Thursday, January 31, 2008

A is for Abacus

Although calculators have largely replaced the abacus in these parts, occasionally you will see someone using one, fingers flying to total a purchase. The nice thing, no worries about replacing the battery.

How about you? Are you skilled with the abacus? Do you use one regularly or perhaps own one?

How I Got Here (HIGH): Part One

Eileen, would you ever consider going to Russia – to do mission work?

Surely you jest, I may have replied, snorting.

No really. See that couple there in the corner? They’re getting a team together to move over this summer. I can introduce you if you want. . .

I wasn’t in the mood to meet anybody. Not that day.

We were at Taco Bell in a west Texas college town and Laurie, a friend and colleague had invited me to lunch to get off campus. The day before, I’d gotten the bad news. I was one of 70 faculty members whose contracts would not be renewed for the next academic year.

I thought I had my career all planned out and now this new twist. In our department, I was uniquely qualified in at least one vital area and therefore irreplaceable, I figured. Surely I was the least vulnerable to the impending cutback. Wrong, wrong, a thousand times w-r-o-n-g.

I poked my plastic fork through the fog and into my chicken enchilada. Within less than 24 hours, life had become surreal.

I don’t recall directly answering Laurie’s question about going to Russia. But Monday, it was 15 years since our conversation. And here I am, in Russia for nine years as of Tuesday.

* * *

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 I hardly noticed. I was in graduate school and unaware of life outside the ivory towers. I hardly knew who was president during those years. Or if we even had one.

Then as the Soviet Union was opening in the early 1990s, I had finished graduate school and moved on to a faculty appointment. (Well, lah-dee-dah!) And like you, I was hearing more about the USSR and about folks traveling to or from.

First was my landlady’s niece, Martha, who was going to Russia to meet scores of people who were enrolled in her Bible correspondence courses.

And then there was Andrey, a graduate student from Moscow who had just arrived at our university. One Sunday morning at church somebody pointed him out to me. I spied on him from the corner of my eye, surreptitiously gathering details about his haircut, his shoes, his clothes. Not that I was distracted during the sermon because I can still recall the topic. It was about God. It was about God and Jesus, I’m quite confident of that. But I remember clearly that Andrey was extremely tall and that his haircut was a bit choppy, done by his mother, perhaps, with more love than skill. Other than that, he didn’t strike me as particularly dangerous.

But where I heard the most about Russia was when I was in Dallas. Occasionally I would be in town for a meeting and I would stay the weekend and worship with Prestoncrest congregation, my home church. Prentice Meador, the pulpit minister was making regular trips to Russia and came back with stories about believers in Moscow and Rostov and Kiev, places I could hardly imagine. I floated for weeks afterward, just thinking about God was at work in the Soviet Union.

One spring, another Martha, a long-time friend from the singles group, accompanied Prentice and the whole entourage to Rostov. That impressed me so. I remember the mixture of awe and jealousy I felt hearing about her trip. Martha was a teacher too but the chance of my pulling together funds to make such a trip was remote. In fact, it was out of the question.

I decided to let others handle Russia. I was immersed in my professional dream, that of nurturing pre-service home economics teachers – now called family and consumer sciences – at a Christian university. My teaching experience was vast and diverse and I was excited about returning to my alma mater with a noble mission.

The only thing is that dreams and reality tend to collide. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Those were difficult years in the economy as the national recession of the early 1990s followed directly on Texas oil bust of the 1980s. Many universities faced declining enrollments and our own department was struggling for survival. All that can lead to unhealthy dynamics among those involved.

But now that would be someone else’s problem because I was one of the elect, yeah, one of the 70 chosen for the exodus. And I needed to be thinking about where I was going next.

* * * * *

I did know that after lunch, I would be going back to my office, my mind bubbling with ideas. But first things first. I dug a small mirror out of my desk drawer, propped it up on the file cabinet and began fiddling with my hair to see how it would look pulled back into a bun.

