Category Archives: Peace Corps

Kyiv, Ukraine

Here’s my newest piece for Two Hundred Word Travel on my favorite day in Kyiv.

Two Hundred Word Travel

Climb out of the Universytet Metro stop, gazing at the architecture while you ride endless escalators. When you get out of the building, turn right and enter the small Botanical Garden; stroll down the hill and back up again among the greenery. Back at the top of the hill, you should be on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard, almost directly opposite St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, which you’ll recognize by its yellow color and starry domes. Go inside for a moment of quiet.

From the cathedral, turn left and walk downhill; you’ll eventually run into Bessarabs’ka Ploshcha with the redbrick building towering over the big intersection of Kyiv’s main streets. Cross the street via the underground mall and pop out next to the building; walk around the left side of it to find the entrance to the Bessarabs’kyy Rynok, one of Kyiv’s hidden treasures. Inside, gather picnic fare from…

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Peace Corps/Ukraine in status updates

One of my fellow Ukraine (now R)PCVs just posted a great piece on her great blog, borscht and babushkas. The post, “#pcukraine,” is a series of Facebook status updates from PCVs in Ukraine about the ridiculous/funny/amazing/weird experiences they have. Go read Kristen’s post, because the statuses there are extremely clever/witty/absurd.

I liked this idea but, rather than re-blogging others’ experiences, wanted to share some statuses of my own. I’m not a huge Facebook-poster to begin with, so my updates are not as detailed or witty as those in Kristen’s post, but they do show how little things make life good and I hope they give you a slightly different picture of my time in Ukraine than my blog posts. I may have finished my Peace Corps service 9 months ago — time flies — but it is still very much part of me and I think about it a lot. So while this post may seem “late,” it’s really interesting for me to look at after having been an RPCV for a while. Hope you enjoy it, too; this is a sampling of the best and most insightful statuses.

  • 2 Oct 2010: has survived Week 2 of PST. Teaching for the first time next week!
  • 10 Dec 2010: is sitting in her NEW apartment in her NEW town drinking a Starbucks Via & eating oatmeal while enjoying her counterparts WiFi. Life is good.
  • 15 Dec 2010: stove-top bread pudding = success!
    • Note: This is significant because I didn’t have a working oven in my apartment.
  • 5 Jan 2011: braved the pre-Christmas crowds at the bazaar and is now braving the 3*F temperature for a run.
  • 11 Jan 2011: survived her first day of teaching. 2nd Form: cutest kids EVER. 3rd Form: cute too, but ask a lot of questions in Ukrainian that I don’t always understand. 5th Form: nice class. 6th Form: smart, fun group. 11th Form: fun b/c they know enough English to have discussions.
  • 18 Jan 2011: felt like a mother hen this morning while leading the 2nd form up two flights of stairs to her classroom… “Come along, little chickies!”
  • 1 Feb 2011: talked about Romanticism in art with her 11th Form; sang “My Favorite Things” to her 3rd Form; got 3 boxes (spices, COFFEE, etc.); met nice women while running at the stadium who invited me in for tea & to return whenever I want.
  • 4 Mar 2011: It’s official…Women’s Day in Ukraine is AWESOME.
    • Need some details on Women’s Day? Read this.
  • 17 Mar 2011: “Mrs. Wilkins ironed her dog yesterday.” -written by one of my counterpart’s 4th-formers (one sentence was supposed to be “walk the dog” and the next “iron her clothes”).
  • 10 Apr 2011: made her first Ukrainian borshch today — success!
  • 4 May 2011: loves apple discounts from her favorite bazaar apple man, milk discounts from her favorite babusya, and free baby greens from one of her adult English club-goers.
  • 9 May 2011: tried to write a letter in cursive, but her brain/hand kept trying to form Ukrainian cursive letters instead of English ones!
  • 12 May 2011: Today was a good day. New running shoes & summer dresses arrived from home, & spent a wonderful time at the music school playing the clarinet & listening to live classical music for the first time in almost a year.
  • 17 May 2011: found a thermos in her apartment so now she can make French press coffee, drink some before she runs and keep the rest hot for after the run.
  • 18 May 2011: had an awesome time spontaneously playing an hour and a half of basketball w/ three 25-y/o guys from her English club.
  • 30 Aug 2011: just got foto-sessiaed up the wazoo in 100-year-old Ukrainian traditional dress…pics coming soon.
  • 22 Sep 2011: a good day: received some Italian coffee (not instant!) from Ukrainian friends, my counterpart is finally home with her beautiful baby, I got three letters, & I might be inheriting my landlady’s old washing machine!
  • 2 Oct 2011: CP’s baby’s baptism –> 8 hours of eating and drinking and dancing (and still going strong when I left)…welcome to Ukraine!
  • 4 Oct 2011: I now have a working washing machine in my apartment! Peace out, hand-washing (unless the machine breaks).
    • Note: the machine lasted until my very last week at site, when it decided to start making loud clunking noises; I hand-washed my last few loads of laundry.
  • 13 Oct 2011: A supermarket just opened in my town!
  • 21 Oct 2011: Three girls showed up to my sport club in 43F & rain. Here’s to triumphing over Ukrainian beliefs/superstitions of getting sick from rain & cold, one girl at a time!
  • 9 Nov 2011: found out today that I’ll be teaching English to my town’s police in preparation for Euro2012…starting tomorrow.
  • 17 Nov 2011: Today I bought sweet Ukrainian boots & навчилася вишивати!
  • 29 Nov 2011: HIV/AIDS-themed English club was a relative success…except one girl started crying. I’m hoping it was just because the activity was powerful and not because of some deeper reason.
  • 6 Dec 2011: winter, John Legend, Woody Allen, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, Dave Brubeck, snowflakes. Just a normal day in English club.
  • 14 Dec 2011: Iryna gave me some cheese that her daughter sent from Germany. I ate a cube and it was like heaven in my mouth.
  • 30 Dec 2011: fully embraced Ukrainian circle dancing tonight & it made for an enjoyable time.
  • 5 Jan 2012: I love walking/wandering around Kyiv. Found a sweet supermarket and saw a totally new area of the city on the way to getting my teeth salt-blasted at the dentist.
  • 8 Jan 2012: L’viv: pampushky (edible and live), lots of walking, The Nutcracker for 30 UAH, kolyadky, mulled wine, chocolate/marzipan, vysokyy zamok, pretty churches, great company…AND homemade (Ukrainian-made!) PEANUT BUTTER at the Christmas market…hard to beat this life.
  • 21 Jan 2012: Нарешті, доїхала додому. Home sweet Sniatyn.
  • 29 Jan 2012: I may or may not have just sung & danced around my apartment after being told there’s no school tomorrow due to the cold…
  • 5 Mar 2012: Today the boys were pulled out of my 5th-form lesson so the girls proceeded to interview me about my life and family. Best two questions: “Ms. Tammela, do you have a man?” & “Do you have a baby?”
  • 13 Mar 2012: Amazing cultural exchange moment of the day (@ older pupils’ English club): telling/answering questions about the Peace Corps and being told many new things about Taras Shevchenko. PC Goals 2 & 3? CHECK.
  • 18 Apr 2012: Time for a(n anti-) plagiarism workshop with my 10th form…
  • 29 Apr 2012: In Ukraine the tar melts in the sun.
  • 10 May 2012: My 44-year-old school director died early this morning of a heart attack… A big loss to my school and the Sniatyn community.
  • 15 May 2012: had a wonderful spontaneous evening helping Iryna in her field…and scored some fresh eggs, mint, and rhubarb on the way home.
  • 21 May 2012: Spent a lovely day in Kolychivka, introducing my American parents to my Ukrainian ones and eating delicious, super-fresh homemade pork sausage. (Fresh as in the pig was alive two days ago…)
  • 29 Jun 2012: Today I climbed Mt. Hoverla (2061m) in near-perfect conditions and watched my counterpart’s cousin propose to his girlfriend at the top (she said yes, for the record). All in all, not a bad day.
  • 2 Aug 2012: I am so happy and grateful that, even though my school’s Director (who was most of the muscle behind my grant implementation) died in May, the town administration has upheld their end of the deal and provided the (now-multimedia) English classroom with new desks, chairs, and chalkboard.
  • 21 Sep 2012: Two years ago today I arrived in Ukraine. Seven weeks from today I leave.
  • 10 Oct 2012: After two years in Ukraine I finally see leeks being sold. I show them to Iryna at English club and tell her how excited I am to have found them. She says, “I have those in my garden and in my field!” Ukrained? But in the most wonderful way.
  • 31 Oct 2012: My 8A girls asked me today if they could have English club today at 4pm (they haven’t come all semester) — I said okay, and they surprised me with cookies and a lovely hour of round-table chatting about Halloween and the advantages of speaking UkrEnglish. Adults & older pupils followed that with a great last English club and such generous, heartfelt comments and gifts. Then I was informed that my 11A class will be trick-or-treating at my flat tonight…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last night in my диван-bed…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last run in Sniatyn…then packing, cleaning, and final goodbyes. I shall miss this little town and its inhabitants. On the train to Kyiv — one-way — tonight with K for our last few days in Ukraine.
  • 7 Nov 2012: Advanced-Mid Ukrainian YES.
  • 8 Nov 2012: Today I rang the COS bell — yes, there’s now a bell — and became an RPCV (though I haven’t “returned” quite yet). Thanks for an amazing two years, Ukraine.


