Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mosh Pit Grannies

I went to Billa the other day.

Billa is the closest grocery store to my house. It's about a 12-15 minute walk from here, and there are no stairs or under crossings along the way - it's important to know these things when you're carrying your groceries on foot or hauling a wheelie cart.

It's not big. Big is Metro. Big is Auchan. But you have to drive to those places, and my car is not parked anywhere near my house, so it takes about 4 hours of my day to shop there. I'd say Billa is only about the size of a small CVS drug store in the states, but I can make it work.

It isn't fancy. Fancy is Zelyonyi Perekryostok, which I really like. But it's a 20 minute walk, with multiple sets of stairs to maneuver.  Also: when it's freaking cold out, those few extra minutes seem painfully long.

Fancier still is Azbuka Bkusa. And it's actually about as close as Billa.  But I refuse to pay the equivalent of $5 for 4 tiny cucumbers. Also, one of the checkers there is a HUGE heavy metal fan, and once, when he found out I was from the U.S., he followed me around the store, from the produce section, through the dairy aisle, past the bread and all the way to the exit, telling me everything that is great about America and rattling off all of his favorite metal bands. It kind of scared me a little, so now when I go back, I have to go in disguise in case I run into him again.

Billa, though. Billa is for regular folk. It's mostly the babushki on pension who shop there, because it has a decent selection and reasonable prices. They seem to fill their carts with one banana, 2 cans of mystery meat, something pickled, some bread, and maybe a head of garlic. That's it. I like to imagine what, exactly, they're making for dinner. The men who shop there are usually buying a can or two of Russian beer, some sausages, a loaf of bread and cigarettes.

Meanwhile, I'm there for the produce. Ever since our vegetable kiosk shut down, Billa is the closest place for veggies, so I wander the aisles doing this delicate mathematical dance, trying to figure out if I can fit a bag of potatoes AND a cabbage in my wheelie cart, and how many apples can I haul back home, and how many bags of lettuce, because they're light but they take up a lot of space, and will I still have room in there to buy some jam or crackers? It's never good when you buy too much food and you end up hauling bags of groceries in addition to the wheelie cart. So there's a lot of strategy that goes into a typical shopping excursion.

Billa is normally crowded, but not scarily so.  All nine of the registers are usually open, so the lines don't get obnoxiously long. And the what-will-she-make-for-dinner-with-that? game is always fun.  Most every time I go there, some babushka stops to ask me a question, so I get to work on my Russian. Once it was a cute little granny who needed help reaching something on a high shelf. Another time, one of the grannies couldn't read the boxes, and she asked me to help her find a box of loose black tea, no not that because I'm on a pension and I can't afford that, is there anything cheaper? Are you sure that's the cheapest one? How about that one over there? My glasses just aren't strong enough, is that one loose tea because I don't want tea bags? (That time I wanted to buy the tea for her - she was really stressing about the twenty cent price difference between two boxes of tea. But I didn't want to offend her by handing her money when she wasn't asking for help. She was just making conversation. What to do, internet?)

Billa has these little stickers that you can collect with your purchases. I don't know; I don't collect them myself. But you can paste them in a little booklet, and when you have a certain number of stickers, you can collect a prize, like a tea pot or something. Once a granny spent 10 minutes telling me what she was saving up her stickers for, so that day I collected my stickers at the register and handed them over. She beamed with excitement. A few other times, I've collected the stickers and asked a nearby granny if she wants them. They usually say no, so I just answer, oh, okay, I'll just leave them here in case somebody else wants them, and then the granny relents and says, well, she may as well take them if I'm really sure I don't need them.

All this to say, I like the Billa babushki.  They can be sweet and chatty when they want to be. And they love those stickers.

But you know when they don't want to be sweet and chatty? In the days leading up to New Year's Eve, when it's cold out and the shelves are looking barren and half the city is vying for the last three mandarin oranges in the bin, those grannies turn ugly. And it turns out they can throw an elbow when they need to get to that bin of potatoes.

The vegetable section is two aisles wide and three long - about the size of a gas station convenience store. But yesterday, there were no joke about 30 people pushing carts in that tiny area. And when I say "pushing carts," I mean "pushing carts into each other." About the 10th time some granny rammed her cart into the back of my legs because I wasn't moving out of her way fast enough, I turned around, gave her the evil eye and said "hold on there, Tiger, because I can hurt you." (I said it in English, though, because the reality is, you don't want to mess with those grannies. I mean, sure, I work out. But they survived World War II AND Stalin.)

