Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sometimes a Coffee Grinder Isn't Just a Coffee Grinder.

Sometimes it symbolizes a whole lot more.

In order to understand why the purchase of a coffee grinder is worthy of being written about on my blog, let me explain...

Had you been over to our apartment for coffee this past year, I would have had to excuse myself to quickly run to the living room--old American coffee grinder in hand. If you followed me, you'd have been lucky enough to see this:

Yes, a bit odd. (Aren't you glad that I'm trying my hand at an illustrated post, however? Spared you the picture! And this way you can't see all the mess on and under the desk! Although, I must say, my rear is looking better now that I'm running four times a week...) My friends know by now that I wasn't trying to initiate a game of hide and seek. I wasn't compulsively checking to make sure my home was free of dust-bunnies. Then you'd hear:

...and you'd realize that I had to grind my coffee beans under the computer. Why? It's the only place in the house where we have a power strip attached to a voltage converter, of course! We used to have an extra converter that we kept in the kitchen, but it died a year ago... and that's when my daily run to crawl under the desk started.

Now, why, you might wonder, didn't we just go out and buy another converter? Or... why didn't we just buy a coffee grinder that worked in Russia--right type of plug and voltage requirements? I mean, it's just a small coffee grinder, right?

Except it wasn't.

When we moved here, we had to replace almost every single ^&%$#%^&%*(@! appliance we owned. Most of which we had received as wedding presents and hadn't had to purchase in the first place. Having to then buy them all, all over again, when we had their US-compatible counterparts collecting dust in America--and when they cost at least double in Russia compared to US prices--was maddening. But you just can't do without a vacuum cleaner, right??! And you have to have a washing machine... We spent over $400 repeatedly repairing the one that was in the apartment from the previous tenants before spending about that much on a new one this winter... (I lived without a dryer for two years, but eventually that got thankfully welcomed into our home.)

Our immediate priorities were the vacuum, a television/VCR (so the kids had something to occupy them while I unpacked) and storage--so we made many, many trips to IKEA for various pieces of furniture. Little by little, I then got back to adding electronic items: an alarm clock, a radio/CD player, a blow dryer, an iron, a coffee maker (we used a French press for almost a year), a food processor (which our housekeeper recently broke somehow...), a cheap-o hand-held mixer, an electric kettle (a necessity in Russia where everyone drinks tea all the time), and a waffle iron/panini maker. I still don't have a blender. And don't even get me started on how much I miss my KitchenAid standing mixer.

So... after our many trips to the electronics market, this is what our kitchen counter now looks like:

Nice coffee maker, my new coffee grinder, the electric kettle, my Starbucks beans (I still am beyond giddy that I can buy them here... Nah, the excitement hasn't waned one single bit...), and a dock for my ipod so I can listen to NPR while cooking.

That's a counter you'd expect to see in someone's home. A regular, normal home.

But let's get back to that grinder. Yes, why didn't I just buy one say, four years ago? Or at least a year ago when the voltage converter died? I had already purchased all those other appliances, after all. Those, however, I had to. You can't exactly brew your coffee under the computer desk. Ditto for using the food processor, kettle or waffle maker.

The grinder, however, was so small... And it wasn't really that much of an inconvenience...

In the end, I realize that it wasn't about size. It wasn't about the cost. It was about not really getting settled. About hanging on to some small bit of regular USA life, of not just accepting that this is where I am now. That I'm not leaving in a few months, so what's the point of buying a new grinder, anyway?

Over the past months, a lot has changed. Maybe the memory of the miserable packing we have to do every time we leave the USA to come back here has faded just enough that I can forget about it for a while... But somehow this is where we are. It's good. The kids are thriving at their schools. Chris enjoys his job, however draining it may be. I have nice friends. I can drive pretty much anywhere in the city without getting too lost and without having a heart attack. I know where to find most items. I roll with the punches when a "WHY AM I HERE? I HATE MOSCOW!!" day comes around. We finally joined a gym and it's wonderful to go there. We love our neighborhood. I know it. I have my favorite running routes/rollerblading paths. It's familiar. At this time of the year, it's about to become beautiful. We've been here long enough that we expect the difficulties and have adjusted to many of them. That frees up a lot of mental energy to simply enjoy life here, instead.

And then on Monday I officially accepted a new job working full-time teaching high school English and French at Katya's school, a wonderful private Russian school that goes from 1st to 11th grade (Russian schools end after year eleven). I won't be teaching English grammar; that's NOT my cup of tea, not my professional background... I'll be teaching classes on American culture, creative writing, essay writing, analytical thought/writing... Basically, I'll be able to examine almost any topic of interest with the students that will help them to develop their speaking, reading, writing, and aural comprehension while also teaching them about America. I'm sure I'll get a lot of inspiration from NPR, music, short stories... I'll also be using good textbooks; I won't have to invent the courses from scratch. The kids will have four hours per week with their regular English teacher--doing grammar, etc. My classes will be separate, a way to enrich the curriculum--and the director's way to seize the opportunity to benefit from my skills as an experienced teacher and native speaker.

