Saturday, January 31, 2009

Playground Skating


While driving one of Katya's friends home from school the other day, I noticed that the kids seemed to be gliding across the playground. Yup, it had been turned into an ice rink!


When the weather is cold enough, many paved courts in neighborhood courtyards are turned into rinks. Last year it was too warm!

This morning Natalia and I were up before anyone else -- so we dressed very warmly, grabbed our skates, and headed out. The car was covered in thick, fluffy snow and it was still snowing fat flakes. What a fun time to be outside! You can easily tell what a great time Natalia had. I did, too... What a great FREE thing to do in Moscow!


The ice was kind of bumpy, but I managed to do a decent scratch spin. Natalia's filming skills were equally bumpy!

video

After skating, we played on the playground for a while. Here's the "snowbox"! 


By then we were thoroughly chilled, so Natalia gave me her best "puppy dog face" and begged for some hot chocolate... 


We gladly went to a cafe that just opened to warm up. Blini with apples and cinnamon, and hot chocolate for Natalia... A latte for me. 

Nice morning!

(Well, of course, we then got home and the girls fought horribly... Katya had chosen to not come, but she was horribly jealous and angry about having been left home... Natalia then rubbed it in her face... Ugh.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hit & Run

Today, after my little adventure I wrote about below, I got hit by another car. I was stopped at a light when two people in a Renault Megane came out of nowhere and hit me from behind.

According to Russian law, you're then required to STAY PUT, no matter how much danger that puts you in, and wait for the cops. We all put our blinkers on and got out to survey the damage. 

HE SMASHED IN ONE BACK CORNER OF MY CAR, scraping it up, too. And he then had the nerve to claim he hadn't even TOUCHED my car, that any damage was there before! 

I was sooooooo angry! I went to go get my phone, and then...

THE DARN DRIVER, SPORTING DIPLOMATIC PLATES, FLED THE SCENE! 

I tried following him, honking and flashing my lights at him to pull over, but he ditched me!

I videotaped him driving away and Chris figured out on the internet that he's from Vietnam... I can't go to the police, though, since I "broke the law" by not staying put at the scene of the accident. It would only be my word against his, and he's a diplomat.

AAAARRRGH!!!!!!!! 

Thank God my other news this morning was good...

Oh, yeah... The whole reason I was in the car then? Heading out the mega mall so I could get large sheets of colored paper. (I knew of one store that sells it there).  I had spent almost three hours trying to track some down yesterday in the city's center... I used to buy paper at the famous "Dyetsky Mir" at Lubyanka, but they closed that store for the NEXT FEW YEARS for renovations... Argh, argh, argh! I ended up buying almost $50 worth of papers; one of my responsibilities at school is to do the English Department bulletin boards and signs... I don't want to have to waste any more time this year looking for the necessary supplies...

A Lump in My Throat

I recently discovered a small lump in my breast, right after returning from the USA... At times like that you really wish you weren't in Russia. A good friend got me the name of a top Russian oncologist and I could go there for a consultation -- but today I had both a mammogram (my first -- absolutely no big deal) and ultrasound at the medical clinic where we usually go and everything is completely normal. 

Given both tests' results, I don't need to follow up with an immediate second opinion/second mammogram. I'll keep doing self-exams and will go for another set of tests (perhaps at a different clinic with a different radiologist) in late spring.

Waiting for the radiologist this morning, though... and waiting for the results... I felt so very scared.

My doctor has now become a good friend, though, and he put me at ease during the last week both when he gave me my initial exam and today.

He and I also had a good chuckle in the process... 

Earlier this week when he diagnosed Natalia with Strepp, he also gave me a breast exam. Natalia was almost asleep in a partitioned area of the office while he examined me, so she wasn't watching. After the doctor finished and left to schedule my mammogram, I got up to get dressed. Natalia then saw me with nothing on above the waist and yelped, rather loudly, "Get your shirt on before the doctor sees your boobs!!!!"

(Hmm... He'd done quite a bit more than see them just minutes earlier...)

Turns out that everyone in the waiting area had heard, and they tried to hide their giggles as we walked out... 

The nurses had also told my doctor, who was rather amused. We then also chuckled about his eclectic English vocabulary. When he first moved here from France, he knew hardly any English at all. I've watched him go from being a rank beginner to becoming rather proficient! He no longer needs me to translate for him when he examines the girls, for example. 

