Sunday, December 23, 2012

Most Bizarre Holiday Decorations

Seen at Novinsky Passazh, a hoity shopping mall here in Moscow. Who possibly thought that a floral gun aimed at a teddy bear over a nose-diving airplane is appropriate holiday décor?

With the victims of the Newtown, CT school shooting on my mind, this seems even more out-of-place...

Moscow can be really weird sometimes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Big Hearty Welcome to COOK HOUSE!


A fantastic shop has just opened in Moscow, as close to Sur la Table or Williams Sonoma as you could hope for here...

Their flagship 2-level store is in the Kapitolii Shopping Mall, Prospect Vernadskova, at metro Universityet. They have another location in the Zolotoy Vavilon Rostokino Mall, Prospect Mira, at metro VDNKh.

They sell all kinds of cooking gadgets, cookware and dining ware, along with linens and cook books. Brands include Emile Henry, Jamie Oliver, Bodum, & Webber. They don't sell any rare ingredients (no vanilla bean extract, for example), but they do have other items from America that I've never been able to find here: Wilton's gel food coloring; supplies for cake decorating and fondant; various sizes of cupcake liners; great spatulas... LOTS of silicone baking molds, too. They even have cake carriers and racks for drying homemade pasta—the same model I got in a small shop in Rome!

The baking cups are 285 rubles, $9.50. Yes, that same pack costs $6 on amazon, so it still makes sense to stock up on a much cheaper version of the liners when back in the US—but at least there's a now a place where you COULD get stuff you run out of! The prices in general range from 2-3x more expensive than in the US, but they're still well within or below the general prices of Moscow (here I'm talking about items that exist in other shops, too). The large Wilton cake carrier costs 1500 rubles, roughly $50; I got it at Michaels in the US with a 40% off coupon (original price: $24). Still... The colleague of mine who has been WISHING for one will be thrilled to know they're now sold in Russia...

It's great that they have the pasta rack (see top shelf) and MANY accessories for making ravioli—but they don't have the hand-crank pasta maker you really need in order to use all these other items. I pointed this out and the clerk was thankful for the suggestion.

I must say that the staff there was very kind, and the woman I spoke with still seemed to be blown away by everything in the store; until she had started working there, it would never have even occurred to her that many of the items they sell could even exist. She has been having fun discovering uses for everything!

You can also attend cooking classes there, lead by chefs who focus on various themes (for this month) such as: Soups and Stocks; French Cooking; Cooking for Little Ones; Meat & Game; Halloween; Italian Food... They do adult and child parties, too. Whoever planned this store was spot-on; this niche was completely untapped until now.

Their website is:, and you can email them for more information at: Phone number: 8.800.100.05.04.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tragedy in Moscow

This past Saturday an extremely drunken driver sped up onto a sidewalk, killing five teens and two adults who were waiting at a bus stop. Those teens, (Dima, Vova, Jessica, Nastya and Vika) had just been at an awards ceremony at Victory Park, where they had received prizes for their crafts. The teens, all orphans, and their teacher and her husband (Olya and Seriozha), were very much loved and supported by everyone at Maria's Children, the art studio and charity here in Moscow that helps orphans and children in need through art therapy and various other forms of assistance.

These children had literally grown up with Maria's Children, blossoming as people and artists through their weekly visits. They were precious to those who knew them. Dima loved to draw scenes from the metro, and was able to find beauty even in that which seemed devoid of it. Vika loved to give everyone beautiful and complicated braids in their hair. Nastya was very worried about what would become of her once she aged out of the orphanage.  Olya had devoted her life to helping orphaned children, putting her two advanced degrees (art and special education) to use. Her husband was a rare father figure to these kids, doing all he could to support his wife and them. They loved these children and the void at Orphanage #7 is now vast and aching.

The funeral for all them is this morning and it is a very sad day in Moscow.

People in Russia are quite outraged that this drunken driver, who readily admitted to having been drinking for two days straight, was even allowed to be driving at all after a previous DUI arrest. He now faces a maximum penalty of nine years in prison for having murdered these seven wonderful people... This makes no sense to me at all... The women who protested against Putin by disrespectfully performing a vulgar rock song in the country's main cathedral were sentenced to three years in a penal colony, and this guy only faces six more years than they do? How can this possibly be?

Those of you who know and love all that Maria's Children does, please show your support. You can find them on facebook at Maria's Children ArtCenter Moscow or at their website,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Supermarket Fashion...

This lady was really rocking her Russian platok (shawl)-styled track suit at the grocery store the other day! Based on how expensive her designer (and clearly not a knock-off) handbag was, I bet this cost a veritable fortune... Can't possibly imagine pulling this off, and not really wanting to, but I bet there are some of you Russophile readers who would love to get your hands on this number!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Another Video from Graduation: Edited Scenes from Flash Mob

One of my students worked really hard to put this together for all of us afterwards... Thanks, Sasha!! I love the scene where Nikolai Alexandrovich, our wonderful history teacher, joins in and leads all the high school teachers in dancing through the room :-)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Graduation Flash Mob

For the past month I've been keeping a secret...

I had the idea germinating about how fun it would be to do a flash mob for months... And we pulled it off last night at Graduation.

The seniors were so surprised and loved it, and I think everyone had a really great time!

Of course, nothing really went quite the way we'd planned...

There ended up being WAY more chairs around each table than normal, so all the choreography we'd come up with for between tables became impossible. People couldn't even get from their tables to the tiny little central path, so everything we had planned other than pretty much on stage in the tiny, tiny center couldn't happen. Some people couldn't make it up to the stage on time to join in, and we missed the whole part with brothers and sisters jumping out during the first verse of "We Are Family"... Really sorry that I didn't just have a few of those sisters up on stage with us the whole time; they knew the moves—but I was counting on them for the big 'Brother/Sister' part down the aisle...

Another main thing that happened was that since everyone got so excited, and stood up to cheer us on, you couldn't tell when "new people" had been choreographed to join in. It looked like just a really fun big group dance—but since we all had such a great time, and the only reason we did it was to make the seniors happy, who really cares?

Two of our big soloists missed a cue since the mob ended up starting earlier than it was supposed to—so we ended up actually staging the last part of the mob all over again. Irregardless, it was great!

On a more minor note, the music didn't start as loudly as needed and exactly when we had planned, and I got a little flustered... I ended up messing up our initial trio choreography and everyone missed out on my amazing ninth grader's choreography that the three of us somehow had managed to learn! My two colleagues were SO on the ball and simply followed my lead so we all still were in unison. They're wonderful!

The angles of these cameras don't do justice to how fantastic my other colleagues were, especially our usually rather austere male math and history teachers who obligingly got so into this and were stars—much to the delight of the students!

I had had my senior English class over after their national exam and these two songs had been on one of my playlists... The students LOVED them and started breaking out in dance... One of them was particularly excited and all I could think of was how her mom and brother had just been at rehearsal working on a number to that very song...

This is just a little montage I put together w/recordings form two little Flip cameras... The school will be doing a much better montage video with other angles from better cameras and more zooms in on the students' surprised faces.

I'm so thankful to everyone who helped us to pull this off!!!

Throughout all of this, there were some "Russian/American" cultural moments... Russians, well, dance in their high heels no matter what. And brilliantly. I could barely walk after wearing my new  heels and having to walk around in them for four hours before the mob began... I had welts on my heels...

Another thing... All the Russian women just don't sweat! I felt so embarrassed at the end, literally dripping my way back to my table!

Congratulations, Seniors!!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

GUM, Spectacular GUM...

I've posted about GUM (the famous shopping arcade that borders Red Square) before... It is so darn beautiful... Right now the decorations are just stunning. Retro bicycles everywhere, and replica hot air balloons... It's contagiously cheerful! I love how the place has been revamped, along with Gorky Park. There's now a reasonably-priced cafeteria on the third floor, and the people-watching is as fun as ever. 

