28 August 2007

find your spot

One of my Allison-friends posted this link on our yahoo group. It asks you a bunch of questions and then tells you where your top spots to live in the US are.

My number one "match" (I use that term loosely) the first time I tried was:

"Mount Airy, North Carolina
Although known for its quaint and lovely small towns, North Carolina's Mount Airy shines above the rest. As the birthplace of Andy Griffith of The Andy Griffith Show fame, Mount Airy has a rightful claim to the moniker of "Small Town, USA". Aside from it's celebrity connections, this friendly, down-to-earth community has plenty for visitors to see and residents to love."

Umm...did they ignore my requirements of being near the arts and not in heat & humidity? Seems so... And, I don't like Andy Griffith--the show. I have no strong opinions on Andy as a person.

Maybe I'll go tweak my answers.

I broadened my search. Mount Airy still comes in the top 20 no matter what. The other place that consistently scores high is Lancaster, Ohio. (Although I did say I wanted less bureaucracy and government involvement...hmmm...Have these guys ever been to Ohio?)

Friends in Chattanooga will be glad to hear that it was high on my list of matches coming in at #7. (It's actually #8, but Salt Lake City was higher and I'd never live there. So we'll call it #7.) Funnily, this quiz classifies both Chattanooga and Colorado Springs as big cities. I'd call them small cities...

26 August 2007


I've been fascinated by the Romanovs for a long time now. It was in junior high that I first read Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson and Nicholas and Alexandra. They started me on a quest to learn more about this family. When I read, I am a character. Maybe that's the actress in me...or maybe it's just the ME in me. I have a need to strongly identify with one character and read from there. I like Anastasia. She intrigues me. And, I'll openly admit that Anna Anderson has me firmly in her camp. I don't care what they say--I'm a believer.

You know the horribly tragic story, I'm sure. The royal family was taken captive in 1917 by the Bolsheviks, eventually transferred to Ekaterinburg, and finally executed along with their few remaining servants. But, things get a little murky. There are confusing and conflicting reports, many of which sound like flimsy excuses for incompetence. (Seriously--why would they bury two of the bodies in a different place? Why? And, even if they did, why those two? Why not the tsar and tsarevich? This separate burial scheme alone makes no sense. I won't even get started on all the inconsistencies and ridiculous suppositions that have been accepted by some as fact.)

There was a report in The Guardian yesterday as well as in other news sources about the finding of the potential remains of Tsarevitch Alexei Romanov and one of his sisters that have been missing since the rest of the family's remains were supposedly found. (There is controversy about whether or not the first set of bones actually belonged to the Tsar and his family.)

I don't really have a nice summation for this post. I think you should go and read the article. I think you should also go and read some of the original evidence about the last days of the Romanov family. (It was all saved--though not methodically or carefully--and notes from various parties involved are still available today.) You can read some historical fiction if your prefer and latch on to that, though, naturally, there is more author's pov to wade through in that genre than in non-fiction; although non-fiction doesn't mean unbiased. (The Romanov Prophecy is a quick-reading thriller. I didn't like The Kitchen Boy. Post your favs in the comments!) Then, you can decide for yourself.

25 August 2007


All this peanut butter talk has made me hungry.

Here are some Russian snack foods...or, more accurately, snack foods you can buy in Russia. My Russian teacher had never had the one pictured on the left before coming to my flat for a lesson. Now, she's competely hooked. The large snack on the left is called "crunchy". It's tasty--sort like peanut brittle. Aside from its tastiness, I also appreciate the innovative, forward-thinking that went into it. (I don't see a lot of that around here.) Basically, the bakery at Okey took the leftover seeds and nuts from the day's breadmaking and tossed them into some buttery-sugary concoction. I don't buy this often, but it is yummy.

