Saturday, February 28, 2009

Scrapbooking and Craft Supplies in Moscow!

Well, I'll be! I stumbled upon this site! 

"Craft Corner"... With quite a good selection considering that I didn't think you could find most of these things in Moscow! 

If you spend more than 2,500 rubles, delivery is free in Moscow. (I'm sure the cost isn't that much is you spend less). 

Friday, February 27, 2009

I Loved You...

Alexander Pushkin (Katya's favorite poet -- how many eight-year-olds have a "make you squeal with adoration" favorite poet??!) and Natalia Goncharova, the symbols of Russian love, got into the spirit of things during this "lovey" period spanning from Valentine's Day to International Women's Day (March 8th)... I just had to take a picture.

He wrote the following poem in 1829; it's one that Chris and I had to memorize in our Russian literature class back in college when we had just started dating. Click here to hear it read. 

OH, HOW LUCKY WE WERE THAT THE PROFESSOR OF THAT CLASS (and his wife, also our professor) WANTED TO US TO END UP TOGETHER... Our minds weren't exactly 100% focused on our studies...

Я вас любил: любовь ещё, быть может,
В душе моей угасла не совсем;
Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;
Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.
Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,
То робостью, то ревностью томим;
Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно,
Как дай вам Бог любимой быть другим.

I loved you once: perhaps that love has yet
To die down thoroughly within my soul;
But let it not dismay you any longer;
I have no wish to cause you any sorrow.
I loved you wordlessly, without hope,
By shyness tortured, or by jealously.
I loved you with such tenderness and candor
And pray God grants you to be loved that way again.

iiiiiiiiiii-yay yay! Yippee!

I was shocked to find this little bear and these goodies waiting on the kitchen table table this morning, tucked inside a gold bag. Chris took this picture of it all at his office yesterday while he charged and loaded up my new... I PHONE!!!!!

OH MY!!!! I *NEVER* asked for one, even considered it! Clutzy me? Yikes, I'm even scared to hold it!!! They're also a lot more expensive in Russia, but if you buy one elsewhere and hack it so it can work on a Russian network, then you can never upgrade the software -- so that doesn't really make sense.

I am so, so thankful. 

(The phone is how I was able to sneak a picture of the shoe-cover "gumball machine" inside a Russian hospital today!)

Shoes & Such

Don't make the mistake of thinking you can walk into a Russian building wearing your street shoes... People won't think twice about reprimanding you for your bad manners. Many places put two baskets next the entrance: one containing unused shoe covers (bakhili/бахили), and one for dirty pairs. You'll usually find bakhili at schools, hospitals and gyms -- but not in restaurants or stores. 

I must add that it's important to remember to take them off before leaving... Otherwise you'll slip as soon you set foot onto icy pavement... And you'll also look like a complete idiot. Especially if you end up walking around for a few hours without realizing you're wearing bright blue garbage bags on your feet. Trust me.

Natalia's kindergarten was quite clever: they painted a toy chest gold and made it look like a treasure chest full of the ubiquitous blue covers.

When I had to go to a Russian hospital last week for a catscan, I had fight the urge to whip out my camera so I could take a picture of the gumball machine that dispensed pairs of bakhili! People entering the hospital had to buy their shoes covers for 10 rubles and 50 kopeks. Who carries kopeks around these days?! Sure, add one more thing for worried families in the emergency room to have to deal with... Scrambling around for esoteric coins so they're allowed to walk on the floor...

Wait... Ah hah! (I'm now finishing this post a day later). I had to back to two more hospitals today (more on that later) and I did get a picture! At this hospital, however, they cost 10 rubles even. 

Our school provides bakhili for all visitors, but students and faculty are expected to keep all outerwear strictly in the coat rooms (heaven forbid a scarf pass along a germ...) and everyone brings separate shoes for indoor wear only. It can be a real pain, but it does keep your nice shoes looking, well, nice...

The whole indoor/outdoor shoe thing leads to very odd shoe choices for the younger kids... They end up with one pair of indoor shoes that stays at school -- and certainly doesn't go with a wide range of outfits. Most kids just wear sandals all year round, strapped over their thick Russian tights. Katya has a pair of mary jane black sneakers; Natalia prefers her sparkly purple mary jane Crocs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let's Skate to the Hospital!

