Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Farewell 2008

I like making resolutions and I enjoy starting fresh much more than I tend to reflect on the past.  It seems reasonable, however, to take a moment on the last day of the year to give thanks for the experiences and people that empowered me in 2008, before I start writing about 2009.

This year began in a cold, snowy village half a world away around a table of pork, rice and beef-stuffed grape leaves, deserts, fresh fruit and fried crepes.  My Armenian host family and I exchanged gifts and I thankfully dawned a brand new lime green sweater before everyone ran outside into the dark night-no street lights- to set off homemade fireworks and greet the new year with screams and whistles.  

Life after Armenia has been less festive, but certainly as challenging as I remember my first months in a new country.  Moving to Seattle this fall has brought back memories of introducing myself, learning about the local culture and trying to find my place in Armenia in 2006.  The anxiety today is similar to what I felt as I figured out how my primary assignment, teaching healthy life skills in a secondary school, would utilize my professional background, training and personal passions in that little village.

In fact, there are great similarities between my integration approach in Surenavan in 2006 and in Seattle in 2008.  Informational interviews today involve my invitation to coffee at a local cafe, a strict 30-minute time limit, planned questions, direct objectives and exchange of business cards.  In Surenavan, the interviews took place in a stranger's home, were rarely scheduled, lasted several hours, included excessive eating, personal discussions about my family and exchange of telephone numbers for future text messaging.  Regardless of the approach, or the information exchanged, my objective is identical today to what I hoped for then: to develop a network.  It was more important than ever in Armenia to meet those who would respect my opinions and trust my advice in the community.  I desperately needed to know the right people connected to the mayor's office, leading the community youth group or gardening spinach in their backyard.  Sure, life was different, specifically Armenian coffee and Starbucks lattes, but people are the same worldwide.  

Another similarity is language learning.  In Armenia, would sit in staff meetings and write lists of words I heard the director say.  Afterwards, I would call on the only English speaking woman in the village for reference and translation.  She and I would write out the Armenian and the correct pronunciation and I'd study the new vocabulary from flash cards.  In Seattle, it's not such a process to understand what people are saying to me and how to handle responsibilities in a professional setting.  Regardless, I had a lot of catching up to do in August.  I needed to be able to recognize and define Drupal, Long Tail, News Feeds and Social Graphs.  Thank you, Lara, for your mentorship in all things social media and to PRSA for providing me with seminars and panels to learn more about how the PR industry is embracing Web 2.0.  

Finally, I learned the value of family from Surenavan and give thanks every day for my real one in Ohio.  It was my Armenian host family that celebrated my successes, cared during difficulties and taught survival skills for life in a small community.  My Ohio family took over in 2008 by celebrating my completion of service, understanding when I decided to leave home again and preparing me with survival skills for life in a new city (i.e. a AAA membership).

When I started 2008, I had no idea where it would end.  Some people don't prefer uncertainty, but if there's one thing I learned in the Peace Corps it's resilience.  Oh what a transfer of skills!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Holidays

Dear Readers,

I can't begin to express how empowered I am by the support you've provided me during 2008.  This year was both challenging and rewarding as I said goodbye to my little Armenian village and ventured off to Washington in search of another adventure on the coast.  

Thank you so much for your encouragement no matter where I am.  The world seems smaller because of our opportunity to stay connected.  

Merry Christmas and all the best in 2009!



P.S.  Please enjoy the first page of my little holiday newsletter below (you can click to enlarge).   

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

From Peace Corps to Web 2.0

Peace Corps trainees learn community mapping as a Participatory Assessment for Community Action tool early in our service.  The PACA tools are meant to equip volunteers for project design and implementation in our communities.  The process of community mapping is a basic way for us to gather a group of interested citizens and find out what places they visit most, see often or care about in their daily lives.  By literally drawing a map of the community, it becomes clear what areas are important and what most people don't even bother to notice.  Volunteers use these maps to learn about where the best location for a new public playground; others to recognize what buildings need renovation.  

I was reminded of the PACA process today while reading an article posted on the Fast Company Web site by Allyson Kapin.  Ms. Kapin interviewed eight social media experts on where they saw Web 2.0 changing in 2009.  One expert, Rebecca Moore, the director of outreach for GoogleEarth, discussed the process of collaborative mapping and it's influence in Web 2.0 in 2009.  

"In terms of social media, I think we are just at the beginning of 'collaborative mapping'-people working together with friends and colleagues to build shared maps of places they care about."

She goes on to describe Appalachian Voices, a grassroots environmental organization, and how it paired social media with mapping to advocate for the end of mountaintop-removal coal mining.  

What a great hope for the future of social media!  The combination of an old Peace Corps community assessment method in the developing world and the new technology of developed nations will impact how organizations operate in 2009. 

Sometimes returned volunteers are asked about how their service transfers in to the way we do business in America.  The answer is always clear for me, but was reinforced by Ms. Moore in today's Fast Company article.  The Peace Corps teaches project design through community engagement.  It's not a foreign concept to realize that the most successful work is done when people with resources-or products or services- collaborate with their target constituents. 


Monday, December 08, 2008

Weekend on Whidbey Island

We went to visit Whidbey Island yesterday.  The island, located only 30 miles north of Seattle, forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound and is one of nine islands in Island County, WA. We've been dying to ride the Washington State Ferries and see the islands, so when Dominic's friends invited us up for a short weekend we gladly accepted.  

The trip has two routes, up and around and across on a ferry.  We drove up to Deception Pass Bridge and were delighted to find I-5 host to farmland like Ohio and mountain ranges like northern California.  The trip only took two hours from Seattle including a stop to see an alpaca farm and hike around the bridge.  

I'm not sure why we were so amazed by these birds.  They were pretty like swans but flew like geese.  They looked like piles of snow as we were driving along-until they took off.

They may be cute, but they're not friendly.  Apparently they hate being touched or, as Dominic was dismayed to learn, ridden.  

Deception Pass Bridge

You can hike down below the bridge. 

The first time I ever saw this snake-like seaweed I was amazed and curious but too disgusted to play with it. Although it seemed far too slimy to touch in October, I had a great time whipping it around on the beach yesterday.  I'm falling in love with the ocean. 

Here they are all lined up like ropes along the Deception Pass coastline.  Strange floating whips.

