Saturday, April 26, 2008

He is Risen! Today is Orthodox Easter

Today is Easter Sunday in the Orthodox world, including Russia. Of course Western Easter (or Catholic Easter as it's called around here) was celebrated earlier. The difference in the two Easter dates is puzzling because both claim to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. And this year, the vernal equinox was the 3rd week of March. So the five weeks between the two Easters this year had me quite puzzled until I read that the vernal equinox is defined somewhat differently by the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Or. . . something like that.

Earlier this week, I was yakking about this with dear cousin Joyce and she said something pretty neat. Well, it doesn't really matter, does it? See, she's a farm girl and in my experience, farm girls are somewhat more practical and realistic than the rest of us. Especially me. And she hit the nail on the head there. Because it really does not matter on which date Easter is celebrated. Because for one thing, the term is not even in the Bible, not in the best translations anyway. More importantly, we're meant to celebrate The Resurrection of Christ on every Sunday. And that is exactly what we do.

Across Russia today, our Christian brothers and sisters would have said to each other in greeting, Christ is Risen! And the response, He is Risen, indeed! That one concept, so simple yet so profound, is the most significant truth of all. He is risen, indeed!

Friday, April 25, 2008

When a Friend Turns Fifty: Time for a Bouquet of Prunes

When a special friend has a big birthday, it's time to have a little fun. Dear friend Karen hit FIFTY this past week and that called for something special. My cousin Joyce, party planner extraordinaire, and my host here in Beautiful Ohio, recommended a prune bouquet. So that's what we did. Ever heard of a prune bouquet?

This bouquet was delivered to Karen at work and happened that she was in a serious telephone conversation with a client. That makes it all the better. Apparently the conversation went south pretty quickly when the bouquet arrived, but knowing Karen, she recovered quickly and with aplomb. Especially now that she's FIFTY years old and has had decades of experience dealing with surprises.

So, here it is, a plant with 50 prunes poking out on skewers. It's the price to pay for turning 50. Just between the two of us, this arrangement is different that what I requested of the florist. As you know, communication can be a tricky, even when people are speaking the same language. Especially when the conversation is about something as outside the box as prune bouquets tend to be. I had (thought I had) asked for the green plant, 50 prunes on 50 skewers and then white baby's breath in-between as filler. So next time, I'll know to ask the florist to repeat back to me what she thought I said. Either that or find a florist who specializes in bouquets of prunes.

Here's dear Karen in a recent photo. This photo doesn't do her justice but then again she was being stubborn about how to pose. Shrieking, as I recall, about not wanting to be at an angle. Okay okay, but you'll be sorry, I thought to myself. So this serves her right for turning FIFTY as well as arguing with the photographer. Figured she'd be more cooperative after eating a few prunes. ;) Happy Birthday Dear Karen!

How about you? Participated in any mischievous gifts for friends' Big Birthdays? Been the recipient of others' gags? Please share!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kremlin Rules: Russia Embraces Its Church - New York Times

In today's New York Times, a story by Clifford Levy about Russian Orthodoxy as the annointed religion in Russia. Interesting article (registration required).

(Photo by James Hill for the New York Times)

Russian Orthodox Church in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Lord's Prayer: As Sung by a Child

Presenting little Zoei Tah, 2 years, 8 months. Her rendition of The Lord's Prayer is simply extraordinary.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Holey, holey, holey: The Care and Feeding of Moths

A wonderful church in the Dallas area stores my 50-some boxes of material possessions in a spare classroom. They keep the door locked and one person has the only key. My treasures have been secure there for nearly a decade now. Or so I thought. But the one thing we overlooked was posting a sign in English, Spanish and Russian: Moths, Keep Out!

Recently I was in Dallas and sorting through my boxes of treasures. And what a surprise awaited me from those pesky little critters. Behold this beautiful wool skirt, lined even. Besides that, moths found my stash of Pendleton wool. But at least they confined their feasting to the top few layers of that fabric before they moved on to greener. . . garments.

Moths mystify me. How do they manage to get into a locked classroom in the first place. How do they sift through boxes of books, photos and cookware and keep searching until they find fabrics. And, connoisseurs of fiber they are, how do they sort through the cottons, the silks and acrylics, saving their appetite for the wool. Those little rascals.

