30 December 2006

traffic calming & mountain roads

Wouldn't it be great if this last post of 2006 (well, probably the last post...who knows what inspiration tomorrow will bring?) ended with some good news about my adoption? Wouldn't it be fantastic to hear that all my documents were in and being translated in anticipation of being filed when the offices open again on 15 January?

Yeah, I think that would be great, too.

It would also be a big, fat lie. Nothing has been completed. This is not my fault. All of my work, save one document I've repeatedly asked for and not received help with, is finished --and has been for months. The facilitators for my agency are still making demands of my sw regarding the homestudy. They are still not answering questions I ask of them. I am very frustrated with them.

Last week I was really upset to think that 2006 would end without my papers being filed. I know 31 December is just an arbitrary date. I didn't even realize that I'd set it as a deadline in my head. But somehow...not filing by the end of the year was big.

I know, I believe, I am thankful for the fact that this adoption, like everything in my life, is planned for me. I know God's timing is not my timing. (Please--how many times have I had THAT lesson?) I believe that His plan is better for me than any plan I could devise for myself. (See previous parentheical remark.) I'm thankful that I have a loving Father who wants more that what is good for me, He wants what is best for me.

But, despite all that knowledge and sincere belief, I was still a little sad. That, too, passed and I'm now waiting again--and striving to do it as cheerfully and as patiently as I can. I'm trying my best to be thankful in all circumstances. I'm even thankful for the extra time it's taking for this to go through. It's not fun and it's not what I would choose, but, obviously, there is a reason for the delay. Either I'm not ready for her or she is not ready for me or there is some other reason that I cannot even begin to imagine that needs more time. Ripples. (Any Joan of Arcadia fans out there?)

So, the journey continues. In England there are signs that read "Traffic Calming" that come before speed bumps. When driving in the Rockies one encounters many twists and curves to keep drivers from going too fast. Slowly but surely, with twists and curves and traffic-calming speed bumps, I'm making my way through this. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Please stick around. I hear there's a beautiful sight at the finish that you've got to see.

2007 is the year of the pig. In elementary school we said "pig" stood for pretty, intelligent girls. Hmmm...sounds like my kind of year.

29 December 2006

maya padrooga, Dawn

In case she starts to chime in with her far greater first-knowledge of life in Russia (Well, former Soviet Union...though most here find the idea of Ukraine as a separate country preposterous. But, it's probably best not to tell them that.), I thought I'd show you who she is. These are pictures of her (on the left) and I in the Summer Garden last summer. These, I think, are the only pictures that both she and I would approve.




Can you tell which are the statues? We irritated the serious statue-lovers when we were doing this...



And, here's the Summer Garden now. All the statues have been boxed up. The un-boxing of the statues is as sure a sign of spring in St. P as robins and crocuses are in the US.

SNovim Godom

One of the boards I'm on asked for some more information about New Year's celebrations, particularly Dyed Moros. I thought some of you might find it interesting, too. (I'm hoping my friend Dawn, whom I'm not sure would appreciate being linked but I'll do it if she wants, will chime in here with her experiences living in Kyiv, Ukraine.)

So, we remember that the communists basically did away with Christmas and moved the celebration (tree, fireworks, Dyed Moros) to the non-religious holiday of New Year's. New Year's remains the big holiday in Russia.

Dyed Moros comes on New Year's Eve. He comes while the children are awake (parents arrange for someone to play Dyed Moros and give him the gift intended for the child/ren). After the child/ren recite and sing for him, Dyed Moros gives them their present.

[Dyed Moros came to our class at school. The children had to perform for him (they sang a song in Russian and a song in English), they joined hands and sang and danced in a circle (There is even a Russian word that means "to join hands and dance in a circle around the tree". My Russian teacher was not impressed that we didn't have a word for it in English. Somehow "encircle" didn't do it for her.). He asked if they had been good and then gave everyone an ice cream.]

Dyed Moros (and Putin's speech, special foods, etc.) all take place on the night of 31 December. They start eating at 11:00 p.m. to say goodbye to the old year, raise a toast beginning at the first stroke of midnight (after Putin's speech) while standing. Standing is very important but I don't know why. Then, they feast the rest of the night to welcome the new year.

My Russian friends are really looking forward to eating "holodyets"...which Dawn affectionately refers to as meat jello. It's layers of meat and veg in a garlic flavored gelatin. Marina likes to eat it over boiled potatoes. It's a BIG treat. Marina was telling me about how when she was little and lived in the village she would wake up FREEZING on the 31st because her mom had all the windows open to set the holodyets.

There are lots of "pies" eaten, too. They aren't made with pie crust, but with a sweet bread dough. They are filled with savory things like cabbage, chicken, meat or fish, or with sweet things like berries. (Chicken and rice is my favourite.)

Champagne and kissing at midnight! There are lots of fireworks (they've been going off for weeks now), too.

I'm not sure what I'll do for New Year's. Most of my friends are away--either in their homecountries or away at their dachas. A friend from the US will be coming back that night. There's a big party in Palace Square, but I've been advised to stay away. We'll see. I'm not really bothered. New Year's isn't really my holiday. Still, I'm looking forward to big events in 2007!

If I come across other interesting New Year's tidbits, I'll let you know.

inside shoes



Let's vote. Who thinks my friend Annette, who really likes handcrafts, should make me another pair or two or three of these slippers? Yes, she's busy planning a wedding, but I think it might help her to have something to do with her hands. ;> Motion carried!

I got these at Accessorize (and paid too much for them). I love how sweet and old-fashioned they are. Even the colour is old-fashioned. And, they're great to throw in my bag and take with me when I go visiting. That way I have a pair of indoor shoes always ready.

Actually, 'nette, d2b would probably love some, too. And they might be great gifts for the children's home...

28 December 2006

a good book

My Amazon package arrived today with two new adoption memoirs. One I was foolish when buying (self-published and poorly written; lacking depth and insight). But, the other--WOW!

The Waiting Child by Cindy Champnella is amazing. I cried repeatedly as I read it (and that's saying something). It's about a little girl who was adopted from China (my first foray into non-Russian adoption literature)and her love for another child in her orphanage that she, at the age of four, cared for and mothered. It's about her adjustment to her new family and new life in America. It's about her passion for giving "her baby" all that she had been given.

Aside from the amazing story, I found the insights into what an "older" child experiences very helpful. Those of you who adopted older children, I'd be curious to hear how her adjustment compared to your children's.

If you're looking for a feel-good tear-jerker, read this book and tell me what you think. (Did you know that women's tears contain endorphines and men's tears don't? Interesting, eh?)

26 December 2006

a better "B"

Books! I'd much rather here about everyone's book preferences than their beer preferences.

What was the best thing you read last year?

I have to say, I had a rotten year of reading. I read lots of adoption books, but they were homework. I re-read a lot of my favs--The Bridget Jones and Thursday Next books are always a safe bet and I can't go wrong with Austen or Shakespeare or Wodehouse. I re-read a lot of Russian authors... But the new books I bought (mostly when I was in England over the summer) were just rubbish. They were uninspired and uninspiring. The writing was weak. They just left me irritated that I'd wasted time, money and postage on them. And, this was the case with book after book after book.

So, help me out. I'm an avid reader. I enjoy a wide range of books--classics to chic lit, biographies and histories to mysteries, foreign translations to the backs of cereal boxes. Has anyone read anything clever recently?

I'm about to start David McCullough's 1776, which I'm sure will be brill, (he's another author I count on) but I'll need something for after. My friend Jen has sent me a load of paperbacks that I'm SO looking forward to getting! Talk about manna in the wilderness. What can you reccommend to keep me busy between 1776 and Jen's package?

(You know they say that your brain stagnates between the ages of 30 and 40. Do you really want the burden of adding to my mental stagnation?)

a-z

Or, since this was a tag by one of my British friends, I should say A-Zed.

