Monday, November 29, 2010


Every moment is a feast of grace.

In no particular order, here are some things (trivial and all--and in no particular order) that I'm thankful for this year:

  • Skype - I really don't know how people lived overseas before this.  Total game changer.
  • Public Transportation - I couldn't speak more highly of Moscow's public transit.  We are completely content not owning a car here.
  • My Wife - On a year that's been particularly tough for her, she was tough right back.  I am so insanely proud of her for all that she's been through.  During those days where she had to walk on icy streets in below freezing weather to get to her doctor appointment, she didn't complain about all the stuff she would have been perfectly justified in complaining about.  She just did it.  She's an incredible woman, wife, and mother.
  • Liam - Becoming a parent is the scariest thing I've ever done, probably.  It still is pretty terrifying.  But there's just something so amazing and exciting about it that I can't imagine life without him now.
  • Strawberry Pretzel Salad - No explanation needed
  • Family and Friends (in the States) - Thank you so much for keeping up with us.  It's been so meaningful to us.  I can't begin to say how much we have needed it.
  • Friends (in Moscow) - We have been so incredibly fortunate to have amazing friends in this large and overwhelming city.  We are thankful for them all.
  • Florence and the Machine, Arcade Fire, The National, Janelle Monae, Shad, and etc. - I don't know how Liam would get to sleep without these songs --- OH NO..... Liam's already turning into a hipster!!!
  •  Living in Moscow - Living in and experiencing another culture, while difficult at times, has been an absolute excitement and joy.  Anything I say about this will only sound hokey and cliche, so I'm afraid to say anything more.  But it's been amazing.
  • YOU

Monday, November 22, 2010

Not From Around Here

There's always this moment when interacting with locals in Moscow when you can tell they've got you figured out.  It's a moment that you are trying your hardest for them to never figure out.  That moment when they realize that you're not from around these parts.

  • The Look - For most encounters, there's always this look they give you when they realize you aren't Russian.  It is difficult to explain.  There's just a flash.  Suddenly something happens in their eyes when they realize there's a reason behind your odd accent.  Or a reason you don't understand their question.  You can just tell.
  • The Switch - This doesn't happen that often, but when we're at restaurants or stores that are exports from the States (Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc.), most of the employees have a larger knowledge of English.  These places are more tricky when it comes to getting away with Russian.  They're more eager to use the English (or other) language that they've learned.  I can imagine-- I'm definitely going to have the same reaction if I'm in the U.S. and a Russian is trying to speak with me.  But as someone trying to learn the language and trying so hard to get away with what Russian I do know.... I feel so defeated.  I was at Starbucks one day, ordering things and getting everything right.  I was so proud of myself until the cashier asked me, in English, "Is this for here or to go?"
  • The Point - This one sneaks up on you.  This is when you're at a store or fast food place, and instead of telling you how much you owe, they just point at the amount on their cash register.  At some time during the transaction, you did or said something that completely gave you away, so the person doesn't even bother trying to speak to you.  [So my pride isn't completely shattered, sometimes I'll speak the number back to the cashier, as a question-- but really just to prove to her that I can in fact understand.  Yes, I'm that pathetic.]
  • The Repeat and Smirk - This is probably completely harmless and nothing personal, but sometimes the person we're interacting with us will notice a glaring mistake in our language.  Instead of letting it go, they will look at us with this sarcastic grin and repeat exactly what we said, kind of chuckling to themselves.  Like I said, I know they aren't trying to insult us, but it's always disappointing.

Of course, even though these do happen, I speak only in jest.  On nearly every occasion people are incredibly patient and courteous with our mistakes and stupidity.  Most people we interact with go out of their way to be helpful-- it's been such an aid for Beth and I.   We have been thankful for assistance nearly every time we have needed it.  As I have said before, we try in every way possible to avoid being "found out" that we're not Russian, but when it inevitably happens, it's almost always cordial.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Ode to Stardogs

    I'm not really a fan of hot dogs.  I know you're kind of supposed to say that if you want people to think you generally value your health, but I really don't eat them often.

    But here in Moscow, I've fallen in love with Stardogs.  I'm pretty sure it's only because of the fact that I can just get them on the side of the road while I'm rushing around the city, and the allure of the city-life aspect of it all, but I love them.  They HAVE to be pretty bad for you-- and what's worse-- I always get the one wrapped in freakin' bacon.  BACON!

     Just imagine this bad boy with bacon all around it.

    But sadly, over the past two weeks, all sorts of kiosks lining the sidewalks and streets have been taken down.  Moscow's new mayor Sergei Sobyanin decided that over 500 kiosks all around the city should be taken down.  Although his attempts may seem noble--his main concern is cleaning up the city and reducing traffic--they really get in the way of my (admittedly infrequent) eating habits.  While I don't eat these often enough for it to put a dent in my waistband, there are several stands that have provided the very sustenance needed to get me on to my next errand.  The one nearest my metro stop?  Gone.  The one nearest a school I teach?  Gone.

