Friday, May 16, 2008

The National Olympiad Experience

(this is where I am eating food outside with some very nice people..)

(..and part of an article that was written for the international Peace Corps newsletter!)

The first stage of testing was about to begin. The door of this ordinary Ukrainian classroom opened to greet some very extraordinary 10th form students, hailing from every corner of the country. Nineteen seats were filled in absolute silence. Nervous eyes met mine and those of my fellow judges. Although the initial tension was palpable, these students' amazing command of English seemed to comfort them as they started in on the test. After all, this was a room full of the very best English students in a country of almost 50 million people. And they did not disappoint the group of eight Peace Corps volunteers who had written and were now helping to administer this national test.

Over the course of the Olympiad, I was thrilled to learn that many of the competitors had been touched by some piece of America. Whether it be a State Department-sponsored FLEX program exchange, a summer camp, or the work of a Peace Corps Volunteer in their school or community, these youths had not only been shaped by their exceptional Ukrainian teachers, but by real interaction with other cultures and ideas. The products of grass-roots outreach and development programs such as FLEX and Peace Corps were sitting right here before me. Of course, these students arrived at the National Olympiad on their own merits. But they were touched by international programs aimed at making a difference for individuals. In fact, it seemed to be their binding attribute.

One of the last segments of the National Olympiad involved a Peace Corps jury member engaging each student individually on a speaking task of the students' choosing. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the future of each speaker. Although their chances of living and working abroad are better than many previous generations of Ukrainians, their thoughtful answers rang with ideas of citizenship, social awareness, and optimism. Most of these bright minds were, after planning for some more international experience, committed to returning to Ukraine and making their mark, making it theirs. This transition is monumental, and is already underway in a society and economy that changes by the day.

Then, the testing was over. Nineteen intelligent, motivated, confident 10th formers put down their pens, walked back out the door and into a future they feel ready and empowered to shape. Ukraine will be blessed when these minds come home to roost.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We Have a Pulse!

(frolicking in the ancient ruins, Crimea. Thanks for coming, father and mother!)


Although most of you have probably stopped wasting your time by checking for updates on this blog, let it be knowne that this is my attempt to revive it. I know, it’s been a while. I know, I probably will have a lapse sometime in the near future as well. But for now, I have the wherewithal, and the computer, to crank out a few entries (and post the ones that have been in waiting for months [see below]). One reasonable excuse is that my laptop has been out of commission for the better part of the fall semester. Miraculously, (like this blog) it was revived by a local computer guru (they are everywhere!), who only charged me $4 for a job that likely took hours. I thought this Dell was down for good. And although there’s an internet cafe in town, I have concluded that it is the most difficult place to concentrate ever, due to the exclusive company of dozens of screaming 12-year old boys playing Warcroft, or Warcraft, or whatever it is. Either that or they’re flanking your chair and conducting a mass interview with you, which is always flattering, but certainly not productive for any internet-related goals you may have had for the hour.

Another reasonable excuse for my temporary blackout is my inherent laziness and disregard for keeping my friends and loved ones informed of my daily adventures in a remote corner of Ukraine. There, I said it. Ouch.

So anyways, it’s been a year. The one-year mark is a time for reflection. I thought it would be a time for triumphal celebration, for elation, and any other ‘-tion’ words that might afford me the desired sentiment, but it’s mostly just reflection. I think that the TEFL program might be unique as a Peace Corps project because the fruits of most of your efforts are located in the brains of small children. As such, it is inherently more difficult to measure than, say, a latrine project. There is really no need for latrines in VP, as this is not a developing country. Ukraine has an infrastructure, albeit a markedly different infrastructure than ours, but the real focus of my efforts here is on education and educational reform. My toils are on a blackboard. This can, of course, vary from volunteer to volunteer. I consider myself lucky in the fact that I am treated as any other member of our school’s ‘collective’ (staff). This is not so for all volunteers, and they seek to fulfill the needs of their communities in other ways. I am happy to have been afforded a great deal of responsibility as a teacher, and I thoroughly enjoy spending most of my days in the classroom. So, when this reflecting started, I was wont for some tangible evidence of my work. I started teaching at School #1 in late January. What did I have to show for it? I honestly couldn’t compare the language level of my students back then to their level now. Looking back from December, those first few months of teaching were just a blur. But I wanted to see something. Some days of the week I could be working at school from 8 to 4 (that really is a long teaching day my friends). Was it making any difference? Did they respond to my teaching style, did they even understand me most of the time? I hadn’t asked these kinds of questions for an entire year, and now, at the one-year mark, it had suddenly become an existential crisis.

