Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teaser for My Travelers

The city is really getting ready for Victory Day! This country goes all out for May 9th, the end of World War II. Billboards are all over, featuring patriotic pictures from the war. The one above says, "They were young." Posters hang in almost every shop window.

Planters and hillsides have magically been filled with flowers that are blooming -- basically overnight! It's unreal!

It's almost impossible to believe that exactly one week ago, I had to clear this from my windshield: 

... and this is what the ground looked like!

Welcome to our own little Slavic "Bizarro World'! Do not fear, my imminent house guests! The weather should be great while you're here: not too hot, not cold. 

Cyrillic Practice: Chalk-Style

Once again, it's that time of year... Children have swarmed to the playgrounds in the courtyards, armed with scooters, skates, sand toys and... CHALK. 

I LOVE to see what's drawn on the ground every time I walk by a playground... Put aside the fact that the drawings are labeled in Russian; simply look at what people choose to draw. When have you ever seen a family of hedgehogs (father and son) on American asphalt? 

Equally high on the "Wow, we must be in Russia" scale is the following drawing of a salmon fish. What's next? A sturgeon (i.e. caviar-maker), perhaps?! Oh, but YES! There WAS a sturgeon right next to it -- incredibly well-drawn -- but it had been smudged beyond warranting a photo. 

Even though this next drawing is very faded, it's so cute nonetheless... Here's your friendly milk truck!

Last, but not least, note that in addition to a hopscotch court and teddy bear in the first photo, there's also a trusty Russian mushroom! Natch!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Friendship Skills

Part of the curriculum in the girls' school is a class called "Social Intellect." The kids really enjoy it; they do all kinds of activities designed to work on emotional intelligence and social skills. This really "sold" me on the school when I was first looking for a place to send Katya; while explaining the program to me, the director said, "What's the point of turning out kids who can all get top marks, but who can't get along with others and aren't happy inside? We think it's all equally important." Exactly.

Last week each child drew a name out of a hat and then wrote what they admire about the individual on the back. Katya was over the moon that the boy she likes ended up with her name... and wrote "Katya is very fun-loving, happy, smart, and pretty."

It goes without saying that this scrap of paper is now a rather prized possession. 

The kids loved the activity so much that they started doing it on their own the next day; one of her girlfriends wrote her the loveliest words, too. Nice!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Name That Musical...

How I wish I could have seen this on Broadway with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick!!! Somehow I just don't think the Russian translation could fully "nail it," so I passed on seeing it here. 

Pretty good Russian practice...

Figure it out?

"The Producers." You can also make out the words "musical, " "Mel Brooks," and the genetive form of "Broadway." 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Walking the Plank

It's truly now Spring... Today it seemed as if the city came out of hiding, wearing t-shirts and roller skates. I guess I can finally take the snowflakes off the kitchen windows and door! 

During the winter, wooden planks such as the one above provide a safer alternative to the icy sidewalk. Once the ice melts, the planks give you a drier path than walking ankle-deep in water or slush. 

I think it's finally safe to rip up the  wood! Yay!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Architecture à la Easter Eggs? Or... Using Up Leftover Paint?

This building on Daev Street has always grabbed my attention... It's not hard to tell why!

I can't help but wonder: "What were they thinking?!" Today I realized that it's a municipal building that serves the Chistiye Prudi area of the city. Ah-hah! This supports my hypothesis that they were using up all different colors of leftover paint!

It looks so out-of-place next to the other buildings on the street; I love the old brick one across from it... The ultra-modern office complex on the other side? Not so crazy about it... 

I noticed the first flowers about to bloom this weekend. Hoorah! By Friday, the city will be covered with flowers that have been grown in greenhouses and are then transplanted. The municipal government sure is effective when it chooses to be!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Getting Ready for Guests, a.k.a. IKEA Run

Nice ride, 'eh? 

We made a trip to IKEA today so we could get ready to accommodate five guests... What a great excuse to replace the towels we've been using for nine years! (They are literally ripping). It was also time to replace some scraggly pillows... And we needed another light comforter to fit inside a duvet cover for guests.

