Monday, June 30, 2008

Update from Mac Store

Okay... A lot has happened since arriving, with the main event being that my wallet was stolen from the public library while I wrote my last post.

BE-YOND crummy. So upsetting, so mean, so violating... 

I was not planning on spending my first full day in the US frantically searching the library and then canceling all my credit/debit cards... I still have the joy of obtaining a replacement driver's license ahead of me...

Still no working computer at my mom's house, trying to get hers fixed... 

So no blogging. Yet. I  did, however, manage to get a pair of "real" running shoes and I took my first 4 mile run here yesterday. Let's just say I was not prepared for hills... The treadmill is SO different from actual terrain... I forgot my ipod in Moscow and it's so hard to run without music!

I'm at the Mac Store right now, salivating over the MacBook and the MacBook Pro models, waiting to find out how much Chris's professional discount would be on each model...

In the meantime, here's a quick hello from Connecticut. Both girls were thrilled to head to camp today :-)  

I hope things will turn around now; our voyage here was pretty bad... I developed a stomach flu the night before we left and vomited all night while trying to finish packing... Then Katya caught it, throwing up before our cab came--and getting a big bloody nose once I'd already cleaned up the first mess. Tried to reschedule our flights for the next day, but couldn't--and we headed out an hour late to the airport. Talia then got sick on the plane, with the two of us simultaneously ill in adjoining bathrooms. 

I was so glad to finally make it to CT.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Arrived in America...

...but my mom's computer is broken.

No internet.

I'm working on it.

About to also order my Mac laptop...

I'll post more as soon as I can!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Proud to Finish Kindergarten

Talia's last day of school is today; I made a video of her reading her last schoolbook. (She brought home a new book to read out loud to us every night as part of the reading program). We'll miss her British accent... She's been reading so much with me and Katya at home that her accent is becoming more American. We'll also miss hearing about Flip the dog!

Well, we might not miss him for long... I'm ordering the next level of materials for her Russian school to use with her next year as they continue her English program, Oxford Primary. The program was so well planned; she made steady progress without ever feeling frustrated and she looked forward to a new book every day. (The price is also great!)

You can skip to minute 3:50 to see some really cute talking after she finished reading the book :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So Hard to Say "Adios" & "Tschüs"!

Once upon a time, three years ago, there were three little princesses who were in the same preschool class. One from Argentina, one from Sweden and Germany, and one from America. They were inseparable for the two years they were classmates, even sharing their birthday party.

Then they spread to different schools, but remained friends. So did all the moms. We were a fun threesome... And now it's time to say good-bye... Our German/Swedish friends left on Monday... We leave in a few days and by the time we return, our other friends will have returned to Argentina...

We gathered last weekend for a last "hurrah" at the Swedish embassy, an amazing little enclave of greenery in the midst of the city's center. We've spent so many sunny afternoons on that patio, the kids jumping on that trampoline and running up and down the hills...

We'll really miss them. It's hard being the ones who stay behind...

Finally Getting It Right!

Many of you might remember this billboard encouraging Russians to adopt; I blogged about it back in March. It creeped most Russians out and certainly didn't do much to influence Russians' negative opinion about adoption.

NOW, however, I think someone nailed it. Check out these wonderful ads! I've spotted them all over the city, often paired together. This big billboard is my favorite: "Perhaps YOU Will Become His Mom?" The baby is adorable... (I'm not sure why he seems to have an orange spot on his head in my picture; it's not there on the actual billboard).

This poster on a bus stop loosely translates as: "Welcome Me into Your Family!!!" That boy is so sweet... Let's just hope Russian families are as moved by these ads as I've been...

No Wonder It's So Hard to Sleep...

Edited at bottom.

I took these next pictures while writing my last post...

On a regular old weekday night... At 11:30 p.m.

This is what I heard and then saw when I leaned to look out the window.

We have them ALL THE TIME. They have largely lost their appeal and are now mostly a real pain. Katya actually snarls, "I hate fireworks!" since they often keep us up at night.