Quarter Century Birthday Wisdom

Yes, that’s right — today I turn 25. A quarter century! I certainly don’t feel that old.

I spent my previous two birthdays in Ukraine. Two years ago I was actually working at a camp run by a fellow PCV — my “team” gave me a lovely framed picture as a gift, and I believe flowers and cake were also involved. Last year I was at site in Sniatyn and remember having a delicious-as-always pizza lunch at Kapryz with Janira and Natalia; other Natalia gave me a leather wallet from her shop that I’d been eyeing and Ilona gave me a ring/earring/necklace set; it was a Wednesday, so there was English club and my adults gave me some really nice gifts, flowers, and well-wishes.

This year’s birthday finds me in Münster, Germany, where F studied. We’re visiting friends here and, because F’s dad shares my birthday, we’ll go to his parents’ tomorrow for weekend celebrations.

But this post is not to tell you about how I celebrate my birthday; rather, it’s to reflect a bit on the past year and share the traditional birthday wisdom, as I did last year.

this is the most recent photo I have (taken by Anthony) of myself

this is the most recent photo I have of myself (taken by Anthony)

The past year has been one of great changes: I finished my Peace Corps service, having to say goodbye to two years’ worth of accumulated friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and places (not to mention stuff); I moved home to my parents’ for a couple of months, then uprooted again to move to London. Since my last birthday I’ve run one half marathon, a 10k, and a bunch of 5ks (including a PR/PB) — now I’m “aging up” in road racing (darn!), so the competition gets stiffer. I also returned to formal education, earning a CELTA and being accepted to an MA program at University College London beginning this September.

My 25th year has seen lots of new, exciting, and different things. There have been lots of adjustments and adaptations to make. So with that in mind, my birthday wisdom for this year is as follows:

Give yourself time to adapt to change. Don’t be too hard on yourself or expect yourself to immediately feel at home in a new environment or living/working situation. Focus on one thing at a time, living in the moment and addressing each new thing as it arises, and adjustment will eventually come.

I wish you all another year of change and adaptation.

News Roundup: Running, the Arts, (Sex) Education, & Comic Relief

I can hardly believe it’s been more than two months since my last news roundup. High time for an update. This roundup includes a variety of articles and blurbs that caught my eye over the past couple of months. Topics range from running to language/linguistics to sex education to gun control, obesity, and more. As always, I’ve categorized the articles as best as possible so you can troll for what interests you the most. Click the links to read the full articles, and feel free to leave a comment or email me ( with your thoughts on any of these.


  • I love running and do it willingly, but some days this is the only thing that gets me through: Runner’s World Motivational Poster #45.
  • Most runners, especially anyone who has ever run track, will appreciate this.
  • My Oberlin track coach preached (and still preaches) “PMA” to all his athletes. What’s PMA, you ask? That would be Positive Mental Attitude. In a nutshell, believe in yourself / be optimistic and good things will happen. I was skeptical for a time, but then started to mentally prepare myself for long marathon training runs by positive self-talking, telling myself the run would be fine, go well, I’d be strong and feel good. Guess what? It works! This Runner’s World article, “Train Your Brain to Run Your Best,” proves the point further and is worth a read for any athlete.