But hark! Every year, Ukrainian schools conduct a sort of academic Olympics for the 8th-11th formers, called the ‘Olymiads’. First the competition is school-wide, then region-wide, then state. Compare it to leagues, sectionals, and states in some varsity sport. So, two weeks ago it came down to the regional competition between about a dozen schools in our ‘Rayon’. Each school sends a competitor in each of these four forms. Last year, our school’s top place was 5th, given to an 8th former whose mother is an English teacher. This year’s results, to my delight, were a little better: for the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th forms my students scored 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd, respectively! Although these students have always had wonderful teachers, I’d like to think that I also had something to do with their improvement over last year. At least, I found it evidence enough to stop asking myself if my TEFL-related work was helping anyone here. I think and hope that it has. The results of the state-wide contest have yet to be heard, but in any case the news made me happy. Walking home from school that day, I was elated until I opened the apartment door. I felt a cool, sub-zero breeze. I looked in my kitchen. The entire upper section of my window had been blown off its rotting hinges and straight into my apartment. Shards of glass were everywhere. My entire window had fallen..out..of..the..wall, frame and all. My elation quickly subsided. I slowly, carefully started picking up long shards of glass out from under my refrigerator. Another day in UA.


I found out that there is an oracle in my town. If you were to come to VP for yourself, you’d find a little riverside municipality of 20,000 blessed with paved roads, two outdoor markets AND a supermarket, five schools, a fountain, and a golden statue of V.I. Lenin. You’d see cars on the streets (a few) and babies in the strollers (a lot). Then you’d see a nondescript apartment building on a side street near my school, with a few sickly-looking people occasionally lying in the grass outside. I didn’t actually notice them until late spring of this year. It was a particularly hot day (records set throughout all of Ukraine this summer), and I was wondering what/why/how these people could be laying in the waist-high grass in such conditions. At least they could walk to the fountain and lay in there, as I myself was tempted to do. I was walking home from school with my coordinator at the time, Svetlana, and I brought it up. She told me they were in line. For the Oracle. At this point I thought I knew my town, but this was news. An oracle? Yes, she said, a young man whose powers had become apparent as a young child. One who can see into the future, one who can heal the sick. Svetlana said that although he is rendered immobile due to a muscular disease, he’s keeps a separate office apartment and a full-time staff of schedulers. As my coordinator continued to inform me of his near country-wide fame, her dispassionate tone about the whole thing made me inquire further. Had she ever been to see him? She had. Many years ago, to ask about the future. She had been told that she would be happily married, with many daughters. Ten years on, she is a single mother with one son.

Still, although we have cars on our streets and babies in our strollers, I don’t think there are too many oracles in the US that can boast a scheduling staff.


(excerpt from journal)

I am lying in a train, as I will be for the next 15 hours. Final destination- home. It’s late July and I’ve spent the better part of the last two months on the road. Summer gives us TEFL volunteers a chance to get out and about, spending some time away from site at summer camps, in-service training sessions, language refresher camps, host family visits, committee meetings, weekend excursions, and the like. I’ve been through it all, and I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of R+R at my site before I’m off to Berlin to meet my parents (and bring them back here, of course).

At this moment, I feel that I am affirming a certain Peace Corps stereotype (the stinking, traveling, unshaven one). I’m lying barefoot on my train bunk, with dirty feet hanging over the edge and into the aisle of the car. One of my toenails is gory and shattered, due to a very unpleasant encounter with an uneven cobblestone street in a cheap pair of flip-flops. My hair was cut last night by two amateur, but enthusiastic, Peace Corps Volunteers in an empty corner tub at a youth hostel in L’viv, Ukraine. I haven’t shaved in four days (this, of course, not being anything new) and, although I’m tempted to go into detail, I will simply state that every article of clothing on my person has been worn for no less (and likely more) than three days. That, and I am lying in a puddle of my own sweat, as a 3rd-class cross-country train ride in the middle of July will do that to you. It is a consistent 100+ degrees in this train car, with no chance of ventilation to speak of. The windows don’t open. My snack-pack of caviar-flavored croutons is gone (don’t judge me until you’ve tried them), and I’m wondering what will sustain me for the next 15 hours, as the train stops rarely, and even then for only two minutes at a time. I always fail to have the foresight for things like personal sustenance, but this is the longest train ride I’ve taken in the country so far. For yea, it is summer vacation, and I’ve convinced myself that I deserve it by riding lots of trains. There is no better way to celebrate summer in Ukraine.

