Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Economic Crisis

The crisis in Russia is just as bad as in America... Lots of lay-offs, big money lost on the stock market, etc... It doesn't stem from the housing market mortgage fiasco, but it does share problematic speculation on futures on the stock market in valuing oil. And yet -- gas is still just as expensive now, even though the price of crude oil has plummeted from $200 a barrel to $50... 

I hear people say that the situation will be bad for a while, but not necessarily to the extent it will be in the USA.

It's pretty gut-wrenching; clients backing out of deals means less work to be done, which translates into not billing the necessary amount of hours to get yearly bonuses, which translates into many expats then not making enough at the end of the year to cover the extra costs of living here -- costs not covered by expat packages (usually school fees, a second trip home per year to the US, and inflation in rent/grocery prices). 

Charities are suffering, too; there's less money to be donated to them. 

The yellow sign in the picture? "Be Cautious! Save your money in several banks in several currencies." At the top of the sign? A note saying the sign is sponsored by the Minister of Finance!

Oh -- look at the picture above again. Don't you just love how people park? And isn't that traffic delightful?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lazy Saturday Morning

I love unstructured Saturday mornings. Some families here participate in the English-speaking community soccer, basketball and baseball leagues on Saturdays, but it just hasn't been in the cards for us (yet). We all have such busy weeks that we need the downtime. 

I'm pretty sick with bronchitis, so Natalia and I are snuggling (except for when I'm blogging). The cats love it when we just lay around, as you can plainly see!

Natalia has pleaded for Santa to bring her a new doll bed this year... It doesn't take a genius to figure out who is going to make the most use of it!

Yup, her head is on the pillow and she's snuggling Molly's dog, Bennett..

Olga: You had asked how we keep our cats so fluffy -- they wash each other every day. It's so sweet! We shampooed Lyalya once after he escaped last spring and got trapped under the elevator shaft. I'm thinking of shampooing them both again, though... They're coats are a bit oily and they don't smell as sweet as they used to.

About the escaping, though... Lyalya, despite being neutered, is intent on escaping from our apartment... He has shot through our legs four times in the past day... He just LOOKS at you with squinted eyes as if to say, "Yeah, just TRY to stop me..." and then STREAKS by you before you can catch him. Bronchitis and all, I pulled an old soccer goalie move and tackled him last night. I stopped him that time, but the others... 

It's scary. We can't always have him shut in a room. He's desperate to leave, meowing and hiding in the entryway to get out... Katya is really upset about it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bad Idea

Just because you've known your hairdresser for over a year and a half, and she always does a great job, doesn't mean that you should trust her and then get too involved in your magazine when she takes the scissors to your hair. 

We agreed to make the length of the hair shorter, but I thought we'd agree only  by an  inch. Try almost three. A length that, it turns out, does not flatter my face.

The worst part? Bangs that fall halfway down my forehead. I feel like a plucked chicken. I keep telling myself, "It'll grow...." The bangs will be a normal length in about three weeks... 


Hmm... Perhaps the worst part is that I actually paid for it all -- at Moscow prices... Since I had agreed to make it shorter, and then told I trusted her, I'm the fool.

Maria's Children & Patch Adams: Art Auction for Orphans

Last weekend was the annual art auction to benefit the charity Maria's Children. Patch Adams, the renowned American doctor, returned once again with a group of his volunteers to lead the evening. (Remember the film about him in which he was portrayed by Robin Williams?)

Here you can see Maria and Patch while they auctioned off the masterpiece of the night, a GORGEOUS collaborative mural of Moscow that went for $25,000! The gracious owner of the Katerina Hotel hosted the event and purchased the mural for the lobby.

This isn't just any fundraiser, and these aren't just any people... You can read what I wrote about last year's auction and all of the wonderful people involved here

First of all, notice how one is properly dressed for this event... Not exactly black tie! My girls, of course, were only too happy to get into the spirit of the evening! (In true form, Katya brought a bag of costumes and kept modifying her look throughout the night... That hat, however, was MY costume. Gotta love that hat!) Clown clothing is available to all who would like to dress up in the cloakroom. 

That dress Katya has on (inside out)? My costume from when I was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in our ninth grade school play... When you sewed it, Mom, you certainly never imagined it being worn in Moscow!

Older children helped by Maria's organization did a wonderful job of greeting all the guests and of watching the kids while the adults attended the auction. 

Various friends of ours joined us this year and the children had a great time getting their faces painted, playing games and admiring the art. Natalia was very happy to see Heda, a Chechen refugee who had befriended us at last year's auction. At the end of the night, Katya asked Heda to keep our Gymboree pastel fairy wings that she had lent her.