Language & Literature, Art & Music

    • Confession: I love opera. Okay, that’s not really a confession because I am not ashamed of it. True, my appreciation for opera didn’t come until college, but while at Oberlin I was able to see some amazing singers perform in a wide variety of operas and opera scenes. Oh, and I took a musicology class on Mozart’s last five operas. Yes, it was awesome. Anyway, if you are an opera lover or are just wondering what the heck all the fuss is about, check out this fun BuzzFeed article, “What Happened to Opera?” It’s fun and you can watch some videos of incredible singers.
    • Speaking of Oberlin, Amanda, a good friend of mine and fellow Obie, writes for Critics at Large and last month wrote a beautiful piece on Andy Warhol and her experiences of learning “from the artworks themselves” that began in the Allen Art Museum’s print room. Here’s an excerpt (though you should read the essay in its entirety, just to sink into Amanda’s outstanding prose):

“I learned quickly, but not from lectures or textbooks – I learned from the artworks themselves. Entire movements, periods and cultures – Japanese woodblock prints, the satiric eighteenth century engravings of Hogarth and Grandville, loose pages from medieval illuminated manuscripts – communicated themselves to me as archives without histories, until pulling prints became not unlike a daily descent into a dark, empty movie theater where all you could see were images, images, images flickering in the shadows and sublimely untethered from narrative.”

  • “Looking for Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin” is an interesting piece from the NY Times‘ Travel section; its timing was particularly good because I had just read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, two fictional memoirs of sorts about the author / his protagonist’s years in Berlin in the early 1930s. (The second story is what Kander and Ebb based their musical Cabaret on.)
  • If you’re part of my generation, you probably speak with slashes, as in “I was thinking we could go to the movies slash do something else together this weekend.” “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore” is a smartly-written piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education by a professor who asks her students to teach her two new slang words at the start of every class. She goes on to discuss the use of “slash” in spoken conversation. A fun piece worth the read.
  • Staying in linguistics territory, I read a great blog called The Inky Fool; this fool is Mark Forsyth, who has also written two books (The Etymologicon and The Horologicon), both of which I’ve read. This blog post, entitled “Plumbing with Aplomb,” is a particularly good example of Forsyth’s intelligent and witty discussions of linguistics.
  • This is just for fun: maps that show “the deepest linguistic conflicts in America.” The maps show how people in different regions of the States pronounce the same words, or the different words they use to mean the same thing. It’s pretty interesting; I (not surprisingly) found my hometown of Rochester, NY to be more midwest-leaning in some pronunciations and more New England-y in others. In terms of my own pronunciation, most of it matched that of other Rochesterians but some didn’t match how I speak. How do your pronunciation and vocabulary match up with your home region?

Children & Education 

  • NY Times “Sunday Dialogue” recently asked “What Makes a Good Teacher?” They present a letter to the editor to which readers are invited to respond. I even sent in a response for this one; though mine didn’t make it into print, it’s worth reading the original letter and its responses for all of the diverse ideas and thoughts people have about what makes a good teacher.
  • On a similar note, an opinion piece called “No Learning Without Feeling” argues against the US’s new Common Core State Standards and their (ridiculous) focus on standardized tests. The author makes a good point that this isn’t the way to get kids excited about learning and literature:

“The truth is that high-stakes standardized tests, in combination with the skills-based orientation of the Common Core State Standards, are de-emphasizing literature in the English classroom in favor of “agnostic texts” of the sort familiar from test preparation materials. These are neutral texts created to be “agnostic” with regard to student interest so that outside variables won’t interfere when teachers assess and analyze data related to verbal ability. In other words, they are texts no child would choose to read on her own.

  • NY Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow does an excellent job of providing his readers with shocking statistics about what is wrong with our (American) society. This piece, “The Kids Are (Not) All Right,” is no different, and props to Blow for alerting us so we can try to change them:

“…according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.”

  • The above piece is from April. Just last week, Blow wrote another op-ed, “These Children Are Our Future,” in which he gives us a “statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013” and what the class would look like if there were 100 students in it. It’s a really powerful set of statistics that everyone should be aware of. Blow notes that,

“We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies like paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).”

Sex & Sex Education

  • Taking Blow’s last point above, about sex education, there have been a few well-written essays floating around about that. This NY Times “Room for Debate” collection asking, “At What Age Should Sex Education Begin?” is particularly worth reading. Many of the contributors made excellent arguments for why/how/when (at what ages) sex education should be taught, both at home and in schools. One such contributor wrote,

“Irrational fear – the cultural belief that teaching young people about sex will cause them to have sex – keeps administrators and educators from doing what they know is best: providing young people with developmentally appropriate, sequential and honest sex education. Never mind that 30 years of public health research clearly demonstrates that when young people receive such education, they are more likely to delay sexual initiation, and to use protection when they do eventually become sexually active, than those who receive no sex education or learn only about abstinence. Withholding information about sex and sexuality will not keep children safe; it will only keep them ignorant.”

  • There’s a new book out called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by journalist Daniel Bergner. Salon recently published an interview with Bergner about the book, which made me really want to read it. The piece is aptly called “The truth about female desire: It’s base, animalistic and ravenous,” and I recommend that every woman and man read the article. Here’s a short excerpt to pique your interest: “One of the scientists, who was really influential in calling attention to the size, put it this way: the reason we’ve ignored this is because we’ve managed to convince ourselves that one gender is all about reproduction and the other is all about sex. That is, women are all about reproduction and men are all about sex. Again, a complete distortion.”

Gender, Culture, & Machismo

  • Having lived in London for about six months now, I have already noticed plenty of linguistic, cultural, and social differences between Americans and Brits. This “Short Cuts” essay from the London Review of Books seeks to explain some of these differences in a humorous way. The essay is worth a read for any American or Brit who has spent time in the other country. Here’s a sneak peek excerpt about something I have found to be absolutely true:

“In the English manner, he apologised several times that night for joining my friends and me at our table. An Englishman will apologise to you twice in the course of inviting you to dinner when you are friendless and desperate and couldn’t feel more grateful for the prospect of company. ‘No doubt,’ Eagleton writes, ‘the British will soon be apologising for being stabbed in the street.’ Americans apologise only when they’re overwhelmed by guilt and want very much to be forgiven.”

  • Moving from cultural differences to gender differences, this Science Daily paper entitled “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” explains how “From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.” My dad has also done some research and teaching in the area of sex/gender differences, so he brought this to my attention.
  • And now onto differences in sexuality, with this op-ed on “How Latin Culture Got More Gay.” The essay can best be summed up with this quotation: “These developments not only undermine stereotypes about machismo, but also the assumption that the prominence of Catholicism makes progressive change impossible. Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and Ireland recognizes civil unions. As the United States Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage, perhaps it should consider the precedent set by other nations of the Western Hemisphere.” Seriously. Get with the program, USA.

Obesity & Food

  • “Research: Childhood obesity is a product of environment” looks at three new studies that point to environment over genetics as a greater cause of obesity. In their words, “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.” Worth reading the entire article.
  • Perhaps even more worthy of your precious reading minutes is the essay, “Fat City — What can stop obesity?”  by physician Karen Hitchcock. The piece is subtitled “Why obesity is not your doctor’s problem” and goes on to explore social constructs and thought patterns contributing to the obesity epidemic, serious health problems caused by obesity, and much more. It is an emotionally powerful, excellently written piece that I cannot adequately summarize here, so I beg you to go read it yourself.
  • On a food-related note, Michael Pollan has a new book out, that Mark Bittman (one of my favorite food writers) discusses and excerpts in his Opinionator piece, “Pollan Cooks!” Among other things, Bittman quotes Pollan as saying, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” I completely agree.


  • I always keep an eye out for Ukraine-related news, since I feel a tie to the country after spending 2+ years there in the Peace Corps. So you can imagine how happy I was that Ukraine recently held the first gay rights rally in Kyiv. Brave people, those 50 demonstrators; clearly still a long way to go toward tolerance and acceptance.
  • Another big issue that, like homosexuality, is highly stigmatized in Ukraine, is HIV/AIDS. This Ukrainian girl, featured in a BBC article entitled “Ukraine’s youngest HIV campaigner,” is a heroine for speaking out about her experience living as HIV-positive in Ukraine. This also helps explain why Peace Corps Volunteers’ work with PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS education continues to matter in Ukraine.

Miscellaneous US-Related

  • Every American should read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” I hazard to guess that Americans who have traveled a bit won’t be surprised by most of the statements made in the article, but it’s important for the less-well-traveled to read and understand the astute points the author makes.
  • And now onto gun control…a touchy subject, yes, but read Todd May’s Opinionator piece, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” and that’ll give you some perspective on why the US needs serious gun control. I’ll start you off with this set of statistics:

“Clearly, we are a violent country.  Our murder rate is three to five times that of most other industrialized countries.  […]  Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence.  We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests.  We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief.  Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate.  And we torture people.  It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.

  • With the above in mind, read this excellent op-ed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who herself was the target of gun violence a couple of years ago. In “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip,” Giffords states about the Senate gun control votes, “I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.” Shameful.

Whew! That ought to keep you busy for a while. What have you been reading lately?

Recipe: Signature Banana Pancakes

This is my staple pancake recipe, the go-to for late Sunday mornings after F and I finish a bike ride and run, respectively. Plenty of our guests have been privy to these ‘cakes, too.


These pancakes were born during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. I developed one pancake recipe but then wanted to make it even healthier by cutting out the white flour. After trying out some substitutions, I came up with the following delicious combination — it’s super easy and has a hearty taste and crunchy mouth feel.

The pancakes come out slightly different each time: sometimes I use more oats, sometimes I skip oats and bump up the cornmeal, sometimes I add a dollop of peanut butter to the batter (though usually we just spread it on top of the cooked pancakes), sometimes I add a healthy tablespoon or two of cocoa powder. Think of this recipe as a base for your own great pancake experimentations — although if you make it as-written, I can promise you will be more than satisfied.

Signature Banana Pancakes (makes 8-10 medium-large pancakes, just enough for 3-4 people)


  • 1.5 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or semolina)
  • 3/4-1 tsp baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • to taste: ground cinnamon + ground nutmeg
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-2.5 cups buttermilk (or kefir)
  • optional: 1 tbsp peanut butter; handful of crushed walnuts; 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • Neutral oil (for cooking)


  • Whisk all the dry ingredients together.
  • In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and them mix in the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until well-combined.
  • Stir in peanut butter and/or walnuts, if using.
  • Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat and cook pancakes to your preferred doneness. (Flip pancake when bubbles begin to form and pop around the sides.)
  • Serve with syrup, jam, yogurt and molasses, and/or more peanut butter.


Musings: On Travel & Living Abroad

I last posted a travel-related musing more than two and a half years ago (though, arguably, all my posts during Peace Corps service were travel-related), less than a month before I headed off to Ukraine. That post centered on an Albert Camus quote about fear and travel and how travel takes us back to ourselves. I still agree with that, though after more than two years living in Ukraine and four months living in London (with more to come) I have more perspective on travel and living abroad. On that note, here are some things that recently resonated with me:

My friend Liv posted the following quote on her blog last week:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you- it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
-Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Ukraine and particularly Sniatyn, the town in which I lived and taught English for two years. Maybe because spring is arriving and I loved spring in Sniatyn, when the sun begins to have warmth again, the days get longer, trees gain leaves and flowers come out, and people start digging in their gardens and fields. Maybe also because I’ve been away long enough — almost 5 months — to appreciate how nice a life I had there. That feeling is sometimes magnified by living in a place — London — that is almost the polar opposite of Sniatyn in terms of size, culture, and way of life.

Not that I don’t like living in London; on the contrary, there’s no place I’d rather be, especially since living here means living with F. But the contrast can be stark at times. This is where Bourdain’s above quote comes in. Travel, which I expand to include living abroad, is not always comfortable and sometimes it does hurt. But, like Bourdain says, “that’s okay.” Because most importantly, living abroad really does get under your skin to change you; Sniatyn has certainly left “marks on [my] memory” and “on [my] heart”; the people, the places, my school, daily life… I took so much with me from my experiences in Ukraine and I hope that I left “something good behind.” The same goes for now living in London. Sometimes it’s tough to live in such a big city; it’s interesting how isolating it can feel. But we are changing and adapting with the journey — adventure — of living here and I’m sure London will leave its marks, like Ukraine has.