I’m traveling from the far west of the country back to the ‘middle east’, on my way home from one of the most stunning cities in the country (the previously aforementioned L’viv). Historically, L’viv was populated by Poles, Germans, Armenians, Jews, Ukrainians, and the Rus, and has been subject to many rulers over the centuries. The city, however, has retained its distinctly European heritage, and a walk through its old city center (the entirety of which is preserved on the UNESCO World Heritage list), might be confused with a walk through Prague, or even a town in Italy. The weekend spent in L’viv was like a weekend spent in another country. It was such a shock, only because my ‘own’ corner of Ukraine has a completely different look, feel, history, and language (I tried to pull out the old Ukrainian the west [as I speak Russian at my site], but realized that it’s still woefully inadequate). But in order to understand this country, where it’s been, and where it’s going, one needs to spend some time in both the east and the west (and the south, at that). Check, check and check!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Friend Helianthus Annuus

(little Ivan inspects the biography of his hero and lifelong inspiration, Mark Twain)


Today I was taken to the Rayon (regional) museum by a friendly local family. The museum is housed in a nondescript Soviet-style building (who would have thought, really) near the town center, and contains artifacts spanning from the Bronze Age to the modern era. My curiosity about the history of our area had been on the rise since my arrival in town four months ago, so I was excited to learn more. It turned out to be a hands-on museum, but not in the build-your-own-kaleidoscope kind of way. More along the lines of the you-can-take-a-30,000-year-old-Bronze-Age-axehead-off-the-shelf-and-examine-it-to-your-heart’s-content kind of way. This might have been an unintentional benefit to maintaining such a museum, but it kept me interested throughout the three-hour tour (a three-hour tour). The weather stayed fine.

Yesterday I watched Everything is Illuminated for the first time since coming to Ukraine. It really was like watching a brand new movie. I’ve heard tell that multiple readings of certain books may have the same effect on the reader as one grows older and more mature, but this only took six months. And seeing this movie again has shown me just how far I have come. Firstly, I didn’t need any of the translations. I could tell what part of the country they were traveling in based on the language spoken by the locals (the movie was very accurate in this respect). Seeing the sweeping landscape shots wasn’t a trip to a far-away land, it was looking out the window. And local mannerisms were captured pretty well too. If you haven’t seen this movie in a while, or never at all, I encourage you to pick it up. Appropriately enough, the (legal) DVD-version of this film is covered in a large pinwheel of a sunflower, a plant that helps to dramatize the last few sequences of events in Illuminated. And I say it might be worth the trip to Ukraine just to see a thousand-acre field in full sunflower bloom.

Sunflowers. Thanks to this humble plant, I’ve gained a new appreciation for my adopted country on the gastronomical level as well (which is what these blog entries usually devolve into anyway: food). Now I know that they plant thousands of acres of sunflowers for reasons other than aesthetics and photo ops.. The first time I had a Ukrainian salad slathered in sunflower oil, I almost couldn’t keep it down. That’s a lot of sunflower. You really can handle only so much of that seed, as I’ve proven to myself many a time while indulging in a bagful. But much of the country’s diet is laced with it, and virtually all of the country’s cooking oil is derived from it. This gives foods as far-ranging as potatoes and cabbage (kind of a joke there) a ubiquitous ‘sunfloweriness’. It’s also a main ingredient in a national dessert, halva, which resembles, both in appearance and in texture, a soft volcanic bath stone. I couldn’t finish one on my first attempt. Not that a combination of pulverized sugar, sunflower oil, and various nuts isn’t delicious. But man, that’s a lot of sunflower.

