Thursday, May 28, 2009

Honoring Our Professor


I've been trying to figure out a way to honor our much-loved Russian professor from college who passed away this month...  I wasn't quite sure what to do... until today.


Chris and I are donating these children's books to the Russian Department of our college in his memory. It's so fitting... The independent studies that I did with him were in children's literature, his father wrote children's books, and he once worked as the editor of a famous Russian children's magazine that featured children's poetry and fairy tales...

I chose books that are accessible to students in the first two years of Russian study, ones that could be worked into the classroom to illustrate specific vocabulary or grammatical points. Our university has an exceptionally strong first-year language program, where students have daily classes with both a professor and a student teaching assistant. I would have loved to have had such books available when I was working as a T.A. for the department!

Oh -- and the choice of the full series of "Olivia" books? Well, not only are they delightful and full of excellent grammar/vocabulary... but they also feature a spirited little piglet who in so many ways resembles his granddaughter when she was little! He and his wife delighted in her misadventures!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sorry for the Lack of Interesting Posts...

It's simply that time of year, stressful for both parents and educators. (I really hear you, Annie!)

You name it, it has taken place in the last two weeks... 

And now I'm rushing to leave in a few days for the school trip to Italy... (Hmm.. For you regular readers, I'm bringing Natalia, too... But NOT because of the merits of her behavior... It's more so that my nanny doesn't quit!)

Um, in the midst of it, I'm trying to meet the deadlines for our flexible spending account and childcare reimbursement claims, plus medical forms for camp and all kinds of other goodies that I couldn't tend to in the midst of our hectic life...

All that aside, however, I'm really excited about the trip. I can't wait to teach the lessons I've planned... (The coolest? Taping a roll of paper to the underside of a row of tables to have the students try painting a fresco the way Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel...) The older and younger kids will be separated most of the time, so I won't teach Katya... But she'll be staying in my room with me. (She doesn't know this yet and won't be too pleased... I, however, as a mom worried about safety, am relieved...) No matter what,  I know that Katya will LOVE it all... Natalia? Hmm. I hope...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In Memory of...

The beloved Russian professor who taught Chris and me throughout college passed away earlier this month, and I just found out... I'm so, so sad... He was an amazing poet, much loved by our nanny and respected by many others here in his homeland who happened to learn that we had been fortunate enough to study with him. 

He even once tutored the woman who founded the school where I work...

I first met him the summer before my senior year of high school, and he and his wife walked me down the path of learning Russian...

His grandkids never learned Russian, and it meant so much to him to hear mine recite poems he knew as a child, babbling on in a language that he and his wife had introduced into our lives. I hope those special times when we visited him meant as much to him as they did to me. I hope he really knew how much we appreciated and loved him.

It's partly in homage to him and his wife that our girls have Russian names...

I would figure out a way to get back to the USA for his memorial service, but I can't because I'll be chaperoning a school trip then and unable to leave my students. How I wish I could go... Then again, the fact that I can't honor my teacher because I'll be teaching would have made him smile. 

Chris and I will contribute a letter to be read at the ceremony, as requested by the Russian Department...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Funny Little p.s. About Our "Blogging Moms' Night Out"

The night before we went out, Chris asked me if I had heard of "XXX," the lawyer on the opposite side of the deal he has just begun. My reply? "Why, as a matter of fact I'm meeting his wife for dinner tomorrow night!" 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, the Mr. Expatress was asking her the same question!

Small, small expat world...

Hope the deal doesn't get nasty! Oh, heck, if it does, it'll just be more fodder for our laughter the next time we meet...

1st Day of 1st Grade (Kind of)


Today all the first graders were invited to an "Open House" to meet their teachers, classmates, and to get a taste of what to expect on September 1st. They had two full periods of lessons plus a light lunch, and the parents got to meet one another and various teachers. I knew quite a few of the other parents -- either their older children are in Katya's class or I teach them in the middle school/high school. That felt good! We all had fun sipping tea and eating piroshki on the child-sized dining room chairs. 

Natalia had a wonderful time and can't wait to go back tomorrow morning! 

I feel really lucky that she ended up with an American friend in her class; she will really enjoy that and I think they'll end up being very close. Katya never had another English speaker in class and she adapted just fine, but I can't help but think that this will make it easier for Natalia...

