Patient Women

41fWks8wUXLReading Larissa Shmailo’s new book, Patient Women, is like riding a wave. It easily flows from one thing to the next and you want to keep reading and reading. This book has it all. Sex, drugs, alcoholism, suicide, incest, tragedy, love, despair, hope, rebirth. What will the main character Nora do next? She compels you to find out.

Nora starts out as a juvenile delinquent who runs away from home and loses her virginity. From there we see her easily get into two highly respected colleges only to lose interest and drop out. She is a brilliant woman who can’t figure out who she is or what she should be doing. So she tries everything. 

She keeps getting derailed by her own mental illness and her dysfunctional family. She has a therapist who she hates and he really doesn’t seem very helpful. He loads her up with one drug after another. Her parents survived the holocaust and that still haunts them and plays out in several dysfunctional ways throughout her life. They are not a very good support system for her. It isn’t until she joins AA and reunites with an old friend that she starts to understand the meaning of love.

In the end we don’t know if she lives happily ever after but her demons seem to be at bay and she finds her way as a poet.

I first met Larissa in high school. She was intelligent, funny and a wonderful actress. Now she is a brilliant writer as well.



About the Author

Larissa Shmailo is the editor-in-chief of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark re-staging of the Futurist opera; the libretto is available from Cervena Barva Press (2014). Larissa also has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the Eugene A. Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship of the American Bible Society. Larissa’s collections of poetry are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books 2014), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books] 2009), the chapbook, A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press 2006), and the e-book, Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks 2011); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World (SongCrew 2006) and Exorcism (SongCrew 2009), for which she received the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award .

Available on Amazon



Cooking in Colorado


I recently spent some time in Boulder, Colorado with an old friend of mine. We both have frequented the Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam and gorged ourselves on Rijsttafel. I hadn’t had Rijsttafel in ages and when he volunteered to make it, I was very excited. After a quick trip to the Asian store he assembled all the ingredients and spent the afternoon cooking.

Many many ingredients

Many many ingredients

Rijstaffel means rice table. It usually consists of rice with multiple small dishes, appetizers, and condiments. The dishes can come from anywhere in Indonesia from spicy curries to dishes with Chinese influence. The Dutch colonists who had been living in Indonesia brought the Rijstaffel back to the Netherlands. Today it is virtually unknown in Indonesia but is still going strong in the Netherlands.

We had beef in red sauce with tomato chili and coconut cream, chicken Bali with lemongrass and coconut cream, Gado Gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), two kinds of Satay, rice and multiple condiments.

It was a feast and all delicious. I am going t have to try to make the chicken one day soon.

Toasted coconut and peanuts for sprinkling on dishes

Toasted coconut and peanuts for sprinkling on dishes

Beginning of beef in red sauce

Beginning of beef in red sauce

Starting chicken Bali

Starting chicken Bali

Chicken Bali almost done

Chicken Bali almost done

Condiments with Gado Gado

Condiments with Gado Gado

My plate is full!

My plate is full!


Victory Day Moscow

May 8th, Victory Day or VE Day, marks the end of World War II in Europe.  Due to the time changes, the Russians celebrate this occasion on May 9th.  They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts. The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million.  China comes in a distant second with 10 million. Indeed they have reason to celebrate.

I was in Moscow in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this day. Celebrities from all over the world attended including US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

We were living in an apartment on the 5th floor right on Tverskaya, one of the main streets downtown that led right into Red Square and on the parade route.

One night we were shaken out of bed in the middle of the night. I thought it was an earthquake, but it kept going and going and after a while I thought we were being invaded because it sounded like large trucks. I looked out the window and there were huge tanks rolling down the middle of our street in the middle of the night. What was going on? Turns out they were practicing for the big military parades on Victory day. This went on for several weeks.

On May 8th, we were glued to the BBC watching the celebrations in the UK including the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Queen Mum. From there BBC took us to Paris and we saw the parade around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysees.

We took the video camera and went down to Red Square and saw the big banners and the stage set up. The Hare Krishnas placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very surreal). We ran into some high school students from Wisconsin who said they were part of a marching band. We figured they were just on some school trip.

On May 9th we didn’t have to leave our apartment. First we watched the parade on Red Square on TV. Then the Communists paraded down our street so we watched them from the balcony and later in the day those tanks came rolling down in formation.