Anyway.  The point is that all those sweet grannies turned ugly, and so did I. It was every man for himself in that produce section, and the worst part of it? They were all out of lettuce and cauliflower anyway. The two things I desperately wanted. So it was a wasted trip. I found enough things to fill up my cart anyway, changing dinner plans on the fly. No roasted cauliflower for dinner, so how about frozen broccoli instead? No cilantro, but they had some not-overly-wilted basil and a lone head of cabbage, so my Mexican-style bean soup turned into minestrone right there.

The checkout line was long, but thankfully the guy behind me didn't feel the need to shove into me with his cart. So there's that.

When it was my turn to pay, the checker asked "do you collect stickers?" I looked at the sea of babushki fighting their way through the checkout line and sighed. No, I told her. No, I don't need any stickers today.

I'm hoping to avoid the grocery store until after the New Year holiday has come and gone. Those babushki...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Saving the world, one truffle at a time.

There are people in the U.S. Department of State who are doing globally significant, world-changing work.



I am not one of them.




I work here in Moscow, part time.  I should tell you about that job some day, because I rather like it, even if I’m not exactly changing the world. My full time job here, my real job, is the wife-and-mom gig, which I either love or hate, depending upon the day.

Gone are the days when the Foreign Service officer’s evaluation included a bit about whether his (always a “he”) spouse was doing her job as support staff well enough.  Still – if you’re married to a Foreign Service officer these days, chances are good that you are the support staff, even if there isn’t a space for you on the evaluation form anymore.  That’s me: part time for pay, full time in support of my husband and kids.

Last week, I clocked a ton of overtime for my full time job. You see, we planned to invite the whole office over for a little holiday party. And by “little,” I mean we only invited 100+ people. (Once you add in the Marines, the Seabees, the engineers, the local staff, the agents, and everyone who helps them out day-to-day, it turns out to be a pretty big group.)

Which is how I found myself elbow deep in chocolate for an entire week, making Oreo truffles, Bailey’s Irish cream truffles, multiple batches of fudge, caramel corn, mint truffles, walnut cookies, 7-layer bars, and I don’t even remember what else. At one point it got so bad that I was dreaming about rolling out truffles.


But it was all worth it in the end. The party was crowded and crazy and loud. Much mulled wine was consumed. Many laughs were shared. And best of all? There are leftover truffles for Christmas day, which is approaching far too quickly for me.


Monday, December 7, 2015

A Tale of Two Christmases

Moscow was our first post in the Foreign Service.  We arrived here in 1999, childless, but with our first on the way.  Needless to say, Moscow was quite a bit different in those days - and so were we.

We went to our first Embassy Christmas party in 1999, at Spaso House, the Ambassador's residence since 1933. It's an amazing house - you can read about it here if you're interested, or take a virtual tour.

I don't have a ton of pictures from that first party, but here's one.

Damn, I was young! And that baby is about to turn 16.
 And here are a few from yesterday's party re-do.

This photo was taken at 3:30 in the afternoon, outside of Spaso House. Moscow gets dark early in the winter.

Inside the mansion.

With Santa, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Another Article

Here's my latest article, from Time Magazine.

Back with a real post after I finish my real life chores. So maybe never? But hopefully sooner than that.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Handshake Day

A week or so ago it was Handshake Day across the Foreign Service.

Handshake Day is the day when officers start learning what their onward assignments will be. Not everyone learns that day (and Diplomatic Security is a notable exception). But enough people learn where they're going next that, if you're affiliated with the FS, your Facebook feed will be filled with pictures of flags and bridges and maps for a solid 48 hours as your friends start rolling out their announcements.

So far, I have friends who are moving to Guatemala and Gaborone. Tanzania and Venezuela. Morocco. India. Austria. Ukraine. Japan and Germany. Turkey.

So many places to go in this wide world.

For the first time ever in the history of us, we got our handshake on Handshake Day, too. Usually we're a few - or more! - months behind. But not this time. This time, we already know that in summer of 2016, we'll be in...



(drumroll, please)



The United States of America.

***

Kind of anticlimactic, no?

