Welcome to America – Для Своих

I’ve decided to make a series of posts about our first days in America, how we came here and what happened next. I’m going to tell you how we navigated these strange new waters we so bravely dove into, remember the good, the “Are you serious?!” and the “What? Where? How?”. Why? Two reasons (neither one selfish). First, to amuse the natives. Yep, you guys would be surprised how differently your world is perceived through the eyes of newcomers. Many laughs here, promise! Second is to give those who are only just embarking on the journey of emigration to the U.S. a glimpse into how it may go, share my personal experience and offer support in the form of first-hand answers to a lot of questions I know I had 10 years ago, when I was scrambling for answers.

I am planning to write some of the posts in this series in Russian language as I feel that would be more helpful for the people “on the other side”. Many Russian speakers – this is the term I like best to describe all of us, who come from the former USSR, including myself – come to the United States without being fluent in English. Most have a good command of the language and can express themselves clearly, but to many reading is still easier in Russian.

Please join the conversation! Share you experiences, ask questions or simply stay for a laugh 🙂

Я решила написать серию постов о том, как мы эммигрировали в Америку почти 10 лет назад. Расскажу, с чего все начиналось и куда нас это привело. Поделюсь впечатлениями и советами, всем тем опытом, который мы накопили с “ещё там” до уже здесь. Надеюсь, что мои рассказы помогут тем, кто только начинает свой путь в США, возможно откроют глаза на некоторые вещи, возможно приятно удивят и немного подготовят к новой жизни.

Присоединяйтесь к разговору! Делитесь своим опытом, задавайте вопросы и просто заглядывайте сюда за хорошим настроением 🙂


“Welcome to America!”

We landed in Las Vegas on an August afternoon in 2011. On us we had 2 suitcases, 2 backpacks and a guitar. Exhausted by the trans-Atlantic flight, we were oh so anxious about the upcoming face to face with borders control that our hands were shaking!

Since we arrived on a DV visa (Green Card), we were taken to a separate room for screening, finger prints and document verification. Each of us had a fat folder with all our emigration documents sealed by the U.S. Consulate in Morocco which was to be opened only by a U.S. Customs Control officer once we land in the U.S.A. All that was quick and painless.

The first blow of American air hit us hard! Literally. We stepped out from the air conditioned McCarran Airport into 100 degrees F (40° C) heat unprepared. We were prepared for a lot but not for that. 100 degrees of dry heat is no joke for someone who has never experienced anything like that.

It was the first time when I saw my husband loose it. It was pretty much a re-enactment of a comedy scene, although somehow not funny: he made a step outside, froze and leaped back inside the cool haven of the airport. Because you know, Vegas in summer is like if you put your head inside a pre-heated oven. And it gets hotter every year!

Eventually we got into a cab. To us, that cab felt like an entertainment center on wheels: screens and ads everywhere! So overwhelming. The ride was short and the driver did not even demand a tip when we told him it was our very first ride in America. Wasn’t that sweet of him?

One thing we did right was that we had booked our hotel some weeks prior to the trip.

Wanna guess what was the next surprise we were not prepared for? Power outlets. They are different from the European ones. Despite that being a common fact, it had slipt through the cracks of our hectic preparations for relocation. Cue in our panic attack here: How are we going to call back home?! How are we going to find anything without a charged phone and Google?!


That same evening, we went to a 7/11 across the street from our hotel to get some food. I remember I could not make myself pay almost $4 for half a gallon of milk – that felt so incredibly expensive, compared to where I came from! In the end, we did get milk and eggs to have breakfast the next morning. And bottles of drinking water.  Gotta learn quickly or you’ll get burnt, right?  😉


Pancake Week 2017, Day 2


I LOVE starting new traditions and I take almost any reason to do it. Pancake Week is no exception. Couple years ago I started a tradition of eating pancakes out somewhere. Last year the gathering was a little disaster and not because the pancakes were bad – they were delicious! – but because Little Love was way too little to party after 7pm on a weekday.