I'm sick of putting off my life, thinking that "some day when we're back in the USA," I'll go back to teaching full-time at a nice school. A school my kids can go to. A school where I'll get to really be part of things, the community of teachers, kids and parents... Working part-time this year was a good way to get my feet wet again, but often more frustrating than rewarding--it placed all of the schedule constraints on me without enough of the rewards. The salary didn't cover hiring someone else to do all I that I no longer could. I wasn't there enough to establish the relationship necessary with students that would have made a real dent in behavioral problems. It just wasn't a situation where it was worth throwing myself heart and soul into it--and only when you do that, do you truly get the rewards.

I got tired of thinking of all the reasons why it wouldn't work to go back to work full-time, teaching the way I really wanted to. So I'm doing whatever I need to so that it will. Hiring the necessary help, doing all I can so that my schedule can accommodate the girls' and my needs. I know it won't be easy, that there will certainly be headaches along the way... But it's worth a try. And it'll feel good to be able to help out financially in a significant way.

Like you, Rachael, I'll have one day off--I love that I was able to pull that off! I also won't have to stay at school all afternoon for after-school activities. I will, however, have to be at school by 8:30 a.m. at the latest.

No time to be running to the living room to grind my coffee beans.

And no need to keep doing so.

So I walked into Starbucks... Now is when you can year Holly's angels singing in their full glory...

... and got meself a nice lil' burr grinder. "I am woman, hear me burr." Life is good.

We won't always be here, but I'm going to enjoy it while we are. And when we leave?? I can make some woman who has just moved here rather happy by giving her the coffee grinder I'll no longer need.

WOW. Just realized that this is my 200th post since starting the blog. Rather fitting that I wrote about a milestone, huh?


Rachael said...

Yeah for the new job and all it entails and signifies!

Yeah for a new grinder and not crawling under the desk in your underwear every a.m.!! (double exclamation point on purpose here)

Congrats on the 200th milestone too. Also, must note, you are quite the little artist, I hope the illustrated posts continue!

Wow, so many exclamations today.

Almost forgot to add: triple yeah for the day off: I love my job, but I LIVE for mine! :) !!!!

Anonymous said...

good for you, tamara! and believe me, with all the headaches (and other body-part-aches), you really will miss Moscow - we do...sniff sniff.....

miss you!

Nataliya said...

Yes, yes, yes! Your new job sounds very exciting - being a former teacher myself I really understand how important it is to establish a good relationship with your students and being able to teach the way you want to! And it's so nice that now you feel comfortable where you are - your new local coffee grinder speaks for itself! Good for you!

I'm just curious, are you going to teach your English lessons in English only?

Congratulations on your 200th post! I'm planning to go to the beginning of your blog and read them all!

P.S. By the way, did I mention that my grandma's name is Tamara?

Melissa Q. said...

learning to live with the place you are is the hardest isn't it?

hooray! and congrats on your new job.
xoxo meese

kate said...

Oorah for the new job!

And you KNOW I understand. ;>

HRH said...

Congrats on the 200. And now I have to take issue with your drawings...they are great! OMG. I am in stick-figure land and you are drawing masterpieces!! hahaha. I love it. I love that you borrowed my angel choir. This whole post was very funny and I am kind of sad that you won't be crawling under your desk every morning to make coffee....

garnet said...

First, the pictures are great! Wish I could draw like that.

Second, I need to print this post out and well, post it somewhere to read over again whenever I get irritated with our electronics here and with how the U.S. outlets in our house are all in funny, hard-to-reach places (instead of being thrilled that we actually have U.S. outlets and, for example, when we needed a water pic for our braces we didn't have to buy some humongously expensive South African model but could pick up a WalMart edition and bring it on over. I need this to remember that we are blessed to have a transformer and both kinds of outlets so we can replace at leisure when things break down. Of course, I do have a 220 iron with the appropriate plug back in the U.S. that I found the night after our shipment stuff left and have yet to manage to find in the storage unit in the summer and our irons just all died so we had to go out and buy a new one, which is frustrating knowning that in just a few months I could pick up the old. Oh, well.

Congratulations on the new job and I hope it gives you the time to develop relationships with students. I admire you being enthusiastic about teaching writing. I come from a writing family (both parents and a brother are regular published authors) but I find it terribly hard to teach -- at least as a class. I much prefer working one-on-one with students and do pretty well at that. Now grammar, I could teach all day!

I also appreciate this post for the reminder to be content with what you have. This past year has been a very rough one for us as we thought we were leaving so my mind had to wrap around that -- and to do some I focused on all the things that would be good about leaving. Like leaving such terrible crime behind. Then, suddenly, we're back to staying and I found it really hard to switch back my way of thinking. Also, when I read your descriptions of going to the park and traveling around town, I really wish I could be in a place where that is possible instead of staying on a small campus all week except for one afternoon off. It's easy to start to get envious and I need to focus on the good things we have hear and remember that no place is perfect -- I'd be struggling with the late-coming spring in a place like yours -- so I need to take advantage of the good things we have hear because they won't last forever and then I'll really miss them.