Hmm, it occurs to me that some of you might not know what a duvet is; I didn't when I first came to Russia as a sophomore in college. I remember being so puzzled by the bedding I was handed! It's basically a sheet envelope that you put a blanket inside, using only that on top of you in bed, always keeping the blanket clean.

In any case, back to today's trip. I also took advantage of the opportunity to replace the rug in the kids' room, so thankful I'd limited myself to whatever cheap-o rug IKEA sold when I redid their decor. It will be completely sans guilt when I put the clean, but stained, old one at the spot where people pick through the "good" trash (it's a spot near the dumpster) and salvage what they want.

Asleep as we made our way to the check-out. 

It was quite an adventure fitting all our loot into the car; the trunk is still completely filled with our winter tires. I've had the flu all week and have been too weak to carry them upstairs. 

Oh, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua? Not nearly as bad as I'd expected! We actually enjoyed it. I try to take Natalia to as many movies as I can to force her to watch in Russian; when we watch a dvd, she insists on watching the English version. It's good for her confidence to know she can understand the story on her own. Perhaps we liked the movie so much because it was in Russian? Not quite as cheesy when dubbed? (The language nerd in me does delight in seeing how they translate Spanglish into Russian...)

Having an IKEA in Moscow is just sooo wonderful... I don't take it for granted one single bit... I am so incredibly thankful... I remember living here without it, and the prices are so fab... It used to me be my big box of refuge our first years here. Household necessities PLUS free childcare! I'll never forget my disbelief the day Katya was too tall to go into the ball pit room... It was the "Oh, my... My baby is growing up..." moment most moms feel on the first day of school... 

Off to Beverly Hills... Kind of...

Natalia is begging me to go see this movie today... We're off to Mega Mall to stock up on towels and pillows so we're ready when our company arrives in two weeks! (Wow! So soon! This is really happening!)

You can watch the trailer in Russian here; it's so funny hearing it dubbed!

Given that she's going to have to be a real trooper while I shop, organize and clean these next two weeks, I'm planning on taking her. We'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nanny? Car? Apartment?

It's that time of year... Good friends are moving back to the USA... They'll leave behind many who will miss them dearly, a great nanny and a great car. Remember those posts about our Thanksgiving feasts smack in the center of Moscow? Well, these were our co-hosts! We're so sad to see them go!

Unrelated, but being added to this post, is a FAB apartment for a family in a SUPER area of the city's center.

The nanny is truly a gem, the car is a BARGAIN for Moscow, and the apartment really is that great.


We are looking to find our wonderful nanny/governess her next home, to start in June, when we are returning to the US. She has worked with us and our boys - now 8 and 6 - for over 2 years, and was a perfect andidote to a string of unsuccessful nanny hires.

A native Moscovite, a nurse by training and a mother of two (youngest entering teens, oldest working), Svetlana provides our kids with a rare combination of intellectual and physical development, as well as fun. She's disciplined and attentive in routines and activities, but not harsh and prefers to motivate with carrots, not sticks.

As she's worked in expat families, she is comfortable reaching an understanding with non Russian speaking parents.

If interested, pls contact us by email or her directly at +7916-911-8777

Hyundai Sante fe 
2.7 gls 4wd
Model year - 2001 (we bought in '04)
54-26 GL. RC: 110min. CCA-600A. 
CCMF68L. 12V. 68AH. 
Block motors -- 730-0292
Less than 45k km (only driven on weekends around Moscow). 
Comes with winter tires. 
CD changer
Had always given us a good ride. 

Priced to go, at $12,500. 

Will become available end May. 
If interested, please contact us by email or her directly at +7916-911-8777

  • Frunzenskaya Embankment, 7 minutes from metro Frunzenskaya
  • 105 square meters, 3 rooms (2 bedrooms, dining area, living room, kitchen, bathroom, high ceilings)
  • Stalin-constructed building
  • view of Moscow River from bedrooms and living room
  • ample storage (this is not common in Moscow!)
  • equipped for high-speed internet and cable
  • air conditioning
  • new windows
  • dishwasher, new stove, new refrigerator, new washing machine/dryer (combined)
  • nice renovation
  • HD television, large screen
  • partially furnished
  • garage space optional
  • near Gorky Park, Neskuchniy Sad, Sparrow Hills, MGU
  • near Luzhniki sports complex, three playgrounds, Frunzenskaya metro and Children's Park
  • good schools nearby, both public and private, Russian and British
  • Rent negotiable... Check the listings for the the area with the the real estate agents in the city and you'll find that $4,500 would be VERY fair for the level of renovation and the incredible view. 
  • Very nice landlords

Advertising in this Economy...