But "lump"? "Fibroid'? Not exactly the most useful English vocabulary! Certainly not going to come in handy on a tourist's visit to New York! :-) 

I'm glad that I don't now need to also master a whole new area of Russian vocabulary... A journey inside Russian medical clinics, though, would have provided a whole new bunch of blogging fodder... I'll thankfully now find something else to write about!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Bunch of Sickies: Update

Chris
Still not 100% recovered from the flu he brought back from the USA. Fighting an ear infection, on antibiotics.

Me
Still really tired from the flu, but mainly recovered. On my third week of a three-month antibiotic prescription prescribed by doctor in the USA to get rid of my recurring sinusitis FOR ONCE AND FOR ALL. 

Katya
Has now missed a week of school. Doing better, but still not completely recovered from her dad's flu. I hope she'll go back to school tomorrow.

Natalia
Poor thing... The flu morphed into Strepp throat. Obviously still home sick. Probably won't go back to school until next week.

Our Babysitter
Limping along, well enough to come back to work on Monday when I went back to work. 

The Cats?
Thrilled to have all those warm bodies laying around all day!

p.s. We got flu shots, but they weren't for the American strain of the flu!

Lost Luggage: Update

Our lost bag finally made it to Moscow... And we were informed about the glad occasion in true "Moscow style," on Thursday.

Husband, intently concentrating at work, answers cell phone.

LOUD VOICE: (very annoyed) "WHY HAVEN'T YOU COME BACK HERE TO PICK UP YOUR SUITCASE??!"

Husband: (startled and indignant) "WHAT bag? My bag was found? It's in Moscow?"

Helpful Delta Worker, a.k.a. "LOUD VOICE": "IT'S BEEN SITTING HERE SINCE TUESDAY! WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GET HERE TO PICK IT UP?!"

Ahhhh, customer service in Russia's capital... Yes, not only did Chris inconvenience them by not having telepathically known his bag was found, but he also had the nerve to be busy working full-time, unable to waste half a day to head back out to the airport to fetch his bag.

You got that last part right: if your luggage is now lost flying into Russia, YOU have to go pick it up. The day after our suitcase was lost, this article about the new policy was a featured story in The Moscow Times (thanks for the head's up, Expatresse!)

Chris got up early on Saturday morning and headed all the way back to the airport and fetched the bag. There are so many other ways he could have spent half of a weekend day!

I sure am glad to have all my books, though... 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nice While It Lasted!

I got to stay in bed and wait out my fever for most of the day on Thursday because Amina was here. (Amina does pretty much whatever I need, taking over some housekeeping and the a.m. children's routine, and helping the girls with their Russian homework, now that I work full-time). Wow, for the first time in years I actually got to just REST when ill. 

How short-lived. Thursday night? Amina got sick, too. It was kind of inevitable!

Then on Friday afternoon I realized that the girls had only had a cold virus up until now -- their bouts with the flu were only beginning. 

After having been out of the office for most of the month due to his business trip and illness, Chris had to go to work... And I was on my own dealing with sick kids who caused MUCH laundry, also cleaning as much as possible to try to combat the germs... Their fevers made the girls miserable, so we did get to snuggle a lot. 

OH, HOW I WISH WE ALREADY HAD SEASONS 3 THROUGH 5 OF THE BRADY BUNCH!!!!

I do, however, highly recommend a movie I picked up at Target: Ballet Shoes, based on the award-winning children's book by Noel Streatfield. It stars Emma Watson and we all really enjoyed it. It's rated PG, basically because it wouldn't be of interest to kids younger than 8 (because of having an older sister, Natalia is interested in such things sooner). 



Miraculously, we're all doing a bit better this morning... I almost wish I could slip the girls a sedative!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Snowy Silence


Earlier this week I was running a half-hour ahead of schedule before meeting with someone I tutor, so I stopped in at Novodevichy Monastery and went for a short walk. It had just started to snow, and the conditions were perfect for some winter photographs.


There was hardly anyone there and the place was silent


The snow started to really fly and it got cold. I should have hurried back to the car instead of letting myself get chilled; perhaps that's why I'm sicker than I can recall in years with the horrible flu Chris brought back from California. This is my first time out of bed today other than to make a quick trip to the kitchen or bathroom. My fever is a little over 103 and I'm either covered in sweat or freezing.