Another quote that struck a chord with me recently is this:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
-Mark Twain

Gosh that is so true. When living abroad seems hard, all I have to do is think about how much I am gaining in terms of worldview, tolerance, open-mindedness, and more. So whether you travel the world or only have the time and resources to travel to the nearest big city, do it. You’ll be surprised at — if you are open to it — how much your perspective and worldview can grow and expand with just one trip.


News Roundup: Food, Culture, Taxes, & Telecommuting

There has been lots going on in the national and international news since my last news roundup. Allow me to walk you though the articles that most strongly caught my eye in the last month and a half. We’ll cover everything from economy, taxes, and class to food, arts, Ukraine, and telecommuting. I’ve tried to categorize them so you can skip sections that don’t interest you. As always, click the links through to read the full articles.

Economic Segregation & Equal Opportunity

  • Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth is an insightful opinion piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz about the near-impossibility of social mobility in America today. It’s really worth a read — I’ll leave you with his words to spark your interest:

“It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia. […] After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier, the Stanford sociologist Sean F. Reardon found.”

  • On the note of wide economic gaps, watch this short film about the distribution of income in the US. It is shocking and even a bit disgusting but necessary to know so we can try to change it.
  • And again, because of the appalling income distribution in the US, Why Taxes Have to Go Up (for the richest of the rich):

“As it happens, those taxpayers are the same ones who benefited most from Bush-era tax breaks and who continue to pay low taxes. Even with recent increases, the new top rate of 39.6 percent is historically low; investment income is still taxed at special low rates; and the heirs of multimillion-dollar estates face lower taxes than at almost any time in modern memory. […] On the spending side, Republicans are resisting cuts to defense. That implies brutalizing cuts in nondefense discretionary areas, like education and environment, which are already set to fall to their lowest level as a share of the economy since the 1950s.”

Food and Healthy Eating

  • This in an interesting piece from The Atlantic about how Americans spend money on food.
  • You’ve probably heard about how good the “Mediterranean diet” is for you. Well, it’s true! Yet another study as affirmed that a diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and wine may prevent diseases and help you live longer. Mark Bittman writes this nice column about how the Mediterranean diet is really just synonymous with eating real, fresh food. In his words, “What’s new is all the junk that been injected into our foods and our diet since the end of World War II. What’s not new is that eating real food is good for you.”
  • Staying on the “real food” kick, Bittman also has a great piece in the NY Times Magazine from the weekend of April 6th. He examines fast food and asks if it’s possible to have healthy fast food. The answer? Yes, but it’s going to be tricky to balance fast with cheap with healthy.

“…there’s now a market for a fast-food chain that’s not only healthful itself, but vegetarian-friendly, sustainable and even humane. And, this being fast food: cheap. […] What I’d like is a place that serves only good options, where you don’t have to resist the junk food to order well, and where the food is real — by which I mean dishes that generally contain few ingredients and are recognizable to everyone, not just food technologists.”

Peace Corps & Ukraine

  • I will continue to advocate for the Peace Corps for as long as I live. My Ukraine experiences were unforgettable. This Huffington Post article, called “Not Your Parents’ Peace Corps” (that’s certainly true — and I would know! My dad was a PCV in Tanzania in the ’60s), mentions the impact that today’s PCVs can have, both in their countries of service but maybe even more so back at home:

“‘The impact of Peace Corps service lasts a lifetime.’ Living and working in villages and communities far from home, volunteers learn to see the world in new ways and to communicate in new languages, to adapt to new environments, manage teams, troubleshoot obstacles and organize large-scale initiatives. Put simply, the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience and launching pad for a 21st century career.”

  • This is a wonderful short film of Ukraine, made by a couple who spent some time cycling through (mostly) western Ukraine. Sniatyn doesn’t appear, but you will see shots in Kolomiya, the next biggest city, and the beautiful Carpathian Mountains. This video made me miss Ukraine.
  • In not-so-chipper news, Ukraine continues to struggle to define its position between Russia and the E.U. If you’re interested in the political side, read this opinion piece.

“…the E.U. would like to sign and ratify an Association Agreement with Ukraine by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November. For this to happen, the E.U. is looking for progress in Ukraine’s handling of three issues: prevention of selective justice, elections with international standards, and other reforms as defined in a jointly agreed Association Agenda. […] The most persuasive steps that the Yanukovich administration could take would be to free Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. […] An Association Agreement with Ukraine serves fundamental E.U. interests. It would also serve the interests of the people of Ukraine and increase the chances that Ukraine undertakes necessary political and economic reforms.”

Music & Literature

“Beethoven’s music is too often seen as exclusively dramatic, expressive of titanic struggle. In this respect, the “Eroica” and the Fifth symphonies represent only one side of his work; one must also appreciate, for example, his “Pastoral” Symphony. His music is both introverted and extroverted and it again and again juxtaposes these qualities. The one human trait that is not present in his music is superficiality. Nor can it be characterized as shy or cute. On the contrary, even when it is intimate, as in the Fourth Piano Concerto and the “Pastoral” Symphony, it has an element of grandeur. And when it is grand, it also remains intensely personal, the obvious example being the Ninth Symphony.”

  • Another NY Times Magazine feature article, this time on “The Epic Ups and Downs of Peter Gelb,” the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager. Worth reading, if you are at all interested in the classical music and opera world.
  • As an English major, I was struck by this piece on the value of teaching how to write through literature. I love this:

“The question “What was your favorite moment in a story?” is an easy entry point for both a student schooled in the finest prep academy and a science major straight out of a substandard district. Anyone can find a favorite line. Placing further pressure on those lines — Why did you like it? What changed at that moment that brought energy to the text? — can help students trust their instincts: they were on to something! It’s a less intimidating approach to literature, free from the burden of historical background and devoid of grad-school jargon.”

Women’s Rights & Telecommuting

  • I’m sure you’ve caught wind of the telecommuting debate (to allow it, or not to allow it?) sparked by the new Yahoo CEO who banned it. I completely disagree with her decision, both from my own experience and for many of the reasons stated in the article: “[…] numerous studies show[] that telecommuting workers are more productive than those working on-site. […] a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation.” There are, of course, good reasons for working regularly in an office setting amongst other people, but there are also many reasons for a company to allow employees some flexibility in where they work some of the time.
  • A smart opinion piece urging the UN to take a stance on violence against women. I particularly agree with this: “Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue, and that has nothing to do with culture or religion.”

