Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Which Your Faithful Narrarator is Unable to Furnish a Witty Blog Title

I have finally achieved the long-awaited half-century: Behold, Lesson 50!

In my defense as it pertains to the title, it's hard to give just one name to a blog when so much is going on. There's language and culture study, as the above photo from my lesson notebook shows, a trip to the banya, small group meetings at our place, Valentine's Day, and the list goes on. But, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Oh, and sorry the photo is from a few weeks back; I've made it to lesson 52 now, but I figured none of you would know the difference and/or care. And now, to the business at hand, by which I mean our lives.

Some of you may recall that a few months back, I wrangled an invite to our family group's "Men's Day Out" in which we went to a banya for the afternoon. It proved to be such a success that there was demand for a repeat trip, which took place last Saturday. This time I had the foresight to take my camera in before all the sweaty naked guys took over, and was able to bring back a few pictures of what it looks like inside.

This first picture (taken very quickly after opening the door, and the lens already started to fog) is of the actual room you sit in to bake. Basically, you lay your towel down on the planks, throw some water on the rocks just out of the picture to the right, and wait until you're thoroughly sweaty. They keep it quite warm, :) so it doesn't take long! This time I spotted the thermometer outside, so I can happily report to our readers that the temperature inside (which last time I described as "really hot") really is just that: HOT! As in, 110° Celsius (that'd be 230° F)!! I especially appreciated the nice touch on the thermometer where there was a red "Danger" tab at 112° C, as if to say, "Yeah, 110° is no biggie, but don't go pushing it!"

Anyway, once you've baked yourself to a proper degree of sweatiness, someone (and I was determined for it not to be me) surrenders his machoness, admits that he's had enough, and the group gets up to head for the pool. Last time, they had actually chilled the pool to just above freezing, but this time we had the relief of finding out it was just water from the cold spigot. Not much warmer, but believe me, every little bit helps. What you do is as soon as possible after leaving the steam room, you plunge into the pool in a transparent effort to induce a heart attack from temperature shock.

It actually feels a lot better than it sounds, but you feel like a limp noodle afterwards and for some reason it makes me ravenously hungry. Fortunately, we brought along enough food to feed an army and we all enjoyed the various temperature cycles broken up by good conversation and good Russian food.

Next up in the picture department: a small group meeting at our place. It seems that our small group was hunting for a place to meet, and we happened to know just the place: our living room! I'm not sure if they'll be here every week or not, as we're still organizing some of those details, but it looks like we'll be hosting it regularly at least. We always have a great time when we get together on Wed. nights, and having it at our apartment gives Bobbie a chance to make some of the really delicious desserts she's rapidly becoming known for.

Of course, since we last posted, St. Valentine has visited, so I thought I'd drop in a quick picture of our date. This is further proof, as if anyone actually needed it, that I married the absolute best wife in the universe. How many of you could say that you took your wife to McDonald's for your "special Valentine's treat" and she was thrilled? I know, none - only B is fantastic enough to be satisfied with such a cheap date.

The truth is restaurants in Moscow cost a fortune, and we're not exactly loaded, so for now, this will have to do. However, there is a TGIFriday's in town, and one of B's sisters gave us a special present to go there, which we're planning to do this or next week sometime.

This is how romantic our lunch really was - Steven even fell asleep so we had some real "alone time." And the ambience! Can you say "Marvin who?"

The Russians have a good word for Steven's overall behavior these days: хитрый. It means something like "clever," or "sly," or maybe "resourceful." At any rate, he seems to be escalating the rate at which he can do damage. We generally keep all the things that he shouldn't get into in drawers that he can't reach. As an example, all of our tea things like sugar, etc, are in our top drawer in the cabinet in the living room.

This was all well and good until last week, when he discovered that he can pull out the bottom drawer, then stand on it, and it allows him to reach the top drawer. Xитрый indeed. He ended up with a faceful of sugar to show for it, and now we're trying to figure out somewhere else to store that stuff.

OK, so I'm about to wrap it up, I promise. The following is a video that is more for the grandparents and people like that to admire Steven as he enjoys (?) a ride on the swing on a nice day outside.

Oh, and I almost forgot to post the results of last week's What Is It?™ The gesture, which can be a bit harsh but isn't considered inappropriate among friends, basically means something between "Screw you!" and "No way!" Usually, it's kind of a joke, and you might do it to a friend who asked you for something (maybe while saying something like "шиш тебе" - I would have accepted either "шиш" (pronounced "sheesh") or "фиг" (pronounced "feeg") as correct answers for the words associated with the gestures. Lydia gets the point for being the closest with her guess of "You're in a tough spot."

I leave you with the following amusing graffiti I captured on a wall near our place last week. How many times have you seen the illustrious Mr. Squarepants featured in your neighborhood graffiti? I thought not. The gangs here are, well, truly hardcore. Because what says "don't mess with me" more than Spongebob? They even almost managed to spell it right, despite the obvious handicap of trying to write it in it's original Roman script rather than Cyrillic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Babies vs Dogs

Go ahead and call someone, Hannah!

Have you ever noticed how a baby can be a lot like a dog? They eat off the floor, they play fetch, they follow you around until you show them some attention, you have to bathe them, feed them, they like to play tug-of-war with your clothes, they chew on your socks and shoes (at least Steven does), you have to potty train them, and I have even caught Steven eating his own throw up. At least you can get rid of the dog if they are too much trouble.

That is why everyone should own a dog (not a cat, since they take care of themselves for the most part) before ever deciding to have a baby. I'm not saying I would get rid of Steven! Just that it is very similar to having a dog. So if you want to know what it is like to have a baby, get a dog. The more difficult they are to train the better.

Since B was on posting duty this week and wrote such a short post, I decided to supplement it with a What Is It?™ Actually, this one is more of a What Does He Mean?™, but you get the idea. As always, the rules are simple: the first one to post a comment with the correct answer wins a point.

You learn all kinds of interesting things in culture study, but some of my favorites are the gestures, which can mean the same thing in Russia as they would in the West, or can be radically different. Basically, your challenge this week is to figure out the meaning of the gesture I'm making in the below photo. Since this one is a bit more challenging, we'll open up the competition a bit and even our friends who live or have lived here are welcome to contribute the answer. One caveat, though: if you've lived in Russia, you only get credit for your answer if you include the Russian word most frequently associated with the gesture (and, for the rest of you, don't worry, it's not one of those words and not one of those gestures).

Oh, and just in case it's not clear, that's my thumb tucked in between my index and middle fingers. Happy guessing, and thanks for stopping by.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fun in the Snow

OK, so we could make this a post about language lessons. I was even tempted to type out the essay I did on "What I Did over the Christmas Break" and then discuss what I did right and wrong. Who knows, maybe I'll do that later, since I think some of you might be interested in a bit more linguistic stuff. However, I know that most of you are not as keen on the whole "what's involved in learning another language" thing and might prefer some lighter fare.

And so, a post on snow. We've had snow on the ground since October, so it's not like all of this is just recent, but we have added a good bit of snow over the past few weeks and, lacking anything else interesting to write about, I decided to go with that. Above you can see the snowmen someone built in our little park, complete with smiley faces. I always preferred the Calvin and Hobbes snowmen:
but agree that it might be a bit dark and hence not for everyone. Anyway, here's a few videos and pictures of a snowier world. I hope they help to dull your eagerness to live in a world of snow (the grass is always whiter on the other side of the fence, as it were).

The real problem with the weather here, if you want to call it a problem, is not so much the snow. It's not even really the cold, although that doesn't exactly help. It's more the constant greyness of everything. The sky is perpetually a depressing shade of grey, and when you combine that with the blocky grey buildings and icy grey streets, it just adds up to a lot of greyness. However, every once in a while the sun does break through:

and then it really is lovely. Here some kids have built themselves a snow wall and are having a rather tame snowball fight using it as an obstacle. As soon as the sun comes out like this, pretty much the entire neighborhood is outside enjoying it, because it doesn't last very long.

Two videos in one post! I don't think we've done that before. This one is of another one of those side benefits of snow - sledding! This is Steven's first ever trip down the hill. We were coming home from visiting some friends and didn't have our sled with us, but I decided to go down on my rear end holding him. The slope is quite icy where other sledders have used it, so you can go down sledless and it still works pretty well. I've even seen some more talented and balanced people than I go down on their feet. I don't know whether Steven enjoyed it or not; he's really too bundled up and cold to care much, it seemed.

Anyway, that's about it. I know it's not much, but I also know that it's been a while since we posted and I wanted to get something up here. Oh, and before I forget, the last post picture was of people in line to get their tickets. I thought it interesting how a bunch of people in a room, all seemingly facing random directions, could be considered a "line," but it actually worked pretty well. Carroll gets the points for recognizing a line among the chaos, taking it from the other guesses due to the humorousness of her continuous references to communism. :) One of these days I'll sit down and actually calculate who's in the lead in this contest. Until then, have a good week, and thanks for thinking of us.