things i’ll miss about ukraine

I wrote this post 4 years ago, as you might guess by the lack of capitalization (it was a phase). Like a slew of other posts, it remained drafted but never published. Maybe because I found it presumptuous to write about what I’ll miss about Ukraine when I was still IN Ukraine. Maybe I wasn’t sure if any of it would be true, or if all of it would be true, or maybe if anyone would understand what I was even talking about. I admit, this list was and still is mostly for me, as I explain. It serves as a reminder of the things I just didn’t want to forget.

I haven’t read through this list in about, well, 4 years. The list is still pretty spot on and quite a lovely reminder of village life in Ukraine. And yea, I’d still like to put a rug on my wall. To keep with archive protocols, I’ve decided not to edit the post below, even if some things could use a little clarification, and capitalization…

As always, thanks for reading.


a few months back, i began jotting down things i’ll miss about ukraine. whenever something would pop-in my head i’d jot it down in my moleskin i so faithfully take everywhere. i made this list just for myself really, as a reminder of the things (both big and little) i’ve come to appreciate while living in ukraine and things that i don’t want to forget. of course there are many things i won’t miss (it’s not all peaches ‘n cream over here!) but i’d rather try and remember the good stuff. years to come, i’m sure it will grow to include things i never thought about but for now this is what i have. it’s in no particular order and also randomly turned out to total 50.

  1. connection to seasons and the harvests that come with it
  2. cheap local produce — even poor people can afford healthy foods
  3. being able to get anywhere in the country without a car
  4. students (some more than other but especially the ones that run up to hug me)
  5. walks through fields around my village
  6. simplicity
  7. chucha
  8. ira and eddik
  9. pc friends that live closer to me here than in america
  10. walking on a dirt road where no cars pass by
  11. babaushkas that could beat a brotha
  12. communal children on buses
  13. at least 2 holidays in any given month (the ukr saying is 365 days in the year and we have 300 holidays)
  14. pryaniky
  15. being able to eat borscht for 1 week at the price of 10 UAH ($1.23)
  16. the fact that it’s acceptable to wear the same outfit a few days, weeks, even months in a row.
  17. the true darkenss of my village at night and the ability to see so many stars
  18. speaking ukrainian and russian
  19. hearing “HILLOW!” from my kids in the village
  20. relatively cheap train travel
  21. this country’s love for ABBA
  22. that adults can stay up and party just as hard as the young folk
  23. pimped out ladas
  24. tea (and sometimes conjac) breaks at school
  25. delicious chocolate
  26. never ending fields of sunflowers
  27. living close to 2 seas: azov and black
  28. bazaars
  29. the way everyone makes their own house wine and samajon (homemade vodka)
  30. fleeced-lined pants for winter
  31. the chance to get away with speaking in a british accent whenever i feel like it
  32. walks in the village listening to village sounds
  33. the occasional ketchup and mayo sause’d pizza (what’s happened to me?!)
  34. fold songs, folk tales, and hilarious health superstitions
  35. summer clouds like that of Montana (i’ve never actually been there, but i assume they look like that)
  36. post delivered by the same woman on a bicycle no matter the weather
  37. kids that play outdoors and make their own toys
  38. adult-sized juice boxes
  39. a culture of minimal toilet paper usage. and recycled tp at that!
  40. reusing things and fixing things rather than throwing away or buying new
  41. rickety bicycles carrying 2-3 even 4 people
  42. lvivsky christmas edition beer
  43. banyas (sauna experience where you also get beaten with leafy branches!)
  44. older women being genuinely concerned about me getting enough to eat
  45. modest and cozy houses
  46. the fact that everyone (no matter age or gender) can be spotted eating an ice cream cone in the summer
  47. rugs on walls
  48. shashlik in the summer
  49. true appreciation for the coming of spring after long, dark, cold winters
  50. that ukrainians are quick to recognize what’s important to them: family and health


howdy with a sweet poppy seed loaf

Uhhh, hi. I mean howdy. It has been a very long time since I tended to this blog. Remember that time I thought I’d have time to blog during my 3-year MFA graduate program? Yea…that didn’t happen at all. And the very few times it did, my posts were photo-based, so I can’t really call that trying.

Over the past two years there certainly has been P  L  E  N  T  Y for me to write about. It would probably be a thrilling read for you all, as a friend of mine paraphrased it life handed me nothing but “wicked buckets of shit” on multiple fronts. Page-turning stuff indeed, but for many reasons I have decided not to write about it here/now. Maybe look for it in my autobiography.

Anyways, I now find myself in the middle of Texas. Which, like Ukraine is somewhere I neeeeeeever thought I’d find myself. But a promising job in my field beckoned and I followed suit…basically. And I also find myself here–as in sitting down to finally write something–because I was looking for this recipe. It was one of my 18 drafted and unpublished posts.  I’ve said for a while that I don’t know where to pick-up with this blog, or if I even should. I admit I’ve also lost passion for writing with everything that’s happened. Not to mention life in the US doesn’t seem quite as blog-worthy as my village days in Ukraine. But I’ve certainly missed writing and I’m so very grateful I took the time to write/document as much as I did throughout my Peace Corps service. I’ve been back for 3 years now and have forgotten much more than I’d like to admit.