What in the world am I going to do with my hair in Russia?
I wondered to myself, fast forwarding in a major leap of logic. Surely no one there will know how to give perms.

The moment is forever etched on my memory because at that instant a student reporter appeared in my doorway and asked for an interview.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Biker Dan: One Hero of a Guy

Big Dan is quite a character. He’s smiling here but don’t let that fool you. Dan has seen the dark side of life. He has been places and experienced things that most folks can't imagine. And wouldn't want to.

Dan is covered with tattoos and he’s got a couple of stubs where fingers used to be. Need I mention that he’s into Harleys.

Dan’s a big guy. He’s very tall and incredibly strong. No surprise there. He's been in situations where there wasn't much to do besides work out or read books. Or get into fights. Dan’s somebody that you want to have in your corner.

There have been moments when I've wished Dan were right here beside me. From time to time – not often, but occasionally – I’ve had the feeling that certain predatory types of personalities enjoy bullying single females. Such as myself. Because they think they can. It has been a while since I’ve dealt with that, thank the good Lord. But I will confess that during such moments I have fantacized about calling Dan to give me a hand with the rascals. I have seen grown men cower standing next to Dan. And to see a bully quake with fear? I'm okay with that. (Forgive me, dear Lord.)

There was a time when Dan was my least favorite person. We spent years together in the early 50's and he tore up my doll clothes and in general made life miserable. But Dan has turned a corner in the new millenium and what a nice guy he has become. He’s been enjoying his freedom for almost three years now. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a major achievement. Several years back, Dan married the perfect Biker Babe and together they are raising the perfect Biker Boy.

I’m so proud to say that I know Dan. I applaud him for the good choices he has been making. I look up to him in lots of ways. Oh, I should mention that Dan is my little brother. Happy Birthday dear Dan!

P.S: And Dan, I doubt that you’ll ever see this post on your own. But if you do and don’t like it, just ask and I will consider tweaking it a bit. But you must ask nicely. Because guess what. Older sisters aren't easily intimidated. At least not by their younger brothers. ;)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beautiful Cathedral: A Surprising, New Perspective

Last Saturday, I happened upon this perspective of the city's biggest cathedral. I had just emerged from the tram and was heading into the market. This magnificent building, the *Cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin* is the area's largest Russian Orthodox church and on three sides, it's surrounded by the booths and kiosks of Central Market, quite a contrast to the breathtaking architecture.

Another view of the cathedral, taken a couple of winters ago. The sun hitting off the gold cupola was brilliant. I wished that mid-day sun would swing around over here and hit off the north side of the building. Maybe next summer, mid-June around the summer solstice when the sun is high in the sky, maybe then I'll try this shot again. I'm jotting that down in my Day-Timer right this minute. . .

Anyway, when approaching Rostov-on-Don from the south, driving in across vast expanses of the Don steppe, the cathedral is visible for miles. Each time I see it, my pulse quickens and I wish it were possible to capture the view and do it justice. But alas, cameras have their limitations.

Have you been inside a Russian Orthodox church? Is there one that takes your breath away, perhaps, or that you find particularly interesting? I'm listening!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fresh Cranberries in Central Market

Fresh cranberries (Клюква, as handwritten on the sign) straight from the bogs of Archangelsk (Архангельск) in far north Russia. Welcome to Rostov, little berries. Compared to frigid Archangelsk, Rostov is almost tropical.

These vitamin-packed gems will set you back 70 to 140 rubles a jar (24.5 rubles to the dollar at the moment), depending on the quality. I settled for the loose ones, two kilo at 200 rubles each.

Oh, aren't they beautiful? I'm stocking up on cranberries while they're in season. Someday soon I'll tell you about my adventures with drying cranberries and other means of preserving them.