Check out the sidewalk I had to use to get to the hospital yesterday! I would have been able to skate most of the way there! Check it out up close: thick and bumpy!

I kept chuckling, thinking of my orthopedic surgeon father-in-law... He used to joke that they iced the steps near the office to bring in more patients... I'd have suspected such motives if this hospital didn't specialize in eye care!

This building nearby was so pretty. It's fascinating to see the mix of architecture from over the centuries... This building was standing long before the Russian Revolution, and here it is being used in contemporary times... 

Even the service entrance in the back is cool!

Literal "Brainfreeze"?

Ever heard the expression, "brainfreeze"? As in, when you just can't put together a coherent thought? 

Evidently, I suffer from such a condition to quite an extreme degree!

When I got back from the hospital yesterday, the babysitter wanted to know what the doctor had said. "Ну, кажется, что у меня может быть проблема с сосулами в мозге..." (Talking about how it appears there might be a problem with the blood flow in the arteries/veins in my brain/head)

Her eyes opened WIDE.

All of the sudden I realized that I'd truly experienced "brainfreeze"!

Instead of saying "сосуди" (arteries/veins), I'd said "cосули" (icicles)!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eye Yay Yay!

I spent this afternoon at the main eye hospital in Russia, seeing one of the top professors there. How lucky that her daughter is one of Katya's classmates and friends!

She does not agree with the other doctors I saw that my distorted vision and the numbness on my right side are simply caused the strain of needing stronger glasses. It turns out that my eyes are actually quite fine, thank you, although my prescription has worsened a little in the past two years. I still only need to wear glasses to look into the distance, not for reading, and not all the time.

I'm going back on Friday to be seen by a neurologist she recommends; she suspects a problem with blood flow in the arteries in my head and they'll do more tests. She wasn't worried, though; she thinks it could be treated by some simple medications, more sleep and less stress. 

Hmm... Did She "Fall" Out of Bed?

I walked by the dolls' bed last night and saw that Elizabeth had taken a little fall...

Hmm... I wondered... Just how did that happen?

A few minutes later my suspicions were confirmed when the (presumably) guilty party returned to the scene of the crime...

No "Da" for Disney

I just got the paper today and one of the main stories is that Disney has been blocked from starting a Disney Channel on Russian television. The project was to have been a joint-venture with a free Russian channel and the government blocked it because of "anti-monopoly reasons." 

Bummer! I didn't even know such a project was in the works. 

Now I really wish the conflict would get resolved...

I'm sure my mom is sighing with relief that the girls won't have access to such drivel -- but I wish we had the choice to watch it from time to time. And frankly -- there aren't other options for the kids other than really bad imported cartoons. No "PBS"-type shows.

Sure, the Disney Channel instantly imports American culture into any country it enters -- and I can see why the Russian government would be opposed. But COME ON, it's in CHINA! 

In our case, it would be nice for the girls to feel more of a pop-culture connection to their American peers. Heck, anything that makes it bit more palatable on a rough day here would be welcome!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Defenders of the Fatherland Day

Happy "Defenders of the Fatherland" Day! It's a national holiday today, honoring the military. There are parades and fireworks, etc.

The holiday has changed, though, from its original meaning to honor all men in general -- so that men have a day similar to March 8th (International Women's Day) for all Russian women. 

Our gym is having a running &  swimming race for all the boys and men today; my girls are miffed that they can't participate!

It's customary to give gifts to all the men in your life today. Tomorrow there will be cakes at work for the men and I bought nice bottles of cognac for the man who drove Natalia's school van and for the man who helps out of family as a driver on a part-time basis.

I think it's so funny that Chris receives presents for defending "the fatherland"!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some More Thoughts about Yesterday: An Expat Perspective

I think it would be easy to read what I wrote yesterday and think, "Geesh... Such self-pity..." 

I know I kind of thought that both while feeling it all day and then when writing it...

This morning I recognized the elephant in the room, understand more just WHY it hurt so much, WHY wanting holidays to be recognized in a certain way matters so much to me...

We've never had a set "home," moving around from grad school to grad school, to job to job... Multiple apartments as rents increased and our family expanded... 