Just For Fun

  • Those of you interested in languages and word origins should look at this, “Visualizing English Word Origins.” 
  • A dense but worth-reading excerpt by the late philosopher Ronal Dworkin’s forthcoming book, Religion Without God.
  • “Diagnosis: Human” is an op-ed on today’s over-diagnosis of ADHD and excessive diagnoses of other disorders. The author argues that, rather than trying to diagnose every little thing — too much energy, depression from grieving — we should remember that we are, after all, human and are therefore allowed to — and should — experience human emotions:

“Ours is an age in which the airwaves and media are one large drug emporium that claims to fix everything from sleep to sex. I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.”


What have you been reading lately?

CELTA Course: Week 13

The last week! If you’re just joining my CELTA journey, you should really start at Week 1.


TuesdayOne final input session with Bobby on different teaching contexts. (Different as in not teaching a classroom full of adults.) We focused on two other common contexts for teaching English: teaching young learners (in the TEFL world, that’s anyone under 16 years old) and one-to-one tutoring. I enjoyed both sessions, especially since I have taught young learners and could contribute some of my Ukraine experiences to the class. We talked about how teaching young learners is different from teaching adults: different life experience, kids respond better to more visual/kinesthetic activities, kids have different levels of maturity… Classroom management is also more of an issue with schoolchildren, so we talked about some techniques that could be used to get silence in the classroom, such as “armchair aerobics,” a countdown, last one silent, or a stop sign. In Ukraine I often used the sit-in-silence-and-look-at-the-kids-until-they-start-self-policing-and-shushing-each-other technique; it often took a few minutes but usually worked.

What’s your most effective technique for silencing a class?

In the session on one-to-one tutoring, we talked about advantages and disadvantages for teachers and students as well as some good one-on-one activities. One of the ideas I liked the most was writing a conversation — if both the teacher and student are tired of talking, they can have a break and practice writing by scrawling notes back and forth. One of my classmates even pointed out that in today’s world you could do that via text message or email/chat on the computer. I noted that 20 Questions was always a hit with my kids and could also work well for one-on-one sessions.


Thursday: The final day of the course! We could hardly remember our first 15-minute lesson 12 weeks ago… No official input session today, though we spent some time talking about what job/career opportunities a CELTA can give you: work at a private or public school at home or abroad; tutor one-on-one, in English and/or writing; work at a summer language school; become an administrator at a language school; write materials for coursebooks or websites; get a DELTA and then become a teacher trainer… It is sort of exciting, how many options a CELTA opens up. Some people from my class are planning to go teach abroad, in Turkey and Asia, among other places. Others, like me, won’t use their CELTA right away but are happy to have it as an option for future opportunities.

After our post-CELTA discussion, we just finished up the administrative stuff in our portfolios, then went out for dinner to celebrate. It has been great to spend 13 weeks with such an interesting, fun group of people. I hope to stay in touch with some of them.


As I’ve said before, there are three (well, four) options in terms of the final grade / level of CELTA that we are awarded: Fail, Pass (the majority get this), Pass B (about 15% of all CELTA participants), or Pass A (2% of CELTA candidates). I should get my grade and preliminary certificate from Oxford House College within a week or two…fingers crossed for a good grade!

CELTA Course: Week 11

Three weeks to go! Catch up here.

Monday: G. and Ir. taught their first hour lessons. G.’s grammar lesson (on “as soon as,” “if,” and “when” for future time in the context of health spas) was brilliantly paced and executed; I hope I can do that good a job in my grammar lesson on Thursday. Ir. taught one of his best lessons, too — his skills lesson focused on boxing and ended with students debating whether or not boxing should be banned. Both really nice lessons that showed how much G. and Ir. have learned and internalized throughout the course.


Tuesday: Input session with Ben on teaching functional language. During the course we have learned how to design and teach two types of lessons: skills and grammar. However, there is a third type of lesson that focuses on functional language. What is this, you may ask? Functional language is set expressions that are used in certain situations — the language is linked to its function. Functions include asking for repetition, disagreeing, etc. Exponents are the expressions that are used for the functions. Here are some examples, with function on the left and exponent on the right:

  • Shopping — “How much is this?” or “Do you have this in X size?
  • Suggesting — “It’s really worth it if…” or “Why don’t we…?”
  • Correcting — “Actually, we met at…”
  • Apologizing — “Sorry I’m late” or “I apologize for being…”
  • Disagreeing — “But on the other hand…”
  • Asking for repetition — “Could you say that again, please?” or “Sorry?

Obviously there are many many possible exponents for each function. The idea is to design a lesson — with the same structure as a grammar or skills lesson — with functional language as the main aim. So the students would read or listen to a text using the functional language for a certain situation, then the teacher would pull a model sentence or two from the text to teach meaning, form, and pronunciation, then the students would do   controlled practice and free practice activities. It was a really useful session — unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to teach a functional language lesson during the course, but this stuff is really good to know for our future teaching gigs.

Ben also briefly went over the Common European Framework for language level with us. Oxford House College doesn’t use this as consistently yet for English level, but many European countries use it for all languages so everyone is trying to transition to the A-B-C system for more consistency. The framework is based on “can-do” statements (see below for some examples; there are tons for each level). Here’s a reproduction of the levels (sorry about the formatting…I couldn’t figure out how to get it all on the page):

Level group A B C
Level group name Basic User Independent User Proficient User
Level A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2
Level name Breakthrough or beginner Waystage or elementary Threshold or intermediate Vantage or upper intermediate Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced Mastery or proficiency
Description -Can understand & use familiar everyday expressions & very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.-Can introduce him/herself & others & can ask/answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has.-Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly & clearly & is prepared to help. -Can understand sentences & frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal & family info, shopping, local geography, employment).-Can communicate in simple & routine tasks requiring a simple & direct exchange of info on familiar & routine matters.-Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment & matters in areas of immediate need. -Can understand main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.-Can deal w/ most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.-Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.-Can describe experiences & events, dreams, hopes & ambitions & briefly give reasons & explanations for opinions & plans. -Can understand main ideas of a complex text on both concrete & abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.-Can interact w/ a degree of fluency & spontaneity that makes regular interaction w/ native speakers quite possible w/out strain for either party.-Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects & explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving advantages & disadvantages of various options. -Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, & recognize implicit meaning.-Can express ideas fluently & spontaneously w/out much obvious searching for expressions.-Can use language flexibly & effectively for social, academic & professional purposes.-Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors & cohesive devices. -Can understand w/ ease virtually everything heard or read.-Can summarize information from different spoken & written sources, reconstructing arguments & accounts in a coherent presentation.-Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently & precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

I haven’t officially tested my foreign language skills according to this framework, but I’m probably a high B2 in Ukrainian (at least was when I left Ukraine last November) and somewhere in B1 range in German. How are your foreign language skills?


