the most weeds

July 28, 2014

This year’s garden is the biggest area I’ve ever attempted. And the most difficult land. And the most weeds. Not surprisingly, they quickly became more than I could manage. Even with hours of work, progress was slow–mostly because weeds grow back. They grew tall in places I’d yet to hoe and plant, creeping through vegetable seedlings, so invasive I feared disrupting the seedlings’ rooting process by pulling them out.

Crabgrass and field grass are resilient, and the rate at which they emerged told me that the garden had been plowed and tilled minimally, not enough to break up what had taken over those two years. These roots go deep and seem to spring back up in the spot they’re discarded.

At the beginning of June, I decided wood chips were the only solution. The woodchip pile was about 150 yards away, so I began lugging woodchips to the garden and spreading them–one five gallon bucket at a time. I realize that sounds a little pathetic (and impossible), but without a truck or a place to store a wheelbarrel, it was my only option.

After witnessing how arduous that method would be, I asked Jack for help. He brought a truck and we watched an afternoon pass loading and unloading woodchips from the truck bed and then laying them around the garden borders and between the rows. He even made a path at my insistence; I obviously like the outdoors, but I know better than to stomp through tall weeds (snakes!).  I worked more on my own later (we left a pile of woodchips at the garden’s edge) and covered the remaining area. The end result was ordered. It was beautiful.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 presetphoto 1 Within two weeks, though, the weeds crept through our work. I redid it—all of it—scraping the chips off with a hoe, laying down newspaper, pouring water over the top to help the newspaper stay down, and covering that with woodchips. Again, I realize that this may seem like overkill, but after the time I’d already invested, I didn’t want them to take over, stealing the nutrients my vegetables needed.  This took me almost twice as long, especially since I somehow chose to work on the windiest days and often found myself chasing newspaper across the garden or standing in stretched stances, trying to hold the newspaper down while I reached for water jugs.

photo 1 photo 2photo 5When Alyssa visited, she helped me cover the area around one of the corn rows; I never went back and finished the other row. When I told my dad about my plan at the beginning of July, to re-cover everything, he said that the time of the summer, the weeds would outmatch my hoeing stamina.

I knew he was right; it was more work than I could do, so I tried ignoring the grass creeping through the woodchips and the weeds in the untended area growing taller and taller, slowly moving in, threatening to swallow my plot. photo 4 photo 5Now the surrounding weeds stand to my waist; in different places and varieties, taller. Weeds poke through any inch I missed with newspaper and woodchips, trained to find a spot through which to sprout.

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I am embarrassingly behind on blogging, so much so that it might be time to consider the purpose/usefulness of this exercise. Part of the truth is, I think, this: I spend so much time in the garden that there isn’t time to write about the garden. I bit off more than I ever have this summer–but I’m glad. In the interest of getting caught up (more) quickly and getting to some super cool stuff that’s happened lately, I present you an abridged version of May’s garden happenings.

photo 4While having the garden plowed and tilled was certainly helpful (and absolutely necessary),  I missed the fine, almost black soil I worked with in the Lawrence community garden, that I could work up in a few afternoons.  The soil in the new garden was either packed flat from heavy rain, broken up in chunks, covered with dead/dying weeds or some combination of the three. I have to work each potential row or bed multiple times to even have a chance at producing anything.

I spent an afternoon hoeing and planting my usual spring stuff, though it was a little late. I planted kale, spinach, lettuce, chard and some flower seeds. I watched them try to break through. And though some of it did, none of it did very well. You can see seedlings in the photo below, trying to creep through the cracks.

At this point, I’d used about 1/4 of the space I’d marked off for my plot, and felt discouraged about how/if I’d have the energy to make use of the rest.

I also missed the people from the community garden, and this was after only a few afternoons there alone. It felt like such a shame to have so much space and not to share it. photo 4The pastor mentioned that members of the church might be interested in gardening too, especially once someone else had shown interest. Initially, I was modest in my land acquisition, but when no one came, I expanded.

I started inviting friends. It serves both my purposes: I can get help with the large space AND I have friends there with me. As a third, ulterior motive, I can (hopefully) get someone else excited about growing stuff.

Aside from Jack, I first invited friend Madison to garden on a Sunday afternoon. Her grandparents suggested that she plant tomatoes with a gallon jug in the hole. You drill a hole in the bottom and fill the jug with water. This should create a slow, steady release of water. Sister Alyssa helped us.

Not only was Madison’s water jug idea smart, but she came prepared: with topsoil and a shovel. I have to admit, this hadn’t crossed my mind and initially, I thought topsoil was cheating. But then I saw how perfect the soil was, how it would give the plants’ roots a fighting chance. I planted my own tomato plant the same day, feeling guilty for sticking it straight into the dry dry ground.  I didn’t even own a shovel, which is pretty pathetic for a gardener, though I have since received one for my birthday from Jack. It was an excellent birthday gift.  I’ve also since caved and bought topsoil; it helps the seedlings get better established.

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Next, came corn. It’s super hearty/tough (accounting for the garden’s less than ideal soil conditions) and it takes up a lot of space (making good use of the big space). For this, I recruited Jack and his younger sister Amelia. When inviting people to garden, I worry that they’ll hate it, that they won’t enjoy digging and hoeing and sweating, and so I try to do the strenuous tasks, leaving them with the fun stuff, the planting, the watering. But so far, everyone has wanted to do the hard work. Amelia even said she might plant some stuff of her own, which I am obviously in favor of.  After a few hours, we had two long rows of corn planted. Judging by the photos, Jack and Amelia are happiest when working in unison.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4I’ve done a ton of planting since these photos, and I’ve decided it’s time to move from the expansion phase into the maintenance phase. Sadly crabgrass (and lots of it!) is moving in. But, I’m working hard, happily, and I’ve got a plan. We’re also to the garden “tour” portion of the summer (if you can call it a tour).  Already, I’ve had friends come see it and I have more coming next week. I make Jack observe its progress weekly.  I love it. I get to say Hey, this is my summer. This is what I do.

After not gardening in Moscow–with the exception of a some spinach seedlings I grew and then promptly abandoned on my trip home for Christmas–I knew I had to find a KC garden. To most new friends here, I said things like “I hope I find a new garden” and then I’d smile and shrug. To boyfriend Jack and older friends I’d say “I need to find a garden.” And they’d nod and say “I know.”

I experience this thing called fear. Sometimes it manifests as anxiety. Sometimes it’s a painful combination of the two. Though I welcomed spring’s arrival–embracing the close of what was honestly the longest winter of my life (it’s quite amazing how surviving a Russian winter and not experiencing a sweltering Midwestern summer can make it seem like you didn’t have summer at all. It feels like the last 20 months have been winter)–I feared that spring would come without me having found a place to make things grow.

I became fearful and anxious that I would not find a garden. It was a troubling paradox–hurry spring! but hold off until I’m ready! Jack suggested we pray, that I ask for one. And so, even though it felt selfish, I did. I was never taught to ask for things I wanted, but instead to pray for improved health, to pray for a resolved conflict.

Multiple friends in the KC area offered to let me garden in their backyard; however, I go to the garden almost daily, and therefore, needed something close to me, in the Northland, something I could be at in five minutes.

Though there weren’t many options near me, I obtained contact information for a few. I got on the list for the most promising one at the end of February, and the woman I spoke with said she was pretty confident that they’d have space for me. She’d let me know in April. My fear subsided. Hurry spring!

When I hadn’t heard anything by the double digits of April, I called. She was direct: “We’re out of plots, and you’re way down the list. We definitely won’t have space for you.” I protested a little, but mostly, I was shocked. And hurt that she hadn’t told me in enough time to find a plot at another community garden. I will not make her the villain of this story, though I’m tempted.

I moped around a bit and then started frantically calling other places on the list. No one at the YMCA ever called back. But, when I called one of the church community gardens, I had the following conversation:

Lady: “Oh, well we’re not actually doing the garden this year…”
*Heart sinks further*
Lady: “…so you can actually have the whole space.”
Me: “Wait, really? The whole space?”
Lady: “Yeah, we’re not using it.”
Me: “Do I have to maintain the whole thing or just the area I need?”
Lady: “You can just use whatever space you want.”
*We discuss logistics like tilling and water, etc. It hits me that this makes absolutely no sense*
Me: “Wait, are you serious? You don’t know me at all. This is like really, really nice of you.”
Lady: “Well, we’re not using it so if you want to put it to good use, it’s yours. Just call the pastor and tell him that you’ve already spoken with me, and that I said it’s okay.”photo 1

I met the pastor the next week, and he showed me the space. The garden is up on a hill in the middle of a field, surrounded by a fence because deer are a problem (more on this…). The church has 40 acres, so despite being easily accessible and close to a major road, it feels secluded, set apart.

He said he was embarrassed, that no one had used it last year and so everything had grown over.  And it was; the grass had grown up and died and the fence was mostly down. He asked how much space I’d want, and I felt conflicted–excited about the possibility of having it all but recognizing my limits and also not wanting to seem greedy. With the exception of a donation for water, he said, it would be free. He said that maybe others from the congregation would want to use it, too. They could find someone who would plow it, but I’d have to figure out the tilling. I imagined what prep work I’d have to do to get it ready.

I told him I’d take it. That night I researched renting a tiller or hiring someone to till it for me. This was totally doable, totally worth it. I wouldn’t get to plant as early as I’d hoped, but I’d be going within two or three weeks.

The next morning, the pastor called at 11 am and left a message; it had been plowed and tilled. It was ready. I could start planting whenever I wanted. photo 2

 

looking back: paris

March 14, 2014

SONY DSCAfter my longest hiatus yet from the blog, a post.

Don’t be fooled: reverse culture shock has quite possibly been a greater transition/difficulty for me than moving to Moscow. Though I’m finally coming out of it, understanding holistically why moving back was so difficult (and not just pinpointing elements of a larger difficulty) is still foggy, not yet something I’m ready to write about.

Words to describe the last six months: transition. growth. stagnancy. mourning. joy. thankfulness.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Reflection comes naturally for me, and I’m often painfully aware of time and its passing. Every day for the last six months, I’ve asked myself “Where was I last year at this time?” The answers are: The opera. An expat Thanksgiving feast. The outdoor swimming pool. My parents’ basement Christmas night, terrified of my January return. My school, surrounded by Russian English teachers. A cafe with Sveta. The metro with Sveta. Everywhere with Sveta. Moscow. Russia. SONY DSC

Not here.

I think about what the weather is like, what it smells like outside of my apartment building, how to get to my metro station. I think about what we ate for lunch, what kind of tea Sveta and I finally decided on, paths through the forest, my favorite type of cheese, what the people wore on the metro. I try to remember faces places sounds. Sometimes, I can’t. I search my email inbox, hoping I wrote someone the details.

SONY DSCI’ve dreaded the end of February and first half of March all winter, because when I ask “Where was I last year at this time?” the answer is, in short, “low.” Or better yet, “the lowest.”

One year ago, I suspected that something was wrong because everything was hard. I blamed Moscow. I drank coffee and took Vitamin D. I surrounded myself with people, both in real life and over Skype. I both feared and coveted time alone. Then I went to Paris–my first trip to Europe–and confirmed what I feared.

I didn’t enjoy Paris. This not only made me feel ungrateful, but it freaked me out.For the first time in my life, I couldn’t pull myself out of it; changing location and busying myself didn’t change anything. SONY DSC

Of course, I liked it: I stood in awe, took photos and savored the food. I saw everything. In fact, I saw more things than I saw in any of the other places I visited, likely an attempt to distract myself, to keep moving. I was, however, incredibly aware of being unhappy and of being there alone. I appear in few photos, but now, I avoid looking at the ones I do because it’s clear that I’m trying to like it.

I became enamored with Notre Dame, visiting every day of my weekend trip, usually at night, ignoring the crowds because it felt like mine. I didn’t feel happy there, but comfortable, calm. I took photos from every angle. On my last night, I chose a cafe across the street from it, requested a window booth, and ate creme brulee facing it.

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There were other good things. A friend from my school in Moscow set me up in an apartment with her friends. I slept on a couch in the playroom and each morning, I was awakened by three kids playing dress up in French. After I showered, the oldest would bring me a croissant and orange juice on a tray, smile because we couldn’t talk, and then exit shyly.

My friend also put me in contact with her friend’s mother, a woman in her sixties named Christine. Christine wore her blonde hair in a high bun, a white coat with fur around the collar, boots with heels, and make up. Christine was beautiful, mostly because she smiled constantly, so content that she bounced when she walked. She smiled sometimes because she couldn’t understand me, sometimes so the parking garage attendants would let her park her small black car in a spot it barely fit, but normally, it seemed like it was because she was happy and thankful. SONY DSC

I don’t remember what Christine did for work. I don’t remember what we talked about. But I do remember that I felt able to talk to her in a way I couldn’t others. I remember that she took me to the spot with the most beautiful view I saw in all of Paris. And that there, we had a hot chocolate unlike anything I’ve had before.

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 And so I’ve dreaded February/March,  worrying that those feelings would return. That whatever it was in Moscow, whatever it was about the middle of winter, would become a yearly thing, would become a statement I’d make when talking to strangers at parties with no explanation: “I just can’t do February/March.”

But it didn’t. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s nothing like last year. Instead, the opposite: an inexplicable, overwhelming sense of thankfulness and joy. Not thankfulness that I’m not in Moscow anymore, as that experience is the best decision I’ve ever made (at this point in my life anyway). Not that winter is over. But that I made it through that part of Moscow. And that Moscow got so much better. And that eventually, this transition back to the US will also be “a year ago.” And coupled with that, an overwhelming sense of awe that my perspective has changed so drastically in one year. I can only imagine the place I was a year ago because I’ve been there, not because I’m there anymore.

There is one Paris photo where I’m not faking it. Christine took it from her car when she drove me to the Arc de Triomphe and instructed me to run out into the center of the crosswalk to take the best photo. She showed it to me before dropping me off at the Louvre.”I love photos in motion,” she said. “And look at you in Paris. You look perfect.”

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Lawrence buds Ben + Sarah visited me in Moscow and we went to St. Petersburg. I have almost as much to say about the night train to St. Petersburg as I have to say about St. Petersburg itself. Basically, it fascinated me.

The rooms are super tiny and they have two sets of bunk beds. We are Americans, so our luggage was kind of big.  After some struggle, Ben was able to get our suitcases put out of the way. Sarah and I attempted to be helpful, but the room was really too small for us to do much.

Since there were only three of us (and the rooms hold four), we had a Russian roommate, Pavel. After we got our luggage crammed into the storage spaces under the seats and wedged under the table, Ben, Sarah, Pavel, and I all sat on the bottom bunks and looked at each other. He worked for a “military company” and traveled to Moscow often. He was nice enough and quiet. He answered our train questions.

When we tired of looking at each other, we decided to go to bed. This didn’t take long because the train left at 11:59 pm and we were tired. The night train gives you a toothbrush and toothpaste so to keep from having to dig through my luggage, I used it; its plastic bristles came out in my teeth and that was weird. I had dibs on the top bunk, and Pavel had the other top bunk. Before we turned off the light, he undressed modestly under the covers. That was also kind of weird. Ben said he couldn’t relax and sleep with a stranger in the room, but it didn’t bother me, even though that stranger was in his underwear. The train bed was more comfortable than my couch bed and the rocking motion helped me fall asleep.

In the morning, Pavel tried to keep us from looking like complete train idiots. As we neared the station in St. Petersburg around 7:30 am, he woke us up: “Good morning. It is now time to get dressed, use toilet, have a breakfast.”

I heeded Pavel’s warning and went to brush my teeth with the train toothbrush and change clothes. The morning after was quite possibly the most interesting part of the trip, and waiting in the long line for the bathroom gave me time to observe the other passengers. Some of them were already back in their suits/business clothes and some of them were still in their pajamas or shirtless and almost everyone had bedhead. People wore cheap plastic flip flops or house shoes as they stomped through the hallway. Seeing adult strangers in their pajamas immediately after waking feels incredibly intimate. The train stewardess was still working and she could carry four mugs of hot tea in one hand.

And then we were there. St. Petersburg feels much more European than Moscow. Initially I thought “Hey–maybe I should have moved here instead” but then I remembered that St. Petersburg is also  714.9 km (444 miles) north of Moscow and quite a bit colder and wetter.  Highlights included:

1. Beautiful architecture. Canals. Big, open squares.

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2. Cake/pastries and beer, though never together.

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We found our own hole in the wall bakery where we had delicious cheese pastries multiple times.

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We also went to this famous Soviet-style bakery named север. The cakes were delicious but the ladies who sold the cakes there were grouchy. I’ve gotten a thicker skin about stuff like that and didn’t shed one single tear, just ate my cake. SONY DSC

I had my first beer brewed in a Russian microbrewery. In fact, we found two bars that brewed their own beer. This was great, because I was starting to think that “Siberian Crown” and “Zatecky Gus” were the only Russian beers I was going to have. Ben + Sarah also bought playing cards with the Russian oligarchs’ portraits.

3. The Hermitage.

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The Hermitage used to be a palace and now it is a museum and it houses tons of Russian art, European art, and “Russian lifestyle” exhibits, and also there are mummies in the basement. Though the art and mummies are cool, the coolest part is that they’ve kept many of the rooms as “Palace” rooms. So, you get to stroll into a ballroom or stand in the throne room. I don’t typically choose ornate decor and/or gold, but the Hermitage wore it well.

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Sarah + Me in Hermitage

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Ben + Sarah in Hermitage

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As we left the Hermitage, a bike race was ending.

4. I finally went to a Russian ballet. We saw Swan Lake. I was going to try to sneak a photo, but when the lady caught us eating really tiny chocolate bars and said “We don’t eat in here,” I lost my courage.

5. Souvenir shopping. Like Moscow, St. Petersburg had areas filled with street vendors.

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While looking for a hat, Ben became friends with this Russian man wearing a USA Baseball leather jacket.  SONY DSC

When we went back the next day, the USA Baseball guy wasn’t there, but Ben did find a hat. Luckily, Sarah and I were able to talk him out of the one that looked like it was made of gray rabbit’s fur. It was real big.

Because Ben + Sarah had to catch their flight the next day, we took the bullet train back. It was faster, but there were no bunk beds.

 

molly mccleery in moscow

March 31, 2013

In August 2005, Molly McCleery and I attended Truman State’s “Truman Week,” which was basically a week of “get-to-know-you” type games, club intro meetings, and lectures/presentations; it was sorta like church camp minus God.

Molly and I were both enrolled in Dr. Tornatore’s intermediate Spanish class for Truman Week, and we both giggled when he politely asked the class, “Ladies, may I remove my jacket?” Molly was cool and alternative and so over Truman Week. So was I. Allegedly, I wore a brown-gypsy-like skirt that Molly found cool. Molly had a Fall Out Boy t-shirt, so I knew she was cool.  We would both like to forget these wardrobe choices.

Since August 2005, we have taken classes together (some semesters the number of classes we chose to take together was just embarrassing), lived together, completed grad school 4 hours apart (together), and had many adventures, most of them involving road trips across America’s beautiful Midwest, tallboys, animal crackers, bands that play harmonica, and/or snow.

We had never been to Moscow, though. After 7.5 years, we can finally check that one off the list.

Molly has promised to write a guest blog entry about her visit, so I won’t say much, but I have to at least say a few things:

1. Having someone here to tour guide around made me realize that I know a lot more about Moscow than I thought. Like, I know where things are. And I know how to navigate metro stops. And I know hip restaurants/cafes/coffee shops. Even when we got “lost,” we were never really lost because I knew where we were and where we needed to go.

I also know way more Russian than I thought. I realized this when we were trying to have syrniki, coffee, and reading time near Red Square and Maxim (a forty-ish year old Russian dude who was five vodkas in) wouldn’t stop hitting on us. When he said (in Russian), that I was beautiful and then that Molly was beautiful, I knew reading time was over. And we left.

2. While we visited some of my favorite spots, having Molly here encouraged me to see some new sight-seeing things.

We went inside the Kremlin…

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I tried to sneak into the Kremlin Palace.

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There were many cathedrals and even more icons.

We also went to the Fallen Monument Park, which houses Soviet sculptures. This place is incredibly cool.

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Molly founds this cage of Stalin heads. Only heads. SONY DSC

Out of the numerous Stalin statues, I was drawn to this one. No one seems to notice that his face is partly gone. Also, someone had recently left flowers there. Which was…well…surprising to us.

Also, because Molly was here, I had the courage to talk to the Vladimir Putin look-alike at Red Square. When he wanted to charge 1000 rubles (and then quickly 700 and then 500) for a photo with him and his fake Russian flags, I was like “Dude, you cray cray.”

3. It was so nice to just do normal, best friend things. Like making brunch and dinner together. And watching really intense, thought provoking historical dramas like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. And having a breakdown when Russia dumped more snow on us (on March 24th) and not having to have that breakdown alone. And laughing, so much laughing. Molly was quite taken with the Russian children who can’t put their arms down because of their snowsuits.

Molly said she would only buy a matryoshka if it was the size of a thimble. Naturally, when I found a thimble-sized matryoshka, I insisted she buy it. We then began taking photos for an art installment called “Baby Matryoshka.”

I call this one, “Baby Matryoshka or Really Big Chair?”

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Winter Sports 2013

March 4, 2013

Cabin fever is real. Before I came back to the States for Christmas, I was dumb. Despite ice on the sidewalks and temperatures around zero (windchill around negative fifteen), I still ran outside when I didn’t go to the pool. One sunny Saturday, I ran outside for only ten minutes before my hands started stinging, despite wearing winter running gloves. By the time I got back to my apartment (another ten minutes), they were numb. I laid on top of them in my bed for an hour crying, hoping they would come back to normal in time for the party I was attending that night. They did, but they were bright red.

Now that I’ve stopped being dumb–as this post will attest to–I fully expect to avoid any lectures this opening story might incite from well meaning parents, grandparents, aunts, and Joys, Mollys or Svetlanas. Deal?

MeI’m not sporty, but I am a pretty active human being. I missed running and walking and biking and gardening and the active life Lawrence let me have. I returned to Russia in January knowing I didn’t want to almost lose my hands again. Nor did I want to break something slipping on the ice. Enter winter sports.

Ice Skating

There are a number of places to ice skate in Moscow. Two of the most popular rinks are at Red Square and in Gorky Park. I’m sure that the rink at Red Square is quaint and lovely and historical. You  might even catch Vladimir Putin there since it’s in his backyard and all. SONY DSC

But Gorky Park is awesome. At night, it is all aglow and they pump music and I’m sure that all the teenagers hang out there. It is the largest ice skating rink in Europe.

I went with some professors from NES on a Saturday. It was sunny, but cold cold cold. I didn’t know this until a few months ago, but the sunnier days are colder because the fog traps the warmth and keeps it in. I fight myself on what I want regarding this.SONY DSC

Luckily, the Russians knew it would be cold, so they stayed home. There was almost no line to get skates. Then we skated. That’s it.

Incredibly Expensive Gym Membership–World Class Gym 

Okay, this is not a winter sport. Not at all. I run on a treadmill and lift weights and I will likely start swimming soon. But, it’s a whole new cultural acclimation, mostly because it gives me access to Russian TV, Russian music videos (which are actually white Russian rappers mixed in with Jennifer Lopez and the occasional Will Smith “Men in Black”–yessssssssss!), and Russian radio (which I’ve found is mostly Rhianna and Lady Gaga).

America’s Next Top Model comes on in the mornings; in Russian of course, but fierce knows no language boundary. On weekend mornings I watch Soviet cartoons. And sometimes, the Russian version of Hidden Camera comes on. They don’t really talk, but just make exaggerated hand gestures.  They have about 10 pranks per 30 minute episode. At least two of the pranks involved the prankster having an object (cell phone, notebook, etc) stuck in their butt (I’m serious) and then asking the person being pranked if they’d seen said object. I feel like telling you of the other pranks is completely unnecessary.

And, up until today, I had made no major faux pas at this gym. Apparently I’ve been offending two twins in their mid-fifties by wearing my down coat into the locker room. Ever had a locker room full of Russian women lecture you? Good fun.

The gym is incredibly swanky and if I told you how much it cost, you would be surprised and maybe you would judge me. But, since it’s been blizzarding and hanging out around 15 degrees for the last four days, I’m quite happy.

Broomball

IMG_2770I’ve only played broomball once, so I certainly cannot speak as an authority. It’s basically hockey without skates and a ball instead of a puck. You wear padded pants, padded shorts, knee pads, and elbow pads. You wear an over-sized jersey and if you’re on team U.S.A, it says “Frozen Assets” with a dollar sign in the center. When you only fall five times throughout the course of a game, you will consider yourself incredibly lucky. You will fall on bones and muscles you didn’t know you had. Your neck might be sore from holding up your helmet.

The embassies play broomball every year. The Germans flood two of their tennis courts–and voila–ice. I met up with people outside of the US Embassy, which meant that I had to show my passport after 24 seconds of standing outside the Embassy on the sidewalk (you can’t just stand outside the US Embassy…). When we got to the German Embassy, though, they just let us right in. I didn’t even show my passport. IMG_2772

When I first started putting on my gear, the pair of shorts on load to me had “Bollinger” written inside. I took it as a sign. But they were way too big, so I traded them in.

After we finished getting dressed, we caught the last part of two of the men’s games–Canada versus Russia and Germany versus someone…France? The Canadians were not happy; neither were the Germans.

IMG_2776Then our game started. We played the Finns, who are,  not surprisingly, good at broomball, since it is running on ice and Finland is cold.  I did nothing notable, good or bad.  They kicked our butts.

I would like to go cross country skiing but I’m not sure this will happen. A few Muscovites have encouraged me to buy my own pair of skis. “They’re not expensive,” they insist. What they fail to realize is how small my small apartment really is, that buying a fan at Ашан a few weekends ago and the equipment I acquired this past weekend at broomball has almost put me over the limit of “items for which I have floorspace.” I work endlessly to not acquire things here, and somehow, despite my best efforts, I am acquiring.

back in moscow.

January 15, 2013

Boarding my return flight to Russia was difficult. When I flew into STL mid-December, I knew going back would be hard and I reminded myself to be thankful for my time at home and to be aware of individual days so they wouldn’t pass too quickly. Living abroad has intensified all the idealistic notions I attach to “home.” And this time, home nearly lived up to those notions: my sister baked; grocery stores had sweet potatoes; my family loved their Russian gifts; I drank drip coffee every day; friends were easily accessible by car trips of no more than 7 hours and better yet, these friends existed in 3D; beer tasted like it was from Boulevard; and boyfriend Jack and I doted on each other and hugged a lot.   SONY DSC538054_583015405058097_2090842323_n SONY DSC

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Five hours into my ten hour flight back, though, Moscow became way more appealing. On a long flight, you’ll settle for anywhere that is not your airplane seat. I imagined my small Moscow apartment, wanted nothing more than to curl up in my sofa bed and then later, after a reasonably sized nap, unpack and settle back in.

The only obstacle was getting there with my two pieces of luggage and backpack. I’d taken two suitcases home because I had Christmas presents and because I knew I’d want to bring stuff back from the States (like: a new coat, Vitamin D, new boots, peanut butter). As I’ve mentioned before, Moscow does public transportation well. You can ride the metro to the express train, the express train to the airport; in one hour you’re there, avoiding taxis and traffic.

Getting all this luggage to the airport was no problem because Svetlana and Irina helped. It was nice: Irina + I carted my luggage on the metro and then Sveta met us at the train station. Sveta packed snacks, Ira addressed the letters she asked me to mail in the US and we giggled a lot.

But because Sveta and Ira were both getting back into Moscow around the same time I was and because I don’t yet know enough Russian to order a taxi and negotiate price, I decided to do this express train + metro trip solo.

My flight landed around 11 am Moscow time and I remembered all the snow. Getting my things to the express train was no problem; airports have many luggage carts. And taking the luggage down the escalator into the metro only required balance, which luckily I still had after almost 24 hours of travel. With this particular route, I knew I’d have to navigate three staircases; I hoped they wouldn’t be busy so I could take my time and carry each piece of luggage up individually.

64905_909291515712_1188886701_nWhen I got to the staircase at the transfer between the green line and the orange line, I took a deep breath and stared at the top. Immediately, a man appeared, grabbed the biggest suitcase and asked in Russian if he could carry the bag for me. My excitement and surprise probably made me sound like an idiot: “да да да.” The next set of stairs was at the exit of the platform at my station, Konkovo. This time a woman asked if she could help me. When she asked if she could help me the rest of the way, I shook my head and thanked her, this time using “большое спасибо.” I walked through the metro hall, ignoring all the shops, knowing that nothing in their windows had changed.

I got to the final–and longest–set of stairs, a series of three flights. I carried the biggest suitcase up to the first platform and went back to the bottom to get the smaller suitcase, literally running up them, so happy to be so close to home. A guy grabbed the big suitcase and carried it for me. His friends waited at the top of the stairs; they held the door open for me and smiled.

I’ve been speaking Russian to people, full sentences, not just one or two words. And last night when I paid my rent, landlord Vladimir called me “Karochka,” the pet name for “Kara.” My office has filled with friends every day this week. Russia, you’re not looking too bad.

Greetings from Missouri.

What with the planning and excitement about visiting home and then being home and taking a break from writing, I’ve been absent from the blog-o-sphere.  I imagine you’ve found other things to read on the internet, though. But if you haven’t, here’s a link.

I haven’t posted about writing for quite awhile. Midwestern Gothic is one of my favorite lit journals. The editors work hard to feature the best Midwestern writing and to create a beautiful product, a journal you want to own/hold/read. I first learned of it two years ago, and since then, have been published there twice. Quite a few of my Midwestern friends have been published there too (read: Mary Stone Dockery, Ben Cartwright, Caleb Tankersley, and probably more I’m forgetting).

So, when the editors asked me to answer some questions for the Contributor Spotlight, I said “yes.” You can read that here. You can/should also order a few issues. You’ll be happy you did.

I’ve enjoyed my short break from Russia. However, after my triumphant return next Sunday (!!!), I’m almost certain something write-worthy will happen to me and then I will share it with you.

So, there’s this pool. чайка. It is a heated, outdoor pool. So, when it’s 30 degrees or 15 degrees or below zero or snowing, people can swim. Let me repeat that: I can swim in the snow.Snow

My friend Sveta and I toured the pool a few weeks ago, and since Sveta speaks Russian, she asked both her questions and my questions. I asked if you could swim when it snowed or rained, and the lady responded in Russian: “Even when there is lightening. We don’t care.”

I went back two weeks ago on a Friday night and navigated my way through getting a membership using single Russian words and hand gestures.  I always forget that I don’t know my address until someone asks for it. I know that I need to learn my address; it’s the first thing a person learns in kindergarten. Luckily I had a business card with my work address. I paid. I bought a blue swim cap.

Then I had the medical exam, which is required for almost all gym-like memberships in Russia.

I told the doctor “Я немного говорю по России.” She typed my name into the computer, wrote it on a small sheet of paper, the kind on which we leave notes that aren’t meant to be saved, and sounded it out, using elongated vowels and a soft “g”: Kaara Marrii Bowlinjer. She asked questions slowly in Russian, questions I couldn’t understand. I thought I might not pass.

When she said them in English, they made little sense:

“Do you eat?”

“Yes.”

She put the stethoscope on my back and breathed heavily. I mimicked her.

“When?”

“When do I eat? In the mornings, at lunch, in the evenings.”

“Last time?”

“Oh, 3 pm,” I remembered that rule our moms tells us: wait thirty minutes after eating before going swimming.

“хорошо.”

IMG_2588We sat down again and she asked me more questions in Russian and then stared at me. I laughed, apologized, phoned a friend for a translation. The friend didn’t answer. She mentioned “три” and I thought she was reminding me again that I couldn’t swim 30 minutes after eating.

I said “да, I cannot eat and swim.”

“нет,” she replied and then wrote a date on the bottom of the receipt where she had stamped her medical approval. She read the date to me. It was three months from now. I finally nodded and said “да, да, да,” which is how I’ve come to respond if I think whatever I can’t understand isn’t all that important.  She handed me the stamped receipt and while rubbing her arms in a scrubbing motion said “Wash before pool.”

So, I can breathe. I eat. I wash before pool. I’m in good health. IMG_2542

To get into the pool, you have two options. Walk outside and hop in, which seems like a terrible idea, though lots of old men in speedos do this. Or, swim out from the locker room through this tunnel with a rubber flap that keeps the cold air out. You just swim under and there you are, swimming in lanes, staring at mounds of Russian snow outside the pool.

I strive to be invisible when out and about in Russia. I don’t want to look lost on the metro. I don’t want to look like a tourist in touristy areas.  I don’t want to be noticed by babushkas or predatory men. Normally, I succeed in this. Sometimes, though, I become pretty visible.

IMG_2579On my fifth visit to the pool, I forgot to wash off before getting into the pool. I wasn’t trying to contaminate the highly chlorinated, impossible-to-contaminate pool; I just forgot. As I stepped into the pool, a skinny, naked, sorta sunken-in looking lady yelled at me from her shower stall. I looked at her, squinted my face in confusion, and said that I only spoke a little Russian. She repeated herself. When I still didn’t understand, another woman gave me instructions in Russian and then rubbed her arms in a scrubbing motion. I remembered. I said “да да да спасибо” and washed off. Crisis averted.

Then, after swimming, I went into the sauna. The thing about чайка is that the ladies are all naked. All the time. They do everything naked. I am an awfully modest American, so I change quickly and sorta hide in my locker. Personally, I’m real proud of myself for not just hiding and changing in a bathroom stall like I did the first time I went.

So, the sauna is an especially naked place. Normally I wear my swimsuit and no one says anything, but on this particular night, the women were bossy. They spoke Russian and pointed at my bathing suit. I shook my head, I said I spoke very little Russian. And one woman looked up at me and said, not as a request but a command: “In Russian sauna, everyone undress.”

IMG_2560When my friend Irina came into the sauna, I explained to her what had happened, as if to justify my being topless. I laughed and said “I just didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ This just seemed easier.” Irina only responded with “Kara, you know how to say ‘no.'”