Well, getting to the point. Now I don’t even taste the sunfloweriness. I take my tea with delicious halva, cook my eggs with the oil, and occupy myself on the 25-minute walk to school by popping the seeds into my mouth. The latter is, in fact, a national pastime (the seed-eating, not walking to school). Even an art form. I am now learning to flick seeds with the same gusto and accuracy as my students, thanks to their tutelage. Not in class, of course.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Passing Through

(and they come in bigger sizes than that.)


This past weekend, VP was host to a half dozen American evangelicals on a lightening tour of Ukraine. I was asked by a churchgoing teacher at my school if I might help with some translation, and I was more than happy to offer my inadequate services for a chance to meet and greet our visitors from Tennessee. The chance to translate never actually came into fruition, as they brought their own professional interpreter (whew!). But as I sat in the back of the auditorium and listened to their sermon, I became fascinated by the experience of being on the receiving end of a missions trip (not that I was ever on the giving end).

I suppose it is a given that if one holds strong convictions, then the opportunity to share these convictions with others might eventually lead one to far away places (i.e., Peace Corps or missionary work). But when two neighbors find themselves on the same far-away swath of land on account of two very different sets of convictions, I think, face to face, they can only baffle each other.


My apologies for the delay. I have spent a lot of time away from this computer, but would still like to keep people reasonably well informed about my service. I will strive for monthly updates at the very least. Try to hold me to it. Since my last post, I have taken on a few extra projects, including a weekly English Club at my school. I also have taken on some private tutoring (demand grossly outweighs supply [specifically, of my time {I am approached on an almost daily basis}]). So these things, along with my daily class load of English and German lessons (and my own Russian language tutoring), are keeping me plenty busy work-wise. Another big factor in the schedule of any given day can be summed up with the simple ‘how long will it take me to walk there?’ In the case of my Russian tutoring, round trip might be more than an hour, depending on if I want to attack, or crawl up, the hill back home. It is quite literally a two-kilometer ascent. Shallow, but ascending nonetheless. Now if I could only learn how to plan a lesson in less time than it actually takes to teach it, I could really start freeing up some time…

Monday, April 16, 2007

Alternative Medicine


13/01 (finished and posted on 16/04)

I have recently been ill, and yesterday succumbed to a timeless (and infamous among PCVs) Ukrainian medicinal remedy- the vodka rubdown. I had somewhat of a persistent and nasty cough, and was starting to get a little worried due to the abundance of diseases that are fairly common to Ukraine in wintertime: pneumonia, bronchitis, black lung, black death, etc. My own remedies (coughing, waiting) had proven useless, and I was ready to get some new material for the blog. I knew the experience wouldn’t let me down. I started by sitting on the couch and raising the shirt off my back, while my host mother fetched the magic liquid. This is quite literally a pickle jar filled with dandelion leaves and other oddities, and topped off with, well, filled with vodka. She proceeded to slab this all over my back, to the point that it was running down and soaking the blanket that I was sitting on, and was soon to be wrapped in. No matter though, it’s all part of the treatment. She continued to massage the faintly wild-smelling spirits onto my back in an attempt to coax the ‘bad vapours’ out of my lungs. I’m assuming the evaporation of the alcohol has some part to play in this process, but my understanding of the treatment is still rather dim. I began to smell like a loaf of baking bread. It was much more pleasant than I’d expected. In fact, I thought the whole process would be so nauseating that when I started throwing up I would coax the bad vapours right out of my lungs along with breakfast. I did not. With the application stage complete, my reeking body was wrapped in a large beach towel and promptly tucked into bed. The scent of warm dough continued to waft out from under the covers and lulled me to sleep.

I was disappointed with the distinct lack of trauma that was supposed to accompany such treatment, according to the tales of previous PCVs in Ukraine. Maybe I hadn’t been sick enough to be fully repulsed by the smell. I was much less disappointed the next day, however, when I awoke to find that after being stuck with this nasty cough for about two weeks, it was just about gone. I should stop putting ‘bad vapours’ in quotations marks.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Things Like School and War

From R to L: Lilya, Sasha, Kcenia, Vyacheslav, Yulia, Oleg's bunny ears. Real live Ukrainian children.


I would like to describe to you the place in which I spend most of my daylight hours. Verkhnyodniprovski Shkola (School) #1 is usually a warm and happy place. The happiest of all these places in the English language classroom in which all of my classes are taught. It is on the second floor of the building, which itself somewhat reminds me of my own elementary school (this building was built in 1937, my own in 1938). The second floor location is advantageous, as it’s usually a few degrees warmer up there than the rest of the school. Giant windows open the class up to the southeast, and on the rare day that the fog has lifted and the sun is shining, it floods the classroom so thoroughly that my students are forced to squint. A colorful and impressive English-language mural is painted on the wall opposite the windows. It was created by our resident artist/art teacher, Yura Yevgenevich, and spans from floor to ceiling, corner to corner. Every morning this wall greets me with a Mickey Mouse, the Union Jack, a rabbit and a mushroom in multiple positions (used for showing prepositions) and a list of irregular verbs. Above the mural are two air vents. These normally would not catch one’s eye, but these grilles do. Apparently the door key factory also doubled as the air vent grille factory (much as the abandoned factory I now live next-door to produced both children’s toys and red-hot irons), for the holes in the grilles are not so much holes, but the negatives of about 60 keys punched out of a metal plate in cookie-cutter fashion. These punched-out plates were then shipped directly to my school and installed into the wall to make my day a little more interesting. Ah, good old days of Soviet practicality and resourcefulness- they are missed.

In the front of the room, the teacher’s desk is completely covered by a prehistoric tape deck. The accompanying control panel baffles in its complexity, given the fact that it was only used for controlling this one tape. But this is something I will never have to seriously worry about, because the cassette player is broken, as are the little earphone jacks, volume knobs and call buttons that are built into each of the students’ double desks. In another time and place, this was a very impressive classroom. Now the school can’t even afford to put salt on the front steps of the school after an ice storm.


I’ve heard it before, I’ll hear it again, and now I know exactly what it means. Teaching is hard work. I’ve just wrapped up my first week of school at my permanent site. Most nights I stayed up until the wee hours planning lessons. I teach 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th form English and Business English classes, and have taken on two 7th form German classes as well. In all, I have 19 separate lessons to plan per week, and I hope this first week will go down in my books as the singularly most difficult of my Peace Corps teaching career. I’ve also become acutely aware of my penchant for sitting and staring at a blank (lesson-planning) page for periods of 30 minutes or more, and being completely content (if not entirely conscious) in such a state.

Nevertheless, I can report that I’ve survived my first week of school. Yesterday I came home, lay on the floor of my room, and slept for three hours. I look forward to the day when my routine won’t be taking such a toll on me, but this might be a while in coming. Let me explain why- I top off my week with a German lesson every Friday afternoon. This is my sixth lesson of the day, which is more than the average load for a full-time secondary-level language teacher here. At that point I am still on my feet, if only for the beginning of the lesson, because by the end I am rolling around on the ground with a migraine. This is usually how a German lesson goes down: I am trying to teach an immersion class in German, although the students’ level is rather basic. This means that when they have no idea what I’m talking about, I will translate the idea or sentence into Russian, the language I learned in order to function here. BUT if I am quizzing them on German vocab that they do not know, their default answer will be that vocab word in English. And when they need to ask or explain something to me, it is done neither in German nor in Russian nor in English but in Ukrainian, the language they have been speaking in school their entire lives. But for as much pain as this inflicts upon my brain- and I just about lost all language ability in that class yesterday- I can still take a step back and see what an amazing thing it is. And I can be thankful that I likely have one of the best primary projects in all of Peace Corps.


