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


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


"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.


08 October 2006


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


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.

02 October 2006


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.


ps Beaze seems a bit better.