The smaller snacks are called "dry". (At least with these names you know what sort of snack food you're getting.) They're my pretzel substitute. Yes, we do have pretzels here now, but we didn't when I first arrived. As least, I didn't find any. But, even with pretzels available, I choose these instead. I've gotten hooked on them. When I still drank Coke (Ahhh...good times.) that was a perfect complement to these. I still eat them now, though not as often. I do keep a bag at school for emergencies. As you can see, I like my "dry" with poppy seeds. There are also plain varieties.


22 August 2007

world view

Edited because I had a temporary braincloud.

I've been watching Trading Spaces on my slingbox. (I like the new-to-me format of no host.) There's a commercial that is on that I half heard while I was checking something online. (I was probably reading your blog.) It says something to the effect of:

We're all different.
We look different.
We play different games.
We do different things to relax.
But there's one thing we can all agree on...the comforting taste of a peanut butter sandwich.

This CRACKED ME UP! It's such an American stereotype and so true. The rest of the world is puzzled by this foodstuff of ours. They can take it or leave it. Most seem to prefer to leave it. Most of the world doesn't do the whole drinking milk thing either, which I think is the perfect complement to a pb sandwich. Actually, I like a glass of skimmed milk almost anytime. (yeah, big party girl here--so not) But I digress. The topic is the joys of peanut butter.

So, to lighten things up and to keep you reading until there's either exciting cultural or adoption news to report... comment and tell us all how you like your peanut butter.

I like Creamy Jiff
a. with honey
b. on toast
c. with jam (raspberry or apricot these days but I loooove blackberry)
d. grilled with jam (I think grape--or blackberry--jam is the best for this option.)
e. out of the jar (dire emergencies only)


f. on bananas
g. in a pbb (peanut butter & banana) sandwich
h. on sour apples (the apples I've had here are often grainy--ick)
i. I have a GREAT sandwich with mashed bananas mixed with pb, honey and small chopped up apples--yum
j. on bagels or English muffins (I remember those...)
k. I'm sure there are other ways I'm forgetting...
l. I don't like it on celery. Celery cannot be redeemed even by peanut butter in my opinion. I do *not* like celery.

My little newly-from-America girl had a fluffernutter sandwich for lunch today. Not my fav, but it made me smile. She was delighted.

21 August 2007

good news?

I received this e-mail:

"The committee has your documents, and they will let the office know when they have reviewed them."

So, this could be REALLY good news! But, it's so out of the blue that I don't know quite what's going on...and there is no updated hs yet...so....I think it's good news. Heck, I think any documentary action is good. (Okay, not the lions attacking wildebeast kind, but I couldn't resist that image.)

**Note: I didn't mean to imply that my documents were being registered. Oh, no. The committee just has my documents for review and not for filing. But, I still think this is good news.

Thanks for all your kind comments on my classroom. I think it looks great! I found out today (when most of my students arrived--they take up space, too) that it's too small for the extra table I had in there. So, now it's just the 16 desks, a couch and a bookcase, and the three computers. Not sure how long the computers will last...

20 August 2007

where've i been?

Here've I been:

I painted my classroom (light green with polka dots, though the light green is washed out in these pix)...

...recovered the couch...

...put up bulletin boards...

and just generally got ready for today. It was open house! I met many of my students and am looking forward to our first day together tomorrow. For now, this tired teacher is off to bed. The first week is always l-o-n-g.

(No adoption news. My agency is still trying to get around the latest Interpol clearance and my hs update is still in process. They haven't found my lease yet.)

16 August 2007

new holiday?

Salutations, friends. School's back in session (parents come Monday and students come Tuesday) so my blogging time as been curtailed. I just wondered how many of you saw this article
that has been making the rounds. Little did I know that September 12 (my sister's birthday) is a new holiday in Russia. It's conception day. Couples are given the day off from work to boost the declining birth rate in Russia. There are substantial prizes given to families who give birth on 12 June (Russia Day--that holiday that no two people call the same thing). The article also touches on the Family Capital Law that went into effect in January.

ps No, we don't get the day off from school.

14 August 2007

how hot is it?

It's so hot that the butter in the butterdish on my counter has melted. **not all of it, but a significant part of it And, the kitchen isn't my hottest room.

no more V

Oh, dear. V is not working for my agency. That is not the good news I wanted to post.

13 August 2007

one prolonged grumble

It's still hot.

I just got an e-mail from my agency asking for all sorts of paperwork I've already sent them...including THE LEASE. I was feeling like we were making progress, that we were almost there, and now I feel like someone who is walking on romper-stompers for the first time. (Remember those? You had to concentrate so hard the first time you wore them to just pick up one foot and put it in front of the other one. It was a huge effort.)

My car is b-r-o-k-e-n and school starts the day after tomorrow. I didn't learn enough Russian this summer, I didn't do enough ballet and I didn't lose enough weight. Everyone's class size is dropping except for mine. They only delivered 12 of my desks. I twisted my knee, there's a blister on my little toe, and I have a heat rash. I'm sick of every kind of food we have in this city and every piece of clothing I own.

I don't want to deal with any people. No one. I'm unplugging the phone, turning off the computer, taking a cool, lavender bath and some St. John's Wort and going to bed with my new book. I may or may not get dressed tomorrow.

Haven't I done enough? Apparently not. So I'll keep "doing". Just not today.

I'm hot and weary and frustrated.

And, to make it all worse, in case I didn't make it clear, it's still HOT!

I promise to post happier things tomorrow.

12 August 2007

whether the weather is hot

Every class I've taught has loved this poem:

Whether the weather is cold
Or whether the weather is hot
Whether the weather is fine
Or whether the weather is not
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not

Right now, it. is. hot.

Highs are hovering around 86 F-88 F. I can hear you laughing and sniggering and calling into account my definition of hot. While I freely admit to being a wimp when it comes to heat, I will say, in my own defense, that it feels much hotter. Even my beach-loving, sun-seeking friend Kat agrees that it's horribly hot right now. It's not humid (I lived in the South. I know humid.) here, but the heat gets trapped by the buildings...and there's no a/c anywhere. The US consulate is stifling. I've got three fans on, lights off, curtains drawn and am showering over and over. Sometimes it's a little cooler out on the bridges (the breeze!) but not always.

My poor cat is not weathering the weather very well. She's been sprawled out on her back, paws hovering, immobile for the last few days. She's a kind, affectionate, beautiful cat...but not the smartest cat I've ever had. She won't go and retreat to the cooler rooms (the bathroom tile is fairly cool) and leave me. (Maybe she's just incredibly loyal.)

Yesterday I took her into the bedroom, which is on the cooler side of the house, and we read the latest "Harry Potter" book. As long as I was there, she was content to stay put. We ventured out to use the computer, but are about to retreat to cooler climes (well, the bedroom feels like it's a different climate right now). I've got the two newest Jasper Fforde books to keep us occupied. I'll see you when the heat breaks. Of course, if news breaks first we'll venture out and let you know.

09 August 2007

fingerprints? check!

Fingerprints? Check!

Most of you know that my fingerprints expired in June. I ordered a new set from fingerprints-r-us and they've arrived! I find the selection available there is excellent--a nice variety of whirls and swirls. And, they fit wonderfully. These fingerprints will last another year before expiring.

Silly, Kate! (That is a common refrain amongst my under-5 friends.)

Yes, in today's post, I received my FBI clearance. I also received two packages from home with everyday things I asked for, THREE new books, and some eBay purchases. (It's a good thing school is starting soon. I need less eBay time.) It was a good post day--again!

I've sent my fbi clearance on to my sw already, so...any bets? When will my hs be finished?

a little help here?

I need some car help. (Where are my brothers when I need them...)

Something is draining my battery and I think it's the starter. Or something ignition-ish. I had my car jumpstarted the day before yesterday (note: it won't be jumpstarted by an ordinary car, only by the AAA equivalent--maybe my battery is too big?) and then last night it wouldn't start! Now, I only drove it to the store and back (about 30 minutes each way) so maybe it didn't get charged enough...but it still seems wrong to me.

Now, and the last two times I had to jumpstart it (the first jump lasted longer...maybe two weeks), it doesn't turn over. It sounds a little like a machine gun when you turn the key. The lights and radio still work.

Any ideas? I could use the help because now I'll be dealing with people in two languages I barely speak--Russian and car.

p.s. Do you find it helpful or redundant to have the parenthetical remarks in a smaller font? I think both...but redundancy is bad and helpfulness is good. Oh! Just heard my friend Scott's voice in my head saying, "Kate, don't be helpful." Hmm...

Edited to add: The person in charge of vehicles at school and I had a brief pow-wow. He agrees that it's my battery, that it wouldn't start because the other battery was too small, and that I need a jump. He also said if I brought it to school he'd hook it up to a charger. Great! Let's hope this solves the problem.

08 August 2007


Guess what I am doing right now. If you guessed blogging you're half right--and get points for stating the obvious.

If you guessed watching live US television, you win the grand prize.

"But how," you ask, furrowing your brow in puzzlement, "is this possible? Are you back in the US?" How quickly your quizzicality turns to accusation. "You didn't tell us you were coming home. Why didn't you schedule a visit with us while you're back!"

Before your feelings get hurt (because of course I'd want to come and visit you if I was back in the US) the answer is no, I'm not back in the US. My mom and sister had a slingbox installed. It takes the programming on their tv and slings it through their computer to mine. Cool, huh? And, since my slingbox is hooked up to a dvr, I can record programs (ummm...Lost, General Hospital, House...) and watch them when it's convenient. We're already planning weekly ex-pat House nights. Cool, huh? I'm thinking that Sesame Street will be vital soon.

Please, let me need Sesame Street soon.

07 August 2007

progress...of sorts

I often get stopped and asked for directions when I'm out walking. I was thinking about the progression in my Russian skills in relation to direction giving. Here's the progression of my responses:

I'm sorry, I don't understand.

I'm sorry, I don't know.

I'm sorry, I speak a tiny bit of Russian.

(I hear: Devoshka (girl), sltjeislkgdfeutsdk seoitsvlsteskgsjldj Aurora?)
and reply, "Aurora? To the right."

Yesterday I heard, "Devoshka (girl), ksdjfoeifjs Gdye (where) dkjslkdjfiefkdfksdjf?"

And I replied, "I speak a little Russian. Please repeat?"

He apologized and said he was asking where the Gorkovskaya Metro was, and prepared to leave--obviously thinking I didn't know/couldn't tell. HA!

I said, "Yes, I know. The park..." and pointed at said park...

He asked, "After the park?"

I replied, "Yes, after the little park, is a big park to the right. In the center of the big park is the Metro."

His girlfriend understood and they headed off.

Okay, it's not a dissertation on, well, anything. But, I think it's progress!

(clever segue)

Hopefully sw #2 is making progress on my hs. She is back from vacation today. I exercised restraint and didn't e-mail her while she was gone. I e-mailed her scans of all my documents this morning (except for the FBI check that I'm hoping comes in this week's post...it should...). I've already written up all the changes she needs to make. So, it shouldn't take her long. She didn't confirm receipt of the documents (I just e-mailed and asked for that), though, which makes me wonder if she's really back and working...

We really should be on track for a new hs to be finished about the same time my agency receives accreditation.

Edited to add: SW #2 responded to my request for confirmation. She couldn't unzip my scans. So, I changed them to jpeg, resent them, and voila! She has info.

04 August 2007

talking rabbits

Here's another literary quiz for you (with thanks to chou-chou).

You're Watership Down!
by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

One of the greatest people of all time? This is a very insightful quiz. ;>

02 August 2007

the eyes have it

How quickly can you pick up an eye infection?

I was at the children's homes on Wednesday, had a rotten night Wednesday with itchy eyes, insomnia and sensitive ankles (I promise I'm not making that up. How could I?) and woke up Thursday with red, oozy, itchy eyes and a low-grade fever. I've put some Neosporin** on them, and they're better, but not well yet.