But alas, it's time for us to come home - or so DS tells us. They've offered B a great job, one he's really happy about. And so, in the coming months, we'll start the slow-but-stressful transition stateside.

There is a lot to do in order to move "home."

Sell a car; buy a car.

Enroll 4 kids in 3 separate schools. Un-enroll them from their current school.

Update medical clearances.

Purge household goods so you don't have too much stuff at the other end.

Figure out how to ship a cat and a dog.

Negotiate leave dates with the losing post (Moscow), and arrival dates with the gaining post in the U.S.

Get rid of old 220 volt electronics and figure out how to replace them with 110v equivalents.

Cell phone plan? What's a cell phone plan? Last time we lived in the U.S., we used our landline exclusively - except when it was tied up by the dial-up internet service.

Change addresses for every bank account, magazine, friend - but to what? We own a house, so we'll have to work on getting the tenants out if we want to move in.

Find temporary housing in the mean time.

Moving back to the U.S. is an expensive proposition. In addition to fixing up a house and buying two cars, we need to buy all new electronics (television, computers, iPads, phones). We need to furnish an entire house - I think we still have toddler beds in storage, but those maybe won't work so well with the kids we have. We need to - arghh, I don't even want to think about it.

Instead it might be best to concentrate on Wegmans and Chipotle and signs in English and parking lots and left turn lanes and Target and pho and real chocolate milk.

I will miss this overseas adventure we've been on. But I guess it's time.




Friday, November 20, 2015

Honey. Fat. Markets. Anything but current events.

I have nothing to add to the conversation about current events. I am terribly sad and afraid for our small world - that is all you need to know. If you know me in real life, you know what's going through my mind. But this isn't the place to put the details. Not now, anyway.

I have another article in TIME magazine today, about keeping your kids safe overseas. Go take a look, please - it's good advice even for those of you living stateside.

We had some decent snow earlier in the week, but today it's rainy and dreary in Moscow.

A few of us decided to go to Dorogomilovo Rynok to get our vegetable shopping done for the weekend. We had a new lady in tow, so we took her to all of our favorite vendors so they'd know her: the cheese & yogurt lady, the honey lady, the nut guy, the spice guy, the vegetable folks, etc.

The honey lady is my favorite, because she gives us samples of every kind of honey - whether or not we want them. She knows my favorite kind by now, but still she has me sample each new kind. One of these days, I'm going to learn the words for the different plants and flowers so I know where all of these honeys come from.

Yeah, we sampled them all. That dark one tastes like the cows walked through the meadow just ahead of the bees - blech. That white one in the middle? SO good.


I'm almost out of bee pollen (I add it to my yogurt and granola). I thought about buying some, but my eyes were drawn to the bottles on either side of it:

Blurry picture. But on the right side of the frame, there? That's a bottle of bear fat. Yes. You read that right. Bear fat.

And that right there is badger fat. Yum.
Back in Kazakhstan, they used to sell jars of dog fat in the markets in wintertime. A friend insisted it was the best cure for colds - just add a spoonful to hot water, drink, and you'll be better in no time.

(I never tried it. Because no. Just no.)

This is the first time I've seen bear fat around these parts. I took a picture, because all these years later, I've always wished I took pictures of the dog fat. I did not, however, ask her what it's for. Next time, I promise, I'll find out and report back to you.

My refrigerator is stocked with honey and checil cheese and mandarin oranges, so I'm ready to brave whatever Moscow throws my way this weekend.

Be safe out there, wherever you are. And if, like me, you're stressing about the state of the world, go out and do something kind for a neighbor. Any neighbor will do. Just - find the thing that is within your circle of influence, and make that thing better. Make somebody smile. Give someone a hug. Buy some flowers. Register to run the Virtual 5K for refugees.

Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

One more article

Another article in Time magazine this week. Please head over there and take a look at How to Parent Like a Diplomat.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Death

There was a death in the Embassy community this week.

It happens sometimes, sadly, and when it does, a lot of people swing into action. The Marines are sometimes first responders, as is the medical team, of course, and the security team. The DCM often has the unenviable task of telling surviving family members, and then somebody else has to help family members figure out what’s next. Someone from GSO will have to clean up whatever mess is left behind. Someone from the office of the victim gets involved as well. Someone else has to tell the Ambassador, who in turn has to let the entire community know what happened before the rumors start flying. Washington gets involved too, as everyone works to get the body repatriated and to support any family members left behind.

