Sunday, November 29, 2009

Busy Bee

Since Jesse took the computer internet stick thingy with him on his trip to Y-land, I have not been able to report what I've been up to. Thus, this post will be full of random things I've (Bobbie) been up to.

Let start with while Jesse was gone. Well, my day was full of playing with the boys, feeding the boys, training the boys, feeding the boys, studying language, having language session, playing with the boys, feeding the boys, bathing the boys, putting the boys down for sleep, watching a movie, going to bed. Then, start it over again the next day. I stayed busy enough to keep distracted from missing Jesse too much for about 2 days. That is when I realized that Jesse can never die and leave me alone as I might do something rash or set something on fire.

Thankfully, Jesse got back just in time. But, there were a few things I enjoyed while he was away. This is a little late but I have a lot to catch up on.

On Halloween, Erin (the "Privyet" link on the right) and I hosted a Halloween Party for the English club. It was just fun to dress up and make creepy foods like:

Here we have eyeball eggs, severed hands, chocolate spiderwebs, and chocolate covered cookie coffins. We had a blast and discussed Halloween traditions which got us discussing what we believe in which was great. Of course, this happened right before Jesse left but I have not had time to write about it. So, there you go.

The only other thing I did while they were gone was help host the English Club meetings (again, with our coworker Erin). I gave a cooking lesson on how to cook hamburgers, french fries, and sweet ice tea. Some of the girls liked it but the others were terrified to drink the ice tea as they think ice will make them sick. They were brave, though, and everyone tried it. Some of them actually really enjoyed it. Then we had milkshakes which all enjoyed.

The next day Jesse came home and we just spent the next few days enjoying being back together again. We also enjoyed Steven's birthday which, unfortunately, was the day Jesse and David came home and all were just too tired to do anything. So, we decided to wait until the next Saturday to celebrate. We still had chocolate chip cookies on the actual day. Here Steven is showing everyone how old he is:

But, before that took place, Thanksgiving happened. Despite my promise to not do anything for Thanksgiving (remember, we already celebrated it back in October), we had to introduce the English Club to our traditions. So, guess who volunteered to cook a "small" meal.

Well, those who know me know "small" means 6 different kinds of dishes and 2 different kinds of dessert. I don't think anyone complained. The girls thought it was "interesting" but liked the things that they were used to like the apple pie and the mashed potatoes. We had lots of leftovers which I didn't complained about. Thanksgiving leftovers - mmm! They're always best the second time around.

The next big event was Steven's birthday party. If you remember, last year we started a tradition of hiding Steven's gifts in a pool of balloons. Last year Steven was more interested in the balloons than the gifts. This year he did the same thing.

The other kids (large and small) also enjoyed the balloons. We had a meal of Steven's favorite foods: mac and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mmm!
All the kids (large and small) also enjoyed it. Then, the big event: the flaming race car. I have to say, I'm pretty proud of it considering it is the first time I've attempted anything like this. Ain't it pretty?

Well, that's about it. Sorry, it is a long post but I had a lot to catch up on. I will leave you with a cute picture of the boys (mainly for you grandparents). Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Up North

Apparently, this is our 100th post! Yay us! Or, you. Or someone.

Anyway, I (Jesse) have been gone for a good while, traveling to a place even colder than here. What could be colder than central Siberia, you ask? Well, northern Siberia, of course! I was amused when we arrived and got into a taxi to go to our friends' home. It was -32, which seemed chilly to me for early November. I asked the taxi driver if it was always that cold. "Well, winter got here last week," he replied. "Soon it will be cold." Hmmmmmmm...

If you recall from our last email, along with coworker David, I was asked to be trained as a consultant for those in language and culture acquisition. This means that, eventually, we will occasionally travel around the country to other teams, checking on their progress in culture and language and offering help in how to improve their studies.

Of course, most of the training for this involves traveling to the teams with the current consultant and watching how she works. It's actually a fascinating process. How would you go about testing determining what level someone is at in a language you don't speak? Well, this is something that we need to know how to do if we're to help people improve, and our org has developed a whole set of guidelines for how to do this. It was the first time I'd seen it done since we went through the training, and I found it fascinating. But on to the pictures, as they'll help explain the whole thing ...

Here we're going through the first check with one of the men on the Y-land team. From left to right it's Shawna (the current consultant), myself, A (the one being checked), David, and the language helper.

The one being checked first has a series of tasks to do with his helper, and then the consultant goes over the recording with the helper to determine what he said and whether he said it correctly or not. As you can imagine, this involves a lot of work. In fact, between the checks and the meetings between the three of us consultant and consultants-in-training, we worked pretty much all day every day! It really is a long process, but I was so interested to see the way that you can actually tell how well someone speaks a language without speaking it yourself.

Here A's wife is also being checked with her language helper. Shawna's wearing a mask due to her illness, which slowed her down the first few days she was there. She didn't want any of us to come down with it, and I don't think any of us did.

I didn't take a lot of pictures of our actual consulting work, since that would have made for a really boring set of photos. The rest of them are just from life in a place this cold. If you've ever complained about your commute, then just think of the G family above; this is how they get to Sunday meeting in -30 weather.

In fact, it's so cold in Y-land that people double their windshield. The car here has an extra windshield taped on (if you look closely you can see the tape) to protect it from shattering. You might not know this, but if it gets too cold your windshield can actually shatter simply due to temperature. I didn't get a picture of all the things they do to the front of cars to keep the engine block from cooling too far, or to prevent the extremely cold air from entering the intake directly.

I sympathized with these guys as soon as I saw them. If you think your job is bad, just remember there are people who work full-time in construction outside in Siberia. Brrrr!