How about you? Do you have a favorite way to enjoy this so good-for-you fruit? Have you ever tried drying fruit yourself?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Importing English: Second Hand

Pre-owned clothing shops are thriving here in Rostov-on-Don and they're called Second Hand stores. No surprise there, just another term imported from English. Pictured above is the term second hand, and it's pronounced almost the same in Russian as in English - so you can see first hand what Russian letters ~ Cyrillic letters to be more precise ~ produce what sounds. That is, with the exception of the a in hand. Here that sound is like e in elephant. So let's say that together, Second Hend. See, you're speaking Russian!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Rabbit, a Horse and Nicotine

Speaking of smoking, today I happened across this Soviet-era poster in a shop window. Tobacco is Poison, the heading proclaims and screams Stop Smoking! And in small print, Nicotine extracted from five cigarettes killed a rabbit and 100 killed a horse. Below, we get a first-hand look at the smoking crisis in Russia thanks to the great folks at Russia Today. Care to have a look?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kids Sledding along the Street

Kids enjoying a ride up Pyshkinskaya Boulevard on a quiet Sunday afternoon. And how about you? Remember the last time you were on a sled - either for transportation for just for the fun of it?

Surrounded by Gypsy Beggar Kids

Lady, pleeease, some rubles for bread.

I was at the bus station yesterday getting tickets to the Ukraine. I looked down at a little gypsy boy. Big brown eyes and all.

Well, I know his type.

Several years back I was new around here and a gypsy boy on the street wanted rubles for bread. He had a non-stop sing-songy way of begging and his yammering went on at length - he said he was soooo hungry, absolutely imploring. We were nowhere near a shop to buy anything, so finally I decided to just give him ten rubles, around 30 cents then, to get rid of him.

Moments later I saw him buying cigarettes from a street vendor. My language skills were limited in those days but in the end he understood that I was unhappy with his duplicity.

And that was a lesson to me. Rather than giving any money, go and buy the bread together. Most often, the gypsy backs off. Most often they just want the rubles.

So I said to Gypsy Boy, Wait until I’m done and then we’ll go buy some bread together.

His face fell and he gave up. Or so I thought.

Lo and behold, 20 minutes later when I turned away from the ticket window, up came Gypsy Boy. Still starving of course.

We spotted a food kiosk across the lobby and headed there. Pigs-in-the-blanket sounded good to him plus one for his brother. So we got the hot dog pastries, apple juice and bananas. The cashier seemed to know the boy. She managed a smile. The boy smiled. I smiled and was glad to make a kid happy. And off he ran.

Figured that was the end of that. Silly me

I left the building and headed toward the bus stop in the distance. Halfway there, I heard a clamor behind me and sure enough four gypsy girls were running to catch up.

Oh, you heard that I gave that boy some food? And now you’re wanting some food too? One was flashing a small religious icon, part of her sales pitch.

I’ll take four rolls please
, I said to the lady selling fresh rolls nearby.

The gypsy girl sprinters were joined by two stragglers who were already salivating but first they got berated for pushing in on the deal.

Okay make that six rolls, and one for me. I was mildly annoyed but decided, better to err by buying a little something for somebody who didn’t really need it than the other way around.

After pocketing the rubles, the vendor and friend launched into a lecture for the gypsy girl gang in loud voices an octave higher than normal conversation.

You kids are not poor. Your mother sits over there counting all her rubles from begging and here we are, us pensioners, trying to make money honestly and you kids are making way more than we are telling people that you’re poor.

I got the idea.

Next time, I’ll handle those gypsy kids differently.

I’ll let them earn their food. They want something to eat and I want good photos. Those gypsys are quite photogenic after all so I'll let them pose and smile for a while. Or they can sing some gypsy folk songs. I’m easily entertained.