The last parade of the day was the marching bands. And in the middle of all the marching bands was the McFarland High School Band from Wisconsin playing “On Wisconsin”.



The 70th Anniversary celebrations last week were the largest in Russian history but President Obama and the EU leaders chose not to attend this time.

Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski.  These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers.  They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of.  Just so there is lots of it.  For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert.  Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.

Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):

Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)

1 lb mushrooms

3 Tbsp butter

1 ½ Tbsp flour

1 cup sour cream

½ tsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

Slice the mushrooms.  Sauté in butter for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring.  Add sour cream and lemon juice.  Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more.  If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water.  The sauce should be like thick cream.  Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish.

Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)

2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill

1 ½ cups sour cream

2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, pressed

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

¾ tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss and chill



From DC to Rangoon, 1952

Fourteen hours from New York to London. Things have change a bit since then. But they did travel in class….


Sunday, Oct 26, 1952

Dear Folks,

Our time in Washington is rapidly slipping away. I hope you got my telegram saying we were cleared and would be leaving soon. They have asked for our plane reservations to leave on Wednesday the 29th. Seems like there are lots of last minute preparations to take care of. 

The following is the schedule we have asked for but won’t know about reservations until Tuesday morning.

Leave Washington      1/29    12:24 pm

Arr New York             10/29  2:15 pm

Leave New York         10/29  4:00 pm

Arr London                 10/30  11:00 am (London time)

Leave London              10/31  5:55 pm

Arrive Beirut               11/1    5:40 am (Beirut time)

Leave Beirut                11/4    4:35 am

Arrive Calcutta           11/4    11:40 pm (Calcutta time)

Leave Calcutta            11/6    6:30 am

Arr Rangoon               11/6    10:55 am

Will go from here to Calcutta on Pan American Airways and from Calcutta to Rangoon on India National Airways.

With the rest stops in London, Beirut and Calcutta it should break up the trip and make it more enjoyable. In Beirut, especially, we will have a chance to see a few things.

I think the least expensive and fastest mail service for you to write us will be on the airmail sheets such as I’ve enclosed. They go for 10 cents and come with the stamp on them. You can buy them only at the post office.

We are sitting on the banks of the Potomac doing our letter writing today while the boys run and play. It’s a nice sunny day just a little on the chilly side.

On Friday evening we took the boys to Bob Wilson’s to watch TV while went to a reception at the Burmese Embassy. We thought it was to be a small reception for a delegation of Burmese who have been here about three weeks and are now returning. It turned out to be this but in addition a most delicious buffet supper. Lots of prominent people there as well as those of small importance such as us. We did have an enjoyable time and I had met most of this delegation at the Dept. of Agriculture so didn’t feel too much out of place. It gave Virginia a chance to meet several of the Burmese people with whom I’ll be working in Rangoon.


…  I assume there was more to this letter but that is the end of what I have.

Here is an interesting film promo from 1950 for Pan American Airways.



Things I left behind


Marilyn at Communicating Across Boundaries has challenged TCK’s to write about things they have left behind.

The only place I had ever known

I was born in Burma and lived there for three years before my family moved to my passport country in the USA. I spoke 5 languages and had never lived anyplace else. I lost four of my five languages. We moved into a three bedroom house in Ithaca, NY and when I would find myself in a room all by myself I would start to scream in terror. I had never been alone before. In Burma we had servants and nanny and neighbors who were always around. On our way back to Burma after two years we were in a plane crash and I lost my favorite doll in the fire. I have had trouble with fear of fire ever since.



On leaving Burma after only a year to move to New York I left behind my nanny who had been my constant companion and spoiled me terribly. I didn’t like my school in New York and refused to go back after the first day because the teacher didn’t know my name. My brother told me to get over it and move on.


A year later we moved to Mexico City. They didn’t speak English there. I couldn’t talk to anybody or understand the TV. Plus I went to British school so even the English was funny.



We had two beautiful dogs that lived on our compound in Mexico. They belonged to the landlady but spent most of their time at my house. I loved those dogs.


I only lived in Bogota for one year but I made some really good friends and had a great time. I cried all the way from Bogota to Miami when I left.