A is for age: I am 37
B is for beer: I think it's nasty--smells bad, tastes worse
C is for career: Hmmm...I consider it a job and not a career. I am currently a teacher.
D is for my dog's name: Dog? No way.
E is for essential item used everyday: Angels on Bare Skin from LUSH
F is for favorite clour: charcoal grey followed closely by periwinkle...and the right shade of cranberry
G is for game: anything verbal or logical--especially if Nif and I are on the same team--or that I'm good at ;>
H is for hometown: Colorado Springs
I is for instruments I play: Still? Today? Nothing musical. (Though I have played piano, clarinet and French horn.) I'm a actor--my body is my instrument. ;>
J is for favorite juice: Tropicana no-pulp orange or cranberry
K is for who's butt I'd like to kick: I'm really opposed to violence.
L is for last place I ate: The Truesdale's--a family who had me over for Christmas
M is for marriage: Not yet. (Which one of you smug-marrieds came up with this for "M"? I'm contacting my singleton's-rights attorney.)
N is for my name: Kate
O is for overnight hospital stays: Nope.
P is for people I was with today: Today? No one. Loafed around at home.
Q is for quote: Today? "I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances." --Martha Washington
R is for biggest regret: Regrettably for those with inquiring minds, I will not share that with you.
S is for sport: to watch--American football
T is for travelled to: England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia (when it was Czechoslovakia), Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and across the USA
U is for current underwear: Yes. (What is this supposed to be?)
V is for vegetable I adore: cold, steamed asparagus in soy sauce
W is for wish: fervently
X is for x-rays I have had: foot x-rays to locate glass (exciting)
Y is for youthful ambition not fulfilled: to be an astronaut and own a lion
Z is for zodiac: Rubbish. (And believing that is, apparently, a characteristic of my "star sign". Go on--guess.)

Since this may not be everyone's cuppa, and many of you are busy during the hols, I'll just leave an open tag--copy and reveal all in your blog if you're so inclined! C'mon--play!

24 December 2006

Happy Christmas. And ducks.

Wishing you all a blessed, joyful, magical Christmas!








This is a photo from last year when we had snow in December...
















...as opposed to this year when we have, well, ducks.





Benjabug and Lizzie-bee, your Auntie Kate is MISSING you and sending you great big hugs, sloppy kisses, silly giggles and lots of love. xoxo

secret dyed moros

This is a Christmas present for someone I don't know. If you're adopting a little boy (I'd guess he was three) from the Leningrad region who has crossed eyes, this present might be for you.

I saw your son last week. He was busy and happy. I came bearing gifts collected from my students. My students had wrapped them and put a sticker on them with a picture of either a girl or a boy. Your son managed to get a present away from one of the little girls. It had a little doll and a wand with a star on the top inside plastic packaging. Your son was intrigued and took the package from person to person asking them to open it. The caregivers told him it was for a girl and tried to discourage him. When he brought it to me, I pressed a button through the packaging and the star lit up. He was entranced! He continued to walk around pushing the button, watching the lights and then pressing his ear to the package to listen to the song it played. He was having a great time. The caretakers were concerned that it was a girl's present. So, they offered him a car instead. His eyes grew even bigger and he readily made the trade. He was so happy!

I just wanted you to know that he is doing well. He is happy and well-cared for. And, if you can find a wand that lights up, I'm sure he'd love that, too!

Merry Christmas,
Kate

23 December 2006

holiday lights

Edited to add pictures!

My sister, Amy, loves to drive around and look at Christmas lights. I thought I should post some here for you to see. I will, I promise, but first some musings on Christmas in Russia. While we do have holiday lights, and they are festive, they aren't Christmas lights. We look more like we're in a casino than a winter wonderland. Everything flashes.

I continue to be astounded at how thoroughly the communist government did away with Christmas. I think my opionions on life under communist rule were formed in junior high. That's when I first became fascinated with Russia. Reading Anna Anderson's life story started me reading about the Romanovs. And from there I just kept going.

When did the Sting song come out? It did capture how we felt. We were at the end of the cold war, convinced there was common ground between us and them. But, I think I created more common ground ideologically than there actually was. I put together my own personal inclinations with a heavy dose of American spirit and a dash of Nazi resistance from WWII (another big interest of mine in those days) and created a picture of what I thought life must be like in the Soviet Union.

I didn't think that anyone could actually believe in communism. (Sure, it's great in principle, but since it's executed by imperfect people, it will never work.) I thought people in Soviet Russia knew that and were just playing the game. I thought that agreeing with the government was just self-preservation. I thought people were worshipping in secret. I thought that when the Iron Curtain fell, people would rush to embrace their new-found freedom.

Some of this may be true. But, much of it was not. I remember being on a trip with a girl from China while we were in college who really believed in communism. This blew my mind! And, living here with people who grew up under communism, I 'm astounded by the world view that they have. All of the people who are in power now grew up in Soviet Russia. And, they were the ones who were most strongly inculcated in those beliefs. They didn't know anything different. They had never experienced anything else.

This world view strikes home in many ways, but the lack of Chirstmas makes a huge impression on me. Russian friends tell me often that Christmas is not an important holiday in Russia--that new year's is. And, everytime they tell me, I expect a wink. But I don't get it. Sadly, Christmas really and truly isn't important here. There is no rejoicing for the birth of Christ. There is no wonder, no awe, no peace.

I said when I first came that St. Petersburg reminded me of a gracious lady waking from a long nap with her attendants scurrying around to make her ready for a grand dinner. During the holiday season that gracious lady is nowhere to be seen. The city is all tarted up in a too-tight dress and too-bright lipstick, staggering around on stilettos with a bottle waving in her hand.

This is Nevsky Prospekt. Has anyone read the Gogol story about this street? I avoid Nevsky whenever possible--both on foot and in the car. It's too busy. It's hard to see the lights in this one but they're there.

More lights...but aren't the uplights on the building the prettiest part? St. P looks like a giant music box all winter with these lights on.



That's the Admiralty in the background.



For Tracy, here's Snegoritchka...



...and Dyed Moros..
.
...in the car park in in front of St. Isaac's. (St. Isaac's was the domed cathedral in the last two pictures. I couldn't get a picture of the front of them with St. I's because of all the cars.)



The Hermitage on a misty night. They have the same tree and Dyed Moros that we saw by St. Isaac's in Palace Square. They're also setting up a big sound stage for new year's.



A close-up of the lovely (sarc) decorations adorning the Hermitage.


New Year's lights in front of Peter and Paul fortress (sorry for the blur--night setting)...

...and on a government building. (I don't know what they do there...no one I ask knows.)

21 December 2006

the newest grinch

Cast:

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small--Kate
The Grinch--the USPO/APO

Location:
St. Petersburg, Russia

Synopsis:

Much like the original, the "grinch" will attempt to stop Christmas from coming by equating Christmas with presents. In a new twist, rather than stealing the gifts, this grinch will simply not deliver them. The Whos (played convincingly by Kate, though "the tall" was a bit of an acting stretch) must thwart the grinch's plan by celebrating with a joyful heart. Thus, the grinch will learn that Christmas came "without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" and will realize that Christmas "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

**It was felt that the plot as it stands would be too harsh for our targeted audience who could suffer extreme distress at the thought of Kate with nothing to open on Christmas morning. So, Kate will be allowed two Christmas cards. And, in accordance with current animal safety regulations, there will be no dog with reindeer horns tied to his head dangling from a cliff. Instead, a torti-cat will sleep on the couch.

Realizing his error, and that "He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other it came just the same!" the grinch will then deliver the generous gifts of Kate's friends and family over the coming weeks--effectively extending Christmas rather than eliminating it.

I know the senders of parcels are more upset than I am that they didn't arrive. I don't mind being a Who this Christmas. But, I do draw the line at roast beast. ;>

carrie's queries

Carrie started her adoption journey just before I did. We were both headed to Russia, but she's made a detour and is now waiting to bring Baby Grace home from Guatemala.

Carrie asked if I'd been to the figure skating championships that I mentioned earlier. (Remember when they were throwing pigs?) I did. After last year's phenominal Olympic figure skating tour, I was really excited.

This competition was not as interesting on the ice (Where are all the American skaters? Who are these people?), but the experience was great. Remember the big judging scandal of a few years back? Blocks of judges were scoring their friends more leniently than others. Well, the Russians certainly cheer this way! The few Russian skaters got HUGE applause (only natural), Chinese skaters got big applause, Hungarian and Bulgarian skaters got applause. The rest of us...not so much.

If a skater was not in the friends group, they could still earn some applause if they were really good. Once a skater made a mistake, however, all applause stopped--no matter how strong the performance after the mistake. There was certainly no cheering for the underdog or encouraging a struggling skater to overcome. While "really good" skaters could earn applause, excellent skates could not. When the Canadian dance team (who were excellent) scored tops--beating "friends" they were given the cold shoulder. No applause.

There was a group of children sitting in the balcony across the rink from me. They broke all the cheering rules. They would chant, "Mal-la-dyets!" whenever they felt like it. Sometimes it was for the skaters. Sometimes it was to hear themselves chant. I was surprised at the loudest cheer-ers. It was the Japanese! Not only did they applaud and cheer, they gave lengthy dissertations to the skaters.

Our only-in-st.p moment came when they announced that the competition would be delayed because two of the skaters were stuck in traffic.

While she's waiting, Carrie has been indulging in some serious retail therapy. She's asked all PAP's (pre/prospective adoptive parents) to post four pictures of previously unposted purchases. (I think it will make her feel better to see that others are indulging in the same therapy.) So...here are some clothes that are filling the closet. You can see that they're in a variety of sizes. (These are more interesting than the socks and tights and underwear.) They're photographed on another d2b (but previously posted) purchase.


I love this little black dress. I have one for myself. (Mine is a little bit bigger...) I have this in three little girl sizes, too. (What if I do adopt sisters? I needed it in three sizes.)


Isn't this georgous? Ask Juls--it's even better in person.


This little star dress is another one I have in two sizes. It's probably my favourite.


And, a pair of Gap jeans (We could use some plain ones, outlet-shopper-friends--Kerry, once we know what size, you'll have to do a shop for me!) that were another eBay purchase. Some days I like them, some days I don't... They're actually better than they look in this photo. There are more green leaves further down the leg--hence the green tee-shirt.

So, I'm passing the baton. Anyone else want to share what they've bought while they're waiting?

19 December 2006

popcorn

Here's a quickie to see if we can get our lurkers to comment...

In addition to an oral and a written tradition, a visual tradition of storytelling has evolved over the last 100 years or so. I'm a firm believer in the importance of storytelling of all types. It seems that the holidays bring out the need we have for the re-telling of favourite stories.

So, what holiday movies do you watch every year?

I watch It's a Wonderful Life, the old Miracle on 34th Street, Meet Me in St. Louis (not exactly a Christmas movie, but...) and the animated Grinch every year. This year I finally tracked down Animaniacs Hellooooo, Holidays and am looking forward to seeing it again. (Don't judge--I also used to watch two Santa Barbara episodes I loved with the cast acting out the nativity story while Brandon was is a coma, Mason & Julia reunited and Cruz & Eden playing Santa by going into homes through the television set--not everyone has a chimney these days--annually, but in my many moves it's been lost.)

Edited to add: Humph. Hellooooo, Holidays didn't contain the song I wanted. BUT this is the youtube link for it... Even that's missing a verse. It should have "A B C, D E F G, H I J K M N, O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z No L, No L..."

18 December 2006

snegoritchka

It snowed today! We haven't had snow in ages. And, while I was excited to see some fat, fluffy flakes drifting down, I wouldn't have minded if they'd waited until tomorrow.

I woke up early after a day of washing clothes and stuffed animals and wrapping them. (This got me my wrapping fix for the year. I wasn't able to wrap my Christmas prezzies this year as they were traveling to the US via a friend's luggage.) I thought I'd dash to school for my camera, fill the car up with gas and then have a leisurely morning wrapping the animals that had been drying on the radiators overnight. WRONG! I got to the car and the alarm was going off. This is the same alarm that hasn't worked in months--since my last meeting with the MOE committee when I found my car's battery dead. Yep--dead battery today.

I walked to school, eventually got a jump sorted out and was on the way to pick up Valentina by 11:30 a.m. She, it turns out, actually works for a Lutheran missions group. She provides medicine, shampoo, diapers, etc. to several Leningrad region orphanages. She took me to one of "her" orphanages (Her proprietary manner made me erroneously assume she was a government employee.) to deliver toys and clothes our AASSP students had donated.

Our drive was made more exciting by the fact that my wipers didn't work. Snow, slush, trucks headed to and from Moscow and no wipers.

When we arrived, everything was quiet. The children were resting after school. (It was about 2:30). But, we needed help unloading the car. Five, grinning boys tumbled out of their room and scampered into shoes and coats. They were so excited to see Valentina! These boys were just about the most precious thing you've ever seen.

We were told that the girls were all sleeping, but they soon joined in the unloading. When the car was empty, I was taken from groupa to groupa. I heard a young music class sing and a school-aged class recite. The children were all given gifts, but didn't open them. The little ones (aged 1 1/2-4) did! They were fascinated by my camera and wanted to see themselves on the screen. When asked to recite a poem about Dyed Moros (Grandfather Frost--similar to Santa Claus) a four-year-old refused saying Dyed Moros wasn't there. Valentina told him I was just like Snegoritchka (the snow maiden--granddaughter and helper of Dyed Moros). He then recited happily. Two of the little boys in this groupa are in the process of being internationally adopted.

Impressions? Well, this was a small dyetsky dom. About 30 children live here. The staff were warm and flexible. No one seemed to mind interrupting their schedule to let me come in. They were kind and affectionate with the children. They were proud of them. I was a little surprised by all of this--and relieved. It was a really nice atmosphere. The children seemed generally happy, well-fed and healthy.

The shame is that this facility will soon be closed. A new dyetsky dom is being built and two current facilities will join together. There will be nearly 150 children. Some staff may go with the children, but many will not. I think it's a shame.

I was surprised at who I was most taken with. The school-aged boys really tugged at me today. Maybe that's because I let them, knowing they were not on my I-171H. But, they really were so cute--like a bushel basket of golden retriever puppies. There were many more boys in this home than girls.

Valentina told me that all of the school-aged girls had been "adopted" by Russian families and then returned. She said this is quite common. She said that Russians who adopt want a child who is perfect--a credit and a source of pride and bragging rights. She says Americans are concerned with the life of the child, but that Russians are not. She said that many orphanage directors do not want to adopt children into Russian families. Now, the directors have NO say over policy. But, I thought it was interesting to hear. It also made me wonder if perhaps this attitude has something to do with the age-old Russian attitude that people are expendable. Think of the tsars and their campaigns. They may not have had weapons, but they did have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people. People were expendable. Is that same attitude what makes it possible to return a child you've adopted in a nation where it's impossible to return an incompatible computer keyboard? Things can't be returned here, but children can.

We gave a worker a ride back to the city. She makes 6000 roubles a month because she has advanced degrees. That's about $240. She said she stays there because she is provided with living accommodations. She shares a communal flat with, according to her description, an alcoholic who drinks the utility bill money. She is not planning on going to the new, bigger dvetsky dom. Workers without advanced degrees start at salaries of 2200 roubles--$90-- a month.

I was really smitten with the school-aged children. I couldn't help my mind racing ahead to the day when I'd quit my job, live in the dvetsky dom and teach those children. Never mind that I don't speak Russian and wouldn't make any money. Mentally, instantly, I was THERE.

I really do need to learn more Russian. Lessons are scheduled for three times a week after the hols.

In all, it was a good day. And, since I came with the snow (sneg) bearing gifts, it didn't seem like such a stretch to the little ones that I was Snegoritchka. I hope I brought a little bit of joy with me today, too.

17 December 2006

pigs

I'm wondering if this is a St. Petersburg craze, or if pigs are taking over the world. In the last week I've seeing pigs everywhere. Children are wearing hats that look like pigs. (The hats are cute...but why pigs?) Stuffed pigs were not only a huge hit at our White Elephant Gift Exchange, but gifts of stuffed pigs were also tossed to the skaters at the Grand Prix International Figure Skating Finals. Calendar choices for 2007 are kittens, puppies or pigs. What's up with this? Anyone else noticing an uprising in the popularity of swine?

16 December 2006

Monday's trip

Our trip to the orphanage is scheduled for Monday. I'm amazed at how well this has worked out to calm my fears. (And people wonder how I can believe that my steps are planned.) In the very best of all arrangements, I'm going to a children's home that is outside of the city--so far outside that I have to get permission to travel there. I was a little concerned when a surprised volunteer told me that this home has been closed for ages due to Hep A, but all seems to be well now.

How did we arrange this visit? Well, first I asked my agency and my facilitators if they had children's home that were in need of donations of gently-used clothing and new toys. I didn't receive an answer from either. So, a parent at school put me in touch with a woman who seems to be an overseer for many children's homes in the area. I'm looking forward to hearing more of her story.