How about you? Tell about your experience with gypsies. Or, feel free to get down and dirty here - share about your own gypsy past. ;)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Russian Police Officers in NYC

Walk along the street in Brighton Beach area of New York City and you’re more likely to hear Russian spoken than English. Makes sense since more Russian-speaking émigrés reside in Brighton Beach than any other spot in the U.S. The New York Police Department has been actively recruiting Russian-speaking police officers and now employs more than 200, including Officer Alexander Katz, above, originally from St Petersburg, Russia. (From Russia Today.)

Care for a Smoke?

Do you smoke? I asked my taxi driver recently.

Yes. Were you wanting to smoke too? he asked me from the mirror.

No, no, in my life I’ve never smoked a cigarette. But I was wondering if you do.

It was a Sunday morning several weeks ago and instead of walking 25 minutes to the church building, I had called a cab. That’s a treat I allow myself on Sunday mornings and it gives me a few minutes for great conversation practice and our topic would be smoking, I had already decided. Not that I'm controlling or anything, you understand.

Yes, I’ve been smoking since I was 14.

I told him about stats I’d read, that 60 percent of Russian men smoke and 30 percent of women.

Oh it’s much higher than that, lots higher. And what’s really terrible is when young ladies smoke.

That’s worse than guys smoking?

Yes, it’s a thousand times worse. It just looks terrible. Worse of all is when pregnant women smoke.

He was such a nice looking young man. Tall and lanky, chiseled cheek bones, dark hair, a nice smile. I hated to think of what smoking was doing to him.

Russia is the biggest smoking market in Europe, third biggest in the world, behind the US and China. Cigarette sales have doubled since 1996 and in the last 20 years, the number of smokers has mushroomed.

This is taking a toll on Russian health and lifespan, of course. In 2006, 400,000 nationals died of smoking-related illnesses. And in a country where the population is shrinking because of emigration and low birth rate, this is setting off alarms.

In the works is a ban on all cigarette advertising in Russia, in addition to existing bans on outdoor, television and radio advertising. If the law is passed, companies will pay higher taxes and most certainly pass that along to the consumer. Higher prices might help slow down sales.

At 40 rubles a pack – around $1.63 – cigarettes are still inexpensive here. Besides that, cigarettes can be purchased individually for 2 to 3 rubles each – 10 to 13 cents – and even kids can afford that. And many of them do.

When I was five, I decided to become a smoker. Daddy, when I grow up I'm going to smoke just like you, or so goes family legend. Dad had returned from the army with a smoking habit. But he threw out the habit and his Marlboros at the thought of my joining him.

How about you - ever been a smoker? Tried to quit? Do you smoke second-hand?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Importing English Words through Advertising

New words are brought into a language sometimes through advertising, as above. This banner is for a jewelry store and the large word in the center Фаворит is favorite, lifted straight out of English and into the Russian. That word is not in the Russian dictionary, not yet anyway, and I've never heard it used.

Here is how those letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, that is the Russian alphabet, are pronounced: Ф is pronounced f in English, а is a but always soft as in father, в is v, о is prounounced o, р is r, и is ee and т is t. (Got that?)

Today I ran into another banner with words lifted straight out of English. It says Pasta House, but again using the Cyrillic alphabet. Although pasta has long been a Russian word, хаус is a transliteration of house.

Hundreds of words have been brought into Russian from English, including tech-type words such as computer, telephone, instrument, rocket and microscope. Off-hand, I can think of two Russian words that have been brought into English: perestroika and glasnost. And besides that, both Russian and English are based on the Greek language, so there are many words similar.

Attention you native speakers of Russian, help me out on this. Please comment, tweak what I'm saying or provide enlightenment. You are the real experts!

Friday, January 18, 2008

This Frost-ing Takes the Cake

Now this frosted window is the best yet. It appeared on my balcony January 1st and I treasured it as a special С Новом Годом (New Year’s) gift especially for me. This frosting is even better than December’s frosted windows and manages to beat last winter’s best, that icy Medusa look.