     Of course this is saddening on other levels.  While ultimately mayor Sobyanin's decision is only removing 15% of total kiosks (and not only Stardog kiosks, we're talking flower shops, Shorma shops, produce stands, and so on), it is affecting numerous migrant workers.  According to the article, 7,000 people are out of a job because of the decision and they were given almost no notice.  Beth and I do not live close enough firsthand, but we have heard friends talk about the speed and severity that these stands were taken out during the middle of the night.  They were literally torn apart where they stood.  I'm sure this didn't happen to all of them, but still.

    I don't know enough to make judgements on what was right or wrong to do, or what should happen.  But my gut's telling me something's just not right.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    To Izhevsk

    Beth and I were able to take a trip last week to Izhevsk to visit friends.  As I've posted before, Izhevsk is about a 16 hour train ride east of Moscow-- but a one and a half hour flight.  We felt that it would be a good idea also to try out flying with Liam when the flight time was pretty minimal, and he did very well.  We found cheap one-way tickets and flew to a city about 3 hours away from Izhevsk, where our friends the Friersons and Wilhelms graciously met us.

    Liam is so excited to see his Aunt D!

    I couldn't pick a favorite, honestly.

    Little pepper jack o'lanterns for our Halloween party.

    Visiting Izhevsk gave us a glimpse of life in Russia that is not very noticeable or even apparent at times in Moscow.  It also gave us such an appreciation for our friends who live there.  While we were on cloud nine the entire time we visited, Izhevsk is probably like any other city in the sense that if you're not there long enough you don't notice the blemishes.  We were there a week, so every experience was something new and exciting.  I'm sure our friends love the city-- but we did not experience any of the difficulties that come with living in a secluded and limited city that they probably see often.  We are so thankful for our friends.  They've endured hardships I'll never even think about.  It gives me perspective when I get stressed over situations here in Moscow.

    One of the most insane mullets I've ever witnessed.

    Our boy band album cover.

    On Friday, we traveled outside of Izhevsk to a village where we met with several friends and shared a meal and devotional together.  Definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

    On our return home, we took the train with Ross and Ricky.  Unfortunately we had waited to long to purchase a platskart ticket with them, so we were in kupe with Andre (middle-aged large man) and Olya (older but incredibly kind woman).  The train is always exciting and fun to take, but I am absolutely certain I can say that only because we don't use it often.  Things are definitely a little more nerve-wracking with Liam.  Most of our evening and night was spent walking him up and down the hallway of our wagon.  Olya really took to Liam, and talked to him nearly the entire time she was awake.  Right when she first walked into our room and waved goodbye to her friends out the window, she told us, "Give him to me," and proceeded to wave Liam in front of the window to her friends. 

    Without a doubt, from the beginning to the very end this trip was quite an adventure.  Beth and I are more than grateful that we were able to spend a week with some very special people.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Take You to the Barbershop

    Getting a haircut is, oddly enough, one of the scariest things I do here in Moscow.  I haven't gotten it quite figured out, but it just is.  I just get nervous every time I force myself to get one.  Really, really nervous.

    But for the most part things are really great.  The particular place I go (in the basement of an apartment building) only charges 150 rubles (about 4-5 bucks), and things are always moving quickly.   You wait in line outside the room (if there ever is a line--it's only happened once for me) and when there's a free barber you nod and shake his hand.

    With absolute certainty I know that one of the reasons I'm nervous is just the language.  I actually have most of the words down that I need for getting a haircut, but I think I'm just scared that I could say something wrong that would make my request the opposite of what I would like (for instance, instead of saying "I just want a little cut all around," I'm worried I might ask for everything to be cut except for a little).  It's really silly, it's just hair, but I just get nervous.  I also think that has to do with the innate desire of being understood.  Or at least that's my excuse.

    I also think I'm nervous because of the first time I had ever gone.  My Russian was atrocious, and I just felt like I was being made fun of the entire time (which I probably wasn't).  But when you can't really understand you have this strange feeling that everything is about you.  That group over there is saying something about how silly you look, or that security guard is laughing at you, and so on.  In reality none of that is true, but during those months where I understood practically nothing, I (selfishly and rather narcissistic-ally) assumed it was all about me.

    Anyways, so the first time I just felt like a fool.  And I knew the price for a haircut was 150 rubles, but in some strange attempt at congeniality, I asked how much the price was.  The man looked at me and up at my hair and said, "For *your* hair....... 200 rubles."  I just handed him the bills and walked away, defeated and with no recourse.  No snappy thing to say.

    And ever since then I've been nervous I'll have a similar experience.  The only thing is I never do.  Every other person who I've sat with to let slice and dice at my hair has been beyond kind, and I've been able to share about myself and ask about them.  They've only charged the correct amount, and they usually comment on the amount of hair that has ended up on the floor.

    I'm sorry-- after reading over this post again, I just feel so ridiculous.  I get stressed out about some of the dumbest things.  Please know that if you are thinking about how silly I am while reading this, I agree with you completely.