Sunday, November 28, 2010


Now here is one of my favorites--brought to you specially from the pen of Professor Tolkien. This is the little tune Frodo danced and sang to in The Prancing Pony in Bree--and when he made such a fool of himself. To get the full effect of this great song read the masterpiece "The Lord of the Rings!"

There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he runs his bow,
Now sqeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there’s good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a horned cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there’s a special pair
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
“The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master’s been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun'll be rising soon!”

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He sqeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
“It’s after three!” he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with a spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and pong the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
They all went back to bed!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Random Thoughts

Saturday afternoon. Bored. Why? Never be bored. Find something to do. Blog; go buy an umbrella; finish your laundry. Do some work for school next week...wait, work on the weekend? What? Well, I guess I'll blog. Sounds more fun than anything else. I don't really know what to say; nothing but random thoughts run through my head.

I bought "Evgeny Onegin" on an audio CD last night at a Russian bookstore. It's in Russian of course and I am so excited. I broke the plastic wrapping on it this morning and listened along as I read my English translation. Oh, how I wish I had brought my other copy of it in Russian. Why oh why didn't I?

I was really upset with Mark Zuckerberg yesterday as I was watching "Social Network" at the theatres. What he did to his co-founder...mean. But by the end of the film I guess I didn't dislike him so much. I guess I'll keep my facebook page up.

My housemate, Ella, made delicious borscht the other night. Best I've yet had in Russia.

I just agreed to tutor a 5th grade Ukranian boy in writing and a little in math. He is attending the Anglo-American school and I guess is really struggling. I heard about the job through a friend of mine who works at that school. So I will be working with this kid at least twice a week. Crazy what you can charge for tutoring in this city. Here I come Sallie Mae--I'll kick you to the curb so fast...

One of the classes I teach is 5th grade conversation. My school is on the IB program and so I teach conversation within a theme of inquiry. These next two months they are inquiring into the universe/space. So I get to teach all about the planets, NASA, and everything that is so cool about space. Teaching friends--are you jealous? You should be. I am having so much fun with it. I've spent so much time lately researching cool topics that interest me, then I boil them down to the basic ESL 5th grade level, and have some fun!!

Vacuum is very cool in particular. Who knew that vacuum theory/technology was so difficult to get your brain around? And black holes? And brown dwarfs? And binary stars? And plasma propulsion? And there is some really cool stuff you can see in infrared! I love it! For being so bad at science when I was in high school, I am surprised at how interesting it all is. It makes me wish I'd taken a physics class (even from Kamesh killer hard as that would have been).

The weather in Moscow is very strangely warm lately. And by warm I just mean that I'm not bundled up to my nose in down and fur, but can wear a normal wool coat and shoes instead. This is probably the calm before the storm--Moscovites say it will get bitter cold very fast.

I eat too much chocolate in this country. Back in America, eating one piece of chocolate in a month was normal. Now I probably eat a piece (or more) every day...eek! But they are always bringing it to you at school. Every time I turn around someone has put more chocolate on my desk. And someone seems to always have a birthday. In Russia, when it is your birthday, you provide a party and bring all the cakes, chocolate, and fruit to your co-workers. There is just always too much chocolate and sweets available. The best chocolate in all of Russia, in my opinion, is the little Alyonka bar. So simple, and yet simply the best you'll ever eat!

I finished the book I have been reading since I arrived, "The Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James. It was interesting, but the ending was strange and not my favorite. I think I had higher expectations of it, but alas, it is what it is. Being as I am so similar to Isabel Archer in some ways, I hope I won't make some of the stupid choices she did. By reading about her life though, maybe I learned some things about myself, which is one of the best things you can hope for from a book.

Anyway, as you can tell I had a ton of random thoughts today. I do have a lot of stuff to tell about Helsinki still. I will get around to it one of these days. But for now, I am going to do some errands and hopefully go buy that umbrella.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Estonian Adventures

I just spent a wonderful week vacationing in Estonia and Finland. There are so many things that I could post about that I don’t even know where to begin. Well I will start off by using this post to talk about Tallinn, and then set aside the next post to talk about Helsinki. Rather than tell you everything that happened, I will just talk about a few of my most memorable events.

1. On the 14 hour, middle of the night train ride from Moscow to Tallinn, we stopped early Sunday morning to cross the border from Russia into Estonia. This alone took almost two hours. First we stopped for over an hour in Russia and the police came in with guard dogs, checked all our paperwork, and went through our bags. Finally we started moving again. We crossed into Estonia, and five minutes later stopped again. Now the Estonian guard dogs and police came in to do it all over again. What a hassle!

2. Soon after arriving, finding our hostel, and settling in we went exploring. We had decided to buy a “Tallinn Card” for about $50. This was the best thing we ever did. With this card our entire trip was practically free except for our meals in the evening. This card gave us free entrance into museums, attractions, and paid for all our transportation in the city. We also got free ice cream, coffee, marzipan, shots, bowling, truffles, etc in businesses all over the city. The best of these was free time at a spa, which I will talk about next.

3. Aqua Spa—with the Tallinn Card we got 1 ½ hours free spa time. And we could go as many times as we wanted. So we went twice and essentially had 3 amazing hours of incredible saunas. There were 6 different types of saunas, and multiple swimming pools and some a couple “warm” tubs. I say “warm” because I could not classify them as hot tubs.

4. Ice cream—another of the free things we got with the Tallinn Card was ice cream at a bookstore. I chose wheat flavored ice cream. It was delicious and it tasted exactly like wheaties breakfast cereal.

5. One day as we were walking to our hostel a girl on the sidewalk suddenly yelled at us to stop. She was maybe in her late teens or early twenties and there were a few other people her age with her. We stopped and she drunkenly asked us in English, “are you from Estonia?” “No,” we replied. “Oh, darn. I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing here. I just know that last night I was partying and this morning I woke up in Estonia!” “Well, where are you from?” I asked. “Finland.” Hahahahaha. By far one of the funniest things I ever encountered.

6. Boat tour. So we decided to go to the “Maritime Museum” and take a tour around some boats. We get there, and it is in a very sketch part of town. I was glad Rick was with us. We were the only ones there, and the “tour” had no guide. There were about 10 boats at the docks and they pointed to 3 of them and said, “go explore!” So we ran around and had a blast by ourselves climbing through engine rooms and down dark iron holes. There were two large boats and a submarine. Very cool.

7. Wall tour—the city was once surrounded by high stone walls and we got to walk around and climb on a few of them. Very fun and there were lots great views and pictures to be taken.

8. Hidden Tunnels—over the centuries as Estonia was expanding the people built huge bulwarks to surround the walls. A bulwark is a tunnel that is built above ground and then covered with lots of earth. They are huge hills that are now covered by parks and nice lawns. But once they were a main defensive tactic for the city. Until 2005 many of them had filled up with water, but the city is cleaning them out and taking people on tours. Only a small section is tourable—about ½ km. There are many kilometers of bulwarks. They have been used for different purposes over the years. During WWII the dry parts were used as shelters during the bombings. It was a very neat tour.

Summary—Tallinn is an incredible city. I could live here with ease. The people are very friendly, the food is delicious, the history is interesting, the city is much smaller than Moscow and is easy to get around in. There are a ton of restaurants and neat alley ways to discover. It would be hard for me to get bored here. But there is one thing I didn’t care for. It was much too easy to communicate. Everyone speaks English and the few that don’t can usually understand some Russian. I became very lazy with language and am sad to say that I didn’t learn one work in Estonian. Shame on me. But overall, I would recommend this place to anyone, anytime. I sure hope to return at some point.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hot tea and waffles

It is a chilly day in surprise lately. This morning it rained, but coming home from work tonight the clear, crisp, fall air was refreshing. I am sitting at home drinking a cup of tea and eating a delicious waffle. It is not a normal waffle that you eat in the morning with eggs and bacon, but a small, round European waffle filled with syrup. You make a hot cup of coffee or tea and set the waffle on top. In a couple minutes the syrup has warmed and you can eat a delightful pastry with your cup of Earl Grey. I'm obsessed!