"Our products remain affordable. Evidently our cows aren't too skilled in economics."

"Save and Survive."

Hmm. As if anyone needs a high definition television set to survive during an economic crisis... More and more, advertising is reflecting the current situation... Nowadays you see more and more ads for banks and real estate; Russians think of property as one of the safest things to do with their money. Given the price of land in Russia, they're probably right!

Diving, Russian-Style

(Edited later to add more commentary).

Natalia has made HUGE progress in her swimming since we've begun private lessons for her at our gym. Katya, too, for that matter. She is just thrilled about learning to dive, even though you can hear that she's quite self-critical!

She can also swim underwater to retrieve items from the deep end of the pool, do a pretty backstroke, a passable crawl, and good underwater "mermaid" swimming (if any of you out there watch the Australian show "H2O," you know what I mean-- from the opening credits). 

Her teacher was a national champion in swimming... That's really something to love about Moscow; only here are you very likely to have former Olympians (who placed highly!) and members of the National Team giving lessons at your gym! The same is true for the people who teach the kids' karate lessons, the personal trainer I'm working with to learn to use all the machines at the gym, and the physical education teacher at the girls' school!

Last week I had lunch with another American mom from our school who told me how they hired a former Olympic swimmer to give their son his first exposure to swimming -- when he was four-months-old! Crazy, sure, but... well, why not?! If you're here, you have to take advantage of the good stuff Moscow has to offer! Something has to make up for the traffic, high prices and bureaucracy!  And really, when it comes down to it, isn't it just fun to be able to say that?!

There is, of course, a downside to all of this excellence in instruction... Forget simply signing your kid up for "learn-to" lessons at most places. Want your four-year-old to learn to ice skate? How about a commitment of three times per week, for three hours a session? That includes actual skating lessons, calisthenics and dance! You have to be committed from day one. Let's just say that Katya dropped out after three times... 

We're finding the gym to be a nice compromise... The instructors there are much more willing to work with us as much we find suits our schedules and there isn't pressure to over-commit ourselves or the kids. 

Hmm... The video is looking quite grainy... Anyone out there tried the new generation of Flip pocket HD video cameras? (I'm thinkin' Christmas next year...)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In "Aeroflot" Again!

Yes, that's "American Girls in Moscow" included in Aeroflot's inflight magazine again, this time in April. (I was last in the February issue). I sure wish they'd have the consideration to let me know when they use my writing and pictures! At the very least, I'd love a copy of the magazines we're in! Hmm... If anyone over at Aeroflot is reading this, which I now know you are... "Please??!!! Pretty please? With a cherry on top?"

Big thanks to my friend over at "The Beet Goes On" who not only is in this issue of the magazine, too, but who also was kind enough to let me know about it and send a scan!

The quote this time came from this post

"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..."

Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Board! On the Wall!

Natalia's up the bulletin board at school, showing off an owl she made. She just loves going there for her preparatory classes three times a week! Many of the kids stay afterwards so they can take art classes with the older kids. Katya's friends are always so sweet to her and she loves it!

She also did this painting that's hanging in the stairwell; it's a bee sucking nectar from flowers.

Um, Not Quite...

I walked by this car and just had to stop and take a picture! 

You've seen pictures here before of all the decked-out cars driving around Moscow... Decorated with fancy illustrations of leopards, jaguars, the Parisian skyline, rare flowers, or Russian kokhloma designs... 

This one? I guess he tried... 

One reader couldn't tell what it is: it's a fireball decal on a really old tin can of a Russian car. The driver is trying to be really cool, and well, kind of failing...

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I thought I'd get the three kids (Natalia's friend had already gone home) out of the house for some "Spring" sunshine.

Once outside, we realized it was SNOWING. A thick flurry, even though it wasn't accumulating much. 