I don’t know which direction, if any, this blog will take. But I wanted to say “howdy from Texas” and share my favorite recipe from my mom with you…4 years later. And now I’ll close with a quote from some fine cinema that is Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet”.



my mom’s most famous poppy seed bread
adapted for ukraine:
makes 2 loafs


3 cups flour
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
3 eggs
1 ½ cup milk
1 ½ tbs poppy seed
1 cup oil
1 ½ packets (or tsp.) of vanilla sugar
1 tsp almond extract (optional and if you can find it)

¾ cup sugar
½ packet vanilla sugar
½ tsp. almond extract (again only if you have it)
¼ cup orange or lemon juice (or a lil bit of both if you’re feeling crazy)

· mix all of the bread ingredients for 2 minutes. (yea it’s that simple). divide batter into 2 greased and floured 8½ x 4½ loaf pans. bake at 350ºF (175ºC) for 1 hour.

· mix all ingredients for glaze and heat. pour glaze over hot bread. let cool before removing from the pan.

and that’s it! you can freeze one loaf and eat the other, or be super martha stewart by baking and freezing both for ‘just in case you have guests’. just wrap in foil after completely cooled, place in ziplock gallon bag and freeze. take out day before to let thaw.

it’s super easy and i guarantee your ukrainian friends and co-workers will love it. that is if you don’t eat it all yourself. not that i’m speaking from experience…


post purgatory and post-post purgatory with a commissioned sketchbook

As promised to myself on my laundry list of “to-do”s for the summer, I will finally tend to some blog posts that have been in draft purgatory for far too long. And by far too long I mean over three years…but this one doesn’t date back that far, just a couple years–more precisely to my first commissioned bookbinding job, a sketchbook, circa my second semester in my MFA program. So why care at all about relinquishing these purgatory-placed drafts now? Well, in part because this summer weather has Dante’s Inferno and the nine layers of hell on my mind and they’re mostly just photography based posts, and who doesn’t like photos? Not only can I shamelessly reminisce through my old photos, but it’ll clear my drafted list and my blog conscience.

DSC_0007 DSC_0009 DSC_0012



Coptic Binding Workshop with Julia Miller



It has been a while since I posted. Mostly because, well, grad school and other things. And while finding words is usually not a problem for me, lately anything longer than an photo caption has been a challenge–sad to admit, but it’s kind of true. For reasons I won’t go into now, I’ve temporarily lost my writing mojo. So this post, and possibly the next few, will be mostly photo based (but who doesn’t like photos?).

This past semester I was fortunate to participate in a weekend workshop with the legendary Julia Miller, author of Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. As a book historian and bench-trained conservator, Miller has done extensive research and model making of the Nag Hammadi codices. In this workshop we focused on the Morgan Library’s MS M.671.1, a 13th century prayer book written in a dialect of Coptic and Arabic. MS M.671.1 features an interesting combination of Coptic and Islamic binding characteristics–one that Miller believes to be transitional binding. The workshop was so great–not only did I come away with a historical model and Islamic endband mastery, but also with the realization that I just really want to be bookbinding historian extraordinaire Julia Miller.


MS M.671.1 measures 108 x 95 x 12 mm with cartonnage boards. Here I’m crinkling paper before pasting them together to create the cartonnage.


Applying gum arabic to some select interior folios for burnishing in the fashion of Islamic papers (scans of two interior pages shown here)


Busy working


Coptic sewing using hand-spun thread


The beginnings of an Islamic endband


Secondary part of the Islamic endband


preparing the leather for covering


Making our own leather stamping tools from wooden dowels




this must have been taken during lunch break


Lower cover (back) of Julia Miller’s model of MS M.671.1 which features the leather spine repair seen on the original


Upper cover (front) of Julia Miller’s model of MS M.671.1


tooling the cover


Making my goucho style leather toggle. A tightly wrapped strip of leather that is pierced with an awl and the tail fed through the pierced hole.


Miller’s historical toggle examples


Covered binding and completed Islamic endband


My completed model of MS M


completed model of MS M.671.1 — the original shows rather skewed tooling so I tried to stay true to that, despite my OCD.


completed model of MS M.671.1

3rd Semester in Review

A collection of photos from my third semester (circa Fall 2014)–I’m almost caught up to the year 2015! This time I even graced you with some semi-informative captions.

Letterpress III- Imagemaking on the Vandercook Proof Press


Bookbinding III



Historical Course: The Transition from Manuscript to Print

(My favorite time in history! Had the opportunity to study more early printed books from the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. I wrote an in-depth material and historical analysis of the small leather book photographed below.)

