Monday, July 25, 2011

A Few Days in the Countryside

This spring we made some new friends with a boy in Natalia's grade. They invited us to visit their dacha and it was charming! Here are some of the cottages in their village. I LOVE old traditional Russian windows... The carved frames look like elaborate lace...

Here are the kids after a day of running around outside. Behind them is a little cottage that has a Russian banya (sauna) inside it; it's GREAT! The first time I went there, it was just three of us adult girlfriends and no kids; we had such a nice time cooking ourselves and then cooling off!

A definite highlight of going  to visit them at their dacha is seeing my friend's mom and dad; they are so interesting and kind. Babushka is passionate about her garden, growing almost everything we ate. Her kompot (a concentrated drink made from fruit, in this case cherries) was the best I've ever had. Natalia enjoyed helping her out, and gathering scraps to feed the rabbits. 

Dedushka (Grandpa) was not to be outdone by his lovely wife... He regaled us with... No, not programs on an old Soviet television set... But with HONEY and tales of beekeeping—and a tour of the bees he keeps inside repurposed items! Just check this out!

Isn' that NEAT??! 

I also teach the little boy's older brother, and he told me how watching his grandpa's bees "on TV" is more interesting than an actual program any day! 

We didn't just see a smorgasbord of old Soviet televisions... Grandpa also uses old refrigerators and freezers for his hives! He drills air holes in them and the bees stay comfortable in them all winter! Who would have known?!

Here's a more traditional spot for a hive. I had NO idea how fascinating beekeeping is until I met him. The honey was also INCREDIBLE. Knowing it was sweetened by the flowers around us made it taste even better.

One of the things we ate was "okroshka," a cold soup made of "little pieces" of boiled potato, radishes, green onion, boiled eggs, and sometimes cucumber and sausages and dill. You then add kvas (an actually delicious drink made from mildly fermented dark bread) as broth—or kefir, a yogurt-like tangy drink. Frankly, you either like okroshka or you don't. When made with top-notch ingredients, it's actually delicious, especially on a very hot day.

Natalia ended up staying there on her own for three days later in the month. She had the best time being on her own and getting a little break from us in Moscow... She helped Grandma in the garden, tended the rabbits, played with her friend, entertained my friend's granddaughter (Natalia's classmate has a much older sister, too), and learned to ride a bike... She was in NO rush to come home when Katya and I went to fetch her.

We brought her the girls' old play tea set and she loved it :-) What an adorable and sweet baby!

Dachas are super and such an integral part of Russian culture, but I don't know how Russians cope with the massive traffic you have to battle to get to—and home from them.  Our friends' place is about an hour and a half outside of Moscow, but it has taken me up to 4 hours to make trip. Once you're there, you are SO glad to be outside of the city, and yet... I don't think I could pull it off on a regular basis. Weekends are also when we get stuff done around the house and run some errands...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Love You, Alissa!

Getting caught up on blogging, and sorry to Facebook friends for the repeat!

Do any of you remember how Natalia wrote a letter to the Alissa Czisny, the US figure skating champion, and we threw it onto the ice during the 2011 World Championships in Moscow?

Well, at the end of May we got QUITE the surprise in the mail!

YAY, ALISSA! Not only did she send Natalia an autographed photo, but she also wrote her a very sweet note!

IT MADE HER MONTH, and she received it five minutes before her big debut in the school play... Definitely good luck. THANK YOU SO MUCH, ALISSA, FOR BEING SUCH A GOOD ROLE MODEL!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Russian Fashion...

I took these pictures at the beginning of June... While staying at Lesniye Dali, a Soviet-era "vacation place" ("rest home"--think a nicer version of a YMCA family camp place where you have a main lodge/hotel and dorms, in the woods), I came across this kiosk shop...

In the window I spotted this gem of a dress and just HAD to take a picture. Where on earth do they get these designs? You'd THINK someone who knows English could verify signs and printed clothing before they're made...

Just in case you missed that snazzy fashion detailing, here's the pocket logo: 

Um, no. I'll pass. Who buys this stuff?!!! Moscow is such a place contrasts: you're surrounded by ULTRA-chic people all the time, sporting the world's top fashion labels, and right next to them you see styles right off the "Krushchev" runway...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lazy Summer Days & Assumptions of Alcohol

While still staying at my mom's, Natalia and I went on a some bike rides on a fitness trail that followed the Connecticut river. It was so pretty! We loved going over this old bridge... (You can see her up ahead, annoyed a bit that I was stopping for a picture...!)

Afterwards we cooled off at this gem of a restaurant... They serve the most incredible empanadas, tacos and burritos... I love the "Americana" look of the street and storefront! The little "tree house bench" out front is just perfect, too. We simply ordered Mexican sodas: creme for Natalia and diet coconut for me. Yum!!

We had eaten there earlier in the week with a friend's two boys. I had taken out the hand sanitizer for everyone before we dug in, and I remembered something from Moscow... I gave some of these mini Bath and Bodyworks bottles in neat scents to a student once as a prize for something she had done. The students passed it around, taking a whiff of the coconut lime smell... And someone then piped up, "I can't believe you're giving her alcohol!" Yes, the sanitizers do smell like alcohol before they evaporate on your hands—but I couldn't believe that anyone would think they were actually a DRINK, and an alcoholic one to boot! And that a teacher would give such a thing to a student!

When Starbucks first opened in Moscow, I had a "to go" cup with me when I got in a cab. The driver eyed me drink, and asked, "What's in there? Beer?" When I replied, "No, coffee...", he looked at me as if I were nuts, and muttered, "Whatever for?"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are We Crazy? Baikal!

Two friends from high school and I have decided to meet turning 40 head-on and we're going to have a mini reunion in Russia... They'll join me in Moscow and we'll head to Siberia to run the Lake Baikal Ice (Half) Marathon on March 4th! Wonder if more friends will join us...

From the Ice Marathon's site:

"The Lake Baikal International Ice Marathon offers competitors the unique opportunity to race across the frozen ice surface of the world’s largest, oldest and deepest lake. This extraordinary event takes place in one of the most beautiful places of Lake Baikal, and is based in the small town of Listvyanka, 65 km south of Irkutsk (a major stop-over on the Trans-Siberian route)...

Prior to the start of the race, competitors some years are required to partake in the precautionary ritual of “vodka sprinkling”, in order to pacify the spirits of the Great Baikal ( introducing the novel element of starting a marathon with a shot of vodka)...

The course is predominantly flat, but the surface is hard at times and uneven. Although it’s mostly covered in a soft layer f snow, there’re areas of highly polished ice that create conditions similar to an ice-rink. Wind can add to the already bitingly cold temperature and provide serious resitance to progress across Lake Baikal. Though, often the weather is sunny and with no chill factor one can even get some sun tan.

The utterly featureless landscape gives little or no sense of perspective to competitors. The finish line at the port of Listvyanka can be seen almost from the start line. It is a long, cold, lonely ( if not to count the mobile 8 to 10 feed and drink stands) 42,2 km trail across the baren white landscape, where progress is marked only by checkpoints positioned at 5 km intervals ( with hot drinks, food and, for the brave, some more vodka)."

ARE WE NUTS???! But what fun!!!!! And just to clarify, we will do the HALF marathon, not the full one! Egad, I'm not utterly insane!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Natalia's First "Big Girl" Bike!

Natalia and her first big bike... Go, Walmart! That's the only way we'd be willing to shell out for a bike she can only ride for three weeks... 

Here's Natalia's first time on her bike. The videos look odd because I filmed them on my phone—with a narrow rectangular format.

And then Natalia taught her big sister how to ride a bike, too!

I know I already wrote about this on Facebook, but other readers might not know about why it's not so odd that my kids are only learning how to ride bikes when they're almost eleven and 8 1/2. In studying Third Culture Kids (kids who are raised in a culture/country other than that of their parents), researchers found a few similarities among TCKS, irregardless of where they had grown up. Surprisingly, one of those is learning how to ride a bike much later than peers in their non-TCK home countries. (Other similarities include not knowing how to drive until after college and not knowing quite how to answer the question "Where are you from?"). 

It makes sense if you think about it... Unless the kids are growing up in a country where kids easily ride bikes for most of the year, and it's easy to store them, kids aren't that likely to ride a bike where they live during the school year. Then, during the summer—when most kids ride bikes all the time during their vacations—Expat kids tend to travel from relative to relative in order to see everyone. You're just not likely to buy a kid a bike that she can only ride for a few weeks at most!

We're so cramped in our Moscow apartment, and we have no storage at all. Our balcony isn't covered, either. The only time the kids could ride a bike in Moscow would be on weekends in September,  the second half of April and May—and then during June. I would need a bike to keep up with them in order for them to really use them, too... Where would we put those bikes? 

We've decided to go ahead and get bikes back in Moscow, though... We'll keep them very well oiled and covered in heavy plastic on the balcony. It's going to be  a real pain to get them in and out of the apartment, but the girls really love it! At least Katya won't be growing that much anymore, so a bike will last her a long time. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Happy 450th Birthday, Saint Basil's!

This is the heading on Google today! Happy, Happy Birthday!

We LOVE this church...

Remember this playhouse I made when Katya was a year old and we lived in Brooklyn? Yeah, that was neat...  I was clearly going a bit out of my mind being home all day with a toddler after having loved all the creativity I had poured into my teaching! We all loved that playhouse and it was so sad to have to rip it apart when we moved... There was no way to get it out of the apartment; I had built it to wrap around a corner and it was huge...

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm B-A-C-K!

My new laptop arrived...

I L-O-V-E my new Mac laptop! Yay!!!!! Thank you, Chris!!!!!

I'm soooo sorry I hadn't backed up my previous laptop before it died... I really hope I can somehow retrieve that data... From now on I'll use a cloud back-up service!!!!

Now that I have a computer again, I can get back to blogging! I've got pictures from June that I'll now post... Sure hope I can get to May's photos...