Because this is so far outside of the city and is not connected to my agency, it has relieved my romantic mind. It is VERY unlikely that my d2b is waiting there. This helps. I won't be searching little faces wondering. I won't be hoping. I think I'll be able to do what Debbie suggested--to just enjoy my time there. I'll tell you more after the fact.

11 December 2006

political corruption

I'm the faculty advisor for the lower school student council this year. We meet very earnestly twice a month and decide on spirit days, school projects, etc. We're also supposed to be focusing on leading by example...but that's gotten forgotten of late. Because they are primary students, it's up to me to suggest projects. So, guess what we just did. (BTW--a major pet peeve is having a "guess" statement punctuated by a question mark. I'm not asking you to guess, I'm telling you to guess. If'd I'd said, "Can you guess what we did?" then it would get a question mark. Sorry. Digression. Had to be done.)

We held a used-clothing and new-toy drive to help local children's homes! We collected lots of clothing. I was disappointed by the amount of new toys we received, but we did receive some. Later this week we'll wrap the toys and load everything into the back of my car. I'll drive the donations out to the children's home on Saturday.

I'm a little nervous. I haven't done any volunteering with local orphans because I thought it would break my heart. How could I go amongst these children and not fall a little in love? I have a very susceptible heart--which leads to much heart-breakage and deep, purple bruising. And, believe me, when it comes to these injuries I'm a s-l-o-w healer. I just didn't think it was smart for me or fair to d2b for me to go and fall in love with other orphan children. But, the children's home who will be receiving our donations asked me to deliver, so deliver I shall. When I find out which dom it is, I'll let you know. And, of course I'll post more about the delivery itself.

One other abuse of power (Okay, it's not really abuse. It's just influencing the student council. Do you know what they call lobbyists in the UK? Pressure groups. I'm a pressure group all on my own.) resulted in last Friday being Read-and-Relax Day. Was I glad! We had conferences on Monday and Tuesday night after teaching all day, had a dinner on Wednesday with the big boss from Moscow, and stayed at school until 8:30 p.m. painting the bathrooms on Thursday (mine looks great--I'll take pix.). On Friday we NEEDED a little R 'n' R. It was a great relief to come to school in my jammies and read all day long. Even so, I left school about 45 minutes early with a migraine looming. Some medication and 23 hours of sleep helped tremendously! We had our Christmas party Saturday night. For a homebunny (so much nicer than a homebody) like me, that's WAY too much command socializing for one week. My union rep (well, it's just my friend Kat) laughed at that complaint, but admitted the legitimacy of it and took it under advisement. ;>

That's all for now. We're counting down the days until Christmas break (FOUR!!). Then, I'll have time to live the life of a person again and not that of a teacher. Look forward to more pithy posts (Posts that are more pithy than this, not this is a pithy post and there will be more. Eegad, no.) soon...

08 December 2006

Спасибо!

A big thank you go my blogpal! Today, I received a package with American goodies--instant oatmeal, spices and sauce mixes and some JIF!!! Manna from Heaven. ;>

05 December 2006

we need a little Christmas

My friend Kat and I have been singing that song this week. Truly, we are in need of a little Christmas NOW!

I went into her classroom this morning to give her some Christmas cd's (Amy Grant and Barenaked Ladies). I mentioned being so excited yesterday on the walk home to see Christmas lights--well, a Christmas light. She said she'd been equally gobsmacked when she'd encountered this glimmer of holiday spirit. This started us giggling about going to see all the Christmas light in St. Petersburg. We decided to stand under the light (which is decidedly un-Christmasy but is still a light that is not usually there--so it counts) and sing a Christmas carol. We were howling and crying at the absurd picture we'd present. It was a nice way to start the morning.



Here is the Christmas light. Note the warning sign to the right. If you drive straight ahead, you will fall into the river.

This was our sky on Friday morning at about 9:30 a.m. My class was enchanted! In the time it took for me to grab my camera, it changed. But, for a few minutes we had a pink sky with purple clouds. We wondered aloud if we were to paint a realistic picture of that sky if anyone would believe us. We decided they wouldn't. So, for the scoffers of skies that aren't blue, here's the closest we could get to securing proof of an alernate colour palate. I wish you could've seen it in all it's glory!



Wishing you a day filled with the wonder of the unexpected!
Kate

03 December 2006

grumbling

Warning: post is about church and written by an unhappy bunny.

I am so homesick for my church in Tennessee. I think it is especially hard to be in unfamiliar churches at Christmas and Easter when I'm longing for familiar hymns and readings. I can put up with the unfamiliar the rest of the year, singing and reading on my own, but the holidays are different. And, as advent begins, I'm feeling low.

What would I love? A vital, warm, alive Reformed Presbyterian church with lots of hymns sung loudly and joyfully by the congregation. Here are my choices of churches in St. Petersburg that have services in English:

Church 1 is a Charismatic Church with a congregation of about eight. My little Presbyterian self was not exactly comfortable and I sat with hands down and nary an "amen" crossing my lips. And, in a congregation of eight, I felt very conspicuous. The people were nice, but this was not the right church for me.

Church 2 is a Calvary Chapel Church (I don't know exactly what denomination they are...are they a denomination unto themselves?). It's a 45 minute walk from home. The service is in Russian with the sermon translated into English. There are no hymns--only unfamiliar praise songs sung in Russian. It's a very alive church. It's also a very student-oriented church. I like this church, but long for the chance to sing!

Church 3 is an Anglican Church. It's a ten-minute walk from my house. I'm not Anglican--I don't like reading church. But, the service, after two years in England, is somewhat familiar. It's a rather...staid church.

That's it. (Makes you look spoiled for choice back in the US, eh? Count your blessings!) I go to both church 2 & 3. This year, feeling I needed to just make a choice and attend one church, I've been at the Anglican Church most. I get frustrated, though, and am so homesick each Sunday for my church. You'd think that my years in Enland and my year and a half at the C of E Church here would have made the C of E service...comfortable, but this is not the case.

Besides my dislike of "reading church", the hymns are a source of constant frustration for me. No offense, my C of E friends, but I think the hymns are mournful and unmelodic. AND the hymnals (newly purchased) have only lyrics and NO music!! How does this help? Every once and awhile (today included--Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus) a familiar hymn will get my hopes up, only to have them dashed yet again as the familiar words are set to unfamiliar...music. (I can't really call them melodies or tunes.)

I also have lyric issues. I know that Jesus was sent to Earth to pay for our sins. I know that. I know that even as He was born, his death--for me and my sins--was pre-ordained. I know that. I believe that. But, I don't really want to sing about it at Christmas. Maybe I'm frivolous or shallow, but at Christmas I want to revel in the magic and the mystery. I want to be Mary holding an amazing miracle in my arms. I want to be a shepherd worshiping in awe and simple belief. I want to be in the party of the Wise Men present my best gifts and misleading Herod. I want to sing and rejoice and revel.

Check out this verse from one of today's hymns:

"Men scorn thy sacred name, and wolves devour thy fold,
By many deeds of shame, we learn that love grows cold."

That was from a song about why we need Christ. I agree. But, as is the case with many C of E hymns I've sung, the whole hymn is about the terrible state of the world and never gets to the joy.

But, even though I didn't return with a light and joyful heart, I went to church. I was obedient. I took communion and knew that my I was in communion with members of my church back home and believers worldwide. I just wish I were home singing along with you.

25 November 2006

mind your language

I don't footnote. Neither in my writings nor in my little brain do I include source information. This is either very trusting (of course people are telling me the truth), very arrogant (of course I can decide what is true or not) or very...integrated (I read it and now it's mine). I take in new information, decide if it's keep-worthy, and then store or discard it without keeping the source information in most cases. This means that I am a goldmine of information that I cannot support. The self-dubbed "language folders" mentioned below are an excellent example of this lack of source information. Know that this has proven itself through my filters and personal experience, and then decide its validity for yourself. Or, if you're that sort of person, you can research it for yourself. (Tell me if you find the source and I'll try to remember.)

