Sunday, March 9, 2008

"I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends..." (and the suitcase full of goodies from America didn't hurt, either!)

Edited: I added more info to the "what we bring back from the USA" section.

Katya is feeling a whole lot better. She had a good sleepover at her friend's house and came home smiling. My friend Natasha had suggested doing something special for Katya to get her mind off of the pain from Friday; the sleepover and seeing everything Chris brought back from America were more than enough!

Katya literally SCREAMED like a preteen meeting her favorite rock star when she saw the pile of books I'd unpacked for her. It was WONDERFUL to see her so excited about books!!!!! This stack isn't even all of them... There were some more about Greek mythology that I forgot to include in the picture (They're studying Greek Gods at school and Katya asked for some background reading in English; she's having a hard time following all of the Greek names when they're transformed into Russian).

Her friend ended up staying at our house until six p.m.; it was a long day. Katya was ready for some "down time" and it wasn't easy keeping the peace. I can understand her; she'd missed her medication since the sleepover had been unplanned. This had thrown off her ability to sleep well, and Friday had been particularly exhausting. On top of it all, she just really wanted to look over everything Chris had just brought from New York!

Her friend also was quite opinionated about certain superstitions... Somehow she thinks that the problem with Chinese-made toys extends to all dolls and Barbies; if you touch them, your hand will be poisoned and you can only play with gloves--if you MUST play at all. (!!) For some odd reason, however, Bratz dolls are exempt and it's fine to play with them. (Bratz??! Argh and Ugh!!! NO WAY!!!!!!). Television will burn holes in your eyes, too. Now, I don't believe in television during playdates, but these two girls were getting tired of one another and it would have been a whole lot more pleasant during that last hour to just curl up on the couch... Katya said that they watch TV at her friend's house--is it just our TV that is so dangerous?

Her friend made repeated comments about Katya has to "привыкнуть к русскому" (adapt to Russian ways). She said this when Katya was so excited about her pile of books, when she put on her new Hanna dress and when they played with the American Girl dolls (which she eagerly played with--without gloves) and dressed-up. I'm an adult, and I must confess that it really irked me to hear her say that about Katya's books. Katya is AMERICAN and she SHOULD be reading American books in addition to her Russian ones. I don't think that the girl was speaking out of jealousy; her family is far, far wealthier than we are and this girl is a very doted-upon only child. She regularly vacations all over the world and has been exposed to different ways of life since she was born. While she said that Katya's clothing and toys should all be purchased in Russia--not in America--I don't think she realizes that most of her Moscow-purchased things are high-end goods from Europe and America. In any case, I got a glimpse of the friction that Katya must regularly encounter at school and it was eye-opening.

When Katya and Polina arrived at our house, Lena (her friend's mom) gave me, Katya and Natalia these gifts for the March 8th "International Women's Day" holiday. Lena is quite the businesswoman, running four different businesses in Moscow... One of them is flower importation-- she always has the most beautiful bouquets for every occasion. Aren't the girls' baskets pretty? I'm SO glad I'd realized that morning to put together presents (really nice gift bags filled with bubble baths, body butters, body scrubs and lip glosses from Boots of England) for Lena and Polina; I'd have been horrified to stand there empty-handed. Check out the Boots products now available at Target; our favorites are Lemon Verbena and Mandarin bath creams. If only the prices in Russia were anywhere close to what they are at Target!!

The flowers were a great pick-me-up for me... This is what it looked like outside yesterday!!! Not too cheery, huh??

The rest of the loot from the USA was received equally well. My mom put together a bunch of nice surprises for the girls and me and she was a an assistant to the Easter Bunny--she helped him to make a secret early delivery of all the goodies you'd find in a basket in America that you can't get in Russia (chocolate bunnies, eggs, jelly beans...). You can now get most things in Moscow, but the list of what you can't is still quite long... That's why it's a big deal that Chris could bring back things for us--an unexpected treat in between our July and December trips to the USA.