This year we went to Blueberry Hill Restaurant to taste their pancakes, advertised as original family recipe of pancakes with buttermilk. Can’t say anything bad about the pancakes, but with my eyes shut I would not be able to tell the difference between a Blueberry Hill, a Denny’s, an IHOP or a McDonald’s pancake to save my life.

But there was one thing that impressed everyone at our table. The SIZE of pancakes. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words (mainly because we laughed hysterically for 15 minutes, unable to say anything coherent, when the order was brought):

upload_-1-3Yes, the plate is WIDER than my torso.

Well, at least no-one left hungry 🙂

What’s your favorite pancake place?


Pancake Week 2017 p.1

Hello-Hello! Welcome to Pancake Week 2017! Because I have a not-so-secret addiction to pancakes, everyone who I can get my hands on during this week shall eat pancakes!

Maslenitsa – aka the Pancake Week / Butter Week / Crepe Week – is a folk and religious holiday for the Orthodox Christians, celebrated during the last week before the Great Lent. A whole week to eat pancakes!!! To gain some fat before long and exhausting fasting, basically.

Maslenitsa is probably the oldest Slavic holiday with origins deep in the Pagan festival of the Sun, a celebration of the end of winter. Personally I think that Pagan tradition makes much more sense than this appropriated Orthodox Christian.

You can read more about Maslenitsa in Wiki or simply Google it and scroll through dozens of images – it will give you a pretty solid idea of what the hype is about. For me, it’s about family to gather around a tasty festive meal. Pancakes just happen to be the perfect reason!

Pancake week 2017. Day 1: Done! And consumed 🙂 Oladyi* with apples.

SAMSUNG CSC *oladyi are palm sized pancakes made with eggs, flour and buttermilk. Traditionally, oladyi are Ukrainian pancakes. Mine are thinly sliced apple rounds dipped in /covered with pancake dough and fried.

Stay tuned for more pancakes from around the world  throughout the week!

P.S. Here are my posts on Maslenitsa from the previous years:

  1. Pancake Week! 2014

  2. Pancake Week 2015

  3. Pancakes Around the World, part 1

  4. Pancakes Around the World, part 2




Where Winter Wonderland Comes From


We have discovered where winter wonderland comes from! It’s from a tiny mountain village of Idyllwild in Southern California. For us, it is undoubtedly one of the most significant discoveries of 2017.

The place is exactly what is sounds like – Idyllwild. Say it. Taste it. Feel the tremble of expectation, the urge of discovery rising inside? That’s the subtle magic of Idyllwild.


img_20161231_120006Silence and grandeur enwrapped us upon arrival. For city dwellers like ourselves, silence was quite a unique pleasure.  And as if the majestic surrounding was not enough, there were squirrels and elks right at our doorstep. This squirrel is almost like a pet of our hosts – it comes daily at breakfast time for his share of peanuts.

Speaking of magic, Idyllwild sure enjoys a pun or two with a gullible visitor. For us, the Mountain Center pun was the best played. For you see, from its name, we expected it to be a Visitor Center of sorts, on the top of the mountain, of course. But what do we know?! It’s an actual geographical center of the mountain! Without a visitor center but with a lovely homey cafe (Mountain Center Cafe) and a gas station (with very reasonable prices).


The other trick – quite literally, the Riddle of the Sphynx type of trick – is getting to Idyllwild. Since Idyllwild in located in the mountains (on the Hill, as locals say), the road from the surrounding plateau (Valley, as the locals refer to) is winding (from Banning, CA). And believe me when I say it’s winding. The fact that the road is called a Panoramic Highway does NOT compensate for the stress of driving up along it. 80 miles of head-spinning up-going winding-ness!


The trick is to take a less winding route (through Hemet, CA), which is longer and therefore not suggested by the cursed GPS.

We, naturally, took a shorter route. And since we were going to celebrate the New Year there, it was winter as we drove from Las Vegas to Idyllwild, implying that it gets dark early. By which I mean that we got to Banning, the starting point of the 80-mile ascend, at dusk. Those of you with good imagination may easily envision how much we enjoyed the Panoramic Highway, driving in the dark, for the first time, not sure of the road conditions, slowly creeping like a turtle not to miss a turn. Oh, did I mention the screaming baby in the back seat? Well, now you have a full picture. Be happy you were not the driver that day 🙂

But it was all worth it! Idyllwild Nature Center, Humber Park and the downtown are a candy to the eye and joy to the heart!

The world’s largest pine cones grow at Idyllwild Nature Center grown  – at least that’s what we were told by the Canter’s ranger. Granted, those pine cones are ENORMOUS,  larger than those we saw at Big Bear Lake, and in this pic they are still closed:


The downtown is all rustic and wooden, with plenty delicious locally-owned restaurants and TWO huge Christmas trees! Both of which are a growing trees, a part of the community. Isn’t that precious?!

If you are not yet convinced that Idyllwild is the most idyllic place to celebrate winter holidays, I give you my ultimate reason: Wishes come true here.  Mine did. Idyllwild made my first wish of 2017 come true! I wished for snow. Seriously, having spent 5 winters in Vegas I longed for snowy New Year. And it happened! It started snowing on New Year’s Eve and on the first day of 2017 this is what we woke up to:     



On Christmas Trees and a Series of Fortunate Events

4 years ago I came to HATE artificial Christmas trees in my home. I still do, very strongly. Before that the issue has never risen as in Ukraine an artificial Christmas tree – although available for purchase – wasn’t even considered an option. But since we moved to the U.S., Love has taken a strong stand against real Christmas trees for several reasons. 1. It’s a waste of money. It’s financially sane to buy an artificial tree that would last 5-7 years. (I agree that $50 for a real tree annually is too much, even for an irreplaceable symbol as it is, especially when a To-Buy list is endless). 2. Artificial trees are more environmentally friendly, since cutting down real trees is cruel. If people stopped buying real trees, the industry will stop supplying them, therefore saving the trees. (This is wrong. See video above). 3. Real trees are a hassle to set up and a mess to get rid of. (Cant’t argue with this, but I am ready to suffer the inconvenience for the pleasure a real tree brings. Besides, it’s not him who cleans up all the mess anyway).

So, for 3 years we fought over a Christmas tree but I managed to get my way (read: Love gave in for the sake of peace of HIS mind).

But in 2015 a friend left his artificial tree to us. I did not want it, but Love took it in and considered that a closed issue. So, for the 2016 New Year I was stuck with this tree. And even though it is a surprisingly beautiful tree, I came to HATE its kind viciously.


I felt so bad about this whole tree issue that I was almost ready to quit this year. I still took that artificial tree out, set it up and straightened the branches but could not make myself decorate it. So it stood for 3 days, sad and hated, until a text message changed the picture. The message was from a friend who told me that they got a huge real tree for $5 from a Lowe’s couple blocks away from my house. Just a day or two before Christmas!

Naturally, I rushed in and got myself a beautiful 7 ft tree for $5. But because it was late when I got to the store, there was no-one to prep the trunk for installation (they usually drill a whole in the trunk and cut the bottom parallel to the ground for easy set-up at home). So, I dragged my tree through the store and God knows how pushed the humongous beast INTO my Ford Focus sedan. This is very close to what it looked like:

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/5241935325

At home, after I pulled the tree out of the car (which was a whole long and different story!), I realized that the trunk did not stand quite straight. SAMSUNG CSC

So, I was very diligent paying close attention to drilling the hole as perpendicular to the ground as possible, so that the tree stands perfectly straight in its holder. And this is what I got: Next time you need an illustration to the word “Screwed”, look no further! You are welcome!


At this point Love – who was more than patient with my endeavor – threw in the towel. And we had a great laugh at my craftsmanship and knowledge of elementary physics 🙂 The next morning I had a brilliant idea (I know, I know, need sparkles ingenuity). All I needed was another type of holder! Like this one, which I immediately went and got from a thrift store for $3:


And this is what a true happy ending looks like:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A nice cherry on my pie was the star to top the tree. For, you see, I have not had any top on our trees, artificial or else, for the past 5 years. So, this is quite special 🙂

Hope you all had jolly holidays!