It was one thing when our moving was within the US; everything around us remained relatively familiar. Now we're in a foreign country, one where we won't be staying forever -- we're not creating ROOTS while living here. And yet, we don't have a clear place that's ours when in the USA...

The only constant we have is what we create -- our family traditions. I think ahead, believing it's important for the girls to grow up with solid set of experiences that will fill their memories the way the familiar backdrops of my childhood milestones filled mine.

It makes holidays more "loaded"... Making it more disappointing when they don't go as I'd have hoped... And being expats already makes the holidays harder to begin with. It's not an ideal situation! I mean, psychologically that's a lot to have going on -- then add to it all the extra stress travel/having to plan far in advance (i.e. making sure I've brought everything back from the US that I needed to, which sometimes means thinking a year ahead)

I think of this Christmas, when I was EXHAUSTED after an intense end-of-term week at work,  followed by the trip on my own with the girls to Colorado (with the fun cancelled connecting flights and lost luggage), then the girls' jet lag... Then wrapping all the presents on my own, arranging it all, even having planned all the presents for everyone in advance, then setting up the house for Santa, etc.... 

At about 2 a.m., as I started to stuff my own stocking, on my own, I started crying and said, "FORGET IT. Santa is only coming for the kids this year. If anyone has a problem with it, tough. I can only do so much."

Perhaps I should have gone to bed much sooner -- but it was so important to me that the girls have basic Christmas memories that include something as simple as finding the plate with cookie crumbs that Santa had left the night before... 

So that's all one reason why holidays in general are important... Making traditions...

And the last reason is just as important, when it comes to thinking of my birthday or Mother's Day. It's not that I want all the fuss made over me, although it could be fun... It's more that I don't want my girls to grow up thinking that being a mother who gives all she can to her family should just be taken for granted. I don't want to set a bad example for them by plodding along, making a big deal of their birthdays and their father's, but glossing over my own; I want them to delight in a bouquet of flowers or special drawings that celebrate what wonderful women they will be. I owe it to them.

A Tale of Two Cats and a Canopy Bed

Once upon a time there were two kittens who joined a loving family. They discovered a whole world just their size, and claimed the doll furniture for their own. 

After all, what kitten doesn't love sleeping in tents, riding horses, pawing at dresser drawers, admiring herself in bedroom mirrors and curling up with miniature teddy bears on cozy beds? 

Well... Asya, the girl kitty, had pretty much taken over the doll beds in the past year. It was "her thing." Her brother pretty much deferred to her, letting her get what she wanted, and preferring to sleep wherever he wasn't really supposed to be.

That is, until this new bed arrived, one he immediately had to explore... 

And then decided that he REALLY liked it.


Asya was NOT happy. How dare he take over HER bed? 

She watched and watched, waited and waited, visibly annoyed and agitated.

"Can I pleeez get in my bed now?" she seemed to ask...

"NO! SCRAM!" her brother meowed, baring his claws.

Dejected, Asya gave up and went "outside" to sleep on the bare floor in the barn...

Until she got an idea! She ran and fetched a mouse toy, bringing it back to the living room. She ran around it with it until it squeaked and rattled, waking her brother and tricking him into pursuing the fake little rodent...

HAH! While he was distracted, she immediately reclaimed HER bed, quite victorious.

It was a long wait and a lot of work, but definitely worth it. Every girl should have a four-poster colonial Williamsburg bed, she thinks... And to think that some cats sleep on polyester bean bags! Egad!

To be continued, I'm sure!

Here's the girls' current set-up in our living room. We change it around every month according to their current interests. They're into the Colonial period again these days, inspired by some new books and quill pens they got for Christmas. 

p.s. You might notice that the cats aren't as fluffy as they used to be; I've "furminated" them. The tool is super! I have removed BAGS of hair from them both and there's now considerably less hair floating in the air, blowing around on the floor or stuck to our clothing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Another Birthday...

In the spirit of "keeping it real"...

Yippee. Today... It wasn't too great. Rather crummy, actually. It doesn't help that this is the most depressing time of the year in Moscow. It's already been winter for months and it won't be nice outside until the end of April.

