with joy.  She found pleasure in these simple acts and spoke of her gratitude. 


“I like to hang out the clothes.  It is a chance to be outdoors,” she said and   I believe she did.  


This morning I met the central library staff.  There are about 23 women there and all were eager to meet the woman who has such a hold on their PCV, whom they are already quite fond of. 


I hope they were not disappointed. 


It was a typically Ukrainian/Crimean meeting: tea was served along with lovely torts.  There was a speech welcoming me and they presented me with three red roses, a Kerch banner and a pin.  We ere crowded around a small table, all eyes trained on me.  The translator shared my remarks with them and they smiled and nodded. 


I really broke the ice, when in the course of conversation I announced that I had been in the US Air Force for over twenty years.  I followed up my remark with an example of how a drill sergeant might bark at recalcitrant troops.  Hearing that loud, commanding voice escape from my rather demure figure made them laugh. 


We lingered over second cups of tea and discussed our excursion plans for Friday; we will hike to a fortress and then picnic.  Friday is Ukrainian Library Day.  The library will be closed and all the employees will join in the excursion. 


Anachronism – the only bathroom at the library is a uni-sex pit toilet in the basement while upstairs the well-dressed director and Mark refine plans to introduce a DSL line for better Internet access…


Observation – Stocking a kitchen with staples is different here since many items are fresh and seasonal (time to develop some canning skills!).  Kitchens have almost no storage or counter space.  Buying in bulk is not typical – people walk to market and tote everything home.



  • Monday, 26 September 2005

Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.

 - Robert Frost

(Extracted from an E-Mail)

I am perched on the sturdy Soviet-era couch that graces the living room of our rather Spartan, small apartment.  We arrived here in Kerch late Friday night after a rather bumpy, bouncy 24-hour train ride.  I started my excursion to Crimea on Sunday night and spent lots of time in airports in between Minneapolis and my final arrival here on Friday.  

It is good to be home. Home is where my heart is and that is with my husband. 

This is the first time in almost a year I have really felt at home anywhere! 

Mark and I spent the weekend getting reacquainted, going through our things and re-arranging the apartment to suit us.   We are in dire need of a dresser and/or a wardrobe and/or shelves. 


We have one room plus a tiny kitchen, WC, toilet, and a cave-like, entryway where our ancient, very rusty refrigerator resides, wheezing and moaning and acting close to death.  We have a little patch of yard outside one of our windows where a patch  of raspberries crowds out everything else, and the other window opens next to the terrace of the local grocery/bar.   Out each window (we have only two) I can see cats, cats, cats...the city park is across the street and the Black Sea really is just two blocks away.  Behind the house, just blocks away, is a steep hill that houses archeological ruins dating from 500 BC ... there are steps going up the hill - 2,000 of them.  The view from the top is splendid. 

Sunday we wandered the local outdoor market and compiled lists of small things we will need.  Some things just are not common - who would think paper towels would be hard to find?  An indoor clothesline is a must for rainy days, but I didn’t find anything suitable or anyway to jerry rig something.   We wash clothes by hand and line-dry them these days.  Our neighbors have a chance to see all our American clothes on the line - we have so many clothes and locals are a bit askance about that.  Here people look for quality clothes and own far fewer items.  They care for them well too.  I will be self-conscious hanging my clothes outside.      

Mark has already arranged for me to meet all the people he has been getting acquainted with here so my schedule is suddenly not my own again!  People are curious about the new American in town so my limited Russian skills will get a workout!  I meet library staff tomorrow, dine with the regional manager Wednesday and meet the English club that day too.  There are friends to meet with also and the former host family, etc.  Tonight I am drafting a letter for one of Mark's projects.    

I do look forward to having time to observe, think and write, but that time will come.  I am just glad to be here and moving forward again.

Being patient, remaining confident and positive under duress seem to be essential skills to cultivate in any endeavor one pursues. 


I am happy.  

FYI - My e-mail is being downloaded onto a flash drive/memory stick and brought home to me.  This delays answers and is a bit primitive, but allows me the luxury of reading and writing my mail in my jammies with a cup of coffee nearby rather than counting down the minutes and speed-typing at an Internet Cafe.  Mark has Internet access so photos will follow in days to come.


  • Sunday,25 September 2005

The Market, Round Two…


  • Saturday, 24 September 2005

Rearranging Furniture & Off to the Market…


  • Friday, 23 September, 2005

Arriving Home…a Walking Tour of Town…


  • Thursday, 22 September 2005

The Train Ride South – 24-Hours…

I arrived safely at the airport in Kiev and made it through customs without a hitch.  I was, as I was last time I arrived in Kiev, in line with a group of Latter Day Saints arriving to work as missionaries here in Ukraine. 


As I pushed my baggage cart through the doorway, I was elated to see my husband’s smiling face in the crowd.  He swept me into his arms and the months of separation melted away like a bad dream. 


He presented me with a large bouquet of long stemmed yellow roses, an odd number of course, as is the local tradition.  I felt like a movie star with the flowers and all my baggage. 

We spent the night at the contract quarters used by the PC and began to catch up on all the things we had to share with one another during our months apart.     


Thursday morning we visited the PC offices where Mark had a short IT meeting and I caught up on e-mail.  We spent the afternoon wandering about in beautiful Kiev, holding hands and being happy.


Early in the evening we headed over to the train station and settled into our cozy compartment.   We picnicked and sipped wine as the countryside swept by outside.  Just before bedtime the conductor brought us hot tea. 


  • Wednesday, 21 September 2005

On the Road Again…

My wayward bags are back and all is well with the world.  My long journey is almost over.  In a matter of hours I will be listening to my husband’s heartbeat as he presses me close and whispers sweet words in my ear.