The most special part of the evening was when Patch literally auctioned off his pants... He asked $5,000 to cover all of the internal transportation costs for his volunteers while they were in Russia. Any extra money, he said, would go towards rebuilding Heda and her brother Aslan's home in Chechnya. Their parents are still living in a refugee camp and these teens have been separated from their mom and dad since being brought to Moscow by Maria's Children.

Heda and Aslan so enchanted Patch's volunteers last year that they all personally pledged money towards rebuilding their home -- but it hadn't been enough. Patch so wanted to help Heda and Aslan that he joked, "Heck, I'd sell ALL the clothing I'm wearing for $20,000!" 

A very kind donor then stunned us all by donating $21,000 -- for Patch to keep the remaining clothing ON! I jumped out of my chair and ran to tell Heda, since she wasn't in the room and was still with the smaller children... She and the other teens started dancing around, jumping up and down and hugging... It was INCREDIBLE! Katya and Natalia were really moved, too.

Heda, Katya and Natalia then joined me upstairs for the rest of auction. My two just sat there, taking it all in. I think they really got a lot out of it. That's what I love about the evening and Maria's organization; it gives them a meaningful way to learn about others who are less fortunate, and to actually help, in a way that isn't emotionally scarring. Katya wants to start painting at the studio with the kids. When we eventually have her birthday party (belatedly, I know, this winter), she wants to request that any presents will go to the orphans.

As the auction winded down, Natalia did keep shaking her head in bewilderment: "He's up there in his UNDERWEAR!" She didn't know WHAT to make of Patch! At least this year, unlike last year, she didn't tell him that he's simply NOT FUNNY...

When Heda and Aslan join us for Thanksgiving this year, we'll all have a great deal to be thankful for...

I'd like to now share some of the artwork that was available for purchase before the auction started.

Katya and Natalia each helped me pick out Christmas presents (calendars and magnets) for our family in America and they admired all of the ceramics. (We went home with a pretty little cat and "Aladdin's lamp"). There were also many paintings for sale at reasonable prices.

Here are some of my favorite pieces from the auction:

A detail from the mural at the beginning of the post. You can make out Luzhniki, the Olympic Sports area, and MGU, Moscow State University.

This calendar sold for $5,000 and was exquisite. There are twelve appliqued scenes that you can alternate as you choose, and the numbers are attached by buttons. The numbers are reversible: blue and red, so you can highlight your own holidays. Making this calendar was very therapeutic to orphans with sensory difficulties; since they can't "feel" paint on the paper, sewing allowed them to be much more expressive.

"The World through the Eyes of an Artist." This collaborative piece of art was done by orphans with special needs from Orphanage Number 14 at another studio in St. Petersburg. (Perhaps your students could do something with them, Kate!) 

This mural, "Pegasus above Moscow," has a neat story behind it... It was made when the American actress Lucy Liu visited the studio through UNICEF. They hadn't expected her to stay for more than fifteen minutes, but she was there for over four hours, mesmerized by the kids and the collaborative process. She drew and painted the church buildings underneath the flying red horse, and the dogs in front of those buildings are her actual pooches! While the mural was being auctioned, they showed us pictures of Liu's visit; I particularly loved the shots of her posing with the orphans as Charlie's Angels!

This exquisite photo album was made from scratch by Aslan. It is a masterpiece. He is so creative; he invented secret compartments in both the cover of the album and hidden on the inside of the back cover. He has enjoyed this new craft so much that he's now teaching the other children how to make books. I was thrilled that someone paid $5,000 for it. 

Before I wrap this up, I'd also like to share this picture of Patch in the Moscow metro that was on sale before the auction... Isn't it great?! I love the usually dour Muscovites' reactions to his attire! He has been arrested while volunteering here, but he and his group were such a loud nuisance in the jail that the police let them go!

If you'd like to get involved in helping Maria and all the children her organization reaches, visit their website. They're always looking for donations, volunteers to come spend time with the kids at the art studio, used children's clothing in good condition, art supplies, etc. You don't need to be an artist to get involved! 

You can also purchase Christmas/New Year's cards drawn by the children or a 2009 calendar featuring the children's work. If any of you US readers would like a calendar, I could bring it back for you and mail it to you for $17. They also have great magnets for around $4. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Snow

We've had very light flurries a few times, but today was the first real snow. It snowed throughout the day, but didn't accumulate.

There was enough snow on the ground, however, for Natalia to make a snowball when she got home from school... She smiled all the way upstairs while I fetched my camera.

So, I guess it's plain to see that Natalia's happy about the snow! Thank goodness my kids are fine with winter; they're certainly in the right place... Katya's pretty happy, too, because of her new polar bear snow boots... (I'm sure you'll see them in another post). 