I can hardly believe that I have been here for a full term of school already. I am giving my students their 1st term assessments this week and it has been challenging to say the least. My school runs differently than most schools--even other Russian schools. There is not a required number of days that students must attend, so I have had students go away for two weeks on vacation and there is no need for them to do make up work. And here, when students or teachers get sick, they must stay out of school until the doctor signs off saying that their illness is completely gone. So they'll be out for a couple weeks often--and again, no make-up work. This seems ridiculous to me as a teacher. With break coming up, I have planned for assessments and been preparing my students for it--giving them the schedule well in advance. The day before the test, a couple kids say, "Well I am leaving for Dubai/Maldives tomorrow, so I won't be here." Thanks, kids. Teaching here is an adventure for sure--and a real look into the lives of the zolotoya molodezh, or "the golden youth."

I am just as anxious for break as the kids, however. I have decided to do a little traveling for my fall break. I will be going to Estonia and Finland with a few friends this coming Saturday and we will be gone a week. We are taking an overnight train to Tallinn, Estonia and the Russians all tell me to have no happy expectations. We are going 3rd class and it might be kinda rough, but it will be a story to tell regardless:) We will be in Tallinn for 3 days and then take the ferry to Helsinki and stay there for a couple of nights, then take the train back again on Friday night. As bad as I am about blogging, I promise to put up a few pictures and tell a few stories about my time there.

But before my lovely break I have some work to do. I am technically supposed to turn in all my lesson plans for next term by Friday. So I best get working! I have turned on my Jethro Tull Christmas album, which is brilliant by the way, have re-heated water for more tea, and now need to force myself to do lovely planning.

Shisliva y paka!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

High heels, mullets, flowers and chocolate

How is it possible to love life so much? There are so many things in this country that could cause discouragement, homesickness, frustration, exasperation, and headaches, yet despite it all I am in love with this place and with my life. I have been very sick for the last three weeks with a sinus infection, but somehow it has not deterred me from enjoying school, hanging out with people, and seeing sites.

The culture here is so fascinating. There are so many things that make me smile—on the inside of course. People don’t smile here very much, but I will admit that it is one of my favorite things about this place. They appear very serious on the outside, but they are very friendly enjoyable people. I also love the fact that they are quiet. You can have a very big crowd in a public place but it won’t be very loud because everyone speaks quietly and they don’t draw attention to themselves. This is excluding futbol matches, of course.

All the women wear high heels—all the time. They are amazing with their balance as they will stand with no support on the metro and remain standing up. I am not quite that talented. I can stand alone in the metro, but not with high heels. I find that I too though wear high heels much more. I have not yet worn anything but high heels at work and my feet are becoming accustomed to it.

Mullets are the other thing that are very popular here—don’t ask me why. They are not usually very long mullets, but are short (what my friends call Euro mullets). Nonetheless they weird me out.

Muscovites are really into appearances. Most people don’t believe me when I say they are very fashionable people, but they are (at least in Moscow). I feel that little by little I am feeling more like a city girl. I am feeling much more comfortable on the Metro. I’ve not yet taken any pictures in the metro, but it is an incredible place. The marble, the chandeliers, the stained glass, the statues, the paintings are amazing. Taking the metro is like going into a museum.

School is still going well. I am feeling a little more settled in with what I am supposed to be doing. The students are really fun and I am glad I teach 5th grade because I can actually speak with them. By 5th grade most of them know a lot of English. One of my roommates teaches preschool and kindergarten and she frequently mentions how hard it is to never really talk with the kids because they hardly know any English at that point.

Teacher’s Day is also coming up. It is October 5th and is a big day all over Russia. Students bring gifts to their teachers, and it normally consists of flowers and chocolate—two of the most popular things in the country. Teacher’s Day isn’t until next week, yet I have already received a couple big bouquets of flowers and several cards. The students at my school are also extremely wealthy so they tend to bring very expensive gifts. One of my roommates has already received Dior makeup and Prada perfume. Theater tickets, gift certificates, alcohol, electronic gadgets and tea are also very common gifts. In America these things would be considered bribes, but here it is the normal way of life. How interesting this place really is.

I am sitting in a Starbucks drinking my $8 latte, updating my blog, visiting with my roommate, and watching the fascinating people out the window. This Starbucks is on the first floor of a business complex at a very busy intersection somewhere not too far from my home. There is a girl in a black and purple coat and very high heels standing out my window. She has been standing there for about 45 minutes waiting for something or someone. People and cars are rushing here and there, heels clacking, horns honking. My roommate is sitting across from me, surreptitiously working on her amazing photography skills. She bought a very old soviet era camera and has been taking a lot of pictures of me, the coffee shop and the people around us. She has been pretty sneaky about it too. I look forward to seeing them when the film is developed.

For about half an hour the sun had been shining brightly, but now it has finally clouded over again. Someone finally came for the girl outside my window. I sip the complementary hot chocolate from the tiny cup I was just handed. I think I will finish this and open up the book I am reading, The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James.

Until later,
shasliva y paka.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm Finally Here!!!

I have now been in Moscow for one week. My trip over went very smoothly and well. I arrived in Houston, Texas and met up with the other American teachers in the airport. We all traveled over together. We were picked up by a big tour bus owned by the school and taken to our apartments. I am living with Kristin and Ella and they are great roommates. Our apartment is about a fifteen minute walk from the city campus of the school. The neighborhood is very nice and feels quite safe. I live near two small grocery stores, a few restaraunts, coffee shops etc. Things are quite expensive here. Even at the street markets and vendors you will spend quite a bit if you eat at them often. There is a larger grocery story near the school, but we don't get a lot because we have to carry everything back with us. Also, in Europe refrigerators are quite small and ours is not very cold. So stocking up on food is impossible. You have to shop every couple days and just buy what you will eat immediately. Shopping is an adventure for sure!

This city is incredible. I feel good being here. There are people I am with that are going through a significant amount of culture shock and struggling with the immense differences between here and the states. Overall, I haven't gone through this too badly yet. Of course I have some culture shock, but I do not miss the states at all right now and am very glad I am here. I know this honeymoon phase will pass quickly, but even as it does I think I will always find this a great place to be. I am determined to be positive about everything and that attitude is kind of helping me cope with the multiple challenges I have already had to face here. I am having to trust the Lord with so many things and that has been wonderful for our relationship.

I started school on Wednesday. I arrived Friday, so this gave me a few days to recuiperate from jet lag, get settled into my apartment, see a few sites, and visit my school for the first time. I am actually teaching at the country campus, which is called Zaitsevo for the region it is in. My roommate Kristin also works there with me as well as two other American teachers, Amber and Jeff. We walk to the city campus every morning, which is called Presnya for the region it is in. We catch at big tour bus at 7:45 which picks up and takes all the country teachers to the school. Most of us that teach out there live in the city so it is about a 45 minute drive on average. It depends on traffic though of course. Yesterday we arrived back in the city in 35 minutes and coming home today it took 1 hour and 45 minutes. Books and my MP3 player are my best friends.

School here is very different in some ways from the states. For instance, school starts at 9 and ends at 5 and students can eat 3 meals a day there. The country campus is very beautiful with lots of windows, atriums, and woods behind it. It is a very wealthy school so it has classes and activities most other Russian schools do not. For instance, we have some sports, dance classes, swimming, karate, etc. In Russia, sports and activities outside of academics are just not in school. My school was the first private school in Russia and it was just started in 1993. The teachers are truly good that I see so far.

I teach several different types of classes. I am one of the 5th grade homeroom teachers. I work with two other Russian teachers who are the main teachers. They teach in Russian and I supplement in English. It is challenging because they do not speak hardly any English. Communication has been a challenge. I teach a history class on my own in English that has an emphasis on conversation. I only teach that once a week. The two teachers teach the main lessons and then I teach supplementary material in English to what they've already taught. By 5th grade most of my students speak English to some degree. Most of them have English-speaking nannies, bodyguards or tutors as well.

But my two favorite classes are teaching English to 2nd and 3rd grade native English speakers. These kids are the few kids in our school who are not Russian. Some of them are fully British and a couple are half British, half Russian. In these two classes which I teach every day, I only have a couple students. I have 4 students in 2nd grade and 3 students in 3rd grade. I also teach conversation classes to Russian students in 4th grade, as well as a few sections of what they call Handicrafts. It is basically a crafts class. That will be my most challenging. I struggle with crafts and class tends to be a bit chaotic during that time.

But I feel very accepted at the school. People seem to want to help when they can. The Russian English teachers are particularly helpful as they do some translating for me. Little by little I am picking up words, but the Russians in Moscow speak so quickly that sometimes it is challenging to distinguish. But I am determined to be forthright in learning the language. Some will come to you by just being around it, but that is not enough for me. I need to find a tutor or take some classes.

Anyway, I had better wrap this post up and show a few pictures I have taken around the school and with my students. Dosvedanya!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My journey to Russia!

I sit in front of the computer, the blank screen before me begging to be filled with something. A story. Thoughts. Ideas. Prayers. Something. Just how do I start this blog? Maybe a little story about my journey to Russia.

Last year I lived in Saipan, a beautiful tropical island in the western Pacific. There happens to be a large Russian population on Saipan, and my dance teacher was Russian. When I first started taking lessons from her I mentioned I would be moving to Russia later in the year and she stared at me skeptically and then said, "Why?"

Well, yes...why do I want to move to Russia? I could give the cursory answer I normally give--to teach. But really it is so much more than that. My desire and obsession with Russia begins about 4 years ago. But first, lets look back even further--to when I was in junior high.

A young college graduate who was the son of an acquaintance came to dinner at our home one night. He was moving to Siberia with Campus Crusades for Christ and was visiting with us about his upcoming adventure. I remember thinking at the time--"Why would anyone want to move to Russia, let alone Siberia?" It positively sounded like torture at the time. Ironic how life is, right?

Then freshman year of college, the winter Olympics was occuring in Torino. I remember watching figure skating--my favorite winter sport--and being amazed by the Russians (of course). I started watching it on YouTube and wondering why the Russians were so good for so many years. Why was that? So I started to do some research and found out that so much of it is cultural, based on the training, and a remnant of the Soviet Union. It got me fascinated with why Russian and American cultures were so different. But I thought that some of the differences were amazing and just because they were different didn't mean either were bad.

I took a class in Russian literature and fell in love with Russian writers. So many of the stories and novels I read have changed my life and perspective. Many of my ideas come from the "pockets of Gogol's 'Overcoat'" as Dostoevsky so aptly put it. I have been changed by Crime and Punishment, astonished by Anna Karenina, uplifted by Evgeny Onegin, enlightened by works of Solzhenitsen. And so much more. My emotions, my ideas, my ideologies, seem to, for whatever reason, mesh with and understand Russian literature. I love it!

Through literature I began to understand some of the Russian mindset. However, I knew I could never fully understand unless I lived in the culture, interacted with it, was changed by it, and in some way also changed it. I desired this so much. I dreamed of living there and hoped that my career choice of international teaching would someday lead me there.

At first, the door seemed closed to Russia. So I looked at other options. I really was willing to go anywhere, so when the job in Saipan opened up I jumped at the chance. Saipan was amazing--the tropics, the beaches, the people, the food, the teaching--were unforgettable in a great way. But while there I was contacted by a recruiter at a Moscow school that I had kept in contact with. She sent me the application and encouraged me to apply. I enjoyed Saipan enough to stay there another year, but thought that if I got the job to Russia it would be even more amazing. I got the job!

I was finally being taken to the place I had always dreamed to be! God had opened the doors at each step for this. I will be leaving in just a little less than 2 weeks. There has been a ton of paperwork and there have certainly been setbacks and challenges with it, but it is all coming along as it should.

Some people ask me how long I will be there and my first instinct is to say, "forever." But in reality I have no idea. If the Lord leads me to stay in Russia beyond this first year I will be more than happy to. But if he instead leads me elsewhere, whether to another country or back to the U.S., I will follow. And with joy.

So with that said, I will finish up this first and very long blog. I appreciate your prayers, your thoughts, your comments. God bless.