27 February 2008

pockets (longish)

*please note: blogger's spellcheck is still not working, I'm tired, typing in the dark on a keyboard with keys that stick because I've dropped it twice and am not going to proofread

In addition to my visit to 3.10 last week, I also joined V on two orphanage deliveries. (She works for Orphan Grain Train. They deliver shipments of goods to people in need worldwide. The shipments didn't make it safely to the intended recipients here in Russia, so donations are sent to V who then purchases and distributes needed items.)

We went back to the IKEA orphanage(not its real name, nach). I had purchased little dolls (Polina Pockets) for the disconsolate O and her good friend, L. I also had mini cars for L's brother and his friend. V hadn't been able to deliver them, so we brought them along. I wondered aloud on the drive there if O would be happy with her little dolls or if she'd burst into tears and tell me the hair color was wrong and she didn't like the dress. V thought this was hysterical! In fact, she was more disappointed than I was when we weren't able to see the girls. (They were still in school. It took a long time to figure this out. We were sent from room to room with promised that L & O were there. Finally we learned they were still in class.) I think coming home from school to find a surprise waiting would be great!

In return, their caretaker gave me a beautiful beaded rose that O had made and a matrushka that L had painted. Their generosity is always astounding!

We went to a new-to-me orphanage after that. It was a really nice one. The director was so soft-spoken. The "children" there were all happy, well-spoken and respectful. They were all busily working and playing--whether they were two or sixteen years old.

I brought some little squeaky bath toys with me in the shapes of all sorts of "machinas"--cars, motorcycles, helicoptors. Fortunately, they were young enought that machina (car ) and samolyat (airplane) sufficed for everything. ;> They loved them! We played and played. It is so easy to entertain them. Silly little games like squeezing the toy so the air blew on their cheeks were a big hit. One little girl who was an apt mimic quickly started speaking English (It's so nice!) during this game. Where's-the car? (Gdye machina?) was a big hit, too. They'd hide the car behind their back and I'd look for it in their pockets, their ears, tickling their tummies... They'd laugh delightedly and show me it. Then, of course, it would start all over.

One of the girls, D, was quick to notice my cross. She showed me hers...and all of her friends'. She was the oldest in the group and definitely the ambassador.

When I visit the baby rooms, I'm always touched. This orphanage had happy, healthy "babies". (They were mostly two-to-three-year-olds with a few four-year-olds, I'd guess.) Even here, in this well-managed facility, there was behaviour that I find atypical of preschoolers. I don't know if it's cultural or institutionalized behavior or a combination of the two, but it's consistent with behaviours I've seen in other baby homes. I don't know if others have noticed this, but in the ones I've visited, the children will flock around, crowding my legs like peguins huddling from the wind. They don't raise their arms to be picked up, but this is what they want. They just inch closer and closer until you reach down and pick them up, many of them with their head bowed. They won't instigate a hug and don't really know how to return one. They want to be picked up. They want to be roughhoused with and tossed and tickled.

One little pixie named K claimed a spot on my lap after playing with me for a while. Others would come and go, playing with V and each other, but K stayed with me. She had sparkly blue eyes and dimples. She was hesitant to leave and go eat her snack when her caretaker put an end to our play. And, she craned her neck for a last look as we headed to the door. The rest of them were happily eating.

I just wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home.

24 February 2008

just kate plus eight (long)

Do you remember the girls in 3.10? I met them last summer and caught their joy in a donated doll bed. I brought them a doll and Christmas treats as a part of Rachael's Simple Wishes project. I returned with dolls for everyone and a promise to "sponsor" them this year as my gift.

This week, I set out to spend my first birthday with them. The two youngest girls, V and P, have birthdays within a week and a half of each other. I had m&m cookies that were baked that morning gift bags filled with art supplies and a new outfit for the birthday girls (yes, they're in Hannas now...) and a two bead kits for all of us to enjoy.

I was really looking forward to this visit and I was not disappointed. I was greeted with cheerful cries of "Ket, Ket!" that claimed me as theirs. The rest of the orphanage life went on as usual, but for a little while I belonged to them. It was just me and the eight girls.