In short, a death affects the entire Embassy community on some level.

This all happened right around the time that the school buses arrived on compound that afternoon. The buses pulled up; the kids hopped off and saw the waiting ambulance, flanked by Marines. They saw the entrances to the building blocked off by Marines who wouldn’t let anybody past, lest they wander into the tragedy as it was unfolding.

My boys came home first and asked me what was happening, but of course I didn’t yet know. Someone is probably hurt, I told them. We’ll hear about it eventually if it’s important. They accepted that and wandered upstairs to start their homework.

Then K burst through the front door, shouting “Where’s Daddy?”

I told her he was at work.  She started sobbing as she told me about the ambulance, with the Marines standing guard. She was convinced that something had happened to her dad.

I told her he was fine. That if something happened to her daddy, somebody from the Embassy would knock on the door and tell us.

But how do you know?, she asked. Have you talked to him? How do you know it isn’t him?

When he finally did call, to tell me he’d be home late (these things take a lot of time to resolve), she answered the phone and burst into tears again. She simply would not be convinced that her dad was safe, even after hearing his voice.

You know, I think it’s Baghdad that twisted her up this way. That, and the fact that, at 9 years old, she’s already been through several duck and cover events and intruder events that weren’t drills. 

She sees the Marines drilling periodically, moving through the Embassy in full gear as they practice various scenarios. This never bothers her in the slightest.  There are certain times during the week when they test the alarm system; by now she knows when these tests are coming, and she hardly notices them.

But the real emergencies reduce her to a quivering mass of tears.

Her first real duck and cover happened during a kids’ birthday party one warm weekend at the Embassy pool in Amman, when she was around 5 years old. She was swimming with friends when the alarm when off. Her dad, her birthday friend’s dad and all of the Marines and RSO staff around the pool took off for the main Embassy building to suit up for whatever was coming. Everyone else swarmed out of the pool and into a safe haven area, where the kids all shivered in the cold, towels left behind in the rush to get to safety. Kids were crying, adults were shushing, everyone was praying for the all-clear to sound.

She didn’t seem overly upset after it was over. But the next time the alarm went off, instead of following instructions, she collapsed into a heap on the playground and refused to move.

Then, of course, her dad went off to Baghdad and she turned into a real worrier. We all did, I guess, but K worst of all. Will he die? she wanted to know, and I told her no. He won’t die. And the fact that he is there means lots of other mommies and daddies won’t die, either.

He’s her hero. As she sees it, his job is to save lives. But she is old enough to understand that a person whose job is to save the lives of others is often called upon to put his own life at risk. And she is old enough to know that when she sees the Marines with their game faces on, it means her own daddy must be out there somewhere, too.

He still wasn’t home when she went to bed.  When she woke up the next morning, I told her what happened, and then a whole new set of questions erupted. Who was he?, she wanted to know. Do we know him? Does he have kids? What will happen to his kids?

On the school bus yesterday, all of the kids were talking about it, apparently, trying to sort out what it means that a person can be there one minute and gone the next. If it can happen to that person, they reason, what’s keeping my small family safe?

We talked about it more at bedtime. By now, she’d had time to process it, and her questions became bigger, more existential. She moved from will this happen to me? on to where does a person go when their body dies?

And then she started planning my funeral.

This was a bit uncomfortable for me, to say the least. She told me where she would bury me, and how, and what she would think of while she was doing it.  I know this is a normal process, this thinking about the worst things that could happen and then preparing yourself for them, mentally. Heck, mothers do it all the time. We see our kids climbing a tree, and in our mind’s eye we envision them falling to the ground. We picture the screaming, the pain, the ambulance, the beeping machines and serious-faced doctors.  We prepare ourselves mentally to rush them to the hospital, all before they’ve even reached that first high branch of the tree. Or perhaps that’s just me?

But still, it was a strange sensation to watch my daughter planning out my funeral, and to see that this activity was oddly calming for her. I think it gave her a sense of control. It gave her the idea that she could control life’s events rather than wait to be knocked over by fate.

Yesterday was a quiet day on compound, as news of what had happened spread. It was a holiday here in Russia, so the Embassy was closed, but the children were all in school. All was quiet. The hallways were empty, automatic lights shut off because so few people were walking through them.  In the gym, where he died, there was an empty space where once there had been workout equipment, all hauled away in the aftermath.