The odd couple (my enormous, overweight, monster bag and the small, but heavy, overnight bag filled with books) found their way to Amsterdam while I slept last night.  This turned out to be a blessing!  I did not even have to visit customs.  I am also grateful I did not have to wrestle with that luggage during my stay in Amsterdam.  What an unexpected way to avert a potential problem!  Of course this is nothing I could have planned, but all things have worked together for good.  (My mother often reminded me that “…all things work for the good of those who love God…” - a quote from Mary Baker Eddy or perhaps the Bible.)


That large, black bag is an embarrassment frankly. 


It really is oversized and well over the weight standards prescribed by the airline.  It also draws the attention of others in a way that makes me feel like an obnoxious American who cannot travel without all my “necessities”. 


It is true I will be out of the States for two years, but there are stores in Ukraine and Crimea.  But even more important is that the people I will live among tend to have far fewer personal items.  Storing all these clothes will be a challenge. 


Storing the bag will be a challenge too.  The apartment is very small and closets are not common.  The big bag will sit in the corner of my one room apartment, shaming me everyday for the next few years…sigh…hmmmm, perhaps we can throw something over it and call it a coffee table…


Yikes – how will I get it in the taxi cab?  Ukrainian cars are smaller, more practical…perhaps they will strap it to the roof…stay tuned for the continuing adventures!  8-)


  • Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Oh wheeeere is my luggage, oh wheeeere is my luggage, oh where, oh where, oh where, is my luggage? (Sung to the Tune of “Oh Where is my Hairbrush?”)

I have a pretty good idea where my embarrassingly large bag and its tiny red companion are delayed, but the woman at the counter does not care to speculate.  She is good humored really, but is sticking to the immediate business at hand as she asks me to complete several forms describing the baggage and inventorying contents.  I read the “legalese” regarding liability and sign my name.


I set down the pen with a sigh and a smile.  I have found smiles and good humor are helpful in most any situation, but seem especially valuable in the airport environment.  Even if the service provider is not influenced by a positive attitude, it makes me feel better to find some humor to cling to.


After documenting my lost luggage, I explore the sky mall at Amsterdam’s airport.  It is a real mall with hundreds of shops to lure me in.  Eventually I decide to find a hotel room and call a place recommended to me by an airline employee.  I make my reservation and soon board a shuttle bus to the hotel. 


The lobby is large and is dominated by an enormous fireplace.  There are tall, pillar candles burning everywhere.  The lobby projects the ambience of a castle or perhaps a large hunting lodge.  I quickly check in and take a glass elevator to my room.


My room is bright and airy with a terrace overlooking a park-like area.  There is a huge bathtub and a separate shower with extra nozzles.  The bath towels are large and very soft and thick.  The is cable television.  I stretch out on the bed and doze fitfully while the TV chatters away in some language I do not recognize.  Later, I awake and watch Oprah conducting an interview with some celebrity.  She speaks another language and the dubbed voice is distorted and does not match Oprah’s own voice at all.     


Rested, I make my way to the lobby where I purchase an Internet card and check my e-mail.  Later I consider venturing into the city but decide to simply dine in the restaurant.  My morning flight will require me to be up early and I want to be rested so an early evening is best.


Dining alone is an art to cultivate.  I recommend it actually, though it does take some bravado or at least confidence.  The dining room is rather elegant and caters to people who are accustomed to fine dining.  The tables are set with china and each has an inviting candle. 


I am soon seated and order a glass of wine to sip as I peruse the menu.  I settle on a grilled salmon entrée and settle in to watching people as I wait for my meal to arrive.  I enjoy the time to think and observe.


The meal arrives and is delightfully prepared with special attention to presentation.  I relish the flavors and textures and thoroughly enjoy the experience.  When I finish my entrée, I order coffee and ask the waiter to bring me something sweet, perhaps a chocolate or something.  He indulges me by bringing a small silver tray with several chocolates and a couple cookies.  I relax over coffee and continue to watch the other patrons as they talk and dine. 


By this time tomorrow, I will be in Kiev and spending the evening with Mark, but for now, it is time to dream, so I call it a night.


  • Monday, 19 September, 2005

“Last Night I went to sleep in Detroit City…” – Tonight Amsterdam

This is my mother’s birthday.  She died just over a year ago.  This trip is part of the legacy she left me. 


When I first learned my Peace Corps adventure would be terminated due to the surgery last spring, I was devastated.  My dream was dying before my eyes.    Then it occurred to me I could simply join my spouse in Ukraine and serve in my own way.  He would be the official Peace Corps Volunteer and I could be an independent agent.  But where would the money come from? 


About this time I received an e-mail advising me that my mother’s estate had been settled.  That unexpected money would cover my expenses and permit me to move forward with my plan. 


That was back in June.  Now I am healed from my surgery and on my way to join my spouse in our little apartment on the shores of the Black Sea. 


I think Mother would be pleased.


Yesterday when we arrived at the airport, we met with a helpful man.  The airline service representative is a cheerful, friendly man.  He is originally from Tanzania, just across Lake Malawi, where my brother’s farm is.  We have an animated conversation about life in Africa as we accomplish the paperwork necessary to fly to Detroit. 