As it got closer to 5:15, grandmothers started to show up on their way home from work... They walked around praying.


Here are the church offices; I thought of you, Annie!


By the time I left, the sun had set and the sky was the most beautiful pink/purple. It's never dark here at night because of all the city lights. 


I'll get caught up on blogs tomorrow; I'm just too sick right now... Loved K's video "thank you," though, Rachael! Thanks for the info about the airport's new lost baggage policy (they won't deliver it anymore; you have to go get it in person), Expatresse! Still no word on the bag...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lyagushki: Singing & Dancing Frogs


Monday was Natalia's school play, The Frog Princess (Царина Лягушка). Her school takes its theatrical productions seriously. They prepare for months in advance, putting on shows you'd expect from teenagers. The director is also the school's dance instructor -- oh, she also happens to dance on televion and in film, doing the choreography for a show like "Sesame Street" on the side...!

When they started to prepare for the play, we didn't know if we'd be here for it; they never know until mid-December if the theater they use will be available before or after the New Year. Since we might have been in the USA for the show, Natalia didn't have any lines -- and she wasn't too happy about it..  

She sure did love their frog dance, though! So much so that when given the choice between keeping her dancing role or instead having a small speaking part (once we knew the play would be in January), she chose to stick with dancing.


The frogs were all soooo cute! (Considering what we were charged for her custom-made costume designed by the director, good!) Their bodysuits and puffy tunics were made from fancy, stretchy fabrics and decorated with sparkly gems to catch the light. 


Here's just the musical number; Natalia's in the center of the back row:

video

I'm including more pictures from the production to show how pretty it all was... Some of you readers will recognize old friends from when you lived here! 


This year teachers and two parents were also part of the show. Here's Natalia's beloved preschool teacher with some of the youngest children, the bear cubs...


This little boy is our neighbor and he's so cute. I love how happy he was to be in his first big play!


Here's Baba Yaga with her three-headed monster. That costume was COOL.


The little girl who played the princess was superb; she flawelessly delivered her many lines throughout the hour-long play. We could hear all of the songs very clearly this year, too; the children recorded them in a recording studio beforehand and then sang along during the show. What a neat experience for them!


The prince and princess were rather touching for six- and seven-year-olds!


After the play was over, they showed a short movie about how they prepared for it. The children had a blast dancing on the stage and watching themselves on the large screen!

Applause...


And flowers. 


It's too bad that Chris and Katya were too sick to attend; Natalia was very pleased with the bouquet they sent for her, however. There was even a little glass frog hidden among the flowers!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Follow the Red Brick Road...


Tonight a friend and I drove along the red bricks of Red Square to the Starlite Diner, a "American Diner" in the heart of city. There we joined hundreds of other Americans to watch this:

video

There's something incredibly special about participating in the election of the President of the United States from overseas. Somehow living outside of your country gives you a sharper appreciation of what makes it so special. 

Knowing that none of my expat friends from other countries (except Singapore) are required to pay taxes to their homelands also magnifies being American... It makes you ask, "Just what IS so special about being American that you are required to pay taxes as if you lived there? How is your money spent? What does it do for the country? What does being American mean for you as a citizen at large in the world?"

Look how packed the restaurant was! There were film crews from Russian and international television and newspapers; I was so careful while eating my dinner to not look unsightly since there was almost always a camera pointed at us!

Just a note: Please don't leave any negative comments... I'm just not interested in having a liberal/conservative debate on my blog. My husband and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum and we peacefully disagree. No need to heat it all up here! And truthfully, Republican or Democrat -- there's a wonderful sense of patriotism when we Americans in Moscow come together on national holidays... The 4th of July bash here is one of the largest in the world outside of the USA  with THOUSANDS in attendance.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

That's What You Get for Flying Business Class?

(Edited below)

Chris is back, and he had his worst trip since moving here -- despite flying alone, business class. He's quite sick with the flu, which is mainly the reason.

He was exhausted upon arrival in Moscow, eager to claim his suitcases and head home... I had arranged for a car to meet him -- a premium "business class" type of cab -- since this particular business trip allowed for that kind of perk.

Then reality hit. 

He had checked his carry-on rolling suitcase at the gate since he realized he was too sick to use any of the contents, and it was bulky. 

