Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween at Our Home

Halloween isn't a holiday here; schools are forbidden from celebrating it because the Russian government considers it to be Satanic and dangerous. The only public mention of it is for parties at bars and clubs; hardly kids' fare. 

The Anglo-American School sells pumpkins and kids there have parties, etc., but other American kids are left, literally, out in the dark. We used to host our own party, but now I'm just not up to all that it entails. 

This year the girls are thrilled that we'll be joining friends at the U.S. Embassy to actually trick or treat... What a thrill for them! We trick or treated there two years ago with Katya's Brownie troop and it was a lot of fun. Halloween used to be so much fun in our Park Slope, Brooklyn neighborhood -- but neither girl remembers that at all. 

In addition to trick or treating, we're meeting up with some other American families at a local restaurant on Saturday so our kids can wear "indoor" costumes (they'll have to wear full snowsuits to keep from freezing while outside at the embassy on Friday night) and run around... Then on Monday afternoon we're going to a party hosted by an American/Russian family from Katya's school (next week is school vacation)

Regardless of our plans, I always decorate for Halloween. This year Natalia helped me to make wax paper ghosts for our windows.  

I also hung some spiders we made a few years ago from our dining room light fixture. The cats do NOT like them.

Seriously, I'm amazed that they're still hanging... I guess Asya ended up realizing they weren't real and decided to leave them alone. Had she so desired, they'd be shredded pulp by now.

No, I don't allow the cats to be on our table, but I just had to get those pictures first...

Last, but not least, the girls helped their dolls to throw a Halloween party at the local ice cream shop...

Some of you have written about your children's costumes for this year; I haven't because the girls can't decide! In years past, they've changed costumes over and over again. In many ways, it's Halloween every day of the year at our home -- so the whole "costume thing" isn't that big a deal here! I miss trick-or-treating in warmer weather; it was always fun to make big, creative costumes out of cardboard... A mail box that opened around my head is one I can remember... 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Quick Reflexes... And Quick to (Mis)Judge...

Driving home from work/school the other day, the girls and I had quite a scare. The road near our home was very, very dark and all of the sudden a woman almost fell in front of our car -- with two men tackling her. 

I was able to stop in time and I started HONKING my horn at full blast to get attention from anyone nearby (which I did). I rolled down my window enough to shout, "Woman being attacked! Get off her! HELP!" for anyone who could hear.

It turns out that the woman had tried to throw herself in front of our car, looking to kill herself... Those two men saved her life. 

Earlier in the day, my students and I had been discussing how Muscovites won't involve themselves when someone needs help in public for fear of then being dragged into the bureaucracy of documentation with the police. 

I've seen people literally dying in the street after being attacked, but no one will stop to help for that very reason. I once had to physically block the entrance to an adjacent restaurant, refusing to leave and stop shouting for help until they called an ambulance and the police (I didn't have my mobile phone on me). 

This time others DID get involved, saving her life, and also protecting me and my children from a potential crash. I, on the other hand, was relieved to be able to be the "Muscovite," continuing on my way without having to get more involved. My girls just didn't need to see any more than they already had.

Just another day in Moscow...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Performance at Natalia's School

This evening the kids at Natalia's school put on a sweet little presentation for the parents. 

I say "little" because two other times per year these young children put on MASSIVE performances that last at least an hour, with all lines memorized, all roles wonderfully acted, excellent choreography and dancing, good blocking on stage, super costumes, and great songs. You would NEVER believe that the kids are ages two to six. NEVER. Past shows have been Mary Poppins, Cinderella, Russian fairy tales, etc. 

You'll see Natalia dance in two numbers and sing a cute song. She peers out from behind the "curtain" at one point and keeps mouth, "Te quiero mucho, mucho, mucho, Mamá" ("I love you so, so much" in Spanish) to me... So cute!

I took these pictures of the mural that the children created in the art room; isn't it pretty?

Natalia did much of the work on this part of the wall. I'm not ready to let her paint the murals in their bedroom, though! I will be doing that next week...

It was such a busy day for Natalia that this is what I saw when I finished clearing the table and washing our the few dishes we had used:

That's right. Sound asleep. Oh, to fall asleep that easily!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Yesterday we all went to see "Beauty and the Beast" with Katya's class. It's the "real" Broadway production -- translated into Russian. I was wary of seeing it in translation, but the language geek in me lapped up every brilliantly chosen Russian play-on-words, rhyme and image. I know all the songs by heart in English, so I found myself analyzing the translation throughout the production -- and loving every minute of it. 

I tried to find copies of the songs in Russian, but they're not easily located... The only example I can readily recall is that "Be Our Guest" became "Вы Наш Гост," wonderfully preserving the mono-syllabic stress necessary for Lumiere's cabaret number. 