I hoist my first piece of check-on baggage onto the scale.  The small, but heavy bag filled with books weighs in at about 38 pounds.  He tags it and reaches for the enormous black bag.  I see his eyes get bigger as he takes in the situation – this bag is clearly oversize and overweight.  There is a moment when it looks like the bag will be checked with no problem, but and eagle-eyed TSA agent wanders over and observes the monster bag in question.  He slaps a bright orange “Heavy Object” tag on it.  The best my new friend can do is to say the bag weighs in at only 70 pounds (in reality it is embarrassingly close to 80 pounds) which means I pay only a penalty ($20) rather than an overage fee ($150).  My bags are also checked through to Amsterdam, despite the fact we do not have confirmed seats.  I am delighted not to have to deal with the monster bag again until at least Amsterdam.


There are kind people in the world and I am grateful for that.


We board the plane and travel to a motel in Detroit.  Once in the room, we order a pizza, dine quickly and call it a night.  


Monday I manage to get the very last seat on the Airbus.  There is a delay while some baggage is removed from the plain – it occurs to me that it could be my bags since my travel companion did not board the plane and my bags were listed under her name.   We shall see!



  • Sunday, 18 September 2005

Sudden Changes at the Last Minute – Overloaded & Onward to Detroit

It appears the whole country has plans to be in Detroit on Monday.  Not good!  We have looked at every flight departing MPLS for Detroit on Monday and there simply are no seats available.  We try an alternate route through Milwaukee and find that there are no available seats from there to Detroit either. 

What is the draw in Detroit?  Of course that is not important, what is important is making the connections.  A quick look at the Airbus flights to Amsterdam is not too reassuring either – full flights. 


Flying standby, is a bit like gambling.  Sometimes you just have to bluff.   


I am glad my flight from Amsterdam to Kiev does not leave until Wednesday.  This allows me a bit of negotiating time. 


So, plans change.  We plot this like a military maneuver.  If we fly today, we can begin our standby vigil early on Monday and possibly catch a flight.  If all fails, we can return to MPLS and board a DC-10 to Amsterdam. 

We will leave in just a few hours rather than tomorrow so I must finish the tedious and challenging task of packing my bags.  Too many things.  So many decisions.  I like to travel light so the drama of packing creates a myriad of strong emotions in me…I am cross and grumpy and then I laugh at it all. 


For a few minutes I believe I will just pack a carry-on bag and call it a day…who needs all this accumulated stuff?


When I came to the States from Ukraine, I had only a small rucksack and that contained my laptop as well as a few changes of clothes.  Here I am five months later with a summer wardrobe and a fall wardrobe, several pairs of shoes, lots of books, a second laptop and a bunch of other assorted items including some items my husband brought back for me when he visited in June.  Sigh…BIG sigh…  By the way, the airlines reduced the weight limits an overweight penalties significantly, effective 1 September.  Another BIG SIGH…


I shove everything into the enormous wheeled bag and zip it shut.  I bag up the books in an overnight bag – small but very heavy.  I put the two computers in a wheeled carry on bag with several clothing changes.  I quickly do the bag drag out to the living room before I have time to change my mind again.  I left behind a bag full of things and a second set of defective luggage. 


We enlisted my cousin’s son, a serious athlete, to finagle the enormous bag into the backseat of the car and eventually we headed off to the airport for the start of the trip “home”.


  • Saturday, 17 September 2005

Cousin Carol Shops for Shoes…

Carol is missing one of her dress shoes.  A certain puppy may have chewed it up or perhaps another of the dogs simply buried it, but it has disappeared from the household.  Today we set out to find a suitable replacement pair for the upcoming trip to Amsterdam.


  • Friday, 16 September 2005

I am off to a slow start here, though I had my bowl of cereal and am sipping coffee.  The weather here in Minneapolis is lovely - cool, bright mornings.  The kind of morning you want to curl up and stay in bed for just a little while longer. 

I have been leaving the radio in the bedroom on all the time, even when I sleep.  It keeps me from hearing other sounds in the house and I like waking up to my NPR friends and their stories.  

I always wonder if the radio influences my dreams since I am subconsciously listening to reports throughout the night. 

I plan to head back upstairs to sort clothes and plan what to put in carry one and what to wear, etc.  There are logistical problems that are more intimidating when traveling alone with lots of luggage.  I will probably have to collect my luggage in Amsterdam since my flight to Kiev doesn't leave till the next day.  The alternate plan would have me rushing to catch a plane right away, and it goes through Budapest (or is it Bucharest?) where I would have to stay overnight to catch the plane to Kiev.   I figured an overnight in Amsterdam would be preferable.  I am going to "wing it" regarding a hotel.  I checked out a few online.  I know I can store my luggage.  I hope to go to the Van Gogh museum...

My "Russian in 10 Minutes a Day" and my "Russian for Dummies" books have graced my bedside table all summer, but somehow I never absorbed much from them.  I guess I will learn under field conditions.  I may learn better without the competitiveness and pressure induced in a classroom. 


I have aged during this “exile”.  I am getting very grey and the  grey hairs are wiry and recalcitrant.  I have fattened up a bit, but I needed to.  I keep my glasses on most of the time, but I hate how they make me feel and look....I look in the mirror and wonder who that old person is.  Oh well...inside I am still youthful and oblivious to the passing of time...



  • Thursday, 15 September 2005

Thoughts on Packing & Apartment Life…

I am taking a break from packing. 


I guess I am a typical American - I have too many things.  I hate having to struggle with a lot of stuff when I travel, but of course I have the urge to take many things because I know I will miss them and similar things will not/may not be available. 

Of course people live full, rich lives in Ukraine and Crimea and they manage with far less stuff than I have currently piled up on the bed!  

For the next two years I should try to live like my peers in Crimea.  People have a different idea about "things" there.  They are a very practical people really. 

I mean really, how many pairs of shoes does one person need?  Most people there manage quite happily with only a few changes of clothing, yet they are generally well dressed and meticulous about their appearances.  Shoes are shined and clean, hair done, make up applied and clothing well constructed, pressed nicely.  They do seem to over-dress when they are out in public - life seems to be a cocktail party in progress!  

