Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One more month!

Exactly one month from today, my parents will be boarding a flight to leave the West behind...and to come visit me in good ol' Mother Russia!

I'm so excited - I can't wait to explore St. Petersburg with them and show them around the incredible city that's become another home to me these past seven months: Moscow. If any readers out there have some tips for "must-sees" in either city or any restaurant recommendations, send them my way! I'm starting to work on an itinerary and I really want to make sure my parents have the best trip ever. Russia is such a cool, fascinating country, and I know I've only barely scratched the surface in my time here so far.

Mum and Dad, just think - in one month you might be flying somewhere over the Atlantic and eating this:

My hearty English breakfast with British Airways back in August

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hey, you! Girl!

I'm making a case for the introduction of the Russian word "Devushka" into the Canadian-English lexicon.

"Devushka" means "girl" (hence the inspiration of my blog title) and it is used in Russia to refer to any female who can reasonably be described as such, ie. not a babushka (grandmother). I've gotten so used to being called devushka multiple times a day by random people that I respond to it faster than I do my own name! I am being completely serious.

Although it translates to "girl," I don't think it carries quite the same meaning that yelling "girl!" at someone on the street would back in Canada. There, you might get offended - imagine someone at the grocery store saying, "Girl, pass me the lettuce that I can't reach!" But here it just doesn't seem rude or abrupt (that being said, of course "devushka" CAN be said in a rude tone of voice). In fact, calling young women "devushka" seems to be a smart way around a social nicety problem - what ARE you supposed to call strangers anyways?

Mostly if I have to address a stranger in public, whether at work or even just in the grocery check-out line, I use "Sir" or "Ma'am" or just awkwardly stammer "Excuse me...uhh..." and wait until that person realizes I'm talking to them so that I can give them back the glove they dropped. But here in Russia, all you have to do is yell out a "devushka!" and every young women within hearing turns to look. Its very effective!

I get called "devushka" all the time in my daily life here. At the grocery store, as mentioned, tiny little babushkas will often ask me to reach for things on higher shelves. In the street, workers will yell at me to cross to the other side to avoid the giant killer icicles that they shovel off the roofs (rooves? omgosh what is the plural form of "roof"? How can I not know this as an ESL teacher?!). On the bus, the woman collecting money will admonish me to move my purse to my lap so that someone can sit beside me (am I the only one out there who REALLY prefers to not be crammed in like sardines next to someone? But this is actually something I've realized in my year here; North Americans really do have this somewhat obnoxious "personal space bubble" that other cultures simply do not).

Anyways, I really like the word "devushka" and I think we need something like that in English when it comes to addressing people we don't know in public. Oh, and in case you were wondering, there IS a young male equivalent to it (moozhchin) and no, you should never replace "devushka" with "zhenshina" (woman)...zhenshina is definitely considered a no-no!

And now that Daylight Savings Time has kicked in (for the last time here in's being abolished!) and its actually an hour later, this sleepy devushka is off to bed! Sweet dreams!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A trip down Memory Lane

Isn't it funny how sometimes the simplest events become our most treasured memories? Sure, I will always remember the "big" things in my life...things like my trip to Italy, my first time stepping onto Red Square, my first day at university. But oftentimes, it is the little moments that I hold onto, that I remember, that make me smile whenever I think back on them.

I was up early today (thanks to a very unwelcome phone call from my private student who apparently was operating on the belief that I was most likely already up studying the past perfect or something rather than, oh, SLEEPING like most people are doing at the crack of dawn on a Saturday...but I will forgive him because I used to think my teachers didn't have a life outside of teaching either)...and wow, that was a very long run-on sentence there!

Anyways, since I was up and the sun was most decidedly NOT, I read for a bit in bed then checked my email. My mum sent me a link about Kate Middleton's bachelorette party (yes, I am a bit of a Royal Family fan) - it turns out that her last single hurrah will be spent watching Dirty Dancing at her parents' house in Bucklebury, Berkshire with a group of girlfriends.

This reminded me of a time a couple of years ago when I took the bus home from university one weekend. My parents were busy that evening so my grandma picked me up from the Greyhound station and I went back to my grandparents' house. When I was little, my sister and I LOVED having sleepovers at my grandparents' - we would watch movies like My Girl or How the West was Fun (Mary-Kate and Ashley movie!) and eat cheesies and drink pop while my grandpa made jokes about the chocolate bars he hid under his pillow. Later we might go for a late-night swim in the pool before retreating to "our" was so much fun!

This time, it was just my grandparents and I, and I was twenty instead of twelve, but I still had such a blast. It turned out that Dirty Dancing was on television, and since I had never seen it, the three of us settled in to watch it. Snacks were brought out, Baby was saved from being put in a corner, and a great time was had by all. It was such a spur-of-the-moment night, but one I always think of whenever anything to do with Dirty Dancing comes up.

Thinking about watching Dirty Dancing with my grandparents reminded me of another memory I have, perhaps one of my happiest (I actually excitedly wrote about it in my diary at the time!). It was the winter of 1999, I was eleven years old, and my family had just moved from Port Elgin to Bright's Grove. My sister, already Miss Popular at our new school, had been invited to a birthday party, and my dad and brother were at a Sarnia Sting game, I least, something to do with hockey (isn't that always the case with my family?). So it was just my mum and I.

I remember we ordered panzarottis, drank sparkling lemonade (I felt so chic and sophisticated...something about it being "sparkling"!), and split a white chocolate Crunch bar while watching the TGIF lineup on tv - Two of a Kind, Boy Meets World, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (wow, do I have a good memory or what?). I just LOVED the alone time I got with my mum, curled up on the couch together. I wasn't worried about fitting in at my new school, or stressed out about anything really...I was just totally, blissfully happy to be with my mum.

Sometimes I think we are surprised to hear what memories people hold onto, because they are usually just small, simple moments like the two I have just described. But later on, you look back on them and realize just how lucky you are, just how awesome life is in the very way it reminds you of what is truly important. Yes, big things are momentuous and and memorable, but for me, I'll never forget watching Patrick Swayze lift Jennifer Grey up (in a scene that is both romantic and wildly cheesy) and sipping my sparkling lemonade with my mum!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Putting on my "B with an Itch" hat for a few minutes

An open letter to the citizens of Mytishi:

Fellow comrades,

I've been living here for almost seven months, and for just about every morning of those seven months, I've been going for a run on the streets of your fair town.

So I have to ask...WHY do you still stare at me, point, mock, laugh with your friends, and chase after me? I'm RUNNING. For pleasure, for sport, for fitness...yes, people actually do such a thing.

I know that some of you have severely antiquated opinions on women and sport. I've been told by various people here that women with muscles are unattractive and unnatural (how do you prefer women then? Limp and flaccid?), that girls who play soccer must be lesbians, and that women don't need health magazines, because, well, why would they be interested in such a foreign and unnecessary concept?

I've seen for myself what passes for female fitness here. Basically, smoking and stalking around in high heels. Oh, and floating listlessly in pools while calling it "swimming."

Its been seven months. Surely you're able to realize by now that the crazy girl with the Canadian mittens running around the neighbourhood is NOT going to stop. No matter how many times you chase after her laughing hysterically at what you presume is the funniest joke ever.

I'll just turn up my ipod, roll my eyes, and miss Canada.

That place where people run. For fun. Crazy, huh??

I normally hate it when people move to a different place and spend all their time complaining about it and missing home. (Kinda like how in "The Magic School Bus" Phoebe prefaces EVERYTHING she says with, "At my old school...we never got baked in a cake/ended up in Arnold's stomach/hung out with dinosaurs.") After awhile, it's just like, "If it was so great where you came from, why don't you go back there???" But seriously, I've had enough with this whole attitude towards running here. It's just really disheartening to be laughed at every day. But I love running so much, I'm just not willing to give it up. So even though I hate being a Negative Nancy and complaining, well, sometimes you just have to vent. Please bear with me!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Seven Things

A few things I've been up to lately:

1) Teaching, teaching, teaching (and beer drinking afterwards...or in between...hey, it was St. Paddy's, and as a redhead and part Newfie I consider myself to have some Irish blood!)

My student Larisa brought me back some home-brewed
beer from the Chuvashia Republic in Russia for a St. Paddy's gift.
(her husband is a chef who just got a job in Canada, so she's
studying English before the big move!)

2) Engaging in cheesy photo shoots at work with Natasha, Colleen, and Stu:

3) Scoping out my future house:

Conveniently located just steps away from the bookstore,
Biblio Globus...
and the Lubyanka, the former KGB
headquarters and torture chamber...location, location!

4) Celebrating Iain's birthday and eating delicious pizza

Despite the fact that our waiter seemed to have just
graduated from the Russian School of Customer Service
(with honours), the food was great and the company
was incredible - and that's what counts, right?

5) Reading Jane Eyre, which is so compelling and spooky - I just can't put it down!

6) Discovering how superior roasted vegetables are to any other type of veggies, even if you're stuck with an oven that has no temperature gauge.

7) Waiting for Spring...this could take awhile...

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Name Game

The genesis of my whole Russia obsession occurred back in 2001, when I read the "Royal Diary" of Anastasia Romanov and instantly fell in love with all things Russian.

One of those things was the name Tatiana, who was one of Anastasia's sisters. It just seemed to me to be the epitome of a "princess" name - graceful, beautiful, ballerina-esque, exotic. I still love it!

I actually love all Russian names, yes, even the clunkers that Western tongues stumble over like Oksana, Svetlana, and Olga (hint: these names are not actually pronounced as harshly as foreigners tend to think; Olga is actually the lovely Ol'ya, and Svetlana is usually shortened to the softer Svyeta).

The Russian naming system is unique. A baby is given a first name, a patronymic (from the father's name), and a last name that reflects their gender. For example, the daughter of Ivan Uvarov would be Katerina Ivanovna Uvarova (Katerina, daughter of Ivan), whereas the son would be Alexei Ivanovich Uvarov ( Alexei, son of Ivan). In formal documents and when they grew older, they would be addressed as Katerina Ivanovna and Alexei Ivanovich (in lieu of Miss Uvarova or Mr. Uvarov), but the majority of the time they would be called by their dimunitives. Katerina would be Katya, Katushka, or Katinka, and Alexei would be Alyosha.

Russians LOVE their dimunitives and there are a lot of cute ones (but beware, this can get confusing, especially when you're reading Tolstoy and each person has like five different names they're known by! I kept a list for reference).

Here are some of the most common names I've come across while living here:

- Aleksandr = Sasha. There are literally THREE Sashas in my one class of six adults. And of course they all sit beside each other in a row. I've just started referring to them as "the Sashas." Sasha is probably the most common male name in Russia, based purely on the number of Sashas enrolled at Language Link.
- Andrei = Andrusha.
- Alexei = Alyosha.
- Boris (pronounced ba-REES)
- Dimitri = Dima, or Mitya.
- Evgeni = Zhenya
- Ilya
- Ivan = Vanya
- Maksim = Maks
- Konstantin = Kostya
- Nikolai = Kolya
- Nikita - according to my Russian friend Natasha, Nikita is a VERY trendy and stylish name for boys right now. It's also the name of my best Russian friend back in Canada!
- Mikhail = Misha
- Oleg (pronounced ah-LYEK)
- Pavel = Pasha
- Vadim
- Vladimir = Volodya

- Anastasia (pronounced ah-na-sta-SI-ya) = Nastya, Anya
- Ekaterina = Katya, Katinka, Katusha, Katya
- Maria = Masha
- Larisa = Lara
- Nadia = Nadezhda
- Natalia = Talia, Tasha, Natasha (probably the most common girls' name here)
- Irina
- Lubov (the only girls' name we could think of that doesn't end in a -ya or -a, although the dimunitive is Luba, and the name itself means love)
- Tatiana = Tanya
- Elena

One thing that is very popular and trendy at the school here is for students to Anglicize their names. Many students prefer to be called by the English variant of their name. I teach an Elena who signs everything Helen, a Yulia who likes to be called Julie, and a Sonya who likes the French Sophie. Ironically, almost all the Katyas I teach insist on being "Kate" or "Katie", whereas I'm a Katie and I prefer Katya - it sounds so much more elegant! But I guess the grass is always greener, right?

The first pancake is always lumpy

*This post brought to you on a Monday afternoon when I should be trekking out to the Wasteland, but am instead at home sick! Is it sadistic that I much prefer being sick than heading out there?*

There's a Russian saying that I discovered when I was in university - Первый блин всегда комом (pear-vi bleen vsegda kamom) - the first pancake is always lumpy. I loved this phrase so much that I wrote it out on a piece of paper and taped it to my wall, right by my laptop, which was where the magic (was supposed to) happen when it came to essay-writing. I figured the phrase would inspire me by reminding me of a very important truth: that nothing we do is ever perfect the first time, and that's ok.

Think about the times when you make pancakes. Is the first one ever that great? Usually not. The pan might be too hot, or you didn't use enough butter or cooking spray, or you overestimated the size of the frying pan and now a giant blob is spreading out to the sides and you have no idea how you're going to flip that thing. The pancake might end up being too burnt, or too soft and gooey. The thing is, your first pancake is always, well, lumpy.

Then you start to get the hang of it. You figure out just how much batter you need, what the right temperature is, and everything starts to come together. Soon enough, you're flipping perfect golden disks like a pro, or at least like a (soon-to-be) princess:

It is the same thing with life. (Yep, I'm going the cheesy "Full House" hugs and learning moment route prepared!) There are bound to be a few lumps the first time you do anything - the thing is, you have to accept that and be ok with it, rather than beat yourself up.

Last weekend was full of both literal and metaphorical pancakes. Let's start with the literal ones first, because those are the yummiest:

I really wish I was a talented photographer:
these blini were WAY more delicious than
they look here!

Last Sunday was the final day of Maslenitsa (Butter Week), the Russian version of Pancake Tuesday/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday, only the feasting lasts an entire week instead of just one day (makes more sense, right? 40 days is a looooong time to fast, might as well stock up!)

Maslenitsa has pagan and Christian roots, so in addition to using up all the household fat before the Lenten fast, there's also an effigy burning (fun!), naked polar-bear dips, icy-pole climbing, copious vodka-drinking (but that happens pretty much all the time anyways), and an emphasis on the coming of spring as rebirth. Writer Jennifer Eremeeva of "Russia Beyond the Headlines" writes that Maslenitsa "is really a tenacious rite of spring belonging to a much older, more pagan culture of nature worship, agrarian traditions, and a heightened awareness of the change of seasons."

The last day of Maslenitsa is known as "Forgiveness Sunday," when you're supposed to go around to your friends and family asking for forgiveness for the bad things you've done over the past year. Then its time to party! And, of course, eat. The staple of the week are blini - a cross between a pancake and a crepe that you stuff either with sweet fillings (nutella, ice cream, jam, fruit, honey, tvorog) or savoury ones (caviar, sauteed mushrooms, salty smoked fish, sour cream). BLINI PUT AUNT JEMIMA TO SHAME. They are so, so, SO good.

