A Movie

8 Feb

Frankly, this whole being in the capitol more than at site this month has been a giant mess of ridiculous.  I feel sort of caught between two places – wanting to first and foremost keep projects going and dive into these upcoming opportunities at site; at the same time, being in the big city brings with it some luxuries and comforts I gluttonously adore and its easy to forget no water and cold beds.

I decided today to be firmly and wholly where I am. I can’t do much to change the situation and I’d rather commit to life than shuffle around the guilt from where I’m not or where I’d rather be – be that site, home-home, here…

And so, I went to a movie. A movie!  Seriously team, hitting up a real live cinema is one of my favorite pastimes in the whole dang world.   We’ve made ourselves a goal to catch all the Oscar Best Picture nominees this year.   Tonight, The Wolf of Wall Street on a gloriously huge screen with chemically altered popcorn and enough Cola to make your heart stop. It was raunchy and awful and hilarious and an absolutely perfect way to spend this evening, and I’m very glad to be here.

love me some leo

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.  – Walt Whitman


The Red Wing Shoe Store

7 Feb

Did I ever tell you the story about the shoes?

Like all good evenings, it started with a glass of gin.

Rather, it began with several glasses of gin.  And one can of Lienies, shotgunned to prove a year-long quest for championing bragging rights.

I like to think it was a Saturday night, but since in those college years every night opened itself up to unbounded zest and possibility, it very well could have been a Thursday or Friday. Or, really, a Wednesday, Monday or Tuesday.  It definitely wasn’t a Sunday, though.  In fact, I think it was a Thursday.

After rambling chats and a few slamming of drinks in my apartment up the street, my partner, my buddies and I moved the gathering down to the bar a few blocks away.   It was that perfect late summer-heat, the kind that leaves small beads of perspiration on your back and pushes you to laugh just a little bit harder and love the swoon of liquor just one moment grander.

Together around the table, the five of us drank and argued and  toasted to the complete perfection of the evening. My poor partner, bless his heart, finished his drink, smiled, and with the pushing-in of his chair, bid us all a good night; while some of us could sleep off the evening in the morning, he had to face an early shift that was already all too near. We saw him off and with a sloppy kiss I wished him well. He smiled, patted my head, kissed me on the nose, and promised I’d be safe and Not Be Stupid and call if I needed anything.

We wandered over and got a burrito, of course, and devoured them on the corner.  We stopped into our favorite place, saved for last, and finished the evening with found friends and too much loud music.   Since we’d spent our last dollars and were now regretting the burritos that sat poorly on top of gallons of booze, it was decided It Was Time To Go.

I still remember the exact feel of peeling out into the cooling evening, the heat of the cramped bar behind me and the street lights buzzing on the crowded streets. Everyone in town, it seemed, couldn’t get enough of the Indian summer. With hugs and slaps and promises to meet up for breakfast, we separated ways and I turned back home.

And that’s when I saw him.

He looked familiar, though he was tucked a little into the corner between buildings, shadows covering a bit of his face.  When I walked a little further down, I recognized him as one of the high-school kids I worked with at the waterpark that summer, The Worst Job I’ve Ever Had In My Life, Ever.

I turned back to gaze a little harder, not to catch eyes and say hello but because around his neck hung three pairs of laced work boots, a pair of unlaced ones on his feet and another in his hands.  Despite mild tipsiness, I was fairly certain this was Extraordinary.

“Liv!” he shouted. “Hey! Come on! We’re taking the shoes!”

I blinked a few times and laughed in surprise, then stopped.  Through his spurts and general blubberiness, he managed to explain that he had been walking past when he noticed the doors to the Red Wing Shoe Store had been left open.

“And,” he continued, “no one can even see inside. I’m waiting here til a friend of mine gets back and we’re going for more.”

He was right: you couldn’t see anything.  With the spacing of lamp posts and the angle of the door, anyone could have been going in and out  all evening. Which, it seemed, was the plan.

I stammered a bit, raised a finger, opened my mouth to respond — and bolted.

