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.

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.

photo 1 photo 3(1)

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.

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.




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.


 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.”


Parents in Moscow.

September 10, 2013

I apologize for my absence. I moved back to the US about a month ago, found an apartment, bought a car, started a new job, and tried to see friends. This move has been almost as jarring (and quick!) as my move to Moscow, so I’ve slacked with blogging. I’ve got a few more Moscow stories for you, though, starting with my parents’ takes on their time here. I was lucky enough to have them visit me (only a few weeks before I left), and like my other visitors, I was excited to read what they thought. Since this experience was so influential on me, it was really important to me that my parents get to experience it.
IMG_0149The trip started off a little rocky–the airline lost their luggage. And for a few days, it seemed legitimately lost. Each time we called the airline, we were told it was in a different spot (in NYC, in Moscow, one bag in each place). Eventually, they just started hanging out on my dad, which as you might imagine, frustrated him. Finally, with Svetlana’s Russian language skills, we found the luggage. I was so proud of them, though. 
Despite this major mishap, they were so calm. “Are these my parents?” I asked myself and my friends. This is the same dad who has thrown crazy traffic jam tantrums on interstates all over the US, the mom who has never ever pack lightly, who just can’t go without all of her makeup. But they were calm. So calm. I bought them a change of clothes, a toothbrush, some shampoo. They did laundry. We called the airline a few times a day to check in. And then we went out. They were fine. More than fine, they were happy. After I explained that what people did in Moscow for fun was the theater, etc, my dad even agreed to a ballet. First, I’ll put my dad’s blog (Jeff) and then, since her blog references his, my mom’s blog (Dawn). Enjoy! 
Jeff says:
Moscow Russia–as a child of the Cold War era you would think that this would not be on my list of places to visit. But since my daughter moved there a year ago, it became more apparent that this should be on my bucket list sooner than later. So, on July 9th 2013, we packed our bags and off we went to a strange place I never thought I would see. With Kara being there for almost a year, we had a list of things she and others had told us about so we were really excited to get started. So, where do I start?
  I could talk about the 3 days of lost baggage and how we had to make a trip back to the airport to claim it. Or how I almost got Kara in trouble the minute I arrived by trying to drag her into customs, a secure part of the airport and how she got yelled at by a Russian customs officer.
I could also talk about the labyrinth of tunnels and steps of the Moscow Metro she led us through and that seemed so confusing at times getting to our apartment. And how I learned very fast that lines mean nothing to a true Russian. How I was amazed at the underground shops and boutiques where you can buy almost anything from cigarettes to underwear. And how parking on sidewalks is normal and almost encouraged.
But some of these things are just cultural things that are normal in big cities of the world.
People now ask me what I think of Moscow and Russia, and I have to say it was really a great experience. Standing in Red Square or inside the Kremlin was almost like being in a dream. This is a place any child of the Cold War would never have believed they would ever be. Walking in Gorky Park and along the Moscow River was some really great people watching.IMG_0070
I could go on and on about the things I saw , but really the best part was the people I met. From the coffee shop barista who knew that I could only say Kofe Americano who helped me every morning to the door lady at our apartment who tried to learn a new English word every day and all the people we met at NES ( Kara’s employer).  At first, my impression of the Russian people were that they were cold and unfriendly, but after a few days and meeting the people she worked with, I think they were just focused, because everyone we met was great, and I really appreciate that she had she wonderful people to help here while she was there. Svetlana, this is especially for you. Thank you for all your help with our luggage trouble while we were there.
When we left for Germany I wished I had had time to experience more of Russia; I learned a lot. Thank you, Kara, for sharing your Moscow experience with us, leading us around and being a reverse parent to us.

Dawn says:
I just have to say this: Jeff took all of my stuff. He said WHAT I was going to say. He is always doing that to me.  It’s just not fair. But, maybe if I try really hard I can find some little delicious detail that he might have dropped along the way.
Oh, good—I found something.

IMG_0162Upon our arrival to Moscow, Kara graciously guided her travel-worn parents to the flat. After many long hours of travel, we had arrived!! We were there; our luggage was not.  Kara gave us several clear, concise instructions: take a nap, take a shower, and most importantly, DO NOT leave this apartment without me.

But, just in case we did not heed her sage advice, she gave us an index  card filled with strange, scary looking scribbling, which according to her was our Russian address. She sincerely hoped that we would not venture out without her.

Just for the record, I never went anywhere without Kara. I was good; I listened. Jeff did not. He had to show off every morning by going out into the world to get coffee. The little note card reminded me of the little laminated yellow school bus that I attached to Kara’s shirt on the first day of Kindergarten.  I remember her being so excited about getting on that big old yellow bus and going away from me. I worried whether I had prepared her for going out into the world. Would she really be able to find her bus to get back home? All of the little things that we parents agonize over again and again.  She was fine; I was fine.

After having been all the way to Moscow to see my daughter, I am amazed at just how far away our children may go. I was very proud and impressed with her ability to navigate the metro in Moscow, and how very protective she was with us.  Learning a new culture, a new language, a new money system are not easy tasks.

After hearing Kara talk about her Moscow—the Kremlin, Gorky Park, Georgian food, St.  Basil’s Cathedral, well like anyone, I began to whine and say: “I want to go too. Why can’t I come?” I am so very thankful that we were able to see Kara’s Moscow. So, Kara, thanks watching out  for us. Your friends were all so kind and helpful. Without Sveta ‘s help, I seriously doubt we would have gotten our luggage before we were to leave on the next leg of our journey. And thanks for being such a wonderful friend to Kara.

My only question is where are we going next?  And can we bring your little sister?

About a month ago, boyfriend Jack graduated from law school. Five days after that, he came to Moscow, and though he’s been back in KS for a few weeks now, I’m incredibly happy and thankful about his 2.5 week visit here. Obviously, I’ve been incredibly happy and thankful for all my visitors, but because of some visa complications, I thought boyfriend Jack wasn’t going to make it here…or at least not on time. In a nutshell, the travel service we used for his visa lost all of his application materials (including his passport).

When Jack called to inquire (multiple times a day for weeks), they said “We’ll call back” and then never did. I thought I might be able to help from Moscow, thinking that maybe the moral support and more “forceful” communication style of the three Russian women digitally and physically with me (Russia bestie Sveta, boss/friend Olga, and travel coordinator Oxana) would help. Below is the conversation I had with the travel company (tc):

tc: “Uh…Ma’am, we’re currently looking for that application.”

kb: “What do you mean you’re ‘looking for it’?”

tc: “Well, just that.”


SONY DSCAnyone who has traveled to Russia (or any other country requiring a visa) will tell you that visa stuff is frustrating and difficult and that no matter what you do, you will probably make a mistake. I made a mistake in my visa that caused me to come to Russia a week late in August; bestie Molly had to resubmit her application; and the Pfeiffers had to wait a long, long time for theirs to arrive. This was the worst problem I’d encountered though…and there wasn’t much we could do about it.

They eventually found it (four days before his flight)–it had apparently gone from the Russian consultant in Washington DC to the Russian consulate in Seattle without anyone really making note of that.


The consulate requested a new document from Russia, and Oxana got that within two hours (even though it was already 8 pm in Moscow). Sveta was even willing to forge documents, though she may not admit it now. Jack and I prayed a lot. And the visa arrived two days before his flight.

I say all that to say:

1. When you think your boyfriend you haven’t seen for almost five months isn’t going to get to come to Moscow, you are sad. When you find out that said boyfriend does in fact get to come and then you actually see him in the airport–in real life 3D and not through a Google+ Hangout–you are thankful and relieved and though you have to work during the days, you take him to all the Moscow places and make him pose for photos in the evenings. SONY DSC

2. You bring him to work with you the first few days because even though he can’t really do anything there and you are busy, you just. can’t. bear. to. be. apart. Plus, you’ve told all these great stories about people at work and you’ve complained so much about the stairwell with the tiles that are coming unglued and you’ve said zapekanka is so so good that you want him to meet these people and see these things and try this food. So, he sits outside of your office and contentedly reads and plays Solitaire, and your Russian friends are more hospitable to him than you are, because you know he is totally happy, but it is in their nature to continually ask if he is comfortable or hungry or thirsty.

3. You cook for him a lot because you are happy and because you realize you’ve gotten lazy with meals in the last few months. You assume he won’t want to have scrambled eggs both for breakfast and dinner, so you decide on spaghetti. The two of you can’t find garlic, but you improvise cheese bread and the whole meal is actually quite good. He insists on moving the tiny table from the kitchen to the living room so you can sit across from one another, and though it blocks the doorway to the kitchen and makes getting anything from the kitchen difficult (because your apartment is real small) it ends up being a great idea so you do it for every meal. You both decide that successful meals, even simple ones, taste better in Russia because they’re harder to make.  And then the sunsets around 10:30 pm. SONY DSC

4. He cooks for you, too, normally breakfast. On your birthday, he goes to the grocery store alone and comes back with keifer instead of milk, which is not what you use for French toast, so you go back to the store with him. 995676_974705989582_2074914979_n

5. You also realize that it’s pretty awesome to be treated on your birthday. After church, he takes you out for coffee and cake and then Georgian food with your friends and buys you a ukulele and flowers.  SONY DSC

6. You try new things. You want to take him golfing. To get there you have to confront one of your greatest fears–the bus–and it only ends up being a little scary. Even though you stare at the Moscow map on your tablet and then check street names out the window the whole time because you are just that nervous about getting lost (or perhaps because you check the street names with the Moscow map on your tablet the whole time), you don’t get lost. SONY DSC

You were never afraid of the ice cream stand, but you go there for the first time and discover the Maxibon (a Nestle crunch ice cream bar plus an ice cream sandwich). He convinces you that the Maxibon can serve as lunch. Some days you have two. SONY DSC

7. You also might travel. But that’s another blog.




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


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.

After about a month, I feel like I’m making strides with the Russian language.

For example, I realized this morning that Keanu Reeves stares at me in my bathroom. There’s a hologram movie poster on my bathroom wall, right above the toilet. I had no idea why it was there, but thinking that perhaps it covered some hole or unsightly stain, I left it. Since I didn’t recognize the actor’s face (because really, that doesn’t look like Keanu Reeves at all) or the title, I assumed it was some Russian film that either my landlord’s sons or the American dude who lived here before me liked.

But today, as I stepped out of the shower, I saw the letters at the top of the poster and sounded them out: Keanu Reeves. And I said in shock “No…” And then I stood in my towel and stared at the poster for a few minutes trying to determine if the face really belonged to Keanu Reeves. I stared at the other words. I knew “День” was “day” and that “когда” meant “when.” I thought “остановилась” looked a whole lot like the verb for “to have breakfast,” a word we’d learned the night before in Russian class, but couldn’t understand how that fit in with the sci-fi looking poster. A quick Google search of “Keanu Reeves” revealed this movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still. The two month “who is that man in my bathroom” mystery solved.

Over the weekend, I went with my friend Sveta to see two opera singers perform. They sang in Italian, Spanish, and German. And then in Russian. I studied the titles of the Russian songs in the program and tried to show off my skills. For “она, как полдень хороша,” I could get as far as “She is ___ nice” and Sveta completed the thought: “She’s as nice as the midday.” For “все отнял у меня,” I knew that “все” meant “all” and “у меня” meant “I have.” I thought the song seemed positive, but Sveta translated the whole thing for me: “He took all I had.” “Oh,” I said.  The song “на смерть чижика” was about a small bird dying.

I recognize words all over the city now: работник for worker, which I derived from работать, the verb “to work.” грибной for mushroom. капуста for cabbage. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the word for brussel sprouts (брюссельская капуста) uses the word for cabbage. Last Thanksgiving,  I tricked my family into eating brussel sprouts by instead calling them “baby cabbage.” When we asked for directions and the man told Sveta and I that the address of the house party we were looking for was “недалеко,” I knew we wouldn’t have to walk very far.

Of course, I’ve had my mistakes. Like the time I thought I understood the construction for “to want.” If “я хачу” means “I want,” then “вас хачу” must mean “you want.” нет. “вас хачу” means “I want you.” Those are not the same. Or the time I used “слива”–plum–instead of “Слева”–on the left. Again, very different words.

My old man shoes have been gradually breaking since I arrived in Moscow. The photo below and on the left is from sometime in the beginning of September. Since then, that small hole grew to the size of half dollar and the sole of the shoe separated from the sides. As I walked home in the rain a few nights ago, my feet soaked from water coming in at the places the shoes were coming apart, I knew I’d need to take them to a shoe cobbler. I was quite excited by this, as I’ve never had an occasion to take my shoes to a cobbler before. However, I knew it was a big risk: the old man shoes are my favorite shoes, and I couldn’t just hand them over to anyone, especially someone with whom I couldn’t communicate.

So, I practiced a newly learned Russian phrase: Я немного говорю по России. And I approached the window of his shop and after “доброе утро,” said that phrase (“I speak a little Russian”), hoping this warning would indicate one, that I was trying, and two, that we should use hand gestures and writing and that he should speak slowly. I showed him the shoes, which needed no explanation; it was clear they needed work. And he wrote down the cost on the receipt and I paid him the rubles and he said “завтра.” And so, I went back завтра.

here we go, moscow.

October 28, 2012

My post last week was right on: it’s fair to say that the Moscow fall I’ve heard so much about is here. It is rainy and snowy and slushy. It hasn’t stopped all day.

The temperatures dropped from the 40s/50s last weekend to the 30s on Monday. We first saw snow on Wednesday, though it only spit. Friday it actually snowed, but by the afternoon everything had melted. We went out that evening and the wind blew and we laughed and walked to the metro heads down, hugging ourselves with our elbows.

And here we are on Sunday. As I was getting home last night from a Russian Halloween party around 1:30 am, it started snowing. It snowed all night and when I woke up this morning, it looked quite pleasant outside. When I opened my window, it didn’t seem that cold and I thought the water drops on the window were just melted snow. So, around 10:30 am, when I decided it was warm enough, I put on my cold weather running gear and my running shoes and headed outside. I smiled at the door woman downstairs.

When I opened the door, I realized it was raining. I saw two feral dogs sitting down on the sidewalk. They were completely soaked and their eyes were so sad. I spoke to them: “Oh, feral dogs…I’m so sorry.” I wanted to hug them. But they’re feral, so I didn’t.

And then I took off jogging. 1.5 minutes in, I realized that this was a totally stupid idea. Though it wasn’t cold at all, the snow was melting and it was raining and there was nowhere for the water to go so it just puddled everywhere. My shoes were soaked almost instantly. I thought the park might be better, so I turned in there. But it was actually worse. And so I headed back to the apartment. When I entered the building, I got the door lady’s attention, jogged in place, and said “нет.” She laughed.

My trip to the Center was much the same. I wore a coat that was too warm, but was waterproof. I took my broken umbrella. I chose the wrong boots; it wasn’t cold enough for my intense winter boots (the ones rated for 30 below), so instead I wore my less intense winter boots, the ones from the Bargain Cave at Cabela’s. Yes, there is something called the Bargain Cave at Cabela’s. About halfway to the metro, I realized that those boots weren’t waterproof.

My stuff was all wet on the metro and being so bundled up got uncomfortably warm. I envied the Russians who all seemed to have mastered not being uncomfortable on the metro while being incredibly bundled up, reading their Russian books and watching Madonna and really strange Kylie Minogue videos on their iPads.

I got off at Arbatskaya, expecting that the sidewalks would be in better condition there. It was, after all, the Center of the city. But they were about the same. And so I made a game of balancing my broken umbrella over my head and jumping over icy puddles and avoiding being hit by cars or splashing water from passing traffic.

And then I landed right in the middle of a puddle that was at least five inches deep. And then I cussed for a bit.

I arrived at my destination–Prostye Veshi–which is currently my favorite Moscow restaurant. And my Midwestern friends Jen and David showed up. Their feet were wet, too. David’s umbrella was also broken. And Jen had also accidentally stepped in an enormous puddle. And we had coffee and really lovely breakfast meals. And our waitress spoke a little English and seemed pleased when we spoke Russian. And we sat there for awhile after the meal, talking about accents and the weather and teaching because in Russian restaurants they never rush you or bring you the check until you ask for it. And on the way back, I sang to myself and it seemed like I was much more successful in my game of dodging puddles.

Though I haven’t written much about it on the blog, I’ve done quite a bit of Moscow sightseeing. Actually, I call it exploring and my outings, explorations or adventures. It seems to carry a bit more umph, and frankly, due to the planning each trip typically requires and the confusing moment(s) that inevitably happen, exploring/explorations/adventure ring pretty accurate. Plus, I often wear flannel.

I’ve wasted no time! Every Saturday and/or Sunday, I explore. The city is quite lovely, and I know that very soon, it will be rainy/snowy/cold. I mean, I went to the Red Square my second day full day in Moscow, jet-lagged and hungry and still learning how to pay for things in rubles.  I’ll hit the high points of the Red Square trip and others later, but now I’ll write about this weekend’s exploration because I remember it well and that makes for better writing.

Exploring here takes more energy than it would in the US. I spend at least an hour reading my Moscow guidebook and researching on the internet. Luckily, friends from work have been pointing me in the right direction. Evgeniya–thelovely office assistant/art student who helped me find my apartment–sends me links for parks weekly because she knows I love being outside. My research also entails making sure my destination is close enough to a metro that I can walk. And then, I use this handy interactive metro map to figure out the easiest way to get there. I try to find the address or determine the general direction of the destination from the metro. I write these things down on scrap paper, I pack a snack, and I’m off.

Though I do a lot of exploring alone (this is what happens when you move to Russia solo, people…just sayin’), I’m not a total loner. Often I go with friends, and then some of the planning is done for me.

Now, here I’ve written 300 words and not a one about Kolomenskoe. The most difficult part of exploring is finding the actual destination once you’ve arrived to its nearest metro. The thing about the metro is that there are multiple exits. So, though I was at Kolomenskaya Station, there were (at least) four possible places I could come out.  Luckily, this particular station had clear signs inside to show which exit leads to which street. And though I had the address written down, Moscow’s streets aren’t labeled well, sometimes not at all.

I usually try to figure it out on my own, decide that I can’t, ask one Russian person who refuses to help me, and then ask a Russian person who is nice. I almost followed this plan to its conclusion, but I was/am recovering from being sick and was kind of grouchy, and when the first Russian woman refused to help, I said “To hell with it, I’ll find this place on my own.” And so I headed in the direction that seemed right. It didn’t hurt that there was a constant stream of people heading that way too, so it being a sunny Saturday, I thought we might be going to the same place.

Kolomenskoe is beautiful. From my Lonely Planet guidebook, I learned that Kolomenskoe is an ancient royal country seat and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It sits on a bluff overlooking a bend of the Moscow River. Shortly after it was founded in the 14th century, it became a favorite spot for Moscow’s princes. It’s a cool mixture of churches and gates and other structures from different centuries.

Other cool things happened here. Like, Peter the Great lived in a cabin at Kolomenskoe while he supervised fort-and ship-building at Arkhangelsk. And, Tsar Alexey’s Wooden Palace used to be here, but Catherine the Great demolished it in the 1700s. They’ve built a replica of it, but I didn’t make it there–the park is quite big. They’re also trying to make a section of the park a “living museum,” so they’ve recreated a peasant’s farm, blacksmith compound, working stable, etc. For example, I believe that yellow box is for bee-keeping. Maybe a beekeeper can confirm?

I hope I don’t sound too dumb when I talk about historical things. My public school education didn’t cover a whole lot of Russian history, and since I wasn’t required to take Russian courses as a liberal arts undergrad, I didn’t. Or worse–I hope I don’t sound like I know a lot about Russia. I don’t. I’m learning all these things now. I imagine that after I’ve been here awhile longer, my historical descriptions will become more in-depth/better.

The Church of the Ascension, 1532

Church of the Ascension and Church of St. George

An overlook in Kolomenskoe. When you live in a city and see buildings, buildings, buildings, it’s amazing how breathtaking a piece of scenery can be. Especially when it catches you off guard.

Moscow River

Church of Our Lady of Kazan

Former Site of the Wooden Palace

No Russian adventure would be complete without something strange/hilarious happening. Apple trees cover the park. I noticed people eating apples. And then I noticed people were collecting them with special sticks, filling bags and carts, maybe to save for later, maybe to sell outside of a metro station. I’d packed my own apple as a snack, but when I saw people eating apples from Kolomenskoe, I knew I could never be content with my apple from the market (though maybe they were the same?).

I knew it wasn’t good to eat one straight from the ground, as many of those were rotting or half eaten by some kind of creature. So, I decided I would climb a tree. I am, after all, from Missouri. I stared up at the trees, looking for a spot where I could reach an apple from a limb.

And I must have really looked like I wanted an apple, because this guy came up with two women. And he started speaking to me. And then he shook a tree limb. And apples fell everywhere. And we dodged them and laughed and collected apples quickly. And then he moved to another limb and did the same thing. And he said “American” and “apple pie” and I said “яблоко” and that was about all the talking we did. And then he accidentally hit an old man on the head with an apple and that old man yelled at us. This became quite a game.

So we ate apples together and filled our bags.

Sunday I secured my spot in the group of 20-and-30-something-year-old wannabe/amateur interior designers who dream of the home office that fits their aesthetic and the kitchen that makes up for its lack of counter space by employing shiny hooks and shelves that hang from the walls.

I’ve finally been to IKEA, though I went all the way to Moscow to do it.

My brain is inundated with images of innovative bookshelves, lavender coffee tables, and slender filing cabinets. I don’t know what my perfect bedroom looks like yet, but you can be certain that I’m brainstorming, drawing floor plans, subscribing to the IKEA catalogue.

I wandered the display rooms, pictured myself drinking cups of tea on various couches and baking cookies and homemade bread in all the kitchens. I envied Zooey Deschanel for going there with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the way they tested beds and stoves, and plotted their theoretical home.

Since getting to Russia, I’ve been pretty darn resourceful. In my temporary apartment, I made it a goal to buy as few things as possible, because I didn’t want to move them to a new place. So, I bought foods that could be eaten for every meal—rice, bread, fruit, eggs, cheese—and when home, I ate basically only those things. I saved plastic bags, which are surprisingly useful for keeping your passport/visa sweat-proof and rain-proof in your sports bra when you’re out for a morning jog.

Though it’s only been a few days, I love my new place. It is sunny sunny sunny. The doorways inside the apartment have arches (which almost everyone comments on). It’s only four metro stops from work. I live on the fifteenth floor, which is awesome, and like all Russian apartments I’ve seen, there are three levels of security—a magnet-key gets me in the front door, a gate gets me into my side of the fifteenth floor, and then I unlock my door. No one can get to me. There is a huge, beautiful park (photos to come) across the street and I can see it out of my window.

But since I’m still settling in here, I’ve still had to be resourceful. While I had furniture, sheets, and a few kitchen items the first few days, I didn’t have many basics. Example: On my first night here, I didn’t get home from work until 8:45 because I had to stop at this quasi-mall to buy a towel for showering and then go to the grocery store. After getting yelled at by the Russian cashier for not knowing the word she used for “bag” (it was different than the one I knew), I rode the metro to my stop. I bought eggs for dinner, but once home, I realized I didn’t have a skillet. I did, however, have a pot. So, I had salad with hardboiled eggs.

Maybe that’s not a big deal, but at the end of a day where I moved into my new apartment, went to work, negotiated with the towel lady using only hand gestures and “yes” and “no” in Russian, got yelled at by a Russian cashier, and realized that I didn’t have the main cooking instrument I had planned on using for the dinner I was hungry for, it felt pretty damn resourceful to make a legitimate meal and not just eat chocolate and crackers (I’ve found some REAL tasty Russian crackers) for dinner. The next day, I bought fruits and vegetables from one of the many outdoor vendors and made essentially the same meal. And it was great. One new friend from work gave me extra dishes from her apartment—a few bowls, some mugs, and a lovely Russian tea set. And that was just really nice and it definitely made it easier for me to eat meals here.

I like being resourceful, but I also like hanging up my blazers and frying eggs in a skillet, so two of my friends took me to IKEA. There I was daydreaming. And then, like I assume happens to many 20-and-30-something-year-old wannabe/amateur designers in complete awe of IKEA, I remembered that I am a 20-something-year-old. And that I am renting an expensive, tiny one-bedroom apartment in Moscow, Russia. And I remembered that the 56cm x 70cm x 19cm space in my bathroom would certainly not hold the iron shelf I liked so much. And I realized that in order to implement all the design ideas I had rolling around in my head, I would surely need a mansion. And that anything I buy here—even if it is a dark red nightstand I love dearly—will likely stay in Russia when I go back to the States.

So I got real. I still oooh-ed and aaah-ed at every perfect display room. And I wondered how awesome it must be to be an 8-year-old with a tree house for a bedroom. But I made sure everything I bought had a purpose. And I used the paper ruler they provided and I measured things. And I paid attention to price tags and got out my phone to divide the ruble amounts by 32 to see about how much it was in dollars.

A new friend here claimed that it was impossible for a trip to IKEA to take less than two hours; he suspects this is the reason IKEA has a cafeteria. I nodded politely, as Midwesterners do, and thought “He hasn’t seen me shop.” I hate shopping and so I shop quickly. My ideal shopping day is going to the Gap with Katie W or Clare E, buying the one item I need, and then getting out of there. Thirty minutes tops. So, I thought I could do IKEA quickly, not thirty minutes quick, but quick. How wrong I was; we were there for at least 2.5 hours, and I think I enjoyed every minute of it.

When I saw that I spent 6,173 rubles, I sort of freaked out. But then I realized that was only about $200 and for everything I got, it seemed pretty good. I bought picture frames and a bulletin board. And two plates, one bowl, and two glasses. I got Tupperware, three small cooking utensils, two skillets, pot holders and some kitchen towels. And I needed something for the bathroom so I found these plastic drawers and bought these little boxes in which two pairs of shoes fit perfectly. I bought wooden hangers. And I assembled a metal closet/rack thing in a dress, using a knife with some remnants of a hardboiled egg as a screwdriver.

Can someone please send me a screwdriver?