Monday, December 24, 2007

Kind of a Silly Question

"So, how was your flight?"

Asked innocently, perhaps, but does anyone REALLY want an answer?

Let's see... In the best case scenario, our travel door-to-door from Moscow to Denver was going to take 23 hours. Best case scenario. On my own, with both girls.

Was it really going to go in such a way as to elicit a smiling, "Great!" response?


As it was, our flight from Moscow was delayed an hour and a half, all of that time spent confined in the plane. I thought our seats were together--with both girls in the two far left seats, then the aisle, and then me. As it turned out, there was a businessman slated for that first seat across from the girls. And then I was next to him in the middle of the center section. And he wouldn't switch seats.

I can understand that he reserved that seat--but so had I! And I had two kids with me--and they're not the easiest kids. There was no way I could just let them wing it on their own, without me to prevent spills and stop fights. Mr. Business made us give it a go, though... No one else would switch, the flight was full, the stewardesses couldn't do anything, so I just sat there dreading it. Sure enough, with ten minutes we had a spill and crying kids.

Mr. Business just GLARED at me. I timidly said, "Look, we both reserved this seat and it's not fair for either of us. But you're going to hate me no matter what. Either you switch with me and are angry about it, or you stay put and I have to keep talking over you and getting up to deal with my kids. "

He just glared at me and still wouldn't switch.

Then the kids started to unravel and he cut into me, "My wife always traveled with our kids on her own and she did just fine." Great, you condescending jerk. Glad you had such easy kids. Mine, however, are not... and being put down as a parent isn't a great way for me to start this really long voyage. I made a calm, quiet remark asking if either of his kids had had special needs (which mine actually do--the extent of intervention both have needed for speech and emotional issues is rather great! Most kids don't have possible permanent vocal cord damage from screaming two hours per day--which Talia used to do!) and he still said nothing, staying put.

It's so hard to sit next to someone when you know they are shooting you all the negativity and mean thoughts they can. I tried to not be mean at all in response, but I ended up almost crying as the girls both pleaded for me.

Then the spill happened, they cried, and he made a huge angry scene of giving me the seat. I ended up putting Katya next to him so I could be between the girls--good call. But then in addition to Natalia's meltdowns, I had Katya's morose behavior because she couldn't be the one sitting next to me. At least she wrote me her statements of how maligned she was instead of sobbing them. She also was pushed to the edge by the man's glares.

We had a little reprieve over Greenland; I told them it was the North Pole and they spent half an hour looking for Santa's house. Santa was a central figure during this trip... I called him at least four times and left two messages with one of his elves. At least it reeled Natalia in and worked instead of time outs or spanking (can't exactly do that on an airplane).

You know it's a parallel universe when you realize you "only" have eight hours more to go of the flight and that's good news! And five hours feels like, "Wow!" and two hours is, "Yay, we're basically there!"

The time in Atlanta was easy; they were so happy to simply get out of the airplane. I even volunteered to give up our seats (full flight); they would have given us $1,200, a hotel room and dinner/breakfast vouchers. Unfortunately a flight carrying many passengers booked for our flight was late, so they didn't need the seats. We arrived late in Denver and then it took very long for our bags to come out...

We arrived in Golden at 1:45 a.m. 26 hours door-to-door.

So, back to that initial question.

We arrived. So did our luggage.

Feeble smile. "Fine."

Followed by a "fine" night. I finally got the girls in bed at 2:45 a.m. Katya kept insisting on turning on the lights, angrily saying she had jet lag, but I refused to let her budge. At 3:30 my mother-in-law heard her and then came in,turning the lights on, offered both kids water and let them leave the room. Half an hour later (AARGH!) they finally went back to sleep. Katya then woke up three more times, but I finally slept at 5:30... until I heard commotion at 6 a.m. My in-laws had left the fire going all night (!), and Katya went to "tend to it." Given that she's never really seen a working fireplace before, she was fascinated... (They'd never used it in the past when we were here). Somehow she caught a rug on fire and luckily my already-stressed-out mother-in-law found it almost immediatley. It could have been really bad, and the carpet under the rug was brand-new. Not an auspicious start to what already is going to be some tense family time in a packed house with all kinds of extended family.

I won't be blogging much these next two weeks, though, because I really would like our family here to read the blog more often!!! And there isn't a computer in a "public" area. Chris arrived this afternoon and brought his laptop, though, so I'll try to post a little.