Blame it on being the middle child, a bossy rule-follower, a former 5th grade Safety Patrol Captain; chalk it up to being a goody-two-shoes, an acts-tough-but-tries-hard-in-school attitude, a desire to Do The Right Thing; call me a snitch and a narc and a tattle-tale but my immediate and full reaction pushed me to Get Some Cops.

Full of stamina, a lifetime of following the rules, and one too many gimlets, I rushed down the street, scanning for the cops that always stood watch on the college town street but of course were no where in sight.  I reached into my pocket to pull out my cell phone, realizing I could easily call for back up on this mission that had suddenly consumed every inch of me and needed – nay, demanded! – my full and undivided attention.

You see, it was just too much.

Not only was he stealing, but from the Red Wing Shoe Store. The shoe store! Quite possibly the smallest and most adorable store ever. I walked past the shop every day to class, the small frame of the elderly owner hunched in back, shuffling papers and stacking boxes –  the quintessential owner of a small, family owned business. It was really quite a depressingly perfect place.

And he was stealing! He was breaking the law!  I hardly knew him aside from his name and the fact that we did, in fact, share an employer but I’d yet to see him actually turn up for a shift, and any loyalty I’d felt towards him vanished the moment he laughed at the misery of that poor old man.

I felt injustice! I felt violated! I felt several ales cursing through my veins!

When I finally managed to pull my phone from my pocket, it was, of course, dead.

I looked around, panicked. There were dozens of people out but at that moment I knew there was only one thing to do.

Three minutes later, out of breath and even more jacked up, I burst through my sleeping partner’s front door having run the seven blocks to his house at world record pace.  Switching on all the lights, I swung open his bedroom door to find him rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Wha -” he started.

“SHOES!” I shouted. “Give… me… your… PHONE. 9-1-1!” I stammered between breaths.

I rushed his nightstand for his phone and ran into his blocked arm.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Calm down. What are you doing?” He tried to pull some clarity, which is fair, given that the last time he saw me I was leading a brigade of fellow lushes on a quest for Mexican, but I was having none of it.


With Wonder Woman strength, I pulled the phone from his hands and dialed 9-1-1.

Still out of breath and trying to shush a confused partner from ruining what had now amounted in my mind to a Threat to National Security, I spoke to the kindly dispatcher.

“The shoes!” I continued, picking up with her where I’d left off.

“Ma’am,” she said, “you’re going to have to calm down and be more specific. I am here to help you.”

“Okay,” I said, taking deep breaths. The room was a little swimmy, my heart was racing, I felt a tugging need to toss up some cookies,  but this was it.

Finally, in one long breath, I blurted out the entire story, including the summer heat and the waterpark and the fact that right now, they were stealing his shoes and It Needed To Be Stopped.

She paused. She asked me if I was okay, if anyone was hurt, and if I could repeat again what was happening and where.

“Lady,” I said. “The shoes.” I heard her talking to someone in the background.

“Ma’am,” she came back. “We just got another call about a break in at a shoe store downtown and are sending officers over. Is this what you are trying to tell me?”

“YES!” I shouted. We had done it! We had saved the country.

“Is there also something happening with the burritos? I didn’t understand that part,” she said.

I told her that they were just simply delicious, thanked her for her help, and hung up the phone.

With an unwarranted smugness, I gave my partner back his phone, smiled at our bravery, told him not to worry, I’d fixed it all, and promptly passed out on the couch.




In this crazy Year of Gladness, I am infinitely pleased to stumble across this video today from my beautiful city and the Red Wing Shoe, Co.  During this week of long trips away from site, weird hospital visits, missing home and everything stable, I loved seeing familiar sights and thinking of ridiculous days with beautiful people and the craziness of life that makes things all worth it.


Press close, bare-bosomed Night! Press close, magnetic,
nourishing Night!
Night of south winds!  Night of the large, few stars!
Still, nodding Night!  Mad, naked, Summer Night!
~Walt Whitman

Just a Sec (and Thursday Rundown 5)

6 Feb

If fortune ever had it I should become a superhero, my catch phrase before jumping into action would inevitably be “just a sec!”

I don’t even like the way this phrase rolls off the tongue, but damned if I don’t find myself saying it. ALL. THE. TIME.

It is not even three whole words. Really, it’s not even a sentence. It’s disgusting. The grunt of the “juh;” the abruptness of the midwestern “uh:”  the chopped off “seeeehk;” combined together, they sound infinitely more like a sneeze than a response to a request.

I can use this reply no matter what or when or how I find myself caught up.  You want me to pass those peas? Just a sec!  Can I read through that email? Sure, just a sec!  Lend me a hand with this grocery bag? Just a sec!

Heaven forbid anything seriously demanding ever happen.  Give you the Heimlich? Yeah, just a sec!

I like to think of it as an automatic response, one that doesn’t so much mean I am not eager to help you right away, but just my internal phrase showing I heard you, here I come!

Truth be told, it’s really because I thrive on procrastination.  Doing things now, now, now get’s me all sorts of anxious and distracted. But give me a sec? I’m all up on that!

Which, in small doses, can be fine but you pile those seconds up and here we are, Thursday Rundown Five, without a single post in between.

Which really was the point of this long tangent.

I’m madly in love with this goofy Year of Gladness. It’s been a rough start to the year. Great things have happened, team, but for the umpteenth time this month I’m back in the capitol for some medical mumbo-jumbo.  I’ll blame the traveling on my lack of posting, but we all know the truth.  This gal just needs to get a better handle on life.

All that aside, here’s a quick rundown of this Thursday and each day’s gladness until today.

Thursday – February 16

We caught the early bus into the capitol.  I think the universe was totally avoiding another “hot bus” post as it was a delightfully comfortable ride and we got here quite easily.

After checking into the hotel and confirming tomorrow’s appointments, we had a nice time taking showers and charging up batteries. With the recent cold spell, we haven’t had water at site for nearly a week.  We have some stored up, but certainly not ready for bathing and this hot water from a spout was pure heaven.

Afterwards, we navigated some new bus routes to head to the greatest (and maybe only true) Chinese restaurant in the capitol. Pricey, but so worth it.

When we got back, I finally did some catching up on emails; we watched a little t.v., and now it’s off to bed for an early morning.  It certainly wasn’t the Thursday I dream of, filled with singing goofballs and energetic conversation clubs, but one I am glad for none-the-less.

To catch us up, one thing to be glad for each day last week:

Friday: delicious spaghetti with good conversation and friends.

Saturday: a warm hotel room! We had massive snow and ice; those of us in the capitol for meetings had to stay another night as the buses were not running back to the regions. Drats, right?

Sunday: my beautiful sitemate J. She was such a fun trooper and always positive as we endured the 11 hour journey trying to get home.  We finally made it, and I’m so glad for her smiles.

Monday: post-Superbowl Superbowl feast.  We missed the game, but all got together for junk food, junk food, commercial-viewing, and more junk food.

Tuesday: a great meeting with my counterpart. Lots of good ideas in the works, a friendly chat, and plans for the month!

Wednesday: Coca-cola. I had a rotten migraine, but that jolt of caffeine at 4 in the morning after 10 hours of throbbing was a perfect shock to the system.


To think of time–of all that retrospection,
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward.   – Walt Whitman


Thursday Rundown (4) … and catching up

30 Jan

As you know, my friends, I will never make excuses for missing a post now and then. Personally, nothing is more off-putting in opening a blog than the first lines of “so sorry I haven’t posted in ages!”

However, I would extend a teeeeeeny weeeny apology, as I love sharing moments from each day and feel a bit of sadness for those I miss.  I have been in the capitol WAY too many times this past month; additionally, I’m fairly certain we have attic rats messing with some wires as our power at home keeps going in and out and in and out…  fun times in the palm, amigos.

