Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween from Edinburgh!

With my colleague on Royal Mile, a main pedestrian street in the center of the city.

I arrived in Edinburgh today with a group of students from our high school; we're here for the week of school vacation to tour the local universities and see the city. So far, we're all rather smitten! What a beautiful "small" city! There's such a distinct feel to the place, one full of local pride and hospitality. This city definitely welcomes guests and you can easily tell why so many students choose to call it "home" for four years. What a welcome change it must have been for Princes William and Harry.

We didn't get to see too many children decked out for Halloween; those we did were cute little witches, cats or pirates. What we did see were throngs of college students out to have a great time! My colleagues and the students were in a wee bit of culture shock taking it all in!

At one point a group of college kids staged a scary fight near this phone booth. Two little kids (a pirate and a ghost) then broke away from their parents and ran towards the college kids, determined to scare them to death and chase them away! The older ghouls were such good sports about it, really playing along. Those little kids returned MOST triumphantly to their parents, convinced they had been too frightening to handle.

I noticed that many of the costumes--and store decorations--were inspired by cheeky British humor! Check out this rotating display in a store window:

Today I'll have a chance to take pictures by daylight; I can't wait! We're spending the whole day sight seeing. I think I'm going to just start taking a reserve of antibiotics I have; I can feel bronchitis developing and it hurts (I've never had a chance to recover from being ill earlier this fall).

My girls, meanwhile, are getting their first chance to celebrate Halloween in America (the last time they did that, they were 3 and 1). They're with their dad at his parents' house. I can't wait to see pictures and hear all about it!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quarantine=Russian Equivalent of a "Snow Day"

My kids have never had a snow day. Russian schools (at least in Moscow) don't close because of some snow. Ever.

But today the big news was that the elementary school is officially closed next week--for the whole week! Out of 19 kids in Katya's class, only SIX were present yesterday. Natalia's class usually has 11, and there were only five present!

Katya is thrilled, Natalia is NOT happy. With all the germs floating around school, they're both semi-sick, though... The enforced "time out" will do them good before they fly to Colorado later in the week.

My first thoughts, of course, were: "NO SCHOOL? DOES THIS ALSO APPLY TO THE HIGH SCHOOL?!!!"

Alas, no. Ugh. Especially since I'm still not 100% better and really vulnerable to the plethora of germs...

I bet most students in the USA don't realize that teachers love those unexpected snow days just as much as kids do...

Added later: This isn't because of swine flu; it's simply that teachers and kids are dropping like flies from nasty viruses!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Correspondence under the Pillow

Katya just lost a tooth... And left quite a letter! How lucky it is that the the tooth fairy happened to have some of her sparkly dust with her! Because, well, if she hadn't, there's no way she could have just found some at night in Moscow (um, even during the day it would have been a scramble). Good thing she always plans in advance!

The response:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Buh Bye!

This week BOTH girls went on the school trip to Pioneer Camp. The Pioneers were the Communist Youth Group, and the school goes to an old center of theirs in a forest a few times a year. Natalia was so jealous the past two years whenever Katya went, and she begged me to start packing her bag three weeks in advance!

The morning they left, Natalia was up and dressed at 6 a.m., even though she had barely been able to sleep all night in anticipation!

As soon as we got to the busses, we saw the other first graders hugging their parents good bye, slowly finding their seats... Some were crying, since it was their first time going away on their own. Not Natalia. She literally disappeared into the bus, running at full speed. I had to board the bus and find her in order to see her off! I called out, "Um, Natalia?!" to get her attention... She stopped chatting mid-sentence and turned to see what I wanted. "Um, perhaps, we could say good bye?" Everyone laughed and she giggled, "Mom, you can GO! I know you love me!"

So much for that!

I then found Katya in her bus and gave her a hug. She and her pals are now "seasoned pros."

They always have a theme for the trip, something both academic and social, that they pursue intensively for 2 1/2 days. Themes have been/will be Prehistoric Man, Russian Fairy Tales, the Human Body, etc. This time they focused on teamwork, doing all kinds of athletic and social activities to build communicative skills.