Hope everyone's travel goes well!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wendy Loves Captain Hook...

So much in fact, that she has been sleeping with his hook... He came to her Tinkerbell party wearing it as part of his costume; she hasn't been quite ready to give it back!

Her best friend is now the sweetest little boy named S~~. They are both absolutely smitten. They run around holding hands, I've glimpsed him stroking her hair, and she pretends to have a hard time zipping her coat when leaving school if he's still there so they can walk out together. They had a few playdates last weekend and then have played a few times outside of school this week as well; we've had some unexpected difficulties these past two days (I'll write more about that later) that required emergency help with watching the kids and S~~'s mom--and his grandma who's visiting from CA--have been wonderful! The girls were thrilled to spend time at at their house, too.

Today Natalia and S~~ did NOT want to say good bye, knowing that they wouldn't see each other until the middle of January. She'll be in the US; he'll be in Australia. Talk about a long-distance relationship--but Natalia has already asked about e-mailing him :-) As we left, they hugged each other over and over, even exchanging a few sweet kisses. Natalia sighed in the elevator and had a dreamy happy look the whole way home. As we rode our elevator upstairs, she declared, "I have a wonderful secret" and she wouldn't tell me...

I asked a few more questions, and she blushed so sweetly... "When I think about S~~, my heart wants to kiss him." Me: "Really? How come?" Natalia: "Because I love him and one day he's going to make me his princess."

The other day she wrote him a little note, "Thank you for making my happy and love."

I had already decided to post about this, and then I read my friend Katya's blog! What a coincidence; today she wrote about her first-grade son's first declarations of love!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The City's all Decked-Out

Last night I got a chance to take some pictures of the New Year's decorations in the city's center. I'm so used to Christmas colors in the USA being pretty much red, white and green. Not here! I was quite surprised by how many white, blue and red (the Russian flag) trees I saw... Certainly NOT a coincidence after the recent elections, in anticipation of the upcoming Presidential elections, and the trees look an awful lot like the posters I keep seeing around Moscow for "United Russia," Putin's party, "thanking everyone for their support" during the last elections.

As patriotic as we are in the USA, I can't recall ever seeing red, white and blue trees in the USA--even after 9/11 when we were living in New York City! There are many other "themed" trees: some inspire excitement about the upcoming Sochi, Russia Olympic Winter Games; some that instill a feeling of pride in Russian heritage by drawing on folk designs; some are actually advertisements (Ferrero Rocher chocolates--the yummy ones that come wrapped up in gold balls); some just mean to dazzle you with light shows.

Here's a slideshow of pictures I took of Manezhnaya Ploschad (outside of Red Square); inside Red Square (with a view of St. Basil's, the Kremlin, GUM department store, the Historical Museum and the ice rink smack dab in the middle (plan to go there when we're back! It's COOL! It blocks the full view of the square, though--it's much bigger than it appears in my video); across the street from the Bolshoi Theater (under renovation, and with a cool light structure made to look like water coming from the fountain); and Kutuzovsky Prospect ( couldn't get any pics on Tverskaya--crazy traffic--or near Poklonnaya Gora/Victory Park--bummer!!).

The Moscow government really goes all-out when it comes to decorating for holidays... These fake, tall trees COVERED in lights are everywhere! It's quite beautiful. Tverskaya is also draped in lights; very, very pretty. I hope they'll still be up when we'll get back from America.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ready, Set, Go!

We joined a health club!!! I'm so thankful we could finally do it!!! Joining a gym is ridiculously expensive, but there just aren't any "public-type" options where parents can get in the water with their kids, and during a wide variety of times on weekends (i.e. your typical "Y" or town pool in the USA). The thing is, if you don't join a club, there isn't that much else to do on weekends with multiple little kids from October to May that isn't either strategically difficult, dependent on the weather or also costly. Now we have something to do on weekends when the weather is bad (half the year... and when there's a summer heatwave) other than kids' brunches and play spaces at malls...

Many Americans join the American Embassy Community Assocation, but even that is over $2,000 and you have to be sponsored by someone who lives on the compound. We didn't pursue it because traffic is so bad in that area that it would too hard to park and get in a quick workout. The water is also a bit cold and there aren't regular kids' swimming and fitness classes (i.e. offered at a variety of times). For many people, however, the AECA is wonderful! If you can walk there or have a driver, and if you have a nanny who could watch your kids while you work out, then it's a good option.