Dom's friends were excellent hosts.  We met in a quaint little town called Langley for drinks and then went home for a made-from-scratch dinner of: pumpkin and cheese fondue, salad, lasagna, and apple and pumpkin pie.   They live on 11 acres of land so this morning we took a walk and greeted their 'pets'.  


Our ride on the ferry this morning was a little less thrilling than the cruise-line experience we had anticipated.  We drove on for less than $7 and didn't even know we were moving until just before the announcer thanked us for riding and hoped to see us again soon.  

It was a convenient trip with lovely scenery and beautiful beaches.  We'll certainly be on that ferry again soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Depression lesson from Grandma

Last week, I spent some quality time with my grandparents.  Before leaving for Seattle, my grandma gave me a newspaper clipping from the business section of the Toledo Blade.  Homer Brickey, the newspaper's senior business writer, wrote the article titled, "Polar Opposites in Great Depression's Effects".

Brickey compared his grandfathers' experiences during the Great Depression and I couldn't help but wonder how his grandfathers compared to how people are adapting to change today.  

After losing everything, one grandfather rejected all things modern, "He had his telephone and electricity disconnected.  He read by the light of a kerosene lamp.  He had no car, only an old engine that drove a belt to saw lumber and to grind sugar the end of his 84 years, he had become a virtual hermit."  

The other grandfather was quite different.  "He embraced change and was among the first in his region to buy a refrigerator, a washing machine, a television set.  He seldom missed a news broadcast and eagerly awaited his daily copy of the Cincinnati Post in the mail".  His attitude was: "Will wonders never cease?"  

I'll admit, when I got back from the Peace Corps I wanted to be the first grandfather in Brickey's story.  I wanted to come back and remember the good days before constant text messaging, Twitter updating and blog posting.  I liked the mail I received with hand-written letters and I wanted someone to call and talk to me every so often.  It worked in Armenia, why wouldn't I just stick to that lifestyle here?  

The reason, of course, is because I'm too young to work backward and there are far too many wonders that I can enjoy this very minute.  I can video chat with my family in real time, Skype friends across the globe and Tweet both personal and professional news instantly.  I'm eager to use the new tools of online communications to reach those I love and those I don't even know yet.  

Even though life's uncertain, I must agree that I enjoy the learning opportunity I have now.  

Will wonders never cease?    

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our family loves lebkuchen

With mom in her elf costume and dad in his beret, the family danced to Mannheim Steamroller while bonding over an old tradition.  For years, Grandma and Grandpa were in charge of the millions of cookies that come from a single lebkuchen batch- we were in charge of eating.  This year (and last year while I was in Armenia), it was all up to us. 

According to Wikipedia, Lebkuchen (or Pfefferkuchen) is a traditional German product baked for Christmas.  Truly the only tie to my German heritage, these soft gingerbread-like cookies were probably invented by Medieval monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century.  They are usually delivered to loved ones in decorative holiday tins and freeze well allowing for year-long enjoyment.  

We start with great enthusiasm, but as the baking process continues our patience for continuous glaze stirring wanes and the cookie size gets bigger and bigger.  My dad starts to 'create' unique cutouts by simply rolling and neglecting the cutter altogether.  

I'll have to ask Grandma for her permission to share the recipe, until then, contact Kathy for a tin of your own.

Happy Holidays everyone!

First, you roll 'em and cut 'em...

 ...Then bake.  Don't stop stirring!  

Time to glaze...

And then Mama Elf packs them up for delivery!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Snoqualmie Weekend

There's a new casino in Snoqualmie and they needed lots of help this weekend.  As catering temps, Dom and I headed out to the reservation to see how we could help in the dining room.  Before our shift on Sunday, we went into town and stopped to see Snoqualmie Falls.  The town's adorable and the waterfall was huge!

This mountain looks just like Armenia.

Snoqualmie was built on the route of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway.  It operated as a branch line until the 70s, carrying passengers, supplies, millions of feet of logs to local mills and finished lumber to world markets.  

There was a Lumber Company that handled huge Douglas-fir, sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar trees that cover the hills in this area.  They would wheel them in on these enormous carriers (for 10-15-foot diameter logs).  

The lumber company mill became outdated and was dismantled with the increase in engineered woods products like plywood, laminated beams and chipboard.  Apparently these require smaller trees.  

The other week we were talking with a friend who mentioned the value of the wood in older homes.  He deconstructs homes and buildings and collects reusable materials for a ReStore (check it out, they're doing a cool thing) in Seattle.  Wooden beam, floors and supports make not only a more structurally sound home, but also less squeaky floor.  I didn't appreciate this conversation much until I saw this log and realized the potential for lumber this size. 

Sometimes you just can't beat the old fashioned way of doing things.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Is blogging dead?

Just one day after attending a blogging panel in which more than 60 PR professionals learned about the importance of corporate blogging, I read a disturbing article in the business section of The Economist.

Oh, Grow Up was the title of an article arguing that blogging is no longer what it was because it has entered the mainstream.  The author highlights Jason Calacanis, the founder of Weblogs, Inc., who retired from blogging as it, 'is simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy.'  Blogging a decade ago, writers would post text updates and later photos and videos to share thoughts with a few friends and family members.  Today, the article articulates that many Internet users do this, but they don't consider it blogging-they're updating profiles on Facebook, MySpace or other social networks.  People have moved to a micro-blog format where they can have that feeling of raw, immediate and intimate communication that early blogs provided.  Traditional blogs have moved under the ownership of conventional media organizations who can update the sites faster than any individual blogger ever could.  The article recognizes that the idea of blogging as useful and versatile is certain, but how do companies who started blogs in an effort to 'reach out to the average person' speak to average people if we're not there?  If we're all micro-blogging on Facebook and Twitter, how can we be drawn to a corporate blog?           

In conclusion, The Economist states, "Blogging may 'die' in much the same way that personal-digital assistants (PDAs) have died.  A decade ago, PDAs were the preserve of digerati who liked using electronic address books and calendars.  Now they are gone, but they are also ubiquitous, as features of almost every mobile phone."  Will micro-blogs adopt blogs?  Will companies have to draw readers to their blogs from social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook?  I think they already do. 

Am I right? 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blogging as a PR Tool

This morning, I drove to Tacoma (a nice early morning trip) to attend the PRSA South Sound Group "Blogs as  PR Tool" panel discussion.  I thought it would be a nice networking event with fellow morning people, but it turned out to offer me additional insight to the world of blogging from a corporate standpoint.

The speaker panel included:

Lloyd Brown, Communications Director, Washington State Department of Transportation
Eric Jones, Marketing Project Specialist, Washington State Employees Credit Union
Derek Young, Founder & Editor,
Marcelene Edwards, Business Team Leader, The News Tribune 

While each individual highlighted the pros/cons to utilizing a blog in their specific sphere, there were a few overarching messages that I thought might be helpful found applicable to any organization hoping to start a blog.

Here's what I learned:

1. Appeal to a specific audience. Although this may seem like a basic tenant to any communications strategy, it was most helpful to hear that prior to establishing a blog site it is not always necessary to do a great deal of research and analytics. Interestingly, when Lloyd Brown set up the DOT blog in 2006, it was the night of a major crisis and he wanted to respond immediately by establishing a blog. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting started and then evaluating your readers after they start coming and commenting.

2. Eric mentioned (and the panel agreed) that blogs offer 'real person' testimony. Having a YouTube video or even video account links on a sidebar can help reach visual learners with current content.

3. Tone of voice is critical to success. Being able to develop a single voice (as opposed to several different writers contributing to a blog) helps readers gain a level of attachment for the site and continue to visit. In an effort to keep the tone on your blog positive, stick to the facts. If you must quote individuals (which usually results in nasty disagreements in the comments section) link your article (or post) to a reputable news source.

4. Maintain consistency. Panelists agreed that once a week is necessary (but it doesn't help to exceed 4-5 a day). Similar to the argument for strong voice, consistency helps people develop attachment.

5. Promote your site by: 1. utilizing other blogs and 2. tagging your posts effectively. Go to the Web sites that are most applicable to your target audience and begin leaving educated comments that build credibility as a reputable resource. People will find your blog on Google through your tags, but a link to your site from something they're already reading is best. Sometimes it's as simple as tagging your signature block too.

Any other tips I missed?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A skill set's a skill set

There's a lot of talk about social media out there, but few people emphasize listening.  

B.L. Ochman, author of "What's Next Online,' got it exactly right in a recent article when she stated: "Agencies instead need first to approach social media as listeners... Go to where the conversation about your client is taking place.  Find out what people are saying about you and your industry.  Listen to their concerns-only then should you begin to create the platform for communicating with them."  Ochman addresses what most people assume in everyday personal interaction and don't apply to online relationships.  Knowing people takes time and listening skills.  

Blogging, Twittering or starting a cause-related Facebook group, more than writing a newspaper article or talking on air, are not based on one-sided relationships.  Whereas I can read someones blog and immediately comment, when has anyone ever watched the Today Show and called up Matt Lauer to share their thoughts?  If only for the accessibility blogging gives consumers, clients or even family members, people are in it for the relationships. 

Listening is what makes these relationships work.  Listening skills are what everyone needs regardless of whether or not you own a Fourtune 500 company or you just want to get in touch with an old friend.  Listening doesn't mean someone has to be speaking either--typing and posting require the same attention.  

How long do people need to listen (observe) before speaking (replying)?  I like to think of it in terms of the job application process.  What employer will consider a cover letter that doesn't apply to the business directly?  What interviewer is going to be impressed by a candidate that can't offer proof they've learned about the issues facing the organization? The same is true for consumers in an online setting.  If an organization isn't credible (if they haven't been listening) people not only will lose respect but they'll probably react negatively (and we all know how fast negative word-of-mouth spreads particularly on online social networks).  

Companies tell prospective employees to do their research, professors expect the same from students, so shouldn't the standard be held for companies and agencies too?  Practice your listening skills.     

Monday, November 10, 2008

Team Search

This painting is displayed down the street from Dom's house.  I think it perfectly illustrates how we look after a nice long day of job searching.  That bug eye on the left is me after editing my resume.  

We make a great team though.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hello. My name is...

... and this is where I come from... This is where I'm living... This is what I'm working on... These are my favorite foods...

The entire week was spent meeting new people.  Making friends hasn't been nearly as difficult as I had anticipated; in fact I only had one night free this week.  Seattle seems to be conducive to building new relationships because the majority of the people I've bumped into have been from the East coast or Midwest.  In other words, it often feels like we're all new out here and willing to enjoy the city together.  To be honest, in the month Dom and I have spent as 'transplants', we've only met a handful of Washingtonians and Seattleites.  

We met a nice couple from Boston while enjoying the sunset over Golden Gardens. 
Golden Gardens Park 

We met a group of young adults from a church we started attending at a fondue night.  I even met an Armenian man and spoke about the lack of tasty matsoon in the Pacific Northwest at the Foundation for International Understanding's 60th anniversary reception (FIUTS, is quite similar to the Worthington International Friendship Association (WIFA) or the International Visitor's Council (IVC) that I worked with in Columbus). 

Perhaps I find meeting people so natural because there's so much to do and see.  For example, we took advantage of the First Thursday Free museum admission at The Experience Music Project (EMP) Thursday evening and had a blast beating on drums and strumming electric guitars.  The EMP is: "Dedicated to the exploration of creativity and innovation in popular music," and has a whole floor of sound labs where people can learn instruments, record songs and even play in a virtual stadium of screaming fans.  The building (designed by Frank O. Gehry) caught our attention from day one.

It's rather wavy right?

During the day, I've been introducing myself to the PR field through informational interviews.  Professionals in Seattle have been more than willing to provide me with opportunities to rebuild my network and provide me with contacts.  

Sometimes it's fun to be a little fish in a big pond.  There are plenty of others in the same situation, providing me with new introductions each week.  As I build my nest in the northwest I'm sure to find plenty to keep me busy.    

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reconnect With Professional Contacts - wikiHow

Last week I signed up for a free online writing course at  This article is my first homework assignment.  I was hoping I could think of something much more fun for my 'how to' article, but as it turns out my mind is pretty relationship focused right now.

Reconnect With Professional Contacts - wikiHow

Maybe my next article will be: How to train for a marathon, how to press leaves for decoupage or how to make moist chocolate pumpkin cookies.  The possibilities are endless now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Personality test

I took an online work type test this afternoon to see if I really am 'wired' for what I say I am.  My results told me I'm a transformer/transactor.

"Transformers combine interpersonal sensitivity with powerful social networks and definite leadership impact.  Transactors combine thoughtful analysis with the driven pursuit of goals.  They enjoy challenges and can be relied upon to deliver results."  

I think true personality shines in two types of situations: When people are under the stress of a challenge and when people are given flexibility.

Fortunately, I don't have any stressful situations to report, but I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon walking around the lake and yesterday evening shopping for (we're big fans of Whole Foods) and preparing a traditional Colombian meal with my new roommate.  We substituted guasca for cilantro and with a fresh avocado it made the perfect soup.  Dom loved it for the potatoes and yuka.   

It's amazing how much I take my current flexibility for granted.  At a Bible study last week we were all asked how we would spend two hours to ourselves.  Surrounded by many young mothers and working professionals, I was reminded of what it is like to feel that two personal hours is unimaginable.  

I will try to take advantage of this schedule (even if I hope it's short lived).  After all, it's in the transactor's personality.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Welcome Pharmaceuticals

One of the best decisions I made when I first moved to Seattle was to renew my Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) membership and join the local Puget Sound chapter.  

Ever since I made this investment, I've received the daily online news service in my inbox.  Sadly, I always feel guilty about the East Coast/West Coast difference when I find an article I particularly enjoy because I'm convinced everyone out in Ohio has already read and processed the information I find brand new each day.  

Today, however, there was one story I couldn't help but comment on.  It's by Jim Edwards for BrandWeek: "Why Pharma Fears Social Networking: Drug companies are avoiding online bulletin boards, blogs and chat rooms like the plague, but pressure is building to move the industry into the world of Web 2.0."

Mr. Edwards writes: "Drug brand Web sites almost never carry the features that marketers usually are desperate to give their customers: bulletin boards, chat rooms, logs and Web-page hosting...[marketers] fear that user-generated content will include complaints."  

The customer interaction they're avoiding is what adds to the distrust people feel for the industry as a whole.  Apparently these companies feel that if they can avoid open knowledge of 'adverse-events' or if they can speed-read through their medication's side effects more people will buy their drug.

Today, this is no way to build a positive corporate reputation.  It's widely accepted that at least 60 percent of a company's market value is attributable to reputation.  It's good news, therefore, that the Web 1.0 model may be about to change for drug marketers.  

It will be a tough, but necessary change for pharmaceutical brand managers.  I don't envy their struggle to manage attacks from in-house lawyers.  A study is definitely in order; numbers that managers can hand to lawyers to demonstrate that online customer reports are usually less negative than drug companies imagine.  

We should warmly welcome the push of communications professionals advising drug companies to embrace Web 2.0.  If for no other reason than for an open dialogue with consumers.  Edwards quotes Peter Pitts, an svp at Manning, Selvage & Lee, New York: "Drug companies need to begin embracing ways to look for adverse events instead of hoping they don't stumble across them."   

I wonder about this issue, the need for patient involvement in corporate marketing, at a global level as well.  Last year, (and I'm sure long before) American PR agencies were monitoring the trends in public health in China.  Laura Schoen, the president of Global Healthcare at Weber Shandwick Worldwide wrote an article highlighting just how valuable reputation management is for the emerging Chinese market.  The last couple of years, potential roadblocks included availability of care, better access, product pricing and competition.  I think that today open availability of consumer opinion/experience will either empower or hinder the success of pharmaceuticals in China.  After all, how do companies build strong reputations today?  Sorry advertising, it's not though print ads in newspapers and magazines, it's through consumer interest online.  

Brown writes: "Asians are following a growing global trend of patients who do not rely solely on what they are told in the doctor's clinic when considering their health.  They are beginning to look to other sources for information they believe credible and helpful, such as the media and the Internet."

The need for patient involvement and outreach is further supported by a recent health engagement study by Edelman PR.  Seventy five percent of more than 5,000 people surveyed in five countries stated: "It's increasingly important that health products and services engage with me."  

Brown knew that effective communications could help companies reach out to gain admiration for pharmaceutical innovation, create a sense of hope for the patient population, innovation impacts and productive dialogue about it with health professionals back then.  I wonder if she would agree with me that effective communications today will involve not only a one-sided search for health information but a dialogue between patients and consumers.  

Do we see each other as credible?  Do the benefits to reputation outweigh the costs in monitoring adverse events?  For the sake of my career interests, I hope so.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's not that bad

I never listened to the radio much until I met Dominic.  An NPR fanatic, he has recently introduced me to the various shows dissecting today's economy, international news and presidential race.  I like NPR a lot, but I can only take today's headlines in small doses.  All I want to say is: Good news still exists because we care a lot.

The good news for me relates to how much I care about my family:  I'm able to connect with loved ones instantly from anywhere in this country.  I can talk to my mom without wasting minutes any time I want through the Verizon 'in' network.  I email my grandpa from the WIFI at the free library and I can update this blog whenever I have the inspiration to write--24 hours a day.  Just three months ago, the dream of a good Internet connection, or a phone line for that matter, was a stretch.  

There's good news for the world too.  Honda's plan to sell hybrid motorcycles in 2 years, or students in Papua New Guinea contributing to the coffee industry.  What if homeless billionaires  really are contributing to sustainable development and living in hotels?  All I'm trying to say is that there is good news too.  If I could afford it, I'd subscribe to The Good News Network for the sake of balancing out everything I hear in the mainstream media.  Sometimes it's just nice to know that people are working hard for something they care about.

For example, I catered a fundraising event last night for the Washington Toxics Coalition.  Their mission, to protect public health and the environment by eliminating toxic pollution, raised thousands of dollars for lobbying for safer products, healthy homes & gardens and sustainable agriculture.  One of their PowerPoint slides highlighted 'volatile vinyl'.  This organization raised money at a time when people are hesitating to buy cheese bricks at the grocery store.  If society can raise money for toxic-free children's toys then who's to say we can't fight poverty and hunger?  Americans are generous and we do care about a lot.  We're willing to give of our time and money to organizations that promote just about everything.  

I came home and my roommate commented on my extensive travel background.  We both agreed that, for all the problems it has, America is truly a great place to be.  I'll listen, even donate to NPR, remembering that this station is just contributing to one more reason why I love America.  We care about everything.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A career in searching

I moved into my new apartment this week and have enjoyed making it 'home'.  When my roommate came in the first night I showed her my possessions: A mattress, a desk and chair and an end table.  She said: "It's ok, little by little".  She's right.  I'm certainly not leaving a big footprint in Queen Anne (although my mom might argue that the boot print is jammed into my childhood bedroom in Columbus where I have overflowing boxes identified by the countries I've visited: Japan box, Costa Rica box, Armenia box, etc...).  

The room is so empty it echoes, which makes me self-conscious when I'm trying to make follow up calls and introduce myself to potential employers.  Follow up calls.  Potential employers.  Oh my, this is the least fun 'job' I've ever had.  When it comes down to it, however, treating it like a job is what I've decided to do.  I sit down at the computer each morning to begin searching/researching, reading and questioning. 

What is the best approach to a successful job search?  By nature, I like to focus on one company that I'm really passionate about:  An agency that has the type of room for growth, professional development and account portfolio that I can invest in.  In reality, today's economy is not conducive to that type of specialization.  All the advice I've received is to cast a wide net to as many organizations as I can. 

I began thinking about this process-the job search process as a job-and it occurred to me that this is a great exercise in agency work.  I am seeking public relations agencies for the opportunity to disseminate information to multiple clients.  I want to be able to shape the public's perceptions, attitudes and behavior by representing everything from big business to small nonprofit.  If I wanted to focus on one business, (the way I'm focusing on one agency to work for) I'd look for positions in corporate public relations.   

The search will continue (in between catering shifts at cool places like the Experience Music Project and Seattle Center).  As much as I enjoy this 'exercise in balancing numerous contacts/organizations', I hope it will end sooner rather than later.  Until then, wait patiently and please don't inquire about the status.  I can assure you that when I'm employed you'll know. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Personal advertising

I stumbled across a blog called Word Wealth this morning and couldn't help but feel like this article was written for me to consider.  

Sadly, I had never used Craigs List before Armenia, and even after coming home in August I didn't realize what an integral role it would play in my daily life until I moved out West.  I have checked this online 'everything you could imagine' classified list hourly since I began my home search.  And why not?  After all, people post new rooms/apartments/homes/rentals/buys constantly.  

So the article by Mr. White caught my attention today as I struggle with how to answer the ads for future roommates.  What do you really want to share about yourself in that initial introduction email? 

"Hello I'm Sarah and I just arrived from Ohio (Go Bucks!) and I need a home asap"... Too desperate.

"Hi!  I won't create a fuss when I move in because all I have with me are two suitcases"... Too minimalistic.

"Good day, I survived two Armenian winters without heat so I promise not to spend too much money on gas this winter"... Oh Peace Corps

So, I understand what this lady is writing about--there's a fine line between honesty and sharing far too much.  

With roommates though, isn't it better to get an honest picture?  I want anyone looking for a roommate to be able to say: "I take 30 minute showers, the fridge is pretty small, I like to watch HGTV while I knit every night".  

It's not really in my nature to be as blunt as the mother who wrote the nanny ad in Craigs List.  I'll just have to continue with what I'm trying my best to convey in my own subtle way... 

Seeking Seattle roommate: 24-year-old PR professional, tidy but not obsessive, friendly but not clingy, outgoing but not a party animal.  

I need a roommate seeking Webinar training.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Seeing and Doing

I got great advice from a mentor and friend in Columbus not to 'settle' in Seattle.  So far, I think I've done a good job of balancing the necessity of finding living arrangements and employment with experiencing the beauty and excitement of coming to a brand new city.

So far, my favorite excursions have been to Ballard Locks and Gasworks Park.  It was at the locks that I learned all about how young salmon (smolts) migrate back and forth from the saltwater of the Pacific ocean to Lake Washington and upstream to lay their eggs.  During this migratory process, the smolts ride the current near the banks of the river.  Their bodies undergo changes that enable them to live in sea water; a process called smoltification.

Gasworks is a beautiful park on Lake Washington overlooking downtown Seattle.  It's a lovely place to fly kites, read a book or witness medieval sword fighting.  Seriously, men were fighting to drumbeats from a casual band in the park.  

I've seen a troll under the bridge in Fremont, had a stuffed fish thrown at my head at Pike Place Market and walked along the Pacific coast.  All in the rain.

Please bear with me as I put this blog together.  Everything is new to me these days and I'm trying my best to find everything from camera cords to matching socks in the 'perfectly convenient' places I packed them.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Let's get together

As I return to American society I want to notify you of ways we can stay in touch.

You can view my LinkedIn profile here:

View Sarah Zaenger's profile on LinkedIn

Or, you can follow me on Twitter (SarahZaenger)

Or, you can check out my Facebook Profile.

I look forward to staying in touch!

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I said goodbye to my Armenian family, friends and community on July 25th and flew out of Armenia early on the 26th. It's hard to believe that I've been absent from the bustling Zeynalyan household, the noisy public minibuses and the sweltering summer heat for more than a month now. There's so much I'll miss, and yet a lot to look forward to.

The Peace Corps teaches all volunteers more about themselves than we can offer the communities we serve. I learned about setting realistic expectations, building interpersonal relationships and how to focus on assets and resources rather than deficits and wants. I'll continue life in America with a more reasonable worldview and more patient work ethic.

Since leaving Armenia at the end of July I had the opportunity to travel to Moscow, through Russia, Mongolia, China (with a stop in Beijing for the Olympics) and Hong Kong. Despite the joy of seeing countries I never imagined I'd visit it's great to be home.

Thank you for your attention the past 27 months. It's been quite an experience and I appreciate your support and encouragement.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saying goodbye

The host family, my best friends and the entire village demanded visits and time during my last week here. I spent long reminiscing about what it was like when I first arrived (i.e. poor Armenian, confusion over water availability and frustration with rowdy children in school) and how so much had changed over the last two years. If I had 300 dram for every time someone said the time had flown by so quickly I'd be able to buy a plane ticket to America.

I managed to visit most people I needed to see and pass out 'phone call cheat sheets' to everyone who may like to call me in the future. I had half the village practicing: "Hello, mei name iz ____" "Mei I have Sera".