It never arrived. I've yet to discover how many of things he was bringing back for me were in that bag; he's too sick/afraid to tell me...

Not only didn't it arrive, but no one can even tell us where it is... Usually when a bag doesn't make it, they can pinpoint it's location because of the computer scans for the baggage tag. Not this time. No one would help him. I tried calling for assistance from here, but they wouldn't answer the phone.

Then, due to new changes in Russian laws about customs, he had declare all the contents in the lost bag; without doing so, he couldn't file a claim for the lost luggage. Since if you have to declare one bag, ALL bags must be declared, they opened everything up and tried to make him pay 200 Euros ($266) -- that's including customs duties on the suitcase contents he may never even receive!

I've NEVER (knock on wood! knock on wood!) had to open a suitcase upon arrival or pay a penny -- even when we moved here initially with 14 pieces of luggage! 

Chris refused to pay and somehow got out of it, but there's no word on the bag... And he was in business class!!! To lose it at the gate, when you're not even in economy and your bag is tagged for VIP handling, is ridiculous! And to then not even apologize or offer assistance?

Delta, you've just lost some loyal customers. From now on the girls and I will go with Aeroflot. Better food, actually better service, and their excess luggage fee is $100 -- for a 70 lb bag! Delta charges $280! Delta and Aeroflot are frequent flyer mile partners, so our miles will all still be good. Safety standards are the same, too, since they use the same plans and often combine flights.

So...

Chris left to find his driver, only to have the driver refuse to put his luggage in the VIP car I'd ordered. (Since the trunk can't hold three pieces -- which Chris was allowed in business class). They didn't want his dirty luggage inside the car, which I can understand -- but they were going to just leave him and make him wait for a new cab.

They worked it all out, though, somehow, and he made it home. He has been asleep, with a high fever, ever since. 

Hmm... I think this whole "expat travel hassle thing" might be starting to grate on him, too... (Contain your joy, grandparents!)

p.s. AAAAARRRGH!!!! The stuff that was lost? Every single book I had ordered from Amazon! All the books I intended to use in my lessons tomorrow at school, and for the rest of the year! Now I need to think up all new ideas for tomorrow, after unpacking, cooking for the next four days, being Mom all day...  THAT, folks, is why I physically carry onto the airplane every possible thing I can get away with... THAT way I know it doesn't get lost...

Edited: You're right, Expatress!!!! I forgot to mention that!!! Russia DID change it's policy, and Chris IS obliged to go pick up his lost bag in person -- or go through some expensive and quite time-consuming legal proceedings to give someone else permission to pick it up in his stead. I can't even go get it for him without going through all that! I don't have any time to deal with the notary, not to mention then head out to the airport (bye, bye a half a day at least...). 

At least this trip was for business, so I hope his office will pay for someone else to do whatever is necessary to claim the bag.

THAT BEING SAID, ALL OF THIS DISCUSSION ASSUMES THAT THE (MY!!!!!) LOST BAG ACTUALLY IS EVER RECOVERED AND GETS TO MOSCOW... One must NOT assume that...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just Another Day in Moscow...

(edited)

As we walked down the Arbat to meet friends for lunch today, look who  -- um -- walked past us...


The craziest part? Most people didn't even notice! My kids didn't even think it was weird, thank goodness... (Wait! Or is that worse??!)... 

That's Moscow for you... My fellow expat mom blogger at The Beet Goes On (cool name, huh?) has had an equally interesting week here; how about people pooping in public or ferrets in the subway?  

I posted this because it wasn't obviously some type of perverse thing. I couldn't tell if the doll was cast plastic or blown up, but it seemed awkward enough to carry... Despite her not wearing underwear, the rest of the doll's surface was solid (I think you know what I mean) -- so I'm thinking mannequin. Even in Moscow, I'd sure have been surprised to see a "doll" for other purposes being paraded down the main pedestrian street in broad daylight... 

Make-Over in Progress...

I want to figure out how to install a repetitive background outside of the cream box of text. Does anyone know how to do that? 

By the way, www.scrapblog.com (where I designed the header) keeps malfunctioning and my blog header has errors in it that shouldn't be there: there shouldn't be any white line showing vertically next to the green ribbon border, and the blue cross stitches should be 50/50 over the cream and red papers... I'll try to save it again tomorrow and see if it works properly...