The new club is not too far from us as long as we're not driving in rush hour traffic. It has a big pool and a kids' room--those were the most important features to us. When I'm alone with them, we can all go swimming and then they can play supervised while I work out. The club is new, so there aren't that many classes offered yet--but in the not-too-distant future there will be gymnastics-ish classes and a variety of dance classes in addition to swimming lessons.

I'm eager for more swimming lessons on the weekend; Katya's age group meets when we're at church (so she doesn't go) and Natalia's is on Saturday afternoons. The other classes are during the week when they're still at school so they can't participate.

We've been three times and the girls love the pool. Katya is getting good at swimming underwater to retrieve weighted rings (still half-way sinking, not all the way down) and Natalia loves to jump in by making a whole wiggly show of it. I took these pictures yesterday morning when we went swimming before she had school.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Today my sweet seven-year-old student was talking about how much she hopes Santa will bring her a Samantha doll. (I bet he will... Sources say that she has been really good and Santa must have elves who can travel to the USA...) Natalia then offered that she could take care of hers while we're in America--and that she could also borrow the clothing Samantha would want to wear. Natalia went as far as to offer that Paulina could keep her (but my mom would be horrified since she gave them the expensive dolls only last Christmas), so I gingerly said how kind it would be of Paulina to babysit...

I then thrilled Paulina beyond belief by fetching our size 8 matching girl's dress and saying that it would make me happy if she could use that, too. (It was not easy to get it on ebay--and it's too small for Katya, but still too big for Natalia. I'm glad to have it used by someone who will love it and take impeccable care of it!) I gave her our non-fiction "Samantha's World" about America in 1904, as well--her homework is to prepare a little talk for me about all she will have learned about the time Samantha lives in.

Natalia then gave away the diary and pen from our babysitter to the other little girl I teach. She also offered many of her birthday presents to Katya as she opened them--if Katya admired it, Natalia basically said she could have it.

She may have tried to lunge at her sister during the pageant, but she really has a heart of gold.

Inappropriate Dress in Kindergarten. Who'd Have Thunk It. (Then again, who else's child could have attained such a distinction?)

Ah, yes, the ironed smocked dresses hang in the closet... Multiple pairs of equally adorable pants and pretty skirts lay in their drawers, yearning to be worn...

But Mom is at work three mornings a week, and Talia is still in pajamas when I leave. So she gets dressed with the babysitter. And it turns out that she isn't exactly wearing what we had laid out.

Yes, I got a little talk from the kindergarten teacher today about Natalia's school clothing... Turns out that she hasn't simply been arriving home at the end of the day in the remnants of their dance class (a see-through ballet skirt over her tights). That's been what she has worn all day. And the other kids have been talking about Natalia's underwear--not that Natalia could care at all.

I *did* let her wear her Native American costume a few times--it's basically a short-sleeved dress--but I guess that didn't quite pass muster, either... I was so used to overheated Russian kindergartens that it never occurred to me that Natalia would need long sleeves in winter...

Tomorrow the new regime of dress will start. Shouldn't be that hard, given that both girls have lost the privilege of choosing their clothing until next year (sounds so much harsher when I state it that way instead of simply saying, "for two weeks," doesn't it??). I called the babysitter, filled her in, and Natalia will show up for school ready to please.

I know that girls tend to push the dress code as much as they can, BUT AT AGE FIVE???? And when they've only been five for five days????

I am "so in for it" when they hit puberty. I hope that those of you who live near me then will buy me a pina colada every once in a while.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Oh, Holy Night (except for when the innkeeper smacked her sister the angel in the eye)

Not an auspicious start to the pageant. Everyone is all gathered in front of the altar, the congregation is standing while singing a hymn about peace on Earth, and all of the sudden Katya hit Natalia--getting her eye--hard. Shocked, Natalia shouted out, "I hate you, Katya!!," almost screamed, thankfully didn't, and then started to lunge at her sister--teeth and fists clenched in absolute rage. God bless the preteen shepherds who restrained her and tried to calm both girls. Everyone in the few front rows could see, as could the choir and minister...

I wanted to crawl into a hole, after shoving them both into separate ones.

I gave them looks soooooo much crueler than those of Susan Sarandon in "Enchanted." (Thought I'd give the girls a real treat and took them to see that movie last night--they both ended up hating it because they though Sarandon's character was so terrifying. I'm frankly shocked they were afraid--it was tame compared to some stories they've heard and kids' movies they've seen--and I thought they would love it!!!) I must say, it worked pretty well.

Natalia then started to cry, rubbing her eye frantically, and she came to me in the second row to hold her. I determined that her eye seemed fine and made her go assume her place as an angel as the play started. I was on "stage" (at the pulpit) the whole time holding the microphone for all the kids, so I had to go--and they HAD to behave.

We had already had a rocky start upon arriving at church this morning; Natalia didn't want to take off the black velour dress I had let her wear. Since I knew they'd be in costume throughout the service, for once I had let them pick whatever they wanted to wear to church--but I had made it clear that they would change as soon as we arrived. All of the sudden Natalia was going to be a black angel, or not an angel at all. A black angel? In a CHRISTMAS pageant??? NO. My little lawyer insisted that the black angel was a happy, joyful angel because her dress never looked dirty, but I wasn't budging. Letting her back out wasn't an option, either... Three of her classmates from nursery school had joined the pageant because she was in it, and they might have changed their minds if she had. I NEEDED to win this battle, I made her go to women's room with me, and a few minutes later we were back with a relatively happy girl wearing her white.

One mom came up to me in utter admiration; "How did you DO that? Let me know your secret!" A bit ashamed, I told her I'd used the four-part method, adding on each subsequent part as the preceeding one failed to work.

One: One small Christmas present early.
Two: I started to dial Santa's cell phone number (LOVE that trick I picked up from the Desperate Housewives pilot!!!).
Three: Threat of having me pick out her clothing indefinitely. (Even a worse punishment).
Four: Threat of a spanking beyond what she could imagine if she disobeyed me. I don't spank often, and she knows I mean it if I say I will.

I could NOT let her win; if she wins, it's all downhill from there. At least I made that mom feel a little better; no, there wasn't some other mom out there with some amazing techniques that made her pale in comparison... Here she is right after our little costume battle; she knows I won, but you can tell she's plotting something else...

Her friends from school, however, were the sweetest sister angels ever...

The pageant did go very well, though. Next year I'll be involved in directing again, perhaps much more than this year--if I can fit it in, though! It's a lot of work!!! It was very sweet with little angels dancing up and down the aisle to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and shepherds and kings making their way through the congregation. Jesus got dropped on his head, but well, he had a rather young mother and he survived just fine.

My friend Melissa posted last week about "why do you bring screaming kids to church" and I kept thinking of her this morning... As inauspiciously as the pageant started off, it did rub off on the girls and by the time the service was over, they were kind and loving to each other again. We ended up having quite a lovely day together. I was also thankful for those moments apart from them, time to gather the strength to complete the remaining days on my own while Chris is in London on business.

I highly recommend checking out Melissa's blog; she's my best friend from childhood and an excellent writer. Here's what she wrote for her profile: I'm an Episcopal priest who serves primarily as a stay-at-home mom. I am the mother of two children and this blog helps me to find God in the midst of the chaos of raising a toddler and an infant. I got her into blogging and I'd love for her to make some nice friends in the blogosphere :-) (Somehow the layout of her page is a little mixed-up right now, with her sidebars and profile, etc., at the very bottom. Do check it all out, though! You'll be glad you did). Meese--I'll help you fix your page once I have some spare time over vacation!

(In the end, I learned that Katya thought Natalia had said that only she could be friends with the sisters from her school. I have no idea what actually happened, but I do know that Katya was so hurt and she just lashed out in anger. Katya cried when I told her that she could have damaged her sister's vision for the rest of her life; she hadn't meant to hit her eye. The girls talked it out and apologies were given on both sides. They've both lost "choosing your own" clothing privileges for hitting/saying "I hate you" and there were time-outs when we got home. Katya's going through a really hard time recently and it's so hard to watch as her parent... She can make me so very angry, and yet I know she's juggling a lot of emotions and is struggling to learn how to control them... And then she can be the wonderfully kind, sweet person I know she is... Ah, raising children certainly isn't easy.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Chic Chic" Haircuts (First Specialty Children's Salon in Russia)


... and "Chic."