They go off at any hour, on any day, as soon as the snow melts.


(My cousin was so surprised when they kept going off on Saturday night! Yes, you're not in America anymore!)

Olga: I don't know what the occasion was... We have fireworks so often that we have no idea why... Sometimes for wedding celebrations, sometimes for Russian holidays, sometimes just because people feel like doing it and the police don't do anything about noise at night... (Well, they might, but they're obviously easily bribed).

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Potluck!

Having been gone from the blogosphere for a week, I'm going to join the "potluck craze" and fill you in on various little tidbits. I got the idea from Holly over at June Cleaver Nirvana, and I'm borrowing her lovely logo for today's post.

We're having fusili with pesto (my own, made with LOTS of garlic) and a glass of Sunrise Carmenere wine. We are s-l-o-w-l-y enjoying the wine after a l-o-n-g and messy play date.

So... What has Tamara been up to this past blogless week (and the meager week before it)?

We're not moving to another apartment.

As I wrote last month, we thought we might have to move. After an extensive search for another apartment, it became clear that our best option was to negotiate with our landlord for repairs/a fairer price and stay put. Armed with much data to support my position, I was able to make our case in a very reasonable manner. She agreed and we're staying for at least another year. Many repairs will be made on the apartment while the girls and I are in the US next month and I'm really looking forward to the results!!

I did a MAJOR overhaul of our apartment as if we were preparing to move.

We're not getting a bigger apartment, so the solution was to get rid of everything I possibly could. I'm not done, but I did manage to completely pick through and reorganize our bathroom, the kids' room, our room, most of the living room and most of the entryway (our storage area).

That leaves the bookcases in the living room, 1/3 of the boxes in our entryway and the kitchen... I just couldn't get to them.

I did, however, manage to fill the hallway outside our apartment six times with huge piles of items to donate/throw away. A local church accepts donations, passing them on to needy parishioners and an orphanage; they were VERY happy when I drove up with a full car of bags. Three times.

It feels REALLY, REALLY good to have stuff organized; it will make it much easier for the men doing the repairs and it will much easier for me to unpack when we get back from the US in August with a whole new load of stuff.

My cousin and her son visited us from Oregon.

Nick and Judy were here from Thursday through Sunday, making the incredibly long trip for what amounted to a long weekend! Judy works for an airline and can get a round-trip ticket for only $79...!!!!!! Her sister-in-law was in Moscow at that time with a tour, so she figured... why not?

Their visit prompted my manic cleaning efforts and it was nice to be ready for them! I had fun showing them around.

They took in Red Square, GUM, the Kremlin and Armory, Christ the Saviour, Novodevichy Monastery, Gorky Park, the Arbat (with lunch at the Hard Rock and an iced coffee at Starbucks), a river cruise and a circus show.

I must say how incredibly impressed we were by the circus on Tsvetnoi Bulvar... In the past they had disappointed me, causing us to favor the circus on Prospect Vernadskovo instead... But the show this week was AMAZING and they're now my favorite circus in Russia. Photography was strictly prohibited, which is a shame. Wouldn't you have loved to see a chicken on toe shoes dancing to Swan Lake??? (Seriously--the chicken did dance--but the more serious acts BLEW US AWAY).

Katya's insomnia is no better despite all my efforts these past few weeks.

I'll look into the homeopathic suggestions about valerian that you guys made once we get to the US. I hope that jet lag coupled with exhaustion after camp will lead to some more regular sleep...!!!!!

I was a guest blogger over at Bleeding Espresso.

Check out my week-long series on the "Newlywed Portrait Tour" of the city's most beautiful spots that couples make in between the ceremony and reception. I take you through the seven most popular spots, starting at Gorky Park and ending up at Red Square. I prepared this series for Michelle a while ago; that's how she had it when I was otherwise so bogged down this past week! I think at some point I'll format it for my own blog, too.

I wish that I had had the time to communicate with Michelle's readers while the series was running! I'll have to go back and do so once things calm down.

My internet was down off and on last week and our computer is acting up.

