28 February 2007


When in doubt about what is appropriate to contribute to the conversation, one may always talk about the weather. Or so they say.

** Interestingly, in the UK I found that conversations about the weather and the deplorable bus service were the two safe topics suitable for conversation with strangers. After being nodding acquaintainces for a bit, you proceed to greetings. Then you stay in this bus-and-weather safe-zone for an extended period of time. In a small country with a large population, this, and the practice of keeping one's eyes averted, is the equivilent of "elbow room" (Are you singing along?).

The days are certainly longer. The streetlights are off when I walk to school and it stays light until nearly 7:00 p.m. I'm still amazed at how quickly it gets dark here and then how rapidly it becomes light again. There's not that much time spent in short, dark days...maybe a month.

It's warmer now, so it's snowing again and will continue to all this week.

I don't ride the bus often, but my car is still lacking a working battery.

Was that really better than no post at all?

24 February 2007

quick quotes

"Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition."

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

23 February 2007

long story short--take the train

This time last week our heroine was typing up a last-minute blog before dashing out the door. Kate, call her intrepid or call her foolish, had decided to fly to Moscow to visit the blogger ap's gathered there. Having flown travelled all over Europe by herself, Kate didn't think twice about getting to the airport by herself. Ah, foolish girl! She had forgotten, as you certainly have not,that she was in RUSSIA. Certainly, she had the assurances of friends that a shuttle ran from the metro to the airport. However, none of these friends knew exactly how to get to the domestic airport in St. Petersburg.There was confusion about whether she needed Pulkovo 1, which was the second airport, or Pulkovo 2, which was the first airport. But, our heroine, trusting in her ability to read both her ticket and appropriate signage pressed on unconcerned.

The metro ride was uneventful. She was even fortunate to get a seat! This boded well for her journey...or so she thought. Upon exiting the metro, she'd been instructed to turn right. However, upon exiting the metro she was faced with a tunnel that went neither left nor right. So, she shouldered her bag and walked straight ahead. Soon, stairs appeared to her right. She, thinking this was the closest thing to the directions she'd been given, climbed up to street level. She emerged at a mashrutka (mini bus) stop. Feeling pleased, she waited for a mashrutka. After a few minutes, she asked a gentleman if the mashrutkas for the airport stopped where they were waiting. No, she was told. She needed to cross the street but the mashrutka would come from the same direction as it would arriving at her current stop.

After thanking the man she went back into the tunnel and emerged at another mashrutka stop. There were three mashrutkas waiting. She asked the first if they went to the airport. No, she was told. The first mashrutka did. She went to the first mashrutka and repeated her question. Did this mashrutka go to Pulkovo 1? The passengers all said no. The driver asked her to repeat her question and then told her to get in. Listening to the driver and not the passengers, she did. (A sense of foreboding should fill the reader here.)

After travelling for awhile (unfortunately, the only seat empty was the one directly behind the driver so she was forced into service as the fare-and-change-passer-upper) they approached Pulkovo 2. Kate told the driver she didn't want Pulkovo 2, she wanted Pulkovo 1. At this point a great deal of Russian was unleashed upon our heroine. She gathered that the mashrutka didn't go to Pulkovo 1, but not what she should do. She asked repeatedly if she should get out. There was no reply.

Eventually, a voice in English came from the back. The speaker told her what she had already surmised, that the mashrutka didn't go to Pulkovo 1. He then conversed with the driver and told her that the driver would put her on the correct mashrutka. The drove along for a while until the driver flagged down another mashrutka. The driver and the interpreter both got out and walked her to the new vehicle. After speaking to her as if she were 3, they left. Kate had been informed that the new driver would tell her where to get out. Upon disembarking, she should take mashrutka 39 to the airport.

At a busy crossroads, the driver motioned with his head. "Here?" Kate asked. He again motioned with his head, so out she got. She found herself in a BUSY intersection with no hope of flagging a mashrutka. But, undaunted, or not much daunted, she crossed the streets, walked about a half a block, and found a bus stop with bus 39. Deciding this was close enough (and it did say airport on the side) she got in. The driver assured her this bus went to Pulkovo 1.

Hurrah! The airport came into view. Kate felt triumphant. Surely the difficult part was over. Airports are airports--maneuvering in one is much the same as maneuvering in another. Au contraire, mon cher. This is RUSSIA. This airport was built in the intimidating Soviet style. There were massive metal gates everywhere preventing people from approaching the check-in gates.

Our heroine's spirits flagged. How was she to navigate this metal maze? Then, her eye landed upon a sign that said, "Flights to Moscow". Spirits raised, she set off...and found herself in a bar. Puzzled, she turned around and retraced her steps. The only options were to go to the bar or go through the metal gates. She headed back toward the gates. Her flight wasn't listed on any of the boards, but she went to the only open gate. The attendant took one look at her ticket and told her she was in the wrong place. When she asked where to go, the attendant told to "There" and gestured vaguely.

Our heroine decided that it was too early to go to the check-in gate (When flying internationally from Pulkovo 2, no one was allowed to go to the check-in gates more than an hour before their flight, so...it was a good guess.) and so sat down to wait. After waiting a bit and still not seeing her flight, and really very confused at this point, she went back to the metal gate. She told the attendant she didn't understand. Her flight number was not on the board. Just at that moment, (the reader should be noticing a trend here) a man approached who was also in the wrong place. He needed to go to Moscow. Our heroine was told to follow him. she did--to the check-in gate located behind the bar.

After checking in, being body scanned, and waiting in another bar, a woman who bore a strong resemblance to Dr. Ruth came through and talked very quickly. Everyone gathered their bags, so Kate followed suit. They got on a shuttle bus and drove around and around in circles, stopped for a bit, and then drove around some more. Everyone disembarked. Kate was puzzled. Was this another terminal? It looked remarkably like the one they'd just left. There was the bar, there was the bit of paper dropped on the floor...it was the one they'd just left!

A bit later, the shuttle ride was repeated but this time ended at a plane. Over an hour late, the plane boarded and took off. Our heroine was Moscow bound!

And this is only the story of getting to Moscow! Our Kate still had to get from the Moscow airport to her friends...and then reverse the process in two days' time. Fortunately, travelling angels continued to be close at hand and provided assistance at every turn. And, the return trip was much less intersting because she hired drivers instead of using public transportation. She even managed to have a lengthy and enjoyable conversation with her driver in Moscow in Russian on the way to the airport. This left her feeling quite chuffed. But, she still vowed she'd only make this trip by train in future. Trains are prompt and the stations are in the middle of town.

21 February 2007


Remember that I said to HALT! and not do anything major when you're hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Yeah...kinda blew that one today.

This morning I had two e-mails from my facilitators. The first said that because they'd just received my (third) homestudy and hadn't yet received the agency agreement, they didn't think that my papers would be filed before accreditation expires. It ended with "We will see".

The e-mail just following that was from them as well--telling me a family had posted that they wanted to adopt from St. P and were looking for an agency.

I sent back a shocked reply to the second that simply said, "Are you asking me for a recommendation?" and sat on the first.

This was not the most auspicious start to my day. I felt gobsmacked. It was the first time I'd really felt like we might not make the deadline. I just expected it to all work out. Then, after the e-mail, I felt the the wind had been knocked out of me. I must've looked awful because my friend Kat, after good morning-ing me, immediately asked, "What's wrong?" in that voice of doom which means you're bleeding profusely and they'll probably have to amputate.

Then, I spent all day eating cookies. I tend to educate very environmentally-aware students. Call it tree-hugging if you like. I call it exercising dominion. One of my students this year wanted to take action. She, with her mom's full support, organized a cookie sale today to raise money to help endangered animals. So, starting last night, I ate cookies--both cooked and uncooked. My car is STILL not starting (where are my brothers?!??) so there's not a lot of food in the flat. There's neither bread nor milk. So breakfast was cookies (they were oatmeal...) and tea. All day we nibbled--chocolate chip, oatmeal and little fudgy hedgehogs.

When I got home I was tired, hungry for real food but on a nauseous cookie-hangover, and angry with my agency. Three out of four. Not good. Stop now, Kate. HALT!

I e-mailed my agency (not the facilitators) and told them I was very frustrated. I said that I felt I'd been treated more like an inconvenience than a paying client. I acknowledged that my living sich made things more difficult, but pointed out that they knew that up front. And, I said that I was frustrated by the fact that we were going to miss the deadline because of two documents--one of which the facilitators had for five months before asking for changes and the other of which the agency mailed seven months after I'd asked them to mail it.

I asked that they do everything in their power to get the paperwork here to Russia in time--paying extra fees, using couriers, etc. And, I told them I'd sent an electronic copy of my hs to the translator so he could get started. (The audacity of me taking initiative like this could prove irredeemable.)

This is either a very good move and will get results. Or, it's a bad, bad, BAD idea and they'll now throw my file in the bin and let it sit there. I feel worse. I think I may have been an idiot.

So, that advice to HALT--do as I say, not as I do.

Great. As I typed this I burnt the pasta sauce I made with my last box of chopped tomatoes. Any Avenue Q fans want to guess what song I'm thinking of right now?

-from your very own Kate-monster

Edited to add: Yes, it was a mistake. Now everyone's upset with me and protesting their good efforts made on my behalf.

20 February 2007

tuesday newsday

GETTING to Moscow is a post in itself. But, I'll save that for tomorrow because what you REALLY want to know is how the visits went.

I stayed with Lauren. We had a great time--good food, lots of laughs, good chats and fun. And, I was given the honour of being the first to visit with her new daughter, Cianna (pronounced "Channa" to rhyme with fauna or the country of Ghana). She really IS a cupcake! She's a sparkly little girl who has the most infectious giggle. The sight of a bottle or a tickle of her ribs is all it takes to set her off. Soon, we were all laughing. I enjoyed horsey rides, high fives and playing photographer. Now Lauren has some pics with her in them!

I've got some pix of cupcake to post (specially taken to not reveal her identity in any way) but I can't find my download cable. For now, you'll just have to see her cuteness on Lauren's blog.

While I was there, I was in Moscow, Lauren had rallied the troops, so I was also able to meet with Jeff and Maria who just took custody today of their son and Rich and Laura who are on their way back to Moscow with their daughter by now. I count it a privilege to play a small part in this exciting time of these families' lives.

Here we are (l-r) Laura, Lauren, me, Maria

On my adoption front, the facilitators will have everything tomorrow that needs to be apostilled. If they can get it apostilled and to Russia in the next two weeks, we're in good shape. Talk about cutting it close! We're still waiting for one more document to arrive in their office, but, thankfully, it's already apostilled. Please keep praying for quick, competent hands! I'm starting to believe this could really happen...

16 February 2007

Off to Moscow!

More next week...

Baby steps forward made in getting a new version of a document from the consulate AND the hs agency is fed exing something to the facilitators. (Thanks, Karen, for giving me their address! I don't know why they didn't answer...)

So--happy weekend!

13 February 2007

It's Maslenitsa!

By request of a friend who wanted to celebrate with her adopted child, I'm re-publishing last year's post about Maslenitsa. This is a holiday I look forward to and will continue to celebrate after I'm home in the US.

"We had a BALL at the Russian village today! (2007 note: We're going back on Thursday.) Our entire school went to celebrate Maslenitsa. The village is a living history museum (basically). We participated in folk songs and dances, painted whistles and played traditional games. Then we had a lovely meal together--topped off with blinis!

Here is what the guide told us about the holiday:

This is a week-long celebration to welcome spring that has been celebrated for hundreds of years.

On Monday: Make two small dolls for your home. One, made of straw and dressed in old, ugly clothes symbolizes winter. The other, of cloth or wood and dressed in fresh, new clothes symbolizes spring. Put these dolls in the window to let friends and neighbors know they are welcome to come in. (2007 note: Your entire house should be cleaned before visitors come. This is another way to say goodbye to the prior year.)

A large straw doll was made for the entire village as well.

On Tuesday: Whistles are given! Boys get horse whistles (strength) and girls get bird whistles (beauty, ability to rise above and fly). Cat whistles are the sign of a warm and loving family/home and can be given to either sex. The whistles are blown to call the birds back and to cast out sickness.