Yes, they're chic--but the cuts weren't exactly "cheap" (800 rubles/$32.65 per child). That being said, this new salon is fantastic. ("Chic chic," by the way, is a play on words; in addition to the French meaning of "fashionable," the two words are also used in Russian to describe the sound made by scissors). I heard about it today from a friend and I'm so glad we went! Katya has a big school show on Thursday (she's in a little play, sings in a few numbers and plays the piano), both girls are in the pageant at church tomorrow, and I wanted them to look their best. The salon has been open for about a month and I bet they'll soon be packed. The whole idea of catering to kids is new in Russia; it's very hard to find child-friendly medical/dental services, too.

The kids saw the special chairs (US Air Force plane that has working controls and sounds, purple and pink Barbie Jeep, yellow Hummer) and cheerful Babar murals and they were instantly happy. They also were excited to choose from a variety of recent US dvd's, too; they picked "Little Einsteins" and almost sang along at times.

Here's a slideshow of the salon; it's truly adorable! You'd never know from the outside of the building just how lovely it is inside.

Here's a slideshow of my little models. Talia was such a sour puss--then all of the sudden she turned into a glamorous model! My camera is dying; unfortunately the "model" shots of Katya didn't come out. (Don't worry; rumor has it that Santa is bringing me a new and MUCH better camera for Christmas!)

Chic Chic, 32 Bolshaya Yakimanka (on the west side of the street--the side closer to Dom Hudozhnikov/Red October Chocolate Factory, just past President Hotel). Open every day from 10 to 7 p.m., phone number 495.238.31.58.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Talia's Birthday Party (that almost wasn't!)

This morning was Talia's birthday party with her classmates. Six of her friends were able to make it and they had a great time playing together. Last summer she had picked a Tinkerbell theme and I had ordered a party package from Birthday Express. (That's the way to go!!!! Everything you need, including favors and crafts, all in one box, done with the click of a mouse at a price that's less than you'd pay if you tried to put it all together yourself...) Talia was "Wendy" from Peter Pan and her best friend came as Captain Hook.

We almost didn't have the party, though... I had finally gotten to bed at two a.m. I had the apartment all picked up and clean, a gorgeous cake made, the places all set, the apartment decorated (MINIMALLY, though), a table of drinks/snacks for the moms all set, the craft ready to go, the activities all set... And then at 4:30 a.m. Talia threw up EVERYWHERE. It took about an hour to get her bathed, back to bed, and to clean up the mess. I figured the party was now off, but another mom said that if she seemed fine when she got up, I could go ahead and do it anyway. (She'd been with all those kids yesterday afternoon; if it were a virus, they'd have already been exposed... And it could have been something she ate or excitement about the party...) In any case, I'm glad she felt fine. All-that-work... It would have been a real drag to have to do it all over again at another time!

Look at the cake!!!! Didn't it come out nice? I bought a Tinkerbell tea set at Dyetsy Mir and used it as the decoration. I found the edible wafer flowers at Ramstore (who'd have thought??) and the daisies are from our American Girl "flowerpot dessert" set. The moms were most happy to just drink coffee... S-t-a-r-b-u-c-k-'s Christmas Blend. The novelty has NOT yet worn off...!

Since we had planned the party last summer, we had figured that she would invite her girlfriends from various places to her party. When we instead decided to have a school friends party and invite everyone, it meant a girly-girl shindig for the boys, too... But they were up to it. As you can see in this picture, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!!!! The littlest boy didn't go that far, but he did have fun anyway :-) (This week I bought supplies for a more unisex craft, but the boys chose Tinkerbell. I did get them different favors, though... No need for a compact, butterfly crystal tattoos or pink marabou rings... I got them notebooks and pirate Playmobile sets instead...)

The kids made foam "door signs" to hang over their doorknobs (Tinkerbell) and then we played "Pin the Wand on Tinkerbell." They loved that game! As I went through the trouble of making it last night (drawing and cutting out Tinkerbell and making the wands), I had sincerely hoped it would be worth the effort--and it was. They all wrote their names on the wands first. It's so sweet to see how proud they are of their writing :-)

One little girl started to cry just after arriving at the party... She saw other children wearing dress-up clothing and felt left out; she thought they had all come dressed-up and she couldn't join in. Little did she know! I pointed to our stash and told her to dress-up to her heart's content! There can be many tears shed in our home, but the LAST reason to do so would be because there aren't any dress-up clothes!

She then had a lot of fun playing with Natalia's new horse. (I made them support their weight with their feet, though, and told Natalia she can't sit on the horses again). Her mom was really interested in everything I told her about Katya's school and they might send her there next year, too. How happy Natalia would be to have a friend in her class that she already knows so well--and another American who is bilingual. Several of the moms commented how they wished that British girls had something like American Girl to make their daughters excited about history; we Americans are lucky!