The last night we spent at home, with people stopping by to say goodbye during our horovatz. My two best friends came over and stayed until I knew they couldn't keep their eyes open any longer...the family stayed up all night waiting.

We managed 8 in the car and after walking single-file up the car ramp and into the airport (we weren't sure about parking) I presented them with a scrapbook I had made from my two years in their home. As they flipped through the pages of our lives together they began to cry and I realized that the goodbye would be more difficult than I had anticipated.

I made them leave the airport before I went through security, shuffling them out the door and telling them to get back to the car. I told them to call so I wouldn't forget my Armenian and handed Donara my phone so she could keep in touch.

As difficult as it was to leave, I'm excited about the next three weeks of travel ahead. Beijing here we come!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Teacher Excursion

As a goodbye and one last opportunity to toast to the health of Americans everywhere, the teachers from my school decided to plan a two day trip to Lori Marz. We toured Tumanyan's (a famous Armenian poet) home and museum, two famous curches and spent hours upon hours singing and dancing in our small bus.
One may aruge that there was a lack of organization when, at midnight, no one knew where we were going to stay that night. I was sleeping peacefully in the bus when my director informed me that we had found a grandmother who lived alone who could 'comfortably' host us (or 15 of us) for the night in her home for 1,000 dram (less than $3) a person. We moved in and soon thereafter I realized the bus may have provided a quieter sleeping arrangement. The women started jumping around and giggling like 14-year-olds! I guess girls will be girls. We had a fun time in that house. It's almost like Couch Surfing only with less planning.


The table all set for dinner

A short snack stop on the road: Hot dogs, cucumbers, tomatoes and sour cream


Our sleepover

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Civic Leadership 2008

On July 13th, thirteen students from Vanadzor, Idjevan, Nor Kyurin Village and Yereghnadzor joined twenty-three of my students for a five-day civic leadership camp in the village.

The camp, sponsored by the Open Society Institute of Armenia and the Peace Corps, brought students together to study topics including corruption, human rights, civic responsibility and country studies.

Each afternoon the students used team-building skills to create and compete in country groups. Competitions included country introductions to a mock European Council, a culture exposition similar to the popular Armenian television show two stars, a mock war and a conflict-resolution rope game.

On the final day of camp, students were asked to imagine their country's future and participants painted a mural in the village's playground.

Students stayed in Surenavan with host families from the village. Each evening students were invited to gather for theme night activities including sports, movies, a disco and an excursion to Khor Virap, the famous monastery near Mt. Ararat.

Monday, June 30, 2008

FLEX Session 1

After three days of classes on cultural exchange and shock, host families and high schools, and how to make friends with Americans our first group of FLEX finalists are prepared to leave for the states.

Syd and I had a great time training, by far, the best group of Armenian 14 and 15-year-olds I've ever met. They were polite, respectful and participated in lessons. We had evening activities that even we looked forward to such as a Remember the Titans movie night (with buttered popcorn) and a 'critical thinking' scavenger hunt. On the last day we had them all worked up by scheduling a 5-hour 'test'. They were all delighted to find that they were taking notes at an American BBQ and dance party (including fresh made s'mores).

The entire group is split into two sessions with the second half having their training starting tomorrow. I can only hope that the next section will benefit as much from my advice on joining after school clubs as the first.

The future of Armenia

The students surprised me at midnight on my birthday with a huge 'bee-day' sign and singing.

Introducing the homecoming queen concept

S'mores. So tasty you want some more! (My dear student on the left hadn't tried them yet.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Harvest time

Last Sunday I spent the day in the orchard picking our crop of freshly ripened apricots. After collecting for awhile I fought a tough battle trying to convice my host father that I wasn't going to fall out of a tree and break my leg reaching for the best of the best from the top branches.

The kids and I collected nearly 150 kilos before I decided my energy was better spent 'organizing' the boxes and crates into presentable rows and columns.

The next day I traveled to Yerevan on the train. It is my favorite time of year for this type of transportation. Spring and fall are when the train really comes to life with buyers and sellers loading their produce in through windows, yelling out prices and fighting for standing room. Luckily mine is one of the early stops so I always manage to get a good seat for the show.

My host father says that apricots have a different personality. They're more difficult than apples-which you can leave hanging for a few days. The family spent night and day in the field getting every last apricot down in it's right time. Even Sargis, my brother, stayed in a small 'domik' or shack to guard the crop in the night.

I've enjoyed seeing the process. There are pictures to illustrate it below:

First, you have to pick 'em...

Then to market...

With every last one finding it's purpose...these lucky few being juice and jam

I've finished all of my travel and now with only six weeks remaining I'm getting ready for a civic leadership camp and our FLEX pre-departure orientation (next week). Oh, and there's the job search too. It's a shame I won't be around for watermelon season. Maybe I just won't leave...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Two years down, two months to go

I was sitting at lunch today with my host sister Hermine and she asked how much time we had left (I get this question at least 4 times a day). I told her that today was exactly two months until I'd be leaving Armenia. I must admit, time really does fly.

All of the PCVs in Armenia are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the A16s on May 31st. This past weekend we briefly looked at their Yahoo! Chats and blogs. They're no different from how we were two years ago-- nervous, anxious and excited. I'm looking forward to meeting them.

In the next two months there's a pull to get all of my work completed (an endless battle) in the village while trying to balance the demands of 'house visits' to say goodbye and hunting for a job in America. Despite all of the work that needs to get done and people who need to be met, I'm most looking forward to the apricot harvest in June. Ararat Marz apricots are the best.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

April Activities

On April 16th I left the village for Kiev, Ukraine, where I spent five days touring the city and five days at a training of trainers for the American Council’s Future Leader Exchange Program (FLEX). American Councils’ staff worked with teachers from Georgia, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine and FLEX alumni so that this summer we’ll be prepared to deliver a pre-departure orientation in our respective countries. There are two PC volunteers and two FLEX alumni for the 45 Armenian tenth graders preparing to study in an American high school next fall. According to their student handbook, “The FLEX program is funded by the United States Government to promote respect for cultural diversity, friendship between the United States of America and Eurasia*, and opportunities for personal development through international host family living.” This nine month scholarship provides Armenian youth with the experience of a lifetime and I look forward to sharing in their excitement as their pre-departure orientation teacher.