Bart and the other people who’d been at the scene seemed tired and sad. I know my husband has dealt with death many times in his career, with bloodshed and catastrophic injuries, with suicides and gunshot wounds and other things that I never want to have to think about. But that kind of thing doesn’t get easier on a person, does it?  We spent the holiday walking around foggy, grey-skied Moscow, talking quietly about the future and about our kids.

As we were heading home, we ran into the priest, who was wearing not his vestments but a heavy wool coat and a ski cap, looking just like an ordinary man. Bart stopped him, told him the man’s name, asked him to say a prayer. The priest solemnly repeated the man’s name and promised to send his prayers skyward. We continued on our way after that, both of us ready to be home, to wait for our children to join us.

Life is a fragile, terrible, beautiful thing. Brutiful, as Glennon always says.  Hold on tight while you have it. And say a prayer for this man, who died on Tuesday while serving his country here in Russia.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween on the NEC

Trick or Treat is over. The girls have changed out of their costumes. Candy wrappers are strewn everywhere. I may have eaten a few Snickers bars myself, plus or minus a Butterfinger or two. (What? Every kid knows about the mom tax.) A few moments ago, A surveyed her huge stash of candy, sighed with satisfaction, and said "I just can't believe it's almost Christmas."




Happy Halloween everyone. 

(And remember: if you're in the States, and you're turning your clocks back this weekend - we don't do that here. So we'll be an hour off of the usual difference.)

Friday, October 30, 2015

The GlobeHoppers go to the Kremlin

It was a short visit, but we managed to cram most of the major sites into just a few days.

We spent one whole day touring the Kremlin, the Armory, Red Square and GUM. I kind of lost count of how many churches we saw, but it was a lot.

On the grounds of the Kremlin. Church in the background.

One church of many.

That's the Moscow River on the other side of the wall.

Church.

Another church.
Unfortunately, there are no pictures allowed inside the Armory itself. It was amazing. Every single coronation outfit of the czars is on display in there. I loved the old dresses and shoes. Loved. And they have a ton of old carriages belonging to the czars.  And suits of armor. And Faberge eggs. And, and, and.... Really. If you're ever in Moscow, make the time to go there.
The GlobeHoppers themselves. Such fun guests they were!

My beautiful family.

These two were missing some other old pals from Jordan. I think a reunion might be in order this summer.

A

K

A

Brothers.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Evening at the Ice Palace

The GlobeHoppers came for a visit! Well, 50% of them did, anyway. It was fun to have visitors to show around town. And these were the best kind of visitors - smart, funny, curious, easygoing, adventurous....

Mr. G reallyreallyreally wanted to go to a hockey game. I guess you could say he's sort of a fan. He found the game online - all I had to do was find the stadium and purchase the tickets before they arrived.

I explained to the ticket lady that my friends are crazy hockey people and that this was Number One on their List of Things to Do In Moscow, before Red Square and everything. So I needed good tickets. She found me some tickets. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Will they be happy with these tickets?" (Because they were only around $25-30 apiece, and I would've paid more.) She laughed, replying "your friends will be very happy with these tickets."

They seemed happy indeed. We were just 3 rows back from the ice, and our seats were directly above the home team dugout, or whatever you call it in hockey. (I'm not the fan, they are.) We were close enough to see the specks of blood on the ice and the floor of the arena when one of the players got clubbed with a stick. We were close enough that I was a bit worried about getting bashed in the skull by an errant puck - the safety net was conspicuously absent from our section.

The home team - Dynamo - got crushed by the visiting Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team, but their fans never gave up hope. So fun to see the fans screaming at a nearly sold out match, even if I still don't exactly understand hockey.

Crowd outside of the Ice Palace.

Not on zoom.

Friends since middle school - in foreign service years that's an awful lot.



Monday, October 19, 2015

In Search of the Chicken Guy

We mostly eat vegetarian in this house - and in case you were wondering, "vegetarian" and "overseas" are not two words that go well together in most places we've lived.

There are 2 vegetarians in my household (I'd bet you can't guess who they are if you don't know us!), but I do try to feed the rest of the family animal protein about once a week or so. Usually this means chicken - it's the cheapest and easiest form of meat to procure and cook. The kids won't eat fish anyway - 3 years in Beijing, where we were told never to buy local fish because of polluted waters, turned them off fish forever. And I don't like handling raw beef, pork or lamb - it grosses me out a little. So chicken it is.

For awhile, it was super easy to do chicken in Moscow. Each of the two closest metro stations had a "chicken guy" out front selling rotisserie chickens out of a little kiosk. Depending upon the exchange rate, each small chicken cost about $6-8. I'd buy two for dinner and then turn the bones into stock for another meal. Easy! Both of the chicken guys were good guys - polite, helpful, always offering lavash or bread to go with the chicken, which they wrapped carefully and quickly in foil as they worked their way through the line of shoppers.

But last spring, both of the chicken guys disappeared, along with the vegetable ladies and the rest of the kiosks outside of the metro stations. Rumor has it that one of the higher-ups in the city government either didn't like the way they looked, or had other business plans of his own for the site. Who knows what happened? All I know for certain is that suddenly, chicken acquisition wasn't so easy. Gone were the days when I could simply hop off the metro and buy dinner on my way home.

Instead I've been walking to Billa, or Zelyonyi Perekryostok, both close-but-small grocery stores, to buy raw chicken parts, which I then roast and turn into dinner. This means a longer walk, with more work in the kitchen. I once tried to buy a roasted chicken from one of these stores, but that creature must've sat under the heat lamps for a few hours too long before I bought it - it was tough and dry and stringy.

I despaired of ever being able to find a simple way to add some chicken to our main meal. Then, just last week, my friend M offered to take me to her favorite big grocery store, about a 20-minute drive from the Embassy, so I gladly hopped in her car and headed out. Along the way she told me that the store (Auchan, for those of you here in Moscow) has really good rotisserie chicken, but the lady who sells them is "a bit crabby."

Auchan's great! Why haven't I been there before? So much better than Metro - closer and quieter, too. I'm not sure I can find it again on my own, but I'll certainly try.

As for the chicken lady, indeed she was about the crabbiest Muscovite I've met in some time.

I waited my turn behind a policeman who was buying several chickens, and was quite particular about which chickens he wanted. Between his indecision and her slow pace, I thought I'd never get to the front of the line. But finally his chickens were bagged and tagged. She turned to me with a dour expression, gesturing to indicate it was my turn.

"I'll take three, please," I said cheerfully, thinking maybe she'd cheer up if I was cheerful myself.

But no.

"Which ones?" she shrugged, waving at the pile of chickens.

"It's all the same to me," I answered. Really, each chicken looked pretty much like the next, all legs and wings and crispy skin.

She bent over the tray and pulled one out, muttering under her breath, just loud enough that I could hear her.

"All the same?" she mocked me. "All the same? It's never all the same. All of these chickens are different. Why would you say it's all the same when it obviously isn't?" She picked through the chickens deliberately before shoving a chicken in a bag roughly and looking up at me with contempt.

"Okay," I said, because clearly she couldn't be bothered to choose a chicken without my input, "I'll take that one over there, and the one next to it."

"Ha!" she snorted, as if to herself. "So I guess it isn't 'all the same', is it? The lady wants a specific chicken now, does she? All the same, yeah, right." On and on, until the chickens were all separately weighed and bagged.

It would have been annoying, actually, this blatant rudeness, if it weren't so sad-funny, listening to this gold-toothed babushka in a dirty butcher's smock ridicule my ability to properly choose a chicken. They really, truly, honestly, looked pretty much the same to my un-chicken-trained eye.

After about 5 minutes of abuse, I got my chickens and continued on my way through the vast supermarket. Seriously, why have I never been here before?

The chicken, as it turned out, was delicious.

Still. I miss my chicken guy.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

STEM on my dining room table

"We dissected owl pellets in school today," K exclaimed as she ran into the dining room.

"Owl pellets? You mean, like, poop?" I asked.

"Naw," she replied. "Pellets. You know. The stuff they can't digest."

As I was about to explain that "stuff they can't digest" is frequently synonymous with "poop," she upended a dixie cup onto my table. My table where I eat.

Just in time for Halloween, I have a dining room table covered in rat bones that only hours ago were encased in owl poop. I mean, pellets.

Anyone want to come over for dinner?