The eternal flame is back on today. I pass by the town’s monument to the Great Patriotic War (WWII) on the way to the post office, and was disturbed to notice that the flame was as much a victim of natural gas problems as the rest of Ukraine. The monument itself is a bleak concrete thing- a plain square spire stretches up about 50 feet in the air from a granite foundation, and a plaque informs that almost 6,000 Verkhnedneprovskians were casualties of the war. The current population of the town stands at about 18,000. The monument is entirely gray, save the old communist star tacked onto the cement spire about 15 ft up. It stands guard at the end of our ‘Main St.’ (here, that would be either Lenin Street or Lenin Prospect, in this case Lenin Prospect), which is also one of the highest points of VP. From this hilltop you can look down onto the town as it descends towards the river about a kilometer away (for friends and family back home, the view is not unlike standing at Canandaigua City Hall and looking down onto Main St. and the lake). On a clear day, you can see for miles. The Dnepr River winds through flat country, sweeps around the town in the north and the west and then flows south, down to the Black Sea. As I write this, however, it is a pretty bleak scene. Gray monuments, gray buildings and a windswept, barren countryside surround me. This winter bleakness can only be compounded by fact that this memorial stands for the terrible things that happened here during WWII. First, the Nazis moved through and decimated the Jewish population of the town. Then, the entire region found itself on the front lines of the war- the Eastern front- which quickly became the biggest and bloodiest struggle that has ever stained the earth. More people died on the Eastern front than all other theatres of WWII combined. It is appalling that this is such a little-known fact in the West, and this is not to demean or degrade the sacrifice of any other country in the war effort, especially our own. But in human lives, Russia and Ukraine by far paid the biggest price of the war. In total, almost 30 million people died as the result of the action on the Eastern front, and many, it seems, have been forgotten. That is why this flame will burn for as long as my town, Verkhnyodniprovsk, stands.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Of Fish Bones and Abaci (plural of abacus anyone?)

Minutes before my performance on International Women's Day. I was part of a skit and sang in Ukrainian. I wonder what I said.


I explored a little more of my town yesterday in order to find some New Year’s presents for my host family (I’m still not sure whether the New Year’s tree and New Year’s present-giving are old Slavic traditions, or the product of the USSR’s suppression of religious holidays). Anyways, we seem to have it all in VP; five secondary schools, a boarding school, an agricultural college, three internet cafes (although the internet only seems to work at one at a time), a few banks, numerous small stores, a bazaar/market (every town has one of these), and let’s not forget the beach on the Dnepr. Of course, the picture in your head might be a bit different than reality. To illustrate that…(no pun intended) I was shopping at the supermarket (‘univermag’) for presents when I glanced over at the register, if you could call it that. The cashier was counting up the price of customers’ items on a giant wooden abacus built into the counter.

Since the big move to VP, my diet has also changed somewhat. I think much of Ukrainian life can be understood through its breakfasts, although a more exact translation of this word from Russian or Ukrainian might be considered more like ‘morning dinner’. These days it consists of cold meat jelly with spicy mustard on top (‘holodetz’, a traditional holiday dish), the ubiquitous mashed potatoes (this time with ketchup, not dollops of mayonnaise), pickled tomatoes, pickled mushrooms, pickled pickles, raw fish, and slices of raw onion. I miss the slices of pig lard wrapped around cloves of raw garlic. No seriously, I do.


I love eating at my school cafeteria for the simple fact that the food is fresh and delicious, which are words I never thought could describe food in any cafeteria. And it only costs about 50 cents. But I still can’t get over the fact that fish is served almost every day, and within that strip of breaded carp lies about 200 bones ready to be lodged in the throats of unsuspecting Ukrainian children. Yet it now appears that I am the only unsuspecting victim of school lunches. So the first thing I learned at school was how to eat all over again. You have to kind of peel the fish in half along the backbone…should I be embarrassed that I didn’t really know this?

I am still having plenty of problems with language, considering I learned Russian for the last three months and am now teaching at a Ukrainian-speaking school (although most people speak Russian at home in this area). Nevertheless all classes at school are conducted in Ukrainian, so I rarely know what’s going unless I’m talking to the other English teachers. Actually, I want to clarify exactly what I am doing here- I am teaching English and German at a Ukrainian-speaking school in a Russian-speaking region of Ukraine. If you, dear reader, ever send me a care package, don’t forget to fill the cracks with Tylenol for my language-induced headaches. And now I know that the language barrier isn’t only just blocking me in- my counterpart, the English teacher with whom I work most closely at school, convinced me yesterday (in English) that the teachers will celebrate the New Year at a local bar at 11PM today (the 28th). I was relieved that I would have an entire day to rest after school meetings in the morning, because I had been celebrating the New Year the night before as well, and was ready to catch up on some sleep. But instead of walking home after their morning meeting, the teachers descended directly upon the bar. At 11AM, not 11PM. Luckily there was food to go along with the vodka and cognac. But even if I had known it was going to be in the morning, there’s just no way to get ready for vodka shots at 11AM, especially after doing the same the night before. Ugh, the holidays…