*Eurasia is used by the U.S. Government to describe the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Tatiks look the same in Kiev as they do in Armenia

St. Michaels Cathedral

St. Andrew Street (for gifts and handmade crafts)

I returned to Yerevan after my ten day trip only to leave again for Georgia. I spent two days touring Tbilisi--my only excuse being that it is so close and I hadn’t made it to the beautiful city yet.

I returned to Yerevan and the same day picked up my dad. It was a joyful reunion of us laughing and crying in the middle of the Zvartnots Airport. After nearly a year and a half I couldn’t seem to pull myself together enough to worry one bit about the cultural scene we were making in front of an astonished Armenian crowd.

Dad and I toured Armenia beginning with my first host family in a village near Vanadzor, then by attending the National Spelling Bee in Hrazdan, followed by my current village and on south to Noravank, Jermuk, Goris and Tatev, finally back to Yerevan for my close of service conference. He got to do some very touristy things including scheduled tours of Gharni and Geghark churches but he also got a true perspective from the time we spent with my host families and in the villages. He got to fish with the kids, hike with my host father, BBQ with my host brother and even prepare ghngali (ravioli like pasta) with my host mom. He enjoyed horovats (BBQ) at least seven times in the nine days he was here and I’m sure he had more than enough homemade jelly, cheese and lavash to last him for awhile. It was fun to have him around to show off my translating skills and the villagers all enjoyed commenting on how ‘young’ he looked and how ‘intelligent’ he seemed. All very true statements.

Dad competing to make ghngali the mom won

Sitting with the neighbor ladies

Spelling bee competitors

After my dad left I returned to work to finish up the school year. We received funding for our civic leadership camp taking place in July and finished our European Club’s ninth grade emigration/immigration service learning project. We organized our after school mentorship club schedule so the students from the secondary school would be able to continue their classes in the kindergarten during summer break. I spent the last week of classes teaching the seven and eight-year-olds summertime safety lessons and gathering summer camp applications for GLOW (Girls Leading our World) and BRO, (Boys Reaching Out) two camps sponsored by our Gender and Development PC initiative, from the older students.

On Wednesday the “Last Bell” (i.e. graduation) festivities began for the two graduating classes (11a and 11b) with a ceremony at Khor Virap. The students lit candles, listened to a speech by the residing pastor and received their last bell ‘bells’ (corsages) from first graders. On Friday, the students had ‘last class’ where 11a ‘packed’ a suitcase of all of the knowledge they gained during their school career and 11b created a future goal tree. Teachers made speeches, students voiced their appreciation, they got ‘pinned’ with their bells and then everyone drank champagne, ate cake and danced. Saturday was the last bell ceremony. After two hours of presentations by the students themselves, my school director recognized my last bell as a teacher in Armenia. I got pinned and was asked to speak. Here's what I said (in very eloquent Armenian)...

"Dear teaches, parents and guests, yesterday in 11a's classroom, during their last class, our students wrote their thoughts to this question: 'I'm leaving my school and with me I will take...' I thought all day about this question and must say that I will take a life experience from this school-- an experience that brought me new friends and strong skills. Yesterday in 11b's classroom, during their last class, our students built their 'Tree of goals'. My goal is to always stay connected with this school. Dear graduates, the age difference between us is not all that great, at most seven years. Let's work together in this small world. Let's help people, protect the environment and save the world together! I will give you some advice: In Mrs. Grigoryan's (my counterpart) classroom she has a saying on the wall: 'I listen, I forget, I see, I remember, I do, I understand'. Dear graduates, as much as you are able, try to take advantage of the opportunities you have in life. My life is richer because of the two years I experienced here and I am sure that you will also achieve your goals if you work for others. I am extremely grateful for Armenia. I wish all of you health and all the best. I will miss our school."

Oh graduation. School's out for summer!

Last Class

Last Bell

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Miamsyak Masin

My dear friend Naira came to me with an idea for women's month: A women's only exercise class. I was at her house late one evening at the beginning of the month when she told me that she was feeling the winter weight and suggested organizing a class for women only. I was so excited about her initiative that I could barely contain myself. Her idea is any community health educator's dream come true. To think, she suggested the class for community members our age! As we prepared for the class and began to imagine what exercises to start with I kept remembering my college cardio kickboxing class. I wished I had paid more attention. Despite coaching youth lacrosse before joining the Peace Corps I felt unprepared to teach exercises to unfit women. What if someone threw out her back?

Naira and I drafted a contract for our participants. It read:

Miamsjak Miasin (A month Together)
"Move a lot, live long"

I came here because I want to live a healthy life and I want to feel good. I will try my best to learn new exercises and adopt them into my everyday life. I will try everything. Over time, I will live a healthy lifestyle. Today it is very important for us to maintain our health. This is not only important for me, but for everyone. When we are together, we are strong. As much as I am able, I will help the other women here.

The first day, all four participants signed. I was disappointed with the turn out, especially considering we had made attractive announcements and hung them around the village. I later realized that our problem was that women in their 20s and 30s don't go out walking in the village. Many, in fact, rarely leave their homes. I decided that it wasn't fair to tell my host mom, age 63, that she wasn't allowed to participate, especially since we had so few women the first day anyway and she came too. It has been three weeks since we began and we've had 15 women participate. My host mom surprises us all with her amazing leg-lifting ability and everyone is feeling better, stronger and lighter. I received a "Pilates for Dummies" disk and we're using it to learn exercises and improve our breathing. I couldn't be more proud of our group's consistency and enthusiasm. We even started adding in "running Fridays"

Who wouldn't feel good when, at the end of a difficult exercise class, everyone gathers in a circle, hands together, to cheer: "Miamsjak Miasin!"

Friday, April 04, 2008

Village Bee

Today nearly sixty students participated in our village Spelling Bee. After nearly two months of practicing the students came to try their luck at spelling words from their textbooks. It was a fun experience for the students in our 7th-11th grades. The five winners below will be traveling to the National Bee in May.