Isn’t it magnificent? Looks like etching on glass, so fragile and beautiful, feather fronds of ice. As I studied it, creativity came to mind and The Creator came to mind and I was scratching my head, wondering if frost were mentioned in the Bible. Da, it is! Thanks to Nelson’s Complete Concordance, a 2-kilogram wonder, here’s what was listed,

God thundereth marvelously with His voice; great things doeth He, which we cannot comprehend. For He saith to the snow, `Be thou on the earth' . . . By the breath of God frost is given and the broad waters frozen. (From Job 37. New King James Version and 21st Century King James Version.)

How about you: What winter scenes or slices of nature have absolutely taken your breath away with their beauty? What have you found awesome?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Statue of Lenin Discovered in Antarctica

Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, first head of the Soviet Union and communist politician still shows up, often in surprising places.

It would come as no surprise, of course, that there’s a statue to Lenin here in Rostov-on-Don or dozens of other sites across the former Soviet Union.

Nor is it surprising that on certain holidays when the Communist Party people parade through town waving their red flags with hammer and sickle, that there will be somebody marching along with a large portrait of Lenin.

And of course, his embalmed body is on display there as it has been for decades in Moscow’s Lenin Mausoleum overlooking Red Square.

But did you hear that Lenin was spotted at the South Pole in recent weeks? Yes! Polar researchers reported seeing a large bust of Lenin way out in the middle of Antarctica, visible from miles away. They expected the bust to be made of marble or concrete, maybe even an ice sculpture. Nyet, nyet, a thousand times nyet! That Vladimir Lenin, there's just no predicting him. Read all about it at Soviet Icon Surprises Polar Scientists.

Well how about you? If you were to choose where a statue of You would be planted, where would you choose? Why?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Of Canaries and Countdowns

We were counting down to midnight on New Year’s Eve and little Sunny insisted on parking there in front of the clock. This was problematic only because the black book upon which he was perched is a Bible. And that made me a little nervous. What came to mind was the old classic hymn, Standing on the Promises…. and in that vein I cautioned him, Young man, you may meditate, you may contemplate, you may think spiritual thoughts. But when it comes time to . . . you know, do your little birdie business, you’d better be heading on back to your cage. . .

But you know canaries. They’re such. . . bird brains.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Here's to a Bean in Your Dumpling

Happy Old-New Year! Today, marks the end of the Russian holiday cycle and although it’s not a red day on the calendar, it is still widely celebrated across Russia.

Russia celebrates two New Year’s days, one on January 1st for the Gregorian calendar which was adopted in 1918, shortly after the Russian Revolution and the second on Jan 14 for the Julian Calendar, which Orthodox churches still use. So today is New Year’s day on the old calendar, affectionately referred to as. . . the Old-New Year.

A favorite Old-New Year tradition is eating homemade dumplings, called var-EN-iki. Besides the usual filling of mashed potatoes or cottage cheese and raisins, hidden in these holiday vareniki are surprises that tell a fortune, or so goes the legend.

Above, dear sisters in our congregation make 300 vareniki for another recent holiday. The ladies spent most of Saturday making the dough, mashing potatoes, rolling out, filling, trimming, crimping edges and getting those little varniki into the freezer. Served topped with sauted onions and sour cream, oh were they delicious.

And so it was that shortly after our vareniki binge, I was checking out the vareniki bins at the local up-scale supermarket. This nice young lady was happy to be the vareniki model. She's good! I asked if these might have surprises hidden in them for the Old-New Year. She wasn't sure. . .

But Mrs Vareniki did some searching there in the frozen food section and, voila, found packaged, frozen vareniki - with surprises! The text on the lower left in red says, You know what you've been waiting for the New Year!!! For vareniki with surprises! Then are listed the surprises and the legend: Find a kidney bean in your varniki, and you’ll have plenty of money. Extra sugar predicts a sweet life. Salt means that you’ll have to work by the sweat of your brow. Extra pepper says your year will be thrilling and a pea points to travels.

Vareniki are in the closest bin and the third one. The other two bins are pelmeni -- pel-MAIN-ee -- filled with meat.

How about you? Does your family have special, fun traditions for forecasting the new year? Do you have any traditional ethnic foods in your family, probably labor-intensive? Okay, do you just buy any of this stuff in convenience form from the supermarket?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

McDonald's and Minks

This is what I love! the window exclaims. An evening at the Golden Globes calls for hauling out your full-length mink coat. But would you wear it for lunch at the Golden Arches? Come to Russia and here McDonald’s and mink go together like. . . like a Beeg Mak and village-style fries.

When Russian winter temps dip below freezing, fur coats get pulled from the closet. They’re everywhere and they’re breathtaking – beaver, mink, ermine and rabbit. So of course furs are seen at McDonald’s too because going to the Golden Arches is a special treat.

Although this wasn’t taken at McDonald’s, the nice lady above happily modeled her full-length fur at the supermarket. Hmmm. . . .bet she’s bought a Happy Meal or two for her grandkids.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Babyshkas on Street Corners

Raspberry jam for you? Or fresh, cooked beets – ready to peel and eat? How about pickled onions and cucumbers, homemade coleslaw or spicy tomato sauce? Russian BAB-ysh-kas, or grandmothers, are often on street corners selling food stuffs in hopes of making a few extra rubles. These hearty souls come prepared to spend the day outside in the cold.

Oh great, this lady has walnuts for sale. In the market kiosks they run maybe 50 rubles ($2) a glass but they're bound to be cheaper here. And I always need walnuts for baking muffins.

Did you shell them yourself?

Oh of course! They’re so fresh and tasty.

And they're really clean - no little bits of shell? For how much?

Oh of course, I go through them very carefully. They’re 35 rubles a glass but for you, 30 rubles.

I need three glasses. Well, let’s make it five.

You wouldn’t need any canned sweet peppers do you? They're really tasty and so good for you.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Where in the World Have YOU Been?

Say, here's a travel adventure that's absolutely free! Visit the TravBuddy site and remember where on earth you've gone. To all 50 states? Or to Antartica? Okay, how about Disney World?

I'm so very humbled by my 9% score! Let's see, if the question were What countries have you seen?, then we could add places we've glimpsed from an airplane window. And for me, since Moscow to New York flights curve up in an arch over Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland, I could add them.

Or, if the data were about percentage of earth surface, that would help simply because Russia covers 1/6 of the earth surface, somebody said. Ah well, it still brings back travel memories. What unique place have YOU visited where the rest of us have never been? Anybody besides me been to Tasmania?

At TravBuddy, another map allows you indicate your travel dreams -- where you would imagine going. I would love to take the Trans-Siberian train across Russia. Or visit Alaska in the summer. Or Antartica or the lands of the Bible. How about YOU? Where do you dream of going in the next three to five years? As for me, within the next 3 minutes I plan to travel toward my kitchen for a cuppa hot tea. Care to join me?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

January Calendar: "Mary's Song"

Russian January calendar showing Orthodox Christmas on January 7, an official red day on the calendar only in recent years.

Calendar inscription: . . .My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . . (Luke 1: 46-47). Mary's song of praise after learning that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Merry Russian Christmas - January 7: A New, Old Holiday

(Congratulations) on the Birth of Christ. (Photo credit: Russia-InfoCenter.)

Today is January 7, Christmas Day in Russia and the holiday provides a fascinating glimpse into a rich treasure-trove of culture. Back during the days of the czars, back before the Soviet era, Christmas was the holiday in Russia. The card above would be from that era. Christmas was abandoned during the Communist era that followed and folks celebrated it at their peril. Eventually New Year's came to be accepted to fill the gap. Only in recent years, during Mr. Putin’s presidency in fact, has Christmas returned to the holiday mix and now it’s an official, red day on the calendar.

Another interesting twist to the holiday is that Russian Orthodox Christmas is January 7. How can that be? you might ask. The story is fascinating and here’s the short version: The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the calendar established long ago by our mutual friend, Julius Caesar. That’s the Julian calendar, no surprise there, and here it’s called the old style calendar.

Over the decades, over the centuries, it became obvious to the clever folks who study the sun, stars and various heavenly bodies, that the Julian calendar year needed a bit of tweaking. And so it was that in 1582, another Roman fellow, Pope Gregory XIII, introduced a revised calendar which got the solar and calendar years nicely into sync. Interestingly, the Gregorian calendar, or new style calendar, shaved off a mere 12¾ minutes a year from the Julian calendar. But over the decades, over the centuries, those minutes have added up until nowadays there is a difference of 13 days between the two calendars.

Russia, the enigma that she is, uses both calendars. Oy! Fortunately, the confusion is minimal because in general, the new style calendar is used. But, as noted in Windows to Russia, take one step into a Russian Orthodox Church, and voila, you’re back on the old style calendar. And, in this neck of the woods where orthodoxy reigns supreme – more or less – the old style calendar is used for certain holidays.

Here's how this calendar waltz affects daily life in Russia. Along comes December 25 and it’s just another work day, celebrated – it’s safe to say – by only a few thousand ex-patriots such as myself and the kind folks who happily oblige our need to celebrate. Of course, our western Christmas or Catholic Christmas makes that evening's news in a big way simply because many find the west fascinating. A week later, comes the New Year's festivities, the year's biggest party, celebrated January 1. Then, almost two weeks later come the next wave of holidays: Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated January 7th because, according to the old style calendar, it's really December 25th. A week later on January 14 comes the Orthodox New Year's Day, cleverly referred to as the Old-New Year.

But hey, Welcome to Russia! Where celebration is a way of life.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"Happy New Year! Merry Christmas!"

Christmas is just around the corner here in Russia, celebrated on January 7, as per the Orthodox calendar. For most of us, it's a tongue twister to say Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! Please join me for a quick tour of holiday greetings around beautiful Rostov-on-Don.

(Congratulations) on the New Year and Christmas! (In Russian, the congratulations is implied, not expressed. These translations are literal.)

(Congratulations) on the New Year, Rostovites!

(Congratulations) on the Holiday, Rostovities!

(Congratulations ) on the New Year!

(Congratulations) on the New Year!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Frosted Windowpanes...

Candles gleaming inside. . .painted candy canes on the tree. . . These words from Christmas Waltz paint the perfect picture.

Of course, Christmas might be old news where you live, but here in Russia, Orthodox Christmas is Monday, January 7. And, as for frosted windowpanes, have a look at mine! This view is out my kitchen window and onto the balcony.

I think the patterns are exquisite -- even through the security bars which are almost pretty as far as security bars go. But they're a must for first-floor apartment dwellers and a simply a wise investment for second-floor folks such as myself. And they do add a bit of visual texture to those windowpanes.

Say, here are my best iced window shots from last winter, and in my humble opinion, they're positively breathtaking.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rats Running Rampant through Rostov

Oh rats! The city is swarming with rats. Amazingly, more rats are needed to meet the demand. Still, they're everywhere! Rats are on calendar covers.

Rats are masquerading as big stuffed toys.

There are little ceramic rats.

Rats are promising a year of success and wealth. Welcome to 2008, the Year of the Rat.

Whew! We made it through 2007, The Year of the Pig.

As you can see, Russia is into Chinese astrology. That's not my cuppa tea but it is fun to see the animal of the year absolutely everywhere. We were talking about this recently in our children's Bible class and one little guy piped up and said, I was born in the year of the snake! Another said, Well, I was born in the year of the lion. Somebody else said, Hey, I was born in the year of the snake too!

Well,how about you? Do you happen to know the animal of the year in the year of your birth?