home is where the heart is

just when you thought it was over, borscht and babushkas is back! to your (hopefully) delight or (possibly) dismay, my blogging has not come to an end. i think this is the longest blogging break i’ve taken because, quite frankly, america has been keeping me busy — between family & friends, to the distractingly enjoyable illinois summer, to semi-unnecessary trips to target, and even to making sure i get enough microbrew beer and giant cups of coffee to drink.

not to mention that on top of that i’ve been struggling with a wee bit of writer’s block and deciding which direction i’ll take my blog. my brain is still trying to adjust back to life in the land of the free and home of the brave. you know, just attempting to comprehend everything and fit in again, no big deal. i didn’t really anticipate that i would take so long to get back into blogging. but it was comforting to discover, while watching a jane austen documentary on the plane ride over, that  jane too had writer’s block when her family moved from the quiet country side to the big city. i know, i know, i’m no jane, but there is certainly some truth in losing one’s creative space, daily rhythm, and little village hobbit house sanctuary of writing.

readjusting to life in america has been overwhelming at times. the amount of cars, comfort & luxury, packaged foods, smart phones, electronic everything have just been a few of the things that freak me out. i’ve still yet to load a single thing into the dishwasher and tend to forget about the existence of microwaves and sidewalks.  i have admittedly readjusted rather quickly to having a shower (a hot one at that!) and laundry done not by hand — lest i forget how wonderful these are.

honestly, i never anticipated missing village life so much or finally coming home and thinking of it so often. even though prior to ukraine i’d read about every book on going off the grid, canning, eating locally, and everything amish, so i was a little weird to begin with. even so, i figured, i’d come home, to this place i’d longed for so deeply, everything would feel just right and that would be that — but it hasn’t been so. some things have remained the same but for the most part everything is different — from my closest friends moving away, to babies growing-up, and of course to the way i look at things.

a week or so before i was to leave my village i procrastinated packing with the longest movie i could think of — lord of the rings. i decided to only semi-procrastinate and watch my favorite of the trilogy, “the return of the king”. at the end of the movie, upon a much awaited return home to the shire, frodo says “how do you pick up the threads of an old life? how do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”. with only one week left in my hobbit house (fitting name, huh? i guess i really love LOTR), knowing a huge transition was about to take place i of course couldn’t help but tear up at this scene and think “frodo, you got it so right…*sniff* so right”.

i knew that soon my dear peace corps friends would disperse and i’d say good-bye to my gracious ukrainian hosts, to a way of life i came to love, and try to pick up the threads of my old life. it’s not that i wasn’t looking forward to going home, but i knew like frodo, though with significantly better looking feet, that there’s no going back, everything is about to change.

it has been only recently that all of this has started to sink-in. i have moments while cooking that i gather the food scraps and think i’ll just take them out to feed the chickens and turkeys. or i’ll sit under the shade of our backyard trees and think of the steady hum of village life and my walks down the quiet dirt roads. but then i realize, “it’s really over. i’ve finished peace corps and a huge formulating chapter of my life has come to an end. i’m really not going back”.

i can see how all of this might make me seem unhappy to be back or might make you wonder “well, if you love ukraine so much why don’t you just marry it stay there??”.  i am happy to be home. never before have been so proud to have served my country and to have represented america. i can’t help but get emotional with the playing of the national anthem for it always brings back memories of moments i sang it during my service. heck, i cried during my hometown’s 4th of july fireworks because i was so happy to be home. my country is dear to me, do not mistake that. but returning is still somewhat bittersweet, ukraine is still fresh in my memory and i have a lot of readjusting to do. with leaving any place, culture, or lifestyle behind, one will miss certain things.

isolating during service was certainly nothing new to me or any volunteer, for the majority of those 27 months it was a daily struggle. even at our close of service conference we were prepped with a warning of continued isolation even upon return home. i think most of us wondered, “well, we’re from there so how could we be so different”. but it really is different. we’re different.

what might have been partially due to jet lag, the first week or so back in america i felt i felt lost in a blur of unfocused faces, i felt so out of place. i would linger in the lines of ezra pound’s poem understanding exactly what he felt in the frugality of his words:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.

a fellow returned peace corps volunteer initially thought everything seemed of plastic and things that were once natural, now seem oddly unreal. it’s such a strange feeling to no longer be completely at home with a place that should be home. i guess i’ve always been a little out-of-place in america with my amish dreams. but now that i’ve had the chance to take my little house on the prairie lifestyle for a test drive, i know that it’s what i love and how i feel most at home.

as they say “home is where the heart is”, but sometimes home is no longer just one place — it is neither truly here nor there — but a way of living, finding shared goals, and common mindsets. so maybe this is where i’ll continue to share my bit of “home” — my recipes, photos, stories from ukraine, grad school book arts adventures, and pioneering dreams.


an american flag for everyday i’ve been gone. just kidding, we’d need way more flags.


from my welcome home party — i shocked even my own mother with picking/pitting 15 pounds of cherries and making 4 double crusted cherry pies from scratch. all in a pioneer’s day of work.

11 thoughts on “home is where the heart is

  1. Thanks Kristen for a great entry, helps me understand what Megan is going through, being home but in a new and different way. We have been keeping her so busy on trips, and she also really loves to go to Target as much as she can! So glad you are continuing your blog. Take care.

  2. So glad you’re back to blogging, Kristen. I totally watched all three LOTR (extended edition) movies shortly before leaving Ukraine…coincidence? Readjustment is tough — heck, I feel like I’m still readjusting, 9 months later.

    • Apparently major life transition should be paired with LOTR! Great minds think alike : ) glad to know what transitioning has been like for you. I hope you’re doing well across the pond!

      • It makes sense, I guess: epic journey/quest through the magical world paired with our personal epic journeys through the real world. 🙂

  3. You are right. Home is not a place, it is a feeling that you create in the place you are at. You are starting on a new adventure because we can’t recreate the past. Your peace corp experience will always be a part of you and it will have an impact on what you do with your new life. Enjoy our new adventure.

  4. Kristen, well said. I was known as a fair minimalist before Ukraine. Now I look through all the things I left behind (as I had 58 years of “stuff”) with mixed horror and chagrin. This morning my mom asked me if I had more than the three outfits she had seen me in since my return on June 29th. I counted that I had worn at least 4 summer dresses, pants and tops and shorts and was feeling a bit glorious with the choices available to me from my own closet.. I have filled most of the backseat of the car with clothes and shoes for the local thrift shop and can still “shop” in my own bedroom closet.

    • Thanks for the comment Eileen! I have been spending the past few days trying to get rid of stuff. Time to live simply again! Congrats on finishing service and hope things are going well at home!

  5. I enjoyed very much reading this post.
    “it’s such a strange feeling to no longer be completely at home with a place that should be home” – this is exactly how I felt during my trip to Ukraine this May. I speak the language, recognize people faces and streets and yet I felt like a guest/tourist back home.

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