We had tea (and cookies). They sang and chatted. The girls were quiet about their gifts, but I hope they liked them. And then everyone just settled in to everyday-ness. Some of us (K, Ka, L and I) made bracelets. P settled in with a book. N and N and V and Ks turned on the television and flopped down on the floor beside us to unwind from the week. Clean laundry was brought in by a cheerful older brother and dumped on top of P--eliciting delighted shouts. Girls disappeared briefly to wash hands and collect laundry. (This, it seems, happens once a month. They had a LOT of laundry to put away! Each girl put her own clothes away in the cupboards that lined the room.)

Personalities today were so different. N, who I thought was shy, is a little monkey! She laughed and joked and played with V. Her older sister, K, keeps a close eye on her. L keeps a close eye on her sister, too. They are very tender with their sisters, looking out for them but not mothering them. It was really lovely to see. L, who was excited and boisterous last time was very considerate. She wanted to make sure I understood, that I had sugar for my tea, that I felt at home. Her sister, P, was just as gentle and friendly as last time. She told me, quite seriously, that I should be wearing my cross inside my shirt and not on the outside. They all heartily agreed. She told me her sweater was beautiful and thanked me for her gifts. And, Ka, who seemed much older than the others last time was happy and pleasant and just part of the group. I think some of this is that they are more familiar with me and less guarded. Some of that may just be because promises made have been promises kept. And, having the entire group together again.

When I was talking about the orphanage system here, and the fact that parents could send their children to an orphanage without relinquishing their rights, an ex-pat friend cast a new light on the situation. She compared it to boarding schools in the UK and the US. My sw has said that the girls there are happy and well-cared for by the orphanage staff. As hard as I find that to believe, it is what I saw. I longed desperately to be sent to boarding school from the time I was very small. I think imagined it to be a sort of camp-like environment where you lived with and went to school with your friends. (And you wore uniforms; that was important.) My afternoon on Friday felt just like that...minus the uniforms. While I have heard horrible stories about the internats here in Russia, this orphanage feels different. Not all the places I've visited have this environment. Some of them feel steeped in apathy and bordering on despair. I'm just so very thankful for the joy that I find woven between and around and among the girls in room 3.10.

I wish, truly wish, that I could just move in with them. I know they have a caretaker who genuinely cares for them. She is proud of them and affectionate. I would love to have her job. They are lovely girls and I so enjoy my time with them. Just Kate Plus Eight--doesn't it sound like there's potential for a reality tv show there?

22 February 2008

on the radio

There's a song on the radio right now (in English) that says:

Rah, rah, Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
(Insert line of Raputin's life story here)

Rah, rah Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
(Insert rhyming line of Rasputin's life story here)

It cracks me up.

The other day I heard a political announcement. (It's amazing to me how few billboards, psa's etc. are around with the election looming. Friends here are amazed at my amazement--telling me that the election means nothing, that no one will bother to vote, but that statistics will show 90% of the people supported the next president. We'll see...) What I heard was:

People of St. Petersburg
The President of the Russian Federation

The word for "idiot" ( Идиот) is very similar to one of the words for "coming" (Идёт). I'm guessing that this commercial was to encourage the people of St. Petersburg to go to the polls and vote for the President of the Russian Federation or tell them the next president was coming. I don't think insulting either the voters of St. Petersburg or the next president was the intent.

My Russian friends find this mis-hearing of mine hysterical and say first my impression was more accurate. ;>

20 February 2008

spirit lifters

I've not been a good tag-ee of late. I'm hoping this one will count for Annie's and Melissa's... Lea, I haven't forgotten.

Eight Things That Lift My Spirits

1. clean sheets with a high thread count on my bed--especially the periwinkle ones
2. clean anything--legs shaved, teeth brushed, flat tidied...
3. the sound of rain while I'm sleeping
4. sunshine! walking home and having it light is wonderful.
5. a gentle breeze (espically nice if it plays across my pillows while I'm sleeping. how can you not like a force of nature that plays?)
6. thunderstorms. they make me revel in the BIGNESS of God.
7. musical theatre...'most all of it
8. reading through the previous seven it seems that being well-rested deserves mention...

Anyone else thinking happy thoughts?

16 February 2008

what makes a genius?

eta: I think this was a test of creative problem solving, not of a blog's reading level. Another blogger (nameless and shamelss) I know kept trying until her blog came up "genius". I just hacked the html. That's what the "Ha." was--"Ha. I beat the button."


blog readability test

Movie Reviews


We have no classes next week. For some of our staff that means a trip to Egypt. For others it's a chance to catch up on classwork. For me it means a chance to deliver items to orphanages. I've called V and she is delighted to have my "big car" at her disposal. I'm not sure where or when, but the promise of these visits lies before me. I am looking forward to it!

It made me think of all your kind offers of help...and your questions about how to do that. I've been mulling it over. Shipping things here is not very practical. Shipping fees are extremely high. Rachael sent over some small gifts for Katya's former groupmates. Thanks to the customs slip I can tell you that $40 worth of small toys cost $65 to ship. It was a lightweight box (I carried it home from school) about the size of...eight board games. And, my eBay experience tells me that clothes are heavier than one would suspect. A single child's dress costs about $10 to ship.

I am happy to shop for you here. If you'd like to paypal a donation, I can shop for either what you'd like or for what V says is needed and deliver it on one of our trips. And, I can mail you receipts for your purchases (or e-mail a scanned one if you'd rather). Or, one of the things I've not been able to find here are inexpensive hair baubles. Four barrettes can cost$12! Those would likely be lightweight... There are many more boys than girls in the orphanages, though. I'm not sure they'd be keen on hair baubles.

That's the best I can come up with right now that involves me personally. There are many organizations who are better able to offer outreach than I am. Star of the Sea is an outreach program for the homeless in St. Petersburg. I have a donation for them in the back of my car right now (clothes, pillows, dishes and food). They describe themselves:

We are a Russian noncommercial charitable organization funded in Moscow 1996. We organize for committed volunteers and professionals, Russian and non-Russian, to work on social and medical development programmes, especially for street children, the elderly and for families in difficult situations. We offer help to those in need regardless of their race, religion and cultural background.

To provide street children with social, psychological and medical care and rehabilitation and place them into a stable and healthy environment that enables them to re-enter, maintain, and progress in a healthy lifestyle.

Tax-deductible donations to Star of the Sea can be arranged through a Chicago office. I urge you to read their website.

Buckner runs another program whom I have seen working in the orphanages around St. Petersburg.

V works for an agency who provide orphanages with needed medicine, sanitary products and just...basic needs. The budget for orphanages in Leningradskaya Oblast this year is 84 roubles ($3.42)/day for teenagers and 80 roubles ($3.25)/day for children. There is no money whatsoever in the budget for medicines--not for the green topical treatment commonly used or for antibiotics or for pain relievers. None. The agency V works for tries to make up the difference. She refers to it various ways. I'll try to get more information for people who would like to donate that way.

An aside for Kimberley: At this point, I only go to the orphanages V works with. She doesn't work in the city of St. Petersburg. If I do visit Emery's baby home, I'll be sure to let you know!

I hope that helps to answer some of your questions. Please, if you do find a way to give, let us know.

14 February 2008

you're all wonderful

Hmmm...so that game was either incredibly easy or ridiculously cliquey. (Sorry if it was the latter.)

Or, maybe, as I suspect, you really are all wonderful. It was Ann Marie. ;>

(Thanks for hanging in there...)

13 February 2008

guess who's wonderful

I've been concerned about the lack of blog fodder found here of late. Adoption news? Nope. Interesting insights into life in Russia? Nope. Surely, without desperate measure, my readership will drop dramatically. THEN what would I do?

