Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sickies

OK, so we don't actually have much to post about, but I know that there are some of you who check this thing every other day or so hoping that we've updated it, so I thought I'd get at least something up.

As the title and the opening picture imply, the whole family has been a little under the weather of late. Actually, not to go off on a tangent, but where did that expression come from? Aren't we all always technically "under" the weather? Strange. Anyway, we're all sick. B's been off and on with the whole nausea thing just from the pregnancy for a month or two, but last week I (J) got sick. Then, when Steven started getting in yet another tooth (why won't they all come at the same time? or at least 2 or 3 at once?) and caught whatever bug it was that I had, we were in for a rough time. B babied me while I did absolutely nothing but lie in bed, and then got up in the middle of the night with Steven when he got fussy (it's been a while since he did the whole wake-up-and-cry routine, but I guess the sickness messes with their schedules). I don't know how she managed it, since now I'm getting better and she's suffering from the bug and the pregnancy at the same time, and we've traded roles. I don't do well with getting up with Steven and I'm feeling weak and tired.

Today, for example, it's past two and I've only done 3 hours of language study so far (and, as you might have guessed, I'm not helping the situation by posting this blog). I'm going to struggle to get my 40 hours this week by Friday, so it might be another week where Saturday involves some catching up! Anyway, we're doing OK, but would appreciate your thoughts as we recover. It's weird - having kids magnifies the effect of someone in the family getting a cold by about 10 times.


Anyway, we haven't had the camera out this week much, so I don't have a surfeit of photos to post. I thought I'd put this one up (which is actually a couple of weeks old) since I thought it was funny how unhappy someone could look while sleeping.

And now on to the What is It? for the week. Of course, the Russian hero in last week's post was Yuri Gagarin, and though several of you got it right the point goes to Brian and Crystal who got in first. This week, in honor of the fact that I have spent very little time on the rest of this post, I've decided to do a doubleheader. First up: a video. It's a month or two old, but still funny. The first one to spot what movie scene Steven is trying to imitate (the source of B's comment: "Mommy's little piggy!") gets a point. Bonus point if you can name the character who was the original piggy.


Secondly, we have our standard picture of some odd Russian thing, and your job is to figure out what it is or what it's used for. We spotted this metal something on our tour of Kolomna, and thought it seemed a bit different for something in an abandoned lot between some old houses. First post in the comments with the correct answer gets the point:

So there you have it - happy guessing, and we'll see you again next week!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a White ... Halloween??

It's how long until spring??

Yes, folks, winter has arrived here in Moscow. Actually the day after we posted last, but more on that in a minute. First, we can confirm for any of you who haven't heard yet that the lovely B is indeed expecting. Baby #2 should be arriving sometime next April or early May, which should make our visa renewal situation interesting (they expire in the middle of May, so that leaves us with some decisions to make). At this point, we don't have any definite plans for what to do (stay here, go somewhere in Europe, return to the US) come delivery time, so your thoughts would be appreciated as we mull over our options.

Though it might be a bit of a complication, we're still very excited about our news (of course!), and hope that you'll share with us in rejoicing. B has been quite ill, though fortunately hasn't needed hospitalization as she did a couple of times when carrying Steven. It has kept her from class quite a bit, though, so we're hoping the nausea will disappear soon so she can keep up with studying. Please be remembering the whole health situation (both for B and baby) at this time - we'd really appreciate that. Mostly, she's been exhausted, with bouts of nausea thrown in for good measure. Upshot is that poor Steven's been getting cared for by Daddy, who's not as good at it as Mommy, so he's probably suffering as well. Fortunately, he seems to be as plump and happy as ever, so it's not affecting him that much, :) though the overall cleanliness of our apartment has taken a hit.

At any rate, overall everything is going quite well, other than B spending most of her days lying in bed sucking on ice. And ice is one thing that we suddenly have in abundance. You see, while the rest of you are enjoying the beauties of fall, here in Moscow we waved bye-bye to fall a week ago. It lasted for all of about a month, I guess.

Here was the scene out our window early last Sunday morning. It quickly turned to this:

Which, after about 4 hours, turned into this:

B didn't feel that well, but I had braved the trip to a family meeting that morning, and I was quite surprised to emerge from the building to all this snow! It's still the middle of October, last time I checked. I guess that it's not abnormal for there to be snow on the ground this early here, but it seemed absolutely insane to this Amazon-raised boy who grew up where we had only two seasons - rainy and dry.

Steven enjoyed it, though I don't think he knew what to make of all the white stuff. The weather has calmed down some since last weekend, and even warmed up all the way to 12° (C) the other day. Most of the snow has melted away, but it's still a lot colder than I'm used to. I guess it will take some time to get accustomed.

So, what else has been going on? Not a whole lot - just the usual language and culture stuff. When I took the above picture of Steven after he got up from a nap we realized that it was time to break down and buy a hair trimmer, so the next day I got one and we both got shaved:

Steven has sadly lost his "mane" of pretty red hair, but now he looks like some sort of tiny soldier. His dad, looks like, well, the less said there, the better, I guess. :)

What else have we gotten up to? Well, today we were invited to go with some friends to a "Super Mom" Club, where a local family group organizes a get-together for parents and parents-to-be (and we temporarily fit into both categories) to sit and hear ideas on parenting and consult for free with a pregnancy doctor. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I was able to understand (it's way easier to understand how to teach your kids the Russian equivalent of "Duck, Duck, Goose" than, say, a discussion on whether Russia is culturally rooted more in the East or the West, so that helped!). We had a good time enjoying meeting some new people.

On to this weeks, What is It?, although, technically speaking, this is more of a Who Is It? Last week's pregnancy test strip was fairly easy, and the point was won by the first person to write in, Lourens. This week's is also not all that tricky, although the "more mature" might have an easier time of it, since he was famous before some of you were alive (although I've no doubt that everyone has at least heard of him).

This is a monument to a Russian hero that we saw back when we took our tour of Kolomna a few months back. Does anyone know who this might be? As always, first correct answer in the comments section wins a point toward the yet-to-be-determined grand prize. Happy guessing!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In Which B Dissects Russian Cuisine

These cows need to move here for some real food!

Those who know me (B), know how much I like to eat. One of the best parts of living in another country is discovering different foods. Russia is no exception. As mentioned in previous posts, Russians not only have different tastes but have a different view of what is healthy and what is not. In case you have forgotten, they generally think of ice as unhealthy and mayonnaise as healthy (yet they eat ice cream like it is going out of style, even when it's cold). Another interesting fact is how they view vodka. Besides being used to get drunk, it is also widely used as a remedy for several aliments. For example, we've heard interesting stories about how drinking vodka can actually save you from freezing to death, especially with pepper in it.

Russians also like to use hot tea with herbs and spices as a remedy for illnesses. I actually have to give credit to this since it worked on me. I was in class one day when I started having some "stomach issues." After I got back from one of many trips to the bathroom, my teacher had prepared a cup of hot (which to a Russian actually means boiling) tea without sugar and told me drink it as fast as I could. Ten minutes later I had finished the cup, and a few minutes later the spasms stopped and I felt much better the rest of the day!
These are only a few examples of how Russians like to use their food for remedies.

Of course, they like to eat their food too. Though I have had occasional cravings for American foods (some Bojangle's would be nice!), for the most part we try to eat like the Russians do, and really most of their food is very good. Below are several pictures of what is popular here:

борщ (borshch) - this is a kind of soup, usually made from beets and cabbage, but ingredients beyond that are up to the individual. We really like borshch, and though people do eat it cold I prefer it hot. It's usually served as shown above with a nice dollop of sour cream on top.

Шашлык (shashlik) - This is a very popular, and very tasty dish. It comes a lot of different ways (one of the most common is to roast it over a fire on a skewer) but usually includes pork and some kind of sauce. This is from a restaurant we visited, so it included fries and a few salads.

блины (blini) - These are kind of like the Russian version of crepes or pancakes. You can have them with lots of things on top: sour cream, caviar, jam, cinnamon/sugar, and even cheese and meat. Very, very good, and very addictive. Seriously, once you have one you never stop until you've eaten about eight of them.

This is just a general collection of foods you might see at a party or gathering. This is actually an older picture of a get-together we had at our friends' place. You can see more blini in the background there behind the potatoes and veggies.

пельмени (pel'meni) - These are like dumplings stuffed with meat and steamed. Served with sour cream (are you noticing a pattern?), and eaten any time of day. Here J's language helper has ordered them for his breakfast with coffee and a pasta salad.

These kiosks are everywhere on the street, selling grilled chicken for really reasonable prices (around $5 for a chicken). J thinks it's almost as good as Pollo Moderno in Bolivia, if lacking the excellent rice and platano accompaniment.

