Sunday, March 30

Korean Dinner Wrap-Up

Last night 13 people came over to my apartment for dinner. I had been gifted some kimchee which was good and spicy - so spicy it made me sweat - and I made some roast pork. We had cucumber salad, green onion pancakes (my favorite!), an Indonesian potato salad, humus and pita (this was earlier before dinner), someone made me a chocolate cake (my birthday is pretty soon), carrot salad, mangos, seasoned spicy spinach. It was great. Then after dinner when there were just 7 of us, we played SET. I tried not to dominate too much, but I'm still looking for a challenger in that game. Anyone?

Saturday, March 29

Here comes the sun!

"Do da do da, here comes the sun and I said, 'It's alright.'"

We've got over 12 hours of day light now and were gaining more rapidly. By 6:30 this morning the sun was up pretty high and my apartment was full of delicious sunlight. I think I'll start hating Moscow less now.

I'm off for a walk towards a purple line metro station. It'll be a nice 45 min or so walk and then I'll take the metro to my favorite rynok to buy pork tenderloin for tonight. I'm having people over for Korean dinner to share the kimchee that I got from one of my students.

But before that I'll head over to a stone fair and maybe buy some more jewelry.

It's shaping up to be a good day :)

Also, all the Thailand photos are up in a flickr collection.

Photos of our students playing with Thai students:

Sharks and Minnows


And photos from an orchid farm:


Friday, March 28


It was so hard to come back. I really like Thailand. The people have such big smiles and are so friendly. The kids are so photogenic:

Ah, so cute!

We had a great trip. It was so neat to get our students out of Russia, especially the one Russian who hadn't ever been out of Russia. It was a bit of a culture shock for them and a class/spoiled shock for me: "I'm spending the summer in Paris and my mommy's giving me a gold card for it!" "Um, Ms. S, I've never flown economy class before..." "AAAAHHHH, there's a bug in my bathtub!!!"

However, over all the kids were great. They hardly whined at all about the hot days 36+ C and about being out hiking, biking or rafting in that heat. It was really a fun trip. I ate mango, papaya and or pineapple every day. I introduced the kids to the pleasure of banana chocolate roti. Unfortunately durian was not in season. I managed to find just a bit on the last day in Chiang Mai. And I got kissed by an elephant:

Elephant Kiss

When elephants kiss they suck, it feels really funny! We also went on an hour elephant ride. It's terrifying. The whole time I felt like I would tip off!

Elephants on Parade

The company we worked with, the Maekok River Valley Resort was great. We had two wonderful, knowledgeable guides who were a ton of fun. I hope that I get to host the trip next year.

Wednesday, March 26

What's that smell???

No it's not my dirty laundry, though that was definitely ripe upon my return from Thailand. This was a strange odor in my classroom yesterday. I was teaching my grade 11 students. One of my favorites, the one who calls me at least once a week, came over and asked a question. As she walked away I noticed the smell of cigarette smoke. I've never noticed this on her before and then even after she walks away I can still smell it. I look up, sniffing the air and another student is making a sniffing face similar to mine. I say "Do you smell that?" and she says, "It smells like burning, but not like before (when a chemistry experiment went wrong)... like a cigarette." So I step into the hallway. There is a student coming from the bathroom who notices me smelling and says, "I just came from the bathroom, it's not from there." I grab my department head who smells it as well. Then a see a man standing at the top of the stairs. He's not a school employee, but has on a visitor's badge. I walk up to him and ask in Russian if he's smoking. He shakes his head no, but then I look down and see smoke coming out from his palm! WTF?! This is a school! You're not allowed to smoke on school grounds much less IN THE BUILDING! WTF people.

Stats from an ABC Australia article:

While in Russia, a very huge proportion of the population smoke. More than 70 per cent of men in the age from 20 to 30, 35 smoke. What is most important is that teenagers start smoking and among teenagers, those who are 14, 15 years of age, of the proportion of smokers, among boys is about 40, 50 per cent. And among girls about 30 per cent.

The life expectancy of a Russian man is 58 years old. Holy cow!

Saturday, March 15

What do you think?

Rose and Pearls

After playing around with the picnik effects:
Rose and Pearls

Too much like a greeting card?

I'm off

Well, the congestion is still here but breaking up. So I'm heading off to Thailand. I can't resist the call of the fruit, papaya, mango and oh yes, the durian. Oh right and to share a world experience with a group of 13 teenagers. We're taking 10 girls and 3 boys. 1 of the boys is notorious at school for being a trouble maker. I really hope I don't have to fly him back (on his parents dime) for misbehavior.

Full trip report when I return.

Oh, and I uploaded a bunch of wedding photos I took a few years ago. Here are some of my favorites, but click on any of them to get to the set.


Bride's Maids

Wednesday, March 12

Can you hear me?

Yep, I'm so congested, my left ear is congested. That's what the doctor said. Gave me ear drops and everything. He also recommended that I not fly on Saturday - not really an option since I'm a chaperon - and immediately recognized my last name as being Lebanese, something that rarely happens.

Yep, it's exciting here. Back to work tomorrow for sure.

Oh, in super exciting (to me) news, one of my Korean students brought me some kimchi! yay! Of course, I wasn't at school yesterday to get it, so hopefully I'll get it tomorrow. That's sure to kill my cold right?