So on Forgiveness Sunday my friends and I celebrated the end of Maslenitsa as well as Jason's birthday by gathering at his and Ksenia's flat in Moscow. I brought some blini that one of my students had made me, and we all just basically ate, drank, ate some more, and played games. We took a break halfway through to run down to the produkti and stock up on more ice cream, napkins, and alcohol (cuz, you know, we hadn't had enough already):

The next day, I took the train, along with Natasha, Colleen, Stuart, Ryan, and Nikolai, about 70km northeast of Moscow to a little town called Sergiev Posad. Sergiev Posad is the most important monastery in Russia, and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was founded in 1345 by St. Sergius of Radonezh, and is still a working monastery (home to about 300 monks) today.

The monastery is surrounded by walls, and within these walls are some of the most beautiful, colourful buildings I've seen. I love Russian architecture, and with the fresh white snow and shining sun, the bright colours of the domes glittered and shone with brilliance.

The entrance arch that we passed under on
our way into the Lavra

It almost looks like a gingerbread house,
doesn't it?

The tomb where Tsar Boris Godunov and his
family are buried! So cool!

Warming up in the little cafe run by the monks
- the prices were awesome
(10 roubles for a cup of tea...Starbucks has nothing on them!)
and all the little cakes and pastries were "Fast Friendly"
(no butter, fat, sugar...but somehow still delicious)
now that the Lenten Fast has kicked off.

Stu bought a fur hat while we were there - can you
guess which hat is real and which one is H&M?

It was a fun little day trip, but I do have to say that it wasn't quite what I was hoping for. I realize that Sergiev Posad is an important religious site and a place of pilgrimage for many, but I guess I was hoping that there would be more of an emphasis on its history too. After all, Peter the Great used to escape here during his troubled teenage years, and Empress Elizabeth would walk from Moscow to the monastery once a year. But it was definitely targeted towards religiously-minded pilgrims rather than historically-minded tourists, so keep that in mind if you decide to go. There were scores of tables set up outside the monastery walls, selling everything from religious icons to magnets to matryoshka dolls to fur hats. Inside the monastery, it was the same story. It kind of seemed like every building we walked into was just selling more of the same stuff. That being said, I did buy some lovely matryoshka dolls for some of my girl cousins, and I also bought two icons (one of the Trinity, the other of St. George, the patron saint of Moscow) that are copies of Andrei Rublov's famous icons. The prices surprisingly weren't that bad inside the monastery, but outside they can get pretty steep, so be prepared to barter!

On the way home, we ended up getting on the wrong train and added an extra hour to our journey back to Mytishi. That's when Natasha said sagely, "We have a saying, Первый блин всегда комом," and I excitedly exclaimed, "I know what that means! The first pancake is always lumpy!" (hey, its so rare that I DO know what something is in Russian that you can't fault me for being thrilled!)

So now I turn your attention to the metaphorical pancake of this post. It was our first time going to Sergiev Posad, and ok, so we made a mistake and got on the wrong train, but that's just life. You've got to take the lumps with good humour and remember for next time. And meanwhile, just enjoy the ride.

All this talk about pancakes is making me hungry! Okay, I'm off to rustle up some food...definitely craving some classic sick food of cinnamon toast and tea!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Clueless Foreigner

Being a clueless foreigner can sometimes be the worst thing in the world.

It can be isolating, frustrating, embarrassing, even scary.

It can make you feel like shouting, "I'm not an idiot! I'm just Canadian! I'm actually kinda smart back home!"

It can make you heartily vow never to take your native language or country for granted again.


It can also come in pretty damn handy sometimes.

Take, for example, one moment on the NYC subway in July 2008. Coming back from an intense Yankees game, my family and I were making our way back to our hotel. We couldn't quite figure out how to work the turnstiles going into the subway, so we ended up not having enough passes for all of us to get through. Because the subway was PACKED with ebullient Yankees fans pressing to get on, we realized we had reached the point of no return...

"We'll have to sneak on in pairs," my mum said. So my brother and I casually slipped through the barrier together, swiping the one pass for the two of us. We were naturals at it!

