Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Whirling Dervish

This week was the talent show for the first and second grades (when I took that cute picture of the first grade boys that I posted a few days ago). Natalia sure does love baton twirling! She only did it for a month last summer, but still enjoys doing it on her own.

Now if only I could have made her PUT HER HAIR UP!!! Aarrgh!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good Morning

I drove by this church in the morning... On gray winter days it almost recedes into the background—but when there's a bright blue sky and the sun is shining onto the golden domes, it's utterly breathtaking...


I took this picture of two first grade boys at the school talent show today. They were so, so sweet and innocent... I love the Russian "Festival Talantov" written on the wall and the big white hair bow on the girl in front of them...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Egg Hunt 2011

The girls' favorite tradition all year is the egg hunt (plastic eggs that open up to hold treats & clues) that the Easter Bunny leaves for them—with 32 clues, all written in rhyme.

This is how he got Katya, a reluctant reader when she was 6, to start reading... She had to read the clues in order to find her basket! It's now the highlight of the year.

The Easter Bunny must do a LOT of planning, especially since our apartment isn't very large and the clues must be new each year, and tough enough to figure out that the hunt isn't boring...

In the clips above, I just love Natalia's accents! Why she chose to speak like that, I have no idea! But she's actually pretty good! And poor Katya... How resigned she is when solving the clue about her messy shirt drawer! Hah :-)

Here are some of this year's 32 clues; purple ones were read by Natalia, green ones by Katya:

Gigantic! Enormous!

So much bigger in size!

You sure like this item,

And so do your eyes!

(our larger TV that was bought in February)

Another new toy

From the midwinter days....

When you watch something with this,

It will simply amaze!

(the dvd player—blue ray—that came with it)

This fun-loving girl

Travels near and far...

Bringing along her friends,

In this cool kind of car.

(inside the shower in the American Girl camper they have)

Point and shoot...

Zoom in, and zoom out...

Capturing what matters...

Is what this is all about.

(inside my camera bag)

Hours and hours

Spent this way

Creating beautiful patterns

To keep or give away...

(inside the bucket of perler beads they use to make figures that you iron to set)

You know you want one!

But in Moscow? Hard to conceive...

These just don't exist in a city, so

You'll have to make believe...

(inside their dolls' tree house)

If you lose a baby tooth,

Leave it here at night...

A fairy will come to take it away

Remaining out of sight.

(under Natalia's pillow)

The King of the Bathroom...

And the King of the Bed...

Perched up here regally,

Resting his head...

(where Katya's cat, Lyalya, sleeps at the foot of her loft bed)

This latest item of comfort

Added to your house...

Is so comfy for the kitties...

That they'd ignore a mouse!

(behind our IKEA Poang chair, where their basket was hidden)

Sleek and sporty on the outside,

Soft and furry within...

Keeping your Mom's treasure safe,

Blue like the Caribbean...

(inside the neoprene padded sleeve for my laptop)

"Those aren't yours! Just go away!"

"But I can't find mine! And I need some today!"

Ah, such battles in the morning make you nuts...

Such fighting among sisters, such a fuss...

So Mom gladly went back to your favorite store

And bought lots of these—more and more!

(inside Natalia's sock drawer)

With sequins and sparkles...

And sayings with pizzazz...

But if they're all bunched up and shoved in,

You know your mom will spaz!

(inside a Gap t-shirt in K's drawer)

Every day these make our home gleam...

Wiping up spills and keeping things clean...

Then washed in hot water and throw in to dry,

Without these, we just couldn't get by!

(in the stack of rags we use to wash the floors and instead of paper towels)

Jewelry, perfumes, secret treasure...

Katya picked this out with pleasure!

A place you love and think is great...

Part of your room since you turned eight.

(inside the "locker" from Justice that Katya gave Natalia for her birthday)

What a big year for you,

Since last I hopped this way...

Now you have quite a collection of these!

And this is where they stay...

(in the case where Katya keeps her earrings)

Oooh, là là!

You're now so grown up and chic!

Pink grapefruit, mademoiselle?

Smells good enough to lick!

(inside the box that Natalia's pink grapefruit French perfume came in)

"Yay! What fun!"

So he jumps right inside...

Settling down

For a girly-girl ride.

(inside the doll carriage—in which our cat loves to go for rides)

Gleeful singing from the kitchen...

Cooking after school...

Rocking out with your mom..

With this multi-purpose tool!

(in the rack where I keep my "microphone" tongs)

A certain someone depends on this

To keep his kingdom clean and fresh...

If it ran out, he'd refuse to rule—

From a throne that is a mess!

(in the bag of CLEAN kitty litter)

If your mom is headed to Auchon,

You sure hope she'll bring some home!

Favorite flavors, to each her own...

At first you didn't like them,

But now you'll really do...