Wednesday is pancake day! Pancakes are warm and round and yellow like the sun.

On Thursday there is dancing and singing. (We sang songs about how people walked--ladies, grandmas, soldiers...)

Then, on Sunday the straw maslenistas are burned. This is also the day of atonement. You must ask forgiveness for anyone you've hurt or wronged in the last year and make ammends.

On this day, people who like winter sing sad songs to mourn its end.

Like most holidays in Russia, there is a mix of pagan, Christian, and Jewish elements. It's easy to see the overlap in these traditions--Lent, Yom Kippur...I think it's perfectly fine to celebrate the fact that God has granted us another spring!"

12 February 2007


I teach some of the most privileged children in the city. These children are well-fed and well-cared for. Attention is lavished upon them. And you know what--they look a little peaked right now. We all do! If you look at anyone at school, you'll see skin that is of a pallor you'd not consider healthy. Circles are showing up under our eyes. Our hair has none of it's summery gold.

But, we're happy and, for the most part, healthy.

I just wanted to mention that for those people coming over in the next month or so to meet their children. We're all a little sun-deprived about now. I noticed the same thing last year about this time. And, according to friends who were in Helsinki last week, the further north you go the worse it gets. So don't let appearances scare you.

On an happy note, I just purchased a plane ticket to Moscow for the weekend. I'm still waiting for permission to travel from the government via the consulate (I can only go 70 km from the city centre without permission), but that shouldn't be a problem for this trip. While in Moscow I'm going to get to meet up with some blogger friends--and meet some blogger babies. How cool is that? I'm excited!

11 February 2007

in the right

A friend from the UK shared that her partner (read "boyfriend") is having some frustrations with the Russian women who work for the consulate there. They will never admit they are wrong. Never. They've been caught in the middle of wrong-doing and will blatantly say it's not them. These are not major, earth-shattering mistakes. It could be something as simple as using the wrong color pen to sign a document. Still, presented with the evidence, they will deny that they were wrong. They will look at the ink and tell you black is blue.

I've had similar experiences with my facilitators in the US, but didn't recognize it as a cultural difference until my friend shared this with me. The latest, which is a little tiny, tiny thing that's driving me crazy, is about a lost check. I sent it in November. I know I did because we had to verify everything and include it on the customs form before I sent it. The check was there.

The check has not been cashed. I asked them about it when they were telling me how much I owed for apostille charges because the check I sent wasn't taken into account. They didn't cash a check I sent in August until November, so I wasn't overly concerned before then. But, they didn't have the check. I've said that I'll send a new check to replace it and one of the facilitators is fine with that. But. The other day I was asked (presumably by the other facilitator though the e-mail was unsigned) what I'd done about the check. It basically was saying that I was at fault, that I hadn't sent them a check.

I should've just stayed butter-won't-melt. But I didn't. I know it's a little, little thing but I couldn't. I'm sitting here waiting and watching the clock tick by, hoping that the inefficiencies on their part will not make the difference in whether or not my paperwork is filed before my agency's accreditation ends. And, so, I couldn't. I said I thought that they'd probably thrown the check out accidentally. Because, really, they probably did. Really, that's what I think. And I said it.

Cold reply. They had never received a check. But, this time I didn't present my customs story (though I did keep it in reserve). I simply said that it was sent with the second batch of documents and it wasn't a big deal to replace it.

And there was no answer to that e-mail, so I'm claiming the point. How sad is it that I feel the need to claim a victory this small? It's just that I'm so tired of being told I didn't do things that I did. I'm tired of being told I've been told things I haven't. I'm tired of all the paper-bungling and procrastination that's gone on. And I'm worried that all this garbage is going to delay my paperwork to the point that it's too late.

So, yes. I was petty. I am petty. I admidt it. I needed acknowledement that this time, they made a mistake.

I just hope this mistake is the last.

10 February 2007


No, I've not disappeared off the face of the earth. I've just been without internet for most of the week. It's been off at home, off at school...

On Wednesday, I went and had all my signatures notarized on my Russian documents. Because they were in Russian, they don't have to be apostilled. So that's good.

V, my contact here in Russia, and I went to the notary office and I waited in the corridor while V went in to see if they had our documents ready. He reappeared shortly and said he was going to "help them". A bit later he came out and translated them to me. (On the advice of my agency I asked for children with "correctable medical conditions who were not invalids". I hope that was the proper phrasing. I've heard others request simply, children who are "as healthy as possible".)

While I was waiting for V, other people joined me in the corridor. I giggled inwardly every time a disembodied voice from inside the office shouted and one of my companions leaped up and rushed in. Forget that whole take-a-number system. Forget the secretary who comes and collects you. Just listen for the shout!

There were three numbered doors in the corridor. I thought they must be offices. Door number 2 was the notary. It turns out door 1 was a closet. Door 3 was a restroom.

I asked about the fact that my agency's accreditation was lapsing soon and how that would impact me. V said it's really important that all my documents be here in Russia by the end of the month so that they can be translated and filed before accreditation lapses in mid-March. It's possible that my agency, who filed for NGO status in December, won't have much of a lapse at all...but no one really knows for sure how things will turn out. By filing before the lapse, we can proceed. We think.

I asked if I should remind my agency of this (wouldn't you think they'd be telling me this??) or if that would just irritate them. We decided to try to nudge them along. When I mentioned, quite understatedly, that the US paperwork had been s-l-o-w to be dealt with, V replied, "Some people, when asked to do something they aren't familiar with, do nothing. They just put it off." Yep. I feel "put off". (As he said at our last meeting, my case, while not extraordinary, is very unusual. However, he seems to view it as an interesting and challenging prospect--with definite advantages. It's nice to have that perspecitve after being the problem child with the US folks for so long.) Hopefully, with this deadline looming, the procrastinator in them with leap into action.

I wonder if anyone has named their adopted child "Godot". I'm sure they haven't. That would be incredibly cruel. Sometimes that's who I feel I'm waiting for...

04 February 2007

fast food

When we were talking about traditional foods for New Year's, I mentioned my favourite Russian foods were the pies. These are from a local chain (Stolle's, if you're coming to St. P) and are fab! We resort to these when we're in need of quick, relatively inexpensive food (this pie cost about $6) that is close. Stolle's is about two blocks from my house.

Here's the pretty, outside of the pie. The crust is a sweet bread. Like most Russian cuisine, it wouldn't be complete without dill. Fortunately there isn't much dill inside. (Why blogger insists on rotating this, I don't know.)

Inside you can have sweet things like berries or savoury things like meat and fish. This one is my favourite--it's chicken, rice and onion. Either it's everyone's favourite or no one's because it's not often available! (Note the porsche kettle in the background. Really. It'll make my landlord happy.)

02 February 2007

i dreamed a dream

Hmmm...maybe I ought to've titled every post with a musical theatre reference...

The night before last I dreamt that I was at my first referral meeting. The MoE had sent me to the children's home by myself. V & N were supposed to meet me there later. I met the little girl referred to me, who was about 6. She was very round-faced with a square, white-blonde bob. She looked Scandinavian or German. She was the life and soul of the children's home and chattered away in English. Everyone was gathered around paying court. And I didn't want to take her home. I wanted to take home the sad little waif (who may have had a sister but that part is fuzzy) being overlooked by everyone. I can't remember now what she looked like, but I know her picture is still somewhere in my head. I was trying to sneak away without accepting the first referral. I felt badly, but just knew that the first child was too...jolly. I was saying to a worker that surely another family would want to adopt her because she spoke excellent English. The worker, full of contempt for my ignorance, replied that all the children and workers in orphanages spoke English.

Strange, huh?

I've got an appointment on Wednesday to do the notarizing. My friend arranged to replace the document the agency lost. The agency agreement that was sent to the wrong office was tracked down. And, the facilitators said to wait to replace the check they lost until the final apostilling costs are in.

Too smooth. V thinks the hs is lacking in clarity. He sent his concerns to the facilitators. If they ask my sw for more changes, she may flip.

Stay tuned.