My parents however, were not quite as suave. In fact, it was blatantly obvious that they were trying to sneak in. Big surprise there, two NYPD officers came out of nowhere and seized my mum and dad. "You'll have to come with us," they said firmly, whisking my parents away while Michael and I gazed on in horror, abandoned as orphans on the subway.

After being taken into an interrogation room, it dawned on my parents that they had one card to play if they ever wanted to see their poor children again...

The patented "Clueless Foreigner" card.

"We're so sorry, Officer! We're just simple Canadian tourists in this big ol' Apple for the first time, eh?"

(OK, so my parents didn't ACTUALLY say that, but it gives you an idea of the kind of behaviour you should be aiming for in a situation like this. PLAY UP YOUR COUNTRY'S STEREOTYPES!!!)

And it worked! My parents were released with little more than a warning, and my brother and I weren't left to fend for ourselves in New York City a la Macauley Culkin in "Home Alone 2" (although if we had had my parents' credit cards on us like Kevin McAllister did, we may have been ok on our own and headed to the Plaza).

Today I realized again the advantages of the Clueless Foreigner. I'm becoming more and more Russian in my habits and preferences as the days go by, and one of my newfound loves is for that most basic of Russian foods, the humble cabbage In fact, there is a common saying here:

Щи да каша – пища наша (shee da kasha, peesha nasha): shchi (cabbage soup) and kasha (porridge) are our staples.

Anyways, since cabbage is literally sold on every street corner here, and it is absurdly cheap, I've been buying cabbage a few times a week at a little vegetable stand. Today, though, the guy who was working tried to hit on a very creepy, grin-and-show-off-your-two-gold-teeth kinda way.

Not only was he physically repulsive (sorry, but a leering gold-toothed grin doesn't exactly make me think I've found my Prince Charming), but his method of "chatting up" was vaguely stalker-esque. He wanted to know where I lived, who I lived with, if I lived with women or men, and what my telephone number was. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe he wasn't hitting on me but instead was planning to rob my flat or something...

Don't worry, I didn't tell him anything, because...

I played the Clueless Foreigner card!

I just kept repeating the phrase, "Ya nye paniDYELnik," which actually means "I'm not Monday." Why did I do this? Because the Russian word for Monday and "understand" sounds somewhat similar ("understand" is paniMY-yu). So instead of saying, "I don't understand," I was saying, "I'm not Monday," which makes me look like a REALLY clueless foreigner.

He looked totally baffled at first, but then he finally realized that I wasn't going to give him any answers so he gave up, took my 27 roubles, and handed over my cabbage. Muahaha! Clueless foreigner - 1, creepy cabbage-seller - 0.

And yes, for the record, I know that today is Thursday, not Monday :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

If you want something done, ask a woman...

Another female-oriented post here on the Devushka Diaries! I just read a great article online about International Woman's Day (its the 100th anniversary this year) where the question was asked: which women, current or past, inspire YOU?

Here is my list, by no means complete:

- My two great-grandmothers, Bridget Murrins, always known as Little Nanny, and Myra Jean Jackson, who had the unfortunate sobriquet of Big Nanny (but not because she was big, she was just taller than Little Nanny!) Both women were the epitome of hardworking, dedicated, strong, loving, and beautiful women, wives, and mothers, and I feel so blessed that I had them in my life for as long as I did. I just wish my younger cousins had known them.

- Queen Elizabeth II, for her devotion to England, her grace even in the wake of her family's often messed-up antics, and her constancy.

- Anna Akhmatova, the Soviet poet. Her life was incredibly hard, but she managed to find the beauty in it and produced some hauntingly evocative poems such as "Requiem," a memorial for the millions of lives lost in the war and Stalin's Terror.

- Josephine Bonaparte. She survived a loveless marriage and the French Revolution, and somehow managed to never be eclipsed by her second husband Napoleon, using her influence in the political sphere to do good. She also invented the empire waist, which, sartorially speaking, rocks.

- Queen Rania of Jordan, for championing female education in the Middle East and for helping break down barriers between Islam and the West.

- Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, for being great examples of First Ladies, ones who are not just content to sit on the sidelines and watch their husbands.

- My former Russian prof, Nazia, for proving you can be insanely smart, funny, and gorgeous...all while doing a PhD!

- Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Anne Boleyn, Emma Goldman, Madeleine de Vercheres and Catherine the Great for proving that just because history tends to be written by men, it doesn't have to be shaped solely by them.

- My mum, for...EVERYTHING.

Which women inspire YOU?

Man, I Feel Like a Woman!

Happy International Women's Day!

IWD, or the 8th of March (vo-sem martom in Russian), is a very popular holiday here. It's somewhat of an amalgamation of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, a day where women are showered with flowers (mimosas and tulips are the most popular, and only in odd numbers - even numbers are for sympathy and funerals) and small gifts. It's not just your wife or girlfriend you celebrate, either, but ALL the women in your life. Cynics say its the one day a year that Russian men are nice to women, but I'm not going to touch that hot topic!

Women's Day has an important history in Russia - demonstrations marking Women's Day in 1917 was a crucial first step in the Russian Revolution, when women took to the streets to protest the war and starvation that was sweeping the country. Following the October Revolution, Alexandra Kollontai, a Russian Communist revolutionary (and the world's first female ambassador, to Norway) persuaded Lenin to make the 8th of March an official holiday in the Soviet Union, although it wasn't made a public holiday until 1965.

A 1932 poster reading: "8th of March is the day of rebellion
of the working women against kitchen slavery" and
"Down with the oppression and narrow-mindedness
of household work!"

The holiday used to be a very clear political event, intended as a piece of propaganda that emphasized the fact that the Soviet woman was liberated from her former second-class citizen status. Today though, the holiday is much more apolitical and all the cards I've been seeing in the shops in the past few weeks mostly feature flowers and other suitable "feminine" designs rather than hardy, buxom Soviet women escaping from their kitchens!

A funny anecdote concerning Women's Day and the recent Men's Day (Defenders of the Fatherland Day, February 23): one of my students, Oleysa, has a 6 year old son named Maks, who was asking where his present was on February 23rd. "I'm a man, too!" he exclaimed. Then, when he realized Women's Day was coming up, he asked his mother plaintively, "When is it Children's Day?? There's Men's Day and Women's Day but no day for children! This isn't fair!"

Oleysa just laughed and told him, "Everyday is Children's Day!"

So for all the women out there, enjoy today and make sure the men in your life show their appreciation - because tomorrow everything goes right back to Children's Day for the next 364 days! :)

Friday, March 4, 2011


Lest you think all my students are sweet gift-bearing pupils, let me burst the bubble by sharing this creepy anecdote from today:

I was playing a game with my intermediate teens where we'd throw a ball around, and when you caught it, you had to say a colour. We ran out of the standard colours pretty quickly, so the kids were trying to think up more creative ones.

Cue Dima asking me, "What is the colour of a dead person who has been killed in a fire?"

Umm...gee, I don't know you sick kid, charred flesh? What kind of question is that???

So you see, along with charming flower-givers I also teach homicidal pyromaniacs. Charming.

Why I Love Being a Teacher

Gifts from students.* This just made my day!

*Okay, there are other reasons why I love being a teacher...but flowers and candy are definitely one of the top three!

Fresh Fruit and Forgo-ing the Fleece: How I Know Spring is in the Air

One way to tell that Spring is coming: today on my run I only needed to wear three layers of shirts, and none of them were fleece! :)

Then on my way home I stopped by the perekrestok and picked up some strawberries for only 79 roubles (less than $3!)...okay, so they were imported from Israel, but strawberries that DON'T cost an arm and a leg? Another sign that Spring is on its way!