Enough already! Some teenager omnisciently read my mind with his choice of graffiti on a near-by building...

I then took the kids to the Old Arbat, hoping the snow wouldn't prevent us from some slow-paced scooter riding before meeting up with the family of Katya's friend at the Hard Rock Café... Even with hats and mittens, however, the kids were too cold. It was 23 degrees Fahrenheit out, with a cold, wet wind...

That's when we all DID begin to "Smile"... A venti latte, hot cocoa, Chai latte kind of smile...

As seen from outside:

Happy Russian Orthodox Easter!

I came across these Russian chocolate eggs at the store the other day... While we have chicks, eggs and lambs in the USA... Here the eggs feature soldiers in various traditional uniforms... One egg cost 53 rubles, or $1.61. I found quite a few Easter treats at Auchon, the French warehouse-type store.

What a Night... And Morning!


Katya, our night owl, actually fell asleep by 10:30 p.m., and Natalia's friend was asleep before then... 

But Natalia, and Katya's friend, were unable to fall asleep until 1:50 p.m.!!!! 


They weren't being talkative or misbehaving; they simply couldn't sleep... And I couldn't go to sleep until I'd had a chance to set out the egg hunt...


Everyone was naturally up by 6:45 a.m. to start the egg hunt. Of course.

Operating on very little sleep and irritable. Even though the clues/eggs went older girls/younger girls, so they could solve the riddles and search in pairs, it was a drawn-out session of rushing against each other, crying, screaming... 

Not exactly Easter-y.  (At least today isn't "our" Easter since we celebrated last Sunday, unlike the Orthodox Russians).  Not exactly what I had in mind as I scrambled to have equal surprises for FOUR kids instead of two, to create all the clues, and hide them at 2:15 a.m.

Our hunts have gone well when it's just my two... Four was two too many... 

Since some of you asked, here's the hunt... If you're familiar with girls' books and American Girl stuff, you'll be able to guess most of them. Writing clues such as these was how I first got Katya interested in reading; she was very reluctant to work on phonics when six and I was desperate to change that! It sure worked!

Each clue is inside a plastic egg filled with Easter M&Ms, Jelly Belly jelly beans, Nerds or Easter Hershey's Kisses. Random spots will have other extras, such as cute notebooks, chocolate chicks or sheep, lip glosses, lip gloss rings or mini packs of magic markers. At the end were some Littlest Pet Shop animals for all four girls. 

It's a story...

Of a lovely lady!

Whose show was really loved 

by your young mom.

She was always...

Sure to watch it...

And she knew you two would love it

all along!

(Behind our "Complete Brady Bunch TV Series" dvd collection).

She practiced for hours,

then taught the beginners' class...

Now it's time to study

so all her tests she'll surely pass!

(Under Mia's desk... Mia is a doll who comes with books about her life as a figure skater in a family with three boys who play hockey).

Flip it up, flip it down, 

it's comfy either way...

When your friends spend the night,

this is where they like to stay!

(Inside the sleeper couch in the kids' room).

So pretty, like the sky...

It came via Africa to match your eyes...

Next time you put it on,

feel around around for a wee surprise!

(Inside the pocket of the light blue coat passed down to Katya from Camille over at place2place). 

Daddy sets this every night,

before shutting his eyes...

No matter how loudly it beeps,

it never helps him rise!

(Behind Chris's alarm clock).

Way up in the air, 

like a branch from a tree...

this shades the younger one

as she falls fast asleep.

(Taped on the top of the big green leaf that hangs over Natalia's bed like a canopy).

This takes so long to use,

but it's better than washing it all by hand...

While helping out her mom,

Kit has to stand and stand.

(Inside the 1930's washing machine for their Kit doll).

Vanilla? Chocolate? 

What kind should she make? 

Lets hope that Ruthie

will really love her cake!

(Inside the 1930's oven for their Kit doll).

Here girl; come on!

Where are you, Grace? 

Let's go for a ride!

It's such fun to race!

(Inside the 1930's scooter for the Kit doll).

Has a clue fallen down here,

tucked deep inside?

Usually your remotes

pick this place to hide.

(Tucked deep inside the folds of the couch).