Not only are they yummy, but also good for you!

(in with the yogurts)

Just how many can you eat?

As many as you please?

You should both turn into mice...

From eating so many of these...

(in the bag of string cheese sticks)

If your father always remembered,

You'd be done with me for already a while...

When what I've started will be finished,

You will dazzle with your smile!

(in the case where we keep the key to tighten Katya's retainer spacer)

Now that Spring has come,

I hear you shout and cheer...

As you zoom and whiz with glee,

Smiling bright from ear to ear!

(where we keep the scooters)

I see everything...

I'm such a clever rabbit!

But leaving these here isn't too smart...

What a dangerous habit!

(the crevice in the hall where a spare key is left on odd occasions)

Gliding and shivering,

Avoiding any fall...

What a fun way to pass

Some hours at the mall!

(in Natalia's ice skate bag)

Company's coming...

Best drag me out...

I make delicious golden ribbons

That make your guests shout!

(in with my pasta maker)

Upside down and neatly stacked...

Lined up neatly in a row...

Scrubbed and scrubbed then rinsed...

This is where wet things go.

(in the dish rack)

Such a handy octopus...

Always ready to help...

But if your classmates saw what I hold,

You surely would yelp!

(hanging from the IKEA octopus with clothespins on each "arm" where we dry our underwear)

"Please, pretty please..."

Was your heart-felt pre-Prague plee...

"If you love me, you'll let me borrow it..."

And then you kept it for thee!

(in the pocket of my North Face windbreaker that Katya has taken from me...)

Not always predictable,

Sometimes too hot and capricious...

But most things that come from me—

Turn out delicious!

(inside our very temperamental oven)

It's gone! It disappeared!


Hmm... As usual, it slipped inside...

Your mom told you so!

(in between the couch cushions—where the remote slides)

Working Hard...

Yesterday the girls and I tracked down where to get some 0dd-sized light bulbs we need. While the woman who worked at the shop was in the storage room, I just couldn't help but take this picture of her work station—where she sits in front of the shop, in full view of all customers...

On either side of the laptop, signs of a hard day's work: an entire BOX full of manicure supplies; a bottle of red polish; a bottle of top coat; and a big box of chocolates...!

I'm betting the only web site visited was "V kontakte," the Russian version of Facebook...!

As we left, Katya remarked that the woman only had one red nail– on her left pinky! (She picked up on that even before she knew that I had noticed all the manicure stuff... Good eyes! Future spy?)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Headed to World's!

Due to the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships were last-minute relocated to Moscow! You have to really feel for the Japanese skaters, though... They have a very strong team and they have surely been looking forward to performing in front of their home crowd for years... The defending champions from last year's World's are both Japanese...

People in Moscow are very grateful, however, for the chance to attend the competition and cheer on everyone... Because of the short notice, it wasn't that hard to get some good tickets. The four of us are going with friends to watch the ladies' freestyle (medal-deciding) competition next Saturday, and then on Sunday Katya and I are joining another mom and daughter from her class to go to the Exhibitions.

This year I'll be sure to not put on face paint backwards while looking in the mirror...

Come to think of it, I think I'll just skip the face paint...

But we WILL bring big banners for the Alissa Czisny and Rachel Flatt! Alissa was a Russian major in college; she must be so excited about the unexpected trip to Moscow!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Katya's "Let Your Star Shine" Presentation

Fourth grade graduation is a big deal in our school; you leave the elementary school and actually go to a different part of the city for middle school. Part of graduation is earning your "star," a plaque presented to you after you do our "Let Your Star Shine" presentation.

Students speak in front of the 3rd and 4th grades for about five minutes, talking about themselves. What matters to them? What kind of a person are you? What are your strengths? How have you grown while in the elementary school? What are your goals? What is your family like? Etc., etc. Then they can do some kind of a presentation, either showing a collection of their artwork, a video of them pursuing something they do outside of school (usually a sport), or a musical performance.

Katya started playing the guitar in January; since they she has written a few songs and set one to music. She sang and played that song for her presentation.

Afterwards, there's a rather long question and answer session when students and teachers can ask you pretty much anything. It's a good opportunity to develop confidence speaking in front of a group!

We were SO proud of Katya. She was extremely well-spoken and self-possessed... Her voice sounds much more childish than it usually is because she was so nervous, and her Russian wasn't quite as "you can't tell that I'm not Russian" as it usually is, but she did very well. She had the teachers (and me...) crying or darn near, proud not only of her Russian progress since first grade, but also of the young lady she has become.

Her presentation, and all of her teachers' and classmates' reactions, really highlighted what a great place this school has been for her. She has been so loved, nurtured and challenged.

We didn't help her at all; she made the powerpoint presentation by herself, decided what to say, and did the song on her own (with the help of her guitar teacher). Not all parents actually stay out of it, even though that's supposed to be whole point... (Developing confidence doing something independently...)

Since we didn't work with her on it, we were actually quite surprised by some things she said!!!

The highlights?
  • When she grows up, she wants to be either a country singer or the first woman President of the United States.
  • According to Katya, one of the reasons she loves Taylor Swift is that Taylor wasn't always so popular... When she was younger, kids used to tease her about her looks. She found comfort in writing songs and music, building up her self-confidence through artistic expression. Katya says that she is a wonderful role model for her.
  • Her teacher read a story that Katya wrote in third grade about looking beyond appearances and valuing people for their inner qualities. It was so lovely, and her teacher said that is truly how Katya is. I couldn't believe that she can write like that! It was so good! I'll do a post about that at a different time.
  • She had really nice things to say about all of us in the family—when we tend to hear the negative much more often at home... It meant a lot to Natalia to hear what Katya said...
  • She said that she considers everyone a friend, trusting them unless they give her reason not to...
  • Her favorite things? Taylor Swift, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, 39 Clues books, mysteries, music from Glee, singing, treats at Starbucks, monkeys, acting, playing the guitar, reading, and studying the American Revolution.
  • What does she like most about Russia? How there are so many historical places everywhere and there's always something new to learn.
  • When she grows up, she doesn't plan to take her kids to another country to live. When asked about this, it's not because she personally doesn't like the experience—but she thinks it's too hard on her grandparents and me.
  • She was also asked what she likes least about Russia, and she tactfully avoided answering, saying she couldn't quite think of the words... But when I asked her afterwards, having clearly noted that she had something in mind, she replied, "Well, dishonesty in the way things work. But then I realized I might offend someone if I said that because you never know..."
Oh, just realized, I did help with one part... I baked enough of her favorite chocolate chunk cookies to share with everyone in the audience afterward. There just wasn't time for her to do it all on her own... She brought in a few other things from home, including her autographed picture of Taylor Swift ("My mom really knows how to pick presents"—THANK YOU, Ebay!).

Below are the videos from the day. Everything is in Russian except for the second video which has her singing the song she wrote and performed on guitar. At the beginning of the fourth clip her teacher for the past four years asks her a question; we just love her and her voice... Katya will miss her terribly after this year!

Here's the "About Me" part of her presentation: (She picked the funniest picture of Chris on his birthday and it made everyone laugh!)

Here is the song she wrote (clearly inspired by the Taylor Swift music she loves):

Here are the clips from the Question & Answer Session:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fresh Paint

Old people who work for the city covering up the hedge fences, benches and sidewalk borders with seriously stinky paint yesterday.

This is perhaps one of the busiest weeks of the year in Moscow. The city takes VERY seriously being all spruced-up in time for the major May 1st and May 9th holidays.

While it may have still been snowing two days ago, and there is still mud and thawed dog poo on pretty much every non-paved area, by May 1st somehow everything will be green, in bloom, clean, swept... AND FRESHLY PAINTED.

Russians paint everything, and in rather odd combinations. Sometimes you wonder if there was a clearance sale on unusual colors when you see the palette chosen for particular places... Or if some city planner was in a drug-induced state when he charted out what colors would go where, mixing up bizarre combinations and patterns...

Metal playground equipment... Hedge dividers... Doors... Park benches... Trash cans... Concrete planters... Everything gets painted before May 1st.

They mix the paint in empty 5 liter water containers; you can see them in the background.

You don't have to worry about accidentally brushing up against wet paint, however, because you can smell the paint a mile away... And THIS I don't understand. Russian paint smells TOXIC. You just know that if you were shut in a room with walls just covered in this paint, you would get sick. It coats your lungs and nasal passages. It tastes bad as you breath it in. It's awful when they paint the entryway and stairwell of our building!

Seriously... THIS is what they use to paint PLAYGROUND equipment? You really wonder what is in the paint to make it smell so bad—and how such paint is so much cheaper than more ecologically-friendly versions. It must be a question of price...

This stench, however, means that spring is truly just around the corner, so I'll gladly plug my nose and step carefully!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Kid You Not...


UH, ??????!!!!!?

Spring weather is supposed to officially arrive this Sunday, just in time for Easter :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Got it?!

Love this sign... Have been meaning to take a picture of it for ages...

The One in Which Another Friend Now Blogs

I'd like to welcome one of my former students, now in her last year of law school, to the blogosphere... I just got caught up on many of her prior posts, and she's funny! You'll find, for example:
  • irreverent takes on fashion (and fashion faux-pas...)
  • political and cultural commentary
  • cooking
  • beautiful design and photography
  • feminist wit
She's really great... And she came with us when we first moved to Moscow to help me out for a few weeks. One of my favorite things about her? She gave me one of the best baby gifts ever when Katya was born (her class slowly watched my body double in size...): a letter, written in the best French she could muster, that Katya is supposed to read when she turns fourteen. A letter that basically lays out why I'm awesome—when Katya will be at an age when she will likely be inclined to think otherwise...

You can check her out here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Someone's Glad It's Spring...

March 2011

Yesterday I noticed that this car finally left its parking spot after months of not moving. Wonder how dented in the roof now is...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Uh, No.

Look closely. Really? That's what she thinks it means to get her coffee "to go"? At least this café offers lids for your "take it with you" beverages...

Then again, I remember seven years ago when you just didn't get coffee "to go" at all without people looking at you a bit oddly. Alcohol while walking around, sure! Soda, fine! But not coffee... Once I got in a cab with my Starbucks tumbler full of home-brewed coffee. The driver raised his brow at me and remarked, "Vodka?" as he eyed my drink. When I remarked that it was simply coffee, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "Why?"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hot Juice and Other Cross-Cultural Clashes

Today we went for lunch with our British friends. The kids all ordered apple juice, which arrived in the customary tall glasses. I picked up a glass to give it to the one of the girls—and it was HOT. The glass was so hot, in fact, that it was hard to hold it.

I looked up incredulously at the waitress and told her this—and she simply shrugged. Forget that you don't give children—including small children—beverages that could harm them if they dropped them. This was more of a, "Are you kidding? We ordered apple juice and you're serving it hot without any discussion on the matter?" We had not asked for hot juice; how could one possibly assume that's how we'd want it?

The waitress was so stubborn! She refused to take back the juice, only finally conceding to bring ice—but there was barely any room at the top of the glasses for any cubes. She actually argued with me about our wanting the kids to have cold juice. I ended up getting a little prickly, explaining that lukewarm juice wasn't even what we wanted. We wanted it COLD.

She wouldn't give in... She clearly thought we were irresponsible parents and wouldn't let our children's health be endangered by our carelessness... (People here think that cold drinks can hurt you in a variety of ways). When she brought the ice, she wouldn't let the kids put it in their glasses by themselves. She wouldn't even let me do it. And she gave each kid ONE cube.

We added more after she had left...

My friend's younger daughter, however, picked up the warm glass, took a sip, and declared it yummy. As she sucked it down, her mom muttered, "Traitor." Hah!

Shopping and Dropping...

During our whirlwind trip to the US last week, we went to American Girl in Boston for lunch. Natalia loved the life-sized Kanani display. Natalia's godmother is getting married in Hawaii next summer, so she's particularly interested in learning more about the Hawaiian Girl of the Year. She curled up in the shaved ice stand and started reading Kanani's books.

We just had fun browsing, and Natalia borrowed Kanani from the shelf of "Dine with You" dolls when we went to the café.

I needed some shoes and white t-shirts and luckily there was a 60% off sale at Lord & Taylor's. Poor Natalia, though, literally dropped as I shopped.... Understandable, since we had only flown in the day before!

American Girls No Longer in Moscow... And Then in Moscow... And Now Unsure...

It has been a few months of big changes...

I accepted a job teaching French and Spanish at a great boarding school in Massachusetts and we had all made the decision to move and somehow make it work... Simply choosing to move was HUGE. All the details then came rushing at us... Exhilarating and exhausting.... When I had initially applied for jobs, I wasn't sure we would actually be leaving this year. It was a surprise when we found this one school that seemed to be a perfect fit for us. I had never thought of this year as our last in Moscow and there are so many things that we still haven't done here...

We made a quick one-week trip to the US to visit the school... Managed to cram in seeing my mom and some dear friends... Then flew back and I INSTANTLY jumped back into work, also covering for a colleague who has been ill while dealing with my and the girls' jet lag...

And then for various reasons that had nothing to do with our simply having second thoughts, all of the sudden I had to turn the job down. It was utterly unexpected and it took the wind out of us.

Now we're thoroughly tired, physically and emotionally... No idea what's next... I have other options at some great schools, but they aren't in areas where we could see ourselves long-term taking all things into consideration...

It appears we'll stay for one more year, knowing it's our last.... This way we would have plenty of time to plan in advance... But it won't be certain until other things fall into place in the next few weeks.

Argh, the not knowing is hard! The whole time we've lived here, I've never known what "the game plan" is. The uncertainty, the inability to make any long-term plans, has been the hardest part of living here for me. I've just needed to know. Life of course always brings surprises—but I wanted to at least have an idea of where we were headed...

If we do end up deciding to leave at the end of this school year, it is going to be bittersweet and exhausting... So much planning, sorting and packing... And then starting out all over again somewhere in the US. It would also be tough quite possibly having our family on two continents, doing what has to be the crummiest commute!