Sunday, October 31, 2010

I might turn into a pumpkin

Happy Halloween!!

OK, don't be mad (or sad!) but I'm not writing a real blog today. I offer two excuses for my poor behavior:

1) I have a crazy scary job deadline tomorrow

2) I left my camera with Halloween photos at a friend's apartment, and I can think of no good reason to blog about Halloween without visuals

The costume I finally settled on was...

To Be Continued

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fluffy Blue Marshmallow

A fluffy blue marshmallow is what I feel like in my winter coat. I'm having trouble getting used to the fact that in October I need to wear my winter coat. Russia's a serious place, yes it is.

I can't write much more today because I am drowning in work and exhausted. A whole slew of job and postdoc deadlines are rapidly approaching and I'm falling more and more behind with each word I type in this blog...

And I also need to figure out how to register to vote by absentee ballot before tomorrow's deadline. I must do my part to ensure that tea party wackos aren't running the government when I am back in the US.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm dreaming of a white... Halloween?

It snowed twice this week. Allow me to remind you that no fewer than two months ago -- mid August -- we were in the throes of a record-breaking heat wave in Central Russia. Now, this:

(This week's single blog photo is sort of a cop-out; it's recycled from a facebook posting.)

The snow's not sticking yet. But I'm anticipating a white Halloween.

Meanwhile I've been plugging away on job applications (mostly for postdocs) and remaining bits and pieces of my dissertation. But this is a frightfully boring topic to blog about, so I'll write about something else I did today: drive around Moscow! Yes, that's right, I was behind the wheel of my hosts' car, which is a stick shift without power steering. I managed to transport four of us, including the two kids (who, ahem, were not wearing seatbelts), to a botanical garden and back unscathed. Was this legal? Who knows. Was it scary? Sort of, but also quite an adventure. But more on driving in Moscow, including weird laws and other behaviors, in another blog. Right now I'm rather exhausted.

Speaking of Halloween, I'm bound and determined to celebrate on October 31st this year, contrary to my usual apathy for the holiday, and also despite the fact that Halloween is not such a big holiday here in Russia (it seems to be more of a tradition in English-speaking countries).

I am now taking suggestions for Halloween costumes. A prize will be awarded to most creative, economical and weather-appropriate suggestion!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy St. Petersbirthday!

I spent my birthday in St. Petersburg, Piter affectionately in Russian. Here are some of the photo highlights.

Things that are round...

Wedding festivities continue into October...


It rains so much in St. Pete that even fire hydrants wear rain ponchos:

And so do dogs:

But it didn't rain on me! I had a couple of colorful autumn days. Leaf bouquets were all the rage, among old and young alike:

I was sort of disappointed with the accommodations...

OK, you caught me there. That's a prison cell from a museum in the Peter & Paul Fortress.

Other highlights were ballet, pumpkin soup, french-style pastries... And these guys singing in the fortress cathedral:

But now, back in Moscow and back to work.

Winter soon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kids in the Kvartira

As you know, I'm living in an apartment (kvartira po-russki) in Moscow with a family, including two young children. Russian kids, as far as I can tell, are the same as kids everywhere. But in Russian culture (or at least in our kvartira) I've noticed some quirks in the way kids are raised.

My observations include: (1) They drink a lot of milk. Are kids really supposed to drink so much milk? I don't think American kids drink quite this much milk. (2) The kids are not allowed to eat or drink anything cold, because it will (supposedly) give them a sore throat. That means no ice cream. Ever. Really? Even when it was 100 degrees and muggy in Moscow over the summer?? Nope, never.** (3) Kids are, however, allowed to drink tea. But no alcohol. Nope, no vodka, pivo or wine for the little 'uns.

Hmmm... non-food-related stuff is harder, since kids' lives seem to revolve around eating and sleeping and running around the apartment screaming at the top of their lungs.

One interesting thing is that school doesn't start here until kids are about 7 years old. Seven!! Kindergarten is not mandatory and is not at all like it is in the US, where kindergarten is our first year of school. Russian kindergarten is more like our daycare and kids can go there from about age two until they start school. My kids (that is, the kids I live with) are about 3 and 4 and a half years old and they don't go to kindergarten. Instead they have a nanny that takes care of them during the day while their parents are at work. In the US, I always associate nannies with posh rich people, but here nannies seem to be more common. I mean, the family I live with is definitely not posh and rich (though smart and nice!). Olya, their nanny, is also really nice and cool, but I'll blog about her some other time.

Olya usually takes Tanya and Gosha outside in the middle of the day to play in a playground for a few hours, except when it's raining. Just a few weeks ago they also started going to lessons in things like drawing, singing, and dancing. At home they play with toys, ride around on a little bike or scooter, and watch a lot of cartoons.

Toys here seem to be the same as in the US. Russians also socialize their kids early on with "gender appropriate" toys -- guns and trucks for boys, dolls and mini household items for girls -- and behaviors pattern accordingly. So Gosha, the little boy, is fascinated with trains and other vehicles and Tanya, the little girl, dresses in pink and wants to be pretty. (Yes, yes, I'm hinting at a lot more than just toys☺)

It's interesting to live with kids -- not just Russian kids but kids in general -- because of all the things I never realized before about children. For example, I didn't know that kids cry so often. I think they cry every day. They cry when they're tired. They cry when they don't get to eat what they want or play with what they want. They wake up crying in the middle of the night. One minute they're laughing and happy and the next minute they're crying for no apparent reason. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions!

I also never realized the many things kids need to be taught how to do that they can't just do automatically. Like holding a fork. Or coloring. I didn't realize how hard it is to color within the lines. But as I watched Tanya and Gosha painstakingly attempt to color a simple tree and sun I understood that coloring in the lines is a skill that takes time to learn.

I often have difficulty understanding Tanya and Gosha when they talk. Sometimes it's because they say things that are so non sequitur to my mind that I can't even place the sounds with any kind of potential meaning. Another problem for me is kids' pronunciation. Neither Tanya nor Gosha seem to be able to pronounce a certain set of sounds (a subset of fricatives), such as "sh" -- similar to English ship -- and "zh" -- sort of like the sound we make in English when pronouncing the "g" in mirage. These sounds are in a lot of Russian words and I have to ask them to repeat what they say over and over again since they'll often pronounce, for example, 'car': masina and not mashina, or 'yellow': zolty and not zholty, and so on.

And those are my impressions of Russian kids so far. Well, at least of two of them.

** I bet you're wondering how they drink all that milk then, eh?