From Bogota we moved to Nigeria and I made some good friends there as well but I was never very attached to it. I was in boarding school in Switzerland for two years and enjoyed the freedom of being able to hop on a train and see all kinds of amazing places. Leaving friends behind in Switzerland and starting over in my passport country was hard. I had a lot of adjustment problems I didn’t understand at the time.

I lost a lot of “things” along the way like dolls, toys, records, books and clothes. But I never missed them the way I did the people. After we left Mexico I lost TV but that never bothered me either. I realized later it put me at a disadvantage with my American peers. But that was only one of many things.

What did you leave behind?

Two Books: Expat Advice And Adventures


I recently read an e-book on culture shock, “Culture Shock, A Practical Guide”, by H.E. Rybol. The author is a Third Culture Kid who is familiar with both culture shock and reverse culture shock.

She says it is all about being connected to a new place. You need to figure out a way to feel comfortable so you to relax enough to enjoy your surroundings. She provides tips and tools to help. Be prepared, do your homework. Get involved, take a class, join a group.

“We need to let go of preconceived ideas to make room for reality”.

I recently moved from the East Coast to the Mid-West and after reading this book, I am thinking we all probably go into some kind of culture shock when we move anywhere. I think I have some culture shock. I need to get out and see what’s out there, learn my way around a new city, make new friends, figure out where to shop.

These things are common to every move. They are just heightened when we move to a new country where we don’t speak the language or know all the cultural differences.

H.E. Rybol acknowledges it is a process and can be challenging but affirms that it is worth every bit of it and encourages everybody to take that plunge. The rewards are “humility, kindness, gratefulness, and compassion”. You will be a better person.


81sP7Jf+nRL._SL1500_Another e-book I read recently was written by two expats getting to know new places. It is called “Two Brauds Abroad, A Departure from Life as We Know It”, by Camille Armantrout and Stephanie De La Garza. The format of the book is in the form of email correspondence between two old friends. Camille is posted to Ghana because of her husband’s work. Stephanie has the travel bug and decides to sell everything and move to Central America and do volunteer work while house sitting.

Although Camille has the stability of her husband’s job she can rely on, she is not living in the lap of luxury. They are upcountry in Kumasi and share a house with several other expats. Their water and electricity are sporadic and they walk or take taxis for transportation.

Africa has its own set of challenges and Camille had her share of culture shock. She writes about the things she finds confusing, horrible, annoying, and uncomfortable. Once she finds a group of local expats she seems to perk up quite a bit and has more of a social life. In the end I am not convinced she had a wonderful experience but she certainly learned a lot and says she would go back.

On more than one occasion she mentions that under different circumstances she would probably not be friends with the expats she met in Ghana but they were all thrown together in a situation that gave them common ground. She also says one of the things she liked about living in Ghana is the lack of air conditioning. From my experience the houses in Africa are built to allow air to flow and air conditioning is not needed.

When Camille returned to the US she went home to the house she had been living in before she left and a small supportive community she knew well. Everybody welcomed her back with open arms and she suffered very little reverse culture shock.

Stephanie had traveled in Central America on holidays and decided she was sick of the rat race in the US and wanted to give it all up and go live in the jungle. She sold her house and all her belongings, quit her job, and moved to Costa Rica to house sit. Her timing was off so she had to rent for a while before moving into the house. She was immersed in the town, lived very simply, and tried to find volunteer work caring for animals.

She also encountered expats everywhere but tried to stay away from them. She wanted to be a part of where she was. Much of her story was about day to day life. The animals and bugs she encountered, the food she found, the cooking she did, the people she met, the relationships she had. When she first arrived she was sick much of the time and lost a lot of weight but it did not discourage her and she eventually regained her energy and moved on. She had spirit.

The last portion of the book is dedicated to practical tips on preparing for departure and things you should take with you. There is some good practical advice in this section.

Camille’s thoughts on culture shock:

“My advice is drink it all in, mind your feet and use your wonder and horror as catalysts for mind boggling epiphanies”.




On My Own

paintingsIt’s been 27 years since I lived on my own. And funnily enough, I am back in the same place. I left Minnesota 27 years ago and lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, Russia, and Virginia. And now I am back in Minnesota. How did that happen? And back on my own. Back at square one. But older and wiser…..

I have a beautiful apartment that I decorated the way I wanted to. I listen to loud music that I like. I watch trashy movies whenever I want. I cook when I want to and don’t cook when I don’t want to. I can do whatever I want. Make art. Write. Read. Watch mindless TV. Go out. Stay in.

One of my biggest problems is I am way too good at entertaining myself. So much to do so little time. But then I have trouble accounting for my time because I don’t actually accomplish anything.

My day so far …. Worked from home, danced to Los Lobos, Listened to new music I just found on my iPhone, cruised the Internet (can’t remember why), checked for mail (physical mail), checked email, sent email, read an article in National Geographic on Mites (Yuk!), Thought about what to do for dinner (although not very hungry after reading the Mites article), skimmed thorough local paper, re-read part of my journal from 20 years ago, looked at men on Match.com (ugh), thought about some other stuff I should be doing….

Anyway you get the picture. Sometimes I have projects I get obsessive about. Like doing a needlepoint canvas or scanning old photos or writing a book. When I finish a project I think I should do another project. But the project gets in the way of doing all the things above… and then I get stressed because I think I should be working on my project. It’s not really that bad. I can handle it.

And of course feeling guilty about not writing my blog takes up some of my time as well.


The pictures are of my bedroom walls. I used to paint and these are some of the paintings and drawings still in my possession. My grand-nieces who are still babies are mesmerized by these colorful paintings.

Enough. Now I am off to the “job hunting” portion of my day.

Talk soon.

Christmas In Africa – 1974

69-620x310My first Christmas vacation in college I had a memorable plane trip on my way to Africa. I was to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Nairobi and meet my parents for a two-week camera safari. I had made my flight arrangements through a travel agent in New York and understood that I would change planes in Geneva.

I arrived in Geneva at seven in the morning and went to the transit desk. They told me that I could go into town or get a room at the airport if I wanted because the flight didn’t leave until midnight that night and then they also mentioned that I was wait-listed anyway. What??? I had not looked closely at the ticket. There I was in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a $20 traveler’s check to my name, and I was wait-listed on a flight that left at midnight. There was nothing I could do but wait and see. I spent all day dozing on airport seats and reading my book. I didn’t eat anything because I figured I should save my money and anyway, I was too nervous. It came time to check in for the flight. I went to the gate and they told me I would have to wait until everybody else had boarded the plane. It was agonizing as I watched hundreds of people boarding.

I kept seeing myself stranded in Geneva, eating out of the vending machines and spending Christmas by myself in the terminal. I would have to spend the night in the airport. How would I let my parents know where I was? Finally the airline called the stand-by passengers to the desk. They told me there was one seat left but I had to go downstairs and get my seat assignment. I raced down the stairs but there was nobody there. I waited a while in a panic and then I ran back up the stairs and told them there was nobody down there. Finally a woman got up and said she would go get it for me while I went through security again. As soon as I had my seat assignment, I ran all the way to the plane. I was scared to death they would take off without me. When I reached my seat, I buckled my seat belt and broke into tears of relief.

I arrived in Nairobi the next morning and there was nobody there to meet me. I went to the bank and changed my $20 traveler’s check and figured I would have to take my chances with a taxi. I went out to the parking lot and there were lots of taxis lined up but no people around at all. While I was standing there trying to figure out what to do an airline steward came walking up and I asked him if he knew how I could get a taxi. He said he didn’t know but it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere in a taxi. He asked his captain if they could give me a ride.

I arrived at the hotel in an airline minibus and rang my parents’ room. No answer. I rang our friends’ room. No answer. I walked all around the hotel lobby and outdoor area. When I returned to the lobby there was my mother sitting on the couch.

She took one look at me and said “What are you doing here?” At this point, I was exhausted, broke, hungry, confused and frankly, a little pissed off. “Thanks, mom.” I said. She replied calmly, not knowing my state of mind. “Your father is out at the airport looking for you”. Communications got really screwed up somehow and they thought I was coming in on a flight from Rome. I wish I could say this was an unfamiliar scenario, but travelling the million miles that I have, this kind of thing happened all the time.


Kenya was wonderful. We drove around several game parks in Kenya and camped in tents. The tents were fairly large and had cots in them with mosquito nets and a bucket in the back for the toilet. There was a communal dining hall where everybody sat on benches and ate family style.