The other night Talia had opened up her presents. The biggest hits were Kaya's horse and dog (thanks, Dad!), a basket with a doll-sized tea set--that just happens to have the animal on it that's the logo of her kindergarten, the movie The Last Mimzy with a Mimzy rabbit, and two outfits to match her doll. She was excited to be able to read the Dora book I gave her all by herself--she even read it to my mom over the phone. The kids are all now at school, the house is almost picked up, and now I'll tutor all afternoon. I think we will all sleep VERY WELL tonight.

OH MY!!! I just looked back at the cats, and look at them now!!!! They are so, so cute!!!!! Kirsten is all dressed up for Santa Lucia day--which is also Natalia's birthday. Since Katya's best friend the last two years is Swedish (and now back in Sweden), we had fun celebrating the holiday with the dolls.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"I'm So Good That I Didn't Wake You Up When I Was Born!"

Yes, well, I guess Natalia really *is* quite the angel! That's not exactly how I remember her birth (in few more hours it will have been five years ago today...), but she's quite sure she does--and it's proof that Santa will be bringing her LOTS of presents. There's more... "I didn't even complain when you picked out the first clothes you put on me." !!!!! (She's alluding to the emotional fights Katya can put up when it comes to getting dressed appropriately--and which have been rubbing off on her. The worst punishment I can lay down is to threaten to pick out their clothing--and even worse--to make them wear clothing they don't usually choose themselves).

This past Sunday was the Christmas party at Natalia's school. It was so, so sweet. The younger children performed a variety of songs and then the older kids put on a nativity play--complete with a Wiggles song worked in there! This was not your typical pageant, and it was WONDERFUL! The kids had been rehearsing for months and they were thrilled. It was short, extremely sweet, and such fun for them. (At their old school, Katya and Natalia were involved in mind-blowing hour-long theatrical extravaganzas with LONG scripts, many songs and intricate choreography. Katya loved that, too, but this was much more relaxing and enjoyable for them).

They also performed some songs learned during the afterschool "Russian Club." I don't know why Talia was so shy... She usually steals the show!

Santa also came--and he even had a special book to help him remember the "nice" stuff (no "naughty") about each child. Katya was quite flabbergasted that he knew what a good job she has been doing taking care of Lyalya! She also noticed how he used the same wrapping paper for every child! (He brought each child a present, paid for by the teacher, chosen within a particular price range by the parent from Early Learning Center, a great British educational toy store that opened in Moscow last year. I was told I could bring a gift for him to give Katya, too. SO glad I asked the teacher to wrap it so the paper would be the same!)

Natalia, on the other hand, seemed a bit afraid he might comment that not all of her behavior had been perfect! She grabbed her present and literally ran! I'm not surprised, given that they haven't seen a jolly American (or English) Santa since we moved to Russia (Katya was three, Talia was one). They have seen "Dyed Moroz," but he doesn't talk to kids in a kind Santa-ly way... He expects you to perform for him, reciting poetry, in order to earn your presents.

It was nice to see all the other families; I rarely see the other moms since I work in the afternoon. Natalia was so happy to spend time with her friends, in particular with this little boy whom she loves dearly. (Okay... She's up... So I have to get off the computer and get everyone else up so she can open a few birthday presents. I'll post more about her birthday later).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Russian Christmas Trees (It's not Rockefeller Center, but they're still cool!)

Here's the tree outside of the Lenin Library that's across from the Kremlin. That's Dostoevsky seated in front, perhaps admiring the gaudy tree...

I plan to post some more with photos of Moscow all decked out for New Year's. Christmas isn't a big deal here at all; it's all about New Year's. When the communists took over in 1917, they associated the trees with New Year's to pacify all the Russians who loved the Christmas holiday with trees, decorations, gift-giving, etc. It's quite nice that EVERYONE celebrates the same holiday; you needn't remember if people are Christian or not when wishing them simply, "Happy New Year!" Christmas in the Russian Orthodox calendar falls during the first week of January--and it is an important date to believers. My Orthodox friends appreciate how all the "hype" is now associated with New Year's--and Christmas is solely about Christ's birth.

