Saturday, April 25, 2009

Happy Easter!

One of the nice things about living in Russia is that you get to have two Easters! One when the Roman calendar says it's Easter, and then one when the Easter calendar has it. Occasionally, they agree, but most of the time Easter here is a few weeks later, due to different ways of calculating it.

So, while you may have said goodbye to Easter a while ago in your neck of the woods, we were celebrating it since our last blog post. Also, in addition to our regular studying and classes, B and I were able to go on a date today! Just the two of us, with no kids! Those of you who don't have kids won't understand how nice that is, but the rest of you know how hard it is to break away sometime.

Anyway, on to the pictures:

The view from our window now includes a minimal quantity of snow! In fact, since I took that picture a few days ago, almost all of it has melted, and today I think it got up to 13° C today. It's great to have spring back, and with it the chance to go outside for more than 10 minutes at a time.

So, as mentioned, today a friend offered to watch our kids so that the lovely B and I could go on a date. Thanks, Elisabeth! We ended up going to IKEA and eating at their little buffet, and then going through the store pricing various items like kitchen cabinets, etc., for our upcoming move East. I know, it wasn't much of a date, but we've needed to do that for some time now, and now we have a better idea of which things we should try to pack up of our own, and which we should plan to buy and ship new. At least at the end we got ice cream!

We also wandered around the mall a bit since we were there (well, B did - I mostly just tried to drag my way behind her while maintaining a smile on my face). This struck me as amusing - the Russian interpretation of "cowboy" in a shop window. Look how manly he looks, radiating testosterone with his pastel polo and scarf. The Marlboro Man never pulled off such machismo.

The rest of the pictures are just cutesy ones of the boys, so if you stopped by to find out how we're doing, you can leave feeling relieved that we're OK. In the above picture, Steven is trying to help give Matthew a bath. It's such a blessing to have two boys who get along so well; Matthew loves to play with his big brother, and Steven is always trying to help Mommy take care of Matthew.

Of course, it couldn't be Easter without some dyed eggs. The Russians take this seriously, with stickers and such to affix to the eggs, but we stuck with just the dye. Steven liked it quite a bit, though he destroyed them by the end of the coloring.

I even decided to try cooking this week! Here's my loaf of Garlic Cheese Beer Batter Bread, fresh out of the oven. It doesn't require any yeast, as the yeast in the beer takes care of the rising, but it still turns out very tasty. However, for the Southern Bap's among you, it does actually require you to purchase a can of beer from a store, so it may be a recipe that doesn't lend itself to your tastes! ;)

And then we've had the regular guests at our apartment. Here B is playing a game of Scum with our two coworkers and our teacher, who came over one evening for a visit.

This one I just threw in because it's funny. We've had the car seat part of our stroller put up for a while (not much use for it when you don't own a car!), and when we got it down for some reason the other day, Steven, in a fit of nostalgia, tried to curl up like he used to. It doesn't quite fit him any more.

Many of you know that I'm a fan of the English football/soccer team Liverpool, so I had to throw in this video of Matthew's first kickabout. Maybe he'll go on to feature there someday.

And finally, I leave you with a bizarre advertisement that I saw at the metro today. For those of you who've lived here, the picture will suffice:

For the rest of you, it doesn't make sense that I would find an ad for canned meat amusing. The picture here shows a can of something called "American Salo." Salo is basically pig fat, which you buy in chunks and cut up to eat raw, usually with bread (a little bit like fatback, except you eat it raw). I have yet to meet an American who thinks that it is anything other than vile. However, here some marketing person has decided that the way to market the latest brand of the stuff is to call it "American." Go figure.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Sisters' Finale (a blog by B)

So, we're back to our regular lives again, studying and going to class and the like. Since we never finished talking about the trip my sisters took here, I will do so now. There is not really much to tell. We went to several markets and touristy things where Kellie and Andrea got to experience a good piece of Russia.

I don't think they will be eating meat and carbohydrates for a while. Here some examples of what we had:

Of course, I had to bring some of our friends over to show off my sisters (I love you, girls):

and of course, we made them work for their stay:

Kellie definitely had some experiences. One of her bags got lost and we spent several hours trying to pick it up. Then, after bargaining for about 30 minutes for some sunglasses and a price 600 rubles cheaper than what the guy wanted, I guess the salesman felt like he needed something extra so he took the liberty to grab her backside as she left. It didn't dawn on her what happened until she was a few steps away (it was the shock that slowed her brain down).

And of all the subjects to have in Russian, she actually found someone (a taxi driver) to talk about marital arts with. Guess who was her translator? Let's just say I know a lot more about how to talk about martial arts in Russian (who would have guessed?).

Andrea also had to get used to some differences in what is acceptable here. For example, salary and cost of living are freely talked about (even among strangers). If someone asks you how you are doing, they really want to know (not just "fine"). And patience is definitely a virtue here since you have to wait and wait and wait (something I have had to perfect). Speed is not of the essence here. Also, tipping is not very common (if seen at all) among Russians. By the end, the temptation was too great for them and they tipped one of our taxi drivers. Let's just say he gave us his number in case we ever needed a taxi again.

Of course, after being here for a while we had to get a taste of home. So, we found a Starbucks and a H&M to shop at.

In between going here and there, we just stayed at home and hung out. The boys loved the attention.

All in all, we had a great time and I will miss them very much but I'm sure they are glad to be back to normal life. Now, I am just looking forward to my parents visit the end of May. YEAH!

I don't have a whole lot else to say, so I'll close with some cute photos for your enjoyment:

I am starting a collection of bribery pictures. This is one of them (hehehehe).

Note: one of our coworkers posted her essay in T on their blog, so if you'd like to get a sneak peak of the next few years of our lives, you can click on this link. Other than that, enjoy your week, and we'll see you around the same time next week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's a Little Late ...

OK. This is just a little late but look on the bright side, at least I'm posting it now versus never. You may or may not recall the promise, but back before our trip to Siberia I cooked at a Valentine's banquet, and I promised at some point to put the story up on our blog.

How I got into the banquet business on top of language learning and raising kids is a complicated story, but it starts by my being asked to do it by someone in our family group. OK, so maybe I wasn't really asked, exactly. I may have sort of volunteered (much to everyone's dismay), or maybe the truth is somewhere in between.

I was having a conversation with the director of the banquet (a lady from our family group) and she was telling me how everything was going wrong in planning this thing. One of the things she told me was that she no longer had a cook. Before I knew it, I was signed up! I couldn't back out now (oh darn). Side note: in case you can't tell, I have always wanted to cook for a large group/party such as this.

After much discussion, we decided on chicken curry on rice, salad, and broccoli for dinner and punch bowl cake for dessert. Did I mention I was to cook for 130 people? So, one week before the banquet I started preparing.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to go a little overboard when I do something like this. [Husband's Note: "a little overboard," when spoken by B, refers to something that goes out of control from the moment it starts, and then ends up with a doll tea party being decorated by Neiman Marcus and catered by the Angus Barn.] So, I decided to make little chocolate leaves for the dessert garnish (half milk chocolate leaves and half dark chocolate with amaretto leaves) - 225 leaves altogether. Also, I wanted to prepare the dessert in individual glasses. The week before the banquet I started preparing the chocolate leaves.

On Thursday, I prepared 6 large pots of pudding, 7 chocolate cakes, and 6 large bowls of whipped cream (all from scratch). Not overboard, right? Then, on Friday I had several ladies come and help me prepare the glasses. It only took 4 hours to prepare 120 glasses. Not bad considering I thought it was going to take a lot longer.

The next day was the banquet and I realized how much we had to do before the actual meal. My two very close and best of friends who didn't mind helping me at all and would do it again if I asked them :) came with me to help do all the chopping and cutting. Since I have a severe reaction to cutting onions (oh darn) my two best of friends did it for me and would do it again if I asked (right?).

We spent from 10am-3pm cutting and chopping but managed to get it done and in the pot on time. And, oh, what a pot. I thought I could handle it at first by myself but soon realized I could not.

So, my best of friends who would do it again if I asked (I hope you are reading this Julie and Erin) helped me in stirring.

We stirred ...

and stirred ...

and stirred ...

and stirred.

It only took us 3 hours for the finished product.

Finally, the moment of truth. Dinner was served.

People seemed to like it but being the perfectionist that I am, I was not pleased with it (too thin). But, now I know what I'm getting myself into for the next time (which according to J there won't be a next time). Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Of course, the next day we headed off to T-land. Busy week but worth it.