Friday, April 30, 2010

Special Day

I found this box on Natalia's bookshelf... It turns out that she has been putting spare change in it to donate.

Last week the girls and I met up with a family from Tennessee that was in Moscow finalizing the adoption of their 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. The mom had contacted me with some questions after reading my blog. The age span was perfect for our kids to all play together, so we met up for some time in the park and dinner.

As you saw from my earlier post, life has been hectic around here... But it's really good for Katya and Natalia to spend time with kids like this... It's so nice for the newly adopted kids to be able to talk with bilingual American peers, and I really enjoy meeting the parents.

The evening started out on a rather frantic note; I had mistakenly thought the subway stop where they were staying was on the same line of where we had agreed to meet... It, um, wasn't, and that poor family figured it out mid-travel and had to do some harried transfers!

As the mom pointed out, however, it was a nice chance for her daughter to be a leader, reading the subway maps and signs for them all and helping out.

The kids' moods were gruff to say the very least when we first met... They had been expecting a quick 20 minute ride instead of an hour schlep! It didn't take long, however, for them to open up to my girls as they ran around the playground and enjoyed having their own table at TGIFriday's.

Another "glitch" during the evening occurred when their daughter thought she was going to be served actual chicken FINGERS, as in digits. Even when we convinced her otherwise, she was still quite peeved that the meal would be so inaccurately named both in Russian and in English! It's funny the things we never even notice!

The mom and grandma were so happy to just speak English...! We had a great time.

It turns out it was the little boy's 8th birthday, and the waiters at the restaurant were rather enthusiastic to help out. They made a big deal out of bringing him balloons and a free sundae, dimming the lights in the whole restaurant and getting everyone involved.

It was very timely for some Russians to see such a kind and supportive American adoptive family with their new and much-loved children...

The little boy was DELIGHTED.

He even tried (awwww...) to eat the candle... I guess he'd never had one before!

Visiting the "Little Vacuum"

"Dude... Again?! You are one lucky cat..."

"Пылесосик." (Pweel-es-os-ik). "Little Vacuum Cleaner." That's what all the people at the veterinary clinic call Lyalya...

I visited him there yesterday and held him for about an hour and half...

He was pretty scared, not as relaxed as he was while recovering from his second surgery last fall... It took him over an hour to finally start purring. They ended up finding the head of a hippo from a Kinder Egg in his kidney. The head of the elementary school gave the girls the chocolate eggs with a surprise toy inside for Easter; the toy must have been from then...

Argh! And we've done our best to keep little stuff away from him!

At the least the language nerd in me had fun helping out an Italian family while hanging out at the clinic... Now I can talk quite fluently about heartworm in both Russian and Italian... Hopefully that will never come in handy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Barely Breathing

I feel so bad about neglecting my blog... SO much has gone on... So many neat ideas to write about...

But I've been barely keeping afloat.

My husband has been under such deadlines at work that we've barely seen him since the beginning of March... I then spent 10 days in the USA with my high school students, during which time I was the only person responsible who spoke English and I was in charge of every single detail... Then I got back to Moscow, and my kids REALLY needed me since they hadn't seen much of their dad at all while I was away...

GUILT, GUILT, GUILT and a LOT of emotional kiddo fall-out to deal with, while somehow sashaying my way through jet lag and instantly having to be back at work.

Throw in a health scare for myself that THANKFULLY turned out to be nothing, but nonetheless took up two afternoons I didn't have to get to the doctor's... And a week's worth of worrying...

And then a 2nd degree burn on my right hand from baking cookies with the girls because I felt I just had to find the time... Then Asya (our female cat) ran into the kitchen and meowed really loudly, startling me, so I slammed my hand into the grill inside our oven...

Then another incident of Asya jumping up onto the stove while I was making macaroni... I was on the phone with a student's mother when I had to say, "Excuse me! I'll call you back! My cat is on fire!" (What's up with that? Last time she caught on fire, I was leading book club at our house and said almost the same thing...)

And then Lyalya had to get sick again, and I got a call at work asking, "So, you need to decide either how he will die (injection or slow, painful death) or we can operate again." Yet another &*(^^%!!@@#**(& toy ended up in his kidney... He's still at the hospital; his surgery was yesterday and it was successful. Yes, I know there are those who must think I'm insane to operate yet again. But we LOVE him! And I'm so darn worn out, I just can't deal with grieving him right now, and being there for grieving kids...

And both girls have been home sick since last Thursday. (Nasty virus in the city; many kids have been out).