I had wanted a peaceful morning of some coffee in bed (and maybe some fresh strawberries I bought yesterday)... NO illusions about breakfast in bed; it wouldn't be worth having to clean up the disaster in the kitchen later on... Then some snuggling on the couch while we'd watch some TV together... Maybe the girls could put on one of their little performances... Then go to the gym as a family, maybe out for an inexpensive meal afterwards... Back home at an early hour so we could just hang out some more...

I also really wanted some homemade cards by the girls. 

Not too much to hope for, I think... Any part of it, really... 

I didn't even want a present, since by virtue of being expats we pretty much stock up on anything we could foresee needing/wanting (within reason, of course) when we're in the USA -- and we had just done that after Christmas. Since we moved here five years ago, I don't think I've gotten an actual present on my birthday -- so that's not a big deal. (My parents celebrated my birthday while we were together over Christmas). 

But then Chris worked late, not getting home until almost four a.m.... Forget coffee in bed. I was up with the girls at seven a.m., exhausted. I'd been woken by both girls during the night and by him when he had returned home. 

After my medical problems this week, I'm supposed to be RESTING and avoiding stress. (The right side of my face has regained most sensation, but still isn't 100% back to normal). How I DREAM of being able to sleep in some time... It only happens a few times a year on some miraculous occasion. 

We DID have some nice snuggling on the couch, but the girls kept fighting with each other so much that it ended up being really disappointing and unpleasant. 

You know what it's like... Break up fight, enforce time outs, serve breakfast, clean up breakfast, deal with laundry, more refereeing, time to make lunch, clean up lunch, more laundry... 

Chris was up for a while at lunch time, but still really tired... His job is so darn draining and it never seems to end. Then he went to sleep again, right when we'd planned to go to the gym. Figuring he needed the sleep, the girls and I waited... But by the time he got up, I was so darn tired from the long day with the kids and dealing with housework (there was a LOT to do), I didn't have the energy. (I have fibromyalgia and it really flares up when I'm tired or under stress, so this week has been rough). I took a nap for a whopping forty-five minutes. By then we'd missed the kids' classes at the gym and it was too late to go without feeding them first.

I headed into the kitchen to make eggplant parmigiana, and I even got a little help from Katya... but then they started painting and ended up making a big mess. (It had been under control and neat while I supervised, but not once I left). Katya supposedly did paint me a card, but somehow it was destroyed. Natalia made one, but I haven't seen it yet. 

The painting lead to a few loads of laundry. (Our washing machine can only handle 10 lbs of laundry at a time. Since we have to do laundry "Moscow-style", I won't finish it all until tomorrow -- four 1/2 hours per load from beginning to end).  

Sensing, perhaps, that I was about to snap, Chris suggested that we get some Indian food delivered. Good call. I'll complete the eggplant tomorrow. Getting food delivered is something we've done less than five times in five years. It takes forever, the food is usually COLD and it's ridiculously expensive... Truly, it's easier to just make a pizza from scratch than it is to order one... (This isn't true in all areas of the city, though). 

By the time the food arrived, the girls were cranky, I had reached my maximum level of tolerance for stress and whining, and I was feeling utterly disappointed about the tiring day during which I'd accomplished almost nothing. I didn't even have an appetite... I know I'll really appreciate the yummy leftovers tomorrow, though...!

Thanks so much to those of you who knew it was my birthday and sent me good wishes via the internet! And to Julie who even called me on my mobile from California! It really helped. This morning my first "Happy Birthdays" came from my cell-phone provider and the customer service rep from our gym.

If we were living in the US, I don't think I'd really care... But birthdays are HUGE, HUGE, HUGE here! For people of ALL ages. It's a major holiday. 

I think this year it's so hard for me because of something the neurologist said when I was in the hospital on Tuesday... One of the reasons she thought I might have had a blood clot was because of sagging in my facial muscles. Then she later realized, "Oh, good!! You just have wrinkles!"


When did I get OLD???!!!!!

I never thought I'd be getting "old" and still not have begun the life I always thought I'd live -- settled in a house, in a town we'd be part of for the rest of our kids' educations (at least), and teaching foreign languages (not English -- that's not my profession) at a school where I could really grow as an educator. 

It's hard being on this path that I didn't choose and not knowing how much longer I'll be on it. I try to make the best of everything, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt sometimes. Sometimes a lot. 

