Tag Archives: travel


10 Feb

I experienced one!  First (and, really, hopefully last) earthquake for this gal.  I’d like to recap a wild and hazardous tale, but frankly it was over in five seconds and at first I just thought it was real windy.

However, earthquake it was none-the-less!  We finally arrived home again at site after our stint in the capitol and after washing dishes (at last! water!) I plopped down on the bed to catch up on some emails.  A few seconds later, the bed wiggled a bit. I thought Matt had bumped it, but when I looked up he seemed to be staggering a bit and the floor shook slightly again. Our house made a stretching, creaking sound and then, just like that, it was done.

I thankfully haven’t heard any reports of injuries or problems as a result and I’m insanely glad for it. Hopefully, everything stays positive and it we can look back twenty years from now and say, “Hey, remember that time we survived the earthquake in Azerbaijan?” How bitchin’ does that sound?

Fierce-throated beauty!
Roll through my chant, with all thy lawless music! thy swinging lamps at night;
Thy piercing, madly-whistled laughter! thy echoes, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all!  – 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


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



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

The Mountain

14 Jan

Today after my medical appointment in the morning, it was off back to the bus station to catch a ride home.

For once, it was NOT the hottest ride this side of the desert; rather, I had the most delightful journey home on lofty seat up front, a quiet seat companion, and I tackled another 200 pages in The Fellowship of the Ring. (I’ve officially fallen deep into the category of full-fledged nerd, you guys, if there was still any doubt remaining. I even sat for a long moment, gazing out at the passing hills and cars,  considering the book and films my new favorite trilogy. All while wearing my Star Wars t-shirt and feeling guilty for being such a terrible traitor. After I decided I could love them both, I considered if it was worth it to order a map of Middle-earth and have it sent to us… that’s normal, right? HOW SWEET WOULD THAT BE?)

It was such a good trip home. I knew at the end of my journey I’d be reunited with my partner; we’d do a killer workout together, dine on some plov given to us by one of our friends, and jump back into some work I’m falling behind on – all of which was accomplished in the smoothest of fashions.

And to top it all off, when I climbed off the cool and tranquil bus, our big beautiful mountain was in view. Some days you can see it far in the distance; other days it remains hidden.  But with the setting sun and a clear sky, I’m so glad it was there to welcome me back to site.



(But seriously you guys, if you ever wanna geek out with me and talk about the journey to Mordor, you can always send a map to the following:

Liv Nelson, PCV
Bərdə Mərkəzi Poçt
Bərdə, Azərbaycan  0900
Azerbaijan  )
O the great patient rugged joys, my soul’s strong joys unreck’d by man,
(For know I bear the soul befitting me, I too have consciousness, identity,
And all the rocks and mountains have, and all the earth)  – Walt Whitman









The Glad Game

2 Jan

I watched the sunrise in Istanbul and now, from my hotel window, can see the end of the day here in Azerbaijan.  After five days in glorious Istanbul, we are back to reality – but what a way to welcome in the new year.

As with any travelling experience, I never want it to be over and am sad to see it end. For many reasons, though, it seems infinitely harder going from the life and adventure and touristy-times in Turkey back to serving as a volunteer in AZ. I love my life here, but I find myself at times easily falling into strange and bumbling funks.

However! It is a new year, friends. 2014!  Unlike 2013, I will spend this entire year in country, which seems both daunting and amazing all at the same time.

I make a lot of commitments on this blog that I don’t always fall through with (book challenge, anyone? though more on that later…) but I have discovered a resolution I both love and find to be a perfect commitment in this Big Year of Big Things.

Growing up, like any normal child would do, I often played Hayley Mills, a game in which I reenacted scenes from some of the actress’ famous roles in all her various forms. Like, it was ridiculous how much I loved this child star from the 50’s and 60’s. Sometimes I was finding my twin at summer camp; at other times I was dancing in summer magic.  If I had to choose a favorite movie, however, it would be the classic 1960 hit Pollyanna, in which young Hayley, an orphan, moves to a small, close minded town to live with her wealthy, crabby-ass Aunt Polly.

The whole movie is a delicious cheese-ball of sweetness and adventure and the best scene involves Pollyanna arguing with her new house staff about how to see the best in life.

As an adult(ish), I love this scene even more. I love Pollyanna and all her beautiful optimism.  At one point in my life, I like to imagine I was equally as enthused and pleased about everything, but somewhere down these last few months I’ve lost it. But its a new year. A new year, a new attitude, a new chance to make it great.

So here’s my resolution, team. Each day – and I mean each day (granted we have internet) – I am going to find and share one thing I am glad about. Three-hundred and sixty-five beautiful things noticed in this great big world. I feel so fortunate to have this experience and need and want to do better promoting and sharing all that happens in life in Az.  (Plus, another chance to play Hayley Mills? Hollah!)

Today is a two-for-one, as I missed the first of the year, a day I spent alternately tossing my cookies and lazing in bed after too much celebrations… all worth it, though, you guys. Welcoming in the new year in downtown Istanbul with friends? Perfect.  On that day, I was glad for big, corporate, pop-up-everywhere Starbucks and their giant coffees and bagels, just what a girl needs post too much wine and noise making.

And today, this day of commitments and returns to host countries, I really am glad for Azerbaijan and the welcome in from the airport. While being followed out by twenty men pushing you into a taxi from the airport and being less than forward about fares isn’t always the most intriguing and welcoming of returns, I was glad to have a friendly police officer lead us to a kind driver with a working meter, giving him our hotel address and wishing us well. There really are great people out there, no matter how often I find myself wondering where they might be.

A Big Year of Big Things – and I will be glad for all of it.

Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.  – Walt Whitman
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