ThursdayMy and D.’s final lessons! I taught grammar — relative clauses, to be exact. I knew it would be a tough lesson because the grammar focus was not as straightforward as teaching a verb tense; I also took a risk by writing my own text for the lesson, since I couldn’t find a good one in any of the coursebooks. The lesson timing would be tight, too, so I had to make sure to be really focused to get through everything in my lesson plan. Plus, it was my last lesson and I felt a little pressure to make sure it was above standard.

So with all of that on my mind, I really had to psyche myself up for the lesson on Thursday. I put on my power colors (black and red) and positive self-talked myself during the 30-minute bike ride to Oxford Street. The lesson itself went relatively smoothly: I got through all my activities and the students seemed to understand the basics of using relative clauses by the end. I wasn’t sure how Ben would react, though, because my grammar was not super focused. My classmates and Ben gave me helpful feedback that I completely agreed with: my text was not really “authentic” and my writing task for the students (write a story about your pet) didn’t really have a purpose or outcome… Also, I could have focused the grammar better by spending time on subject-object distinctions in forming relative clauses. But despite all that, I earned above standard because I achieved my aims, fixed my actions points from last week, and the lesson was well-executed with good classroom management. My action points for future teaching endeavors: designing tasks — natural authentic tasks — audience, purpose; task design: outcomes; take some risks.

And now I am basically DONE with the course! I’ve taught my 10 lessons (9/10 above standard) and finished my final assignment. We still have two more weeks of input sessions and my classmates’ teaching, but all I really have to do is show up. I’m relieved to have taught my final lesson and can now relax a bit and enjoy the end of the course.


Saturday: The last Saturday of the course! Interesting input sessions with Bobby on syllabus design/course planninglearner autonomy, and the history of English Language Teaching. The first session introduced us to the four criteria for designing a syllabus: learnability, frequency, coverage, and usefulness of language elements. We also discussed the different types of language syllabi/syllabuses: grammar, lexical, functional, situational, topic-based, and task-based syllabus. Each type of syllabus has its pros and cons, and many coursebooks today use a combination of approaches.

Keeping syllabi and coursebooks in mind, the short learner autonomy session had us leafing through coursebooks to look for how each book encourages learner autonomy. Some do it through DVD or podcast extras, a few use “can you do this?” or “check what you know” checklists, and one book even allows you to create an online account to access more materials and exercises to practice what you’ve learned.

The last session was on the history (or evolution) of ELT. We were divided into pairs and were given two English language teaching methods to research and present to the class. It was an informative session that really highlighted how many methods incorporate elements of other methods and how many teachers today use a combination of methods. Some of the main methods in the history of ELT are:

  • Direct Method
  • Audio-Lingual Method
  • Communicative Approach (what we were encouraged to use in the Peace Corps)
  • Natural Approach
  • Silent Way
  • Total Physical Response
  • Suggestopedia
  • Task-Based Approach
  • Lexical Approach
  • Blended Learning
  • Dogme (ELT)


So I am done with my duties and am looking forward to just showing up and enjoying the last two weeks of the course. Both my tutors told me that I can have high expectations for my course/CELTA grade…I’ll find out what that means in a few weeks! 

Next up: Week 12.

Recipe: Banana-Oat Snack “Cookies”

A couple of weeks ago I read some blog post or article featuring a series two-ingredient recipes. I was especially intrigued with I saw banana-oatmeal “cookies,” but remained skeptical that they’d actually taste like cookies. However, a fellow Ukraine PCV tried them herself and maintained that they were delicious. So yesterday morning I looked at the ripe bananas on our counter and, while my post-run oatmeal was cooking I thought I’d experiment by mashing a banana, adding some oats, maple syrup, peanut butter, and cinnamon. I baked the “cookies” for 5-10 minutes and voila! Beautifully moist, satisfying results. F loved them — because they weren’t too sweet — and said they tasted more like oat snacks. I made more this morning, adding some raisins and using honey instead of maple syrup. I cut them into little squares with the thought that they could become our new go-to granola bars.

bar form

oat snack bar form

The recipe is easy to improvise — I didn’t measure anything so I’ve estimated amounts below. Feel free to experiment with other mix-ins, like chocolate chips or nuts, until you find your favorite variation. Happy snacking!

Banana-Oat Snack “Cookies” (inspired by borscht and babushkas)


  • 1-2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4-1.5 cups raw oats
  • 1-3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup or honey
  • to taste: cinnamon
  • optional: handful of raisins, chocolate chips, and/or nuts


  • Preheat the oven to 250F (100C). 
  • In a bowl, mash the bananas until smooth. Microwave the peanut butter and sweetener in a bowl for 20-30 seconds, until soft. Mix into the bananas and stir in the cinnamon and mix-ins.
  • Stir in the oats until everything is combined. Drop like cookies or spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the “cookies” start to dry out a bit.


CELTA Course: Week 10

Read about Week 9 before you read this post.


MondayD.’s and my first 60-minute lessons. D. taught for the first hour and his was a grammar lesson. He did a thorough job teaching present perfect and was calm even in the face of some forgotten materials and no CD for his listening (he had G. and Ir. read the tapescript). I taught second, a skills lesson. My focus was healthy lifestyles (of course!), and I led the class through two reading tasks, a “lexis race” (teams race to match words/phrases to their definitions), and a speaking task in which they surveyed their classmates about their healthy habits in order to find out who was the healthiest in the class. For the first time since we switched over to the pre-intermediate group, I was satisfied with my lesson. There are a few things I need to work on, and one of the reading tasks could’ve been harder, but overall I was really happy with the lesson and had an adrenaline rush for about an hour afterwards. (It was above standard, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.) Ben’s action points for my next (and last!) lesson are: more collocation options; less lockstep by inserting little pairwork stages to help organize the board and break things up; re-pair fast finishers; elicit and board ideas and useful language before a speaking task.


TuesdayBobby led a really interesting input session on literacy. We started with an activity: posted around the room were sentences in different languages. First we had to identify all the languages, then we had to take one language in the Latin alphabet and one in another alphabet. Ir. and I ended up with German and Korean. Then we had to copy each sentence three times: 1) normally, 2) from right to left, and 3) with our non-dominant hand. This was to make the points that: A) it takes time to learn to write a new alphabet (I certainly understand that from learning Ukrainian/the Cyrillic alphabet!), so we should bear that in mind when teaching students whose first language does not use the Latin alphabet; and B) it’s hard to write in any language if a person is lacking literacy skills in general. We went on to talk about how to be aware of individual student needs when teaching basic literacy — as some of us might end up doing at some point. We went over some activities for word-level, sentence-level, and text-level reading. It was an eye-opening session and it really makes one appreciate being literate.

Bobby also went over Assignment 4 (the last one!) with us. It’s called “Lessons from the Classroom” and is basically a personal reflection assignment. We have to write about what we’ve learned from the CELTA course, our strengths and weaknesses, how to improve and how to continue developing professionally as English-language teachers. It’ll be fun to write and won’t take long.


Thursday: S. and A. taught their first hour lessons. S. taught grammar: indirect questions and being polite. Her guided discovery was nice, if a little ambitious, so she barely had time for the final speaking task. But the students definitely understood the lesson’s grammar point, and that was S.’s main aim. A. taught a skills lesson about smoking. His reading tasks were beautifully paced and overall the lesson’s timing worked well — despite the fact that he’d hardly had any sleep for the past couple of nights thanks to a new baby at home.


Only three more weeks of the course left! My final lesson is next week and we’ll have our last Saturday session, too.

In Solidarity with Oberlin

On Tuesday, 5 March, my alma mater made the front page of the New York Times — the article popped up as the third most-emailed.

Oberlin's Finney Chapel, May 2006

Oberlin’s Finney Chapel, May 2006

But, unlike what you may expect, Oberlin did not make the front page for some great achievement in environmental design or for some students doing amazing service trips during Winter Term or for having tons of alumni serve in the Peace Corps.

Oberlin made the front page because the College canceled classes on Monday, 4 March for a “day of solidarity” in light of a series of vandalism acts — mostly in the form of hate speech written on walls and posters — targeting Oberlin’s black, Jewish, and LGBT communities. These acts were brought to a head when someone wearing a KKK outfit was spotted early Monday morning on South Campus near Afrikan American Heritage House, a safe space where a large population of Oberlin’s students of color live.

These events are not only scary and threatening; they are shocking and sad at Oberlin, a place with such a progressive tradition of liberal values and openness to people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations.

Due to these events, Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov and the deans decided to cancel classes on Monday, 4 March in order to come together for what Krislov called “‘a different type of educational exercise,” one intended to hold “an honest discussion, even a difficult discussion.'” (read the NY Times article here.)

I’ve gleaned from Facebook posts that the turnout at the Finney Chapel convocation and the Wilder Bowl rally were astonishingly huge. That is a hopeful thing to come from all of this: whoever has been committing this vandalism, Obies still gather together in solidarity to keep working toward a more equal, hate-free (or at least tolerance-focused) world. Although I am saddened by what has happened on campus, I am still proud to have attended Oberlin College and I am proud to be part of a community that sticks together and provides support from near and far. I stand in solidarity with Oberlin, now and always.


To read more details about the incidents and response…

  • Another Obie alum wrote a nice response here.
  • Huffington Post article and short video here.
  • A short CNN video here.
  • …it even made news here in the UK.
  • And a provocative response to the incident here.

What are your thoughts? Post them in the comments section below.


Recipe: Sweet Potato Rosemary Biscuits

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have probably figured out that I love pancakes. But did you know that one of my top 5 favorite foods is actually sweet potatoes? I haven’t posted many recipes featuring them, mostly because they do not exist in Ukraine (and that’s where I was cooking and recipe-ing from September 2010 to November 2012). Now that I’m back in sweet potato land, however, they feature regularly — weekly, no joke — in my pans of roasted root vegetables.

Sweet potatoes are delicious baked whole in the oven, split open and juiced up with some butter, salt, and pepper. They also feature wonderfully in these pancakes. (Uh oh, back to pancakes again…) But I’m really here to tell you that I’ve discovered another great use for sweet potatoes: biscuits! I recently learned how easy it is to make biscuits — they’re great alongside beef stew or with whipped goat cheese and tomatoes. Thanks to spoon fork bacon, I can now throw together a variation on simple biscuits that includes sweet potatoes.

orange + green

orange + green

We enjoyed these sweet potato rosemary biscuits with reheated vegetarian chili that we made 7 liters of a couple weeks ago (there was too much to finish…after 3 days we had to freeze the rest before the beans knocked us both out). F had barely taken one bite of his biscuit before saying, “You have to make these again.” Yes, they were that good. Super moist (from the potato), sweet and salty, slightly piney from the rosemary…They were so good I didn’t even dip mine in my chili because I wanted to enjoy the flavors all by themselves. The biscuits are also excellent toasted with butter or spread with a bit of cream cheese.

next time I'll have to make a double batch

next time I’ll have to make a double batch

Sweet Potato Rosemary Biscuits (adapted from spoon fork bacon; makes 6 large biscuits)


  • 1 cup plain/AP flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (113g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup mashed sweet potato (~1 sm-med sweet potato)
  • 1.5 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 3 tbsp buttermilk


  • Peel and dice the sweet potato, then boil it until soft (15-20 min). Drain and then mash the potato.
  • Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
  • Whisk together the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until it is evenly distributed in pea-sized pieces.
  • Fold the sweet potato, rosemary, and buttermilk into the dry ingredient until just combined.
  • Plop globs of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the biscuits look set and have just started to brown on top. Remove the tray from the oven and let the biscuits cool for a few minutes before serving.