All that said, I know that my family really does love and appreciate me -- and that they really did mean for my birthday to be nice... Maybe from now on I'll take over more of a role in planning it so that their actions end up matching their intentions. I plan for everyone else, I might as well do it for myself! 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moooving On...

We've pulled Natalia out of her kindergarten starting in March and will be homeschooling/sending her to afternoon preparatory classes (for kids who will be in 1st grade in September) at Katya's school for the rest of the school year. I haven't quite figured out all the logistics, but it'll work. 

I know, after the last post I did of her frog dance in the school play, it might seem a bit unexpected. It was for us, too. I think it makes sense, though, and Natalia is very happy with the decision.

What did it all come down to? A six-year-old needs friends. We think that proper social development is just as important -- or perhaps even more important -- than academic achievement when it come to our daughters' growth.

It never "came together" for Natalia at school this year. Her best friends had moved away last year (while she was in a British kindergarten for one year since she needed speech therapy), and she had to start from scratch in making new ones. While she played very well with all the kids this year, she never really made a friend. A REAL friend.  One she would miss if she had to move away next week. One she would want to have over. 

Last year she made such good friends... And she used to have such good friends in the Russian kindergarten when she was ages three and four... So she knows what it feels like when you have such relationships -- and also when you don't

By attending these afternoon classes at Katya's school, she'll have the chance to learn all the material necessary for math and reading/writing (in Russian) WHILE ALSO  forming friendships with a small group of kids who will be in her class next year. That way when she starts school in the fall, she'll be prepared both academically and socially

She already has a very sweet American friend attending those afternoon classes; now they'll actually get to see each other! The other kids are very nice, too. She started going to the classes last week and LOVES them. She also loves being able to participate in some afternoon theater, art and music classes with the kids in her group and 1st & 2nd graders (including her sister). 

All this means that she won't get to do her "Mary Did You Know?" dance in the school play, be in the school play at all, or be part of graduation (it's a HUGE deal in her Russian kindergarten-- a BIG ceremony in a grand theater)... But Natalia isn't even blinking an eye.

She wanted OUT.

She is thrilled to be mooving on.

Oh... And the extra little plus? We'll save almost $1,000 per month!

Looking Up

Just a quick update. My vision is now back to "normal," but I realize that I definitely do need glasses with a much stronger prescription. I'll take care of that next week when I can have a thorough eye exam with someone I trust.

In the meantime, however, the right side of my face is still numb. I was told to just chill out over the long weekend, so I'm now going to go back to bed while Natalia is at kindergarten during the morning.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who's the Head of the Family?

Yes. Guess!

While walking home from school today, Natalia sure had fun with this headless snowman! She LOVES the one-on-one attention when Katya goes away on school trips... That said, she also cannot wait to join her big sister on those trips next year!

OK... Medical Adventures Part II

This picture here? That you can decipher with the alphabet below? Well, it's looking like THAT is the root of my problem...!

No.... My problem isn't that I need to be more patriotic (um, "FLAGS")... It appears that I need the "Optika," (think, "optical"/"optometrist") where I can get eye care...

Yeah, after more tests today it appears that eyeglasses for looking into the distance are no longer optional -- when I think I need it -- and I need glasses all the time. My prescription used to be enough that I owned glasses, but I didn't really need to wear them unless I felt the need... And I really didn't like wearing them, so I didn't...

I should have.

My prescription has changed A LOT. It turns out I've been straining my eyes a great deal to see for the past year (and a half?). This likely lead to a migraine affecting the optical nerves -- which also lead to the temporary numbness on the right side of my body. The right side of my face is still feeling numb, but my vision is now "normal" -- i.e. what it was before the blurring yesterday.

I need to now get glasses and fill a prescription in case I ever feel a migraine coming on again. 

I could have gotten the glasses today, but I want a second opinion about my prescription. My vision still wasn't 100% when the optometrist saw me... so I'm going to wait until Tuesday when I can see one whom I know is VERY good -- the mom of one of Katya's friends, who is also a well-known professor in Moscow.

It certainly didn't help matters that leading up to all of this, I've been swamped at both work and home with no reprieve for years. Without knowing anything about my life, all the doctors just assumed (they're used to dealing with expats) that stress had to have contributed to this. 

