Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fairy Tale Stocking Fillers


I found the cutest shop on Etsy this morning... Aren't these necklaces really neat? The artist's designs are so clever! Most of the pieces are available in both silver and gold. An added bonus: her prices are also fantastic.




SWEET AUTUMN BIRD locket necklace

ROSE BUD TEA Part 2 necklace


Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Unique "Big" Holiday Gift That Would Help Russian Orphans

The orphans who attend art therapy workshops at Maria's Children produce some truly stellar collaborative pieces. This one could be yours for $1,000. Yeah, I know that's an awful lot of money... I'm just hoping someone might read this blog for whom that might be possible...

It would also look fantastic in a place of business, especially in a doctor's office...

It would brighten your home and it would make a tremendous difference in the lives of these children! These mural-sized pieces sell for $10,000 to $30,000 at the various auctions to benefit the organization.

If you look carefully at the painting, you'll notice the fine details in the scenes! Look at the expressions on the characters' faces... The feathers on the birds... The thatched rooftops... The sun reflected in the church's onion domes...

The clown flying over the rainbow represents all the work that Patch Adams and his volunteers do to help these children.

The other images represent favorite scenes from Russian fairy tales.

It was hard to capture the true colors in my pictures; the actual painting is absolutely gorgeous.

My mother could bring the painting back for you on January 1st.

It is also possible to commission specific works, just let me know if you're interested. I know my mother-in-law would love a painting about "music," for example...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

That Time Again: The Good and the Bad

Yes, it's very pretty!

Until it melts moments later.

You can't tell from this picture, but all the puddles are brown. Melted, dirty snow... Yuck. Now begins the ritual of using stain remover every night to remove the kicked-up drops of brown "slyakat" (melted, oily, polluted snow) that adorn the back of our stockings and pants...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another Update on Lyalya

He's doing just great! Yesterday was a real turning point. He started to wash himself, and he met us at the door for the first time since becoming ill. Asya isn't as afraid of him anymore, either; she wouldn't go anywhere near him while he was still obviously sick--even hissing at him, poor thing!

He has pep... He's happy... And he won't let you hold him all day any more.


As for my hand, the top of it is now a purple and yellow and bruise, but I'm just fine.

Maria's Children & Patch Adams Auction for Orphans... With a Surprise at the End!

Thursday night was the annual art auction hosted by Patch Adams featuring paintings, ceramics, sculptures and crafts by the talented orphans helped by Maria's Children. All money goes towards the work done by Maria's Children to reach out to needy orphans--and other children in need--through art therapy, summer camp, monetary help for medical care, and MANY other programs that let these children feel loved and learn how to prepare for post-institutional life.

I wrote about Maria's Children, Patch Adams, and the auction in 2007 here--and the auction in 2008 here.

The girls had fun painting before the auction began. We also picked out countless magnets, greeting cards and calendars for the upcoming holidays (including two teachers' birthdays). In addition, each girl relished secretly buying ceramic animals (Mmm... as if we don't already have a ton of those!) and necklaces for each other for Christmas.

It was wonderful to catch up with older teens I've known for three years through the organization, in particular with Aslan, a boy from Chechnya who really found a place in our hearts three years ago--along with his sister Heda. You might remember how last year Patch Adams raised enough money to rebuild Aslan and Heda's home; it had been destroyed during the war when Aslan was just a baby. Construction is almost complete and their parents will finally be able to move out of the refugee camp!

The other highlight of the evening came towards the end... The girls were having fun playing with another boy, and Amina was resting in the lounge area with them. I went over to ask her if she'd like something to drink, and called her by name. A woman was seated across from Amina, and she heard me.

It caught her attention, and she commented, "Amina... Not a common name here in Moscow! I heard it once before when I was trying to connect with a woman here in Moscow about a package for relatives of children who had been adopted in America... I never did get to meet her, though, Tamara..."

Amina quickly asked, "Tamara (and my last name)?"

She replied, "Why, yes! Do you know her?"

And Amina pointed to me, standing behind them!

Soooo... Annie... Alla and I have finally met! Can you believe it? For all of you who aren't quite following, Annie is a "blog friend" I've never actually met but have gotten to know well since starting this blog. She has a son and daughter (actual brother and sister) adopted from Ivanovo (and two other lovely boys from Russia, in addition to her grown son and daughter). Alla and Annie met while Annie was in the process of adopting her daughter, Anastasia; Alla helps orphans in Ivanovo.

Her son, Andrei, and my girls get along really well.

Not only did we have fun Thursday night, but we also got together on Saturday to attend a Maria's Children exhibit at the Dom Khudozhnikov (across from Gorky Park). I'll write more about that tomorrow!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...

You know that children's book?

A Mouse Cookie First Library (If You Give...)

Where one thing inevitably leads to another, and a ridiculous adventure full of mishaps ensues?

Well, our version would be called, "If You Buy a Littlest Pet Shop Toy..."

Snuggle up with a cozy blanket and let me entertain you during story time. Ready?

"If you buy a Littlest Pet Shop toy, it's going to come with cool little accessories.

If you have fun playing with the tiny pieces of fruit, so will your cat.

If your cat chases the plastic fruit around the house, at some point he'll end up swallowing it.

If he swallows it, it'll end up making holes in his liver and kidneys.

If he gets holes in his liver and kidneys, he'll need major surgery.

If he needs major surgery, he'll have to go to the animal hospital.

While you're visiting him at the hospital, you'll wonder why one of the photos in the waiting room features dogs doing things not quite appropriate for a children's book.

If you wonder why there are explicit doggie pictures in the waiting room, you'll then realize this is Russia--and anything goes.

If you realize this is Russia and anything goes, you won't be surprised when your cat who is still in critical condition is released to you for extremely involved and difficult care at home.

If your cat is released in critical condition and requires extremely difficult care at home, you won't be surprised by two pages of hard-to-follow instructions about his various medications and shots.

If you have to follow two pages of hard-to-follow instructions about various medications and shots, you'll have to administer crushed pills by syringe three times per day.

If you have to administer crushed pills by syringe three times a day, your cat is going to get very angry and scared.

If your cat gets angry and scared, he may accidently puncture a major vein on your hand with his claw.

If he punctures a major vein on your hand, you'll bleed. A lot.

If you bleed a lot, you'll lose consciousness and somehow end up at the other end of your house, on the floor, with no recollection of how you got there.

If you end up unconscious on the floor with no recollection of how you got there, you'll crawl to wake up your husband and cry for help.

If you cry for help, you'll end up going to the hospital.

If you go to the hospital, they'll wrap your hand and give you a tetanus shot and antibiotics.

If they wrap your hand and give you a tetanus shot and antibiotics, they'll also want you to travel to the other side of Moscow to a public hospital where you could wait in line all day to get the first of six rabies shots.

If they want you to travel to the other side of Moscow to a public hospital where you could wait all day to get the first of six rabies shots, you'll think you've had enough to blog about for one day--and head home.

If you think you've had enough to blog about for one day and head home, your daughter will want to cheer you up as soon as she sees your bandaged hand.

And if she wants to cheer you up, she'll bring you her favorite Littlest Pet Shop toy..."

It has been a l-o-n-g day.

SUPER New Russia Blog!

Welcome my friend Jennifer to the Blogosphere!

(Sketch from Russia Beyond the Headlines, where she writes a humor column.)

She has just launched her blog, and if you enjoy mine, you will love hers. She's a professional photographer and writer from America who has lived in Moscow for seventeen years--and she has a wicked sense of humor.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Home, Cradled and Cared For...

The girls were so relieved to see Lyalya yesterday! We placed him in Katya's arms and he instantly relaxed! He also sucked on Natalia's ear for a while, much to the amusement of the staff at the clinic!

We brought him home and he's so happy to be here... I slept on the couch with him on my chest to keep my eye on him. Good thing... Turns out he still has trouble with his bladder, which kind of worries me... He's also not eating...

But he did jump up to the top of a bunk bed to his favorite resting spot, so he's got to be feeling a lot better! The doctor had said Lyalya wouldn't attempt anything he wasn't physically ready for...

Asya is actually afraid of him. She senses he's not well and she acts scared, keeping her distance.

It's daunting to be caring for him. The directions from the doctor fill two pages! MANY pills, most of which need to be cut into eighths, pulverized and delivered by syringe... Then he gets shots, too...

When we were leaving the hospital, the vet confided to us that the surgeon had been stunned to see him still alive on Monday; she hadn't thought he could make it. He really grew on the staff; our vet even admitted to taking his picture with her cell phone because he was such a sweetie!

He's asleep in my lap right now and I am so. very. thankful.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Missing Her Brother...

She'll be so happy when he comes home...

Office Hell

I walk by this office going to the veterinary clinic... During the day it is PACKED with people. All in that basement office, in three adjoining rooms that ALL HAVE AS MANY STACKS OF PAPER EQUALLY HIGH AND IN EQUAL DISARRAY.

Oh. My. Goodness.


Makes me think of a whole new circle to add to Dante's inferno. One of the never-ending temp job, one with no benefits, and surrounded by these piles...

Cat Diapers and Surgical Thread...

Today when Lyalya was trembling and cold, dirty and soiled, the doctor asked me, "So why didn't you bring any diapers for him?"

EXCUSE ME? They wouldn't provide him with a diaper if he needed it? Lord knows, we've paid for everything else! His care has added up little by little, every day... In seemingly small amounts that now total around $2,000... Don't you think they'd realize "I'd have been good" for the charge for a diaper?!

Had they told Amina to buy some while I was away, she would have done so immediately!

This incident ended up teaching me a whole lot about Russian medical care in general, though. I hadn't thought much about it this morning was I was told to buy a certain medicine for Lyalya and bring it back this evening, along with a certain type of food.

Well, it turns out that this is how things work in both veterinary clinics AND hospitals. The family needs to buy the medicine from pharmacies and bring it back to the hospital. There are Western "upscale" hospitals that are different, but they are the rare exception to the practice. As soon as I brought this up to Russian friends, I was been told the most outrageous stories:

Families having to scrounge for sheets and blankets when a relative ends up in the hospital... At least that way, you know they're clean... (Anyone remember the story about how Olympian Victor Petrenko scrounged for medical supplies and sheets when an American figure skater got injured competing in Russia back in the eighties?)

Having to go all over the city trying to find medications the sick person desperately needs, then rushing back to the hospital.

Having to provide meals for the sick person... Can you imagine being in the waiting room, torn up with worry, and having to also think about what to feed them?

Having to procure supplies necessary for actual surgeries! Our nanny told us how her brother flew from South Ossetia to Moscow and back to buy THREAD and medicine on the black market before their mother could have life-saving surgery back in 1991. Granted, that was during a very difficult time in the country's history, but such cases still do occur. (Well, maybe not for thread, but for other necessities...)

So... It does put the whole "cat diaper" thing into perspective... You wouldn't expect an animal's care to be more streamlined/up to Western standards than a person's... Even when Lyalya's care has cost more than the total price of all four major operations our nanny's mom has had... And if Lyalya's care had been better, if his diaper had just been provided? That might paint an even sadder picture of society these days...

Lyalya: Looking Promising!

In Amina's arms.

He looks SO much better than he did this morning! Tremendously so!

I was there twice today. This morning things were pretty upsetting. He was in worse condition than the previous evening, unable to move much, disinterested. Worst of all, he was shaking--because he was so cold! His fur was all matted from urine and it was clumped all over him in a clammy mess. I was so upset! Such negligence was inexcusable; it really put his recovery at risk! Furthermore, he has been hooked up to a catheter--so how did that even happen?

I ran to buy cat diapers and told them to give him a warm bath immediately, then dry him and keep him warm. They did... They also cleaned him up with dry shampoo and some warm water around the bottom area.

This evening Amina and I went back to visit him again, and he was an entirely different cat. We were able to hold him and he loved curling up on our laps. He was really interested in all the other animals in the waiting room, and he looked pretty happy.

He still can't go to the bathroom on his own, though. He's also not interested in eating, so he's still getting hydrated by IV.

As soon as he can eat and go to the bathroom, we can bring him home. Now, we still don't know for certain that he'll be able to do those things, but it seems likely. He's pretty much out of the woods! WHAT A RELIEF! Now when the girls get home tomorrow, it will be much easier to tell them about what happened while they were gone.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I got to visit Lyalya at the veterinary hospital today. Amina wanted to come with me and I was really glad to have her there. They brought him and his IV out to a visiting area so we could pet him and soothe him. It was scary to see him in his present condition--multiple bandages, shaved in a variety of places, all boney, his fur coming out in tufts, so weak...


His eyes were HIS eyes. Alert, so happy to see us, curious. Amina said he looked MUCH better than yesterday. He purred as soon as they brought him out to us and the clinician said he's such a sweetie--that they all like him.

He perked up whenever another dog entered the clinic. Until this happened, he'd never even seen a dog! He had always wanted to escape from our apartment, to explore what's out there... Sometimes it was hard to physically restrain him! And now that he gets to hear and see all these other animals, all he can do is lift his head to check them out. Still, though... His spark is there.

The problem is that he still can't pee. Tomorrow they're going to do blood tests to check his kidney function. If the results show improvement, he'll have a good prognosis. If there isn't any, then things look much bleaker.

Chris and the girls get back tomorrow; I'll need to break the news to them then. The vet said it would be good if we could bring the girls to visit him in the early afternoon and evening; he perks up when he sees family.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lonely Asya

Lyalya is in critical condition in the hospital. His surgery was yesterday; during it, they learned that the plastic toy cut his liver and kidneys. It's still touch and go. If he can make it through today, however, things will be much more optimistic.

In the meantime, I got home from Edinburgh tonight. Asya met me with desperate joy and meowed loudly for an hour and a half. She hasn't let me out of her sight, and is only now resting peacefully (while purring loudly) because I'm holding her.

I knew she would be upset without her brother since they've never been apart and adore each other--but seeing just how confused and lonely she is is painful.

I pray Lyalya can make it through this. Asya isn't the only one who adores him... We all do... It was so sad tonight to come home and not have him run to meet me.

I'll go see him in the morning when I'm allowed in the clinic.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I'm Screaming with Glee, Believe Me!!!

No, no news yet about our poor cat...

But I am relieved beyond words to learn that ALL SCHOOLS IN MOSCOW ARE CLOSED NEXT WEEK! Over half of Moscow kids are sick, so there's a mandatory quarantine. I'm thrilled my kids can come straight home from the airport and wait it out.

I'm also thrilled I'll get a chance to recuperate from this trip and from being ill for so long.

Maybe I'll even find the energy to finish painting that last wall of the girls' room...

The Head of the High School told me the news , relishing sharing every word as much as I relished hearing it... We sure did the "happy jig" in Edinburgh tonight!

One of the students discounted it all, saying, "Yeah, but you guys have no clue how great this is. WE've had no vacation since we were here for this trip!"

Me: "Do you really think this was a true vacation for us? And that we're not thrilled to have a week off from school, too?"

Student: "You just don't get it. You're a teacher. We have another life, you know."

His extent of cluelessness baffles the mind!

Update on Lyalya

It wasn't as simple as just giving him a laxative. The clinic our babysitter originally took him to wanted to operate. Having been in that clinic before, I did *not* want him undergoing surgery there. Good doctors? Probably... But NOT clean according to US standards. Definitely not "Western." Our poor babysitter...

She then had to take him to my friend's veterinary clinic, after having spent the whole day at the first one... They did some initial work there, and now there's a question of his liver being involved! Yikes. Tomorrow morning they'll redo all tests and surgery will be done at that time if needed.

I'm still so worried!

Hmm. In the meantime, tomorrow's my last day in Edinburgh and I need to make sure I find one dandy present for our babysitter...!

I already scored some really cool dinosaur fleece hats for my best friend's sons back in Moscow... She has been a life saver throughout this, lending her cat carrier to our babysitter, putting money on my phone after these calls drained my balance, and fronting all the money for whatever care is needed... I feel so blessed to have such wonderful friends in my life. Our babysitter considers Lyalya a part of our family, and she loves us all--and my friend Julie is my rock of sanity and unconditional support in the midst of Moscow mayhem!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Guess It's All A Matter of Perspective...

Vaccinations against the flu are called "flu jabs" here. I read that on a pamphlet at the doctor's office, and the image it conjured for me was a rather violent one: someone coming at you as in a duel, perhaps in full armor (been to a lot of castles recently).

Can't you just picture little kids recoiling in fear before they get "jabbed" with that foil-like needle? I even shared that thought out loud. Naturally, the others waiting were curious what we say in the USA.

Hmm. Didn't I feel silly.

In America you get "shot."


Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Yes, touristy, but fun! I'm so used to the violin music in Moscow; this was a nice change.