I highly recommend the production to anyone, even families in Moscow who don't speak Russian. Provided that you've seen the Disney movie, you'll have no trouble following along. The scenery, costumes, singing and acting are phenomenal!

Our kids even got a backstage tour, thanks to connections through one of the moms... I told Natalia, thinking she'd be quite excited.... She was, until she realized that joining the cast on stage wasn't exactly part of their special treatment...! Reminds me of when Katya thought that we were taking her to the Bolshoi Theater (for her 4th birthday... Keep in mind how cheaply you can sometimes find tickets...) so that she could PERFORM -- and she insisted on continuing her stretching and exercises in the buffet area during intermission...

Here are some pictures from the official website:

New Website for Families in Moscow

Check out this new resource for families in Moscow, a website put together by the British Women's Club. You can access it by clicking here; I just checked it out and was impressed by the wealth of information: places to go, schools, babysitters, doctors, etc. Thanks, ladies, for creating the site!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In the Hot Seat: Natalia

My friend Rachael came up with idea of periodically filming her kids while they answered a rapid-fire survey. The questions are written to give you an idea of Natalia's current favorite things; they also will one day serve as a pop culture time capsule of October 2008... 

Katya has been gone this weekend at a her friend's dacha; I'll film her soon. It has been wonderful to have time alone with Natalia! I think I almost yelped, "SURE, TAKE HER!" over the phone when her friend's mom called on Friday to ask if Katya could spend Friday and Saturday nights with them... It's not that I don't love both my kids, but I relish the rare opportunities for alone time with each of them...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ханна Монтана!

Before class started today, my ninth grade girls were eagerly talking about something they had just discovered, something that has just appeared in Russia...

Ханна Монтана!

See for yourselves...

Here's the theme song sung in Russian... I like Miley's voice much better, but it's fun to hear the words in Russian. My guess is that they'll keep many of her songs in English, though.

The girls kept chattering on and on about her. One of them asked me if I'd ever heard of her... Um, is the sky blue? Anyone who knows Natalia and Katya is surely laughing at THAT question...

I just smiled, reached into my book bag, and pulled out the folder I've been using to protect originals for photocopying. Not just any folder, but this folder:

Design International Group Hannah Montana Folder Assorted

They were VERY surprised. I'm now either super cool or the ultimate dork in their eyes! I did explain that the folder was my daughters' and that I was just borrowing it...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Russian Practice: Real Estate...

I took this picture of a billboard in neighborhood last week... So, where are Russia's rich being lured to buy vacation homes? Hint: I know that some of you have beautiful sons and daughters from this country...

Answer: Guatemala

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Thought YOUR Car Was Messy?!

After walking by this car, suddenly my car seems darn pristine to me in comparison!

Hmm... Is this the Moscow answer to not having closets, basements or attics? 

So... What's in Tamara's trunk right now? (Kind of makes think of Holly's Fruit Bowl!)

A parachute big enough for 20 kids play with, a box with 20 containers of milk (they don't need to be refrigerated), a 10 lb bag of kitty litter, a huge bag of clothing to donate at a local church, a scooter, a box of crackers (in case of a long traffic jam and hungry kids), one pink mitten, corrected 9th grade homework, a forgotten Happy Meal toy, two deflated balloons from the Hard Rock Cafe, a child's umbrella and a newspaper from last month.

At least all my stuff is IN THE TRUNK!

Gotta clear it out so I can fit the snow tires... Time to put them on...

"Asleep at the Wheel," continued...

Natalia woke up this morning on the couch since I had been afraid to move her to her bed. (When I had tried, she had started to wake up, so I just let her sleep there instead). 

The poor kid thought she had been doing homework all night long!!!!! She didn't realize that I had taken away the workbooks and tucked her in. It's still very dark here until 7:30 a.m., so she was a also a bit disoriented. 

"Mom-my? Oh, it's just sooo hard! I had so much homework that I did it all night long! Spelling and reading and writing and spelling and..."

I then showed her that she had not only finished her assigned homework, but she had also gone ahead in the books. She then beamed, jumped up, and said:

"Doing homework while asleep is just the best!"

We'll see how that works in years to come...!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Asleep at the Wheel...

Who ever said that being five-years-old isn't hard work? (I was going to say "in kindergarten," but then I realized that she's doing homework in a 1st grade US workbook... It can be confusing referring to Natalia's year in school since they start a year later in Russia -- yet cover more of some subjects/less of others... ) I'm making her do reading/writing homework five nights a week in various workbooks so her skills don't slip now that she's back in a Russian school. (For any new readers, she was in an English kindergarten last year and learned to read and write very well). 

I should add that she's now starting to read in Russian, too... She's picking it up quickly and seems to be enjoying it without much confusion. She also has French twice a week at her Russian school and loves those lessons; Katya is quite jealous. Now, hello, they LIVE with a French teacher (moi...)... But no, I'm just the mom... 

In any case, when she came home from school today, she was pretty eager to do homework...(Hmm... I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that there is no television allowed unless homework/reading is done, all clothing laid out of the next day, room picked up, etc...

Her face paint was the result of yet another birthday party that afternoon. All kids have some kind of birthday celebration at school; this one had face painting, a clown, and cool glow-in-the-dark bracelet favors...

You bet she knew how cool she looked...

From Pioneer Camp to Pastries...

Enjoying "Cento Percento," a pastry with mango, raspberry and passion fruit mousse.

Katya had yet another wonderful time with her school at camp last week. They spent three days at the site of a former Soviet Youth (Pioneer) camp doing all kinds of outdoor and educational activities. 

It has become a tradition that after I meet her at the bus, we go to Coffeemania for chicken noodle soup, apple lemonade and dessert. Well, that's what she has... I personally love their crab cakes with wild rice and spinach. It goes without saying that a cup of coffee is also involved...

During our late lunch she tells me about her trip. The highlight this year was being the 3rd fastest runner in her class -- a really big deal for her. I'm glad she's enjoying sports more. I was excited to see what books she had packed for the trip: Island of the Blue Dolphins and Bridge to Terabithia. To think that a year ago she had yet to read even a page of a Magic Tree House book!

I had to leave work a little early to meet her bus on time; I explained to my class why I was only going to be there for half of the lesson. As soon as they heard why, they all longingly remembered when they had had such fun at the same camp on school trips...



And as if I couldn't piece together this little mystery...


At least it's easier to nab Katya for using my camera...

Imagine my surprise in 2004 when I uploaded my pictures and FOR THE LIFE OF ME couldn't figure out what exactly was in one rather odd close-up... A little blurry, white and brown...

Oh, of course. That would be my two-year-old Natalia trying to help her scrapbooking mother... OF COURSE I would want a picture of the first time she had pooped in the potty all by herself... 

I passed on that layout idea...! 

More about those Custom-Painted Cars...

I told a colleague at work about the Lexus with orchids (see post below) and she told me about an even better example of making a statement... Hmm... Exactly what statement IS made by the following car?

A white Mercedes painted with sparkling diamonds (pictures, not real-- I actually clarify this point because THIS IS MOSCOW, and anything is truly possible...) all over it!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

When a Lexus Just Isn't Enough...

Status, status, status... Painted vanity cars are become more and more common... Once they're common, they'll no longer confer the status their owners had coveted. I wonder what will be next?

Russian Practice: Today's Specials

You're all doing so well with these Russian assignments that I decided to throw some cursive at you... 

You can see both print and cursive charts beneath these pictures. As if learning to read Cyrillic weren't hard enough, most beginning Russian students really groan when they realize that the cursive alphabet is almost entirely different from the printed one -- and there are variations of it. You see one such variation in the writing above; the last letter in the third word in brown writing with white outlining is actually a cursive "д". Adding to the difficulty of reading handwritten Russian is the fact that many people stylistically combine print and cursive. 

Your first task is to decipher the drink of the day. You'll instantly know two of the three words; the third word you should be able to figure out from context. 

What is the geographic provenance of the variety of the week? 

I wish I could offer up a prize... Say, a taste of the assignment?

Answers: Caramel Hot Chocolate, Asia Oceania

"No, thanks..."


There's an exhibit at the Kremlin right now featuring British fashion from the 18th and 19th centuries, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museums in Kensington. I'd like to go with the girls; I think they would enjoy it! They would certainly recognize clothing that their colonial American Girl dolls wear...

I told Natalia all about it, in a very enthusiastic tone. She thought for a minute, raised an eyebrow, and asked:

"Will I get to try it all on?"

Um, no. And I told her so.

"No, thanks!" (Well, it was actually, "Um, no...")

I'll probably still get them to go, though. 

Russian Practice with a Web Hunt

So... The first part of your task is to figure out the name of this store and what you can buy there. 

It's pretty easy, so I'm adding on a challenge... Go to the store's website here. In the center of the page, you'll see an order form for a certain product. (No cheating by changing the site into English!).

Контактные линзы Каталог продукции   

Срок ношения 
Радиус кривизны 
Оптическая сила 
Цена: от  до  руб.

So... What are Контактные линзы?

While you're at it, what do these words mean (two words are cognates of English words, two aren't at all--but you can figure them out by reading the words around them in the chart)?

Have fun!

Answers: Lensmaster, contact lenses, catalog, color, diameter, price 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Some People Rake the Leaves in Their Yards...

Muscovites have to wipe off their cars. Glad that I don't have to park under trees...

My Cup (or Bottle) Runneth Over...

So... I wrote on Wednesday about how an unexpected can of ginger ale had been worthy of a blog entry entitled "Happiness"...

I was sincerely happy, delightfully thankful to share that can with Natalia... A can of my favorite American drink that you can't get here...

And then today while at Azbuka Vkusa, a rather expensive upscale grocery store, I saw this:

I was so excited! That one little bottle (less volume than in a typical American can) cost 68 rubles/$2.57, but I splurged on just one, knowing I could put it away for a day when I'm down...

I then continued on with my grocery shopping (since it always entails visiting three different shops), ending up at Ramstore, the discount Turkish supermarket. As I was finishing up, loading up my cart with 5 liter bottles of drinkable water, I just about fell over when I spotted this...

Yup, that's RIGHT, people!!!! I saw THIS:


CAN YOU BELIEVE IT???? A 1.5 liter bottle for only 45 rubles/$1.70!!!!! 

I had been happy the other day to drink just half of a can... Then happy to get one little bottle... And then I discovered I can get it inexpensively whenever I want!!!!!

Now that I know I can get it here, I probably won't crave it... Simply knowing I can have it is really nice. (I don't usually drink soft drinks with sugar; but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth and complain that the ginger ale here isn't diet...)


Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Russian Practice for Beginners: Where Are You Going?

This sign is a good mix of "easy" with a little challenge thrown in there. The second and fourth words are in the genetive case (to mean "of" in modifying the first word of the sign), which means that their final letters have been changed from the feminine nominative case endings of "-А"  "-ИЯ." This clue should be helpful; if you switch the endings to the nominative, then the words become English (and Romance 
Language: French, Spanish, Italian) cognates. 

So... What's this destination? Let me know if you true beginners try it and figure it out! If response is good, I'll keep offering these little language exercises.

Answer at the bottom...

..."Theater of Music and Poetry"

Where the Internet and Real Life Meet

When I first created my blog, I had to decide whether to keep my blog private -- viewable only by those I personally invited -- or public. As I thought about it, some people I knew asked me why I would even consider opening up about my family's life to the public at large. 

"Would anyone else actually be interested in it?"

"What kind of people would read it? Are they people we would want to know about our life?"

"Do you really think you would make friends with anyone over the internet -- real friends? Wouldn't it just be a waste of time?"

Well... You've certainly proved to me that the answers are "Yes, yes, yes!"

It has been a pleasure to spend time during the last two weeks with Dina, my new friend in Moscow who found my blog while living in Niamey, Niger. My blog helped her family as they prepared for their next assignment in the Foreign Service. Through each other's blogs, I learned about an area of Africa that I hadn't even realized existed! (I had been mistakenly confusing Niger and Nigeria). Through my blog, Dina learned about aspects of life in Moscow that made their transition to life here easier. 

Most importantly, through our blogs we have become friends. As I hung out in Dina's house yesterday with her husband and kids, we commented on how strange it is to meet someone through blogging: we already know so much about each other's families and lives that the day you actually meet in person is merely a formality. You immediately jump into "old friends" mode. 

Dina and my friendship will have an added bonus for you, my readers; we're going to combine forces to create another blog: Daily Photo Moscow. Neither of us felt up to it individually... but as a team? Here we come! Check out Dina's "Daily Photo Niger" blog; her talent as a photographer is tremendous and I can't wait to see the city through her eyes and lens. 

I took the picture at the top of this entry as Dina and I walked back to her house when we first met two weeks ago. They see this building from their front door! I wish I had taken more pictures that day; I took her on a whirlwind tour of the city by foot: from the US embassy to the Old Arbat (she laughed at Starbucks when I was greeted by name), along Nikitsky Bulvar to Bolshaya Nikitskaya (past the Chaikovsky Conservatory) to Red Square, through GUM to the Bolshoi Theater (where she bought tickets for the ballet Giselle in November), along Tverskaya to Pushkin Square (where we had an amazing lunch at Cafe Pushkin), back along Tverskaya to the Garden Ring Road (stopping at Volkonsky Bakery--where Olympic gold medalist tennis star Elena Dementeva was behind us in line) and back to the US Embassy. Whew! It was sooo much fun to point out all the little things you wouldn't necessarily know if you walked by on your own, new to the city.

I'm so glad I chose to make this blog public; it's a pleasure "knowing" all of you new friends whom I would never have met otherwise. As for you "old" friends who would have been reading this anyway, I love you, too!

Golden Autumn

"Self Portrait"

That's what they call the period of fall foliage here. "Золотой Осень." Two weeks ago I quickly visited Moscow State University and Sparrow Hills to take some pictures before the leaves are all on the ground. 

The white birch trees look so beautiful when framed by the orange and gold leaves. Here are some paths on the university campus. 

Universitetsky Prospect, the main road behind the university, was beautiful that day, too. I love driving along it; the rows of birch trees make me feel as if I've driven far away from the congestion of the city.