Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Camping She Shall Go...

Natalia took this picture of Katya on our way to drop her off at camp last weekend. You can certainly tell how excited she was to go!

So... Katya is at at sleep-away camp for the first time! The school trip to Greece doesn't really count since she was with all of her teachers and classmates, and we could call her every day. This time she she didn't know a soul and was going to be truly on her own until we pick up her up two weeks later. We can send letters, cards, packages, etc., but we have yet to hear from her...

I hope it's going OK... I'm sure she's bumping into some reverse culture shock in ways that she hasn't before. She's used to being around people who know she's an expat. The kids in her cabin have probably never even heard that word before. Add to this that one of this camp's strengths is its economic diversity, with a robust scholarship program for underprivileged kids, and you end up with a very good experience for Katya.

Case in point? As an icebreaker, the counselor asked the kids what they had been doing since school got out. Katya simply told the truth: "I spent three weeks in Greece at my school's лагер (lager/camp)." The other girls definitely looked at her a little odd... What kid from around here spends three weeks in Greece? And they certainly didn't know what the word "lager" meant! Katya isn't used to people not understanding some Russian terminology thrown in here and there. I bet the other kids also didn't understand why she was so tired, really in the throws of jet lag—since she had arrived in the USA less than 48 hours earlier.

Even Liesel went to camp with us... She LOVED it, and she was a pretty big hit with all the kids, too.

Natalia liked it there a lot, not wanting to leave right away. She sat with Katya's group for a while while they waited to take their swimming tests. She definitely was not ready to go away this summer, but I think she might want to join Katya next year... (Oh! I can hear the angels warming up their harp music for a possible "Ahhhh!" chorus at the mere prospect of my having a two week break to just RELAX next summer...!!!)

The other girls in Katya's cabin, and her counselors, were very nice. Katya was ready for us to leave way before we were...

My mom really loved being at camp for the first time since she was a camper and Unit Leader there... She was actually in charge of the group that Katya is now in! The girls got a real kick out of seeing pictures of their grandma in front of the lodge steps and by the waterfront!

Liesel was ready to hop into the car by the time we left...

And she then promptly fell FAST asleep, getting her nose wedged in between the seats!!!

She woke up long enough to play with our friend's dachshund, K-9, when we stopped to visit them on our way home! They're basically identical, except that Liesel is a bit bigger. Liesel has on the collar and leash in the picture.

UPDATE: Here's a picture of Katya and her group that was posted on the camp's parents' network... They have a neat website for families; they post pictures of what's going on each day and you can write you child electronic letters that they print out and distribute along with regular mail in the afternoon. She seems to be having fun!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Выпускники выпустили...

Graduates let go of...

...all these beautiful balloons on Red Square last week! As many of you know by now, it's common to stop off at special landmarks in Moscow on special occasions, such as weddings or graduations.

Our seniors launched these into the air smack in the middle of Red Square, surrounded by the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral and GUM (the historic department store).

Random "Yes, Dorothy, you are OH SO NOT in Kansas anymore" moment from Graduation... First of all, there's the fact that champagne was served. Not to the kids, mind you, but I'm sure it flowed after the adults (parents and teachers) left and the venue turned into a disco... But perhaps even odder? Because after six years in Russia, I've pretty much grown accustomed to alcohol in unexpected places? We were served MILK for a toast, because Soviet factory workers (i.e. we teachers) were given milk to keep them strong. The milk remained untouched by most... But it was a neat idea!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lenin's Strawberries

I'm back in the USA now, after a whirlwind trip/packing Katya for overnight camp (the 1st time!)/bringing her to camp/getting Natalia ready for her day camp... And I've crashed. Strep throat for the fifth time in one year!

Just left the doctor's office with yet another prescription... I need to have my tonsils removed. UGH. It's rather tough to find two weeks when I can lay flat on my back and just recover from that... Too much traveling to see various family while here... Guess I'll have to have the surgery done back in Moscow and take a week off from work after the one week of fall vacation...

In the meantime, here's a VISUAL dose of vitamin C... Strawberries from the Lenin Strawberry Farm. I noticed these little strawberry huts along the highway when we drove to Domodyedovo airport to visit Katya in Greece. Turns out they're put up at this time of year to sell berries!

I left early when I went to pick her up from that same airport last week, allowing enough time to get some pictures—and some berries! They were DELICIOUS, and the car sure smelled heavenly afterwards!

Once these antibiotics kick in, I'll blog more! Now to only figure out the password so I can access my mom's wifi in the house...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happy Hand-Me-Downs

Katya looked so cute in this hand-smocked dress on her third birthday... (I know the picture isn't too good; I had take a picture of it since it wasn't digital and our scanner doesn't work).

These days it fits my good friend's daughter, the ever-adorable Abigail. We got together with them last night and I was so surprised to see her come running around the corner in it! I had completely forgotten that we had passed the dress along to them. She thought she was clearly "the bees knees" in it as she flitted around the Old Arbat!

As for Natalia, I think she's partly smiling because Mommy got her "cute dress fix" while someone else was wearing one!