We always stock up on: ziploc bags; maple syrup; peanut butter (you can get it here, but it's $8 for the small-sized jar); Mexican dried peppers and spices; chocolate chips; cupcake liners; English-language dvd's not available internationally; children's books; my make-up and cleansers (I get them 1/2 price through Mary Kay); scrapbooking supplies; random craft supplies; over-the-counter and prescription drugs (the girls love the "melt-on-your-tongue" strips for coughs/colds/fevers, etc.); contact lense solutions; seasonal holiday treats (no Easter, Valentine's Day or Halloween here); uniquely American toys (American Girl) or English-language kids' games... I also bring back as much of the our clothing/shoes that I can since they're so much cheaper in the USA.

Since some of you have asked about our list, I'll elaborate a bit more: I also bring random stuff to have on hand to give as gifts: children's books in beginning English for birthday parties; Bonnie Bell lipsmacker sets in bulk or other girly-girl sets from Target or Kohls; the little block compacted washcloths from The Disney Store that burst into a cloth when put in water (they're $1 during big sales); bulk packs of pretty mechanical pencils; small votive candles from Yankee Candle in a variety of scents; printed children's Band-aids; lotions, lip glosses and body gels from Bath and Body Works (purchased when they have the winter and summer final clearance sales--even though they weigh a lot, it's still a WHOLE lot cheaper to put together gift sets that way and pay the excess baggage fee than to buy big gift sets here); anything technological for our computer/ipods/etc. that is much cheaper; Annie's Organics Bunny Pasta Macaroni and Cheese in a variety of flavors (I remove it from the box and bring it back in sandwich baggies); gel food coloring for decorating cakes and cookies; cornstarch; cream of tartar; shortening (well, I don't use it... can't see taking up luggage space for a lard substitute--but I know LOTS of moms who bring it back); girls' hair do-dads (they're either cheaply made and ugly here or super expensive); Ranch dressing seasoning packets; color-change tablets by Crayola for bath water; luxurious cozy-yarn socks with non-stick dots on the bottom in bulk to offer up as "slippers" when Russians are guests in our home... I'm sure I could think of more, but that's a good chunk of it...

In any case, back to the goodies... Katya (and I) were excited about the items from the recent Hanna Andersson sale, too! I think she'll be literally living in this cozy marshmallow yarn sweater... Luckily Hanna clothing lasts so long that Natalia will eventually inherit it!

This morning both girls are contentedly watching our new dvd's from America: Barbie Mariposa and various Eloise selections.

I'm gathering material for an upcoming "Kittens, continued" post, but here are a few snuggly pictures from right now--taken as I write.

I'm still full of questions about Friday, but I'm not going to ask Katya until she feels comfortable bringing it up herself. I want to know all about the program so I can at least try to imagine it... I want to know what she sang, too! I'm going to ask the teacher if any parents were filming it; perhaps I could get some footage and pictures from someone else.

Oh, yeah--yesterday was also Chris's birthday. The living room windows were decorated with our customary balloon garlands, but that's about as festive as it got. Chris was so wiped out from the whirlwind trip to New York that as soon as he got home from the airport, he went to bed. Other than some evening cuddling on the couch while we all watched an Eloise Goes to School, he spent spent his birthday asleep. And he still is. All in all, it was probably a perfect day! Cake or zzzzzzz's? Easy choice!

The girls and I did make him this, though... It's the filler for a new Starbucks Travel Mug. (The mug's bottom unscrews and you slide in the customized design). Notice how Katya signed her name as "Kate;" I think she was rebelling after too much Russian the past few days.


Christine said...

What a blessing. Those care packages are full of goodies! Just like an early Christmas! Your right about the gloomy day--- blah! The flowers sure look pretty.

Annie said...

I love, love, love your posts! Somehow you write just what I want to know - lots of detail and photos! Thanks SO much for your blog! It means a lot to me. I actually checked today with trepidation; I felt so badly about Friday's fiasco.