I really like their teacher, too. We got off on the right foot! You see, yesterday was "The Last Bell," a sort of Graduation ceremony when Seniors ring the last bell of their school days. It's not officially a Graduation because they still have national exams to pass before they can get diplomas; those exams are the second week of June and their official Graduation is during the third week of June. In any case, the day was very special with two ceremonies attended by all the students and then the high schoolers, teachers, parents and friends.

The fourth graders played a special part in the ceremony and did a wonderful job. Their teacher was on stage at one point, and I then recognized her in the lower school later that day when I went to pick up Katya. I ran after her to congratulate her on what a good job her students had done -- and was surprised when she thanked me, knew who I was, and told me that she will be Natalia's teacher! I'm so glad that I complimented her before I knew who she was, so she knows I truly meant it!

She's kind and strict, the perfect combination for Natalia. 

Bloggers' Night Out!

Next on our list? Get Katherine's blog published in Aeroflot's magazine, too!

Last night was the first meeting of the Blogging Moscow Moms! A group of us met through our blogs, but had never met in person until then. (Dina and I knew each other, though, having gotten together once she arrived in Moscow from Africa). Dina's great sister-in-law also joined us, and was happy to take our picture from the restaurant's roof.

Katherine, our most recently arrived member of the group, is still getting used to living here and we decided to surprise her with a Girls' Night Out. Expatress brought her flowers, we got to meet her incredibly precocious (and precious) three kids before dragging her out into the metro. 

Oh, how blog-worthy it would have been had we actually lost her in the Oktyabrskaya metro station... which we almost did... right after she talked about how daunting taking the metro on her own was...

Or, it might have been blog-worthy to take a picture of her poor feet in her pretty sandal heels... as we ran to catch trains and schlepped through rain puddles upon exiting... (So sorry for that one, K... Having been here for five years, "heels" were on my brain and I just wasn't thinking clearly...)

Or, we wish we'd managed to take a picture of the Russian high school seniors as they swarmed around the city in their retro black school uniforms (with the girls wearing the white aprons and huge white hair bows) and their "Graduate" sashes... 

Expatress was quite relieved to find out that, no, Russian 11th grade girls aren't expected to raid s*x shops to find their sometimes disturbing "school girl" costumes -- that the uniforms in adult sizes magically appear in regular shops in time for graduation. Glad to clear that one up, E -- but I agree that the effect can still be unsettling... Especially when the girls pair their get-ups with 4" heels that leave American mouths gaping on the floor! (I wrote about last year's "Last Bell" Graduation ceremony here. I was so busy with this year's ceremony all day, up until our dinner, that I haven't had time to write about it yet. I'll get to it later). 

Instead we just laughed and laughed, and enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Darbar --  the best Indian restaurant in town with an AMAZING view of the city (it's on the top floor of the Sputnik Hotel on Leninsky Prospect)

Now I'm off for Natalia to meet all the kids in her first grade class and the women who will be her teachers. Fun!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

But of Course!

Love how his underwear shows through the tights. Niiiice!

There's nothing to look at here, people... So six men are in the dance store, trying on fancy white tutus, complete with leotards, feathered hair pieces, tights and leather ballet slippers. Nothing out of the ordinary! 


They were not pleased when they realized I'd managed to snap some pictures with my phone. I'm thinking they are all actors of some sort, and that they were getting them for a comedy sketch on TV... They were men on a mission in there, and the outfits had to be perfect... 

And babushki manning the store? Didn't blink an eye. Thought it was all perfectly routine, too. Wow, I sure don't get out much...

Our purchase of girls' ballet slippers was so incredibly boring in comparison...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Newest American Girl Doll, Rebecca, is Russian!


Meet Rebecca, the still-unveiled American Girl doll who will be introduced on May 31st, along with her collection of books. I found out about her through a leak at this site -- a great place for "scoops," etc. 

Samantha, the doll from 1904, was retired this winter to make way for a new doll from the time period -- Rebecca, a Russian-Jewish immigrant in 1914. Here's American Girl's description of her: 

"Our newest historical character, Rebecca Rubin, lives in a row house in New York's bustling Lower East Side with her Russian-Jewish family. Rebecca dreams of being an actress one day, but her parents and grandparents have different ideas about what a young lady should do. Growing up in the 'melting pot' of the early 20th century, Rebecca learns about the various traditions that her neighbors and schoolmates celebrate..."


I wish I had time this summer to take the girls to the Museum of the City of New York to show them the exhibit about Broadway during that time... Or to the Tenement Museum, where you can see the rooms used to inspire Rebecca's apartment in the stories. Take the virtual tour of the Rogarshevsky apartment while there! 

Rebecca is surely bilingual, and most likely tri-lingual (English, Russian, Yiddish or Hebrew). My kids will love reading about that! 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Aikido


Wednesday night was rather busy in our house... We scrambled from Katya's belt test in Aikido to to her piano recital! By some fluke, they were scheduled for the same time in different buildings... She passed and will be a yellow belt when the club starts up again in September. She is so happy about it! 


She absolutely loves Aikido. She took it last year, too, but dropped out as one-by-one all the girls stopped coming... I'm not sure why, but this year she loves the martial art in part because she's the only girl. She likes the physicality of it, particularly the wrestling at the end. She also likes the discipline, and how no one is allowed to speak during practice. It is so good for her! 


I did Aikido (Ju-Jitsu) in college and really enjoyed it, too. I could tell the other moms haven't been exposed to it before... You should have heard them yelping every time their kids hit the mat hard! They were also freaked out when the instructor and another black-belt did an exhibition of expert moves! Katya loved that part and wants to stick with it.

video

Mother's Day... One Week Ago Today


This year I got to celebrate Mother's Day with my mom for the first time since moving here in 2004! What an unexpected surprise. I'll post another time about our whirlwind tour during the day of the Arbat, Kremlin and Red Square area... Now I'll focus on our "Moms' Night Out," when we left all four kids at home with our babysitter...

Destination? The Bolshoi Theater.

Show? "Giselle", danced by the Bolshoi Theater Ballet Company.

Added bonus? One of the most famous dancers in the world, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, danced the lead. 

We just managed to get back to the apartment in time to change into "theater" clothes. It was so darn hot inside (in part because our babysitter was making STACKS of blini that we all devoured) that we were thrilled to hurry away half an hour later. It was quite a dash to get there on time, stopping to pick up the tickets from the box office. (Oh, how we DREAM of air conditioning!)

I should note that I went ahead and purchased all four tickets before I even had confirmation that my mom and Cecilia (my friend Rachel's mom) would be joining us on this trip! As soon as I heard they were considering it, I logged onto the Bolshoi's website and managed to snag the only four remaining tickets for any ballet during the dates they would be here. So glad I did! 

We stopped in the buffet area for some water and espresso before climbing the stairs to our seats. Ah, relaxation! It's funny how even when moms go out, there are secret (or not-so-secret) "mementos" of the kids back home... Rachel's ruffles splendidly hid the raspberry jam splatters from Jack's "flying" blini before we left... I had some Barbie stickers stuck to the bottom of one of my heels... (Hey, better than gum... or dog poo!)


I only brought my point-and-shoot camera, so these pictures are the best I can do. Here's the beautiful ceiling inside the theater. 


The back of the theater.


The front, orchestra pit and stage. 


We sat one floor up in the front row of the "Belle étage." We got to lean over and rest on the velvet arm rests and except for when the action took place to the far left, we had an excellent, unimpeded view. Fortunately the "aroma" of the women who had tried to take over our seats until we arrived didn't linger for long. 

We were all so sleep-deprived that I half expected us to doze off repeatedly during the show... But it was SO GOOD that we were riveted. PHENOMENALLY GOOD.

I had never seen Nikolai Tsiskaridze dance before... Now I know why he is such a superstar. The prima ballerina was fantastic, too. I hope they do something charitable with all the flowers they receive! They could have filled a ward in a hospital with all those bouquets!


Afterwards our mothers felt inspired to dance in front of the theater... The beribboned patriotic red sculpture was still up for Victory Day.


The facade you see is actually a screen that is up while the building is undergoing extensive renovation. The actual "Bolshoi Theater" has been closed to the public since 2005 and is slated to reopen in 2013. Since the repairs began, all work has been performed on the beautiful "New Stage" located next door. 


We crossed the main street using the underground passageway and lucked out when a vendor was clearly desperate to make some final sales for the day... He had an excellent collection of lacquered boxes and matrioshka dolls. Rachel found an adorable "Cheburashka" set to save for her Katya and my mom found a beautiful traditional set for her friend. We paid 40% of what he had originally asked!

The night lights we so pretty (the city is gorgeous all lit up at night, particularly the Kremlin and GUM department store) that we decided to have the cab driver (um, guy we hitchhiked with) take us on a loop to see some more major sights. Bad idea. It turns out that there was a biker convention (as in motorcycles) at Sparrow Hills... And you got the distinct impression that many of these guys thought that beer was the perfect refreshment while using a motorcycle at night... 