Isn't Talia's new Land's End down parka adorable? She's quite pleased. It has been so cold the past few days that she really needs it. 

It's too bad the snow has already turned to slush... Argh... The next six months will be "laundry season;" I'll have to wash their outdoor wear at least a few times per week since the slush is often tainted by the pollution and it stains (not to mention is simply icky). 

More Fairies...

I first wrote about the fairy murals I'm doing in this post. You can now see that the second wall is finished!

The first wall has sunflowers, the flowers we decorated the tables with at our wedding. The second wall has zinnias, the flowers I grew in the special garden in our college town where Chris proposed to me. My bridesmaids carried zinnias and asters.

Here are close-ups of the fairies:

I have one wall left... Bluebells. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Trick or Treating, Moscow-Style

I'm finally getting around to finishing up my post about Halloween... Figured I should do so since it's almost Thanksgiving and the Christmas (New Year's) decorations are popping up in the city...

This year we were so happy to join our friends who live at the US Embassy for Halloween. The weather was also unseasonably warm, a real gift! You can't really tell it from the one poor photo of Katya that came out, but she was a spy. On the territory of the US Embassy. The pink coat kind of spoiled her "incognito" apparel... Natalia was a Greek goddess princess (her words).  My favorite homemade costume? An ipod with siblings who were the headphones.

Many of the home were decorated with jack-o-lanterns and orange lights; it was nice since there aren't Halloween decorations anywhere else in the city. The White House and one of the Seven Sisters skyscrapers looked so pretty in the night sky. It sure is different from the suburban backdrop of my childhood trick-or-treating!

As much as the girls enjoyed trick-or-treating, they most enjoyed just hanging out with our new friends and handing OUT the candy to kids who rang the doorbell.

The girls and I were also pretty excited by all the American candies that can't be purchased in Russia: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups; Whoppers; Jujubees; York Peppermint Patties; Nerds... After that first night, however, they've pretty much forgotten about their stashes. I've hidden it all VERY well and will dole it out from time to time...

The next morning we met up with friends and another family that found me through this blog at a local diner for a Halloween breakfast. That mom even brought all kinds of favors and activities for the kids. Thanks, L~!

Two days later an American classmate of Katya's threw a party that was creative and splendid -- except for Natalia's massive meltdown... I had to literally carry her out of there, wishing I could have fallen through cracks in the floor that never appeared. Talk about a parenting low... She felt so left-out and jealous and simply LOST IT. 

I can only imagine what the other parents thought as I chased her through the living room and carried her out -- while she flailed wildly kicking and screaming, shouting that she hated me and that she wished the other kids were dead. 

All in the spirit of "keeping it real," people. It was a horrible day... And not a good way to kick off our school vacation full of family togetherness... 

On a positive note, though, it lead to a lot of good chances to practice sanctions and to work on behavior... And she ended up having a very good week overall.

Life Is Good

Belgian bakery/cafe chain (Le Pain Quotidien) next to the metro... Nice jazz music playing... Pretty wooden/brick interior... Free wifi... 

Click here for the Moscow locations.

Life is good.*

*OK... But this is Moscow... So I should add that while the wifi was free, it wouldn't let me upload any photographs... I killed time there last week while waiting to get to an appointment. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Both girls were home sick today while I was at work... Natalia still has bronchitis and Katya woke up very weak and coughing, too.

Instead of just resting on the couch and watching TV all day (which I would have allowed, given that it would keep them still), Katya used her Magic Tree House non-fiction books and various encyclopedias to start a report on dinosaurs... This is very much a rough draft; her work is usually much neater and done in proper Russian cursive. (She also misspelled words that I know she can write properly when feeling better...)

She writes non-fiction reports for FUN, choosing to stay home and do research instead of going places on weekends... So far she has written a ten-page report (perhaps 2 full pages typed) on penguins and Antarctica and a four page report on turtles -- all work THAT WAS NEVER ASSIGNED.

Yup... My eight-year-old reads encyclopedias and writes reports FOR FUN! 


Fun Crossword

You can click to open this to full size and print it... It's not too hard for kids and adults with intermediate Russian. (Rachael: You could do it if you use a dictionary to look up the clues. Truly. Jerry: I think you can do it with minimal dictionary usage...)


Picture a class of seniors standing around their teacher, shouting her name in unison.

The teacher, meanwhile, is too engrossed in an episode of Grey's Anatomy* on her ipod to even realize that the bell has rung and the break is over -- that her students have encircled her -- and that they're even shouting her name...

Then she looks up, startled, and the class bursts out laughing.