Yet, as is tradition, let me give you a more in depth of Thursday (and then do a brief catch-up on the highlights of this past week).

My dear partner and I are fortunate to both serve as mentors for the incoming group of AZ12s -the 12th group of volunteers to serve in country.  Today was our meeting to discuss the program logistics, chat about what info is good to pass along, and get acquainted with our role these next few months.

Before our gathering, however, my crew from back at site snuck in an early morning breakfast meeting with one of our staff members and had a wonderful, thought-provoking discussion about our village school project.  From the beginning, we’ve known this was a huge stretch and dream, but it was actually rather uplifting to hear our options and recognize the ways in which we can focus in on our goals.

After the mentor meeting, we had a chance to grab a late lunch with some fellow friends and volunteers at one of my favorite places in the capitol.  Squeezing back onto the bus later, it was a return to the hotel to catch up on site work and emails – on which I am still falling sadly behind.  This evening, the partner and I caught up with some other volunteers who were also in town for various mid-service meetings and had a great time talking over food and drinks.

And now… its back to the hotel.  I often feel both insanely pleased and terribly uncomfortable staying in the capitol. On one hand, nothing is better than waking up in a real bed and having an instantly hot shower with a big breakfast and heating.  Yet, at the same time, there’s always this pang of missing out on my work and life in the region. When I’m walking around in my hotel slippers and robe, sucking up all the electricity and internet I can find, I think back to where I would be at this moment back at site; instead of dining with volunteers in a swanky restaurant, I’d be sharing the afternoon with my great 4th formers, singing songs in a language they don’t quite know, wearing jackets in the classroom to stay warm and waving goodbye as they cross the muddy streets back home to swash through the beauties and struggles that come with life in Az.   I’m glad for all these experiences – both high and low – and only hope to better understand their connection and meaning the longer I am able to serve in Peace Corps.

And, to stay true to the Year of Gladness, here’s a snapshot of some of the best things (both momentous and mundane) that happened each day this week:

Last Friday: I found my grey and white striped hat I was SURE I had left in Tbilisi; the best bottom-of-purse-find ever!

Saturday: Coming back to site to find water, gas, electricity, AND internet all in tip-top shape; a productive evening if there ever was one!

Sunday: so glad for sunshine! Beautiful, fluffy-clouded, ray bursting sunshine to dry all the clothes and warm up the house.

Monday: easily getting visa renewal photos taken. Any time I have to complete a new adventure in Az, I’m always preparing for the worst and most confusing time ever.  And yet, we were in and out in five minutes, with actually decent looking photos in hand. Score one for paperwork!

Tuesday: back to the capitol yet again.  This time, I took a wild stab at it and took a small marshrutka bus into the capitol and boy did I win big!  For whatever reason, this fella was not stopping for ANYTHING.  The normally 4 – 5 hour trek? Busted that record in 3 1/2.  Loved it.

aaaaaand Wednesday: despite having to visit for some medical reasons, I loved getting to ride around with one of the Peace Corps drivers.  I’ve wrote about this ridiculous, food and car loving former professional driver before – he is always ready for a good story. I had the best twenty minutes listening to him and the PC doctor holler and laugh about what constitutes food.  No matter what she said, he refused to believe vegetables, put together to make “salad,” would ever constitute as real food.  Truly, he had some valid points…

And there’s the week. Here’s to another great one.

Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.   – Walt Whitman

A Series of Things

24 Jan

At the end of this Friday, just as I’m climbing into my nice soft bed in the capitol, I had to think back over the day to decide what I’m most glad for. I’ve decided I’ve officially bored the topic of buses and miscommunications to death, and while it really does constitute much of my life, there are certainly many other things that are infinitely more amazing.