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to snag complimentary VIP tickets for me and Katya to attend a small talk with Pixar's John Lassater... We definitely saw "Brave" yesterday with a different level of appreciation for what went into making the film!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"The Passenger from San Francisco"

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This evening Katya, her friend Spencer and I made our debuts as an officially paid actors; we did some voice-overs for a Russian-American film, "The Passenger from San Francisco"! It was SO much fun!

The kids were VERY excited beforehand; I took them out for some Italian while we waited for the studio to be ready for us. Since Spencer and his family are moving to England this summer, it was really nice that these two got to share a special experience before we all set off this summer.

The film is about a mafia war between the Russians and Americans, and Katya's character is shown in the trailer... She's a Russian-American girl who is kidnapped with her brother (me and Spencer). The kids are forced into drugs and we basically recorded their final scene when their father rescues them—but too late, since they're dying from pills they were told to take. Rather morbid, but the director was wonderful, and had the kids work in a way that they weren't scared.

We had to go to two studios—underneath the Olimpiskiy arena, and then next the British embassy. It was fun to do something different! The director was excited to meet us and is going to use us in the future!

The kids were really excited to each earn $50...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Random Time at the Park...

So... The babushki (grandmothers) put away their crocheting, only to whip out super-sized bottles of cheap beer... And then, of course, they smoked afterwards. Babushki, beer, butts... Don't think I'd really see that at a kids' park in the US or UK!

On the other side of the park were quite another group of babushki. If this were a US high school, the two above would be the quiet rebels... And this other clique? The "populars." They glided by us in a posse of five, stopping to sneer, "You're EATING without having washed your hands???!!!" in a VERY accusatory way to the girls—but truly to me.

We were eating our lunch in the park. Oh, horrors.

I should have been more polite, but I instantly replied, "Excuse me, but how do you know when our hands were last washed?"

She glared at me mockingly, and I bit, stating we'd washed right before getting in the car (uh, did we?) and then had used hand gel before eating (which we had).

She put us down again, and actually lifted her chin up with a little derision before muttering "Innostrantsi!" Foreigners. She then stalked away to another bench and plunked herself down with her minions. They kept giving us "looks" across the square... But, well, the girls didn't exactly conceal their own annoyance...

What's so frustrating about moments like this is that they are SO DARN RARE. Most people are incredibly kind, and I'm continuously surprised by how eager folks are to talk with a foreigner. They actually ask insightful questions and it's usually quite enjoyable! They're also usually so surprised and appreciate that we speak Russian—and even more blown away if they learn the girls are in a Russian school. Ignoramuses such as Babushka Bumkin above can just really catch you at the wrong time on the wrong day and really rain on your parade...

Last neat unexpected graffiti on the sidewalk? Evidently we have some vegan vandals. Wow, that even sounds impressive... "Beware of the..... Dah-dah-dah-dummm.....VEEEEGAN VAAAANDAL!"

In a mash-up of English and Russian, this soul professed his, or her, undying love for beans. Go figure!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Maria's Children in Colorado!

Anyone in the Boulder area...

Come meet Patch Adams, the famous physician who realized that laughter is sometimes the medicine patients need most—and founder of the Gesundheit! Institute, and Maria Yeliseyeva, the founder of Maria's Children, the wonderful organization based in Moscow that for 15 years has been helping orphans and children with special needs through art therapy.

The evening will be an art exhibition and live auction featuring works created by students from Maria's Children Art Center in Moscow. 

Saturday, May 12th at 6 p.m.
Hotel Boulderado Event Center
21115 13th Street
Boulder, CO

Admission is $50, and children under 12 are free. All proceeds go to the Maria's Children Art Center.

Please RSVP by May 8th to Maria Stepanyan:, 303-588-7094.

Please spread the word! I've been to the Patch Adams/Maria's Children auctions in Moscow for the past six years and the evening is unforgettable. You will be amazed by the masterpieces created by these children, so full of thankfulness and hope and featuring fantastical fairy-tale and Russian motifs. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Swan Lake at School

The 3rd and 4th Grade Drama Club put on Swan Lake today; they did such a great job! Natalia played the prince's mother and a swan sister. She LOVES theater!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Half Marathon in Siberia

I did it! I'll do a post as soon as I can with all my pictures, etc.! It was wonderful!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Lake

Here I am on the lake for the first time, assessing the conditions for the race on Saturday. 

I am SO thankful I have great ski goggles; it is beyond bright here. The sun reflects off of all the snow and it's blinding! 

The terrain varies: the ice can be glassy and bare, or it can be covered in snow. The snow is mostly lightly packed, and great for running—but it can also be wind-blown, and almost knee deep. If we have to run in deep areas of snow that aren't uniform in depth, the running will be exhausting and very hard on one's knees... We're simply aiming to finish and not hoping for any kind of race time.

The wind will be blowing throughout the race from north to south, while we'll run east to west. At least it won't be head-on! If only we could get some wind from beyond to help push us forward!

For as far you can see, it's just white... The finish line will be visible from the actual start line, but we'll have no sense of distance covered... That will be the hardest part. You just keep on going...

Here are some local kids on their "unique" playground!

Freezing—and Running!— for a Heart-Warming Cause! PLEASE HELP!

I went through with it, and I've arrived in Listvyanka, Siberia—where I'm running in the Ice (Half) Marathon across Lake Baikal!!! ( I first wrote about the marathon last July...) The lake is a truly awesome body of water—it holds around a fifth of the fresh water on the planet; is a kilometer and a half deep in places; and contains thousands of plants and animal species found nowhere else on earth.

Here I am, in green, with my friend who is also running.

You can find out more about the run and area by visiting the Ice Marathon website.

I'm hoping to raise some money for a wonderful US charity that helps Eastern European orphans. New Horizons for Children  helps older orphans to experience life in a loving family during summer and winter vacation home stays in the United States. I chose this charity because of what I've seen it do first-hand, forever changing lives for the better.

You can easily make a donation by visiting my fundraising website:

I personally know families who have hosted through New Horizons, and some have even adopted their sixteen-year-old summer guests! You can read more about my friend Rachael's experience with New Horizons—and as a new mom to sixteen-year-old Ukrainian-born Nick—at her blog ( 

He has fit right into the family, adored by his little brothers and sisters. 

Rachael, incidentally, got me both blogging, volunteering with Russian orphans, and running when we met in 2004... She was in Moscow waiting for her St. Petersburg-born six-year-old Katya's US passport... 

Here they were waiting to host Nick last summer...

...And here he is with his new family.

An orphan's wishes are simple - love, FAMILY, home, acceptance, HOPE. They are the most basic needs of the human spirit that every child should be entitled to. Unfortunately, for most orphans of poverty-stricken Eastern Europe, these simple wishes are far-fetched, impossible dreams. Most will have to scrap and scrape to make their way in this world - alone - and statistically the odds are not in their favor. At 16 or after 9th grade, they are turned out into the streets, with nothing but the clothes on their backs and little to no skills. Some sources say that only about 25-30% of Ukrainian orphanage graduates will go on to hold down a job or attend a trade school for more than a year. The rest fall prey to the streets: crime, drugs, prostitution. 10% will commit suicide by age 25.

Hosting gives them hope. A chance to experience and see firsthand what a family can be. A chance to know that somebody in this world cares about them. For some, hosting may be their one chance to meet their forever family and to be adopted. It's a chance to rewrite the whole rest of their story - to change their future. I greatly admire the work the charity has done and hope it can expand to reach more children.

I know many people ask for donations, but I'd be so grateful even for a tiny amount. Donating through is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with– they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to New Horizons. All money donated will go to provide scholarships to children hoping to be hosted—and we'll direct the funds to help Nick's best friends who have been left behind. This is their very last chance to find a family instead of ending up on the streets!

It costs $2,500 per child to host, and not all families can afford this cost, even though they yearn to open their homes to these children... I would be immensely grateful for anything you can donate!