After all the effort, I might then just go back to the look I had last night... With this header and a light blue background...


Any votes out there? I changed it because I thought the cream background would make it easier to read. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Books Bring Us Together"


There are always pro-Moscow/pro-Russia/public interest billboards scattered around the city... I really like this one. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Upside of a Downside

The exchange rate today for the US dollar to the Russian ruble is $1 to 32.332. That's higher than it was when we moved here five years ago... It steadily decreased over the past four years, bottoming out at 21 early this fall... 

A nearly 33% increase helps in the face of inflation and the effects of the economic crises in both America and Russia... We sure are glad right now that Chris is paid in dollars!

Snowy Night

Old Arbat Street


Die-hard soccer fans... You can't tell from this picture, but it was snowing hard -- and it was pitch black outside!

A Very Brady Cure for Jet Lag



Who would have known?

Last night I introduced the girls to The Brady Bunch, on dvd, despite Natalia's sobs and cries about how I could make her watch a "Mommy" show that was most certainly going to be dreadful! 

Twenty minutes later, as the girls sat enthralled, giggling together, Natalia sheepishly admitted she had been wrong...

They were still unable to fall asleep until 11:30 p.m., but they both actually got up without a fight for school this morning -- because I told them they could watch some more of the show once they were ready until it was time to leave.

That sure did the trick! 

Hallelujah! Our first pleasant morning all week!

Here are Katya and Asya just before she got dressed. Just look how tired that poor girl is!


It's too bad I don't have enough time to order any more seasons of the show for Chris to bring back from America...

Little things like that -- not being able to get a book or dvd when you want it -- are some of the aspects of expat life that can be such a pain... It's why it's so darn stressful when we're in the USA; I try to think of every little thing we could possibly want/need until the next trip back... For example, I brought back packs of Valentines, conversation hearts, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and other traditional Easter candies/basket fillers last week (planning ahead, the Easter candy had been purchased last year -- yes, last year -- after Easter when it was on sale...). 

Sure, I don't need any more seasons of The Brady Bunch -- but I'd gladly use my Barnes and Noble coupon and go buy one for $15 if I were in America :-) Guess I'll order some and have you sneak 'em over little by little -- removed from packaging -- in our regular mail that comes via Chris's office, Mom...

Before I click "Publish Post," I must confess that I'm just as excited as the kids to curl up on the couch this evening and pop in the next episode of Season One...

Thanks, Panera!

Natalia LOVES the Broccoli Cheddar Soup at Panera Bread in the USA. LOVES. I hadn't realized just how much until our last trip to America... She will take it ANY day over grilled cheese, pizza or McDonald's. Since we don't have anything quite like Panera in Moscow, I decided to learn how to make my own. This recipe was a BIG hit. 

It's so good that even **I** like it! (Psst... Don't tell my kids that I actually don't share their love of broccoli...) It's not, however, lo-cal... I opted to make it creamy the first time I cooked it, guessing that the Panera version isn't exactly lo-cal, either... I figured that if Natalia loved it the first time I made it, I could always lighten up the recipe in future batches. 

Natalia told me to add that it tastes even better when served in a Hannah Montana bowl. Natch.


Broccoli Cheddar Soup


INGREDIENTS


1/2 cup butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

11 cups water

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock*

2 heads fresh broccoli, cut into florets

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup light cream**

3 to 4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese


*I used one tablespoon of "Better than Bouillion" chicken stock paste instead. I am SO thankful to have gotten that jar of BTB from the USA!

**You can also use milk, but the soup won't be as creamy. 


DIRECTIONS

1. In a 5-quart pot, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in flour, stirring constantly until a thick paste forms. Slowly whisk in three cups of water, being sure to avoid lumps. Remove the roux from pot, and set aside.

2. In same pot, combine remaining water, chicken stock, broccoli, salt and pepper. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Slowly stir in the roux (flour mixture) until soup thickens. Simmer 5 minutes. Reduce heat, and stir in cream. Mix in cheese 1 cup at a time, and stir until melted.


Makes 10 servings. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Third Culture Kids: Part 2

Hmm... As I was cooking dinner right now, I suddenly thought of a rather famous Third Culture Kid (see my previous post) who is on everyone's mind these days! Can you guess?

(Scroll down...)