So, well... Let's hope that this whole saga ends with a simple pair of glasses! And a lighter load at work... And at home... 

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE FOR YOUR SUPPORT! I hadn't finished this "Part 2 Post" because I'm giving all my attention to Natalia on our first night alone while Katya is away on her school trip. We're snuggling in front of Year 3 of The Brady Bunch... YES, we managed to get that coveted complete series DVD set sent by Fed Ex via Chris's office...!!!!

Time to Sit and Chill

Evidently that's what I need to be doing. The last twenty four hours have been quite eventful... More medical (mis)adventures. We're pretty sure I'm now fine, but I got a ride in an ambulance to a Russian hospital and had to undergo neurological tests. 

I was running an errand for work yesterday afternoon when my peripheral vision became pixelated and pulsating -- while driving. S-C-A-R-Y. There was no way to pull over; no parking anywhere and I had to keep going until I basically got back to work.

Once in the building, I called my husband and asked him to look up my symptoms online. Between the two of us (yeah, I know, where did WE go to medical school), we figured I was having vision problems due to a migraine that might be coming on -- or one that affected the eye muscles. In order to indicate something more serious, there would have likely been other symptoms present that I didn't have.

My vision returned to almost normal within an hour, so I planned to get it checked out that evening or the next day if it got worse. We had Parent-Teacher conferences that evening, and I felt that I just couldn't miss it... I didn't say anything about it, tried to get my photocopying done for the following day, and threw up a few times from the nausea caused by my blurred vision. 

I managed to get through half of the conferences when I realized that the lines in my grade book were moving and I couldn't tell a mom what grades her daughter had without "chasing" them with my eyes -- and that I could only see straight ahead. That's when I suddenly announced to my colleague (and a started mother) that I needed to get to the medical center (hospital)

The quickest way to get there was to get a taxi, so off I went. I really didn't want to make a big scene and I was so embarrassed by the fuss.

It wasn't until I was laying in the clinic that I got truly frightened. The doctor had to get a neurologist because I was presenting other symptoms -- problems with the coordination tests. I also had numbness on my right side, while still retaining full function. Once the doctor insisted I be hooked up to an IV to rehydrate me and prepare me for a catscan of my brain, I got scared... She wasn't sure it was simply a migraine and needed to make sure I didn't have a clot in my brain.

MY GOODNESS! All I could think about were my children... The mere possibility of that chilled me to the bone and I just prayed with all my might that I would always be able to be there for them.

It took Chris so long to meet me there... I was really quiet, but tears kept rolling out the sides of my eyes. I was utterly relieved when he arrived and just held my hand. He kept things light and cracked jokes for about an hour while we waited until I would have enough of the IV solution in my bloodstream to enhance the catscan.

Then off we went in an ambulance to the central emergency hospital in the city. It felt other-worldly... Nothing but the concrete block building with the essentials, no splash of color or anything to keep it from being so unwelcoming and scary. The catscan equipment was state-of-the-art, but everything else I saw (signage, building, personnel) could have been from twenty -- or fifty -- years ago. I actually had my camera... But there's NO way I would have been allowed to use it -- and I sure didn't feel well enough to try.

The catscan was shockingly fast and I was done within twenty minutes -- with perfectly healthy pictures of my brain to reassure us. My doctor let me go home, provided I would come back again the following day to get my vision checked and to follow up with the neurologist. 

More than anything, I wanted to see my children and go to bed... Katya was leaving on a school trip and I just had to see her before she left for a few days. So we then left the hospital at 11:15 p.m., absolutely grateful that the driver from Chris's office was waiting for us outside the ER. 

Today I'm basically fine, but the right side of face still feels as if I've recently had a shot of novocaine that hasn't completely worn off. You know how your lips feel fat when that happens? It's like that... With a "fat" cheek, chin, and area around my eye.

They'll look at that this afternoon when they check my vision.

I went to work this morning, but was sent home. Thankfully! I'm so tired after the stress of yesterday. 

I'll now take another nap before going to see the doctor.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What a Bummer...

(A title that is appropriate on multiple levels...)