Language Geeks in Advertising

Whoever thought up this ad for the new Toy Story movie is brilliant!

French fries in Russian are called "картофель фри," (pronounced "kartofel free"). They took the "fried" part of the word from the French version, "pommes frites," pronounced "pum freet." Sure, the Russians dropped the "t" at the end of the word, but, well, whatever.

What an awesome play on words in this ad! Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head running for their lives, and the slogan "Potato FREE"!

I love this kind of stuff. So much so that I'll rework my drive home so I can stop and get a picture.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let's Take a Pirate Ship to the Holy Mountain

One day last weekin Greece we joined the elementary school on a day trip to visit Mount Athos, a World Heritage Site home to twenty Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Even though the peninsula in northern Macedonia is attached to land, it can only be accessed by the sea and it is a self-governing territory. No women are allowed on the land, and very, very few men are allowed to visit—and only after extensive proof of their faith. (Earlier in the trip, the group visited the incredible cliff-top monasteries at Meteora).

We boarded a this "pirate ship" and sailed two hours to the peninsula, where we followed the coastline as closely as possible. Along the way, we were accompanied by some locals:

I wish I could have captured pictures of the dolphins jumping completely out of the water!

The seagulls were also very pretty. Having grown up on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, however, I found it hard to be enthralled by the birds who always used to poop on me as a child. I don't care if Russians consider that to be "good luck"!

We then reached the tip of the peninsula and the guide on board regaled us with much more information about the monasteries than the kids could possibly digest. Frankly, it was SO OPPRESSIVELY HOT on board, that I couldn't really pay attention, either. The sights were beautiful, however! It's hard to imagine that these monasteries were all built centuries ago without the aid of modern technology, literally cut off from the rest of society!

The Russian Orthodox Monastery

The area was so peaceful and beautiful... There were many tourists on board the boat visiting the site as part of a religious pilgrimage. The women below, however, clearly were not.

Yes, it was HOT on board, but do you really strip down to string bikinis to tour a holy mountain??! Needless to say, some of the half-drunk Russian men on board didn't really seem to mind. (The boat was entirely filled with Russians except for our nuclear family).

Natalia got to steer the boat for a bit, as did all our kids. Yikes, I wish the captain hadn't put that hat on her! Knock on wood, my kids have never had lice!

I was so surprised to spot this boy from our school carrying a sign on board asking for Euros... He wanted more ice cream and his money had run out... People were so taken by him that he scored big before we teachers spotted him and shut down his endeavor! His reply? "Why? People do it all the time in Moscow and others are happy to give them money!" Um, OK, but it's not really the same thing... The last thing you want is for a kid to go home to his parents, and to tell them how much fun it was begging for food while on the school trip to Greece!

I'll take that level of "mischief" any day, however, over that of a few other elementary boys who were so eager to play with their Nerf super soaker guns on the balcony of their room that they didn't realize they had literally SOAKED all the regular hotel guests having fancy dinners on the patio of the restaurant below. (Truly. Picture food SWIMMING, and our shocked boys wailing! God bless the forgiving victims! )

Monday, June 21, 2010

Team Poetry

Every evening at the school's summer camp is filled with fun activities. On this particular day, the kids from the elementary school were divided into teams and they had to act out myths and write poetry. Here they are brainstorming a poem about summer camp. This is what they came up with:

In Russian, the whole poem rhymes. It basically translates as:

We're going right now to the BEACH
We value COURAGE
The SEA is warm
We're going there SOON
WE like everything
Here it's simply AWESOME
We will HELP you
Since we're at camp "ON MY OWN"!

Here are the poems from the other two groups:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yeah, I Thought We Had Gone to Bed, Too...

Our cats aren't exactly enthralled—or calmed—by unexpected fireworks late at night. Imagine cats SPRINTING through the apartment so they can jump up into the window openings, bracing themselves against the outer pane of glass, intent on devouring the offensive bodies of light...

It gets old living near one of Moscow's MANY favorite pyrotechnic hotspots. FAST. Gotta really love all the car alarms at the end... NOT!


Today Chris, Natalia and I checked out Garazh, the Center for Contemporary Culture that is inside a former bus garage. It's cool!

We really enjoyed the mushrooms and the kids' art room.

I bribed Natalia to pose for this picture by promising her another scrumptious chocolate banana milkshake in the café...

Natalia made a very neat dolphin out of recycled paper and tape and two young artists who were working with the kids were fantastic.

Yeah, I know... She hardly looks "thrilled" here. But she had fun, really. She's just sick of having a blogging mom who is always taking pictures. Ergo the milkshake bribe for the mushroom picture...

The rest of the exhibits? Well... The Feast of Trimalchio was quite interesting, but there were parts that were too scary for Natalia, so we left without seeing it all. The Francesco Vezzoli exhibit, featuring Lady Gaga, wasn't exactly a big hit with us or Natalia... The tears of blood also scared her, although she did find the various costumes interesting.

The Rothko exhibit? I was sure she would find that interesting... Once we got over her, "Huh? I could do that... And I did it when I learned to finger paint..." reaction, I got her to tell me what feeling she thought each painting conveyed—and we actually had a lot of fun examining them all.

We also loved the food in the café—very good prices for Moscow and very tasty. Service? Egad; we waited forever for one of our sandwiches! But we enjoyed ourselves. We will definitely be going back again to Garazh this fall!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An American Day Back in Moscow

She can actually finish this...

We—and an inexplicable amount of sand—got back from Greece yesterday... Boo hoo! I'm still not done with all the laundry... Drat, so much stuff needs to be washed separately! I'm going on nine loads!

Today we intended to go check out the new Rothko exhibit at the
Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. It's a great place; they even have kids' programs that include "scavenger hunts", hands-on projects, etc. There's also a good café.

Instead our car died not too far from home. Turns out it was simply our battery; after not being being driven while we were away, and then for only five minutes on Friday, it needed to charge. It really stinks that there's nothing like AAA here!

In any case, we were too late to catch the kids' program at the museum, so we instead headed to the new Beverly Hills Diner. Go, go, go! It's at 1 Sretenka Boulevard. We had already been there once before two weeks ago after hearing others recommend it so vociferously. I think it's the best diner in Moscow now; the food is delicious! They also have free wifi and a good lunch special.

When you're done there, you can always take a short walk to 17 Pushkarev Pereulok, where you'll find the Relod bookstore. They have a great selection of children's and adult literature in English, and extensive textbooks and reference books.

We then caught the new Toy Story 3 movie, "История игрушек: большой побег", in real 3D! It was fantastic! And yes, I got all teary-eyed at the end...

Disney did a wonderful job with the Russian translation and recording; I didn't even notice the movie wasn't in the original because the actors were so good. We could just as easily have seen the non-3D version, however, and saved a good deal of money... The special effects just weren't worth the extra money. Bolt in real 3D? Completely worth it. This movie? Yikes, it was expensive!

Tennis, Talia-Style

One night while we were in Greece, the camp had a team dance competition. One of the events was an interpretive dance in which each team had to portray a different sport. The girls' team got "tennis," and as you can see... Talia has her own take on the sport. It's not that she doesn't know what it is, but, well... There were definitely people in the audience scratching their heads, wondering what sport to guess...

As she put it afterwards, "If I were told I had to play tennis, I'd simply do gymnastics on the court. It's a heck of a lot more fun!"

Friday, June 18, 2010

Absence Made the Heart Grow Fonder

The week we were in Greece with Katya certainly wasn't 100% bicker-free between the girls, but this night half-way through was particularly nice... They really had so much fun together. Talia didn't want to join the camp activities during the day since she reveled in every single moment with her dad, but she participated at night if Katya joined her.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Greece Synchonized Swimming

The girls in the elementary school put together this little number on their own; Katya had a lot of fun taking part! One of her good friends takes lessons, and she taught some tricks to all the others.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Random "Yes, It's a Small Multicultural World" Moment Tonight

Find an mp3 download of an instrumental version of "America the Beautiful," preferably a peppy karaoke-type. Our history teacher wrote a song about Greece to the tune and needs it for the opening of the camp "Olympics" tomorrow.

The lobby of a hotel in Greece.

Background Music
A band playing "Katiusha" while Russian tourists sing along outside the bar.

Random Extra "Ewwww" Factor
While I looked for the song for free, two of my seventh grade boys helped me. (I'm used to only getting music off of iTunes). The Russians are experts in free music downloads, so we were searching through Russian sites... And as we clicked "download" for one version, multiple scenes of p*rn popped up on the computer screen. I just rolled my eyes and minimized the screen until the download was over... Even the boys weren't fazed by it; they're so sick of it always popping up (and spreading viruses) when you're trying to use the computer for valid reasons... And the song didn't even download after that embarrassment... So I then just went to Amazon and purchased the darn song. (Another novel "what a small world" fact to me... That I can purchase music from my USA checking account while sitting anywhere in the world—and have it instantly!)

Happy Fathers' Day!

Breakfast in bed?
Well, yes, if you consider being offered a bag of Cheetos at 6:30 a.m. breakfast!

Each girl made a song for Chris using "garage band," complete with their own voices recorded singing original lyrics. Katya also gave Chris a bottle of rose oil in a souvenir Greek jar. Not sure when he'll use it, but she was so darn proud! Natalia then bought him a bottle of water from the gift shop, something he was actually really happy to have tonight when thirsty in our room. Katya also found these non-stinging jelly fish for Chris, but he passed...

Special Events?
Chris and Natalia swam all the way out to the little orange buoy ball in the background of the picture below. They had a little raft with them, but she swam pretty much the whole way, enjoying the view below with her mask and snorkel. This was a HUGE accomplishment, because she used to be afraid to go any farther than a pool length into the deep water! She loved seeing the fish swim under her and wasn't scared at all!

She was so darn proud that she, Chris and I did it again in the afternoon. Just look at her joy!

Happy Fathers' Day, Dad and John!! Sorry we're not able to call you from here!!!! We love you, too!

Phew... It's still Fathers' Day in America, so I managed to get this posted in time!! Now I'm OFF TO BED. My strep throat is better today, but I'm definitely still not 100%.