Yeah. A teacher watching TV in class and the students having to shout at her to teach them something...

Unbelievable. I'd never have thought it was possible until it happened to me... 

Grey's Anatomy Cast - greys-anatomy photo

*Yup, Rachael... Now you've gotten me hooked on Grey's, too... I'd never seen it since it started after we'd moved to Russia. After reading about it on and off in your blog for the last year, I decided to get the first season from Itunes... Now I'm into Season 3... LOVING IT! Oh... Incidentally, my "fairy godmother" (see my last post) told me that a friend of ours here is the sister-in-law of the actress who plays Addison...

My Fairy Godmother

Sticking with this week's "fairy" theme, isn't this just the cutest little fairy in Moscow?! The girls and I gave her mom the costume at her baby shower last February... At the time, it seemed a bit odd to be giving a Halloween costume to a baby that hadn't even been born yet -- but time has flown, she sure has grown, and she's PRECIOUS!

I took this picture when we got together with some other families for a "Halloween Brunch" last Saturday at the Starlite Diner. (More about Halloween in another post that's coming). 

The real fairy in this post isn't the sweetheart above, however -- it's her mother, and she worked her magic on Monday afternoon: 

I was pretty worn down after the "vacation" from school... Rather tired. It was quite hard to get myself up and out to work on Monday morning... After school I had to do a quick errand to find new gym shoes for Katya. I stopped quickly at the McCafe on the Old Arbat afterwards... And realized only an hour later when I went to pay for all my produce at the market that I did not have my small black camera bag that was also doubling as a purse.


It contained one credit card, my ATM card, my driver's license, all of my local merchant discount cards and my new small point-and-shoot camera. My keys, phone and Ipod had all been in my coat pocket. 

I quickly realized that I had left the camera bag hanging on the coat rack at the cafe and set off to get there as fast as I legally could. In the meantime, I whipped out my phone and called my friend who lives right near there... 

As luck would have it, she was two minutes away and she made a mad dash there to look for me. She initially didn't see it, but an employee in the cafe had noticed it hanging on its own and had taken the initiative to put it behind the counter. She claimed it for me and took it with her to Starbucks -- where she waited for me to come claim my bag. She even had a latte waiting for me. 

I sat there a while as my heartbeat normalized...

I would have felt like such an IDIOT to lose my bag that way... I was robbed by a cab driver the first year here and it was hell to get our passports and visas reissued. Getting a new license would have been easier than that, but still a royal pain... And my camera??!

I must say, it's nice to report that for the second time in two weeks I've now seen Muscovites go out of their way to help a stranger -- something that normally just doesn't happen... Setting aside my purse isn't as heroic as saving the life of the woman who tried to kill herself by jumping in front of my car, but a wonderful gesture nonetheless.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Been Busy with the Fairies

Okay... So, I never intended to take an eleven-day  break from blogging... The first few days I was just burnt out from a hard schedule that seemed to go 24/7... Then I had no internet. 

I was off this week and it was "vacation." I put that word in quotation marks because it's supposed to mean "relaxation" -- and the past two weekends and week haven been anything but...

I'll catch up on posts I couldn't do later this week, so you'll get a chance to see trick-or-treating Moscow-style and some other fun stuff we did. For the most part, however, we were stuck at home because Natalia is quite sick with bronchitis. 

Katya hasn't been 100%, either... But she did  get together quite a bit with good friends for playdates, a sleepover, and two trips to the theater . (They saw "Helen Keller" and it was AMAZING). 

When I haven't been busy cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, and spending every possible moment with my kids, I've been busy trying to finish the murals I had planned for the girls' room when I had the Madeline murals painted over this summer. 

It has been VERY time-consuming, much more so than I had envisioned... The Madeline murals had been so easy because Bemelman's style is so primitive. These new murals are much more realistic and complicated... 

The new theme of their room is "fairies" and I wanted to create a sunny, happy place whe
re they would want to be during the L-O-N-G, DARK winter here. 

I've only completed one wall out of three, but it's going well! See for yourselves!

This is how each wall starts out: I do faint pencil sketches and then fill them in. 

Here are some close-ups of the mural I've completed. Once I finish the other two walls, I'll probably redo the fairies' faces. I couldn't get a fine enough paint brush to do them the way I had envisioned. The store I used to buy all my art supplies from -- 4th floor at the central Dyetsky Mir -- closed for renovations and I haven't had the time to search for another shop. (It's not that easy to find what you need here; you can't just open the yellow pages and look up "Michaels" for craft supplies). 

Alas, now I have internet... But I also have to get up before dawn in the morning to get to work... (And I'll probably be up often throughout the night to care for Natalia...) So that's all for now.