Monday, December 31, 2007

Little Orphans Warm Up to Father Frost

Father Frost stopped by a nearby orphanage last week to give gifts to the children. Snow Maiden, dressed in blue, is his granddaughter and helper.

Three of four little boys are fascinated by the special visitors.

Snow Maiden cuddles up with a child.

Behind the scenes: After the festivities, it's. . .potty time! Snow Maiden has changed from her costume into her work clothes and she's back in her usual role as one of the children's caretakers. Here she cuts up chocolate from Father Frost.

Each of these little guys is drooling at the very thought of more candy.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Year from Father Frost and Friends!

Father Frost joins me in wishing You and Yours a wonderful New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Domes of St Basil's, Moscow

On a frosty morning, St Basil's Cathedral reigns from across Moscow's Red Square. The cathedral almost has been destroyed several times during its 450-year history: Napoleon wanted to dismantle and rebuild it in France. Stalin’s advisors wanted to demolish it to enlarge Red Square for parades. Those two characters are long gone but St Basil’s continues to enthrall.

The cathedral was built to celebrate the military victory of Ivan the Terrible over invading Tartar Monguls. This architectural confection with its cupolas and color is meant to depict the New Jerusalem, described in the Bible. (Perhaps you had suspected? ;) )

Ice sculptors carved a replica of St Basil’s, their work displayed near the Kremlin, Moscow.(Photo credit: EnglishRussia.)

Say, should you be inspired to design something magnificent, consider investing in these wooden building blocks. They're not cheap. But then again, hasn't creativity always come with a pricetag? (Photo credit: Haba Corp.)

How about you? Ever been to Red Square and seen St Basil's? When and with whom?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Inspired by the Pom-pom-pomegranate

Thanks to this beautiful fruit, I've been extra inspired lately. I'd like to think that it's noticable in my writing. (Have you noticed, per chance?) Not that I've been eating pomegranates, you understand, although I'm certainly not opposed to doing so. . . (Above: Pomegranates for sale in Central Market, Rostov-on-Don.)

. . .but I've been bathing in them. Well, in a way, yes. This shower gel with pomegrante extract provides an inspirational boost.

At least that's what the small print says, there in the green, INSPIRATIONAL.

Hey, how about a toast to Christmas with pomegranate juice? For only 60-some rubles a bottle, we can be inspired from the inside out. And besides that, pomengranate is touted as soooo good for the digestive system. I'm inspired to drink to that! And here in a minute I'll find the inspiration to practice pronouncing that new vocabulary word, *вдохновляющий*. Care to join me? ;)

How about you? What gives your inspiration a boost? And do you bathe in it? Do you happen to drink it?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Shortest Day of the Longest Night

Glory, glory hallelujah! Today is the Winter Solstice and now the days will get longer. This business of sunset at 4:34 p.m. and sunrise after 8:05 is something simply to endure. And hooray - it's going to get better from here on out until the Summer Solstice on June 22 or so, when we'll have the longest day and shortest night. When does the sunrise and sunset in your area this time of year?

Above, a Russian Orthodox Church in the afternoon sunlight. (Photo Credit: Mikhail Tkachev, Moscow Photographer)

Random Facts about Me

I've been TAGGED (thanks Karen!) So now I supposed to tell five random facts about myself. Well I got a little enthused about this for several reasons but here's my list. I'll post this and very soon TAG several other unsuspecting bloggers to do the same.

1. I’ve earned a graduate degree or two but I’m especially proud of jobs I’ve worked along the way: starting with cleaning lady (At a Tudor-style mansion turned nursing home.); lifeguard (Found and rescued a guy’s eyeglasses from the lake bottom but couldn’t find another guy’s dentures. Maybe by now he shuts his mouth when he swims.), mum packer at a greenhouse (from 4:00 a.m. until noon), college cafeteria (Like some OJ with your oatmeal?), resident assistant in the dorm (“Quiet hour, room check. . .quiet hour, room check”) and paint crew for school district (painting classrooms, stadium buildings and stripes on the football field). In between, I taught home economics 22 years.

2. I spent the bicentennial in Sydney, Australia along with 300-some others recruited to teach there for two years. Petted a koala and a kangaroo and ate shark fin soup. Also I can sing Waltzing Matilda upon request.

3. As a child I cut off my eyelashes. This was to spite my parents for going on about our baby sister’s beautiful lashes although they had never noticed mine. Hopefully they learned their lesson. I also gave myself haircuts as a child because I liked the sound of the scissors cuttng hair. Somehow Mom always knew afterward.

4. I sing decent alto and can harmonize pretty well thanks to having sat near excellent altos in church – starting in Australia. Oddly enough, throughout high school and college I wanted to be a super-star soprano or even an okay soprano but alas, it was not to be. Now I’m the only alto in our whole congregation and wish there were another alto-wanna-be for me to mentor.

5. I’ve never been engaged and I’ve never gone steady but I’ve always wanted to wear a guy’s class ring on a chain around my neck. I seem to be a little behind in that area. Or maybe I’m ahead! Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday I marry a nice widower. In the meantime, help me watch the obits, would you please?

6. I would love to visit Mt Ararat and see Noah’s Ark there on the eastern edge of Turkey. I’ve been within several hundred miles but understand that visiting the ark itself is not feasible nowadays for political reasons. Still I think helicoptering in there with a team of experts – a good local guide or two, a historian, a geologist would be the ultimate travel adventure.

7. The main thing I could really use for Christmas is a can of Crisco, solid vegetable shortening. This is the land of unsalted butter, for pity sake. I’m going to try again and scour the supermarkets for something Crisco-ish. How else can a person make decent icing for Christmas cookies?

8. Twenty-some years ago I ran almost daily. As I recall, I ran 36 10-k races, the Dallas Turkey Trot (8 miles) five times and two half marathons. I loved running and miss it. Never speedy of course, I just always kept running to the next stop sign or for another ten minutes. All that was a kilogram or two ago...

9. At the top of my list of heroes are mothers. I’m in awe of women who have raised families and considered it a calling. Teaching children to love God, nature, and books. Showing children the joy of serving others and being part of a cause bigger than themselves. Nancy Pelosi, mother of five, grandmother of six said something like, Being a mother is what prepared me to be Speaker of the House.

10. I have a timer in almost every room of the house. Using a timer helps me get things done in 15-minute baby steps. Like Flylady says, you can do anything for 15 minutes!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sneg, Sneg, Glorious Sneg*

Rostov-on-Don is the capital of the Rostov Region and above is the regional adminstration building. Over the building fly the flags of Russia, left, and the Rostov Region.

On a snowy day, it's hard to beat the poetic beauty of Pyshkinskaya (PUSH-kin-sky-ah) Boulevard. The pedestrian-only thoroughfare bisects the city center and runs parallel to the Don River for 12 blocks or so.

* Sneg (Снег), pronounced snyeg = snow. See, you can speak Russian!

Hear Ye. . . Hear Ye! Here's My *Roar!*

I’ve been Roared at by Jenny Rough, a smart-cookie-lawyer turned freelance writer and a favorite blogger. Getting Roared at means listing three things that I consider necessary for good, powerful writing. But let's up that to five things because I’m a Leo, after all, and Roaring is what we do:

1) Use verbs with punch – and go for active verbs versus passive. 2) Edit Ruthlessly. Now, if your name happens to be Ruth, that can be a bit tricky. 3) Write – write – write. Three writes do Not make a wrong – whatever that means – and BLOGGING helps build writing muscles. Like sit-ups and push-ups: Low on glamour but surprisingly effective. 4) Build vocabulary. My favorite is Super Word Power from Yahoo!Games! It's yoga for the brain. 5) Hover around real writers and find inspiration from their topics, perspective, methods and amusements – including Roaring. That’s caffeine for the noggin.

And now, according to the Rules of the Den, I'm to ROAR at five other unsuspecting writers:
Charity at Haphazard Housewife.
Karen at Write Now.
Rachel Anne at Home Sanctuary.
Erik at Tryggblog,
Todd at Reach for Something Good.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Carols for the Psychologically Challenged

1. Schizophrenia - Do You Hear What I Hear, the Voices, the Voices?

2. Amnesia - I Don't Remember If I'll Be Home for Christmas

3. Narcissistic - Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

4. Manic - Deck The Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and. . .

5. Multiple Personality Disorder - We Three Queens Disoriented Are

6. Paranoid - Santa Claus Is Coming to Get Us

7. Borderline Personality Disorder - You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Shout, I'm Gonna Cry, and I'll Not Tell You Why

8. Full Personality Disorder - Thoughts of Roasting You On an Open Fire

9. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

10. Agoraphobia - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn't Leave My House

11. Senile Dementia - Walking In a Winter Wonderland Miles from MyHouse in My Slippers and Robe

12. Oppositional Defiant Disorder - I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House

13. Social Anxiety Disorder - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas While I Sit Here and Hyperventilate

14. Attention Deficit Disorder - We Wish You......Hey Look!! It's Snowing!!!

Content credit: Shalee's Diner. (And chances are that she borrowed it from someone else...) Disclaimer: My sincerest apologizes to anyone suffering from any of the illnesses listed above. No offense meant with this post. So have a good laugh and then meditate. . . and/ or medicate as necessary.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Once upon a Winter's Day. . .

A Russian Orthodox church in the muted sunlight of a Moscow afternoon. (Photo credit: Mikhail Tkachev, Moscow Photographer)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Game Must Go On

Sunday afternoon in Gorky Pork. Nothing stands between these athletes -- yes, chess is considered a sport here in Russia -- and their game.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pumpkin Fruit Bread or Muffins, Part 2: Advance Prep, and. . . Ze Recipe!

In these parts I have something of a reputation as Muffin Czaritza, that's Princess of Muffins. Having muffin tins and cupcake liners helps *alot* - that's old news to Stateside muffin makers but not around here. Other than that, advance prep is The Key.

While waiting for the breakfast oatmeal to cook, maybe a day or two before muffin-baking day, I use that 15 minutes to organize ingredients as per the photo:
Dry ingredients measured out and combined.

Liquid ingredients measured out, in individual containers: eggs cracked in small container, butter measured out, pumpkin puree – pumpkin already cooked, mashed and in the freezer.

The extras: Dried apricots cut up, raisins measured out. Nuts already chopped and on hand.

Actually that takes a couple of 15 minute sessions. But then on muffin-baking day it's just a matter of combining it. That takes just 15-20 minutes and it's all in ze oven. Ingredients pictued above are for a double batch. Recipe follows.

* * * * *
Pumpkin Fruit Bread - or Muffins

2 cups pumpkin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup softened butter, margarine (5 ½ oz)
3 eggs

2 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves

½ cup hot water
1 cup raisins and/or dried apricots, chopped

1 cup chopped walnuts

1) Bring water to the boil and pour it over dried fruit. Let soak an hour or so. 2) In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the butter, gradually add in sugar until light and fluffy. Then gradually add the eggs and pumpkin pulp. (I switch from mixer to wooden spoon at this stage.) 3) In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients together then stir in the pumpkin mixture. Mix only until dry ingredients are moist and somewhere in this process, add the fruit and water plus the nuts. Don’t beat or over-mix. 4) Scoop into muffin tins or bread pans. Prep bread pans by oiling and use baking paper on the bottom to prevent it sticking and. . . a broken heart.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pumpkin Fruit Muffins: Fresh from ze Oven

These pumpkin muffins are so good that I reach for this recipe often when pumpkin is in season. Better still, just heard about a clever do-ahead for serving fresh-from-ze-oven muffins for a holiday breakfast. Thanks to Mary Hunt from Debt-Proof Living for this magnificent muffin hint:

On the weekend make your favorite muffins. . .

. . .through the step of filling the muffin tins you’ve lined with paper cups.

Now instead of baking them, stick the entire pan into the freezer. Later, transfer the little frozen muffins into a plastic bag or something to save freezer space.

Come the glorious morning that calls for fresh, hot muffins, fire up ze oven, pop as many muffins as you’ll need back into the muffin pan and bake according to recipe instructions, adding about five minutes.

To catch a whiff, just run your cursor over the muffins. Can't you just smell them? ;)

Well, this freezer idea works perfectly, which continues to baffle me! Say, would you like the recipe? I'll post that very soon! That recipe Plus my own long-time favorite do-ahead tip for muffins, or any other baking.

How about you? Do you have a favorite, always-a-hit muffin recipe?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

First on the Moon: A Russian Mockumentary

This little piggy went to orbit...

This little piggy got to roam...

This little piggy drank some vodka...

This little piggy had none...

This little piggy cried *Oy! Oy! Oy!*

*All this for a mockumentary!*

Ran across these photos at and was really puzzled about this "First Pig in Space." For one thing, in researching for previous articles about the space race nothing was mentioned about launching a pig. Lots of other animals – but no pig. Besides that, the launching of animals was in the late 50’s and early 60's, the clothing of the scientists here is of an earlier era. Bottom line, things weren't adding up.

But the mystery is now solved. According to a Wikipedia entry, these photos are stills from a Russian mockumentary – that is, a tongue-in-cheek documentary -- called *First on the Moon,* (2005) about Russia landing on the moon in the 1930s.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mr. Accordian Man

*You gotta. . . make your own kind of music,
Sing your own special song!

Make your own kind of music,

Even if nobody else sings along.*

The accordian man probably never heard of The Mamas and the Papas, but today he was making music all his own, serenading drivers at a traffic light for a few extra rubles. I heard his music a block away and when I got closer and saw him adding some dance steps and entertaining himself as much as anybody, all I could do was chuckle. On this cold, drizzly day, the first day of the Russian winter, what a gift, this encounter with The Accordian Man.

Make Your Own Kind of Music

Nobody can tell ya;
There's only one song worth singin'.
They may try and sell ya,
'cause it hangs them up
to see somone like you.

But you've gotta make your own kind of music
sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music even if nobody
else sing along.

So if you cannot take my hand,
and if you must be goin',
I will understand.

You're gonna be knowing
the loneliest kind of lonely.
It may be rough goin',
just to do your thing's
the hardest thing to do.

But you've gotta make your own kind of music
sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music even if nobody
else sings along.

So if you cannot take my hand,
and if you must be goin',
I will understand.

You gotta make your own kind of music
sing your own special song,
make your own kind of music even if nobody
else sings along.

Recorded by "Mama" Cass Elliott, 1969.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lunar Landing. . .or Lunacy?

Do you believe that America sent a man to the moon?

Dima is a police officer friend and he’s all business when in uniform. Otherwise, he’s a mischievous kid. Today, he was out of uniform and relaxing at the church building. Even so, he was totally serious.

What’s that again? Our conversation was in Russian, of course, and I figured I hadn’t heard him right.

Do you think it was true – that America sent a man to the moon?

Of course! I saw it with my own eyes on television. I laughed at the words coming out of my mouth. As though being on television made it true.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

I do remember that summer of ’69. I was heading into my senior year and life was golden. And that July evening, our family crowded around a television to watch the big event. As important as the Apollo landing was, it wasn’t the only milestone that day. Not for our family, anyway.

It was only the second time during my years at home that Dad allowed a television in the house. The first time was November, 1963 for the funeral of JFK. So I definitely remember the moon landing in all its black and white splendor.

Of course I believe it, don’t you?

Nyet, I don’t. For one thing, remember the pictures of the American flag the planted on the moon? Well, there’s no wind on the moon, right? So how could the flag be waving?

Hmmm . . .interesting! This was news to me.

I avoid political discussions and our little chat was borderline. But my interest had been piqued.

Later, I saw another friend, Zhenya relaxing in an armchair. He’s a young guy, steady and objective. Figuring he had overheard our conversation earlier, I asked him what he thought about the moon landing.

Nyet, I don’t think it happened, he said quietly. And that’s what most people here think as well.

I managed to stay calm, detached even during these conversations. That wasn’t hard because, at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I’ve never been much of a space program groupie. Or at least I hadn’t been until all this came up. On the other hand, I do value honesty. So if we claim to have sent a man to the moon but sent him instead to the Arizona desert for a photo shoot, that’s pretty serious. My curiosity was accelerating rapidly.

* * * * *

That evening I did an internet search and the volume of information on this topic could fill a small crater. At the Wikipedia site, for instance, is a list of hoax claims, ranging from the flag waving issue to the deaths of key Apollo personnel whose demise has been linked to an alleged cover-up. Along with each hoax claim is a rebuttal by someone involved in the space program. Okay, whatever.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

What I do find interesting is the opinion of the ordinary Cossack on the street. So I’ve been conducting a totally unscientific survey, asking folks, What do you think about the lunar landing: Do you think it really happened or do you think it was a hoax? Here are their responses.

The nyets – it never happened:
A taxi driver, mid 50s: Of course not. It never happened. The thing is, America is so busy wanting to be number one, to rule the world, that they say things like that. Why, look what they’re doing now in Iraq. . . and they think they can push Russia around. But now thanks to Putin, Russia is getting stronger and. . . etc, etc, and etc. . .

Artash, a university student: No, no I think it did not happen. I’ve seen several programs on this and I believe it probably did not happen.

Irina, mid-40’s, clerk at the corner grocery store: Well, earlier I believed it was true. Now I have my doubts after watching some TV programs.

Taxi driver, mid 40s: What difference does it make? Either it happened or it didn’t happen. I don’t care one way or the other, he said with a laugh, gauging my reaction through the rearview mirror.

Lyda, mid 40’s, a clerk another grocery store: I have no idea.

Customer in the grocery store: This 60-something lady was in line behind me and had overheard the previous conversation. I noticed her brown wool coat, brown felt hat and brown eyes to match. When asked for her opinion, she hedged. The real question, is if there is life elsewhere in space. Is there life on Mars? That’s what we need to be focusing our energies. I had to smile. Mrs. Brown is a diplomat typical of an earlier era. Make no waves, offend no one. Mrs. Brown gets the prize for the most politically correct, Soviet response.

Da! The moon landing happened:
A lady who sat beside me on the tram, mid 60s, retired engineer: Of course it happened, why not? Then she launched into a passionate speech about how wonderful the US government is. We talked quietly so other passengers wouldn’t overhear our conversation but, as I learned later, we were surrounded by listening ears.

A young mother: After the tram, I found myself walking in step with a 20-something woman and her preschool son. It was a crisp autumn evening and in the southwestern sky floated a crescent moon. Tell me, I said, what do you think about the moon landing. Did it happen or not? Oh, I overheard your conversation about that on the tram, she said with a smile. And sure, I believe it happened. We had a ways to walk yet so I continued, And you know, we believe that we know who created that moon. Yes, she said, We believe God created it, don’t we? she said addressing her little fellow.

Gheorge, a 60-something construction worker, retired: Sure, absolutely it happened. Amerika was the first to the moon.

Pavel, a 50-something microbiologist and physician turned preacher. Of course it happened. That other stuff is just old Russian propaganda. Ask those guys who think it was a hoax, ask them if they really believe Gagarin made it into space and Belka and Strelka – the dogs – or if that was just staged as well.

* * * * *

And so there you have it folks. There’s the whole spectrum of views. Those who think it is a hoax tend to be younger folks who have seen programs about it on television. But there are skeptics in the US as well. According to a Gallup poll, 6% of Americans consider the moon landing a fraud, 5% are undecided and 89% believe.

So, how about you?

Where were you summer of ’69? Did you catch the moon landing on television? Do you believe it happened – or was it staged somewhere outside Albuquerque?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I. . .Will. . . Sur-vive!

With a nod to Gloria Gayner, consider please the plight of the Thanksgiving turkey. At first I was an egg, I was petrified... (Bet you can't watch this just once...)

The Evolution of Dance
And now, boogy off a few calories - or let this guy do it for you - with Our Favorites from waaay back!

Monday, November 19, 2007

In a Chair by the Window

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of. . . a day to do nothing, absolutely nothing. Except to unwind. To sink into an armchair, pick up a book and read in the muted sunlight of a November afternoon. Add some iced tea and it's sheer, unmitigated bliss. In fact, maybe I'll go read some more right now. The sun set an hour ago but that chair and a book or two are calling my name. But first, let me go refresh my tea...

How about you? Do you have a place that invites you to come, sit and recharge?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pressing on . . .through The 40s

Blame it on The Andrews Sisters but for the last week or so strains of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, have been drifting through my mind… A-toot, a-toot, a-toot-diddelyada-toot, He blows it eight-to-the-bar, in boogie rhythm. . .

I’m just catching up on The 40s, the decade when my parents graduated from high school. That’s thanks to a cache of videos that I discovered, here in Rostov-on-Don, of all places, in the public library. On first floor is the Center of Foreign Language with books, periodicals and videos in Germany, French and English. Lots more.

I only recently discovered a bookcase back in a corner there crammed with videos of US history, many PBS documentaries. First I checked out a set about FDR and his presidency, then another about America between the world wars and now a set about Harry Truman.

I wasn’t looking for historical videos. I was looking for a way to catch up on my ironing. That and polishing my boots. Can anything be more boring? Add a video and suddenly, chores aren't so bad. In fact, I'm considering offering to help the neighbors with their ironing.

My parents and grandparents knew The 40s. Both grandfathers were in WWI and Dad was in post-war Germany. He and Mom married in the late 40s. They were raised during The Depression, of course, and they contributed wholeheartedly to The Baby Boom.

I remember once walking past a university classroom and overhearing a colleague, Ladies and gentlemen, the micro is always affected by the macro. And he repeated himself a time or two for good measure, shouting with the fervor of a small town preacher from a by-gone era. It’s not news of course that whatever is going on in a culture, in a country, in a community affects the smallest unit of society, the family.

When the country is going through bleak financial times, when sugar and gasoline are being rationed, that’s going to affect a family of four boys who live at 315 Broadway Street in Girard, Ohio. And when cloth is at such a premium that hemlines and sleeves are shortened across the nation, a family of four girls in rural Wayne County, Ohio is going to know it. My parents were raised in those families, their lives typical of so many others.

How ironic for me to relive all this history from the comfort of my own living room here on Semashka Street in Rostov-on-Don. Well, it's as comfortable as ironing denim shirts and pillowcases could possibly be. I wonder though, did those Andrews sisters do any ironing? It’s certainly safe to assume they never ironed while watching themselves on video.

How about you: Do you iron? Do you enjoy history? Do you sing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy - while you're ironing? Or while showering, for that matter?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Little Laika: Top Dog in the Space Race

(Photo courtesy of Reuters News Service)

November 3, 1957, the Soviets blazed a trail into space by launching the first living creature, a dog named Laika (Little Barker). The project was launched only one month after Sputnik in October 1957, the first satellite in orbit. Premier Krushchev, still heady with the international excitement of being first in space, ordered his space program to come up with something special for November 7th, the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution - when Czar Nicolas II was booted out and Communists came to power.

Soviet scientists were in a bit of a quandary how to top Sputnik and design something special and successful within weeks. No pressure there of course. ;) So when someone suggested launching a dog into space, undoubtedly shouts of BINGO (бинго!) were heard in the laboratory. There was hardly enough time to design a space craft let alone a re-entry craft. And so, unfortunately for the little Laika, along with the honor of being first in space came the dubious honor of being the first cosmic martyr.

Nine days before the launch, two small dogs were selected, both stray mongrels, considered better suited for the harsh conditions than purebreds. Russia is the land of the stray as I often say, so there was no shortage of choices. How the lot fell to Laika is still grounds for speculation. She was chosen because of her good looks, one story goes. The lucky dog needed to be photogenic considering that her face would be printed in papers around the world. Another story is that Laika’s rival was top dog in the hearts of the space scientists and they couldn’t bear to think of her demise in space. And so it was that little Laika was chosen for the auspicious role.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters News Service)

Other questions might surface: Did Laika have any choice? Did she go willingly? did she at least get to bid her loved ones farewell? Alas, some things are left for the ages, the answers echoing somewhere in the stratosphere. For little Laika, the choice was only to do and die, not to ask the reason why.

After Laika’s debut in the space program, other dogs followed her into the cosmos. The most famous were Belka (White-y) and Strelka (Little Arrow) in August, 1960. In a documentary shown on local TV last Sunday, we saw the landing of their space craft, Sputnik 5, out in the steppe somewhere, being met by several folks in a pickup truck, as I recall, including someone in a lab coat and little Belka being helped out of her rig, not unlike a sausage stuffed into a casing. But she emerged happy and frisky and tickled to be back on planet earth. Belka and Strelka were not alone; they were accompanied by a rabbit, 42 mice and 2 rats. All passengers survived.

After she returned from space, Strelka bore a litter of puppies, one of which Nikita Krushchev presented as a gift to a young Caroline Kennedy. The little dog became a family pet only after passing security clearance because this was, after all the height of the Cold War. There was no need for another spy, particularly a four-footed one.

The following spring when the Soviets sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin was said to have quipped, I still don’t understand who I am: the first human or the last dog in space.

Photos: Above, that's me with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Below, Statue erected in honor of his visit to Rostov-on-Don, July 1967.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Call THAT a Lifeguard?

Tell me please, what is the role of the fellow on the other end of the pool? I directed my question to a swim coach awaiting his young charges.

We can speak English if you wish
, he said pulling on a jacket.

Of course, it’s my first language, I said in Russian.

Not to be diverted I continued on the hunch that my Russian was a notch above his English. That guy there – is he the lifeguard?

Da, he is.

That’s what I was afraid of.

I had just finished swimming laps at the nearby 50-meter pool. It’s such a fine pool that it’s hard to find a sliver of time to do laps between the competitive swim teams, synchronized swimmer girls and the kiddies’ classes. But in the year that I’ve frequented that pool, the fellow stationed at the deep end of the pool has intrigued me. And not because of his good looks either.

I’ve noticed the fellow answering the telephone occasionally. But most often, his nose is in a paperback and he's listening to something through an earpiece. Yesterday as I headed toward shower, I studied his apparel, since – oddly enough – I’m not in the habit of swimming with a camera in tow. He was clad in a t-shirt, sweats, socks and sandals. There was no lifesaving equipment nearby – no shepherd’s crook or ring buoy – unless you count the telephone.

Thinking back 29 years to my own lifeguarding career, I’m wondering – has something changed? As I recall, the concept was to be ready, watching and prepared to jump on in there and rescue the perishing. Or is this a cultural difference? Maybe a lifeguard in Russia is simply an attendant who will summon aid for the drowning – or the drowned.

Mr. Lifeguard was kind of cute though. Maybe next time I’ll flirt a bit – surely that’s a skill that can be resuscitated. Actually, a photo of him in action – or perhaps inaction – is all I need. I’ll just be direct and ask for one. Or, maybe not. Either that or try to grab a shot when I come up for air. The third time. (Note photos above were taken the following week. Another *lifeguard* is pictured here.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

*Falling Back* . . .Even as We Speak

It’s Saturday evening, 9:00 on the button and I’ve already fallen back as we do each autumn. What a gift, this extra hour. And so is the thought of waking up to a lighter, brighter morning. Here in the Moscow Time Zone we're changing clocks this weekend as are others across Europe.

But not everybody changes clocks this weekend. In the States, Daylight Saving Time has been extended through the first weekend in November. So this next week, folks involved in international business will be factoring that differnce into the equation.

During this semi-annual ritual of clock changing, I’ve found myself pitying clock merchants. I think about souvenir shops in Austria, for instance, surrounded by cuckoo clocks clamoring to be changed. That task, however, is a piece of apple strudel compared with that of the poor soul who handles the world clock website ( and has to post current time for 590-some cities around the globe.

Besides dealing with which countries are switching back to Standard Time, that webmaster must also consider the hour at which various countries change back. For instance, EU countries change all at once at 1:00 GMT. That takes care of three time zones right there: GMT, GMT+1 and GMT+2, at least for EU member. But in Russia, for instance, the big switch happens at 2:00 a.m. local time. With Russia spanning 11 time zones east to west, that makes for a lot of updating.

I'm personally affected to some degree by this week-long lag simply because it changes the time difference between me and beloved Significant Others in the States. And that factors in to my canned little formula for determining current time back home. It’s a primitive little system: I'll admit to counting on my fingers. But hey, it works for me and I can tell you in a flash what time it is in the States.

So, instead of counting back from local time the 8, 9 or 11 hours for Eastern Time (ET), Central (CT) and Pacific Times (PT), respectively, I add 4 for ET, 3 for CT and 1 for PT. So when it’s 9:00 p.m. here I add 4 and know that it’s 1:00 pm ET, which includes my family in Ohio and the Carolinas. I add 3 and know it’s 12:00 noon CT including Dallas, my beloved sponsoring congregation. And then of course just 1 hour to know that it’s 10:00 Saturday morning for dear family on the west coast.

And I’m kinda proud of myself in a silly way, that I’ve got the formula tweaked for this week. I’ll add 5 hours, 4 hours and 2 hours. In fact, that applies already because I’ve changed my clocks.

You're probably familiar with that catchy little phrase Fall back and Spring forward – that helps us remember which way to turn our clocks. That works only in English, of course, and makes sense mostly to native speakers. Leave it to our mother tongue that the names of two seasons -- fall and spring -- are also verbs. I've tried explaining that old saw to folks here and even to those fluent in English, it's more confusing that amusing. Granted, that might be a reflection on the quality of translation. =)

Still, I do enjoy feeling clever – even for one brief, shining moment – when folks say, *Oh and which way do we turn our clocks today?* I repeat the little saying to myself and can answer with absolute confidence, *na-ZAD.*

PS: Just happened upon another interesting site .gif with a great map of the world with the time zones color coded. China looks geographically to be spread across five time zones...but the country observes only one time zone from east to west. Anybody been there? Experienced that? Please share!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Something Lost . . . in Translation

Someone recently placed a special cake order with Wal-Mart. The guy called and said "Please write 'Best wishes Suzanne' and underneath that, write, 'We will miss you!'" Well, have a look at the finished cake.

Gotta love it!
(A big Thank You to Julie Bogart for posting this on her blog, I discovered Julie's blogs less than a week ago and she has quickly become a favorite blogger.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Egomaniac in the Mirror

Eight-and-a-half years now I've lived with an egomaniac who spends an exorbidant amount of time in front of the mirror. This little guy turns from side-to-side to catch himself at the most flattering angle.

Meet Sunny, a yellow canary, probably an old codger in bird years. He’s a Russian-born canary and whether his lineage includes Cossacks or Communists, nobody’s saying. But in the evenings, if he has sufficiently brightened my day with song, I’ll open the cage door and when the coast is clear, out he roars. First stop is to see Kesha, the cockatiel next door, where Sunny makes himself right at home, splashing around in the drinking water. From there he zips up to the mirrored corner where an adoring audience awaits.

He tilts his head this way and that, admiring his beak and profile. Then he flexes those feathery biceps of his, broadening his winged shoulders, pumping his wee fist in the air and chirping mantras in a language understood by a feathered few.

Besides being an egomaniac, Sunny is also a manipulator. He knows exactly how to get his favorite delicacy. In fact, at this moment as I write, he is trilling to beat the band. This is typical behavior for mid-morning and he knows that in a minute I’ll brng him some leaf lettuce, tuck it into the clothes pin in his cage and wait there until he chirps a Thank you! I do insist on some manners, after all. But the concert usually ends right there and I know I’ve been had, especially now that leaf lettuce runs 40 rubles a bunch, for pity’s sake. Amazing what we’ll do to please our little critters.

How about you and your pets? Do you see personality traits? And does a pet try to manipulate you? Hold that thought, I need to go find something green and leafy to pay the piper.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kvas: The Cola of Communism

(Above: Kvas on tap at a tram stop last June. Living Kvas, Excellent: A+ quality, says the sign.)

Wednesday evening on my way home from church, I bought a fermented drink. That’s a first for me and I’ll admit to some anxiety about opening it. I think I’ll hold it until. . . maybe I have company over. It’s a bottle of kvas, a traditional Russian homebrew made from dark bread, water and sugar. Consumption of kvass is on the rise, they say, with the growth of Russian patriotism.

For generations, kvass has been enjoyed by the wide spectrum of Soviet society from peasants to the aristocracy, who sometimes preferred kvas to foreign wines. Nowadays, come summertime and kvas vendors are out on the streets selling the drink from big tanks or on tap. In another use, kvas is the base of cool, summer soups such as okroshka – a-KROSH-ka – a colorful, refreshing soup – a personal favorite.

(Above: A kvas vendor in Kiev last summer beside her tank of Ukrainian Kvas.

If you like cider, you would like kvas. Both are sour, fizzy and a bit fermented but the alcohol content of kvas is so low that it’s considered okay for children. I say let’s keep kvas around for October and Halloween – that’s my American roots showing – but with the first hint of autumn, kvas fades to a mere memory and hot tea becomes the drink of choice.

During Soviet times, kvas was the only fizzy drink available and thus dubbed *the coke of communism* by someone, somewhere. In recent years, commercial bottlers have gotten into the act and at the moment, a bottle of the leading brand, Ochakovo, is in my refrigerator. Another brand, Nikola, has taken a particularly interesting marketing tack – in Russian, the name means *Not Cola* -- interesting to market something on what it is not. (But, come to think of it, that might be the Russian equivalent of *the Un-cola.*)

In recent years, kvas consumption has boomed with an increase in national pride. This move has not gone unnoticed by Coca-Cola of Russia which plans to launch its own brand of kvass sometime. They’re hoping their version will rival Coke and plan to market the drink outside the former eastern bloc countries of Belarus, Ukraine, Estonia, Uzbekistan – into western Europe, including Germany.

Kvas is probably as popular in Russia as cola is in the US. Commercial kvas is considerably less expensive than cola: 15 rubles for .5 liter versus 26 rubles for a Coke. From a street vendor, a plastic cup of kvas will set you back 6 rubles but make it yourself at home from leftover bread and some sugar for just a few kopeks.

Tell you what, I’ll check the current ruble to dollar exchange rate for you here in a minute. First, I need a quick break to refresh my Diet Coke.

(Above, left: The new fangled commercially bottled kvas and, right, a do-it-yourself kit of convenience kvas: add dry yeast, sugar, boiling water then cover tightly. Wait 24 hours and -- voila -- homebrew good enough to share with. . .a czar.

* * * * *

Thouvenot, Delphone, (2007, Oct 3). Yahoo! News, Russian patriotism drives fermented bread drink craze.