Natalia was looking forward to all of it, but her REAL goal was to kick b--- in the sports competitions... That girl can RUN. She outran Katya (in sneakers) while in flip flops when she was only three-years-old. She was DETERMINED. I mentioned this to the gym teacher, who hoped that Natalia wouldn't be too disappointed... After all, half of the first graders are a year older than she is, and she would also be competing against the boys! That teacher has clearly never seen Natalia at full speed.

While the girls were away, they called us with eager updates and they both had a good time. It was fun to hear from them. I had envisioned a glorious break the two nights they were away--able to be alone in the apartment for the first time since we moved here in 2004--but I was so busy with work that I simply missed their hugs.

Perhaps those evenings would have been more fun if my husband hadn't eaten a whole head of pickled garlic before coming home that first night... Pickled garlic OOZES out of your pores, making you smell so bad that the garlicky vapors from your head and skin make everyone around you heave with nausea. Why, oh, why couldn't Chris have a different favorite local food?

The smell was so bad that he considered canceling an appointment the next morning!

The girls are now back, though! And our little Natalia blew everyone away! Not only did she run fast, she was the FASTEST! The fastest first grader of all!

When I asked her if she had liked camp, she cheered, "I want to LIVE there! Always!" I thought she must have loved everything about it: the forest, all the activities, etc... But then she added, "Then I could win a gold medal every three days!!!!" She sure does love sports.

Friday, October 16, 2009

She said WHAT??!

"Только настоящий друг может терпеть слабости другого друга."
Уильям Шекспир

That would be, in English, a quote from the bard himself, good old William Shakespeare:

"Only a true friend can suffer weaknesses of a friend."

Quoted to Chris and me, in Russian, by our cocky little nine-year-old, after we reprimanded her for an unkind remark she had made about her sister. Evidently her being "a true friend" in addition to being a big sister somehow is grounds to let the snarky remark slide.

I must confess, Chris and I were so stunned to have Shakespeare swiftly quoted at us, in flawless Russian, that we were left speechless.

And Katya victoriously left the room while she could.

Another Project for My Creative Friend?

Check out this adorable book cover I found in a local bookstore last week... While I didn't exactly need it, I instantly thought of my friend Rachael--and all the homemade items she sews to raise money for orphans in St. Petersburg--so I picked out this one in part so I could take lots of inspiring photos! I know you've got quite a bit of Russian fabric left over... The bigger question is, how would you ever find the time to use it?!

The thick elastic can be used to hold the book closed or to mark a page.

View of cover folded.

Cover fully extended.

Book cover in use!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Katya at Easter, 2002, Age 1 1/2

I just had to post this sweet picture I found of Katya wearing a dress from Du Pareil Au Même, the French children's store that recently opened in Moscow... I posted about it yesterday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Du Pareil Au Même

A fantastic French children's store, Du Pareil Au Même (also known as DPAM), opened up a few shops in Moscow over the summer. Their stuff is GREAT, similar to Gymboree, Hanna Andersson, Gap Kids or Old Navy in the USA. If you're lucky enough to buy their clothing in France, the prices are very reasonable. Elsewhere? Well, it gets more expensive once you add on all the import taxes...

Even so, their prices here in Moscow still set them solidly within the lower tier of prices when it comes the local market. Their designs are colorful, original and fun, with an emphasis on soft cotton knits and velour. They have a good line of basics (jeans, tees, socks, tights, underwear, swimsuits year round, sweatsuits, leggings, pajamas and jackets) and a rotating selection of nice kids' fashion items. I personally love all the French language that appears in the designs...

A very good friend from college is French and lives in Paris with her sons; we used to shop for each other when there were sales and we'd send each other packages in exchange. I shopped for her at Old Navy, and she sent me lovely little girls dresses from this shop... The stuff LASTS.

I picked up this velour nightgown for Katya today. It is soooo soft and she's tickled pink! Literally :-)


Katya also loves this velour pj set for boys that features a knight theme; it's very cool how the sword detaches. How I'd love to send it to our friends Ben and Nikita in Melbourne, Australia!