We were driving through a park just at dusk one day and we came upon a lone baby zebra. The game warden was with us and he seemed upset. We asked him what the problem was and he said the zebra would be dead by dark. He said it must have been separated from the rest of the herd somehow and now it didn’t have a chance. We asked if maybe we could take it with us or help it in some way and of course there was nothing we could do. That was just the way things worked: the world was one big food chain, but it was heartbreaking for me to witness it in person.

We crossed over into Tanzania and went to Ngoro Ngoro, a huge volcanic crater with a large plain inside where wildebeasts, flamingoes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, hippos, and monkeys all co-existed. It had a very prehistoric, eerie feel to it. The only way to get to it was in a four-wheel drive jeep creeping over the edge of the volcanic rock that completely surrounded the area. As we were driving across the middle of the plain we came across a family of rhino. Rhino cannot see very well but they hear well and have a good sense of smell. We were down-wind from them but the noise of the engine must have taken them by surprise because they turned and started to run right at us. The driver immediately turned off the engine. The rhinos froze in their tracks and we did too! Pretty soon the rhinos turned and started to walk away but then changed their minds. We sat perfectly still for about 20 minutes while the mama and papa rhino had a quickie and the baby was the lookout.

Another day at another park we came up behind a herd of elephants that was just crossing the road. There was an auntie at the end and she turned and started running towards us, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. She took our driver by surprise. He shoved the car in reverse going full speed backwards in retreat. When we were a safe distance away, and the elephants had moved on a little we approached them again. This time when they charged us, the driver just gunned his engine. The elephants were afraid of the noise and backed off. When we returned to camp that day, we were told that it was becoming rarer and rarer to be charged by animals because they were becoming too accustomed to people. That was somewhat good news but really bad news in the larger sense of things.

On the way back to Nairobi we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro. None of us were adventurous enough to climb it but we enjoyed having it as our backdrop.

On my way to Treetops

On my way to Treetops

We spent New Year’s Eve at the Outspan Hotel. From there we took a bus to Treetops, a famous salt lick with a hotel originally built in a tree. It burned down and has been rebuilt, but as you walked along the corridors you could still see branches coming through the walls. We arrived in the afternoon and had to trek in from the bus. Everybody had tea up on the roof. The baboons were really gutsy and came up and tried to steal women’s handbags. We had been warned about them. At night, animals came for the salt and so there was lots of activity. My friends stayed in the Queen Elizabeth suite. Elizabeth was staying there when her father, George the VI died, in 1952.




Christmas Snacks

IMG_1264I’m off to my cousin’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and I am making Pirozhki to take along for an appetizer. These are Russian pies made with bread dough. As a shortcut, I use ready to cook biscuits from the refrigerator aisle (in the US) and break them apart to make the smaller pies. This year I am making beef and mushroom pirozhki and I decided to try them with green onion and a little garlic instead of the yellow onion. I’m always experimenting…

Have a Happy Holiday!



Basic dough

1 package active dry yeast (1 Tbsp.)

1/4 cup warm water

1 cup milk

8 Tbsps. butter, cut into bits

1 tsp. salt

2 tsps. sugar

1 whole egg

2 egg yokes

4 1/2 to 5 cups flour

1 whole egg, beaten

Yield: 4 dozen

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Heat the milk to lukewarm and add the butter to it. Stir the milk and butter mixture into the yeast. Add the salt, sugar, egg and egg yolks, mixing well. Gradually stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it lightly until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning dough to grease the top, and cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 48 balls of equal size. On a floured board roll each ball out to a circle 3 1/2 inches in diameter.









Place a heaping Tbsp. of filling on each circle, then press the edges of the dough together firmly to seal. Gently shape the pies into elongated ovals.



Place the pies seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until they are just doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush each pie with the beaten egg. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.




2 large onions, minced

2 Tbsps. butter

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 tsps. salt

pepper to taste






Sauté the onions in the butter until transparent. Stir in the beef and cook until done. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Cool.




4 Tbsps. butter

2 large onions, minced

1 lb. cabbage, finely shredded

1 tsp. dill

2 tsps. salt

pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the butter. Add the cabbage and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the cabbage is tender but not browned. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool.


2 Tbsps. butter

2 medium onions, minced

1.5 lbs mushrooms, chopped  (wild or tame)

6 Tbsps. minced fresh parsley

2 tsps. fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the butter until soft but not brown. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Cool and Enjoy!