I learned somewhere that our brains basically have two language folders--one for your first language and one for all the rest. Did I find this to be true in France! While I knew my little bit of French (one quarter in junior high and various life experiences ranging from travel to friends to reading "A Year in Provence") long before I learned my little bit of Russian, when I was in Nice the first language out of my mouth was Russian. Even "oui" came out "da" unless I really thought about it. This made my haircut (yep--back to that bob I seem to sport more often than not) an interesting experience. Fortunately, the kind hairdresser took pity on me and lost his irritaion when I explained that I lived in Russia. It seems that my brain just clicked on the foreign language folder and pulled out words at random--Russian, French, Italian, Spanish... It was a bizarre situation. (My haircut, however, is a great success.)

My other recent language experience came when we went to pick up the Thanksgiving turkeys. Our secretary at school had ordered them. She even wrote out a note for me. I, of course, wanted to be able to ASK for them instead of just handing over a note. I was assured that the entire butchery staff knew who we were, remembered us from last year, and were fascinated with our needing turkey to celebrate an American holiday.

I did not find this to be the case. The Russian word for "turkey" is not one I use often. There is never any turkey to buy or discuss! But, I'd looked it up and thought I remembered it. I approached the first girl, told her I was from the Anglo-American School and that there were two turkeys for us. She had no idea what I meant. Doubting my Russian "turkey" (and without my dictionary, nach) I told her that I didn't know the word "turkey" but that there were two large...chickens, birds waiting for us. She knew nothing and sent me to devochka 2. Same reaction--didn't know us, didn't know about the birds. I pull out the note. Still no sign of recognition. I am sent to devochka 3. She tells me there are no turkeys. I tell her there are; there are two turkeys/big chickens/birds. She says there are no turkeys. I cannot have turkey. I tell her I know there are turkeys, that we telephoned and the turkeys are here. She wants to know when we telephoned. I tell her we telephoned yesterday. She tells me that yesterday is not today. Today there are no turkeys. Devochka 4 comes us and says good morning. (At 7 p.m. I'll take any English I can get.) I repeat my speil about telephones, two turkeys and the AAS. I give her my note. She disappears and comes back...with ONE turkey. I tell her there are TWO turkeys. A butcher man from the back comes out and debates with her, me, and the third girl. I insist on two turkeys, that TWO turkeys are reserved for us. Finally, a second turkey is produced. It's bigger than we requested, and might not fit in the oven for which it's intended, but I'm just happy to have it.

The next morning there is a cross message on the school answering machine asking why we have not collected our turkeys. I don't know whose turrkeys we were given, but I'm very thankful we have them!

I'm cooking mine today and am putting up my Christmas things. I don't like decorations on a tree--just lights and an angel on top--so I'm just decking the bookshelves with the creche and angels and Santas that I've been given over the years, and the Dyed Moros (Grandfather Frost) I bought last year. I'm hanging baubles from red, white and green ribbons on my living room wall. I've got flashy Russian lights (no plain white available here) to put around the room. Then, with cinnamon candles and gingerbread cookies, I'll be all set for Christmas.

As we segue from one celebration to the next, I'm hoping to have one more reason to celebrate. Once my guardian letter is in (the agency wants a re-write) and my social worker makes changes to my homestudy, we can celebrate the registering of my dossier! I'm REALLY hoping this celebration comes before Christmas. I'll let you know so we can all celebrate together!

22 November 2006

NICE Thanksgiving

Sorry to have been so neglectful of my readers and fellow bloggers. I spent the last few days enjoying the sunshine, walking along a rocky beach, eating croissants, browing through shops in winding lanes... Sound like an idyll that is inconguous with this blog's address? It was. But it was very Nice--Nice, France. And yes, Nice was nice. (That statement gets a big giggle in second grade--especially when teamed with "My niece is nice.".) I even replaced the tea towel I burned a few posts ago.

Now I'm getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with my class once again. Tomorrow evening I'll spend it with other American ex-pats. We've even got a skipe(sp?) box so that we can watch the parade. I'm not a parade-watcher, but this sounds like a lovely way to spend an evening.

I think that our bodies are conditioned to rest not only based on circadian rhythms, but also on an annual, cultural cycle. All the Americans are tired right now. Our inner clocks know, even if the world around us doesn't, that it's time to take some time out, to relax with friends and be thankful. Since we'll only have the opportunity to do the last bit, we'd better REALLY be thankful. I love Thanksgiving. This is a holiday I look forward to all year--maybe even more than Christmas.

I listened to my class buzzing with excitement as they prepared to celebrate their first Thanksgiving (a seasoned few are celebrating their second Thanksgiving and my US student is regarded with the awe rightly due her expertise on this holiday), and decided I don't really mind being in school tomorrow. We learned about the Pilgrims today. We learned about how these first European-Americans weren't satisfied with the status quo. We learned how they searched for alternatives, didn't find what they wanted in Holland, and then took a huge risk and jumped in whole-heartedly. We learned about their courage, their determination, their resourcfulness, their faithfulness, their ingenuity and their diligence. We learned aobut their grateful hearts and their celebrations with friends new and old. I think that sums up the American spirit and is what makes Thanksgiving a uniquely American holiday--not the football and the parades and the turkey.

So, friends--new, old and virtual, happy Thanksgiving.

13 November 2006

what's in your wallet?

A young blogger-friend (who asked to remain nameless and linkless because our "blog circles don't exactly overlap") tagged me to list the contents of my handbag.

I actually carry a brown leather backpack with me back and forth to school, the shops, etc. because I ALWAYS have something to carry. Inside it there is:

my wallet (has my kartooshka, a copy of my passport, ATM card, Maestro card, 648 rubles, 2.02 GBP and Oкие card)
way cool stripy notebook from Paperchase
my LUSH purchase--Angels on Bare Skin, Imperialis and Marilyn
brownie recipe I brought to school for a pregnant ex-pat
"The Eyre Affair" which I'd loaned to a friend and wanted back for the plane ride later this week to NICE!!!
hairbrush that I've been meaning to leave at school for the last two weeks
sunglasses
mobile (turned off)
BLUE ink pen
lip stuff--Burt's Bees, Clinique lipstick, blistix, some Belgian stuff and a Cliniqe lipgloss that was free and too goopy to use
Wendy's acorn necklace from "Peter Pan"

Not terribly exciting...for the second post in a row!! So, to those loyal reader who managed to comment on a burnt tea towel...

Lauri, Carrie, Suz--what secret mysteries are filling YOUR handbags? (Please tag three others when you're through. And, since OUR blog circles DO overlap, feel free to link back to mine.)

Kate

11 November 2006

where there's smoke

I discovered this week that my flat has no smoke detectors. Huh.

Last night, while I was putting on the remains of a tomato and ground chicken pasta sauce to heat, I nudged the pan of brownies out of the way. (A student was moving to Switzerland and we had brownies to say goodbye. There were three left...) The pan was covered with a tea towel, aluminum foil and saran wrap being luxury items here.

I love things with a history. My sugar bowl is art decco. My tablecloth is from a Christmas in Kiev. I have bits of Broadway and Palace Square as paperweights and coasters. My dishtowels are vintage--and so soft from years of washing. The cotton feels like silk, but they're still a nice weight. They're a cheerful, homey, familiar touch in my kitchen-that-is-not-mine.

The newest bit of tea towel history--my favorite blue checked one has, as you've guessed by the brilliant foreshadowing, literally, gone up in smoke. I even remember thinking when I turned on the gas under the pasta sauce that the brownies were a little close to the flame. I just didn't nudge them far enough. Was it laziness or overconfidence that had me nudging instead of putting them on top of the microwave? Not sure. Perhaps both.

Obviously, as this is a post about tea towels, there's not much new to report here. Go ahead--make me feel better by offering a pithy comment on THIS one! ;>

05 November 2006

Did you know...

...that elephants in South Africa are being trained to track poachers? They have an incredible sense of smell and can track a person even through two feet of running water! Sounds like poetic justice to me.

...that "sleep tight" is a reference to the ropes that supported mattresses back in the olden days?

...that only two dozen people in Russia accounted for 70% of Russia's Gross Domestic Product?


...that my blogpal sent me a note? Thanks for thinking of me. ;>

03 November 2006

xyz pdq

Growing up, I really like taking standarized tests. Give me a number 2 pencil and let me start bubbling in! It was a game. I wanted to beat the tests, to outsmart them.

SAT's? No problem. I took them my sophomore year and scored high enough to be a National Merit Scholar Finalist. I had a good book with me that I'd just started and quickly went through each section so that I could get back to my book. Maybe I should've taken them again...

I don't mind doing my taxes. I simply follow the directions and fill in the boxes.