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Soccer in the Snow

A few short weeks ago, we experienced an Indian summer here in Moscow - one last blast of warmth and sunshine before the cold dark days of winter set in.

Sadly, that Indian summer ended just a few days before the Middle School hosted an international school soccer tournament.

In practical terms, this meant we went from t-shirts and shorts to winter coats and hats almost overnight. This is what it looked like from the sidelines of the first game of the tournament. In October:



I'm a wimp. I readily admit it. I love sunshine and warm weather. Cold weather is fine, too - as long as I can stay inside and bake bread all day. Yeah, I know - I'm in Moscow, so quit complaining already. I'll never learn to love the snow, but after so many cold-winter posts, I've learned to deal with it. Mostly by avoiding things like all-day-outside-in-the-snow-soccer-tournaments.

The kids, for the most part, had a great time despite the snow - or perhaps because of it. Conditions on the field were less than ideal, but taking a day off school to run around in the first snow of the year isn't exactly a hardship for your average middle-schooler.

Every so often the skies cleared and all of us sidelined parents put on our sunglasses and cheered a bit more, well, cheerfully.




And actually, by the end of the (very long) first day, the snow was mostly gone from the field. It still blew around and stung our eyes, but it couldn't stick for long on the field.



Of course, there was still Day Two to survive, for both parents and players. By about lunchtime on the second day, the kids were all exhausted. Three games in a single day will do that to you.

The team from Warsaw took first place overall. There were other teams, from Prague and Bucharest and Budapest. Istanbul, too. Some of these kids were seriously impressive players, and they obliterated A's relatively young team. His team lost every game.  Every single one.  It's painful, as a parent, to sit on the sidelines and watch your son's team get crushed, over and over. But I was so proud of his team. They never gave up. Even knowing, going in, that they were probably going to lose (they were the B team, after all), they still fought down to the last minute of every game. 

Anyway, you get the idea. It was a long, cold weekend. The day after the tournament, the snow disappeared, and this week we're expecting practically balmy temps in the mid-40s. Which is good, because Halloween is just around the corner.

And now, I'm off to bake some bread. Because winter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One Week, Two Articles

I have two new publications this week.

The first is in Time Magazine - my first ever for that pub.

And the second is on Scary Mommy.

Click on the links to go take a look.

In other news: it is snowing in Moscow. Snowing.

I'm not ready.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Monument Graveyard


We're currently experiencing a bit of an Indian summer here in Moscow. We've had more warm, summery days in the past week than we had all summer long. Very strange weather for Moscow.

I'm not going to complain about too much sunshine, though.  Everyone in Moscow, locals and foreigners alike, is spending as much time as possible outdoors, trying to get one last dose of vitamin D in their bones before winter sets in.

I guess that's why the monument graveyard was so crowded last weekend.

It isn't really called the monument graveyard, not officially. But that's what people have always called it, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back before the collapse, there were loads of Soviet statues in Moscow: Lenin, Stalin and other lesser-known Communist elite were up on pedestals all over town.

After the collapse, Russians pulled those statues down. But what to do with them? Many were relocated here, unceremoniously dumped in the park. It used to be fun to wander around those toppled statues. These days, they're still in the park, but they've been put back up on their pedestals. The effect isn't quite as eerie as it once was. 

There are hundreds of other statues in the park, which I think is officially referred to as "Muzeon" or "Park Skulpturi ЦДХ." (If you're interested in visiting, you'll find it behind the Central House of Artists, across the street from Gorkii Park.)


"We demand peace."

Iron Felix

Felix Derzhinsky, the first director of the Cheka (Soviet secret police). This statue stood in the square outside the Lubyanka prison, where Derzhinsky's office was located. I think it's almost a legal requirement that you put the word "notorious" in front of the name Lubyanka prison. Terrible things happened in that prison during Soviet times, and this guy is one of the people responsible for the horror of it.  I was actually in Moscow when they toppled this statue, during the coup of 1991, although I didn't see it happen and I didn't even know it had happened until days afterwards - all television and radio broadcasts in Moscow went dark that day, so nobody knew just exactly what was going on. Scary times.

Peter the Great, off in the distance.

Monument to the victims of repression.

Stalin, minus his nose.




Don't remember the name, but I liked this one.

"The Dancer"


Christ the Saviour, across the river in the far distance. Peter the Great to the right.

Please. Write your own stuff.