And it has been a really, really hard month (make that few months...or year...) at work...

And our kitchen faucet broke. And of course the major lightbulbs that aren't standard sizes all of the sudden needed to be replaced.

And iced tea was spilled on our couch slipcover, necessitating a difficult schlep to the dry cleaner's (since it's too heavy for our washing machine, was is also, incidentally, about to break).

And Katya's insomnia has been much worse, requiring night supervision... Not getting worn out during the day at school has made it hard for her to sleep. Moms just aren't meant to police their kids at 2:15 a.m., hiding the television remotes (ours won't work without them), cleaning up from art projects & a snack fest, and then dealing with the next hour while said child just can't sleep, all before having to get up for work at 6:30...

And our babysitter needed an emergency root canal today, necessitating ALL kinds of creative solutions on my part.

And my mom's boss unexpectedly retired and now she's worried about her own job.

I'm a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y overwhelmed. UNBELIEVABLY so.

Oh, my suitcases from that trip to America? When I got back on April 1st? THEY'RE STILL NOT UNPACKED, MESSY ON MY BEDROOM FLOOR.

That's kind of how I feel all over...

There HAS been lots of "good," too... But I'll blog about it separately.

When I've had some sleep.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Something Only an Expat Parent Would Ponder...


Your child loses his first tooth. You know the drill... Put the tooth under the child's pillow at night, and the tooth fairy will come.

But wait a minute. Your husband is Finnish, but from the Swedish-speaking part of the country. Your children go to the Swedish school. And you live in Moscow.

So what currency will the tooth fairy bring??! Swedish Kronas? Euros? Rubles? Dollars?

I met a mom this past weekend who related the above scenario to me. And to think we find it a bit complicated juggling between Rubles and Dollars, with the occasional Euro thrown in. In addition to the tooth fairy, what about allowances? Toy cash registers? Math workbook problems?

Another consideration—if your kids are like mine, what language do you use to write her a note when you leave your tooth? What language does she answer you in?

The whole question of the tooth fairy can be further complicated in mixed-culture families. Does the fairy come, or a mouse (a mouse comes in France, a rat in Spain, and either a fairy or a mouse in Italy)? In various Asian countries you could throw your tooth onto the roof or at the sun... Russia has no tooth fairy tradition, much to envy and disbelief of the girls' classmates.

By the way, check out this adorable tooth fairy pillow I found on ebay... Monogrammed with matrioshkas...

I thought to post this all because Katya has lost two teeth in the past two weeks... We still continue our own special twist on the tooth fairy tradition... She leaves enough rubles for the girls to always go buy new toothbrushes and toothpaste to donate to the orphanage.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

American Trends Taking off in Moscow?

Could it be that the ballet flat, ubiquitous in American shops for Spring, is rearing it's comfortable head in oh-so-fashionable Moscow?

Could be, as evidenced by how many times I've seen chic women sporting them this week...

I still also wear my heels, but I brought back two pairs of "balletki" from America at the beginning of the month, and it's nice to not be the only person sporting them!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Numbers Poem

Natalia's class also performed this poem about numbers at the school talent show. Cute!

Bust a Move!

Last week the elementary school had a talent show. Talia's class performed two numbers, including this African song. Wait towards the end when one of her adorable—and fiesty—classmates suddenly felt inspired and BUSTED a move!!!

Oops... I just realized that in my tired daze, I mistakenly saved both of the videos from the show with the title "2nd Grade." Talia would be in the 2nd grade in the USA, but here she's in 1st grade since Russian kids begin 1st grade a year later. (They cover USA first grade material in kindergarten, though).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cuckoos in Tutus

Katya and her friends, a.k.a. "Cuckoos in Tutus," were in a music festival yesterday! It's called "Happy Childhood 2010" and students from all over Moscow are competing. We don't know the results yet, but the girls were great. The head of the lower school English program wrote all the lyrics, the music teacher put them to music, and then they did all the choreography!

The girls all had SO much fun. Parents weren't able to attend, so I asked a teacher to make this video for me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ignoring the White Elephant in the Room

Sometimes it's hard to stay focused in class.

Especially when you suddenly realize that neighborhood boys are on the roof next door.


(I should add, ahem, that the picture was taken later. No indecent content here at americangirlsinmoscow!)

In Memorium, Park Kultury Metro Station

I happened to have my camera when I went by here this week. There are also flowers at the Lubyanka station.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


It's that time of year again... April means "Spring Cleaning" for the city.

Parks need to be spruced up, flowers planted, fences painted, etc. Ergo, it's the season for "subbotniki"— Saturdays when people volunteer their time to do this work. Signs around the city have been advertising the two main dates coming up, April 17th and 24th.

The first субботник was in 1919, started by Lenin to help complete the railways. Communist party members and supporters enthusiastically chipped in. Before long, these occasional Saturdays (usually in the Spring) were mandatory and you had to pretend you just loved participating.

Even though they're no longer obligatory, the tradition has stuck. Lenin's birthday, April 22nd, is usually sandwiched between working Saturdays. Last year some people from our building planted bushes in the patch of grass in front of our building. Ah, such lovely targets for peeing dogs ever since, but I digress...

Last Saturday teenagers arrived en masse at our local park with rakes and shovels.

They seemed to really have a good time!

The middle school/junior high I attended in Connecticut had "Family Fall Work Day," and I remember what fun we all had raking leaves on a Saturday...

It's nice to be able to ride scooters again and walk around without either freezing or falling in puddles of mud!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Get in Line, Buddy...

Disgruntled Russian hotshot "biznyesmyen" marches right up to counter at Starbucks, interrupting the woman ordering her drink, plunks himself on counter, and demands the barista's attention.

DISGRUNTLED HOTSHOT: I seriously can't smoke here?!


DH: Are you kidding?

SB: No...

DH: Fine! (Visibly exasperated, but still choosing to grace the establishment with his presence). I'll...

SB: There's a line, Sir.

DH: And you expect me to get in it?


Score one for the American way of doing things. Follow the rules, dude. Treat everyone with respect. If you don't like it, leave. No one cares how much your shoes cost or how fancy your watch is.

It pleased me to no end to see him later perched on his hard little wooden chair, drinking his coffee just like everyone else, jealously eyeing the plush chairs that some graduate students had snagged before he got there. Not everyone's happy with how the city's changing...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cool Bags!

The girls saved up their allowance last year to buy these neat bags... They have a pocket that pops open to turn the purse into a doll/stuffed animal carrier. I love that the bags were created by a New York mom and dad to meet the needs of girls they observed in the city who had trouble sticking their dolls into backpacks, etc.

Their website features pictures of kids using the bags, and I mentioned to the creator how cool it would be to add a picture with a Moscow background. He agreed, and today I snapped these pictures!

Христос Воскрес!

There are posters like this one all over Moscow; mixing up "Happy Easter" with Russian patriotism. (Note how the Russian flag wraps around the eggs).

The windows at Volkonsky Bakery were also absolutely charming yesterday...

The bread featured above is "kulich," a "pannetone"-type bread (think dry-ish Challah with dried fruits, some nuts, and icing) that Russians eat on Easter. The "XB" stands for "Chris is Risen."

All over Moscow you see "постные продукты" (no meat, no dairy, low-fat) during Lent. It's great! You can get some really tasty vegetarian dishes this way! So, basically, if you're Vegan or Vegetarian, Lent is the time to visit Moscow!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Back in Moscow, Facing the Subway

Flying back from New York is a whole lot easier without Katya and Natalia in the mix, but it's tiring nonetheless... The day started off with a five hour bus drive from the last university to JFK, THEN the flight, so it was VERY hard to get up the following morning in time for my 8:45 class!

The girls are SO happy to have me home. They're also very happy that Spring has finally arrived. They're outside right now riding the new scooters I brought back for them.

I need to go to the doctor this afternoon, and the quickest way to get there would be to take the subway... But I'm still afraid. I'd have to use one of the stations bombed earlier this week... It's such a long, long descent down that escalator into the belly of the station, and I just can't shake my fears.

It was different when we lived in New York City on 9/11. While a huge chunk loomed empty in the Manhattan skyline, and there was grief all around, I didn't personally have to traverse the actual site on a regular basis.

In Moscow it's awfully hard to just avoid the subway. I feel very fortunate to have a car.

Other colleagues are having a really hard time of it... One has started counseling because she's too afraid to use the subway, yet it's the only way she can actually get to work. The school has been really understanding about it and we're all doing everything we can to accommodate people who need longer to commute so they can put together a hodgepodge commute by bus instead.

It turns out that many teachers from school missed being in either station when the bombs were detonated by a four to five minute margin... One of our math teachers realized that he had actually been riding in the same subway car with one of the bombers when he decided on the spur of the moment to get out one stop earlier and walk—thus saving his own life!

The gorgeous sun shining outside and the cheerful birds singing are a completely incongruous background to this state of fear and anger...