I thought out loud, and though I felt little of importance stuck out to me, my perfect partner reminded me of a series of small but momentous moments, and they all were all together outstanding.  Here they are, team. What I’m most glad for on this Friday:

  • Following directions from a team of helpful PCVs to a new building in Baku without getting lost once (hollah!)
  • Seeing a friend and catching up after her voyage to Europe
  • Delicious chicken salad from the market
  • Toblerone!  Delicious, delicious Toblerone devoured during a productive meeting this evening
  • Hot showers and new shampoo
  • Sleeping in a bed that is a real live bed with actual support and fluffy, heavenly pillows

And on that note, I am most glad for sleep after this long day.

I will sleep no more but arise, You oceans that have been calm within me! how I feel you, fathomless, stirring, preparing unprecedented waves and storms.    – Walt Whitman



Thursday Rundown (3)

23 Jan

I started off this fine Thursday the best way possible: a phone chat with my sister.  I can’t tell you how great it made me feel to hear her voice and laugh!  Though I was totally alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic at 5am to chat with her, since our gas doesn’t come on to heat up the house until 7, I decided it was probably best just to lay back under the covers for a teeeeny bit until I had to leave the house at 10.  Aaaaand, jump to 9:45, when I finally woke up again, it was a hectic start to the busy day. But, for once in my life, I had done a bit of planning and packing the night before so I was still able to head out the door by 10.

My sitemate and I headed to our class of 3rd formers – seriously the sweetest class in the universe. We have been doing a lot of practice with introductions and questions and they are on FIRE!  I feel really rather fortunate with these students; though we have some rough times, overall they are always so excited and happy to have us it is an absolute pleasure to be with them. Despite not knowing any Russian, we have developed a true rapport with the class and have come so far in our weekly visits I only wish we could see them more frequently.

After our class, as Kathy’s conversation club was cancelled, we had a nice hour of project planning and grant discussions before heading off to the village.

Last week, things were a little rough with my group of students during our community conversation club day. It was a lot of 6th – 9th grade friends crammed into a small space with no sound proofing between our adventure and the one in the next room over.  Additionally, it didn’t help that some of the fellas really didn’t want to be there, nor did I have the most solid lesson plan set out.  I have to constantly remind myself that – even and especially stateside – not all lessons are winners.  I was dreading today just because it had fizzled so sadly last week.

After a small pep-talk from partner of the century, a quick smile, review of an actual lesson idea and a few deep breaths, going in with the right attitude changed everything. That, and my spouse brought a soccer ball to play on the field with the students who didn’t want to have an English lesson. IT WAS A LIFESAVER.  Our class had a really strong group of kids who were anxious to learn and happy to be there. We reviewed some introductions and had a funny time discussing “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” and “good night.” I think we finally got it!

When our time was up, we met again in the directors room and had tea with friends and talked over a few progress points in our build a school dream.  Another productive afternoon in the village!

Next, it was home to finish hand washing some laundry, go for a nice long walk in the sunshine, and home to make dinner.  We are, yet again, headed into the capitol tomorrow for a committee meeting so we have another fun bus ride to prepare ourselves for.  I was also head over heels glad to have a fabulous quick chat with my former sitemate who’s now back in America. We really miss our COSed friends and I love getting to catch up and hear about life.

All in all… another fabulous Thursday.


Ah, whispering, something again, unseen,
Where late this heated day thou enterest at my window, door,
Thou, laving, tempering all, cool-freshing, gently vitalizing   – Walt Whitman

Catching Up

22 Jan

We got a lot of gladness to catch up on, team.

This past weekend I had the privilege – nay, the pleasure! – to visit a friend of mine in the south and conduct a teacher training project a fellow volunteer and I have had the honor to lead.  While I wish I could have had the chance to get some internet and share the daily posts with you all, I’m also grateful to have all the time dedicated to our project and some bonding time – so hold tight for a quick recap of this past week!

Let’s head back to Friday – a day filled with buses, buses, and more buses.  While there is a bus that leaves from my city to the region in the south, no one could give me an exact answer as to when it departs and when it arrived. To avoid missing any sort of connection or traveling at night – a Peace Corps policy that could get you packing on home – I ended up heading to the capitol to get a bus from the large station.  It added on two extra hours or so, but for this lame adventure seeker, I would much rather know exactly where I’m headed and when than pop on a bus on the side of the road any day. (Maybe this will come later – but I’m still pretty pathetic at this point!)  It was a long day of travel, but at the end of the road lay two good friends, a warm house, and the most delicious curry dinner I’ve ever enjoyed.  So grateful for the generosity of my friend and her host mother for preparing such a nice evening for us to relax!

The next morning, I began the day by going for a run for the FIRST TIME IN NINE MONTHS.  Seriously, you guys, nine months.  I haven’t gone that long without running for over 10 years.  While I make many excuses and could certainly attempt it if the passion was there, I just can’t bring myself to consistently run at 6:30am in the paved, dusty streets of my city before anyone is out and about.  I can work out at home (which I have been doing a much better job of doing!) but running may have to wait for me.

But, damn. Did it feel great.  My friend and I jogged along the hills and through villages, beating the morning sun and hitting the street home just as the first rays were breaking in the distance.  True paradise.

DSCN8371That day, my fellow teacher trainer and I conducted our first “Training of the Teacher Trainers” project, set up by previous volunteers three years ago and still receiving funding from the Rotary International Club of Baku.  We had a stellar turn out – nearly 30 teachers from 17 different schools! – and it was one of my proudest moments thus far.  It felt great to be talking about teaching with those who care to listen and have a passion for professional development – there are those who truly, truly care about their students and it makes me so insanely glad.DSCN8376

On Sunday, I agreed to go on a bike ride with my friend and her counterpart who owns a bike shop.  I should give a brief disclaimer that while I know how to bike and am the proud owner of a hot pink helmet which I wore all over fair Eau Claire, I’m not that good. I mean, I am pretty fantastic when it comes to going slow and steady and very, very straight. I’ve been known to curve up and down a few “mountain” roads and I’ve taken a tumble or two, but mostly I’m just a city focused, boring ol’ biker. I had assumed this would be an hour or so in the outskirts of town.  But you know what they say about assuming…

FIFTY KILOMETERS and FOUR AND A HALF HOURS LATER, I was a champion.  I probably walked that damn bike more than I road it up the hills, and while I sweated like a pig and cursed more than my sailor of a mother, it was the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring afternoon.  Despite falling twice (and you should see my frisbee sized bruise to prove it!) I would do it again in a heart beat.  Green hills, blue sky, the wind in my face and the call to prayer ringing over the villages and valleys – I can’t even put into words how beautiful it really was.DSCN8476DSCN8458









we also visited the "isti su" nearby and hiked around the canyon. heaven!

we also visited the “isti su” nearby and hiked around the canyon. heaven!









That next Monday, I took the same return route home – north to the capitol than west back home.  While I loved every moment of my journey, the best part is always a welcome home hug from that dear old partner of mine.  I’ve become quite pathetic, team, and can hardly function without that dope and his perfect, handsome smile.  We had a great dinner together (which he cooked and cleared up – hollah!) and I was glad for the chance to sit and chat with that love of my life.

On Tuesday my sitemates and I were invited to a birthday celebration for our friend from the village. I’ve been invited to a number of celebrations, and don’t get me wrong: they’ve all been pretty fun. This, however, was the first time I really truly enjoyed myself. We had great food, fun conversations, and, of course, lots of dancing.  I am glad for this friendship and the opportunities it has given us in Azerbaijan.

And finally, that brings us up to today! What I’m most glad for today came early this morning.  As we’ve been sharing, we are in the early stages of helping to build a school in a nearby village.  We are often pausing to consider where next to head – this is new and crazy for all of us!  Today we finally received two letters (one in English, one in Azerbaijani) from the minister of education offering his support and commitment to the school project.  I have met with him several times as he is directly involved with my position as methodologist, and despite his commanding personality is a great guy with a good smile and a sincere desire to help.  He was really enthused about the letters and gave lots of thanks and excitement for us.  One step at a time, and we really can do this, team.


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.     – Walt Whitman
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