In any case, here is a "tree" being constructed at Lyubyanka, in front of the famous KGB headquarters where so many people were last seen before disappearing during Stalin's rule. The place used to inspire utter terror. Now it's simply "the building next to Dyetsky Mir," the main children's store in Moscow (it's to the left, seen better in this picture).

Most decorations here involve fake tall trees with thousands of lights. It's quite spectacular at night! The trees come in every color... The girls particularly love the purple, pink and turquoise ones!

THE Place to Get Souvenirs in the City Center

I've been meaning to write a post about this shop for a while now... I think of all you adoptive families who want to buy meaningful gifts to bring back home, yet you have no idea where to go... And you most likely fall prey to the guys on the street who charge you double (or more ) the going rate for matrioshka sets, etc. If you make it the Old Arbat (Starii Arbat), which you most likely will (if your child is over 2, check out the Hard Rock Cafe's kids' brunch with entertainment on Saturday and Sunday from 11-4), go to this shop!!!

It's called "Arbatskaya Lavitsa" and it's in building 17. This has been my favorite souvenir shop since 1991; they sell truly beautiful crafts at very reasonable prices. If you can't make it out to Izmailovo Market on a Wednesday morning or on a Saturday or Sunday, then this is the place to go. I took Rachael here last May and she bought quite a few wonderful things to bring back.

Here is what I picked up yesterday... all for only 1033 rubles ($42).

I highly recommend their wooden toys; they range from $4 to $6 and are great gifts. You also can't go wrong with Christmas tree ornaments in a wide variety of styles. Other gifts are carved angels, Grandfather Frosts (Santa) and nativity scenes; matrioshkas in all price ranges; lace; linens; gorgeous painted nesting boxes (like hat boxes); painted spoons and boxes; porcelain; amber and painted porcelain jewelry; BEAUTIFUL painted children's table and chair sets or rocking horses... They really carry a wide variety of crafts.

You could get enough "Gotcha Day" gifts to share with your child through age 20 for under $100 if you carefully picked them out (think ornament sets that you could break up).

Right now they've decorated their windows for the holidays. It's certainly not Macy's or Saks in New York City, but still quite pleasant!

For those of you who will be visiting there with a child, check out the playgrounds off of the side-streets on the side of the shop. There's a particularly nice one if you head back towards Smolenskya Ploschad (i.e. toward the MID building that towers over everything, the Hard Rock and McDonald's). I think it's down the next side-street on your left.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Starbucks on the Old Arbat!

They're... HERE! YIPPEE!! My friend Julie called on Monday to share the news with me; they had opened that morning. We met today for delicious coffee and cheesecake (the baked goods looked much better than those offered in the USA; I had heard that they would be focusing on providing good food since that's important to Russian customers). I also got the "Moscow" city mug and some Christmas Blend beans. I had been looking forward to picking up a matrioshka-style travel mug, but they were out of stock (more arriving soon). They're so cute!
The cafe is at 17 Starii Arbat, next to Sbarro. As I had hoped, smoking and alcohol aren't allowed; this is extremely rare in Moscow.

Edited: The price of 20 oz. latte is 200 rubles, approximately $8.20. The same drink costs $3.25 in Avon, CT. The prices, however, were similar or less (even significantly) than the main competitors here: Coffee House, Shokoladnitsa and Coffee Mania. McDonald's MacCafe is still the cheapest, but way too crowded and just not as nice... The coffee at Starbucks was much better today than that at MacCafe, too. A bag of beans that would be around $8 in Avon cost around $10.50 here-- no more that what you'd pay for a vacuum-packed bag of beans from Lavazza or Meinle (the best brands at the grocery store).

Natalia's Writing

Natalia's teacher is a gem. She taught her how to read USA Level 1 books in two months! Natalia has now mastered 60 flashcards and is writing quite well; here are some recent samples of her schoolwork. Every day the kids do some kind of project involving art and writing. They also have a notebook with lined pages; each day the children take turns coming up with the sentence of the day--every child then writes that sentence down, using proper spelling and punctuation.

Here is her (rather short!) letter to Santa. The "jumping beans" that she wants are magnets--and she'll be so happy to get them next week for her birthday. I think Santa will still come up with many other good ideas of things she would like...

This girl was one of her first projects, done a month ago. Sometimes the teacher lets them just write on their own to gain confidence with phonetics.

If you're in Moscow and looking for a great English-language nursery school/kindergarten, contact me and I'll share the name and contact info with you. The school is so great!!!