These aren't for shaving,

and they won't remove your hair...

They are, however, awfully fun--

when you want to go from here to there!

(Inside the basket where we keep our Razor scooters).

Before leaving for work,

she stuffs in this... that... everything!

She looks like a turtle...

What on Earth does she bring? 

(Inside the backpack/computer pack I use for work).

Hurry up, do you have 

everything you might use?

A swimsuit, a leotard,

shampoo or gym shoes?

(Inside girls' gym bag).

She found one sock...

but where are the others? 

Are they being used as hockey pucks

by her three playful brothers?

(Inside the Mia doll's drawers).

This just might be a place

where a fairy would hide

all her treasures and secrets--

locked safely inside.

(Inside the girls' Tinkerbell jewelry box).

These three girls are so clever...

They always know what to do...

You can count on these girls

to spot every single clue.

(Behind the Nancy Drew books).

Pretty soon you'll head west,

to this girl's expansive land...

Full of forests and adventures...

Will you catch salmon by hand?

(Inside the Native American Kaya doll's dress; my dad lives in the area portrayed in her books).

"No, thank you," she said,

not meaning to offend...

"I can't drink this beverage,

but I'll always be your friend."

(Behind the Colonial Felicity doll. Felicity, a Patriot, wouldn't drink tea with her Loyalist friend, Elizabeth)

Up high in the forest

where time can spin and whirl,

await countless adventures

for a special boy and girl.

(Behind the Magic Tree House books). 

Out in the dark night,

down below or from afar,

passers-by look up 

and admire this star.

(Inside a window decoration). 

Just a little bit of this

poured from a box

removes all the dirt

from the smelliest socks!

(In the laundry detergent).

Too bad they can't flush,

because the smell makes you gag...

Fill up their potty

with what's in this bag.

(On top of the kitty litter bag). 

Add some milk, heat it up...

It's ready so fast...

Full of berries and vitamins--

with cream added last!

(Inside the box of instant oatmeal). 

A girl's best friend,

with fur so soft and snowy white...

She can even keep your secrets

tucked safely inside!

(Inside the pocket of Katya's "Coconut the Dog: a Girl's Best Friend" pillow). 

You know you shouldn't use this,

but wish you could, day and night...

To make copies of your work

from every interesting site!

(Under a flap on our printer/copier).

When you're cold in your parents' bed,

you never need to freeze...

You open up your daddy's drawer

and put on one of these!

(Inside Chris's t-shirt drawer). 

If you pour in too much,

it could cause many troubles!

Just what do you do

when the room's filled with bubbles?

(In the basket in the bathroom where we keep the bubble bath). 

Look in this drawer 

to find my FAVORITE thing to munch...

How I love them when they're fresh,

For breakfast! Dinner! Lunch!

(In the drawer in the refrigerator where we keep the carrots).

What a life! What a laugh!

Can you believe it? Look at that!

He's so spoiled! He's so lucky!

What luxurious transport... for a cat!

(In the wicker doll carriage the girls use to take Lyalya, our cat, for rides around the apartment).

What a beautiful box,

cloud white...

bejeweled like a crown...

Katya's creation,

so full of beauty... 

creates a smile from any frown!

(Inside the ceramic box Katya made last fall at school).

Yay, it's such fun!

And so great on the plane!

Let us use it some more...

'Cuz it's good for the brain!

(In the case with the Nintendo DS game). 

This friend is so sweet, 

she can make her violin sing--

She packed up her bag

with what she needed to bring!

(In the bag Natalia's friend brought with her).

This friend has such ideas!

Magic shows! Zoos!

I've hidden something yummy

inside of her shoes!

(Inside the shoes that belonged to Katya's friend).

You must be adorable and little

if you want to fit in...

Or an agile cuddly hamster

to take their wheel for a spin!

(Inside the "Littlest Pet Shop" club house). 

When your mom and dad said, "I do!"

there was only sun and no rain...

They look so young and in love

in this pretty wooden frame.

(Behind the picture of Chris and me on the mantle). 

Such great fun for anyone

who would like to be a sleuth...

French? German? American? 

You could be busted.. Poof!

(On top of the "Spy Alley" game)