Friday, April 27, 2012

Russian for Beginners

Yesterday John and I were able to meet up for lunch in Arlington, which was really nice since Jack was in preschool and we got the chance to have an actual conversation. We had some time to kill before the restaurant opened, so we went over to a giant toy store I've been dying to visit (but that I wouldn't DARE go into with Jack in tow - talk about a recipe for disaster).

While I gravitated straight to the clothing and stuffed animals, John decided to check out the blocks, since Jack is in tower-building mode these days. Imagine his joy when he found a bunch of foreign language blocks (!) and his subsequent disappointment when he realized they had everything from Italian to Hebrew, but no Russian. Not one to be deterred (I was already cringing at the $40 price tag), John went onto and found the Russian blocks for the low, low price of $32.95. Before I had a chance to say "niet!" the blocks were purchased.

Actually, the blocks are pretty cool. They have letters, pictures, numbers, and entire words in Russian, so Jack will have an opportunity to not only learn his Russian alphabet, but also how to say a few words. Better yet, I'll be able to pretend I'm teaching Jack Russian while I'm actually learning it myself. The blocks, by a company called Uncle Goose, come in Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. Perfect for foreign-language learners of all ages, even 32.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fish Under a Fur Coat

I have been very lucky to have the wife of the person currently in John's position as a go-to for questions that a CLO would normally be answering. She's helped us with all kinds of things, from coat advice, car recommendations, what to bring, etc. Today she kindly sent me a couple of websites that explain some common Russian dishes. I was rolling right along, practicing my Cyrillic, when I came upon a dish with a name so horrid it stopped me in my tracks.

Fish Under a Fur Coat.

Apparently it's so cold in Russia even the food wears fur. Blargh. The link to the recipe was not only horrifying, but it came with an amusing translation to boot. Here's the link. My notes are in red.
Herring under a fur coat. Photo-a prescription

You will need: a herring - 1 piece. Potatoes - 1 piece. Beets - 1 piece. Egg - 1 piece. Mayonnaise - to taste. Gee, you gotta love the super specific instructions here, right? One piece of beet? No problem!  
Photo 01 Herring gut, to separate the fillets from the bones and try to remove any small bones.
Now here I'm a little confused. Am I gutting the herring, or using the gut to separate? Either way - blech! 

Photo 02
Prepared fillets cut into pieces (can be quite large, and can be quite small, as someone like that) and lay flat on the bottom of the salad. Chopped onion and sprinkle over the fish.   
As someone like that...yeah, I'm one of those someones who prefers to be cut up into small pieces. 
Photo 03 Boil potatoes in their jackets, peel and cut into small cubes. Put it on a layer of fish. Layer potato mayonnaise.
Mayo, boiled potatoes, and fish. Kinda says it all. 
Photo 04 Boiled egg chopped (or rubbed on a coarse grater) and sprinkle on a layer of potatoes with mayonnaise.
Photo 05 The last layer is sprinkled with grated boiled beetroot and plenty of mayonnaise. The finished salad can be decorated with slices of egg and greens.
I'm guessing the grated beet is the fur coat here. Lovely, right? But don't worry, you can dress it up with some dill! 

Gee, I found myself thinking, if this is what I have to look forward to in Russia, I'm screwed. Any culture that thinks putting the word "fur" in the title of a recipe is a good idea is clearly not on my wavelength. But I pressed diligently on, praying I'd find something that wasn't just veggie-friendly but also mildly appetizing.

I stopped at headcheese.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hello, I'm Moving to Russia

Good news today! I actually DID get the job I was convinced I didn't get. The worst part is I got the offer over a week ago, but the email never came through. I can't tell you how many times I replayed that interview in my head, thinking, "But why didn't I say THIS?" Argh! Anyway, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to talk about it since it's not official yet, but let's just say I'll be surrounded by Americans for 20 hours a week in Yekat, and that's a very good thing. You know, since I don't speak Russian and all.

Anyway, today's blog post actually has nothing to do with the job. You see, earlier today Jack and I took a little trip to National Geographic to visit Sha Sha, and Jack was strolling around from cube to cube, stealing magnets and tiny zebras (as you do). And then one of Sarah's friends, who I'd never actually met in person before, said, "I hear you're moving soon."

It's funny how I keep forgetting that we're moving to Russia in a little over four months.

And then the inevitable next question: "Are you getting excited?"

At which point I think to myself, "Holy crap, we're moving to Russia!"

Earlier today I received a phone call from a language program for toddlers (we attended a free French class a year ago - totally worthless, although Jack liked running around with the maracas). Apparently I'd said I was interested in future French classes for Jack (doubtful). Anyway, the woman wanted to know if I'd like to sign up, and I said, "Oh, actually, we're moving to Russia this summer."

"Where?" the woman said.


"Oh! That's far!"

Well yes, it is. "Yeah. So we probably won't need French classes. Thanks anyway."

It all comes off a bit snobby, doesn't it? "Hi, I'm moving to Russia." A couple of times I've been shopping for winter clothes and I've had to explain that we're moving to Yekaterinburg in August, and it sort of stops people in their tracks. And it's not that I'm bragging - I mean, I AM moving to Russia in August. But I can see people thinking I'm a totally obnoxious human being (which I am, but for other reasons entirely). And for the next thirty years or so, I'm going to be saying that kind of thing to people. "We just got back from Russia. We're moving to South America in seven months. La dee da." Ugh. I hate Future Me already.

So, um, yeah. I'm Mara, and I'm moving to Russia. Holy crap.

Friday, April 6, 2012

To Do or Not To Do: Language Immersion

As some of you know, I've been debating whether or not we should toss Jackie into Russian preschool (assuming it's up to snuff once we get there) and see how he does; or if we should keep him home, either with me, or if possible, a nanny - the benefit there being twofold: Jackie learns Russian, and Mommy gets a break.

John is on the Russian immersion bandwagon. He thinks Jack will pick up Russian much faster that way, get valuable time with other children, and keep up with preschool lessons. Those aren't really things I can disagree with. But I do worry that Jack will feel insecure and out of place, and that his English may become stunted as a result. Also, I read somewhere (a post report maybe?) that they are much stricter in Russian preschool and actually hold your child's hand when they color. Obviously that's something I can assess once we get there, assuming a) they allow parents to sit in on their classes and b) I can even find a preschool that will take him, especially since the school year will be starting when we get there.

As for Jack and his Russian - the kid certainly enjoys repeating Russian phrases, although he clearly has no idea what they mean. Even his rudimentary Spanish is lacking. Our lovely twice-a-month house cleaner, Abby, tries to speak to Jack in Spanish when she comes, and I try to get him to say "adios" when we leave so she can get her work done. Lately, Jack has taken to calling her "Abbios" - which is kind of clever, but also shows he's not exactly gleaning that "adios" means goodbye and is not, in fact, her name.

I've done some reading on language immersion in toddlers and it seems that they usually take to it well, that it can slow their language development at first, but that later on the child is actually better at learning foreign languages. I realize that Jack probably won't retain any of the Russian he learns (he'll only be four when we leave), but if it can give him a leg up in the future, it may be worth a shot. I'd love to hear from any Foreign Service families with input! Or anyone who knows anything about immersion, for that matter.

Happy Friday!