As if it weren't already hard enough these days... I'll be in better touch once we get to Connecticut this weekend and I get my new laptop!

Annnnd... Last but not least... I'm doing something CRAZY!!!!!

So... Here's the kicker... What have I decided to do as a result of all this exhausting activity? SLEEP?? Aw, come on, that would be, well... frankly, given my kids who are about to be jet-lagged, impossible.

Nooooo, people. Let's think of more, well, insane activity.

SUCH AS RUNNING A HALF MARATHON. Yeah, that's right... 13.1 miles/21.1 kilometers. Because I'm crazy.

I already followed my friend Rachael into the blogosphere... Why not follow her to Chicago for the annual Chicago Half Marathon??!!

Her sisters are doing it, too... Lori... Francie is thinking of doing it... And I think Natalie is, too...

I'm following this plan to get ready in time; it's by an experienced runner/trainer and it can help a rank beginner to be properly prepared. You can track my miles/kilometers on my sidebar. I would have run more this week, but I can't run first thing in the morning or in the evening since I'm alone with the girls and can't leave them by themselves.

I followed another plan in April/part of May that claimed to take you from being a couch potato to running 5 kilometers in two months. It was great!

I was able to do it until I got so sick from my pollen allergies and stopped running for five weeks. The amazing thing is, when I started again, it only took two pathetic runs before I was able to do 5 kilometers--as if I'd never stopped! In one week I'm feeling good again and have lost 3 of the 6 lbs I gained while not running and sick.

Sure, I'll have to take a few days off from work in order to be able to fly to Chicago--but I'm pretty sure that won't be a problem. I would pay for my substitute if need be, and I think that would be the worst-case scenario. A few friends have mentioned that the jet lag could make it rather hard for me to complete the run, but I laughed at that... Are you kidding?? I'd be flying ALONE, without my children!!! That's TWELVE UNINTERRUPTED HOURS OF REST, PEOPLE! More than I've gotten since giving birth to Natalia!

There's also that pesky question of paying for a ticket to Chicago, but I might be able to cover the cost with frequent flyer miles... And even if I can't, I can't recall when I last did something for me.

We never go out, I ditched the fake nails because it took too much time that I'd rather spend with my kids and I didn't think the cost was worth it, we're not taking a vacation this year and I will have been parenting on my own (Chris has non-stop business trips and grueling assignments this year) from May 9th through August 6th (except for 9 days when I hope Chris will be able to join us at his parents' house in Colorado), and then most likely I'll be primarily alone with the kids for the rest of August and September, too...

Intense, to put it mildly.

Going ahead and buying that ticket to Chicago would force me to make myself a priority, to devote time to exercise and caring for ME. If I get all that regular exercise, I'll have the energy necessary to be the parent the girls need. It seems like a win-win to me...

The sheer distance of the race does intimidate me right now, but I'm comfortable with simply doing my best. If that means finishing a chunk of it by walking, then so be it. That would certainly still be an achievement considering that until I started running in April, I hadn't really exercised regularly since 1995! I have also spent much of the last few years in pain from fibromyalgia; I'm amazed that I can run as much as I am.

There has been more, so much more... I'll slowly chip away at it all!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Olsen Twins and Their Amazing Russian

People often ask how Katya adapted to living here. She was all settled in our Brooklyn neighborhood when we moved her across the world: far away from her friends, grandparents, ballet class and preschool. And... um... shall I confess... far away from American (i.e. English language) television.

Yes, my kids had watched their fair share of television at the tender ages of 1 1/2 and 4. I was mostly on my own as a parent those days and we couldn't afford childcare--so the television "babysat" while I did housework, cooked and occasionally bathed... I should mention that Katya gave up napping the week her sister was born--at the ripe old age of 2 years and 3 months. Yes, I loved our buddies at Nick Jr. and PBS...

My mom was working at a kids' consignment shop, and she had stocked up on second-hand kids' videos for me to bring, too. I ended with almost a complete set of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen videos--the ones they made between the ages of five and ten. "Ballet Party" was their favorite since it took place in New York City.

Sooo... back to that whole "so how did Katya adjust to her new life in Russia" question. It was quite simple, actually. Sure, there were some bumps and bruises along the way, but for the most part she embraced it in a rather postive manner.

I wish I could take credit for it... Yes, my amazing parenting inspired Katya to delve into this new culture, this completely new language...


We owe it all to Mary-Kate and Ashley. Yup! God bless those girls!

My third week here, I stumbled upon two videos that the girls had never seen: "Passport to Paris" and "Billboard Dad," perfectly dubbed in Russian.

To this day, Katya and Natalia think that the Olsen twins managed to learn fluent Russian in their spare time while living in California. Impressed and relieved, Katya chirped, "If they could do it, so can I, Mom!" Here they are watching "Мэри-Кэйт" and "Эшли":

I can't even count how many times I encouraged Katya by reminding her how well Mary-Kate and Ashley spoke... How they must have struggled while learning Russian, too, but they had stuck with it and look how fluent they became... They sounded just like native speakers...

I wonder when Katya will figure out my scam...

(Katya was intent on collecting every video the twins had ever made... The week we arrived in Moscow, Mary-Kate was in the tabloids--and listed on my msn homepage-- because of her hospitalization for anorexia. Katya must have heard me and a friend talking about it, because she then begged me to get the "Hospital Party" video, too...)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Just So You Know...

(Edited next day at bottom)

When you coat your hair with a pot of Neutrogena intensive lip repair salve, it becomes a solid oily mass. And it doesn't come off with shampoo. The hot water only melts it, making an even larger oily mass of hair.

Just so you know.

Talc doesn't "bind" the oil, easily rinsing out as the tip on the internet suggests. (Knew you couldn't trust the internet...). It just makes a bigger, grayer mess.

Guess I'll have no choice other than whip out my precious bottle of "Goo Gone," brought over from the USA, used only in emergencies (such as the hands covered in gum on Thursday...).

At least the hair will then smell of citrus instead of medicine.

Guess "Rachael Ray" will need a break before her next "television" appearance.

Edited next day:

The Goo Gone actually worked wonders. It made her hair greasy all over, but after a few separate hair washings, she now looks (and smells) great.

And OH, MY, Olga! I can't believe Leo dyed his hair BLUE! I can just picture you struggling with him--and his hair--in your sink! You must have been FURIOUS! He must have been ridiculed at school, though... "Leo the Smurf"... Best punishment you could ever give!

There's probably some color in my parental future... I'll never forget the last time Katya seriously butchered her hair, requiring professional intervention. As she sat in the chair FUMING about having her birthday party canceled (used that money instead to pay to have her and her sister's hair--which she had cut off to Natalia's dismay--fixed as much as possible), I tried to contain my anger and seriously prayed she had learned her lesson.

Instead, she surveyed all the pictures on the salon's walls and said with tone of voice full of awe and first discovery... "People can COLOR their hair???!" I looked up and saw her focusing on a blond model with blue and pink streaks... and I knew right then and there that I was doomed!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lasagne... YUM! (So Long, Rachael Ray...) Part 1

Move over, Rachael Ray...

There's a new chef in town! (Some of you have remarked in the past that Natalia even looks like Rachael...)

And she loves cooking just much as you do!

She helped me make dinner on Wednesday and did a great job assembling all the layers.

A bunch of you have been asking me for my lasagne recipe for a while... I'll share it with you in Part 2 of this post, along with the roasted vegetable bolognese sauce you need to make first. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the recipes, here's Natalia's "Food TV" debut, a lesson about lasagne that shows you just how easy it is:

Hmm. It's Friday the 13th...

...but here's hoping that today will end much better than Thursday the 12th...

Ever have one of those days that just keeps getting worse? Nothing major, but after cleaning up spill after spill after spill... Dragging an angry kid to the car in front of other calm kids and their parents... Kids melting down screaming at you while you're trying to drive... Finally deciding to make it easier on yourself by stopping to get dinner--and telling the kids so--only to then have one kid confess she's found a piece of gum in her bag and somehow just got it on one hand--and then it's somehow the front and back of both hands--so you have to go home instead? And then the kids' loud protests over missing the dinner out? And instead of the kids' being thankful that we finally have hot water--so they could have their first bath in over three weeks and actually be CONTAINED and relax--they insist on a quick shower and fight over every aspect of it? And then some more stuff gets spilled... And they try to help by cleaning up their messes themselves, but don't tell you about it? So it's even harder to clean up later on? And somehow an egg gets out of the fridge, breaks, and the cat tracks egg whites and yolks all over the house? And then cat freaks out over the hardening egg on the hair all around its rear? And then... well, you lose it, shout at your kids, scare the *&^%$ out of them and then feel like scum? And... well, let's just say that bedtime lasts a l-o-n-g time... Four hours? Yeah. It was one of those days yesterday. Had a lot of those days in the last few months.

Some of you started thinking I was in transit to the US since I hadn't posted since last weekend... No, just dealing with being sick (another bout of sinusitis caused by the poplar pollen), having a sprained ankle, and going through some real parenting lows as I continue to struggle with Katya's insomnia and the misery it can cause for for the rest of us.

It doesn't help that it becomes dark outside at 11 p.m. and light again by 4 a.m....

I've been completely negligent when it comes to email, reading and commenting on others' blogs and writing here on my own. Stick with me; I'll snap out of it!

The specialists who are based in the US and following Katya's treatment here (ADD, reflex anoxic seizures) had me going through a two-week program that seems to be having some success--at least getting her into bed--but she's still not falling asleep. In the meantime, I lost pockets of time that I'd used to run errands and exercise--or simply refuel myself emotionally before "another round" of meltdowns. School's also now out, so I'm "on" full-time.

We haven't really had Chris around for more than a day here or there since January and this Sunday he leaves for a business trip in the USA... He returns the night before the girls and I head to the USA. It's hard... He'll meet up with us in July at his parents' house in CO, but other than that I'm the parent day and night...

Just really, really praying that Katya can learn to sleep. If only she could do that, everything else would be so much more manageable...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Stockmann's in the Center Truly Is Gone...

For those of you who live--or have lived here--these pictures might make you think of an old "Wild West" Ghost-town type picture...

So dark... So empty...

So NOT reopening in that location.

It's very strange to enter the Smolensky Passage shopping center without Stockmann's!

(I took these pictures through the windows of the store).

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Grandmother Machine

Being stuck in traffic (couldn't let a post go by without mentioning traffic, could I??) provides you with the chance to talk with your kids--A LOT.

At one point yesterday while Natalia and I inched our way to fetch Katya, she asked me the strangest question...

Natalia: "Where do they keep the Grandmother Machine?"

Me: "Huh? What do you mean?"


Me: (still not "getting it") "I really don't know what you mean..."

Natalia: (increasingly impatient) "The Grandmother Machine!!!! The machine that makes you into a grandmother! Is it at the hospital?"

Me: (STILL not sure what she meant...) "Can you explain it a little more?"

Natalia: "When Katya and I have babies at the hospital, is the grandmother machine there, too? The machine that makes you OLD the day our babies are born?"

Me: (thinking "OUCH!") "No... So... you think I'll look really old when I become a grandmother? How will I look different?"

Natalia: (thinking for QUITE a while) "Um... I'M not going to tell you... I don't want you mad at ME!"

If only you could have heard her voice as she delivered that last line... It was sooooo funny...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

To End the Day on a Positive Note...

A manager at American Girl Place told us when we were there this winter that if we sent in a picture of the girls and their dolls with a Russian setting, it would definitely get printed in the magazine. I think we can do better, but here are few attempts for your viewing pleasure... My mom made the dresses the girls are wearing for Christmas and my mom and dad gave them the dolls for Christmas, too. They've been having so much fun pretending to be in Colonial Williamsburg in 1764 this past week... They even worked on cursive penmanship so they could write invitations to "Lord and Lady Templeton's Ball" for themselves!

The One in Which Tamara's Behind and Clutch Foot Become Permanently Numb

(The pathetic part--or blessing--to being in this endless bumper-to-bumper stream of snail-like cars was that I was actually excited to find a moment when I could get a picture that showed it all spread out before me... I'm sure the people around my car thought I was nuts. I still fantasize about taking my video camera some time and doing a full 360 to give you a TRUE feel for what it's like; you would never, EVER, bemoan traffic in your home town/city in America again).

I had already written the post just below this one yesterday; I just hadn't finished uploading the pictures...

I just read through it again, and my tone seems rather chipper despite all the time stuck on the road...

HAH, HAH, HAH! That's NOT, NOT, NOT how I'm feeling tonight!

Today was hard. REALLY hard. To begin with, I read in the paper last night that within the next half year, traffic jams in Moscow are expected to DOUBLE!!! I can't possibly fathom how that is remotely possible!!!!!! The situation is already so bad!

As I wrote in my earlier post, if I had to be on the road more, I'd be on serious antidepressants. I couldn't possibly take it. I'm so thankful we live in the center and the kids' school (well, Katya's, for now--but Natalia will join her there in a year) is within walking distance of our apartment (yeah, think we're staying put... more on that tomorrow, I think). Chris can get to work with relative ease (20 to 30 minute commute) and I should be able to drive to work in 15 minutes next year and get parking if I arrive before 8:30 a.m. (No direct or sensible public transport from where we live, even though it's relatively close by--just not close enough, especially when lugging books, in bad weather, and in a rush to make it there by 8:30 at the latest).

Back to today... It was hard, so, so hard... I keep thinking of the Dixie Chicks' refrain to "So Hard"... You can watch a video with that song here... (I love that song... It's about two of the singers' struggles with infertility and the lyrics are so honest and good).

I spent...

Drum roll...


I knew that today was going to be "vehicularly intense;" Katya was invited to spend the day at a friend's dacha on the outskirts of the city (near Tyoplii Stan Mega Mall), then I had to go to work for a final review session with the Senior Class before the National English Exam, then bring Natalia to school, have three free hours (spent taking pics for a "guest post" I'm doing on a friend's blog in Italy--more on that later, then cramming as I try to read all of the textbooks I have to teach out of next year), then pick Natalia up from school, drive to fetch Katya at her friend's, and then head home. We left at 8:15 a.m. and got home twelve and a half hours later.

Oh... one more minor detail... All of this was made a bit more difficult when Talia's digestive system decided it was still having trouble after she ate ten months' of vitamins earlier in the week... Love-ly.

I had NO idea it would be as miserable as it was.

I had an 8:45 p.m. phone appointment scheduled with Katya's doctor in Colorado about her insomnia; we only walked into the apartment at 8:42... I had to call the doctor and ask if we could push it back fifteen minutes; I couldn't see talking with a doctor about my daughter's inability to fall asleep when I hadn't even gotten her ready for bed or tucked her in... (I actually managed to wash both girls and get them ready in fifteen minutes! Ah, the benefit of still having no hot water on tap--and a heater that can only provide four minutes of heated water!)

Needless to say, I'm now having a glass of wine and I'm about to watch some more Heroes. I'm addicted. Television (on dvd or downloaded from itunes) as means of escape? Heck, yeah!

Stuck in Traffic... Again...

After the positive response to my last "stuck in traffic" post with a picture of the Kremlin, I decided to take some more pictures of notable landmarks when just sitting there, waiting to roll...

So now for your viewing pleasure, let's create a virtual traffic jam. Imagine you are inching your way through the city, darting old Soviet cars and luxury SUVs as they cut you off repeatedly. Today it really doesn't matter if you can read Russian road signs; you're moving so slowly that you'll figure it out without too much difficulty. In any case, the traffic cops probably won't pull you over if you make a small mistake; they're too busy writing up reports for all the accidents that have happened as people rear-end each other or get angry and make unexpected, stupid moves.