The event was a nice opportunity for me to invite my Armenian language teacher and other PCVs to the village. We had four judges and numerous 'audience controllers' (as the students like to help one another out).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

International Women's Day

Armenia is one of the countries worldwide that embraces International Women's Day on March 8th. Here, the holiday is most closely associated with how we in America celebrate Mother's Day. Children make cards, buy small gifts and flowers for the women in their lives-most importantly their mothers. I spent last week preparing the children for the holiday by providing every class with paper and colored pencils and asking students to decorate a mother's day thank you card. This worked well and every grade from 2nd to 9th participated. The act of making thank you cards is generally isolated to young children in Armenia, and it was a good exercise for 14 and 15 year olds to take some time to think of ways to say thank you to their mothers.

On Friday afternoon I decided I wanted to travel on the holiday. A group of girls were gathering south of my village and I wanted to celebrate the Armenian holiday with Americans. The decision was justified by the following conversation I had with my host mother on Friday afternoon:

Host mother: "Tomorrow is women's day-we're having a party."
Me: "You mean a BBQ?"
Host mother: "Yes, it will be big."
Me: "And who will set the table?"
Host mother: "Donara [my host sister]"
Me: "And who will cook the food?"
Host mother: "Donara"
Me: "And who will gather and wash the dishes?"
Host mother: "You and I will."
Me: "So really what you're saying is that the women are going to throw a party for themselves and then do all the work while the men sit and eat and toast to our holiday and health? I'm going to my friends house."

And so I did. I went down south and the five of us did girly things like get our eyebrows done (a 500 dram= $1.25 expense), eat cake and ice cream at a tea house, lay out in the sunshine and watch English movies. It was my ideal of a women's holiday-spent with women doing things that made us feel good.

On Monday morning I got to school and opened Yahoo! to find that internationally, women were doing things on Saturday that had a little more impact than getting my eyebrows plucked. There were interesting stories of tributes, rallies and celebrations. I was most struck by an article about Wajiha Huwaidar, a Saudi woman, driving her car in a remote area to mark the day. Appearently she posted her video on YouTube. Interestingly, there are very few women drivers in the regions of Armenia. In fact, it's pretty unique to see women driving in the cities. I'm constantly thankful for the freedoms of both law and culture that allow me live openly in our society.

Friday, February 29, 2008

International Peace Corps Week

The Armenia PC Public Relations committee has embraced International Peace Corps week as an opportunity to educate the American embassy and the Armenian public about our organization’s work in this country. Volunteers were given speaking points in Armenian and English and encouraged to organize community meetings to raise awareness.

As one of the volunteers expecting others to participate in this week’s festivities, I felt an obligation to organize my own ‘meeting’. I called together the leaders from my region’s Youth & Community Action Club to present background information on the PC, a personal testimony about my work at site and provide an open forum for questions and answers to my counterparts and the school director.

The Peace Corps is a source of great pride for my director and this village. As one of the first villages in the region to host a PCV in 2004, my director has always been admired among educational leaders for her proactive attitude and successful project writing skills. After the success of my small meeting on Tuesday, she took the initiative to attend the regional director’s board meeting on Thursday with the same speaking points, PC site application forms and a personal request to the Director of Education & Sport for an announcement to be made about applying for a PCV. She’s the best spokeswoman the organization could hope for.

While individual PCVs promoted the Peace Corps in the regions, in Yerevan opportunities were organized with the US Embassy to provide informal presentations, lunches and language lessons to staff. We were invited to sit in the cafeteria on Thursday and offer up conversation about our experiences in Armenia to both Americans and Armenians on break.

The hope is that more people will have a positive idea of the organization and apply for a volunteer to work in their office or school. Fifty new volunteers will arrive in June and the more sites willing to host them the better.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Trndez Holiday in the village

According to, on February 14th, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the “Tiarndaradj” holiday 40 days after Jesus' birth. The word means to meet Jesus. According to Ararat Patriarchal Eparchy, the celebration starts the evening of February 13. After the ceremony people light candles in church and take the light to their homes. According to the public tradition, people make a fire from the candle light brought from church. This holiday expresses the divine love towards God.

In my village, however, there is no church and after yesterday's celebration there are quite a few cultural traditions left unexplained. Even though this is my second 'hopping over the fire' holiday here I haven't been able to find anyone in my extended host family who can explain the behaviors of February 13th.

The celebration is for newlyweds or newly engaged couples. If you happen to be fortunate to have one of these pairs in your family you have a fire to jump over and a party to attend. This year we had two in our family--both parties starting at 5 p.m.

Everyone arrived and a fire was lit in the street. The women gathered up beautifully wrapped bowls of baked grains and popcorn in addition to horovats and vodka. There's also a traditional dish called halva (although I think it's enjoyed in Russia too) that they carry out to the fire. Women surrounded the couple and everyone walked around the fire seven times. My friend Sargis told me that they walk around seven times in hopes of the bride having a boy and eight times for a girl. For the record, I can't imagine an Armenian couple walking around eight times. Regardless, the theory was quickly negated this morning when my host grandpa infomed me that the next step in the celebration process-of actually jumping over the fire- is what leads to fertility.

Seven times around (I later learned that this could be for seven days of the week...or maybe because 7 is a lucky number)...

Three times over...

After leaping over the fire three times a relative took one of the sticks and burnt a mark into the bottom of each of the couples pant legs.
Me: "Why is she burning their pants?"
Grandma: "To let all the bad things and illness come out."
Me: "Illness comes out of the bottom of our pants?"

The couple was handed a pair of candles and they lit each wick from the fire in the street. The candles were left burning for the duration of the party.

My host grandfather says that God looks down on earth and sees all the fires burning on this day and decides to change the weather. All the heat also helps of course. This is why it starts to get warmer after February 13th. Try telling that to my friends up in Gyumri who still have another solid three months of winter ahead of them.

After this we all went inside. Well, some of us. One of my favorite relatives decided she also wanted to jump over the fire three times. I'm not sure if she was wishing for fertility (she already has three kids my age) or just wanted to see if she could do it.

The party inside was just like any other party table with BBQ, dolma, fruits, candies, cold cuts, olives, cheese and lots of bread. We ate and toasted to: The couple, their grandparents, their parents, uncles, aunts, even me and my family. Each toast is followed by its own thank you toast. Needless to say there was a lot of vodka flowing.

After two parties I returned home and handed each of the four kids a piece chocolate. After all, isn't chocolate the most important aspect of Valentine's Day anyway?

Happy Valentines Day--I love you.