This is a sasiski kiosk, which sells lots of different kinds of sausages and bologna. We're still not sure exactly what Russians do with these (eat them with bread like we would in the US and Western Europe? By themselves?) so that's a question for our culture helpers, I guess, but they must do something with it because these are everywhere.

Not all Russian cuisine is as delicious as blini or shashlik, though. This stuff looks deceptively like milk, but it's actually called kefir. It's quite a nasty beverage that Russians actually like to drink, though it tastes like something your "organic" friends might eat right between the non-fat granola bar and their daily slice of tofu. It's made, and I quote from wikipedia here, in this way: "fermentation of the lactose yields a sour, carbonated, slightly alcoholic beverage, with a consistency similar to thin yogurt." And, to my mind, it tastes as nasty as that sounds.

As far as how we're doing, everything is going well. We'd appreciate your thoughts as we mull over some options for our future, but other than that it's just language study. Oh, and we had some snow yesterday (just a few flurries, and nothing stuck), so fall is pretty much just a memory at this point. It lasted all of what, a month? Anyway, we're pretty much OK, just plugging away at our language and culture stuff.

Next we have the What Is It™ for the week. Last week we showed you a picture of a small separate house in the yard of the main home and asked for ideas on what you thought it might be. Though Lydia was actually quite close in supposing that it was a guest house, Carroll actually got it right on - it's a house for the older folks (at least, that what many people use them for). Your second guess, Carroll, incidentally - not as accurate. You still claim the point, though.

Actually, frequently the older folks are left living in the countryside year around, and they'll live in the main house during the winter. However, when summer comes and the younger family comes out to the country for their extended visit (they usually work in the cities), the babushka and dedushka will head out and sleep in the little houselet. So there you go.

This week we have more of an "around-the-house" item. Can you guess what this signifies? As usual, leave your guess in the comments, and the first person (with certain exceptions) to get it right wins the point. Happy guessing!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Life

Steven seems to enjoy a slower pace of life, even if in a seemingly very uncomfortable position

OK, we haven't had a really eventful time since last I wrote, so I don't have a lot to post about. B is still getting her "Russian food" post together, which should be a little bit of a change of pace. However, as far as we're concerned, this past week was a little slow. Just going to language study classes, and studying at home. We did have a couple of people over for dinner since last we posted, as we had several out-of-town visitors for meetings. It was good to meet some of those folks and get to know some of the ones we already knew better.

Anyway, we have gotten our camera out a few times since last we posted, but there's a shortish selection of pictures this week:

Steven really enjoys reading books, so we're hoping he grows up to be a bookworm like his daddy!

In other exciting news, we had tacos (and sweet iced tea) this week! You might not find that exciting if you live in a land with a Taco Bell on every other corner, but here Mexican food is pretty much non-existent. We were lucky to have some friends who's kids' school was selling taco shells to expatriates like us who were hungry for a nice taco. We bought some and have thoroughly enjoyed them thus far!

Our friend Vanya has returned from his summer in the US. We had him over to share some of the tacos and to fill us in on his trip. B didn't feel so great, so she missed some of it, but he had lots of pictures from his time in beautiful Colorado. We're looking forward to having him over more often now that he's back.

On to the What Is It? picture. Last week, we showed you a picture of a van with a red cross on it and asked what it was for. No one guessed correctly, but Hannah gets half a point for having the most creative guess (and for referencing the underrated though patently ridiculously unrealistic movie "The Saint"). The correct answer is that that particular van is used as a "drunk express" to go around town and pick up the people who are drunk and passed out on the street. They then toss them inside and take them to a treatment center. Interestingly, the patient is then required to pay for his stay at the center by either getting his family to come and pay his bill or by working at the center for a few days doing odd jobs. It seems like it would be a good deterrent, but when I asked my language helper why it doesn't seem to reduce the amount of drunkenness he confessed that he doesn't quite know. Oh, well.

Today's contest revolves around another scene from a Russian village. This is a typical house in the village: solid, wooden, with a small flower garden and a fenced-in yard. However, I wasn't sure what the smaller house on the right was for. It is a separate structure apart from the main house itself, but seems to be nicer than a gardening shed would need to be. What do you think it is? As always, the first person to guess the correct answer in the comments section receives a point. Enjoy!