Consider yourself quite lucky to be stuck near any of these pretty spots...

Christ the Savior Cathedral

The Moscow University of Linguistics on Ostozhenka St.

St. Nicholas the Weaver Church at Park Kultury. I'll have to go back there some time to take more pictures; the intricate carved wooden doors are absolutely beautiful. Tolstoy and his family used to attend church there; they had a home on the street adjacent to it.

This pretty church on Arbat St. I forget what's it called... I really love it, though. It looks so out of place next to the gaudy casinos and modern buildings!

This residential building on Prechistinka. I love the detail in the swirling iron window frames and balconies! If you look at the details closely, this building is gorgeous!

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Smolenskaya

Now that Katya is on summer break, we've been driving by places we don't usually see; she has been getting together with various classmates before they all leave the city. She and I have also been doing things together (will blog about different spots later) and running errands that had been put off for a while. We take the subway when possible, but we've needed to drive since we have multiple stops in different locations not connected by reasonably direct routes--or we have heavy bags to carry. That's why all of the sudden I'm writing about traffic, traffic, traffic--we're in it much more.

I was about to say, "It's not that all of the sudden it has gotten worse...", but that wouldn't be true... The situation with traffic HAS gotten much, much worse in the past year--and it seems like "all of the sudden" to me because I'm used to working and having a driver transport Natalia to and from school most days since I can't (no such thing as school buses). Katya and I drove Natalia this week and it was horrid; we spent most of the afternoon simply in traffic by the time we dropped her off and then turned around to get her again... One day we couldn't even make it there in time; our gridlock wasn't moving at all and another mom had to take Natalia back to their place for us until we could get there.

I am SOOOO THANKFUL that I'm not subjected to this vehicular stress on a daily basis; I'd be seriously depressed about living here and in a VERY unhealthy "place" mentally.

Edited next morning:

Rach, we *do* live right near a metro station! It takes about 8 minutes for an adult to walk there at a reasonable pace. It's doing it with KIDS that's another matter; they end up "melting down" at some point--either while IN public transport (which is a nightmare) or during the walk home (so you're kind of stranded). If we "hoof" it and we're carrying anything or had to make multiple transfers, we get home and everyone is in a ROTTEN mood. The kids are OK taking the subway (they actually enjoy it) if we're going somewhere directly or with a relatively easy transfer mid-route; most places we need to go, however, would then require waiting around for an overcrowded bus or tram to get the final destination, or walking quite a ways again.

We also usually have "multiple stops;" I need to pick up *both* kids at separate schools... pick up the kitty litter or bread we've run out of... or the item at the grocery store would be way too heavy to carry (we buy all our water in 5 liter bottles)... or the kids have stuffed backpacks, art projects, etc. If we're going to more than one place and I have both kids with me, I need to use the car.

The dacha where Katya visited her friend yesterday is connected to public transport, but it would have meant taking the subway with two transfers and then a long bus ride I might have had to wait quite a while for (with no air conditioning, with other people who also have their hot water shut off and aren't bathing much, packed in like sardines), then a long walk-- it might have ended up taking even longer than driving in bad traffic, and it would have been much, much more miserable. (I could do it alone and keep my cool, but not with the kids...)

I lived here with both kids without our car our first two years... That's part of the reason why I was so utterly miserable, often crying myself to sleep after long days of walking, transfers, carrying too much, children who "lost it" in public and then *completely* "lost it" once we got home again... At least with driving the kids stay calm; that's worth way more to me... By the time you'd figure in all the multiple stops on different modes of transport that aren't directly connected, the car is usually just as fast.

Monday, June 2, 2008

If You're Stuck in Traffic...

...sometimes there's at least a nice view!

Not bad, eh? I had to exchange a pair of pants for Chris this afternoon at the Columbia (so cool they're here!!!) store today. I know, I know... We'd already had such an eventful morning; why on earth run such an errand in the afternoon?! Well, you only have two weeks to make returns/exchanges in Russia, so I had no choice but go since today was my 14th day since purchase.