**Okay, don't laugh. I meant to do this. One time, while I was acting professionally and had no insurance, I got pink eye. I put some antibiotic ointment that was left over from the time I had surgery on my foot to remove a piece of glass on my itchy, oozy eyes. I have no idea what prompted me to do so. The next day, at the doc-in-the-box, my eyes were completely clear! Doctor said my ointment application was probably more effective than the rx eyedrops b/c the ointment stayed on the eye.

Wanted to close with Neosporin's new tagline: "The better to see you with, my dear."

DISCLAIMER: The tube says not to put this in your eyes. So don't. Something bad might happen to you. Just because it passed the it-doesn't-hurt-so-how-could-it-harm? test administered by Kate, and has proved effective several times over, doesn't mean you should try this. (I, however, live in Russia. 'Nuff said.) I disclaim all responsibility for any outcomes of you sticking things in your eye.

01 August 2007

to Riabovo again (long)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the remains of our spring clothing drive to a local children's home. The back of my car will filled with clothes and a few toys that were too small/too young for the children in the children's home at Lopukhinka. On the way we stopped to deliver some requested items (including diapers, toothpaste and lice shampoo) for a children's shelter at Tosna. (Caterpillar has a large plant in that small city as does...that company that makes soap and detergents that starts with H...Henkel, I think...). The shelter is where children wait for a place in a Children's Home. They wait in the hospitals for a place at the shelter.

While the shelter was in "the nicest building of any of the orphanages", I found it a little sad. The children were all on the couch watching television, and looked like they'd been there awhile. They needed to have their hair brushed...or maybe it was just bedhead from watching too much television in one position. I wanted to badly to open a window! It was just a little stale and stuffy in there.

You should have seen the amount of candy some of these little boys stashed in their pockets! (Valentina cannot visit children without bringing them candy.) Then, Natasha, one of the older girls, doled it out fairly to the rest--remembering those who were currently out of the room.

V. says that she thinks children adopted from shelters--before they've been placed in children's homes--may be among the most successful placements.

After we left, we went on to my favourite children's home in Riabovo. This is the children's home I visited at Christmas. They are a small facility in a less-than-perfect building. They are scheduled to be combined with another nearby home into a large facility when it is finished. (Riabovo's director says she will strive to place all of "her" children in special schools, with foster families, etc. rather than put them in the new, large home. For that I am very grateful.)

Walking in, we noticed all the bright, new paintwork. The children have just gotten back from their first-ever summer trip. They went to the Black Sea. While they were gone, their teachers were busy painting and cleaning and sprucing up. (Teachers in Russia are expected to spend a month of the summer holiday cleaning, painting and doing repairs.) The place looked great! And, even nicer than the fresh paintwork was the warm welcome we received from the caregivers and even the cook. They were go glad to see us!

I was flattered to be remembered by both the staff and the children. In the older children's room, I was confronted again with my lack of Russian. Children don't slow down when they speak to you! They just rattle on...often with mispronunciations and a language all their own. I was able to stay for a bit and all of the children showed off their English (Thank you very much. My name is.... Yes. No.) I played a silly game with Sveta where she said, "Yes." and I'd say, "Da." She'd say, "No," and I'd reply, "Nyet." Appropriate nodding and head shaking accompanied this. We played this for probably...ten minutes! She never varied. And if I answered incorrectly (in an attempt to make it a little more entertaining) she simply continued with her yes-no-yes-no. What struck me, though, was how much she wanted to talk to me. If this was all we could say to each other, so be it. That's what we'd say.

One boy wanted me to translate something from English into Russian for him. I didn't even understand that much at the time, because I didn't understand that was he was saying was English. I feel like I failed him and wanted to go back as soon as I understood what it was he wanted. By that time we were in the car on the way home.