Moscow State University

Oh, we were "SO NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE" (to quote Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz")... Enough was enough. We headed straight home. Part of me really wanted to get a picture of all of those hundreds of bikes parked in front of the centuries-old Orthodox church... But there was NO way the moms were letting me out of that car for a split second.

I now leave you with a video of Tsiskaridze performing in Giselle... No, I didn't sneak my video camera into the theater! I found this on youtube. He's absolutely brilliant...



Saturday, May 16, 2009

You Go, Girl! (And Let's Hope Our Other Girl Can "Go," Too...)


Katya won a gold medal this morning in a Kids' Swimming Competition at our gym. She has made such progress this year! They timed each child doing a lap (or two) and then ranked the kids by age. 


I wish Natalia hadn't had such a temper tantrum that I hadn't had to leave her behind at home; she would have done very well in the competition, too...

video

We didn't know what to expect we got home afterwards; I thought Natalia might react jealously and angrily when she would see Katya's trophy and medal. Kudos to Natalia, however... When we walked in she ran up to hug her sister, jumping up and down with praise. 

It has been a very rough week for Natalia... I really hope she can pull it together so she can still join Katya and me on the three-week long school trip to Europe in June... I've already paid for Natalia's expenses, but if she can't go, she can't go... I will be very busy working throughout the trip and I can't be dealing with inappropriate behavior while teaching and supervising junior high schoolers...

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Change in Weather...


We're so lucky that our company visited
last week. Since they've left, it has been wet and cold. Temperatures have ranged, during the day, from 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with repeated downpours and thunderstorms. This sky is certainly NOT the beautiful sky we had last Friday!


I wonder if the sudden and drastic change is weather was brought on by the government's cloud seeding for Victory Day weekend. Cloud seeding is the practice of adding silver iodide, liquid iodide, liquid nitrogen and cement powder to clouds in attempt to prevent precipitation. Hmm.. how can that be healthy to breath?

Pictures from Katya's School Play


The kids had such fun; here are some pictures of them all in their traditional costumes... and the prerequisite big white hairbows!


Katya and Natalia used to go to nursery school with the two girls above; they had fun being in a play together again.


"Blin da pirog... Blin da pirog..." (Old Russian for "blini and pierogi," which meant they were about to steal enough money to be able to buy both). 


Surprise, surprise... Katya is good at pretending to sulk and pout...!


The End!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Katya's After-School Play

video

Today was Katya's after-school play. They meet twice a week with a wonderful teacher who has extensive theatrical training and a wonderful way with kids. They read fairy tales, acting them out as they read... Then they picked their favorites and wrote the play themselves. Katya had a main role.

Too bad our babysitter shut off the video camera five minutes into the show and I only realized it at the end... (I was busy taking pictures). Ugh!

If you notice how big Katya's white shirt is, you'll chuckle to know it's actually her father's undershirt. She forgot to bring one to school... So he stripped in the bathroom and she put it on!

video

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

До Свидания!

As I write this, everyone is one hour and fourteen minutes away from landing in New York City...


Cheburashka is off to America!

That's "Good bye" in Russian, but literally translates into "Until the Next Meeting." It's not forever. And today's "good bye" is far from permanent!

Everyone headed to the airport this morning, miraculously awake, bathed, dressed, and packed. The only glitch is the missing bag of painted Russian pins and carved wooden boxes that Cecelia bought for her girlfriends... It somehow disappeared amidst our chaos. I called the places we went after buying those items to see if they had been left behind, but they didn't have them... I can easily go get some more, though... PLEASE let me, Cecilia. 

The girls cried and cried as the cabs drove away... I'm glad I got a colleague to cover my first two classes today so I could still be at home then... They were devastated that my mom left and they were so sad their friends wouldn't be back here "soon." Um, that's an understatement. They still don't "get it" that people don't just "pop over" to Moscow for play dates...

We're already thinking of how to meet up with everyone at Cecilia's house in upstate NY this summer, though... The kids truly got along SO WELL. 

I'm running on empty... Towards the end of the morning at work, when I was already dreaming of leaving the very second classes ended so I could SLEEP before taking over "Mommy" duties later on, I found out there was a very important faculty meeting I had to attend... One related to my earlier post about my job... Thank goodness I'd forced myself to be awake enough to put on a nice skirt, heels and professional top/jewelry today! I also had to stay after work to evaluate a candidate we are considering for a Spanish position.  I only got home from work/picking up Katya at 7:45 p.m.! (She had play rehearsal after school that went late). 

I'm so glad that everyone came to visit. Yes, I'm EXHAUSTED, but so happy everyone came. Natalia is kind-of falling apart in her behavior as a result of the over-stimulation and sleep-deprivation and she is extremely trying. Poor girl, poor me... But then again, what did I expect? All in all, the kids were all VERY amenable to the grueling schedule we had them on in order to see/do all that we did!

There is SO much to blog about! We truly crammed in much more than you'd think could be done in 3 1/2 days...

Just for fun... Here's a video about the stuffed animal that you can see driving away in the taxi above. He's "Cheburashka," a beloved animal from a VERY famous children's cartoon/music. I actually did some translation for the creator of him (a famous children's writer) in 1991 and I know him... Natalia's first word in Russian, "пока", (bye), was spoken to him on New Year's Even in 2004! Katya P. loves  Cheburashka, so Natalia gave her a stuffed Cheburashka she doesn't play with anymore (and a dvd). 



Monday, May 11, 2009

Guess Where We Went Today...

video

Obviously it made quite an impression on Katya P.! 

I KNEW IT WAS COMING... I sat next to her during the show, and I saw her eyes light up as she got all kinds of new ideas about what she could do to definitively turn her parents' hair grey!

I'll post more as we all recover from our whirlwind long weekend! 

I'll also post links to when Rachael and I met... At the Hard Rock Café kids' brunch, 2 years ago, when she had just adopted her Katya from St. Petersburg... My kids became her K's first American friends, and we got together during the rest of their stay in Moscow as they waited for K's visa and passport. 

We really became friends once they returned to America, but then met in the "blogosphere" as Rachael convinced me to begin "American Girls in Moscow." Yup, you should thank her for this blog! 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Victory Day


We are EXHAUSTED from our whirlwind itinerary each day. We'll all write it up when we're not busy actually living it!

Here's one picture, though, of the kids giving flowers to a veteran at Victory Park last night. It's a tradition on May 9th (the end of WWII, during which 20% of the Russian population died, including many civilians) for all veterans, or their widows, to dress up with all their medals and be honored at parades and festivals. People of all ages, but mainly children, go up to the veterans, give them flowers and express their thanks.

This kind man was so surprised and thankful when our kids went up to him. As he accepted the tulips, he said: "Thank you so much! Many of us left to fight the war, and so many never returned... Your appreciation honors them, too."

Gotta call it quits now. Poor us; we have to rush to make it to Gisèle at the Bolshoi Theater!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Tale of Two Katyas


Everyone is still FAST asleep. Except me. For a few hours now. My body is so used to getting up at 6 a.m. that I awaken no matter what...

I peeked in on the the kids  and saw this sweet site...  They are so happy to be together. If I had to compare personalities, Natalia and Katya P are more of a match... But there's definitely a "name twin" bond between these two. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Our Friends Arrived and Off We Went!

Will keep editing! Started to do it now, getting all the pictures in the proper order, only to have Natalia wake up. If I don't get her busy by letting her go to webkinz.com, I'm afraid she might wake up someone else. (Every room is filled with sleeping people -- except for where the dining table is). I WILL ADD COMMENTARY ABOUT YESTERDAY AT SOME POINT; I'll let you know when I've done so by mentioning it in a post.


IN PROGRESS. WAY TOO TIRED TO ACTUALLY ARRANGE THESE PICTURES AND HAVE ANYTHING COHERENT TO SAY ABOUT THEM. 

I'm sticking these photos up here to appease those of you eager to see pictures from everyone's first day together during this visit. After getting back from the airport, we picked up Katya from her school and then went to Gorky Park, to Chaihona -- a cool Uzbeki restaurant, up to October Square, to Danilovsky Monastery, to Ogo-Gorod (Mir Dyetstva) to make their cool paper sculptures, then back home again. All using the subway/tram/our own feet. 

The kids are getting along wonderfully, like old friends. Katya P is using more Russian than expected and is ticked pink to be here. She cracks us up all the time! 

There's lots of fun stuff to write, but my eyes are burning from lack of sleep...

It has been a LONG day. Long, but wonderful!!!