2nd Semester in Review

I’m finally getting around to posting photos of my 2nd semester work, circa Spring 2014, in the MFA Book Arts program. This is just the beginning of my attempt to take care of a serious blog backlog (some drafted posts have been in post purgatory for two years!). If I had been better about this at the time, these would all have detailed blurbs about each project, but for now I’ll just bombard you with pretty photos from semesters past.

Bookbinding II


Letterpress II


Topics in Book History: Materials, Makers, & Users

First Semester Review: Calligraphy Blackletter Hands

The third and final instillation of my “First Semester Review”. Finally! It’s halfway through the current semester aaaaaand I’m still posting about the last one. Oops. But now I can (hopefully) move on to posting more current/super cool things I’m working on! Well…that’s my goal anyways. We’ll see what grad school has to say about that.

For those of you that don’t know: I’m left-handed.

Yup. I said it. I’m part of that small whatever percent of the population that gets asked the most obvious/peeved question by on lookers while writing “Wait, are you left-handed?!”. Noooooo, I just decided to pick it up today.

Clearly, this lefty has some rightie-world issues. Calligraphy is one of them.

My love for lettering started, well, a long time ago though my modern lettering practice began mostly while I was in Ukraine. I would spend hours writing, sketching, and analyzing. So not only am I a self-proclaimed typography snob, but a hand lettering snob, too. Basically, I love letters.

In my adolescence I bought a “Calligraphy Starter Kit” and tried as I might, I SUCKED. I thought it was hopeless and couldn’t for the life of me understand why my letters never looked like the ones in the book. Little did I know that it wasn’t my skill at all (for once!), it was literally because I was doing it wrong (though not by fault).

Wrong you ask? Oh, I mean wrong because I’m left-handed. But how?!? Well, because calligraphy is actually designed for right-handed people. The pen nibs, strokes, and angles are all designed by dragging the pen rather than pushing the pen the left-handed way.

I can’t even get most regular pens to work so why should I think calligraphy should work. Thankfully lefties are quick adapters — we have to be! — and on the first day of class, as the only lefty in sight, I finally figured out the great mystery behind why calligraphy never worked for me.

It’s because I have to write at a 90* angle. 90*s!!! (no, not the band)

Let’s get this straight — I’m not a “hookie” or a “sideways writer” or any of those weird terms people call lefties. I hold my pen/wrist like any other rightie out there…just…with my left hand. So imagine having to turn your paper 90* and learn to write your letters sideways and work on a sentence from top to bottom. Talk about mind-blowing. It wasn’t easy at all. And though things got easier with endless hours of hand-cramping practice, it still didn’t feel natural.

I’m (clearly) still beyond frustrated since I’ve tried to turn my well practiced lettering art (that I do mostly in pen and pencil) into a calligraphed hand but my style doesn’t transfer well into 90* side ways writing. There’s always hope of course. I’m sure with years of sideways writing practice I’ll improve. But at least for now I’ve mastered a few blackletter hands and can sideways write all the love letters to Dracula I could possibly fancy.

Rant complete. Now enjoy some photos.

First Semester Review: Bookbinding I

Continuing with my series, I now present a semester review of Bookbinding I.

I love bookbinding. Like, I really, really love it — which is why I’m continuing in Bookbinding II this semester. Prior to this class, I hadn’t had any experience in bookbinding, well, other than constructing mock-ups of pamphlets and books for graphic design. Even back then, the mock-up production phase was my favorite part of the whole graphic design process (that should have been my first clue). There’s so much precision and exactness in measurements and production that this highly anal retentive girl can just go to town with! It’s great. Basically, to be semi-melodramatic-but-also-totally-serious, bookbinding changed my life. If I’m not making books I quite literally miss making them. Some might say I have a problem, but it’s a problem I’m very okay with having.

First Semester Review: Letterpress I

A while back I had the idea of creating a “Semester Review” on Borscht & Babushkas as a way to share with you all what I’ve actually been up to in my MFA Book Arts studies. And also, you know, just so you have some evidence that I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth or that watching marathons of LOST is not the reason I’ve been slacking on blogging (although that does sound quite nice).

This is part one of three in my “Semester Review” series that will feature my classes from last semester: Letterpress I, Bookbinding I, and Calligraphy Blackletter Hands. Well…actually it’s a three year MFA program so technically this is Part One of Six which would make this post Part One (A)…or something like that…

All technicalities aside, I’m absolutely loving my program –– which is good because it’s uhhhh pretty much my entire life. While I haven’t exactly had time to post recipes with tantalizing food photography or every reminiscent thought I’ve had about Ukraine (I’d probably run out of blog space if I did that), I have for the most part semi-diligently documented my work throughout the semester (thanks camera phone!). At some point I will take much nicer photos of my finished projects, with a real camera, but I find the process photos just as interesting and I hope you do as well.

(click on the first photo to view in a larger slideshow format)