The older children had a family of three gypsy children (Sveta of the yes-no was one of them--and SO cute!) whose parents are in a nearby prison. They'll return to their family when the sentence is ended. One little boy had been "rescued" from a psychiatric hospital. He was being heavily medicated, primarily, it seems, for impulsive behaviour. The director found him there and fought to have him placed in her home. Otherwise, he would have been hospitalized for life. He is a doll--and told us all about seeing sharks in the Black Sea. I think the director might be considering adopting him. None of these children are adoptable. They all have relatives who occasionally or regularly visit them.

In the younger children's room I noticed the biggest change in children. Whereas before this was a room of primarily under 3's, now it was almost indistinguishable from the older children's room. There was one child left from my first visit. One child had been adopted by a family in Italy. (The 76 year old caretaker, who is quite spry and very much a character, was thrilled to show us his photographs and letter. He's even called her on the telephone.) When I asked about the rest, it seems that they've been mostly returned to their families as:

a. a result of the new family capital law
b. on a trial basis to see if the parents are now capable of caring for them

This is what I was told, though it was a guess by Valentina. I can't say if it's a trend country-wide. I think it could also have to do with the forecasted move to a larger facility.

Most of the children at Riabova are so different from the rest of the children I've visited in children's homes. They are happy and very communicative. They are warm, friendly and very unlike institutionalized children. I credit their caretakers and the director of the home. And, I do think that the small size of this home helps.

The one exception to the happy children was a little three-year-old girl (bed number eight) who hadn't been there very long. She still looked a little sad. Although, we were there during their "nap time", so she could have been tired. She and little G, who was still there from my first visit, were the only under 5's I saw.

For those of you who have looked at the schedules you've been given of your children's daily routine, not a single child was napping during this naptime. They were all on their beds, but it wasn't remotely quiet. They were mostly lying down, but there was lots of chat going on. Now, this may be atypical, but it was true. And, no one minded us coming in and interrupting them to hand out toys and candy. The biggest, best doll was immediately given to new little bed-number-eight.

I left Riabovo happy and hopeful. These children are not adoptable. But, they are well-cared for and loved. I like going there. Once again, while I was there I was ready to just stay. I wanted to stay and be a part of this home, to care for these children, to live with them and love them. I know it's not possible, but it is the *flash* I have when I'm there. (One note: I'm happy doing most things, am very enthusiastic, and am prone to seeing myself contentedly living out new adventures--historical interpreter, farmer's wife, dvetsky dom caretaker, astronaut...or even living in a historical setting, so this flash is not really atypical.)

Just wanted to share this glimpse with the curious among you. It was a great day. I look forward to returning!


Thank you for all your lovely comments on my last post. It is, indeed, insane. Everytime I walk out and find my car missing, I mutter and sputter about how ridiculous it is that they can just move my car. Sadly, perhaps, I mutter and sputter less each time it happens. I guess I'm acclimating to this ridiculousness...

In answer to some questions...

Judy, Tami, and Jane, there is a website that will tell you where your car is...after they've logged all your information. Usually it's faster to just wander around. One time our school secretary spotted my car when I couldn't find it.

Lauri, a gps would be a fab idea! I was thinking of one of those clapper things that helps you find your keys...

Kay, I read about that race, too. But, I didn't see it. I bet those girls were FAST. I think there was a minimum heel-height of three inches.

Metricgirl, I've lost my car in a parking lot before, so the first time this happened I was *really* confused. The fact that there were no other cars on the street helped me to believe that I hadn't just spaced where I parked it.

Carrie, it's a Canon powershot A620. Unfortunately, right now the screen is broken (remember Red Sails Day?) so all I can do is point and shoot...and zoom.

Chou-chou, I'm in St. Petersburg. I live in the golden triangle--between the Hermitage and the Field of Mars. (No one is able to tell me what the third part of the triangle is...)

Paige, really there was no other title for this post. ;> Great minds and all that.

Dawn, one of my searching problems is that there is no pay parking nearby. Usually they tow you to a pay-per-15 minute parking lot and charge you. The reason my car is randomly towed is there isn't one anywhere near here. So, they're not as kind as you give them credit for being...