I got this dress for her last month and it's one of her favorite outfits for school, a cotton and angora knit, with some matching knee highs.


I have no need for baby girl clothing, but isn't this cow velour outfit adorable?

Running set

I also love these little girl outfits that were in the store window:

This boy's velour suit is much cuter in person; the green is more kelly green than puce, and there's a baby monster coming out of the egg pocket.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Our Elevator...

Oh my Gosh! I just got home, and look who walked out of our elevator while I was waiting to get in!!!!

Nikolai Tsiskaridze!!

YUP! Last May, when my mom and my blog friends from Michigan were visiting, we saw him dance the lead in Giselle at the Bolshoi Ballet!

I instantly recognized him, and like a blundering idiot, momentarily forgot his name as I stood there kind of flabbergasted. I'm used to old ladies coming out of our elevator. NOT HIM.

I awkwardly said, "You dance at the Bolshoi!"

He smiled graciously... And then I added, "We saw you dance in May and it was one of the most magical nights of our time living in Russia!"

All of this was said in Russian, but he smiled again and replied, in English, "Thank you so much!"

Even the elevator smelled nice when I got in... (And that's really saying something...!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


24 l-o-n-g minutes...

6 big forms...

1 passport...

...are what you need in order to exchange a girls' size 12 top for a size 10. In the exact same style. Purchased only one day before. With the original receipt.

Just so you know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cirque de Soleil

I was able to get us tickets--good tickets--to see this show in November!

I've heard about the Cirque de Soleil for years and everyone raved that it was just indescribable--something you just have to see to believe.

We'll see it! We'll believe!

"Let's Meat Up & Chat!"

I wish I could have taken a better picture of these ladies at the market... The lady in the coat ended LEANING on the counter, just hanging out with the meat touching her sleeves... They were there like that for over twenty minutes, just shooting the breeze...

Kind of makes you want to be a vegetarian. Or at least buy your meat from somewhere else... (In case you can't tell, all the meat is unwrapped and just laying out on the counters...)

The Pumpkin Patch, Moscow-Style

These pumpkins look great for making jack-o-lanterns! I found a recipe for pumpkin lasagne that I think I'll give a try...


Look carefully and you'll see why I did a double-take in traffic yesterday... My first reaction was, "OMG! How is that car moving?" The Headless Horseman, you know? Then I realized it was a British car, with the driver on the right side...

There are a fair amount of cars like that around Moscow, but I'm still not used to it!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Change of Heart

This morning Natalia surprised me by gladly putting on her down parka. She even declared, "Winter is the best time of year!" Why? Because she realized it's when her birthday is. Given her anger about the impending cold and snow, that sure puts a lot of pressure on her big day to live up to her expectations!

Ay yay ay... Perhaps I'll bake a "tropical cake" again... (This one was for her birthday last December).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Teachers' Day

Isn't this bouquet the coolest? Talk about giving the teacher an apple!

Friday was День Учителей (Teachers' Day) throughout all of Russia. I wrote about this holiday back in 2007 and 2008, as well. Holidays honoring all different types of jobs were created during Soviet times; this particular one remains much beloved, anticipated and celebrated.

It's so nice to come home from work on Teachers' Day, and to have random people stop to congratulate you in the street. They're sure you're a teacher if you have various bouquets in your arms on that particular Friday afternoon!

Even though I shouldn't have, I went to work for the two classes I have with my tenth graders. I didn't have any plans already in place in case I were absent, and it was easier to just go than to think of entire lessons that wouldn't have required my presence or any speaking (since they would be added to others' classrooms, needing to complete their own work silently).

It's too bad I couldn't also teach all my Middle School groups that day; their enthusiasm about the day just oozed out of them!

Katya was literally bouncing off the walls with anticipation. She made pretty cards for all the different teachers who work with her and she was an active participant in the school assembly--even singing Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" as a solo! All the elementary school kids sang songs, put on skits and arranged some fun games for the teachers to play.

Her class made a huge poster for the teachers, decorated with pictures and personal thanks from each child for some specific quality or gesture. The families all chipped in and gave the teachers flowers and envelopes of money, too. We had agreed to get them gift certificates to Дом Книги ("House of Books," basically a huge bookstore where you can find all kinds of stuff in addition to book), but the mom in charge of it messed up. I'm sure the teachers were just as happy with the envelopes of cash!

One of our new teachers in the high school, a young American man, was completely blown away the day. His ninth graders adore him and were so sincere in making him a big card where they all wrote the nicest things... He also was tickled pink by the gourmet coffee, chocolates and flowers. As he commented, "Wow. You just wouldn't give your male teachers flowers and boxes of chocolates back in the USA." Well, the guys got chocolates where I last worked in Michigan, but our school wasn't your typical school.

This is what ended up back on our dining room table... It smells so nice, I'm told! (I'm still too stuffed up to know!)

The high school teachers all chipped in and had a potluck after classes ended, but I needed to go home and rest. The elementary school teachers even staged a "slumber party" type event after the last kids left at 7 p.m. (there are TONS of cool after-school activities every day), but without the pajamas and sleep-over. It was basically a girls' night of fun games and laughter. I was there for a little bit and I would have loved to have stayed had I not been ill! I really love the atmosphere in the elementary school!

p.s. Still home sick, but doing much better.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Messiness Again

Here are some more thoughts about last week's post:

Yes! You're right! Cheburashka is a boy; I was already really sick when I wrote that and I just wasn't thinking :-)

Kids' styles are very different; the girls' American clothing is much more colorful and baggier in style. Even the things I buy here end up somehow looking different on my kids, though... And in our case, I always tend to buy the biggest size they could pull off so they can wear it longer (and to allow for any big growth spurts before our next trip to the USA). 

Russians really do value looking good. Even housecleaners and nannies show up at work fully groomed, in skirts, stockings, heels, hair done and with make-up... They then change into work clothes for while doing their job--and emerge looking equally stylish for the trip back home.

Even during Soviet times, people managed to look good with whatever little they had. 

For many people, "looking good" and having their kids look good is rather superficial; they want everyone else to see how well-off they are... I mean, what kid needs Prada FLIP-FLOPS??!!!!

For many others, though, it's more about self-respect. When they look good, they feel good. They simply take pride in looking their best--for themselves. 

Olga: I LOVED your story about the outfit you put together! Such resourcefulness! Such persistence and independence! And so swiftly squashed...!

Fioleta: When I first came to Moscow in 1991, I actually worked as a translator for Uspiensky, actually doing a bit of "Dyadya Fyodr, Pec i Kot"! The book isn't quite so popular anymore, though. 

Hangin' in There

My own live-in entertainment. We just switched out the traditional swing for a ladder style, so the kids are using it a lot.

Still sick. On different regime of antibiotics. Probably not going back to work tomorrow so I don't relapse. I still have no voice at all, but no fever thus far today. Ugh. 

As for disinfecting everything, gosh, this place gets cleaned top to bottom four times a week! We don't have Lysol, but I do use brands that claim to disinfect... I'll wipe out the car, but it's a losing battle... We've been sick ever since we moved to really big cities: New York and Moscow. So much sicker than when we lived in the burbs in Michigan...

There are germs EVERYWHERE and we're constantly exposed to people who have been traveling all over the world, bringing back all those different viral strains... 

The air quality is really bad in Moscow, too. Our doctor says that it's well-known in the clinic that foreigners get sick much more often while living here than in their home countries. 

A dishwasher could help, since it sterilizes, but there's NO space for one in our tiny kitchen...

I'll have Chris bring me back a fresh batch of vitamins from Costco when he takes the kids to Colorado later this month... 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"I Don't Agree!"

The cats are the only ones around here that are truly excited about the reappearance of down parkas!

It got cold here last week. Really cold. All of the sudden it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We went from an exceptionally warm autumn period (autumn only lasts about a month and a half here) into "Uh-oh, winter's coming..." mode. 

As I scrambled to get us all out the door in the morning, I realized we needed warmer coats. Drat, drat, drat... WHICH container/bag/box are they all hidden in? I still haven't found all of Natalia's stuff--but will need to today. 

In any case, I made Natalia wear some layers to make up for not having her down coat yet. We also put on hats and scarves. Natalia had NOT been expecting that. She fought and fought, finally making her way--angrily--to the elevator. Katya and I hurried to the car and were busy getting school bags put away, seat belts on, etc....

Then I realized that Natalia was standing beside her car door, fuming. She was so upset that she was crying and shaking with rage. I went over to calm her, only to catch her kicking the car wheel--while shouting, "I hate snow! I hate winter! I DON'T AGREE!"

Poor kid. The tears were streaming down her face. And it hasn't even snowed yet. (It should within the week). Wonder if she'll end up choosing to move to warmer year-long climate when she grows up... If you do, Natalia, pick a fun place to visit. I couldn't take such weather 360 days a year (our two years of living in Texas with no winter were WEIRD for this New England gal), but I sure wouldn't mind being your guest!

*About the whole "agree" thing: it does sound a bit odd in English to add that at the end of a tirade. I think she did it because she's used to hearing friends at school say "Согласна!" (literally, with a girl speaking, "of agreement!") when in English you might say, "That sounds good/cool" or "Sure." "Не согласна/не согласен" (boy then girl saying, "not of agreement") can be used to also say "No way!" in some situations. 

More and more, we're noticing some funny cross-over linguistic blips that the girls make in English. Another recent one was, "How do you feel yourself?" instead of "How do you feel?" because in Russian you say, "Как себя чувствуешь?" Once we point it out to the kids, they instantly realize what they've said and crack up. It's not that their English knowledge is in any way inadequate; they know the correct way to say everything and English is their mother tongue. Such errors usually only appear when they're tired or emotionally-charged.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Doctors Katya and Natalia at Your (My) Service

(Leaning in to examine me, right after having given me her favorite teddy bear to hold--you can see his fluffy head)

I'm sick.

So, so sick...

I even missed work today. Diagnosis? Bacterial infection, causing aching all over, pain in ears and throat, burning in chest, and a fever since Monday. 

It's been developing for about two weeks now, but I was kind of in denial... I did my best to take it easy, putting off whatever didn't have to get done at work--but then that only lead to things' piling up, and now I'm both very sick and very behind.

It's ironic, because a lovely former student of mine (she's now in law school at Harvard and I taught her French was she was in eighth grade) wrote me the kindest email yesterday about how much she enjoys reading my blog... That it's been really inspirational to her to read about our life, seeing how a woman can find fulfillment in both family, work and creative personal endeavors. She's at that crossroads in her legal studies, about to decide what type of law career to begin--and where--and she wants to "have it all" down the road (a job she loves and time for her family).

Oh, but my dear... It's so not easy... And so many days it feels darn near impossible, as if you're clawing your way through it... 

I'm sick now because I can't do it all... I just keep telling myself that things have been extremely exhausting because I started working in mid-July (and next year I won't have to do that) and because I'm new to this job... We've started many new programs, too. And many of our faculty are new, with this being the first time I've worked with helping new colleagues in their transition. 

On top of it all, I'm teaching TOEFL preparation to the 10th graders, something I had never done before. I had never actually even seen a TOEFL exam until August. I'm probably putting two hours (sometimes even more) of prep/grading into every 40-minute lesson. That will surely get easier as I feel more mastery over the material... But the stakes are so high, since the students need to do well on the exam at the end of this academic year in order to apply to universities in the USA, Scotland and UK next fall. 

Back to that super team of doctors I have on my case, though. The girls aren't used to seeing me entirely out of commission and they have been the loveliest daughters on earth! So, so sweet... Wiping my face with their cool hands to relieve the fever, snuggling me all the time (ugh, hope they don't catch it...), whispering me encouraging and loving words... 

Doctor Katya's verdict? Among many other things, no raising my voice at all, so I need to stay in bed (where I can't see what they're up to!). 

Added later: It's not the flu; they did bloodwork at the clinic and determined it's not viral. 

"I'll Get You, My Little Pretty..."

I can just hear the Wicked Witch of the West cackling whenever I see these homemade brooms around Moscow...

They're used to sweep the sidewalks and dirt in neighborhood courtyards.