I know. People tell me all the time that I am sick.

I thought, being afflicted with this sickness, that filling out the adoption paperwork would be a breeze--even enjoyable. The list looke so much shorter than I'd imagined when people talked about all the paperwork involved. I thought that ticking off the list of needed documents would bring great--and quick--joy.

Nope.

Part of the problem is that the directions don't apply to me. I'm a good direction-follower. But, living here, I cannot simply get everything notarized and apostilled. Granted, that's a pain (and can be expensive) but it's not even an option here. So, I'm left negotiating solutions and trying to find the right directions to follow. Those directions change OFTEN.

I think the trick is to keep asking until you get the answer you want and then do that. This theory works well in other bureaucratic situations. I'm hoping it works here, too.

Have I shared this before? (Sorry if it's a repeat. My oral anecdotes, e-mails and blogs are all blurring...)

A typical conversation regarding my paperwork:

You must have x.
I don't have x.
You must. You must give us x.
I can't. I don't have x. It is not possible to give you x.
You must. You must provide x. It is the only way.
But, there is no x. I cannot give you x.
Then we cannot proceed. You must have x.
But I don't have x.
You must. You must give us x. Or y.

This conversation can take days, weeks, months to get to y --which is usually much easier to do/get than x was.

Recently, after I'd gotten everything for y, I was told I didn't need x or y. I needed z. Deep breaths. So now I'm hunting for zed--which is strangely snipe-like.

I'm still hoping to be all xyz'd pretty darn quick.

30 October 2006

behind the times

It's snowing! On Saturday it was raining and sleeting but just wasn't quite cold enough to snow. Now, outside my window, there is a real, proper snow.

That seems to mark the official end of autumn and the start of winter. Growing up in Colorado we always had snow from Halloween to Easter--you had to have a warm costume and a warm Easter dress. So, the snow seems to have come at just the right time.

Of course, I never got around to showing you St. P in it's autumn glory. We have a very short autumn here. Still, I love to see the trees turning colours. This is The Summer Garden as seen from the Field of Mars. While it's lovely and shady and restful in the summer, I think it's more beautiful in the autumn.

There's also a shot of a wedding party and some military students gathered near the eternal flame. (This is also where the homeless--but Russia doesn't have homeless people--gather; especially in winter.)If you've been to Russia, you've no doubt seen the bridal parties making the rounds of famous landmarks to have their photos taken. Friends here say it's exhausting and takes all day.

Lastly, here is a little boy out learning to ride his bike in the Field of Mars.

On an unrealted note, I got pulled over today for making an illegal left turn. (How was I supposed to know? Granted, most left turns are illegal...) Getting stopped was surprising because the red plates generally keep me safe. When the policeman came to my window, I pretended not to speak any Russian (not difficult) and Kat later laughed at how STRONG my American accent got when I said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian." After handing over lots of papers I found my "magic card". Our art teacher, who is Belgian, covets this card tremendously. It's a little laminated card that says, in Russian on one side and English on the other, that the US and Russia have a reciprocal agreement for diplomats to not pay any fines on the spot (read: bribes). Instead, all violations should be written up, etc. etc. The policeman was not very happy. And, after pulling a face and saying, "Da" he left. It's nice to know the magic card works!

27 October 2006

no blogroll?

To all my bloggy friends:

Thank you so much for including me on your blog rolls! It makes me feel great when I see this blog listed there.

More posts to come (don't give up now...I NEED my public!!) and a brilliant blogroll mentioning all the fab blogs I visit will be up on this blog once the judges' hammer comes down.

I'm still hoping that will be sometime in March...Please hope with me!

26 October 2006

Today and Tomorrows

Today was my second meeting with The Committee. The head of committee remembered me and was very friendly.

Today, things went well. Today, my not owning property is not an issue. Today, it is simply a matter of expanding my homestudy (costs some $$, but should be easy to do) and getting my last few documents notarized. Today, nothing could be said about approval because my dossier isn't officially in, but "when she is in court" was mentioned.

Today, things look good!

Now I have to get someone to jumpstart my car, get things notarized, have my doctor re-do the medical form on letterhead, make sure my agency in the US is talking to the Russia office, make sure I can just deal with the Russia office from here on in without upsetting the US office, stain my dresser, clean my flat, mend my clothes (why are ALL the hems coming out?), do laundry, make lesson plans... but that can all be done tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

24 October 2006

Peter Pan

was, of course, a huge crowd-pleaser. It wasn't as good as last year's "Wizard of Oz", but most people preferred this production. It had more songs and less text.

Here are the cosutmes I made (without benefit of patterns which is always a gamble). They were definitely costumes--meant to last one performance. Wendy's nightgown turned out well (and got me a huge hug from our Wendy) and met my biggest criteria--I didn't have to hem anything!



I didn't make Hook's entire cossie--only the trousers and the frills. Here she is with Smee.



Here's Wendy telling stories to the lost children.



I painted and fringed Tiger Liy's costume (and supervised kids' painting the other Indians). She is our Dorothy from last year. Please note that the cast on one Indian's arm was not my doing either!



And here's Peter (whose costume I was pleased with--fabric from Mom and designed by me) with the lost children. Unfortunately, ALL the photos of Peter are blurred b/c she is never still! Isn't our John Michael (not enough little boys for us to have a John and a Michael) a cutie? He was a HUGE hit with our Russian audience. They all whipped out their mobiles and took pix of him after the show.

back to committee today...or not

My meeting today is tentatively scheduled for 3 p.m. (That's 7 a.m. Eastern time.) Depending on how court proceedings for others go this morning, it could be earlier or later.

Prayer warriors, I covet your prayers!

Edited to add:

The person we need to see will not be available today, so instead I'm going to committee on Thursday at 2 p.m. Stay tuned, sports fans!

21 October 2006

Halloween

Since Lauri asked...

From what I observed last year, Halloween is not celebrated in Russia. In fact, although my principal sent out a newsletter saying that it's a holiday that is celebrated in the UK and the US and Canada (our three governing embassies), I didn't find many people in England who celebrated it. In fact, I found a LOT of people thought it was disgraceful of Americans to send their children out begging for candy. I think it's primarily a North American holiday.

Our school is filled with what they call third culture kids. These are children who are born into one culture, live in a second and are educated in a third. While only two of my students are American, they are all being taught an American curriculum. They've read stories that mention Halloween and see it in their textbooks. We read "Ramona the Pest" earlier this year (one of my favs--and we all love Ramona) and a whole chapter was dedicated to what she did for Halloween. So, the students have the sort of forced-nostalgia for American culture that those of my generation had for the '50's by being fed a steady tv diet of Happy Days and The Wonder Years. They WANT to participate in Halloween activities, but don't know how.

Our school will be allowing the primary students to dress up in the afternoon. I think the middle school will come and do some activities with us. My class will guess the number of seeds in four different pumpkins and then hollow them out. (I'll roast the seeds for them and cook the pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies.) We'll also watch "The Great Pumpkin" and eat the peeps that Jenn sent me (but I'm hoarding the candy corn and moon pies!). Otherwise, it's just another school day.

When I..and lots of children's songs

(Warning: this is a bit disjointed and I'm leaving it. As my friend Suzanne says when talking to me--segues are for children.)

When I was at drama school in England, my anthropologically-inclined brain was constantly seeking to catalogue similarities and differences between the culture I grew up in and the British culture. Truth be told, I didn't think there would be THAT much of a difference. I tend to think of the US as The Great American Melting Pot (which of you Schoolhouse Rock Fans sang that?)--but with much of the early melting done by the UK.

So, I was surprised to find many differences. But, I still couldn't articulate what the big, underlying difference was. I think many of the differences have to do with geography. The UK is a small island (read Bryson's book) that used to be the centre of a big empire. And, there's not a lot of Elbow Room (still singing?) so personal space has to be protected in non-physical ways. But, there seemed to be something that I was missing in the attitude of my British friends.

Then, one day in movement class, our teacher was encouraging us to connect voice and body by singing a "familiar" children's song that everyone would know. Here are the lyrics:

"Right," said Fred, "Let's do it together. One each end. Steady as she goes."
Couldn't lift it, couldn't even shift it
We we getting nowhere and so we had a cuppa tea.

Lightbulb!! THIS was the way they inculcated their children? Whatever happened to the little engine that could? You know--I think I can, I think I can! What is this message of quit and drink tea when you encounter difficulty?

