My friend Rachael "tapped" me to compile my "Top 10 Favorite Things about Summer." I'm creating one list for summer in America, one list for summer in Moscow, and pointing out the shared elements. Rachael wrote about how summer is her favorite time of year and that got me thinking... I don't really have a favorite season. I like (and need) them all. The two years we lived in Texas were so monotonous without a true autumn and no winter... In any case, there are many things I like about summer--but I start to hate the season if it's too hot and humid. I can't stand high temperatures.
My Favorite Things about Summer in the USA
1. Berry picking. There's something about walking through fields picking berries that feels so carefree... It's certainly fun to pick out a pumpkin, mind you (especially since you can't do that in Russia), but you can EAT the berries while you pick them! I'll never forget the first time I took the girls to pick strawberries and they emerged from the patch covered in sweet, sticky red juice--and with HUGE smiles.
2. Farm stands/Farmers' Markets. Wherever I've lived in the USA, I've loved going to the markets. How refreshing to buy your food from the people who actually grew it! (I suddenly remember the California strawberries that I saw in our Moscow grocery store the other day...) On the fifth day after giving birth to Katya by c-section (and after a difficult labor), I remember mustering all the strength I had to push her in her carriage to the Ann Arbor, MI farmers' market... It was sooo hard, but the colors, tastes and smells were ample reward. When we visit Grandma in Connecticut, the girls love to stop by the local farm for our fruits and vegetables. They especially like chatting with the horses in the barn.
3. Fresh flowers, particularly sunflowers. The most special wedding gift we received was the gift of our wedding flowers--from scratch. Chris had proposed to me in our friends' garden--which they created for the public in their son's memory--in the middle of deep January snow. We knocked on their door to share our good news, they helped us to warm up, and they then surprised us by becoming an integral part of our wedding. They helped me to select and grow the flowers in a patch of their garden! Watching the flowers grow was thrilling... It was equally exciting to pick them all the day before the wedding and to create the bouquets... Our friend B~ did it all with such joy and love and flowers mean so much more to me now than they had before. She also took me to the most gorgeous fields of flowers in the mountains to select sunflowers for the centerpieces. Her generosity and the experience itself will always be a summer highlight for me.
4. Corn-on-the-cob. Now that I live somewhere where you can't get corn-on-the-cob, I crave it! In Europe, corn is cow feed--and it's nothing like North American corn. I remember as a child when my aunt and uncle visited us from Holland--and they were a little stunned to be served "cow feed" at their welcome dinner! I love to eat it "typewriter" style, with lots of butter, salt and pepper...
5. ALPs--the intensive total-immersion foreign language programs created by the amazing John Rassias at Dartmouth College. You have to experience the excitement of these 10-day language programs "for masochists" to fathom why I love them so much... The Rassias method is THE way to teach foreign language; I know so both as a student and as a teacher... Now that I'm a mom and I've watched my own kids learn to speak two languages, I truly "get" the way that the Rassias Method simulates the way that one naturally acquires language. The friends and colleagues, the students of every age from every walk of life (Have you ever taught Italian to a Vermont priest who is going to meet the Pope? Or to a member of the US National Ski Team who wants an "edge" during pre-Olympic World Cup races?), the buzz of learning, the gorgeous Dartmouth campus and Upper Valley... Warm summer air, beautiful starry nights, swimming in the Connecticut river... I'm sure the girls will work there one day!
6. Summer camp. I loved going to camp as a kid and working at camp as a teen-ager. Now I love watching my kids experience it! They can't wait to attend camp this summer where I used to go to school. I know they'll love Girl Scout camp when they're old enough to go... Katya could even go next year!
7. The beach. I grew up spending summers at the beach in CT and summer equals beach in my childhood memories... Swimming, playing in the sand, making forts out of towels/beach mats/chairs and reading inside them with my friend Mary... Now it's fun to watch my kids enjoy the beach, too.
My Favorite Things about Summer in Moscow
1. Walking, Scootering, Skating and Bike-riding along the Riverbank. Since there's slushy mud on the streets from October through April, the months of clean streets are such a treat!! After such a l-o-n-g and grey winter, it's thrilling to spend time outside. The kids adore the riverbank paths, and so do we. The views are gorgeous and we have a great time.
2. Sunshine/blue skies. The sun rarely shines in Moscow once summer ends. You get so used to it that it's a shock to get off the plane in New York and be blinded by sunshine and colors--it's as if you had taken off filthy contact lenses. Perhaps the sun does shine here, but the pollution blocks it? Or because we're so north, you just don't get the light? In any case, we SOAK UP the blue skies and sunshine when we get them in the summer!
3. No winter outerwear to deal with. The snowpants, coats, scarves, hats, mittens and boots are SUCH A PAIN! Especially when they get filthy from the dirty snow and oily slush on the street. YIPPEE that we don't need sweaters or coats in the summer!!!
4. Zemlyaniki (wild strawberries) and fresh red and black currants. The produce here is all organic, and the flavors knock your socks off. It's exciting to discover types of berries that we don't usually have in the USA.
5. Boatrides along the Moscow River. It's so much fun to take the tour through the city... The boatride takes you by many of the top sites. It's nice to sometimes do touristy things; it makes you stop to appreciate where you live instead of just going about your busy life.
6. Gorky Park. From the time we arrived in July 2004, this has been the girls' favorite place in the city. They have "graduated" from the smallest rides to bigger ones and never tire of spending an afternoon here. We really try to relish this time of their lives while we can; we know it's fleeting and we'll miss watching their excitement once they're "too old."
7. Lush neighborhood parks with flowers. Once the sun comes out in Moscow, everything looks prettier and cleaner. That goes for both buildings and the environment. Scraggly bushes and trees bush out into varying shades of green, the dirt turns into thick grass and the empty planters sprout colorful flowers. It's like nature's "thank you" for having put up with the past eight months.
My Favorite Things about Summer in Both Countries
1. Ice cream. It's delicious everywhere! I prefer the homemade varieties with yummy flavors in the USA, but plain-old Russian vanilla is quite delicious, too...
2. Eating outside. Whether it's a luau/bbq in our friends' backyard in Connecticut or an afternoon at our favorite Uzbek restaurant at Gorky park, we love to eat outside!
3. The excitement of completing a school year & the anticipation of the new one that will soon begin. School is such a part of who I am as a teacher and a mom... Every June I get goosebumps thinking of my students' and children's accompishments during the past year... and then I get equally excited as we get new school supplies, clothes and prepare to go back to school... This summer is particularly exciting because I'll be "officially" going back to work in September, teaching French and Spanish at a Russian school to students ages 12 through 18. Below you can see the girls' excitment at Katya's Graduation (with Jarka, our Czech babysitter) on June 1st and how eager they were when they first started at their Russian kindergarten in 2005.