It took THREE HOURS to go there, exchange the pants and come home. Of all the places to end up being stuck in traffic, however, I'll pick the bridge in front of the Kremlin any day!

Ten Months of Vitamins

Today has been a really long day. It started at 8:30 a.m. when I found an empty Gummy Vites container... COSTCO-sized container... and FREAKED. Then I found a second one, almost empty. And then a third.

We buy our vitamins and children's medications in large quantities when in the USA and bring it all back here. We keep everything in a crate, put away, only bringing it out as needed. I didn't have everything under lock and key like we used to when Natalia was still a toddler. Our kids know that medicine is dangerous and never go near it. Katya got into others' medications twice as a toddler and gave us quite a scare; I know what it means to child-proof your home. I just didn't think I needed to do all that anymore.

Plus, well, if my kids are determined to get into something, THEY WILL. After our fourth hair-cutting catastrophe (Katya wielded the scissors--on her own hair, her friend's, and her sister's...) we had all scissors EXTREMELY WELL HIDDEN. Sure enough, she snagged a pair during art class at school when she was five, kept them hidden for a week, and then cut off her bangs, AGAIN, in the school bathroom...

In any case, back to today's scare... Natalia consumed ten months of vitamins over the course of two days (as best I was able to discern; she isn't exactly forthcoming about when she hid the bottles). We rushed to the medical center and she was examined, had her urine and blood tested, and she seems to have come out this ordeal unharmed--other than a bad stomach ache. THANK GOD there was no iron in the vitamins.

I pulled the doctor aside and asked him to do his best to make Natalia grasp the severity of the situation. Let's just say he did a very good job... A rather painful session of blood-drawing further sealed the deal. She does NOT want to do anything to have to go through that again...

Chris is in Germany on business... Didn't call him because I didn't want him to worry... I did, however, run into his co-worker (who is a friend of mine) in the waiting room with her two adorable daughters... She's the one who invited me to the wonderful charity auction with Patch Adams and Maria's Children to provide art therapy and care to Russian orphans last November.

Then we ran into a Hungarian family we'd met at the children's park behind the White House last weekend.

Then we ran into the same friend we had bumped into at GUM department store last month.

Then we ran into one of the families I tutor; Natalia was sooo happy to see her friend and they commiserated over their bandaged arms (her friend got vaccinations).

Last, but not least, I heard "Tamara!" as we were leaving--and it was a friend from the Toddler Play Group I attended our first year here. She had just e-mailed me a few days ago asking for info about kindergartens for next year...

Moscow can feel small, REALLY small, sometimes!

Natalia is now laying down, resting...

She finally accepted that she's not allowed to use the computer as punishment for at least two weeks (Chris and I will discuss it once he's home). Katya is watching "Molly: An American Girl" and working on some of the homeschool historical activities that go with those books...

Wish we could be outside in this glorious sunny weather! Maybe we'll venture out for a while... Just don't want to reward Natalia for her behavior--and missing school--by doing anything fun...

Edited later on: I forgot to mention that I was stopped by yet another traffic cop on the way home from the medical center... I had NO time to spare and no patience for being extorted... I determinedly showed the cop the empty vitamin containers, said I was coming from the hospital with a poisoned child, and I had to rush home since any minute she'd be throwing up in the car... And he actually let me go!!! Not that I'd done anything to warrant being stopped in the first place, but he'd have found a reason to make me pay him a bribe if he'd felt like it...

Sunday, June 1, 2008


This is how you "pick wildflowers" in Moscow: you buy them bundled in leaves and string from babushki (old women) who peddle them near subway stations and pedestrian underground street crossings. However you get your hands on them, they're just as beautiful.

These are the kinds of flowers I bought during the summer of 1999 when we were living in Moscow in my attempts to make our STY of an apartment feel homey. I remember that summer so clearly... And these flowers really made me smile today. I looked at flowers like these while making the sampler I gave you, Mom, with the lavendar wrapped around the letters of the alphabet.