So... You're running around at full-speed to get out the door to work on a Monday. You've managed to get both kids dressed and fed, you've showered, your hair and make-up are done, you're all dressed, your bag is packed for work, you've seen one kid to the bus and you've walked the other to school... Your mind is racing knowing you'll work all day, then have Parent-Teacher Conferences, then your once-monthly book club until 11 p.m....

(Caught your breath yet?)

So... All you have left to do is brush your teeth!

And... AACK! You realize that it might be nice to have a babysitter who could read English...

Because a tube of hemorrhoid cream should never be put in the cup next to the toothbrushes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

FIS Freestyle Aerials Ski Jump World Cup Won by an American Last Night!

Ryan St. Onge, of Winter Park, Colorado won the event last night! I was able to get close enough to take these pictures, but couldn't go closer and actually watch. (Prior commitments with the kids -- otherwise I could have. Plus admission was free!) A ski jump was built out of scaffolding behind the university for the event; they didn't use the ski jump that famously dominates Sparrow Hills.

I insisted they let me go and at least take some quick pictures of the scene... It's stunning to see the ski jump lit up with Moscow State University in the backdrop! Earlier in the week you could see it at night from the city's center -- illuminated up on Sparrow Hills. I took pictures then, but not with my Nikon, so they didn't come out.

I wish we could have been there cheering loudly, with a large "Go Team USA" banner! We attended the World Figure Skating Championships in 1995 and we were the only fans with a huge USA sign. The US skaters all noticed it, smiled and waved vigorously -- especially Sasha Cohen and Evan Lysacek.

Thanks to one reader for recommending this video of the event:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ah, So THAT's How They All Become Partying Night Owls...

I've never been able to understand the whole "nightclub/discoteka" thing. Once it's night, the only thing I have any interest in is SLEEPING. Going out partying until morning? Hardly!!! Little girls don't care how much sleep you got the night before, so you'd better get every zzzzzzzz you can...

I've often wondered, seriously, HOW do they do it? HOW can they stay up so late and then function on so little sleep? 

Tonight I got somewhat of answer...


One of Katya's pals came over for an impromptu playdate after school. When I called to ask the other mom if it would be OK, I let her know that I'd need her to pick up her daughter by 9:30 p.m. at the latest. 

I'm sure that hour already seems crazy to you American readers -- but NO Russian kid Katya's age is in bed before 9:30. Considering that they only got to our home at 7:15, I figured staying until 9:30 would give them adequate time to play well. 

Hmm. It's now 11:19 p.m., folks, and the girl only left ten minutes ago. Seriously. The mom just "lost track of time". The American part of my brain is going, "HUH??!!! ARE YOU NUTS???!"... But the Russian part is saying, "Yeah... They grabbed a dinner à deux when they realized their daughter wouldn't be home for the evening and didn't realize how late it was... They figured our kids would be up late since it's Friday anyway..."

Hmmph. My kids could EASILY stay up this late. But me? Uh-huh. I'd have been in bed at 9 if I'd had the chance... 

Great. Not only do we now have the generational divide in our home, but now the cultural divide is popping up, too! They've lived here longer than in the USA and the nightlife is in their veins...

The consolation? It'll serve them well in college and if they become doctors. Or, actually, when they're moms one day. By which time they'll probably be as tired as I am. Oh, well... As my mom puts it, "Payback!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Blog Is In Aeroflot's Current Inflight Magazine!


I learned from seeing a link in my visitor pages that quotes from my blog entry about Natalia's birthday party at school last December are included in this month's Aeroflot inflight magazine! (Could be January or February, actually...) In the section "English Summary," they quoted five expat blogs about life in Moscow -- and this is the first I've learned that I'm one of them! 

I've searched online in vain for a copy of the magazine... If any of my Moscow friends who read my blog happen upon a copy, let me know!

I'm guessing that this was what they quoted: 

A nice part of Russian birthdays, however, is how the children all make "toasts" to the birthday girl or boy, standing up and wishing them things such as "growing up healthy and tall," "all straight A's in school," "having many friends," "never getting your feelings hurt by other kids," "being happy," etc. You can kind of picture these same kids twenty years from now doing the same with a shot glass of vodka or some champagne! It's SO Russian..

Hmmm... Does this get me any excess luggage allowance on my next flight???!