Should come as no surprise though. Jesus himself said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6: 19-21)

On the plus side, this holey skirt is one fine visual aid for the fleeting nature of things: material things. Especially when that material is wool.

And how about You, dear blog reader. Have you had insects chew up something of yours? How do you store woolens?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Welcome to Matroshka Doll Class

A person obsessed with matroshka dolls would be called what - a matroshka-phile? You know those wooden nesting dolls, the most popular souvenir of Russia. Well, I bring back several of them each trip I make to the US and right now, being stateside as I am, (Greetings from Beautiful OHIO, by the way!), I've got Russian souvenirs on the brain. Matroshkas, in particular. Say, care to join me for a behind-the-scenes look at matroshka painting?

First stop, friend Julia's studio in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Julia's matroshkas are magnificent, in a league of their own.

Say, let's try our hand at matroshka painting. Here we can join a class already in progress.

Back to dear friend Julia, cranking out another set of matroshkas.

How about you? If you were painting a set of matroshkas, on what theme would you paint them?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shopping Adventures at Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 Airport

A couple of weeks ago, perhaps a lifetime ago, after our overnight train arrived Moscow, after the taxi ride from the station to the airport, I found myself thinking about you, dear blog readers. Yes, you and you. . . and YOU. I was thinking what sights might be of interest to you at Moscow's Sheremetevo-2, the international airport. Care to come along?

So here's the outside view of the main terminal. That's the best I could do with that scene. See, my luggage was sitting there by the entrance, unattended. And some man, clad in a red jacket, was loitering a bit too close to my stuff, so I had to make it snappy.

Inside the airport was a different story: We're not supposed to photograph in airports, you know. But being one to push the limits from time to time (who, me?), I did ask the security officer if per chance I could capture for you the big digital schedule board. It's huge and when it's updated every few minutes, things flutter and whirl and it makes the sound of a thousand pigeons startled into flight. How to explain that board in English? Well anyway he said, Sorry, no photos. Actually he said Nyet. Because for one thing he speaks in Russian. And for another thing, that's every official's favorite word. And you think I'm kidding, don't you. Nyet, nyet, a hundred times nyet.

But after the joys of check-in and passport control, fine gift shops await the departing passengers. Allow me to confess right here in this public form that I have yet to request permission to photograph in those gift shops. I just whip out the camera and start shooting. Quietly of course. But so far, no one has deemed that much of a security threat.

Here's some insider information: The best-kept secret of that airport is the gift shop up on second floor. It's like a whole secret world up there. The selection is astounding, as are the prices. They would be comparable to other airport shops but the stuff there is so totally Russian. The choices are almost overwhelming so I decided to narrow the focus.

Let's concentrate on matroshka dolls today, shall we? Ma-TROSH-ka dolls, the wooden nesting dolls, are the most popular souvenir of Russia. The dolls above are the prettiest. Matroshkas like these often portray characters from Russian folk tales. See the price, 1,800-some rubles. Let's see, 23.5 rubles to the dollar earlier this month. You do the math. . . without a calculator, I'd say it's well over $10. Well over.

Recognize any of these Santas? There's Santa Bush, Santa Clinton, another Santa Bush, Santa Reagan and Santa Carter painted on matroshka dolls. Imagine if you will, what a popular item this must be. Surely every visitor hopes to snatch up such a masterpiece.

Perhaps I could mention here that the Russian word, саркасм is translated sarcasm in English. It's a cognate lifted from one language into another and pronounced nearly identically in the two languages. But I digress - how did I get off onto all that? Oh yes, I mentioned the popularity of this souvenir item. Surely I wasn't being sarcastic. (Or was I?)

World leaders on matroshka, anyone? Perhaps you'd like a set of German leaders? Or would you prefer the U.S. presidents in something other than Santa attire? For the hard-to-please, there's the Castro matroshka. Just imagine what a keepsake that will be someday soon. There's probably Prince Charles and the whole royal family around here somewhere too. Why, I've even seen the Texas A&M football team painted on matroshkas. Or maybe it was the UT Longhorns. Who knows? And who cares? Well, apparently somebody, somewhere does.

These are the simple matroshkas of all. I once saw a matroshka of this sort in a Russian family's home. And that, dear blog reader, was the only time I have ever seen a matroshka doll in a national's home. It's mostly a tourist thing, best I can see. But that one little doll looked like a surviver of the years Stalin. Those were rough years, as you would know. Not only for matroshkas.

Now here's the big mama. Figure she'll set you back a couple hundred dollars. The big question, how many dolls does she hold? Oddly enough, I didn't manage to get that information. I'd guess. . .well, 16. Or maybe 32. Hard to say. Oopsie daisy, somebody needs to get this young lady's top and bottom aligned. We can't have her there in front of the entire world with her design skewed up, can we? Nyet, nyet, a thousand times nyet.

Say, do you happen to own some matroshkas? Please tell us all about your matroshkas. We're dying to hear!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Life in 50 Boxes

Last week I visited my boxes. My life pre-Russia fits into 50-some boxes which are stored at in a Dallas-area church building. This wonderful little church so kindly guards my earthly possessions in a spare classroom. And this means so much to me. But when I came home, I like to go through and remind myself about the things I own. Not bragging or anything you understand. And the stash continues to shrink because I keep getting rid of stuff. Care to have a look?

So here are the boxes, looking toward the northwest corner of the room. And there in the foreground is the corner of my sewing machine which I found at an estate sale and refinished myself. So that's in my furniture collection, plus a little freezer and a rocking chair. Now that I think about it, I'll bet somebody could use that freezer. Per chance, could you?

Just between the two of us here, the last time I wore size 14 was back in 1993. Decided my size 14 days are history and that these clothes need to be in someone else's closet. Lots of fairly good stuff there, some of it rather dear to my heart, some I had made myself, all that was back when I taught clothing, textiles and fashion merchandising at a university. Back when I knew how to thread a sewing machine. Goodbye dear clothes.

And then there's the shoes. These shoes have been boxed up since 1998 when I packed up my stuff. Shoes like this won't work in Russia, not for me anyway. They're best for standing around, walking from a car into a building and teaching in all day. But not for walking a mile on crumbly sidewalks and such as we have in Russia. Besides that, seems that walking affects shoe size. Because these size 10-M just don't cut it anymore. Goodbye dear shoes. You belong in someone else's closet.

Oh what precious little suitcases. This Samsonite luggage was a graduation from high school gift from Mom and Dad back in 1970, back when LBJ was president, as I recall. Or maybe Nixon. Anyway, amazing where this luggage has been: In 1971, I packed up most all my clothes in these two suitcases and flew off to Texas to studay. After that, they held all my clothes as I moved to Sydney, Australia in 1976. I hold on to these for sentimental reasons so at least for now, they're not going into anybody else's closet.

Speaking of graduations. What's an expatriate to do with her fancy diplomas? Well mine are stored in a box. Amazing that I forked over $100 to have each diploma matted and framed. And they so beautifully graced my office wall once upon a time.

I'll admit, I do feel a twinge of some emotion when I happen upon these prizes of mine that are now stored boxes. And then my academic regalia is in there somewhere too along with the thesis and dissertation. But I remind myself that these trappings merely represent the ways in which I learned, the ways I grew and the ways in which I was s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d in graduate school. And those lessons remain in my heart and in my mind. Except that I've forgotten how to do standard deviations and stuff from statistics. On the other hand, I do know a thing or two about Russian verbs. Kinda similar, they are.

So there we have it, life in a few boxes. Another time we'll talk about the care and feeding of moths. And I've learned a thing or two about that, too.

And how about you? Ever put most of your stuff in storage? Ever go through and declutter your stuff? Did you find it freeing?

Monday, April 14, 2008

To Moscow by Train

The TEE-hee Don (that is, the Quiet Don) is an express train that runs between Rostov-on-Don and Moscow. It leaves Rostov 1:30 p.m. most days and arrives Moscow 7:30 the next morning. Several times now I've taken that train from Rostov to Moscow to catch a flight from Sheremetevo-2, the international airport, back to the US. Most recently was early April. Care to come aboard?

Advantages to taking the train include catching up sleep. And playing UNO. And gazing at the vast country side as it whizzes past. The train is like an inexpensive hotel. And considerably less expensive then flying. Disadvantages include needing to leave home 18-some hours earlier than if catching the early flight from Rostov to Moscow at 6:35 a.m.

Here's a quick shot of the PLOKS-kart wagon just before we pulled into Moscow. Plokskart is open like this. You can walk along and see everybody in the wagon: There's no privacy. Plokskart can be a bit of a shock at first to a foreigner because it's so cozy. But it's significantly less expensive than the kype (Koo-PAY) wagons. And I have come to prefer ploxkart because there you get to meet more people -- potentional UNO partners, it's less stuffy and, best of all, there's more luggage space. And luggage space is something that I cherish.

This lady was my neighbor on the train. She was assigned the lower berth opposite me. There are four sleeping births: two upper and two lower. The upper berth has advantages because you can just hop up there and have your own quiet little world and sleep or read. The disadvantage to the lower berth is that you need to share it if the top berth person wants to sit for a while. But the plus to the bottom berth is having easy access to the little table. Because eventually I find myself wanting to drag out the laptop and edit photos. Photos for You, dear blog readers. =)

The koo-PAY is a higher class of train travel. And you know what that means - fork over more rubles. But look at the nice corridor with curtains. These shot was from a trip to Moscow, March 2006.

Well, here are two nice ladies enjoying tea in their koo-pay, March 2006. Notice the nice tablecloth. That's part of the deal in that class of train travel. Nice table cloths and such. Koopay compartments have sliding doors on them, so there's a bit of privacy.

Boiling water is available in each train car. Perfect for a cuppa tea and the train provides these glasses and glass holders. Surely Czar Nicholas II sipped tea from something this elegant. Of course after he got booted out of power, his tea time ritual likely changed.

Being an express train, the Teehee Don makes few stops. But at each stop are entrepreneurial folks selling food. The choices range from dried fish to alcohol to chips, candy and boiled potatoes. This lady was selling homemade pastries filled with fruit or maybe cabbage and potatoes. She kindly allowed herself to be photographed, although she did say with a laugh, it's better to buy than to photograph.

Here we are, early morning at Moscow station, Kozanski Vogzal, March 2006. There's something romantic, something poetic about this station. Reminds me of being in a movie from the 1940's. Not that I've actually done that, of course.

Say, have you done the train bit in Eastern Europe? Was it dramatic? Please share where you went and what you did. And how you liked the bathrooms. =)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Joys of Packing: Eagle Creek Helps

Packing is not my idea of fun. Nor is living out of a suitcase for six weeks. But over the years, I've picked up tip or two from the pros, from people such as you, dear blog readers.

Eagle Creek: Eagle Creek is a brand I love. Not inexpensive mind you, but their stuff is technically in a league of its own. Dear friends and globetrotters, Craig and Lisa introduced me to the Eagle Creek packing envelopes, meaning that they bought me a couple of sets. Use these and clothing arrives organized and unwrinkled. See, you fold the items around the plastic template that comes with it. So all uniform shapes and sizes. Slick.

Then close the envelope and the four sections velcro together.

There's the template.

So I travel with three envelopes - one for tops, one for bottoms, one for whatever. Then besides the envelopes are packing cubes. These are my favorite for unders. One for tops, the others for bottoms, the whole works including thermals, tights, socks and the usual ho-hum stuff. So just grab the cube and the whatever is in there. Somewhere.

Eagle Creek products I get at The Container Store. That's one very dangerous place to go. Second only to Half-Price Books in terms of dangerous-ness. But I digress. Another place to access Eagle Creek is from their website. The envelopes run $20-something per and they weigh about one pound each. Those are the disadvantages but I figure it's worth it. Otherwise my suitcase ends up looking like a tossed salad in no time flat. Well of course Zip-Lock bags work great for the unders because they're light, transparent and cheap. But nothing beats the Eagle Creek envelopes for clothes.

This packing system makes airport security check a breeze. At Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 airport, just prior to check-in, Delta has each suitcase opened and checked by white-gloved checker people while the passenger is standing there. They dig around and poke through most everything. This packing system makes that process easily in lots of ways.

Wall adapters: I use these constantly. Actually I depend on them because most of my gear these days is European made: computer, blow dryer, curling iron, digital camera battery recharger, cell phone charger. So all have the round prongs used for European electricity. So nice, So Very Nice that such things are available dual voltage these days. But come back to the US and wall adapters - well, they're a must

It was David W. who tracked down adapters at Radio Shack. Dear David W, I refer to as my handler. He's a missions-oriented guy, an engineer, and he's good at solving problems. Even easy stuff such as this he's glad to help with. And that makes quite a difference. Thank you David!

How about you? Please share your favorite packing tips.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A Family for Natasha

Until Thursday at the airport, the last I had seen Natasha was in Rostov-on-Don at the orphanage. But now she has a wonderful family and -- lucky me -- I got to spend nearly 24 hours with them at their home near Atlanta between flights from Moscow to Dallas.

Think Natasha will be happy here? It's likely! ;) Now she has three older brothers and a mama and papa of her very own. Not to mention two cats. That's every orphan's wish, you know, to have a family of her very own. Cats are optional.

Natasha and her mama with gifts from an orphanage administrator. I got to courier things for Natasha - a stuffed toy that says I love you in Russian, some doo-dads for her hair and a bunch of jewelry that appears to be diamond-studded. To Natasha, the gifts are more precious than jewels - or, at least, the love they represent.

Natasha listening to a cassette of kind words from orphanage staff, including several of her former caretakers, a couple of whom had cared for Natasha from infancy.

With Natasha and her wonderful mama at an Atlanta restaurant enroute to the airport.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Taxi's Waiting, He's Blowin' His Horn. . .

Hello from Moscow! I'm at Sheremetevo-2, the international airport here and prepping to catch flight to Atlanta after trip on the "Quiet Don," the overnight train from Rostov to Moscow. Like a nice, cheap hotel. Plusses and minusses, but a great way to catch up on naps for lik 18 hours.

This was the scene yesterday:

Taxi waiting for you-know-who.

What some folks would give to have one of these. Very blessed.

And what would I give to have my Russian visa renewed. Well, for starters about $350 to the consulate. Hoping and praying. . .

Last minute souvenir. Yumm, caviar. Some people think it's yummy anyway...have YOU ever tried?

Kids love rubles. They think they're getting a lot of money when I give them a 10-ruble note. Divide that by 23.5 rubles to the dollar and, yep, suddenly they're millionaires. ;)

Well, got a plane to catch, Delta Moscow to Atlanta. Overnighting with family of little Natasha there, remember the young lady just adopted by a family in Atlanta? Yea - a long layover, almost 24 hrs.

The taxi's waiting, he's blowing his horn. Already I'm so lonesome I could cry (well, maybe, maybe not. . . give me a few weeks. . .)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Condoleezza Rice for President?

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

(Post in progress) I'm really busy packing for a visa trip, but walking past my television a minute ago, which is typically on but muted, I saw what appeared to be an announcement of Condoleezza Rice running for president. Oh my oh my, the dangers of understanding just enough Russian to be dangerous. And the temptations of being sensational-istic. That's one thing I certainly don't want to be.

Anyway, on the screen there in black and white would be translated Condoleezza Rice (mystery verb) for president there in the sub-text. What's critical there is the meaning of the verb баллотироваться, which surely my rendering there needs to be tweaked a bit. And the video was of her walking out somewhere, onto a stage, it appeared, with President and Mrs Bush, looking serious but smiling.

Okay, so quick, open up my Oxford Russian-English dictionary at that verb is defined as "to stand, to be a candidate".

Busy, busy, no time to waste time. But at the border, at passport control and the airport, they might just ask me about this. I need to be ready with my passport and my information about presidential candidates. Besides, I am totally in awe of Condoleezza Rice. She's an expert on things Russian, you know. And she speaks fluent Russian, they say.

I've done a quick Google search on this, a quick look at CNN news on this, nothing not even a morsel of information there. Quick, quick where's a photo of Secretary of State Rice. All you people in the US are asleep in bed, you should be anyway, it's like 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time. And it's my job to monitor the news while you sleep.

I know this is April Fool's Day and all . . .but surely on international news, nobody would be joking about this sort of thing. And that includes me. But there have been other occasions when something newsworthy has broken here a day or two before it was broadcast in the US. Hold on, hold on the 10:00 a.m. news will be on here in a minute. I have ironing I can do right in front of the television while I watch. Let me get my camera ready too. . . Okay, you people in the US, you just keep on sleeping. I'll be your correspondent over here. And your ironer.

Well, while the iron's firing up and the water turning to steam, let me say that the news channel is busy reporting live of President and Mrs Bush in Kiev. An opening ceremony in progress there. And just between you and me, I'm wondering if those dear folks managed to get a decent night's sleep, perhaps on Air Force One. They appear to be a wee bit jet lagged.

Okay, not much international news on the 10:00 news, except as relates directly to Russia and the Ukraine. . . Have any of you heard anything about this?