Thursday, August 26, 2010


There are those who are VERY happy to be together in Moscow...

Oh... Popcorn is DANGEROUS...

Only in Moscow.

I wanted to buy some popcorn yesterday while at the grocery store. It was on the kids' "short list" of what they wanted. No big deal, right?

Well, it turns out that U2 had a concert here last night—their only concert ever in Russia. MOB SCENE. Miles around the stadium were affected. So what did that mean? All grocery stores and kiosks were prohibited from selling alcohol, lest those rowdy concert-goers turn violent.

And the popcorn? It's on the same aisle as the beer at our local grocery store. Ergo it was off-limits, literally barricaded with rope and taped.

I slid under the ropes to make it to the microwave popcorn packets, and tried to slide back. But I was caught!

Ohh... Breakin' the law...

"Come on! It's POPCORN! My kids are begging for it!"

"Eet iz forbidden. Popkorn end snaks dongeroos ven big konzert! No sell! No popkorn!"

They wouldn't let me buy it! Who knew... Yeah, popcorn is really dangerous...

So I went to another check-out aisle after surrendering the contraband, then sneaking under the rope and taking more... I pretended that nothing was amiss... This clerk was unaware of popcorn's dangerous potential... (Just to clarify here: The sale of popcorn and snacks was NOT prohibited. The store had simply chosen to block off the whole aisle because it was easier for them. That's so typical... Why think about potential lost profits when you can just do what's easier? It's also typical that employees then literally interpreted the policy to mean that everything on the beer aisle was banned from sale.)

So "Mama Breakin' the Law" scored...



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Um, Not Just Now...

So... We're back in Moscow. Flying was always a true joy alone with two kids. And Aeroflot, economy class, made it an extra-special experience. Our dryer is broken. Many light bulbs need to be replaced, all weird sizes that are hard to find. The disorganized chaos of our apartment after three years of working again didn't magically disappear. Our cluttered apartment is also covered in dust from the toxic smog—and there's no dryer!!!

I had to run to the store after arriving for some basics like milk, water and bread. These masks were on sale at the check-out, not that I've seen anyone wearing them... Comparing to how bad it was in Moscow this month, Muscovites are definitely in "it's over" mode.

I then saw this sign outside the next grocery store where I needed to go. Um, an international MARATHON? HERE? NOW? (Not that I'd be in shape if the air quality weren't already compromised...) Umm... No, thank you!

Somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed and to work, though... I certainly had enough time to prepare, given that Natalia got up for the day at 1:30 a.m.!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

62 Cubic Inches and 50 Lbs...

I've been at it for hours... Packing and unpacking, lifting the huge boxes and standing on a scale until the weight is exactly right...


I really hate this part of getting ready to go back to Moscow.

This year it's a bit easier since Chris and Katya will be coming to the US in mid-Fall... But I need to pack all essentials just in case for some reason they can't make the trip then... It is pretty nice once we arrive, however, to know I'm "set" for all birthdays, Christmas, teachers' gifts, classmate gifts, etc., etc.

My guilty pleasure(s)? Today I nabbed these (with a coupon!) at Bath and Body Works:

Yeah, I know. Soap. But...

Katya and Chris will be in the USA for Halloween, while Natalia and I will remain behind in Moscow... I'm going to let Natalia throw a sleepover party for a few of her friends and I've brought back some glow-in-the-dark nailpolish colors, too...

It's just some stilly stuff. But it makes Moscow feel like "home" and it gives my kids a "treat" for Halloween—a holiday that otherwise doesn't exist in Russia. I also picked up some fun hand sanitizer gels that smell like "candy corn" and "marshmallow."

It's amazing how much a $1 trinket can make your day when there's no other way you could have had it... I also picked some up for the two wonderful Russian/American sisters I've been tutoring for the past four years. On a dreary October day, those gels with glow-in-the-dark backpack attachers (you stick the gel container in the plastic case and it can loop around a backpack strap) will make their week!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Twirly Girlies!

Natalia twirled with a local group for a few afternoons this week and loved being part of it all. Their coach is the same woman who taught baton twirling at her camp and she thinks she's the greatest!

All the girls put on a little show in the afternoon.

Not bad for just a few days' practice! And Natalia has now only twirled for one month total...

It turns out that the daughter of my mom's boss is also in the group! Natalia thought she was so nice... She helped out with the younger girls. Katya asked if we could give both of them a little bouquet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scenes from the Farmers' Market

I love, love, love sunflowers...

Heirloom tomatoes are scrumptious, too!

The ever-present American pumpkin! (I still chuckle at Russians' reactions to how we call our kids "pumpkin"... Here is a friend's cute story about that...)

Sunflowers and zinnias are what we had for our wedding... Blue Arizona Iced Tea bottles with sunflowers on the tables... And the bridesmaids carried bouquets made from the zinnias I planted in the garden where Chris asked me to marry him...

Last, but not least, here is Katya holding a parakeet that's wearing a body diaper! Random!

We ran into the beloved former Headmaster of the school I went to... It was so nice to introduce him to Katya and to chat... I still remember how he used to bring his golden lab to school... I would go up to his office to pet the dog... I once even fell asleep under the large conference table while we cuddled, and then had to pop out after a meeting started to rush back to class!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

GASP! A GIRL playing SOCCER? (UGH... Homophobia and Sports...)


Click on the picture to see the surprising array of items for sale...

I'm almost done with the soccer postings... Here's my last one...

I just had to take these pictures in a store that sells sports-related gifts. An entire wall is devoted to SOCCER and GIRLS' LOVE OF THE SPORT.

What is blog-worthy about this? Seems pretty obvious, no?

Not to anyone living in Russia... I brought the director of our elementary school into this shop when she was visiting us last month and she was STUNNED.

You see, even in the girls' Western-style "enlightened" school... girls just DO NOT play soccer.

The P.E. teacher is a wonderful woman who was even on the national team back in her day, winning many titles! Who better to coach our girls? She would LOVE to!

But we don't have enough girls to form a team! (The BOYS get to have a team, and they even got to play a game in the Olympic stadium!) I rallied and rallied, trying to convince other parents to let their girls sign up. No can do... While some parents do think a girls' team would be great, there just aren't enough. (I noticed that most of those supportive parents work in Western companies and have significant interaction with foreigners... Many of them have also lived for a period overseas...)

You see, in Russia, only LESB-ANS* play soccer. This is a "fact" according to almost everyone I asked. ARGH.

It's really too bad... There are girls in the elementary school who would love to play, but their parents just won't let them...

Maybe it's the way people raise an eyebrow when boys do ballet in America? But do people even do that anymore? Maybe it depends on where you are in America? It's no big deal at all for boys to wear tights (even when eight or nine!) under their clothing or to dance in Moscow... So what's the big deal about girls and soccer?

Katya has so many t-shirts featuring soccer, all covered in sparkly sequins... And headbands, bracelets, etc... No one gives her any trouble for it, though... Pretty much anything our family does that's odd (letting the kids pick out their own outfits and do their hair--however they turn out, my wearing flats, my using a backpack, the girls wearing short-sleeved shirts all year long, the decidedly casual style of the girls' clothing, my ever-present travel mug) is simply chalked up to our being "American" and let slide...

I'm repeatedly amazed by the intensity of homophobia in Moscow... In popular culture, the color light blue, or "goluboi," also is a derogatory term for a gay man. As a result, I've ended up removing blue playing pieces from board games I use in class—so that no boy is stuck having to use them (no one EVER wants them, any way), thus subjected to any kind of teasing. It's ridiculous! Others shrug it off when it happens, but I can SEE how much it hurts some kids and I just won't allow it in my presence...

Now I really understand how when I was hired, the Director of the school told me that one of his main hopes for my teaching wouldn't be simply to share native-speaker English—it would be to share an American belief of TOLERANCE.

Here's raising a glass in the hopes of more open-mindedness in the future... (The other parents at our school would NEVER believe that anyone would even make—or buy—or use—this set above...!)

*Just a note about how I wrote the word without the "i." I only did this to reduce the number of hits from people looking for "adult" content. I'm SICK of getting readers like that, readers who sometimes leave a trail that brings other such readers. Having monitored for a few years what key words bring new readers to my site, I've learned to avoid anything that could attract people looking for *ornography. I've also learned what words in general to avoid with a blog that has "American Girls" in the title! I certainly meant no offense.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Word Cup" Soccer Finals

(Edited a few hours after originally posting to elaborate on sports in schools).

The British Soccer Clinic in town ended with a World Cup between Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. The girls got VERY into it! The team flags were made by other kids on their teams.

Didn't Natalia's face turn out fantastic?

I'd never even seen the Wales flag before googling it, but now I know how to paint that dragon rather well! I guess UPS men see it all, because ours didn't even blink an eye when Natalia charged out to accept the latest books from Amazon...!

Natalia's team ended up winning!

Here are some pictures from earlier in the week:

I'm so happy that they had this experience! There is an kids' expat soccer league in Moscow, but it only meets on Saturdays for about ten times total, and many of those days can end up being rather wet and cold as winter sets in... Both girls loved this soccer clinic so much, though, that they have asked to play in that league when we get back. I just wish they were able to play MORE...

It has been very good for Natalia to learn that success isn't all about being the best individual, that helping others to succeed, too, can help the whole group to achieve it's full potential... She's such a natural athlete, but I haven't been able to get her involved in a sport in Moscow for a variety of reasons. As I've written before, seven is already "old" for Russia; others already begin any given sport by age four. If I were to sign her up for gymnastics or soccer now, there's a good chance she wouldn't even be accepted. If she were, she'd be years older than others...

She would hate that. She just wants to be like the other kids... She doesn't want to miss out on after-school activities, and she doesn't want to stand out in a group for anything other than excellence... She would happily commit to three three-hour practices a week, training hard, if she felt like a part of a group, but otherwise... Uh-huh.

Katya loves soccer, and gets to play at school... But I wish it could be more... And she loves being part of a team... They have a gym class, but it's only four times a week at the most... They do run around at recess, and she plays soccer twice a week after school, but their playground is too small to really PLAY. Sports aren't part of the regular school day in Russian schools; you go elsewhere after school for that.

Since watching the Olympics this winter, she has been begging me to try curling. Seeing that this isn't a passing interest, I'm going to do what I can to let her check it out... (Today I emailed the Moscow contact for the Russian Curling Federation and asked about signing her up for a few lessons... She is beyond thrilled!)

Another downside to pursuing sports on a competitive level in Moscow would be that I would expose the girls to some serious psychological risk... I do NOT want them developing complexes about their body shape and weight... When Katya skated for a few weeks our second year in Russia, the coaches were already criticizing anyone whose body type wasn't lean and skinny—as were other kids and their grandmothers...

The coaches and other kid would certainly make comments to my girls... Russians tend to call a spade a spade, and I don't want the kids being blatantly told when they stink at something or stand out in a negative way. If they want to give it a try and work hard, let them! Just not in Moscow...

(For kids who fit the bill for Russian sports, however, getting training in Moscow is SUCH an opportunity! I hear regularly of expat kids who return to their home countries and are superstars because of their ballet/gymnastics/tennis/hockey...)

All that considered, if I can find appropriate classes for the girls after school, I would love for them to be able to give them a try. Unfortunately, it would likely mean having to hire a babysitter and possibly a driver to get them there... Travel times can be so unpredictable with Moscow's traffic that I wouldn't be able to regularly bring them there while also working... Argh, things can all get so complicated and expensive! (The curling rinks are out beyond Domodyedovo airport—NOT next door—but do-able by subway on a weekday...)

You just don't appreciate simple things like a town sports league or your local ballet/gymnastics center until you don't have them! We may have access to amazing Olympic level coaches at rather amazing prices in Moscow, but..

For now we'll just keep going to our gym and hope that more kids join so the children's classes are more fun. We'll also keep up the private swimming lessons on weekends. If only there were more hours in a day...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Highlights from US Gymnastics Nationals (Even There, Moscow Isn't Far Away)

We started off the day cheering on Aimee Gupta at the Senior Rythmic Gymnastics Finals. Her family is friends with friends of ours, and it was fun to be rooting for someone in particular! It's amazing what she can do! I wonder if Natalia will now start trying new tricks with her hula hoop...

While there, the family behind us spoke Russian. I found out afterwards that they're originally from Moscow. They have friends there who are looking for a good school for their kids; who knows; they asked for the website and contact information... Maybe they'll join our ours...

We then headed into Hartford in the evening for the Women's All-Around Finals. We are VERY lucky that friends of ours had three extra tickets in a fantastic spot that we were able to get for only $25 a seat!

The evening began with a ceremony to honor the 1980 Olympic Team. It turns out that because of the US boycott of the Moscow Games, these men and women had never stood together to be recognized! Nadia Comaneci was on the floor directly in front of us cheering on her husband, Bart Conner, with their cute little boy. It was really, really nice to be part of a crowd singing the national anthem... The girls and I never really get to do that! Having studied the history of the flag and anthem, Katya loved it.

The 1980 US Olympic Gymnastics Team

It was then time for the competition! Watching gymnastics is like watching a five-ring circus! It's so hard to focus with the events all going on at once! Who's up? Who should you watch? What did you miss?

Bela Karolyi and Natia Liukin were easy to spot from where we were sitting. (Like I said, we were so lucky!)

It's too bad there wasn't really any way to get autographs!

Mattie Larson came in second and we really enjoyed her. You can tell she loves what she does! She ended up winning the floor exercise, pulling herself into second position overall.

Briley Cassanova, a teammate of Rebecca Bross' from their gym in Texas. Natalia took this picture!

The All-Around Champion was Rebecca Bross, of Ann Arbor, Michigan! (Just like our Katya!) She was so determined and equally excellent all evening. Here she is on bars:

This was after her last rotation... Just waiting to see if she would hold on to the number one spot!

The All-Around Medal Winners:

It was very inspirational to see how Vanessa Zamarripa recovered after a fall on beam to move up to number 8—all while being a full-time student at UCLA. You also kept wondering what it was like for the parents of the Caquatto girls—Mackenzie (she finished fifth) and Bridgette! They were even in the same rotational group in the finals!

Valery Liukin (Nastia's dad) was honored as a coach. He trains Rebecca Bross, along with others in the finals. I wonder just how many of the girls and their families/trainers have ties to the former USSR...!

We really enjoyed all of the top girls... Now I'm looking forward to the coverage from London in 2012!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Still Exciting After All These Years...

These are for ME! August means new pencils, folders, clips, etc... That's when "New Year's Resolutions" are made in my book...
  • "This will be the year of improved organization!"
  • "This year I'll always have scissors and a stapler when I need one!"
  • "This year I'll stay on top of the grade book every day!"
  • "This year I'll plan well enough in advance so that I'm not stuck up past midnight photocopying!"
  • "This year I won't let myself plan lessons in such detail that I place them above my own need for sleep!"
Ah, good intentions.

Wonder when I will actually even get back to school...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Enrage-A-Lot... Part 4...

So I was finally given the direct line to an agent in New York...

Who can't take a payment over the phone.

He has to send me a form that I have to print out and fax back. We don't have a fax. And I'm not about to waste more time today going to Staples...

He conceded that I could get it in tomorrow. Then I have to call back and finalize the whole procedure.

What a bureaucratic mess to simply change a travel date.

I find it very hard to believe that these are the procedures for having to alter your ticket... Who would put up with this??! I really can't understand why Westerners would EVER use this airline with it's arcane practices!

Enrage-A-Lot... Part 3...

This is beyond ridiculous. I have to pay to call all the way to Moscow to actually speak with an agent, and now I'm being told AGAIN that I have to go pay the ticket-change fee personally at an Enrage-A-Lot office.



I told her NO WAY, that I find it hard to believe that not a single employee within the USA is able to return my phone call and take down my credit card information to pay the fee... I insisted that someone call me back, since I can't even get a voice mailbox using their USA numbers to leave a message...

I've now been on hold for five minutes... We'll see how this goes...

Enrage-A-Lot... Part 2...

The Saga Continues....

Today I'm supposed to call Enrage-A-Lot's New York office to pay the penalties for postponing our return flights to Moscow... The supervisor I FINALLY got to speak with last night (after being told I would have to personally travel to New York by 5 p.m. to personally pay the fees) gave me three numbers with Brooklyn area codes.

None of them work.

None of the New York phone numbers on Enrage-A-Lot's web site work.

None of the Washington D.C. numbers work.

None of the Los Angeles numbers work.

One Seattle number worked. Surprise, surprise—I didn't believe the recording that "my call is very important to them" and didn't bother leaving a message.

I got recordings that they were no longer in service... Or fax tones when the lines weren't supposed to be faxes... Or they rang for three minutes and were never answered. During business hours.

I've now been on hold with a number I found through Google for over 25 minutes. On two phones (using the land line and my mobile) at the same time. So far I have been trying to pay this simple fine for an hour!


***** SURPRISE, SURPRISE!! *****

I got disconnected after five more minutes of waiting. Now I get to try all over again. Oh, and that NYC website they keep mentioning while you're on hold? Doesn't actually exist.

I just went through it all again, and was disconnected on BOTH of the phones for a second time.

What will happen if I just don't pay this fine and show up at the airport on my travel date...??!!

Friendship x 3; Welcoming the New Girls...

A new British family is joining our school this fall and both of my girls are so excited... Their daughters are the same ages as Katya and Natalia, and they'll even be living on our street.

THAT IS HUGE. Logistics end up relegating the sweetest friendships to fleeting meetings every few months. Being able to walk to each other's homes makes all the difference.

We've all been really looking forward to their actual arrival (we met once when the girls spent the morning at school and we've been in touch via e-mail)...When we all met in May, we agreed that the girls would have a sleepover at the end of the summer, and both Katya and Natalia have been anticipating it ever since. (Russian kids tend to not do sleepovers and the Western friends who used to have them with the girls have since moved away).

But I'm now realizing just how much this new friend means to Natalia...

She ripped pages out of her diary to refashion it, reworking it into a guide for her new friend. She has been making illustrations and writing about what the little girl should expect in her new school/city... She even wrote on the edge of the pages (when the book is closed) "Hi, M~~ and S~~!"

Natalia personally can't bear feeling left out, and she's already thinking of how she and her other good friend, S~~ (a sweet American girl who also has Russian, Portuguese and Austrian roots), will welcome M~~ into their homeroom. She wants them all to get together to play, and she even picked out these necklaces yesterday... It's a three-pack with little star charms for three "best friends" to share...

I had said "No jewelry, nothing other than the back-to-school basics you need" when we had entered the store, but there was no way I was going to turn down Natalia's kind gesture...

So M~~... Once we all manage to get to Moscow, you will have a dear friend waiting, one who can't wait to help you learn Russian and feel 100% welcome on our street and in our school! And A~~, Katya is just as eager to be your new friend, too!

The One in Which I Plot the Demise of an Airline that Rhymes with ENRAGE-A-LOT!

UN-@#$%^&_)(*&^% -ING-BELIEVABLE!



They were already so rude to me when traveling back from the USA with my students this spring, but that's another story... And really, where I did I get the nerve to complain about being stuck in a window seat, pinned in by a huge, stinking drunk man...

This time??

Well, I have a doctor's note, an official letter, that medically I needed to change our travel date. Such a letter entitles you to change your tickets on other American and European airlines (for your whole party) to another date, provided there are fares in your same class, with no penalty fee.

NOT on Enrage-A-Lot.

So then I called tonight to reschedule our tickets for tomorrow. I had been told two days ago that I could indefinitely put them on hold, but that we would have to pay a 100 Euro penalty per ticket. FINE, Jerks, but whatever.

First of all, the sweet operator insisted that we had to choose our next travel day. How can I? No one knows when the fires will stop and when the air will clear!!!! So I had no choice other than to pick the last possible day before I would be seriously late for work, missing out on valuable days I could have used at home were it possible to travel sooner...

And if the fires aren't over by then? "But M'am, there's nothing wrong in Moscow! There's no reason to not return to Moscow right now. Our flights are running just fine on a regular schedule." Nothing wrong in Moscow? Um, 6.5 times the acceptable levels of carbon monoxide? 9 times the level of other toxins in the air? Thick smog? Suuuure... Riiiight... Nothing's wrong...

So if the heat/fires/smog haven't improved by the date I had to choose, I'll have to to pay the penalty fees all over again...


Little Miss Sweet Agent insisted that I had to personally travel to an Aeroflot office by 5 p.m. tomorrow to pay the penalty fees!

Just like that!

Sure... I'll just spend the entire day voyaging to NYC with my darling children, to JFK, only to then turn right around again!

EVER HEARD OF MAKING A PAYMENT WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE AIRPORT, BEFORE THEY GIVE YOU YOUR BOARDING PASSES? Ever heard of this thing called the 21st Century, Enrage-A-Lot? Or, at the very least, ever heard of making credit card payments by phone?


Even though Enrage-A-Lot is an international airline, it is RUSSIAN. You don't make credit card payments by phone in Russia. You barely pay for things over the internet in Russia.

This woman kept insisting that if I didn't make the payment by tomorrow, my tickets wouldn't be held. "Have someone else go for you in Moscow or New York!" Um, everyone I know who actually has 300 Euros has LEFT MOSCOW right now! And I sure as heck wouldn't ask the acquaintances I have in NYC to give up a day to go to JFK for me!

She insisted. I wanted to speak to her manager. She insisted that her manager would say the same thing. So I said I would then want to speak to her manager's manager. And so it went, theoretically spiraling up the food chain of Enrage-A-Lot, until she sarcastically said, "Rules are rules. And you're sure not going to talk to the President of our Company....!!!"

So then I decided to try a different angle, to try to get through to her just how I was NOT going to be spending a day just "stopping by" their JFK office. "Listen. I called earlier in the week to change these tickets, as you might see in my flight records, because I have a doctor's note. I am physically unable to travel tomorrow. So I am also unable to travel all day to JFK and back just to pay your fine. You must come up with a different option for me."

Saccharine sweet voice. "Ohh, yes! I understand! But you must be there by five."

I then laid it on really thick. Oh, the malady. Oh, the theoretical testing in the hospital.

Big whoopee. Get your butt to the Enrage-A-Lot office or forget your tickets.

I then lost it. I DEMANDED the highest manager possible.

And after all that? I can—I was told—just call their Brooklyn office and make the credit card payment by phone tomorrow.

We'll see how that actually goes.

And if our tickets are truly all reserved for that day I had to choose.

And how check-in will go.


Delta? As much as you stink, you've won me back by stinking less.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I'll Take THIS Sky, Thank You Very Much...

...instead of the smoggy toxic sky in Moscow these days!

Things are so bad in Moscow that Chris's office is basically closed. Some of his colleagues have been sent to work out of the London office and others are working from home. Chris is now stuck in Washington D.C.; it's too bad the decision was made after he had already flown out of Denver!

He can now use the Washington office... but all he has with him are shorts, a track suit and old t-shirts! Not exactly the attire to wear when making a first impression, so he had to do some shopping today...

Not So Bad Being Stuck!

Now that we're here for an extended stay, I signed the girls up for the soccer camp being held in town... Here they are in their first pairs of cleats and shin guards... Katya couldn't wait to start, but Natalia wasn't too thrilled about being dragged along...

They both ended up LOVING it.

Best missed photo/video? Natalia taking a whiff of her penny, only to realize it STINKS. She eyed me, sporting a "Why?? What have I done to deserve such stench?" pitiful and pleading expression. I remember how much our pennies used to stink when I was in middle school and junior high, too!

I felt like quite the inadequate soccer mom tonight, though! I hadn't packed enough water, I didn't think to pack a snack, and I hadn't planned on staying so I had no lawn chair/personal beverage/reading material... Then when my mom came, I took the dog for a little walk to cheer on the girls and she made a very large (even by dachshund standards) contribution to the field. Thank goodness I had the baggy from the crackers another mom had shared with my girls!

Even Liesel discovered a real passion for the sport!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This Ain't No Campfire...

Before we left Colorado, we had fun roasting marshmallows in the neighbors' backyard. It's too bad the rain started just as we began!

Natalia and Andy sure are inseparable... They LOVE playing together and had each been counting the days until they would see each other...

Now we're in Connecticut again. We were supposed to head back to Moscow on Tuesday, but that's not going to happen...

I'm not exactly eager to arrive smack in the midst of Russia's worst heat wave ever, compounded by the health risk created by the smog that has taken over the capital as wildfires surrounding the city run rampant. If it's 100 degrees outside, it's MUCH hotter inside our apartment... And you can't open any windows or spend any time outdoors because of the toxic air.

I can only imagine the danger if the nuclear facilities 300 miles east of Moscow catch fire, too. I read in today's Christian Science Monitor that "Russia wildfires have now pushed carbon monoxide levels in Moscow to 6.5 times the allowable level and the concentration of other unspecified toxins 'up to 9 times' acceptable limits, according to Russia's health ministry."

Just take a look at the Kremlin:

For now we're just sitting tight... I'm about halfway done in our massive packing and I'll finish up soon. We all are eager to get home and get back to our regular routine, though... I had such a long list of things I had wanted to finish up in our apartment before heading back to work... Once the school year starts, I'll never get a chance to do a major "spring cleaning" and overhaul of everything...

At least I'll now be able to see more medical specialists in the USA before having to leave. It's looking like I'm simply a "carrier" for strep, and that the strep virus itself isn't my real problem. My throat itself actually looks fine—the "soreness" is actually coming from my glands.

The phlebotomist made me feel like the provider of an all-you-can-eat vampire buffet the other day as she drew blood for a myriad of tests... Some are already back, and it's looking like I could have rheumatoid arthritis. Yuck. I'll know more by the end of this week, and my ENT promised to get me into the relevant specialists before I'll have to fly back to Moscow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Portrait Time

Ah. Cousins. Such a peaceful, sweet photograph...

I took over 150 photos in order to get at least one good one...

This shot sure screams, "Christmas Card Photo!"

Ah, but the work that went into it... The planning, the screaming, the tears, the anguish... The punishment...

And the foolishness, thank goodness. Laughter can save even the most dreadful situations... (Makes you really wonder what the baby is thinking, n'est-ce pas?)

At least the grandparents now have their framable portrait... And it's over!