I shared photos of the apartment with friends and family.  My sister Janeen observed that the sinks in the photos of the apartment seem small - what about dishes, hair washing and laundry?  


Well, dishes and laundry usually involve a large pan/tub of some sort and shampoos are part of showering or you can always go to the beauty shop which women do there. People do not wash their hair or shower on a daily basis there generally.  Life there is like it may have been in the 50s here in the USA.  Yes, I will do laundry in a tub and line dry it.  Synthetic fabrics are popular there because they dry faster and last a long time - polyester - yikes!

Well, I must get back to editing what I will take with me and what I can leave behind.  There are things I will wish for I am sure - bath towels in Ukraine are sad items...they are small (tiny actually!) and nonabsorbent. 


More rambling later I am sure...gotta go through a stack of papers too...sigh..Time is flying though and I am glad of that!  


  • Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Breakfast with a Couple Local RPCVs …

I spent much of today with the delightful parents of a PCV who is in my training group in Ukraine.  They live near the Twin Cities and discovered I would be traveling to Ukraine soon.  We arranged to meet so I can tuck a few things for their son into my already bulging baggage. There is nothing like a package from home when one is far away! 


We lingered over coffee at a local restaurant and got acquainted.  The couple served in Pace Corps back in the 70’s and shared tales of their own adventures with me.  I shared some of my experiences in Ukraine with them.


After breakfast we dropped off the woman and the husband and I went in search of the local delivery service recommended by other PCVs in Ukraine.  We located the grocery store that acts as a drop off place for the company.  This store sells Russian and eastern European products to people in the Twin Cities area.  The clerk on duty did not have much command of the English language and was not able to recognize the address we had as Russian.  She consulted a customer who spoke Ukrainian and discussed the village, etc. but she was loathe to accept the package with the address as it was written.  To our eyes it appeared to be in Russian and formatted properly, but some key information just was not right.  So, we reached a roadblock.  We elected to contact the PCV and see if he could provide a more specific address.


Among PCVs, there is a saying that advises that if you can at least accomplish one activity each day, it is a successful day.  This sounds like they are aiming rather low, but when you are dealing with another culture, you must have great patience and perseverance.  You save your energy for the big battles and simply try to remain calm and relatively cheerful.     It is a good day if you show up for work and accomplish one item on your checklist.  I might add, and do not lose your good-humor.


We headed off to lunch and called it a day.


  • Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Ramblings as I Wait in Minnesota for Daylight in Crimea

Here in Minnesota, I am waiting till after midnight to read my husband’s e-mail.  It will be morning in Crimea soon, and Mark will be at work. 


In just a few days I will be winging my way to Ukraine where my husband will meet me at the airport, as eager as a young bridegroom.  After several months apart, each living in cultures foreign to us, we will finally reunite and compare notes as we recreate our lives together.  (OK, I am an American, living with American’s, but this family doe not live in a manner I am accustomed too – more on that another time perhaps.)


We spend so much time apart, pining to be together.  Somehow, when we married, I thought my life would unfold in an orderly fashion and my husband and I would be together night and day as we happily-ever-aftered.  I seem to have been very wrong.


During the course of our delightful marriage, we have spent far too many days, weeks, months apart.  We learn much about one another, yet this is not great compensation as I wend my way back to the bedroom after a warm shower, only to crawl between the clean, fresh sheets alone.


The latest separation really is finally in the home stretch.  The visa arrived yesterday and my task on this fine almost-autumn day was to obtain airline tickets so I can cross the ocean to the country my husband has called home for the last several months.  By this time next week, I will be in Amsterdam, whiling away an evening alone in a foreign city. Knowing that the next night I will spend with my very best friend in the whole world and a man that loves me more than anyone else I have met.  How can I sleep with a preview like that?


It appears we will take the train south to our new hometown by the Black Sea.  Once there, we will build a cozy nest.  The local language, Russian, may provide challenges, but it also provides some privacy and helps us build a little world of our own.  English will no longer be a language we share with almost everyone in our lives, it will become a private lingo which we alone share.  It will also be a language others long to learn. 


This language bond will be alternately exhilarating and frustrating too.  We will be the local English “experts”.  There will be others who lust for language skills that we possess.  Others will look at us with disdain because we will not speak the local tongue with expertise or even competence.    


I look at the clock and see that I have two more hours before I can hope to find answers o the daily flurry of e-mail I have sent out into the virtual world for my husband to decipher and respond to.   He will discover, when he sits down at the Internet café or his work station at work, that  I had hoped to call him today and that the international phone card failed to live up to its promise.   He will discover that I considered flying to Simferopol, but changed my plan later in the day.  He will read notes from me where I vented and ranted about the challenges of daily life here in America and I am sure he will wonder at how spoiled I must seem… 


Eventually he will finish his reading and tap out a tender reply to me.  His first-thing-in-the-morning notes will be my last-thing-before bed ritual.  As I sign off from my web mail account I will tenderly, tuck sweet words into my heart to warm me through the night ahead.  If we lived together, in a perfect word, he would curl up beside me, but would I have his sweet notes, his private thoughts spelled out for me to ponder and dream about?  Would sleep simply cradle us for the night or would we share our thoughts, our dreams, our fears?


How many time zones separate us, but how close he seems.


  • Monday, 12 September 2005

Watching the Pack…

Stanley, the dignified, older Rottweiler in this household, is rolling on the carpet like a puppy.  The other dogs in the pack have retired for the night.  When it is time to retire, most of the animals who call this place home, disappear to the lower levels of this split-level home in America’s heartland. 


With three large, active dogs and a couple big cats in residence, there are not many moments when interactions are one-on-one here.  Tonight Stanley has sneaked back upstairs after bedtime.  He is a mature dog, what one might call “portly” and he is generally a dignified dog.  Since Texas, the alpha dog in this family passed away a few months ago, Stanley has felt responsible for the pack, and that includes the humans who live here too.  Stanley is a dedicated professional, but I do not believe he is truly comfortable with his new role as chief watchdog.  He assumed the role from a sense of responsibility, but I feel fairly certain there is a playful, puppy side to this sweet dog, but somehow he knows that his years make him the dog in charge, the dog who will make certain nothing happens to the creatures in his realm. 


I watch him as he stays at his post each day.  If anyone has the audacity to walk past this suburban home, he leaps to his feet and alarms the household of this threat.  He is reliable, a consummate professional, but somehow I sense that this role is not one he is really comfortable with.  Somehow, he sees this job as necessary.  He assumes the position. He sacrifices his own preferences and enjoyments to make sure this house in a Minnesota suburb is safe and sound.


Now the family is at rest – the people are sleeping and the cats and dogs have been fed, watered and exercised.  They have found their beds (several sleep in comfort on the bed near their owner/favorite human in the world).  It is late and I am alone,  I am typing by the light of my laptop’s screen.  Suddenly Stanley arrives and stops at the top of the stair.  He shakes his head and then falls to the floor, rolling and rolling and rolling.  He paws at his face and lets out a whimper as he continues to enjoy this private moment.  


I pause a moment, a respectful observer, and then I whisper his name.  Stanley, come here,” I say.  And he does. 


I hear his dog-tags jingle as he jumps to his feet.  A warm, wet tongue licks at my hand and I see light reflecting off the warm brown eyes that gaze up at me.  Stanley is back on duty, taking care of the humans in the house.  It is nice to know that the puppy inside gets out sometimes. 


I feel privileged to see Stanley so comfortable and relaxed….He is a soldier, always on duty, ready to perform the mission, but I think there is a part of him who longs to retire, to pass on those responsibilities to another big dog so he can sleep and dream.  Or maybe roll and play.


Addendum:  Suburban paranoia rears its ugly head. I am wakened from a dead sleep as a piercing siren splits the night with sound and continues to shriek for almost and hour.  Apple Valley protects the residents from harm by waking us in the deepest hour of darkness between midnight and the dawn to advise us a thunderstorm is roaring through the area.  I stagger from my bed, still in a sleep-stupor, thinking of the survivors in New Orleans who evacuated their homes and lives during the recent monumental hurricane.  Did they awaken to such a siren? 


Outside, I observe no rain, no wind, nothing.  Carol shepherds me down to the lower level of the split-level I currently call home.  I turn on the large TV and use the remote to surf through channels and find weather related stories.  I finally settle on the channel that airs Letterman, a fine diversion to engage me between weather updates.  I alternate between it and the channel that airs Leno.  Across the bottom of the screen, tiny words scroll by at a fast pace.  These sentences detail all the weather concerns that should explain why I am awake and watching TV in the middle of the night.


Somehow, the TV fails to explain why the siren has been screaming.  Outside there seems to be nothing extraordinary going on.  In fact, there is no rain or wind. 


On TV, I watch beautiful celebrities and folks like Dr Phil prattering away, oblivious to what is going on in the Midwest.  There are severe weather warnings and lists of counties are scrolling by.  I pick up a large white cat and make myself comfortable in front of the TV.  The bad weather should be gone from Dakota County at about midnight.


I stroke the cat, hear his purr, channel surf and simply wait. When the clock strikes midnight, I wander back up to bed and sleep until the sun comes up to start a new day. 


I still wonder why the sirens went off.


  • Sunday. 11 September 2005

Half-Price Books: Heavy Duty Shopping…

Oh dear – I have soooo many books to tote with me to Crimea. 


There will be few books available in English so this seems like a logical thing to take especially since both Mark and I are avid readers.  Both of us are seldom seen without a book in hand.   The visit to a local half-price book store started out innocently, but my cousin and I ended up with quite a stack of books by the time we cashed out at the register.  This store was a wealth of books by Russian authors and many of those books followed us home. 


Steinbeck once made a trip to Ukraine (then part of the USSR).  He chronicled his observations in a journal which was later published as a book.  It will be a delightful read and certainly there will be useful and entertaining observations throughout it.  Other books that escaped the confines of the store, include a few by Nabokov (yes, he wrote other books than the infamous “Lolita”!), a couple by Aksyonov ( I am currently reading his satire: “Island of Crimea), a Tolstoy or two, a Chekhov collection, and the works of several other Russian writers too.  (I would like to find some Pushkin – the soul of Russian writing though he has Arab blood I believe…) 


OK, so we splurged on some books, well, unfortunately this is not the first time!  Cousin, sweet cousin, scored a few purchases off E-Bay that include tomes about Ukraine and Crimea.  These were actually shipped from Crimea and Ukraine to Minnesota and now I will be hauling them back to their homeland in just a few short weeks.  (As you see, passion can make one lose sight of logic!)


Oh yes, we also discovered a remarkable used book store during our Tucson visit and a few necessary books came home in our luggage from that trip too….


That hundred pound weight limit is filling up fast!  (I am probably over capacity already!)



  • Saturday, 10 September 2005

Goodwill Shopping…

I got some great deals at the local Goodwill Store!  Not the haul I made a few weeks ago in Des Moines when sister Janeen and I made off with a couple dozen excellent treasures and scored a 30% discount too, but a satisfying shopping experience, nonetheless! 


I found several cozy sweaters that insisted I take them home.  I hope Kerch has sweater weather.  Sweaters are bulky and not the easiest items to pack.  I avoid taking them when I travel, but this is a move, not a vacation so my luggage will be a bit heavier and will include some extravagances as well as practical things.  I am relocating for two years. 


I go back and forth regarding this rationalization. 


I really do prefer to travel light, but I saw the clothing choices in the Kiev area so, now I am more in tune with what I should bring.  My status has changed too.  Last winter, I was packing as a professional, a PCV heading off to accomplish an economic development project in a business setting.  I am returning to Eastern Europe as a writer and a spouse.  My clothes can please me and comfort is important too. 


The climate creates a few questions relevant to packing.  I am not certain about the actual climate I face in Kerch, Crimea.  I have heard the city is often windy, due to the proximity to the Black Sea, but humidity is high, especially summer.  Winters?  Perhaps rainy and muddy, but Mark says there are fur, leather and suede coats already appearing at the market so it must get cold.  I have seen photos of snow fall in the area.  Of course apartments tend to be colder in my experiences in Europe so the sweaters and jeans may comprise my household attire. 


My new sweaters will have a happy home.


  • Wednesday, 7 September, 2005

Yellow Roses on a Rainy Day…

The Fed-Ex truck pulled up this morning as I was sitting on the couch sipping coffee and reading a Christian Science I picked up in the airport.  The pack of dogs went wild when the doorbell rang and by the time I waded through the sea of frenzied canines to answer the door, the Fed-Ex man was long gone.  (The barking, snapping and growling of three scary dogs is intimidating!) 

I was surprised and delighted to see a large flower box leaning against my host’s door and the address had MY NAME on it!  Inside was a delightful surprise on this rainy day: a dozen beautiful, yellow roses!  The cats, lured by the sweet perfume and of course, curious by nature, clamored around me as I opened the box and proceeded to cut the stems and arrange the blooms in a vase.  The dogs also hung around, hoping food would be involved no doubt!  A tender note accompanied the unexpected blooms. 

Our wedding anniversary was on Monday.  My husband, in Crimea, must have coordinated with someone stateside to make this magic happen. 

Though the flowers were delayed, I did get to hear Mark’s voice on our special day.  It was comforting.  I miss his voice almost as much as I miss feeling his arms around me.  Soon we will be together again and we can stay up late talking and sharing and just being together...

The flowers are a pleasing reminder of our special bond.  They are tangible and will brighten my life for several days, and will be a precious memory forever.


  • Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Recap of last week in Tucson

(Following extracted from an e-mail)

It is Tuesday, 6 September and I am sipping my morning coffee from a bright, cheery yellow mug.  The computer is located in the basement of my cousin’s split-level, Minnesota home in the suburbs of St Paul.  In September, the hot, humid summer weather typical of the upper Midwest gives way to autumn and cooler temperatures.  After a week in hot, dry, bright Tucson, the basement rec-room feels cold, damp, and dark, but I am glad to be here catching up on my e-mail.  

Today is the first day of school for my cousin’s son - his senior year in high school.  He and his dad went to the State Fair yesterday, and true to their tradition, came home with dozens of huge stuffed animals which T. earned at the "Whack-a-Mole" booth.  His bed is covered with about 40 brightly-colored, stuffed snakes.  The 40 or so large stuffed ponies he earned last year look down from the shelves lining the walls of his room.  The victor and conquering hero chose to sleep on the couch last night since bed space was at a premium!  

With T. off at school (0715 arrival!) and my cousin at the work, the dogs and cats and I have a bit of quiet.  I have a list of tasks, but first, I will recap the first few days of September.  Perhaps you will want to get a coffee or soda (or "pop" as they say here in the Midwest) and get comfortable before you continue reading.  I will wait....

Since I last wrote, the events in New Orleans have captured the attention of the world.  I spent many hours riveted in front of the television last week.  I wonder how much of the news really reaches the rest of the world.  My experience with hearing any news on BBC radio in Ukraine is that much of the world may not be aware of what an impact the Hurricane has made on people's lives here in the USA.  (Mark - we will be interested to hear what you and your colleagues/associates have to say on this topic.)  I am reminded of how important it is to trust God and to make our prayers mindful ones, filled with gratitude despite what the mortal picture might influence us to believe/accept as "truth"...God is in control, not limited, frightened mortals and for that I am grateful...)

Friday I was out of bed early.  I eagerly packed my bags and checked out of Tucson’s Radisson Hotel (where I stayed with my cousin during her business trip this week) so I could be ready when my daughter and grandchildren arrived.  The original plan was for me to ride back to Phoenix with them, but they decided to simply stay over night in Tucson and make a mini-vacation of the visit.  M. and C. gave up their perfect school attendance records so they could spend the day with me!  My son-in-law, on the other hand, had to work - he was recently promoted to an enviable and challenging IT position so taking a day off just now is not appropriate for the professional that we are glad he is!  8-)  

After lunch at a charming little Mexican restaurant our adventures began.  Since M. and C. met when they were University students in Tucson, we spent some time touring old campus haunts.  It was fun listening to grandson’s (13) and granddaughter’s (7) remarks as their mom shared stories of the "olden days".  


After the campus tour, we visited Tucson's Reid Park where there is a delightful, if small zoo.  Zoos are a favorite preoccupation with this family so we spent several hours wandering about the grounds observing animals and birds.  In another lifetime I would like to come back as a National Geographic reporter and observe, write and photograph mammals in an exotic location.

Late in the day we checked in at the motel and the kids swam like dolphins in the pool while daughter and I splashed our legs in the water and gazed at the beautiful mountains and dramatic scenery that comprise the Tucson area.  While we lingered at the pool, we hatched a plan to picnic on "A" mountain.  This demanded a trip to the local grocery store to select an appropriate repast.  We kept the meal simple, but dawdled a bit so by the time we headed up the mountain, the sun was setting and the bright lights of Tucson were twinkling on.  The view was/is spectacular and I highly recommend it (this coming from someone who admits to being a bit phobic about mountain roads!).

Having admitted to being a white-knuckle rider when it comes to mountains (I am such a flat-lander!), I will elaborate a bit on the ride up.  "A" Mountain (named for the giant A emblazoned on the peak which is representative of the University of Arizona) is not that tall, but the roads are narrow and wind around the mountain with no rails to slow down escaped vehicles.  M.'s spunky 4-cylinder Jeep Wrangler has no door (no self-respecting jeep does) so the road really zips by or at least it is more obvious to passengers who are foolish enough to look down. 


The necessary down-shifting and the wheezing of the engine add to the drama of the trip for those of us who are a bit squeamish.  Of course as the grandmother, I am aware that I must remain calm for the benefit of the grandchildren's emotional health so I tended to chatter inanely (more so than usual) and simultaneously gripped the roll bar as if my life depended on it.  M. is a good driver and I am grateful for that and for her good disposition and kind heart.  She smiled and indulged me and I managed to maintain my dignity.  I really do have a love/hate relationship with mountain vistas.   The view is spectacular and I am glad we had the opportunity to see it.    

On the trip down, we pulled over at a road-side stop.  As soon as we hopped out of the jeep a helicopter appeared overhead and shined a brilliant spotlight on us.  Perhaps they suspected some illegal drug activity or maybe they were chasing us off the mountain since the gate is supposed to close at dusk. 


 It is amazing how low the helicopter came and how bright the spotlight! 


We cut our stop short and headed back to the motel where we stayed up late talking and laughing and being silly until we all drifted off to sleep.  (We later discovered that the cozy motel was adjacent to the maximum security detention facility so it was fun to speculate on who the other guests may have been visiting and that lead to many other foolish discussions and jokes about the helicopter, etc!)

Saturday was my birthday!  8-)  I woke thinking about pancakes so we checked out and went in search of breakfast.  What better place for pancakes and bacon than a Denny's?  My breakfast tastes can be more sophisticated at times, but on this particular day I craved pancakes and bacon.  In Tucson, it is hard to choose that kind of breakfast when there are so many wonderful opportunities to breakfast on spicy huevos rancheros or savory breakfast burritos. 

Following our morning meal we elected to spend the day at the real zoo - the Sonora Desert Museum.  It is a wonderful place to wander and talk and enjoy the panorama of desert life.  Despite temperatures hovering around 99 we enjoyed a full afternoon observing otters at play, bobcats, and mountain lions pacing and javelinas grooming one another as we looked on.  The humidity is low in Tucson so outdoor activities are comfortable and the warm sunshine felt good.  I understand why iguanas and lizards like to bask in the sun.

The trip to and from the desert museum involved a dusty ride over a mountain pass.  It was fun, but I was ready to shower and crawl into bed when night came.  M. and the grandkids had a long drive back to Phoenix so we parted shortly after sundown.  I have lots of photos and good memories to revisit when I get settled in Crimea and feel a bit homesick.  I am so glad we had the chance to play together. I wish I could have seen my son-in-law too...

He was kind enough to configure my new laptop which Mark had delivered to our daughter and son-in-law’s house earlier this week.  M. brought it along for me to take to Europe with me later this month.  Won't I have fun toting two laptops through customs in a formerly soviet country!  It is a lovely, large-screened Acer whish looks like a nice system - very sleek and lightweight.

Before our party dispersed on Saturday, cousin C. and her Air Force son D. arrived at my rooms on Davis-Motham AFB (I actually had a Distinguished Visitor's suite - two bedrooms, living room, three TVs, DVD player, stocked bar, etc...Only $27 per night!!!).  They brought a happy-birthday banner and a cheery bag full of tissue-wrapped gifts for me! 


C. managed to find some excellent novels about Crimea written by a native.  She also gave me a couple of other books to keep me engaged, including a heavy tome with the conjugations of 555 Russian verbs...a rather chilling reminder of the skills I need to be honing before my impending trip later this month!  8-)  She also brought along a carrot cake!  I do like carrot cake!   

Actually sister-in-law L. and her husband F. were the first to share birthday gifts with me.  The thick, padded envelope filled with cheery birthday reminders arrived at the Radisson early Thursday.  Unfortunately, due to an oversight, my name was nowhere to be found on the envelope so the staff of this large hotel had fun trying to locate the mystery birthday girl (me!). 


They finally opened the package and saw "Virginia" on the card.  Since the room was registered in C's name, they had no clue who I could be.  The hotel has 12-13 floors so there are many guests...it would seem like a lost cause, but a couple of the guests who were near the desk when this discussion was going on mentioned they had met a woman named Ginny, an Air Force Veteran  - could she be who they were looking for? 


Another guest said, "Oh, I know her!  She is here with her cousin C ..." and soon a phone call ensued and the mystery was resolved. 


L. and F.'s packages are ALWAYS such fun, but this extra mystery added even more color to the gift!  I laughed and enjoyed getting birthday greetings from lots of strangers who now knew that it was my big day!  

Sunday I slept in and stayed in bed a while listening to National Public Radio.  It was very pleasant to have quiet time, alone, sipping coffee in a bright room.  I like to think and put things in perspective - relive things and to count my blessings.  It is like re-charging my batteries when I have a chance to be alone.  

Later, I explored the Base Exchange and had a good time trying on clothes though I did not make many purchases.  I must keep my luggage light (my mantra) but it is sometimes hard to pass up delightful finds.   

In the late afternoon C., D., and his wife T. and their new baby McK took me out to a favorite BBQ place where I amazed myself by eating a full pound of rib tips!  I cleaned up most of the side dishes too: spicy baked beans, corn on the cob (not Iowa good, but tasty none-the-less), potato salad, and a corn muffin too.  The others were more restrained and took home some left-overs in Styrofoam boxes for another day of feasting.  My baggy blue jeans are fitting better now...  8-)

I was eager for the clock to register midnight so I could make an "official" call to my spouse.  The 5th marked our 34th wedding anniversary!  I dialed all the numbers necessary to get a line outside billeting and the base in order to access the international calling card account and then entered a pin number (I am up to about 18 digits now and more to follow).  I punched in the international country code and the eleven digit phone number and waited...and waited...and waited.... sigh.  I hung up the phone and started over. 


This time I got a busy signal.  Five minutes later, I tried again...busy...busy again...busy again...and then finally, on the 6th try I got a ring and someone answered.  Sadly, the someone was not Mark...big sigh.  I had an opportunity to practice my fledgling Russian skills in order to ascertain that Mark was not there and to apologize for bothering them.  I decided to hold off my next attempt until I am back at C.'s house...technology is great, when it cooperates...

Monday AM, we packed and re-packed.  I accumulated several heavy tomes and a laptop and a couple small gift items that added up to a problem.  C, packed some items into her luggage and I managed to squeeze things into my carry on.  I bought a helmet bag for the laptop - a nice solution actually.  I may be able to carry both laptops and a change of clothes in there on my extended trip later this month. 

The trip back was uneventful, but we were both glad to be back "home".  The dogs and cats were happy to have us back too.  There were delivery pizzas awaiting us when we arrived and C,’s son T. brought home Taco Belle treats (he works there) so we did not have to cook.  T. and the other men in the family are a bit more relaxed about housekeeping and pet-care than the two of us, so C. and I tackled some cleaning when we got home.  Since Tuesday was back to work for C. and school for T., they were up late getting ready to hit the ground running, but I slipped away and laid down for a good night's sleep.

This morning, a fall-like day, I let Sasha, the Rottweiler pup, out for a run around the back yard.  Unfortunately my reflexes were slow and Alex, the large pit bull, managed to wiggle out the door and escape for a long romp outside.  He usually does not have access to the lower yard during daylight hours.  He is inclined to bark at passers-by and he is capable of jumping the fence.  


I was a bit stressed seeing him pace around the perimeter, but kept a vigilant eye on him.  I threw sticks for the two dogs and they romped happily and chased one another around the yard.  My tactic was to keep them occupied and to wear them out.  Our short pit visit, became a playtime and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Alex was happy to be out in the sun and was a delight to play with. 


After about 45 minutes both dogs were worn out (or at least down) and were thirsty so when I said "water?" they both headed for the door.  Thank goodness...I would have been devastated if Alex had escaped the yard.  Pitbulls and police are not a pretty picture and C. would be inconsolable if anything happened to Mr. Alex.  I said a prayer of gratitude that things went well.  Now I have happy images of watching Alex playing with Sasha under the beautiful, blue Minnesota sky. 

Dogs are snoring on the couches and I am catching up on e-mail...there are over 200 messages to wade through.  I read those from Mark first and relegated the rest to my leisure time.  I decided to send this recap ... more information than you probably want, and no, I have not read the wonderful plethora of birthday greetings and anniversary wishes in my inbox yet, but once I finish this note, I will fill my coffee cup and then sit down to wallow in the warmth of friends and families wishes for me.  Life is good.

My agenda this week is to do some pre-travel shopping, line up good tickets, do preliminary packing and maybe send a box of books by M-mail (media mail rates) ahead of me...(Mark has already indicated there is little reading material available, in English anyway, so he will REALLY appreciate having novels and DVDs, so if you are inclined to send some used novels, etc, investigate M-mail ... I will forward the house address to you upon request


  • Monday, 5 September 2005 - Labor Day & Our 34th Anniversary…

Flying Home from Tucson


  • Sunday, 4 September 2005


  • Saturday, 3 September 2005 - My Birthday

White Knuckle Rides, the Desert Museum, the DV Suite…


  • Friday, 2 September 2005

Tour of U of A, Grandkids, the Zoo, the Helicopter Spotlight & Picnic in the Motel by the Prison…


  • Thursday, 1 September 2005

From the Public Library in Tucson

Here I am at the public library in Tucson - the temperatures outside are going up to 105 degrees today so the AC feels good. (Actually, without humidity, the heat is pleasing to me...)  

I am enjoying the freedom here - all summer I have been kind of trapped in people's houses so it is nice to be in a bright, clean hotel room and to sleep in a bit and then to just wander about with no accountability...

We had dinner last night in a great Mexican restaurant in one of the oldest buildings in the city.  The architecture, plants and light here are stunning.  The mountains are really amazing...I can see how people decide to call this place home.  I browsed some architecture books while I waited for my computer reservation here...very interesting influences. 

Mark’s fellow library personnel in Crimea would be amazed at the library here - it is huge, well lit and has hundreds of Internet ready computers available.  I told the reservations clerk about the library in Kerch - tea time, sometimes with wine.  The women here laughed!  We decided margaritas each afternoon would be just fine!  8-)

This area makes me think of Spain somewhat...I wish Mark could be here to wander about with me.