I loved hearing about the Women's Day bouquets! I WOULD have been standing there with nothing to reciprocate. I am SO stupid that way - wonderful ideas, but always JUST too late.

Do your girls have the Betsy/Tacy books? These are my favorites. Such wonderful books! I buy them whenever I see them to give to little girls...and the funny thing is I never knew about them until I was a grown up.

Also thanks for your list of things you buy in the US! It is a treasure-trove of ideas for little things to send to my friends in Russia. It used to be easy (especially for those in Ivanovo); so little was available. Now I see that there is a LOT more in the way of consumer goods available in Russia. I'm not sure that's all good. Right now anyway I really am overwhelmed by STUFF.

I'm glad things are a little better and hope someone was filming the presentation!

Anonymous said...

Long-time reader, first-time poster. Thanks for the update!

Just curious...does your family plan to live abroad (in Moscow?) indefinitely? Seems like you have been there for at least a couple of years. Any plans to come back to the US?

MoscowMom said...

Hi, Anonymous:

We've been here for almost four years and aren't sure when we'll be back--but we *will* be back at some point. At the very latest, I want the girls to attend high school in the USA and I don't want to send them to boarding school with our still being here. My husband is on the partnership track at his law firm, which means we need to be here for at least two more years, though.

You never know... If for any reason our needs aren't being met, we'd leave sooner. That was a possibility when we were desperate for speech therapy for Natalia!

Most people either come for two years or end up being here indefinitely, it seems.

garnet said...

What a fun, fun post to read. And I am so drooling over that stack of books. I've been longing to pick up the AG mysteries for quite some time.

And all those MTH research guides. My daughter has finally discovered the MTH books. I'd picked up four or five that covered topics we're studying in our "ancients" year this year. (You can occasionally find a few of the regular books here in Nairobi but not the research guides.) I read her one and then somehow she found out that her teacher has a big stack so we went over and picked out four books and two research guides. I'd yet to see those and was very happy to be able to borrow some. Turns out that three of the books I chose I already had at home. I need some kind of system to keep track of what I've bought. Things are getting out of hand!

My daughter read one all on her own for the first time and has now started two more along with one of the Greek myth books. Things are going slowly, but at least it's a start.

And I absolutely agree that Katya needs to read books not only in her own language but that introduce her to her own background. Do you think this girl is hearing these ideas from her parents or she's coming up with them on her own? We certainly buy *all* our clothes and shoes from the U.S. because it is so much cheaper.

Have you picked up that she's being given a hard time at school because of her nationality? Poor girl.

I'd be thrilled if there were a rumor going around that B*r*atz dolls had lead-based paint. It's hard to imagine not saying ugh over them.

Your list of things you bring back from the U.S. was really fun. I'm thinking that I need to do a post on that myself -- not because most people would find it riveting information (I figure I'm just odd) but so we have a record for the kids of what life was like here. We only go back to the States once a year (and even that is something new as it used to be every two years). If we're lucky, though, we'll have a family member come over and we'll load them up.

Also fun to see the Boots supplies available in Target. I got to spend four college years in England so that brings back memories.

Thanks for the recommendation regarding the AG books on Audible. I really need to get signed up for that. I think I've just been a bit freaked out because I've read some people talking about how you need to choose just the right deal or somesuch to get the best benefit and I'm scared of making the wrong choice. However, there are a number of books I'd love to have for myself for long trips.

We were pretty lucky when we moved here because we had a full container (or maybe more since some of our stuff went in a neighbor's container) and I brought almost all our books. The possibility of loosing them has been the biggest stress with all the Kenyan troubles as so many are childhood books that I've been saving for my daughter and she's almost to the age to read them.

Anyway, thanks for the insight into life there. And I love the photos of buildings in the next post. They remind me a lot of buildings in Romania. One of the years I was there was the year the city repainted all their buildings and they were so pretty in all the bright colors.