Today I was watching "Snoopy-The Musical" (It's the beginning of Fall Break. I have no other excuse...except Top Gear is on for FOUR hours every Saturday on BBC Prime!) and was hit by how AMERICAN the message was. I was singing along with the first song, even though I didn't remember ever seeing this before. The first song went like this:

Don't be leaf if you can be the tree
Don't be a raindrop, if you can be the sea
For the leaf may fall but the tree remains
It may never rain at all but the sea remains
Better to be the tree and the sea--see?
Don't be a cloud if you can be the sky
Don't be a feather, be the bird and fly
The clouds roll by but the sky rolls on
And a bird can fly with a feather gone
Be a bird and the sky and the tree and the deep blue sea
Don't be anything less than everything you can be

And the last song (sung to our insecure friend Charlie Brown), which I also somehow knew, went:
Wouldn't it be wonderful if everybody believed in everybody?

If just one person believes in you
Deep enough and strong enough believes in you
Hard enough and long enough before you knew it
someone else would think, if he can do it, I can do it
Making it two--two whole people who believe in you

It goes on to say if two people, there's bound to be three, if three why not four and if four why not more and more and more...

And when all those people believe in you
Deep enough and strong enough believe in you
Hard enough and long enough, it stands to reason
you yourself would see what everyone else sees in you
And maybe even you can believe in you, too

There's a great book called "Two Worlds of Childhood" (well, I find it fascinating) that talks about how the US and the USSR (it's old) differ in their childrearing practices. Whether consciously or not, parents and society are raising their children to value the things that will make them a successful member of the society they belong to. US children are encouraged to explore. The USSR children were encouraged to conform.

I was so frustrated in England by the lack of initiative of my students. But, in a socialist society, initiative is not as needed and not as valued as it is in a capitalist society. I found out when I lived in England the last time that I am very much a product of the culture in which I was raised. I'm very glad that I am an American. I think our society and our government and our culture--riddled with problems though they may be--are by FAR the best options on the global menu. The Catch 22 here is whether I'd feel this way if I wasn't such a product of my culture. I guess it doesn't really matter...I'm just glad I'm glad.

I think being out of my home-culture for so long I notice more and more differences. And, I miss the familiar; the "universality" of assumptions and values and beliefs that I find daily are decidedly NOT universal.

The desire to share all this mish-mash of cultural mumbo-jumbo (ooo...I'd love some of David's gumbo right now...) came about from a Peanuts video. I think I need this break even more than I thought I did.

18 October 2006

super-quick

"Peter Pan" is tomorrow. Our dress rehearsal in front of 100 Russian students today went surprisingly well...so let's call it our opening performance to avoid the bad dress-good show vice versa... Tomorrow we have parents! I should be typing up our programme, and I will be shortly. But, first I just had to let you know that I'm going before the committee again next Tuesday. If progress isn't made it will be time for a new region...

Now I have to make Wendy a new nightgown. She left hers out and it, apparently, got "cleaned up". Of course, I don't have a pattern for it...Pictures later if it's very good...or very dreadful.

Kxo

08 October 2006

machina

As my Russian teacher told me, "We have no culture of driving in this country." Boy, am I finding out what THAT means! Before I started driving, I asked several ex-pats what their experiences were in the car. The piece of advice that sticks in my mind is to pay attention to the arrows.

Last Friday, I started driving. Another teacher (Kat) and I were longing to go SHOPPING. While there's no Target here, there is a nice, large grocery store called Окей (Okay). We set off with high hopes after the worst of the Friday night rush hour had passed--at about 7:30 p.m. At the end of my block was a street that I thought was a one-way street. Kat saw this arrow on a sign and said I could turn right.

Of course, it WAS a one-way street...and not the way we were going. After several helpful drivers calling, "Devochka, devochka, you're going the wrong way." we found a wider space and made a 157-point turn. When we'd turned around we were face to face with a militsia car--lights and sirens full blast.

We gulped and then had a sort of guilty relief when the militsia jumped out and grabbed a guy on the street corner. He took him around the corner, so we weren't able to see what was going on. (Thankfully.) Meanwhile, traffic backed up behind us.

A tour bus was directly behind us. The driver, after waiting a bit, got out and tried to move the militsia car!! He apparently couldn't drive a stick because it stalled immediately. So, the driver recruited some other drivers and pushed the car out of the street. We fled.

(**note: If you're seeing question marks instead of photos, my apologies. Click on the question mark to see the photo. Did I put too many photos on for blogger to handle? Anyone?)





It turns out, these are the arrows to which you're supposed to pay attention.








Now, in all fairness, the signs here are confusing. It's as if no one
scheme has been decided upon. This, clearly is a "no turn" sign.










And this, clearly, is a must-turn sign.









So, putting our experiences together (and noticing a large barrier to our left) we can deduce that this means me must go straight and may not turn left. Easy, right? We can logically deduce what these signs mean. No problem.




Problem. What, exactly, is this supposed to mean? The blue arrow says turn right...but it has the same sign that we saw earlier that meant no-right-turn. Having walked and driven on this street, I can tell you that you may, indeed turn right here.






All this deduction and second guessing makes familiar signs like these a relief.





Signs are only the beginning of the challenges of Russian driving. There is a very loose concept of lane-age here. Look at this picture. It's right by the Field of Mars. (Turn right to go to school across Troitsky Most, continue straight to the vet.) Looking at this sign, and at the lines in the street, how many lanes would you say were here? Two? HA! You obviously have NOT driven in Russia. This is a trick question. The correct answer is: as many as you can fit. I was driving here the other day when there were FIVE lanes of traffic just scraping by each other. The only good thing is, when it's that congested no one is moving very quickly.

In the city centre, there are very, VERY few streets that allow left turns. Since St. Petersburg is a. not built on a grid, and, b. intersected by canals, this makes driving QUITE a challenge. Okay, I find it more than challenging. I find it ridiculous. Although you cannot turn left, a U-turn is permitted nearly everywhere. To go shopping we cross a bridge and, instead of turning left, flip a U-turn in the middle of the next block and then turn right.

This is one of my favourite signs. It' on the way home from the vet. As you can see, the left lane must go straight. The right lane may either turn right OR turn right and then fill up three lanes of traffic after making U-turns.








But, I've safely managed to get to Okay three times. (Twice in the rain...and my car seems to have a leak that causes the wipers to short out and NOT work...but only when it's raining. Helpful.)





And, just for Kerry (so post a comment, KERRY, so I can take this down. It seems wrong to have this information posted publically... though I'm not sure why...) here are my RED diplomatic plates!

(edited to add: thanks for the comment. Photo is safely deleted.)

05 October 2006

pochta

Today I checked my mailbox. This may not sound like blog-worthy news. This may sound like I'm realllly scraping the bottom of the topic barrel. But, the thing is, I don't receive any local post. All my post arrives at school via the consulate.

I have checked the mailbox before. I've collected bills for my landlord twice and found an IKEA catalogue mass-mailed once. But, generally, I just pass it by and make my way upstairs.

I've been thinking, fleetingly, ever since I filed my I600A in Moscow that I should call and let them know that my physical address is not my mailing address. I've thought that I should check and see if anything is in there. But, I haven't acted.

Today I checked my mailbox. In it, there was a letter! It was addressed to me, in Russian. The only English were the words THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and below that, a bit smaller, OFFICIAL BUSINESS. I opened and my eyes darted all over the page. (Being a methodical person, one who never reads the end of the book first, this was not my usual mode of reading.) They landed on the bold, capitalized print that said, "NOTICE OF FAVORABLE DETERMINATION CONCERNING APPLICATION FOR ADVANCE PROCESSING OF ORPHAN PETITION".

I was suddenly in the middle of a joy bubble, covered in sunlight, buoyed up by hope. I felt a bit like Sally Field when she delivered her famous, "You like me" acceptance speech. Someone has approved me for adoption! My country is behind me! THEY approve me!

I'm hoping this is the start of good things to come, the ending of the impasse. Thanks for sharing the beginning of the end.
Kate

02 October 2006

koshkee

I mentioned earlier (much earlier...last March, I think, in the "Maslenitsa" post) how pagan traditions still are a part of everyday life. Superstitions here are rampant--and strictly adhered to. It is much more serious than the jesting, game-like way we treat similar occurrences in the US. I'll tell you more later, if you like, but here are a few that center on Russians views of cats.

If someone gives you a cat, you must give them a coin in return. Paper money is not acceptable. You must also give someone a coin if they give you a knife or scissors to ensure that the knife will not cut you. I'm wondering if giving a coin for a cat prevents scratching and/or biting. (In which case, it didn't work. Lena is very bite-y despite the giving of a coin.)

Three-coloured cats are lucky. Blue cats are lucky, too. (I'd really like a little Russian Blue...) Beazy is a torti, so she should be "full of luck" I'm told.

If you see a cat washing its face, company is on the way.

If a black cat crosses your path, it's a seriously bad omen. Cars will stop and let another car pass in order to avoid the black cat's bad tidings. Apparently, the bad luck is only visited on the first person to cross the cat's path.

Only cats can communicate with the domovoy, or spirit of the home. (This spirit, while generally kind is also temperamental and intolerant of laziness. It lives in the doorway of a house. That is the reason you do not shake hands over a doorway or give or accept anything across a doorway. You might disturb the temperamental domovoy which, in turn, would lead to strife.)

Instead of a bride being carried over the threshold, a cat is often let in first to entice benevolent spirits and tell the domovoy what's going on, who's coming in and to be nice.

If a person enters a new house before a cat, the person will die.

Perhaps this cat/domovoy relationship is why cats are said to absorb all evil that enters your door. One of my friends said, knowing the trials I'm facing and hearing of my cats' illnesses, "Just think, Katya, how awful things would be for you if you didn't have your cats! They have taken on so much bad for you."

And lastly, a Russian proverb: He that denies the cat skimmed milk must feed the mice cream.

Kate

ps Beaze seems a bit better.

30 September 2006

sick kitty

Thanks for all your comments and e-mails about my poor, sick kitty. Beazy still feels rotten. She won't eat, groom herself or play. The big, head vet (who speaks a little English) saw her today and was very puzzled. Her blood work is worse. They don't know what to do.

On Friday, I stayed home from school. All Thursday night and Friday I fed her 6-9 ml of food every 3-4 hours. She seemed a little better (her eyes were nearly white again and she was more alert) before the vet visit, but now seems much worse. I think, from my reading, that she needs food and antibiotics. What we're doing now is once or twice daily (it's been increased to twice again after four days at once) visits to the vet for the iv treatments of saline, glucose, vitamins and medication. It takes about an hour in the morning and about two hours in the evening. (Traffic) She hates it.

Tomorrow I see the vet who speaks a little English (the woman--not the head honcho). I'm going to ask her why we're re-doubling her treatments if it's not improving her blood work and is not making her feel better. I may even ask about putting her just on an antibiotic and an appetite stimulant. I'm wondering if I could even administer those at home. They don't do feeding tubes here, so all feeding has got to be done via syringe until she'll eat.

But, then I wonder if the iv really is helping...but she SO hates it. She's on her third leg to have a catheter in. I don't know what happens when we run out of legs.

Wish there were better news to share, but all fronts (Beazy, school, adoption) continue to be fraught with cheerless tales.

24 September 2006

title-less

Well, my sick cat has gotten much sicker. Beazy hasn't been eating and has been vomiting. The vets didn't take it very seriously (standard iv cocktail of vitamins daily) until my other cat got sick, too. Then, they treated both a BIT more aggresively. The cocktail had a few added ingredients--and I had to go find some GEPTRAL for them. Lena has recovered, but Beazy is still very, very ill. All the advice I get is to prepare myself for her to die. Not really the American can-do attitude. I haven't been able to locate the contact details of the last vet Beazy saw in the US, so it's just me and the Russian-speaking, Russian-thinking veterinary world. Those are pretty tough odds.

I finally convinced the vet to give her an antibiotic, and that seemed to help. I'm spending a couple hours each day, morning and night, getting iv treatments. I'm now force-feeding her, too. Things are grim.

One vet, the one I like, told me that she "believed seh would be okay, maybe on Monday". (No wonder I like her.) She also asked when we were going back to the US. I'd take her back this week, but don't think she'd clear customs in her current state. (She's pretty yellow. Cats try to metabolize body fat when they stop eating. Their bodies cannot do this, and it causes serious problems with the liver.)

So--time for The Glad Game. I'm glad that the nice vet was there to encourage me. I burst in to tears in the office. I'm glad that I finally have my car so that I can now DRIVE to and from the vet. I'm glad the nurses and even the doctors have been so nice lately. I'm glad they realize all Beazy's "talking" is just talk. I'm glad they're being sympathetic towards instead of fearful of her.

I'll tell you all about driving in St. P next time. Maybe I'll have some good adoption news then, too! I'm still waiting for housing verification...or for the MoE to reconsider what proof is required of me. (This needs to happen SOON!)

Sorry to be away and then to have so little cheer to share. And many, many thanks for all the kind birthday cards, packages and e-cards. I apologize for not taking the time to thank you sooner! I was delighted to recieve each and every one.

15 September 2006

little things

I was once given a notepad that said, "Teachers make the little things count." This made me laugh hysterically. Seeing past the Hallmarky-sap, I immediately saw myself bellowing to a class of monsters, "Count, you little THINGS!"

There are two little things (of the non-monstrous variety) that have made my day. BBC Prime is up and running. Target will ship to APO addresses. (Julie said to me once--quite insightfully--about life in Russia: "No Target. You are a true pioneer.")

So, now my tv speaks English (although I find that Top Gear is on WAY too often for my taste...) and I can go to Target, where Lara says the sun always shines.

Hope this little post about the little things in my life makes you appreciate the little things in yours!

09 September 2006

ex-pats

Votemom asked about the term, "ex-pat". (I think she sensed from the last few entries that I needed a little direction. ;>)

The first reported use of this term is noted in 1768. The French word expatrier
meaning "banish" is from the Latin roots ex- meaning "out of" and patrie meaning "native land". It is interesting (you all know I'm both a word nerd and a history buff, so calling this "interesting" should not surprise anyone) to note the change in connotation over the years. When first introduced, it had a decidedly negative connotation. Traitors were expatriated--relieved of their citizenship and banished from their homelands. They were exiles.

Slowly the word changed. In 1818, it was used to mean "one who moves abroad" without the taint of traitordom.

Then, after WWI, we had that lot of moody American authors who expatriated themselves to Paris. I find them a spoiled and discontented bunch...and I don't much like their work.

The modern sense of the word is simply "living abroad, especially for a long but limited time". That is what separates an ex-pat from an immigrant. An immigrant moves abroad with the intention of adopting a new culture and a new citizenship. An ex-pat plans to go home.

I find that the term "ex-pat" often has negative connotations. It seems to refer to a smaller group than the above definition would suggest. That smaller group is usually one of privilege--businessmen, diplomats and their families--who spend a lot of money and are either ignorant or contemptuous of the culture where they are currently living. They are the international equivalent of homesick "ladies who lunch".

The Brits call ex-pats When-I's because of the tendency they have to start sentences with that phrase. I know I fall into that camp! I'm forever wanting to share my experiences of living abroad. I find it fascinating! I read about a woman who was an anthropologist. Her job was to live in other cultures and discover the "rules" that govern social interaction. That made me think that I actually AM an anthropologist...and wonder where I could go collect that paycheck. In defense of the When-I's who may be seen as braggadocious (not to be confused with expialidocious), sometimes these pop out just because that's our life. We don't have any other experience to share. And, yes, we may think that everyone is an amateur anthropologist and will find it as interesting as we do.

I do call myself an ex-pat in adherence to the denotation of the word. I hope I don't embody the negative connotations of the sub-group! And, I hope you find the When I's that fill this blog interesting.


So there you have it--etymology, denotation and connotation. Hopefully the other logophiles out there found this interesting...and the rest of you will bear with me and at least find this better than talking about laundry!

07 September 2006

vinegar?

Thanks M & S (no, not Marks & Sparks) for the vinegar tip. Will it make my clothes smell like vinegar? Do I wash them again afterwards to get rid of the vinegar smell? How much do I put in? I have a front loading washing machine. Do I put the vinegar in the bleach compartment?

I'm thrilled to have a possible solution! I'll share it with the American teacher I was talking to AND with the the Scottish teacher who brought up the subject today. See what exciting lives we ex-pats live?

Cheers,
Kate