Thursday, December 27, 2007

Мэрри Крыстмас!

OK, so obviously that's not really how to say "Merry Christmas" in Russian, but I thought it would be funny just to transliterate the English words to see what it would look like.

Like many of you, we've been really, really busy over the past week. Sorry about the delay in blogging, but we've been going to parties, having friends over, going to more parties - in short, trying to soak up as much Russian culture (and food, of course) as possible in a short few days.

I'll let the pictures do the explaining:
OK, so last week I mentioned that we had been to our family group's birthday celebration (they have been getting together for 15 years now!). Here's a picture of the big event. Basically, we went over to a school building for the evening and had supper together. Pizza and appetizers, with fruit and tea and desserts thrown in. It was a good time, even if the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"-style game was in Russian and a little beyond us.

One of the appetizers was bread with caviar on it, so Steven got to try some for the first time. He actually quite liked it, so hopefully that's a good sign he's getting accultured!

One of the other treats we've had recently was a trip to an actual American restaurant - TGIFridays! Every year, our coworkers have made a tradition of taking our teacher and secretary out to eat here. It's been a bit out of our price range, but B's parents contributed towards our meal so we had a good time and some really good food.

My favorite of our several Christmas and New Years' celebrations so far was a trip we made last Sunday to a family member's for lunch. Our family group had an arrangement where you could sign up to be guests or hosts for Christmas lunch, so we signed up to be guests. We ended up going to the apartment of someone we'd never met before, to eat with a bunch of other people we'd never met (we had seen some of them in our meetings but not spoken). Continued below..
It was a fantastic time! Besides getting to meet a bunch of new friends, we also got to eat some outstanding food. We went straight to their house after the meeting, expecting to eat "lunch." Not having eaten breakfast, we were a little hungry, but they said that we had come a little early and we were more than welcome to sit and chat with them. We chatted for a couple of hours, tummies grumbling, before I asked when everyone else would arrive. "Around 4," was the answer, which turned out to be an optimistic estimate. We didn't end up eating until 5:30, but it was well worth the wait.

Our host was from the Caucasus area, and he prepared a feast of epic proportions of native Ossetian dishes. Hot pizza-dough-like bread stuffed with cheese and potatoes, all kinds of salads, cheesy meat dishes, fruits, we had it all. You can see from the picture above what the table looked like when they finished loading it up.

Also last weekend, B and our new coworker Julie got together to bake Christmas and New Year's cookies for gifts (and just to eat ourselves, of course)! Here they're slaving over the oven making various and sundry scrumptious treats.

Here is one of my favorite items they made in construction - candied apples. For those of you who enjoy those overpriced-but-very-yummy things you can buy at malls sometimes for $7 an apple, you can make your own and they're just as good! Here the apples have been dipped in caramel and nuts and are waiting to get their coat of chocolate drippings (the frosting in the foreground is for something else).
Of course, we had to have them pose with the results of their labor - fudge, candied apples, cookies, candied pecans, and magic bars. They've since packaged them up into individual baggies and we've been giving them out to neighbors and friends as New Year's gifts.

So, that's pretty much what we've been up to. Sorry we don't have any pictures of our last two days. Yesterday night we went over to our coworkers for supper (she made turkey and stuffing!) and games, which was great. The night before that we were at my language helper's apartment for supper and games as well. It's funny - when we first got here we were told that it might be a while before we'd get invited to any Russian's home. It is true that it is culturally longer before you have someone into your home here, but we seem to be finding that the real key is just waiting for a holiday! Then, all the cultural brakes seem to come off, and we've been able to go just about everywhere.

Anyway, we hope that you also had a very Merry Christmas, and that you'll have a Happy New Year as well. Thanks for thinking of us this year, and we hope you'll continue to do so in the new year to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Day in the Life of ...

OK, so this week, I decide to post a video that we made a while back for a family group back in the US (with a few edits). My apologies to those of you who saw it there, but for the rest of you, I thought you might enjoy it.

Basically, it's just a video about what we do in a typical day. We're hardly accomplished video people, so I apologize for the quality of shooting and editing, but you'll get the idea. (Incidentally, thanks to the folks in Vidalia, GA who gave us our video camera!) It's almost 6 minutes long, so I hope it doesn't take too long for you to load. Enjoy!

We've actually had a pretty eventful week (friends over for dinner, party with our family group last night, etc.), but I think I'll post on all that stuff next time. Hope you enjoyed the video, and have a very Merry Christmas! Oh, and we expect everyone to wish us Merry Christmas in return in the comments section, so go there now and leave a comment or we'll feel like no one loves us (our email box has been empty this week, so we're starting to feel that way anyway). :)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Дед Мороз is coming to town!

I know this picture is a year old now (look how tiny Steven was!), but I love it. I think my wife is really a photographic genius in disguise, since I thought this was just supposed to be a funny picture of Santa with the new baby and instead it turned out to be a really good shot. Framing, lighting, even facial expressions are good. Love it.

Anyway, as you've no doubt guessed, Дед Мороз (literally: Grandfather Frost) is the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, but more of a New Year's figure than a Christmas one, as that's the much bigger holiday here. He appears with his granddaughter Снегурочка (traditionally translated as "Snow Maiden") and gives out gifts in person to kids at New Year's Eve parties. No reindeer or Ho Ho Ho-ing, but a fairly close equivalent.
Enough of the Russian culture lesson, though. You want to know what we're up to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is language and culture study. I (J) have finally progressed to the genitive case in my lessons, which is a huge relief. Of course, I've been using it for quite a while (you can't really say anything in Russian without it, since anything regarding possession or prepositions like "of," "from," and "to" needs the genitive), but I just didn't know all the rules for it's use and formulation. Now I can confidently say "Lena's husband" or "from the factory" and similar phrases, and if I screw up then I don't have an excuse any more. :)

B's also had a really good couple of weeks of language study. She's feeling a lot better and has been at all her classes lately and her meetings with Dina are also going well. I'm amazed to overhear her saying lots of things in her language sessions that she couldn't say just a couple of weeks ago. Now, when she asks me how to say something, as often as not I don't know either. It's motivating me to hit the books a little harder to stay ahead!

Of course, no one wants to look at pictures of homework pages, so we did manage to pick out some pictures of our week for your enjoyment. Here Steven enjoys his latest toy, a cardboard box. I'm starting to formulate a theory of toys that goes something like the more expensive and complicated something is, the less likely kids are to play with it. I think our son prefers to just bang common household objects together than roll a toy car.

One of the nicest things to me about Russia is that some things are cheaper here than they would be in the US (granted, it's not many things, but there are some). One of my favorite dishes in the world is crab dip (H/T: Aunt Janie), but in the US crab meat costs a fortune and we couldn't have it very often. Here, however, crab is cheaper by the pound than beef, so it only costs us a few cents to make a big pan of it. The crackers are actually the pricier item over here, since Ritz are nowhere to be found and we've been using some German cracker brand instead. This is a pan B made for me that I consumed by myself in about two days.

In case you're wondering, the Russians that we've offered this to have LOVED it. One of them took the recipe to her mom's and made it for a party and it got rave reviews. Marth, if you'll tell your aunt that her recipe is singlehandedly responsible for the continued peace in Russian-American diplomacy, I'd appreciate it (of course, thank her again for it also). Anyone wanting the recipe can send me a request and I'll dig it out for you.

As you can see from the above pictures, B has done our Christmas decorating. Of course, this is pretty early in the year for this over here, but it all looks good. Christmas (which, again, is far secondary in the Russian culture to New Year's) is celebrated on the Orthodox calendar the first week in January. That means that most people don't do their decorating until close to when our Christmas would be. As you can see, we don't have the standard massive tree, but with a toddler running around, that would be just asking for trouble.

And finally, just because we promised: a shot of the ever-expanding tummy! B, as usual, looks extremely cute when pregnant. She seems to be a little bigger this time than last for this stage in pregnancy (19 weeks), so hopefully that won't mean an even bigger baby!

Again, I don't have anything handy for the guessing contest thing, so you'll just have to comment on whatever you found interesting above. We've definitely run out of those things, so you might see one now and again but I doubt we'll have one on a regular basis in the future. Enjoy your week, and we'll see you again next weekend!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Happy индейка Day!

Thanksgiving - it's really all about the food (oops, I mean, the things you're thankful for), isn't it?

Oh, and the title means "Happy Turkey Day," in case you hadn't put that one together. Indeed, it was a happy Thanksgiving for us here, even though we're a long way from family and most of our friends. To make up for that, we invited over almost every Russian friend we have and introduced them to the concept of Thanksgiving. It was on Saturday, as most everyone worked on the real day, but it was close enough and was a lot of fun.

I've got some pictures below, but I have to tell you a little about how the evening went first. The lovely B was committed to making the evening as accurate and fun as possible for our guests to see what the real thing is like, and she spent a lot of energy getting things ready. Props to her for that. She even managed to track down a turkey, albeit a small one, so that we were each able to have something fairly close to what we would have eaten back home in North Carolina. We noticed that Russians quite liked the turkey, even if several said they had never eaten it before. It's just not culturally something they eat here.

It was a bit interesting doing the whole "I'm thankful for ..." routine in a different language, but everyone seemed to like it. We had quite a variety of guests, even one who thanked Allah when it came to his turn. Another lady who came had become a member of the family in the past week, so she was full of thankfulness for several things (her worldview used to be similar to the other guest's that I mentioned).

OK, so the Russians did get the hang of the food thing pretty quickly. Of course, I think it's pretty much culturally universal to get in line and load up on food when you're at a party, so maybe there wasn't much of an adjustment there. They didn't care much for the sweet iced tea, though, so the universally spoken language of Coca-Cola came to the rescue.

You may not eat these at your Thanksgiving, but you're missing out. B makes these little appetizers that we started off with out of dates wrapped around a pecan, and then the whole thing is wrapped in bacon and held together with a toothpick. Really, really tasty. Crunchy, sweet, and salty, all blending together into the perfect appetite stimulant.

And speaking of appetite stimulants, it's a good thing we had one, since there was lots of food. From left, going clockwise - stuffing/dressing, broccoli casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, a different stuffing, turkey, and gravy. Yum!

Steven played with his friend Pasha all night, including sharing a "ride" on the rocking chair together.
Of course, there were desserts - pumpkin pie, and ...

... blackberry cobbler! Super tasty, if maybe not the healthiest day ever. We were able to find most of the ingredients here, but I think B did have our new friend Julie bring some pecans with her from the US for the appetizers.

So that's about it. I did manage to take a short video of everyone just chit-chatting and eating and Steven just being thankful. The whole video thing seems to be very well received, so I'm trying to put them up regularly. Before I let you go, just to preview our next post - we'll have to show you the Christmas decorations B put up today, and maybe we'll work a pregnant belly picture in there as well (per special request). Enjoy the video: