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.