Barack Obama lived in Indonesia with his American mother and Indonesian stepfather, attending a local school, from the ages of seven to ten. His being a "TCK" runs even deeper when you consider that his father was Kenyan. He's living proof that being a Third Culture Kid isn't necessarily a bad thing; it opens your mind to other cultures and makes you rather flexible and tolerant.

Third Culture Kids

I've been reading a really good book this month called "Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds." What is a Third Culture Kid? 

"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant portion of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background." 

To put it simply, Third Culture Kids have trouble answering the following question "Where are you from?"... ! 

The kids in Moscow know that Katya and Natalia are different; to them, my girls are from America. My kids have different customs and traditions, different core values from their peers. For example, in Russia it's considered normal to cheat/bribe -- even necessary -- since everyone does it to function in business and government, or simply drive a car around town.(No one, of course, believes that cheating is good and moral -- but people generally accept that "it's how the system works.") Additionally, imagine what it's like to be the only kid in your elementary school to insist that the tooth fairy does exist -- or even Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, for that matter! 

But the children in America know that my daughters don't quite fit in there, either: their life experiences have been radically different from those of their "regular" American peers for the vast majority of their lives. Their idea of the world is a largely mobile one, where the different continents on a global map aren't simply colorful shapes -- they're actual places where their other expat friends who have left Moscow now live, where those friends speak many other languages. Diversity and multiculturalism are my daughters' basic way of life. Any item on the news or in the paper can be personal to them, since they're keenly aware that people just like them live all around the world. Hearing about a tsunami or terrorist attack can effect Third Culture Kids and Adults* much more deeply. 

Then there's the whole idea of the word "home"... When in Moscow, they hear me talk about how we'll be going "home" for the holidays or summer to America. But when we're in America, we don't have a home... We flit from relative to relative, always in transit, out of suitcases, never settled. When we're in America, we then talk about going back "home" to Moscow. It's quite confusing if you stop to think about it!

Kids tend to crave routines and stability -- and the routine that my kids know is that we're highly mobile, crossing the globe throughout the year. As hectic as that is, to them it actually IS a routine, normal. Neither their American nor Russian peers can quite understand that.

As a result, they most easily relate to other kids who are also Third Culture Kids. Katya has finally made a close friend here, a best friend, whose parents are Russian and American. That girl "gets it," knows what it's like for Katya to be growing between both worlds, as opposed to fully belonging in either. Their very friendship illustrates that "between" space they inhabit -- depending on the situation, they effortlessly switch between Russian and English. 

When we move back to the USA, it won't necessarily be easy for my kids to make friends who can understand who they "really are."

I am devouring this book... It is so interesting, and eye-opening, to me as an expat parent!

Here's the website for Third Culture Kids all over the globe.

*A Third-Culture Adult is one who lived in the "third culture" for a significant period of time during the developmental years -- impacting his or her core identification with one "native" culture. Chris and I wouldn't fit in that category since we didn't move overseas until we were adults.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What IS that? And Keep Reading to Really Laugh...


No, it's not a bad photograph... You can't really see much because my window shield is COVERED in slimy, blackish-brown slush. The whole car is COVERED. You would NEVER believe (unless you live in Moscow) that I had the car washed last night.

That car in front of me? IT'S ACTUALLY WHITE, PEOPLE! 

Ugh. Sigh. 

And yet for all the "Oh, wow, I'm back in Moscow" moments... It DOES feel good to be back in our own place, pretty much unpacked. You'd never know I'd brought back 410 lbs of allowed luggage, plus the 150 more I managed to sneak on in our carry-ons and car seat bag...

For those of you readers who get a "soap opera" kick out of our adventures, I can't disappoint...
Highlights of the return trip? 

Delta's computers at JFK incorrectly had Katya down for only 2 50 lb bags instead of the 3 70 lb bags she's actually allowed due to her frequent flyer status... They tried to make me pay almost $500 I didn't actually owe -- or have. They tried to make me leave my children and all our bags AT THE CURB at JFK to get any assistance in the matter. Had to treck outside with the girls, leaving all our bags unattended, to find help in another terminal... It took over an hour and a half... Katya had a petit mal seizure from the stress of the situation... 

Finally got checked in without paying more, only to not have seats -- any  of us -- together... People did move, but not without being rather peeved... I explained that my kids have some special needs and that I *had* to be with them, but no one really believed me... 

Natalia then graciously proved to anyone who had doubted me that YES, indeed, she needed her mother beside her... Her ten minute all out hysterical fit during take off -- during which I had to pin her into her seat -- while one of Chris's colleagues looked on from a few rows behind -- and during which I tried to calm her down by whispering, only to have her shout to EVERYONE on board how awful my breath smelled...

But heck, that was nothing in the "embarrassing behavior" department in comparison to what she'd done two years ago! While waiting to board the very same flight, she kept trying to interrupt me while I worked out our seats with the agent. I wouldn't answer her persistent "Mommy!" cries so she then SHOUTED to everyone at the gate, "But MOMMY! I need to know! WHY do you have a string between your legs??!!" Ah, the joys of young children. The joy of having to bring your kids into the stall with you when in such a public place. The joy of kids who don't turn around and give you privacy when you think they are. The joy OF THEN RUNNING INTO PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN ON THAT FLIGHT AND WHO KNOW YOU LOOK FAMILIAR, BUT THEY JUST CAN'T PLACE YOU... Seriously. It happened. With the people who had been next in line.

OK, sure, I've just further shamed myself publicly, but weren't all those snarfed cups of coffee you readers are drinking worth it? Come on, all of our kids have humiliated us in some way...!

The rest of the flight was absolutely fine, as far as being confined in a small space with your two kids for twelve hours goes... 

Then there was a snafu at the airport when for about half an hour it appeared that only a cab driver with a regular car was meeting us, and there was NO way even our luggage would fit... 

But it all worked out, hey, we arrived safely, so did all our bags, and I took advantage of our sleepless jet-lagged nights to get almost everything put away before heading back to work. 

Yay!

Here We Go Again...



This is what Natalia looked like as we waited for Katya at school this evening. She has theater club until 7 p.m. on Mondays, so it's a long day (but she wouldn't want to miss a single minute of it!). 


Yup. SOUND asleep. 

Right now? at 1:53 a.m.? Not so asleep. WIDE awake. The two of them were like wild animals until I finally got Katya to sleep at 1. To think that that now seems "early"...! 

Yay... Time to get up in four and a half hours... I had SO much work when I got back to school today that I'm only just now finishing it all. (It would have gone much more quickly, however, if I hadn't been playing "sleep sheriff" all evening...)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inspiration in the Subway

"What do you call a room full of explorers, inventors and authors? Your first period class."

We saw these ads on our subway ride from the American Museum of Natural History back to Rockefeller Center. Aren't they great?! They're advertising the New York Teaching Fellows Program, a program that places professionals from other fields in teaching jobs, mainly for ideological reasons. 

"Ser bilingüe abre la puerta a un mejor futuro... You can give students the key."

"Being bilingual opens the door to a better future..." I loved this ad, too! It's what I do!

"You remember your first grade teacher's name. Who will remember yours?"

THIS ad really got to me. Two years ago my mom and I visited my first grade teacher who is also an artist. She taught me, all those years ago, about outlining my drawings in black... A skill I still use when creating the murals in my daughters' room. I've never forgotten her, just as I haven't forgotten so many of the other men and women who have helped me to become who I am, what I am...

One of my most prized possessions is a gift that my eighth graders gave me as a baby gift when I had Katya. No, not a picture frame or hand-knit sweater... A collection of letters they wrote to Katya -- IN FRENCH, since they were sure I'd have taught it to her by the age of fourteen. The main message? How lucky she is to have me as a mom. How she may think I'm a complete dork at times, but that my heart is in the right place and that I care. That I don't assign busy work -- that I think carefully before I ask someone to do something. That as much as she might hate what I make her do, she can be sure that I'm doing it because I love her.

I hope many, many New Yorkers are inspired by those ads to give teaching a try...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Monday in Manhattan...


Last Monday we went to New York City with my mom to have lunch at American Girl Place and to visit the American Museum of Natural History. (My scanner isn't working, so I took a picture of our photo from American Girl)


Natalia is still just thrilled about having received Josefina for her birthday, as you can tell! She had fun pointing out all the words she knows in Spanish from Josefina's collection. Her absolute favorite is rebozo, a shawl woven on a loom. Incidentally, her favorite cartridge these days for her Nintendo DS is one that teaches you Spanish. She LOVES speaking Spanish with me. Her best friend our second and third years in Moscow was from Argentina (she has since moved back) and it ignited a fire inside her...


Katya was thrilled to get Nicki, the American girl of the year  from 2007, from Santa Claus. (YES, some foresight and a storage unit came in really handy...). Nicki is from Colorado and the illustrations in her books look very much like the backyard at my in-laws and the land around them... She was THRILLED to  bring her Colorado friend to Manhattan. It was priceless on Christmas morning to hear her exclaim again and again how Santa truly read her heart and is capable of anything, since Nicki had been impossible to buy for over a year and her parents could never have found her...


Natalia, with her interest in figure skating and her empathy about how hard it can be to be a younger sister, really loved getting Mia (the American girl of the year for 2008). This was our first time at American Girl Place when Natalia could read the whole menu and the "table talker" questions, too! (Fun questions that provoke conversations). 


Katya took this picture of us. Lunch was sooo good... Love the miniature food they do for kids!


Isn't the flowerpot mousse the best? We have those flowerpots and I use them rather frequently... Chocolate pudding is so easy to make, and when I stick the flowers inside them, it's an instant holiday for the girls. Their friends think it's SO cool when I serve this. You can do this with any fake flowers and cups, really... 


They had so much fun checking out Kit and Ruthie's treehouse. Very cool, but very hard to fit into a suitcase to Moscow, and very expensive... How I wish they could have a REAL treehouse! I loved all the forts I built in our backyard, an activity my kids have never known... 

We had a lot of fun there; the different characters are fixtures of the girls' childhoods... "Friends" who unlike everyone else they know, have never stayed behind in the USA or moved away after their few years in Moscow are over. 

Afterwards we headed to the American Museum of Natural Museum-- by velotaxi! SUCH FUN to make the trip being pulled by a bike! We only had al little while there before closing, but we had fun. Katya and Natalia really wanted to check out the Native American exhibits. Say what you will, but the Kaya stories from American Girl have really taught them a lot! So much of what they saw was familiar to them (from illustrations and descriptions). 


They loved seeing the exhibit on how Plains Indians used travois to carry things -- and the travois looked just like the one Katya got from her Grandpa for her Kaya doll and horse last Christmas.


They also loved the recreation of the founding of New York, Natalia's birthplace...


Another highlight was this exhibit of tapping maple syrup in pioneer times. The whole time we were in Connecticut, we SAVORED the maple syrup from the trees of their friend's grandparents' home. ("Katya in Michigan, but first from Saint Petersburg," as they call her...) THANK YOU, CECILIA! We LOVE it!!!! 


There was no escaping the thrill of seeing "Rexie," the bone-chasing pal of Ben Stiller in the movie "Night at the Museum."  We really love that museum; how I wish we lived someplace where the museums were kid-friendly... The AMNH engages kids at each exhibit, making them feel both welcome and inspired...


Next stop, Rockefeller Square... I babysat for one of the Rockefeller families in college; it's still so strange to think that this space is dedicated to their family, to their grandfather. Natalia would have loved to skate, but the lines were long and the cost too high...After all, we CAN do that in Moscow...


It was pretty there, but I'll never forget how breathtaking it was when we lived there in 2001 and NYC was in mourning after 9/11... The tree was red, white and blue and there were American flags EVERYWHERE.


Our trips to NYC are always brief, but I think they're important... I want the kids to be exposed to as much as they can of the USA when we're there so they grow up with a sense of their homeland. Now that they're older, it would make sense to stay for more than a day so we could take in more museums and landmarks. Katya is very interested in Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. My grandfather has a brick at Ellis Island; it would mean so much to her to find it and read it... 

Katya is PASSIONATE about American history, history in general and science... and she soaks up everything we do. While we were in Connecticut, my mom found books that had belonged to me and some that she had bought and put away for the girls. You should have heard Katya's shrieks of glee upon receiving non-fiction guides to the American presidents, Ancient Rome and Snoopy's Book of Answers about Space (which I was ECSTATIC to receive when we visited the Smithsonian when I was Katya's age). 

How interesting it will be if Katya grows up to be an American historian, having grown up on the other side of the world...

(YES, it is now 12:44 a.m. and I'm back in Moscow, deep in the midst of dealing with Round 2 of the girls' jet lag... It's Day # 2 since our return... Tomorrow's -- make that later this morning --  a regular work day... Joy!)