'Twas a "traditional" day in the morning, too... Our driver met us in full Highland attire:

I have a bunch more to upload, but have had no time. Yesterday was also very stressful because Lyalya, Katya's cat, became very ill while we were gone. Luckily x-rays today showed that he has a ball stuck inside him and they hope to have helped it along... If that doesn't work, he'll have to have surgery. I'm so thankful it's not something we couldn't immediately address! I felt so powerless being so far away, just wanting to hold him...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

St. Andrews University

Today we took a day trip to the town of Saint Andrews, where we visited the university that shares the name. It is the third oldest university in the English-speaking world, founded in 1413! It's also recognized as one of the top 25 universities in the world.

I hadn't realized how different the Scottish and English university systems are; the Scottish one is a bit of hybrid between English programs (three-year, highly specialized from day one) and the traditional liberal arts undergraduate degree programs in American universities.

This is the main chapel, situated on the main quad.

The main quad is where most university traditions take place, such as the shaving cream fight! I loved hearing about the various traditions at the school. You can tell how proud the university community is of their university in the way they talk about it; I think it would be a fantastic place to study.

The university basically is the town: there are 6,000 undergrads; 1,000 grad students and 4,000 locals. Town life is completely focused on academia and student life--except for that wee other local famous sport, golf, which has been played there since 1,500 AD! (It's hard for most Americans, I think, to wrap their minds around how OLD history is in other places, places where people are going about their everyday lives, when our country in comparison is so brand spankin' new!)

Another view of the chapel.

Our guide explained to us that all around the town are cobblestone markings denoting where Protestant martyrs were burnt at the stake. The most famous are these in memory of Patrick Hamilton, located outside the main quad. In 1528 he took six hours to die! It is believed that if one steps on the initials, one will fail every exam and never graduate.

This is the residence hall where Prince William lived his first year.

This quaint street leads to the ocean.

This Episcopal Church of Scotland is along that street. It was so pretty!

At dawn on May Day, students run down these steps into the North Sea, sung to by the University Madrigals. It is said that this is the only way to remove the curse of failing if one has accidentally stepped on the "PH" cobblestones outside of the main quad.

The ruins of Saint Andrews Castle, bordering--um, falling into--the sea.

We then headed to Glamis Castle, where the Earls of Strathmore have been living for over 600 years! Can you imagine building a castle and having your family live in it continuously for that long?! I loved it there. We had a gem of a guide who breathed life into every room he described, as if he had personally known all the previous inhabitants (including Queen Elizabeth's family).

The spouses of the G8 spent the day here when the Heads of State met in Scotland; we walked around the room where they had lunch.

As for me, the doctor yesterday pronounced I have mild bronchitis and acute sinusitis. I'm on a different antibiotic and taking it as easy as I can. I got to rest a lot today in the bus, and luckily it only rained for a while. (Egad, this country is wet and cold!)

One by one, however, the others in our group are dropping like flies from flu... At the first sign of virus, they're taking Tamiflu (the powerful anti-virus medication that treats a wide variety of viruses, including H1N1, helping one to recover more quickly). We have enough of the prescription for all of us, just in case.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Throwing Up On the Queen's Persian Carpet Is a Tourist No-No...

... so I'm thrilled I managed to hold it back. In the throne room.

The Palace of Hollyrood House

Egad, that would have been mortifying. But it would have been some "royal" blog fodder! I swear, that was my only consolation as I did my utmost to avoid such an embarrassing situation. Luckily I made it outside to the grass by the archway. And no one noticed.

(The gook in my chest and face is dripping into my stomach and making me nauseated; it's not that I have a virus that causes vomiting.)

Thus began the day! We were touring Hollyrood House, the Queen's 3rd official residence in the UK, after Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace. We got to see the historic parts of the palace, not any wings where people from the past two centuries have lived.

Detail from fountain in courtyard.

I bought the girls a cool Kids' History of Scotland, only to read it myself this afternoon and learn something important on every single page.

Our students in the remains of the Abbey.

I'd have taken more pictures, but you're not technically supposed to do so inside the palace--and I was too ill... Not to mention I was afraid of having an accident with my camera.

The rest of the day? Well, I spent it in bed, sleeping more soundly than I can remember in years. I got up for dinner, then came back to the hotel and am headed back to bed. I do feel a bit better after the rest, but I'm still sick... The kids are all teetering on being sick, too. It rains here non-stop and the chill is piercing. Especially when you're touring old drafty palaces, castles and dungeons!

A wee bit of trivia I learned tonight at dinner:

Close-up, this is what it says: