Sunday, November 23, 2008

С Днём Рождения, Стёпа!

Do we have a post for you! Snow, birthdays, three videos - it's like a blog extravaganza! Or maybe a blog marvel, or perhaps a blog spectacle. For sure, it's at least a blog performance. I've run out of synonyms for extravaganza moving down the scale of impressiveness, so we'll have to move on to something else.

The latest news with us is that we have received our visas for another year here! It was a struggle, and we jumped through a lot of hoops, but it looks like we're set. We'll be helping out with a language school teaching English when everything's finally up and running, so you could be thinking about that and the relationships we form from that. And that's about it, apart from our continuing language studies. Let's go right to the pictures:

Well, it took quite a while, but the snow finally has arrived in Moscow. Usually it's quite a bit before now, but it looks like it's here to stay for now. That means bundling up the boys a bit more, so that we travel everywhere like this, which Sasha obviously loves:

Since it's Steven's birthday and the rest of the post will probably be about him, we had to at least put Sasha in here somewhere. He's started to crawl everywhere, and now he likes to sit up as well. Here he somehow managed to work his foot out from his high chair, and his mom snapped a pic of the funny pose.

So, today was Steven's second birthday, and I thought we'd put up a few pictures of the party. A couple of guests, including Steven's friend Pasha, weren't able to make it since they had last-minute guests show up, so he had to be content as the only child at his party (well, I guess his brother counts too).

B made some delicious pizza, which was heartily enjoyed by the guests who did come. We had our language teacher Viola, coworker Julie, and a couple of friends from family group (and their Mom, who had flown in from Uzbekistan for a visit).

Of course, I'm not sure if Steven really understood the concept that it was his birthday, but he definitely enjoyed himself regardless. After all, he got to eat a chocolate cupcake, and we even gave him a few sips of Coke. Here he's blowing out the candles on his cake, and just generally enjoying being the center of attention.

B had a novel idea when it came to giving him his gifts on how to create a distinct family tradition that the kids would enjoy. She decided to blow up a bag of balloons (well, decided to assign her loving husband to fill up a bag of balloons would be more precise, but who's keeping track here?) and put them in the living room. Then, Steven's presents would be stashed around the room under a carpet of balloons for him to find. The result, as you can see below, was total bedlam - he didn't even care about the presents, but the chance to run around in a room full of balloons was another matter entirely!

So, when he finally did get to all the presents, the adults who were a bit bored watching him have all the fun decided to get into the act. Somehow a full-fledged balloon war broke out! I'm happy to report no casualties, except perhaps our neighbors' peace and quiet for a few minutes.

One of the presents Steven got tonight prompts this week's Interesting Russian Cultural Note. He received a stuffed Krokodil Gena, which is one of the characters of an old Russian cartoon.

I've always liked Krokodil Gena, because he sings a lot of the children's songs on the radio (I listen to the Kids' Radio Station a lot for Russian practice), and in particular is known for singing the most popular Russian birthday song. To me it's fascinating to see the difference in the birthday songs of the US (which, admittedly, has been adopted here as in so many other places and "Happy Birthday to You" is just translated and sung) and Russia.

In this birthday song, the crocodile named Gena is singing about his birthday. It's not really a happy song as such, though (and I apologize if my translation isn't entirely accurate):
Пусть бегут неуклюже                              Let them run awkwardly
Пешеходы по лужам, The pedestrians through the puddles
А вода - по асфальту рекой. And the water over the asphalt like a river
И неясно прохожим It's not clear to the passers-by
В этот день непогожий, On this bad-weather day
Почему я веселый такой. Why I'm so happy

Я играю на гармошке I play my accordion
У прохожих на виду... In view of the passers-by
К сожаленью, день рожденья - Unfortunately, your birthday
Только раз в году. Only comes once a year.

Прилетит вдруг волшебник Suddenly a wizard flies in
В голубом вертолете In a blue helicopter
И бесплатно покажет кино. And shows a movie for free
С днём рождения поздравит Wishes me a happy birthday
И, наверно, оставит And maybe, leaves as a gift
Мне в подарок пятьсот "эскимо". 500 "Eskimos" (a kind of ice cream)
In other words, his birthday has happened to fall on a day where the weather is terrible, which is too bad. His response is to try to be as happy as possible, and daydream about what would have really made it great, since it will be a whole year before he gets another one. To me, it's brilliant - not at all what you would expect to hear from a birthday song, but still very good. Plus I really like the tune.

I'll leave you with the video to the crocodile singing the song. Maybe sometime I'll do a bit on the actual cartoon that this clip is from, since it's very popular and pretty much every Russian knows it (maybe like Pooh in American culture). You can click on some of the other links on the right if you go to the youtube page directly and see some of the other songs and stuff from the show.

OK, that's about it for this week. Hope you're doing well, and thanks for keeping us and our continuing study of Russian in your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Back At It

So, we've now long since passed the point at which we can still post pictures of our Germany adventures and call them "new," so we're back to finding something interesting out of our language study days to tell you about.

In short, everything is going along much as it was before we left. We're back into our routine of classes every day, it's getting colder, and there's really not a terrible lot to tell you about. I (J) have been finding it harder to study as much in the afternoons now that there are two kids to look after, but we feel that it's more important for B to catch up some, so we're going to continue to have her go to class 5 days a week. You could be thinking about both of us, me especially, as I feel like I've hit some kind of ceiling and am plugging along lately without feeling like I'm making much progress.

But, aside from dry, boring language stuff, what do we have to tell you about? A few things come to mind, actually. Matthew has started to crawl, which is neat. B tried to get a video of that, but you know how hard it is to get kids to cooperate with cameras. Steven's big news is that he's making progress with the potty training, and has managed to go in the potty at least once or twice a day for the past few days (a little M&M bribery doesn't hurt, of course)!

Also, last weekend, the local school for foreigners' kids had a "Fall Festival" at which there was a yard sale of sorts, and some games for kids. We went with the kids, and despite it mostly being geared to pre-teens, we did find some things for them to do. Steven decorated (with help) and ate (without help) his own cookie, as illustrated below.

Actually, Steven's gotten into helping Mommy cook lately, and we've been putting the apron that his grandmother made him to good use:

Then, later Saturday afternoon, I went downtown for a meeting with the newly founded "Expat Book Swap Club." Those of you that know me well know that I love to read, and it was nice to get some variety in my library. I traded two books and about 5 DVDs that I hated for a huge bag of interesting-looking books! OK, I know you don't care, but for me the opportunity to have new and interesting English-language books is huge.

And that's about it, I guess. Since this post is so short, I thought I'd introduce a possible new segment of the blog for your perusal: Interesting Russian Cultural Note of the Week. If it gets good reviews, maybe we'll try to come up with something on a regular basis, so be sure to let us know what you think in the comments. We've pretty much given up on finding more of those What Is It? items for you, as we've gotten so used to most everything that it's hard to remember what seemed strange when we arrived.

This week, our IRCNW is based on a movie I had to watch for a recent assignment: Ирония Судьбы, или С Лёгким Паром (Ironia Sudbi, ilyi S Lyogkim Parom), which could be translated "The Irony of Fate, or Have a Good Steam." We had heard a lot about this film since we got here, as it's probably by far the most famous Soviet film ever made, and is sort of the Russian version of It's a Wonderful Life, the beloved classic film that gets shown every holiday season.

I wasn't sure how much I'd get out of it, since we didn't have it in English and the dialogue moves quickly but I loved it! If you can track down a subtitled or dubbed copy, go watch it - it's brilliant, and has lots of good Russian cultural things interspersed! And with none of the stuff that makes it impossible to recommend any film made these days (unless some lighthearted drinking would bother you).

The basic story of the film is this: in the Soviet Union, party planners have designed everything to be mass-manufactured, including housing. As a result, all the houses look identical (remember your comment when we first got here, Rich, about how the buildings in our pictures looked "just like where Jason Bourne was filmed!" That's because all buildings pretty much everywhere in Russia look like that.) The first few minutes of the film are a cartoon reminding people about just that fact, and I tracked it down on youtube for you:

Anyway, the main character Zhenya is getting ready for New Year's night, which he's going to spend with his almost-fiance Galya. Before they meet, however, he goes to the banya to steam with his buddies in their annual New Year's Eve tradition. While there, they toast the new stage in his relationship and they all get quite drunk. They go to the airport to see off one of their number to Leningrad, but by mistake Zhenya gets put on the plane in his place.

When he wakes up, he's in Leningrad, but everything looks so similar and he's so hungover that he doesn't realize it. He takes a taxi to "his" address, which looks exactly like his real address in Moscow. His key even fits in the lock, and he collapses on the bed. Of course, when the owner of the apartment (Nadya) gets home, she freaks out and orders him to leave. He won't leave what he thinks is his own apartment, and they argue. Then her boyfriend shows up and wonders why there's a strange man in her bed. In their attempt to explain it to him (and on the phone to poor Galya, who's sitting in the apartment back in Moscow convinced that Zhenya is off womanizing, especially when he calls from some woman's apartment), they end up wondering if maybe fate brought them together for a reason.

I won't give away the ending, but it's very good. The New Year's night definitely is a memorable one for everyone involved, and their lives change. If you get a chance, and want to watch something a bit different from your typical Hollywood fare, give it a try.

OK, so that's about it for this week. And for you grandparents and really close friends who read the blog, here's a cute little video of the boys to make your day:

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Me Again! (a B photo blog)

For those of you who have viewed my (B's) Facebook page, you may have discovered how much I like to take pictures. I don't claim to be good at it, I just like doing it. This is not going to be a long post because this is mainly to show you pictures from our trip. These are the ones I like the best, so I hope you enjoy them: