Friday, June 29, 2012

Shop "Local" Russia

I'm pretty busy this week with working on a new novel, learning Russian fruits and vegetables (of course a peach is a pyersik and a cauliflower is a tsvetnaya kapusta), and raising a very demanding toddler, so I'm going to let my friend Stephanie do all the work and present you with this awesome Etsy page she made for me. All the adorable/beautiful products are handmade in Russia. My personal favorite is "Pup Ronald," a felted fox.

I tried to find some other handmade items from Yekaterinburg specifically, and I stumbled upon these amazing twin sisters who make the most beautiful, bizarre, creepy-in-a-good-way dolls I've ever seen. They went to design school in Yekat, which gives me so much hope! Their names are Ekaterina and Elena Popovy, and their blog and website are worth a visit.

This weekend John and I are off for an overnight trip to Annapolis WITHOUT Jack. This is big news, people. Wish his very generous babysitters luck!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Travel Orders

Well, it's official! We have our travel orders! That means we have an itinerary, our move has been scheduled, and we have a million things to do before we leave. Yikes!

The good news is our itinerary is about the best we could have hoped for. We get to Yekaterinburg in the evening, and after a ten hour flight, followed by a four hour layover, and another 2.5 hour flight, I think we should be tired enough to sleep our first night in Yekaterinburg. Here's hoping, because John has to be at work the next morning! Jack and I will be holed up in the apartment together, I'm guessing, since we won't have any of our stuff other than the suitcases we bring with us, and I won't have a clue where anything is.

I'm very excited that my parents are coming out to help me adjust the week after. They can't help us unpack, unfortunately, since most of our stuff won't arrive until a month after we do, but at least they'll be able to explore Yekat with me and help Jackie settle into his new life. They obviously don't speak any Russian, but I figure three clueless Americans blundering around is better than one (from my point of view, anyway; at least we'll have each other!).

Check out the cutest passport holder ever!

Of course, having our orders means this is really, really REAL. There were a lot of things we couldn't do before we got our orders (plane tickets, visas, etc.), but now that we have the green light, it's go time. John's list of things we need to do/get is growing by the day, and I have a feeling we'll be crossing everything off at once (which means we'll be running around like maniacs down to the wire).

After my tough week of Russian last week, I was close to giving up. But I decided to stick with it, to go a little easier on myself, and to speak up when I needed to. This week definitely went better, and since next week is all about food, I suspect I'll do just fine. Here are a couple of examples: чай (tea - pronounced "chai"), бублик (bagel - pronounced "bublik"), and шоколад (chocolate - pronounced "shockolod")! Hey, at least I won't starve.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Russian: Not My Forte

Maybe it's just Russian, but I'm feeling particularly awful about my language learning capabilities this week. The FSI course I've been doing is basically a computer course with a once-a-week phone call with a tutor. When it's just me and the computer, I feel okay. I had my fifth phone call last week, however, and it was abysmal.

See, the computer course requires you to a) read Cyrillic (check! Although still rather slowly) and b) learn basic phrases (Got most of those down). There is really very little in the way of grammar, and even though they recommend studying for eight hours a week (where the hell does one find an extra eight hours a week, I'd love to know), it only takes about an hour to go through each lesson. Well, I'd been going over each lesson three or four times, until I basically had the whole thing memorized. But there is no other homework, no lesson book, nothing.

And it turns out this whole phone tutoring thing is NOT for me. My tutor is very nice, but she is not exactly patient with me. When I get flustered, I literally forget the most basic things (like my phone number). Speaking with my tutor on the phone reduces me to my ninth-grade self, the one who freaks out during pop quizzes, even though I did just fine on the homework. Not to mention my tutor has a strong accent and even with a good signal the clarity over the phone is seriously lacking. When I'm asked to deviate at all from the given script, I get so nervous I can hardly think. Then my tutor starts speaking over me, and I basically shut down all together.

I am not a quitter. Honestly. I've been working at this whole author thing for years despite the rejection and disappointment. But I feel like, considering we're moving to Russia in ten weeks, this might be extra stress I just don't need in my life. I DO want to learn Russian. I know it's going to be important in a place where hardly anyone will speak English. But between watching a child full-time, trying to get a literary agent, and preparing for the move, is this how I really want to be spending whatever spare time I have? I'm not sure yet. I'll keep you posted.

On the bright side, I got my very first award for this blog courtesy of Towels Packed, Will Travel. It's called the Reader Appreciation Award, and here's what they had to say about my blog.

Most Eligible Family – A writer and mom of a toddler headed to their first post in Yekaterinburg (Russia). Like S, she’s taking an FSI online Russian course. Not having spent much time thinking about our first posting, since there was no time to think, it’s interesting to read about Mara’s pre-departure musings.

Pre-departure musings indeed. I'm amazed anyone's reading! Thanks for the shout-out guys. I really appreciate it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Real Yekaterinburg

Last weekend, while I was hanging out at my friend Katie's farm and trying to forget about the ill-fated run-in with Bambi's mother, I realized something: most of my friends have no idea what Yekaterinburg is really like (other than what I've said on this blog, which is mostly that it's cold and located in south central BFE). Obviously I've never been to Yekat, but the truth is, it's actually a very large city. A large city located in the middle of nowhere, I grant you, but no small Russian village, certainly.

Yekaterinburg has a population of 1.4 million people. It's the fourth largest city in Russia (I think I've been telling everyone it's the third largest; probably wishful thinking on my part). There is apparently a Target-like store called MEGA. There is an IKEA. You get the idea. Basically, I will be cold and pathetic with my virtually non-existent Russian, but I will be able to get toilet paper and a HEMNES coffee table.

At the moment, John is in Tver, another Russian city where he is doing two weeks of language immersion, and apparently it's a bit run down (I think his exact words were, "Everything is broken.") I'm hoping Yekaterinburg is a little better, since it's a rapidly developing city and it looks so darn pretty in pictures:

Of course, the REAL Yekaterinburg remains to be seen (I swear those photos are computer generated). I promise to report on all the nitty gritty details when I get there. For now, I'm just going to go on pretending that Yekaterinburg is the third largest city in Russia, that everything is sparkly and pretty, and the streets are paved with...well, just paved would be good.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What Tragedy Teaches Us

Some of you may not have heard of the terrible fire that killed thirteen children and six adults in Doha, Qatar, on Monday. I won't rewrite the details here, because they are too tragic and heartbreaking for me to get into, but if you didn't read about it, you can find more information in this blog post from an expat living in Qatar.

One of the things that struck me as I read about the tragedy is how easy it is to take for granted the differences between living in the United States and living in a foreign country. Obviously bad things happen here, too, but it's easy not to think about safety in this country. Fire escape plans are posted everywhere. Preschools are inspected on a regular basis. Every single item in Jack's lunch box has to be labeled with the date just in case I get lazy and try to slip him Tuesday's leftovers on Thursday. Seriously. Safety is just something we expect living in America. And for the next twenty-odd years, I'm going to have to be constantly aware of the fact that not everyone has the same standards.

We aren't planning on putting Jack in daycare in Russia, since we have the nanny lined up, but will he be in public places, like malls? Of course. Will the building we live in have a clear, accessible emergency evacuation plan to follow? I have no idea. Will there be anything I can do about it if not? I doubt it. But at least these things are on my radar now. To the families of everyone who perished on Monday, including four teachers, two rescue workers, and children from Spain, New Zealand (a set of two-year-old triplets; there are no words), France, and South Africa (the other countries haven't been confirmed yet) - my heart goes out to you.