Permafrost is an interesting thing. If you build directly onto the ground, with a building higher than about 3 floors, the heat will melt the ground and the building will sink into it. Thus, all the taller buildings are built on "stilts," which allow the ground to remain frozen below them.

I'm not exactly sure of the reasoning, but the hot-water pipes are apparently better off above ground as well (I suppose -45 air takes less heat away than the permanently frozen ground or something). This pipe has a slow leak, which is dripping down and forming a pretty solid pillar of ice in the middle of the road. The cars were having to find alternate routes due to the solidity of this thing:

This pipe is leaking much quicker (in fact they fixed it the next day) and the hot water is forming quite an icicle as it comes down.

Another interesting thing in extremely cold climates is the way to run cables. They have to rig up this sort of support to run an electrical wire.

Y-land is not totally without its comforts, however. It's actually a fairly wealthy area of Russia, with all the gold and oil located there. On the last day of our visit, when all the meetings were done, the team took David and I (Shawna flew out in the morning) out for bowling. I am not the world's most gifted bowler, but it was still a good time.

P had an interesting technique with no run-up (making him far and away the easiest of us to photograph), but it was undeniably effective, as he won our last game.

The way home was a story in an of itself. It takes almost three days to get to Y-land from here, and David and I spent one of them in a big city waiting for a train. We decided to go to the local mall, since we have nothing even approaching it in T-land. In between buying luxuries like peanut butter and a fixture to hang mirrors (not available anywhere in T-land, in case you are ever on the hunt for one), we sat down to check out the ice skating rink. There was some sort of promotional thing for the mall going on, so we watched a figure skating show, complete with sparks coming out of a guy's skates:

And, another bonus - they had a KFC! Well, a Rostiks, but it's owned by the same people.

I enjoyed my Twister, although it wasn't quite the same as the Stateside one:

I'm thinking of writing a sequel to Dr. Seuss' book Oh, the Places You'll Go! Except mine will be Oh, the Places You'll Sleep!, and particularly targeted for people in this line of work.

I've already drafted the opening lines:

It is rare that you'll sleep on your very own bed
For the sleep that you crave, when you sleep like the dead.

But couches at friends' or cold floors at the airport
Or train station seating, where you await transport

You'll wish and you'll wish for a really good nap
But instead, all you'll find, is a bench with a gap


And, just to wrap this up, I'll close with a cute picture of one of the kids on the Y-land team, this is Jasmine, getting ready to go outside. She has to be among the cutest little girls ever!

So thanks, Y-land team, for your hospitality in hosting us at your place. We enjoyed it and learned a lot.

Check back next week for pictures of Steven's birthday party (he turned 3 yesterday) and other, yet to be determined interesting things.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New Apartment!

Our new view! You can't really tell from this picture, but the moutains in the background are really spectacular!

Well, it's been a busy month, but we're finally back online, and fully in our new apartment. Thanks for all of you who have been thinking of us during this time! It's definitely been ... challenging, but we hope that we've put the remodeling and moving behind us for now, and we're finally in our new place.

As we mentioned in our last post, we were so thankful that some family members were able to help us out with organizing a loan to buy an apartment here in T-land. That way, we can do our paperwork much easier, as well as not having to worry about rent increases and the moves that come with renting a place here.

And what a place he provided! In the middle of town, so we can walk most everywhere (we don't have a car) that we need to go. It's almost 700 square feet, which would be smallish in the West but is actually quite nice for here. There are two bedrooms, so we can have a separate living room (most Russian apartments have someone sleeping in what we Westerners would call the "living room"), plastic windows (with good insulation from Siberian winters), and it's just generally above and beyond what we hoped or expected! The one disadvantage is that it's on the eighth floor, and since the elevator is frequently out of service that means a lot of stairs with two little ones! But, we figure they'll be old enough to climb them soon, and in the meantime we're enjoying the spectacular views from the balcony (we're one of the highest buildings in the city).

So, on to the pictures:

Most of the place was in pretty good shape; the one exception was the bathroom. Not the bathroom with the toilet, but the "vannaya" (remember, bathrooms here are separated into two separate rooms). The washing machine was on the same side as the faucet, meaning there was no sink. We could have dealt with that, but coupled with the fact that the bathtub was 1.4 meters long (for comparison, I'm 1.94 tall), we decided to do some remodeling. In the above picture, we've knocked out the tile wall holding in the tub and removed it; below, you can see the almost-finished product.

Actually, we did a bit more after this next picture raising the tub, and I even put in a few tiles on the end where the tub didn't go all the way to the wall, but I'm too lazy to go take more pictures of that (plus, there are dishes in the tub due to a kitchen sink issue that I'm working on today).

The only other major things to do was new carpet in the boys' room (you can see that a few pictures down) and new paint in the living room. The lovely B decided that lavender was the order of the day.

Above: first coat of paint. Below: mid-move.

The kitchen really didn't need anything at all. The cabinets the previous 0wner left behind are great! All we had to do was move our stuff in and plug it in.

Of course, B couldn't let it go that easily, so she found a lamp that needed to be rewired for the living room. Here I'm struggling to fix it, along with David, who came over for dinner only to be ambushed with tasks that needed a third or fourth hand. I think he looks thrilled.

So, without further ado, I present to you the finished product. The living room:

The kitchen:

The boys' room:

I don't have a picture of our room, but it's pretty much the same as the boys', just with a double bed instead of a bunkbed.

Finally, just so this post isn't all about the new apartment, here's a picture of Matthew out in the new snow:

I think we may have worked Steven a little too hard during the move:

And that'll do it for the Wandering Family this week. Thanks for checking in. The other big news is that I think I've found a language helper, and we're hopefully going to start meeting this week. So, not only are we into our new place, we're hopefully set up to start getting serious about the T language and culture as well. He really is good!