So, a friend of mine suggested this post. It's a new game, invented by her, called, "Guess Who's Wonderful?" Here's how to play. I'll give you 5 clues and you have to guess who the wonderul blogger is. It's against the rules to give clues that are stupid, incredibly obvious or designed to make yourself look cool. Also, no mushy stuff is allowed. Attempting to ingratiate youself with the wonderul surprise person by using this game is also taboo. It would be helpful if the clues were searchable in the person's blog.

1. She does not know how old she is.
2. She has recently been ill.
3. Her dedication to eradicating the improper use of apostrophes rivals mine.
4. The person in question is extremely proud of the city from whcih his/her child is adopted and considers all other cities in Russia inferior.
5. Her child makes "stink-stink".

*bonus* (Just in case the other clues were too obscure. We want you to play!)

6. The person in question is on the phone with me right now laughing at these clues.
7. She was either my SBP or I was hers (I don't know which way that works) in the original Russia SBP organized by Debbie and Suz.

So-- who's wonderful today?

Copyright for this game is pending. Copy it now while it's still legal.

People who guess correctly are wonderful by association.

There. Is that good enough to keep you hanging around until there's actual news?

11 February 2008

boring bits in the 90%

Really, it's just more of the same. Nothing earth-shattering.

AND, some of my irl adventure are unpublishable because they're about my pif! I've been working on one of my projects...and it's really going to be sweet...but even those mis-adventures are under wraps until it's in the hands of the recipient.

You just think I have a much more interesting life than I do. ;>

10 February 2008


I liked that musical (no matter what the critics said). I had to change the title because even as I typed this I was singing:

No moon, no wind
Nothing to spy things by

No wave, no swell
No line where sea meets sky

Stillness, darkness
Can't see a thing, says I

No reflection
Not a shadow
Not a glint of light meets the eye

And we go sailing , sailing
Ever westward on the sea, we go...
Sailing, sailing
Ever on go we
Blogs are like icebergs. What you see isn't the whole picture. You may see 10% of what is going on at any given time.

In the jagged underbelly, there are lots of things going on right now. None of them are happening quickly and none of them should be blogged about. Yet. One of these days I'll be able to let you know about that 90% that's unseen for now. Or, I'll at least let you see 15% instead of the usual ten.

Until then, please keep thinking good thoughts and sending up prayers for quick, competent advocates, a smooth, straight path and wisdom for me. A lightning bolt would be appreciated as well...

More soon!

06 February 2008

blustery day (edited)

Last Saturday I went shopping. I had four bags of necessary items to carry up to my third floor flat. Pursuing my constant goal to make as few trips as possible, I had the bags doubled up. I've been known to hang bags up my arms, the plastic handles cutting into my wrists, in order to avoid an extra trip. If an extra trip up the stairs is needed, at the very least I'll try to make only one trip from the car to my door.

Usually Saturday is a day on which it's easy to find a parking space. Last Saturday this was not true. The street was blocked off for some reason and parking spaces were scarce. I had to park quite a bit down the block and lug my groceries through the slush and muck. Of course, after trudging through the slush and muck I discovered an empty parking space--right in front of my front door.

On Sunday, I was supposed to meet Tricia and Michael, who were visiting St. P while waiting out their ten days. They missed me, I missed them, and then...

WIND! It was SO windy! It rushed through Palace Square and down my street. The building across the street is still being renovated and was covered in scaffolding. (I'll see if I have an old picture of this...) The scaffolding crashed to the ground, filling the block and damaging cars parked below. The lights on the entire street went out--and still have not be repaired. They're really dark, but here's what it looked like out my window and down on the street:

In this picture, the man is walking right where my car was parked. The scaffolding fell right where the car in FRONT of him is parked. I live (if you can see it...) where the steps are going up after the yellow sign. I was very glad I didn't move to the closer parking space!

eta: I did meet up with Rita's mommy and daddy yesterday and had a great dinner--conversation was better than the food. Tricia was a good blogger and brought her camera. Kate, did not. Bad blogger, Kate.

Today the scaffolding is going back up! My camera is at school. I'll post pix tomorrow...

And, for UN Mama--I don't live on Vasilevsky, although I'd *love* to live there. I'm just two blocks down from the Hermitage.