"Mary, Did You Know?"

The latest routine in Natalia's dance class at school is set to "Mary, Did You Know?", a very pretty song about Jesus. I swear, you NEVER know what your kid will end up performing in a Russian school!!! Abba, folk songs, rock with lyrics that the teachers didn't quite realize aren't the most appropriate... I'll take this song any day!

Anyone who has ever seen the choreography typically done in Russian schools won't be surprised in the least by the "expressiveness" added to this religious song... All that shimmying and shaking Natalia loves to do? Partly learned by catching glimpses of videos while in restaurants, partly learned in nursery school!

Her dance teacher is busy getting the group ready to compete in an international dance festival -- which our school has actually WON in the past! It's pretty amazing to think that our little kindergarten has beaten kids of all ages from all over the world in the past. Natalia won't be going, however... I wouldn't want my child to travel overseas without me, and we sure don't have a couple of thousand dollars laying around to foot the bill...!

I filmed the video above last week; today Natalia learned another part of the dance. Here she is, singing for you, too... Note how her pronunciation is influenced by hearing Russians singing in English! ("Baby" in the first line comes out as "maybe"... undoubtedly because the other kids don't understand what they're singing and say the wrong word). 

Look for her final "Pfff-pfff!" sound-effect in the last move; her teacher uses such sounds to get the kids to act at the same moment and with pizazz. It's so cute!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All Aboard! This is a Marshrutka...

Marshrutki are privately-owned vans that follow set routes between subway stops and other destinations. They basically offer an alternative to bus routes that might not be as direct or tend to be infrequent. They're more expensive than buses, but can be quite convenient. I think they cost about a dollar these days. 

The catch? It's quite an experience! People tend to PILE IN. If you're stuck in the back, it can be a rather smelly ride. While smoking is frowned upon, it's not prohibited... Payment is on the honor system and I doubt anyone has ever gotten away without paying... People are VERY much into others' business when squeezed in there and an angry babushka would assault you. One passenger sometimes appoints him/herself the fare collector, or you pass your money to the driver. Be prepared for wrath if all you have is a large note and expect change!

Some vans are death traps... This one, however, is new and so darn pretty! I love all the old-fashioned Russian folk illustrations on the doors.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Be Patient Again!

In the process of figuring this out! I know it's a mess!

Okay... I've now figured out how to do the side columns with a pattern... But now I know that the header doesn't "pop" and needs some definition. 

I'll get to it... Other ideas were a repeating gzhel pattern on the sides... or folk painting... or embroidery... 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pumpkin Fettuccini with Rosemary Gorgonzola Sauce

Last night my blog friends from over at place2place came over for dinner... I made pumpkin fettucini with rosemary & gorgonzola sauce. Yum, yum, yum! How strange to think that it was just about a year ago that Dina first found my blog while they were still living in Africa... And now they're here, only one trolleybus ride away...

The pasta looked so pretty while it dried that I decided to take some pictures. I have a hand-cranked machine that lets you roll it out and then cut it into strands. 

I make the pasta itself by basically filling a huge bowl with half a bag of flour, a little salt, 2/3 of a cup of pumpkin purée and then adding eggs and egg yolks until it all forms a smooth ball and doesn't stick to the bowl/counter. I then flour the counter and kneed it until it's perfectly smooth and let it rest for a while. Then I kneed it again and cut it into eight separate little balls, wrapping each ball completely in plastic wrap to prevent drying.

It's so easy to make fresh pasta... You can also add olive tapenade, or minced herbs, or cracked peppercorns... You can also roll it out with a rolling pin and cut it into shapes... My girls used to love to use their penguin and dolphin cookie cutters to make truly kid-friendly pasta!

Then it's time to use the pasta machine... This is what ours looks like.

Then I have to separate each strand and place it on this drying rack I picked up in Italy.

For eight servings of sauce, bring 2 cups of heavy cream to a boil with one large sprig of fresh rosemary. Then let it simmer over low, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes -- so it will reduce. Then remove it from the heat, remove the rosemary sprig, and stir in 180 grams (13 ounces) of crumbled gorgonzola cheese, stirring until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and it's ready!

Toss the cooked pasta with sauce completely, and garnish with a fresh rosemary sprig to serve.