Tuesday, March 11

Sick of being sick

So I'm home sick, again. In SF, I used all my sick days, but the majority of those were "mental health" days. Here however, I've already used 4 of my sick days and all of those I've been legitimately home sick. Like today. I'm once again all congested. And I've been taking my antihistamines daily - much to my dismay. I haven't had to do that since living in Houston. This is now the 3rd time in as many months that I've been this sick. I just stopped taking antibiotics 3 weeks ago for a sinus infection. I haven't taken antibiotics since 2005!!

Add this to the list of reasons why I'll be seeking a new city to live in after my 2 year contract is up rather than adding a 3rd year, because even though I love my job, I really think living in Moscow is bad for my health. Sigh.


Sunday, March 9

8 Mapta - Women's Day

The 8th of March is Women's Day in Russia. A day to honor women. Around long before mother's day. Most women are given small gifts and usually flowers. Two of my students brought me gifts!! A photo album and a box of chocolates! I was so shocked and honored. I really love my students - not because they bring me gifts, but because they are so thoughtful.

Anyway, I wandered around Moscow on the 8th of March to take pictures. Along my walk I stopped at a French bakery that I like and bought an 80 rubble (about $2.50) danish. I was given a flower and a small bag of confections too for women's day. They also gave one to my friend Erin who didn't even buy a pastry! We then went to the flower market at Kievskaya metro and took several shots, a few of which I like. Before I was yelled at for the third time to put the camera away. I'm not quite sure why I wasn't supposed to be taking pictures. Maybe they wanted me to be buying flowers instead. All I know is that I like my old zoom lens, a Pentax that met with a terribly unfortunate washing machine accident better than my new Sigma. Sigh.

Anyway, here are the photos (as always click to be taken to the flickr set).

Buying Flowers



Yep, this is as close to a smile as he could manage

Abandonded Flower

Trip Round-Up - Back in the Motherland

Ok, I really need to finish these trip posts, because in less than a week, I'm off to Thailand and I'll have new memories to record.

So, our last day in Norway was the snow shoeing. This was also the only evening that we didn't have an activity that included dinner. Left to our own devices we went in search of a meal that was not bread and cheese. We found the one Chinese restaurant in town and being the only two people there, recieved great service. We had a complete vegetarian meal of soup, salad and spring roll all for the bargain price of $40... each.

$40 dinner

Not daunted, we continued on to a local pub. Where we were harassed by drunk older Norwegians - apparently it was pay day. We were assured by one man that he was "a good man... I have a job, I'm a mechanic... I don't normally get drunk on Wednesday ... I'm a good man." And by a woman who once she found out we were American, first told us to "Piss Off" followed by a "F*ck you" and who then came and put her arms and saggy breasts around us telling us she was sorry and she doesn't actually hate Americans. However, we also met a very cool woman who must have been in her 60s. She had been in the Navy and traveled all over. In fact, she was so interesting we ordered a second round (at $12 each beer) to continue talking to her. Of course, she left 1/4 of the way through our second beer.

Save Water Drink Beer
At the pub

The next morning we had our last breakfast and headed off to the teeny, tiny aiport. Where there was a big stuffed moose. I'm not quite sure why, but here's a picture for you:

Why is there a moose in the airport???

We took our very short flight into Murmansk. With the time difference (2 hours even though Kirkenes is almost directly north of Murmansk... for some reason the Norwegian government thinks all of Norway should be the same time zone...) and the hour bus ride, by the time we made it to our hotel we were hungry. We headed off to the Red Pub:

Red Pub

It's all red inside and the walls are covered with revolutionist posters:

Brothers in Arms

Ah! Back in the Mother Land. Home of cheap vodka and beer. We immediately ordered 200 grams of vodka along with burritos (food gifts of the Mexican Revolutionaries). After the vodka, since it was so cheap we decided to order mixed drinks. Here's my cranberry margarita:

Cranberry Margharita

Approximately 30 seconds after that photos was shot, the entire margarita ended up in my lap. Yep, right onto the only pair of jeans I'd brought for the trip. Since it was just us and one other table (it was only around 6 pm), the entire bar staff saw it happen and they were very amused.

By 7:30 we were contemplating having an early night. However, the bar was beginning to fill with people wearing Spar Tak scarves (one of the Moscow football teams). So we decided to stay and watch the game. And if we were going to be watching football we, of course, had to order a beer. We ended up staying to midnight, talking with this guy (who may have wanted to marry me):

Russian boys are friendly
and some of his friends. It was when his friend the white supremest joined us, that we decided it was time to leave. So we get our coats and walk out. Followed by these two guys - who have not got their coats. They are telling us we need an escort as "People have been killed in Murmansk." "Yes," Bree and I think, "by people like you!" However, in the end Bree and I made it back to our hotel, alone, only to wake up 6 hours later for our flight to St. Petersburg.

There's not really much for me to say about our time in St. Petersburg other than:
  • The flight was so turbulent in a small, boat riding waves in the ocean sort of way, that the guy behind us puked... without a vomit bag.
  • It was rainy and grey
  • We only left Peter's apartment twice, once for lunch and the following morning for the bus station.

  • We took a bus from St. Pete to Novgorod. We were only in Novgorod for about 6 hours, but I really, really liked it. It's quite small both in population and building size. There are big, wide side walks everywhere and the people were friendly... well for Russians.

    We went and saw Saint Sophia Cathedral, built in 1042 this is the oldest church in Russia!

    Saint Sophia

    We tried very hard to find Bree's boyfriend and his ultimate team who were in Novgorod playing frisbee (in truth hanging out with them was the whole reason we tacked Nogorog onto our trip). However, all 10 people we asked said they'd never heard of the address Dim had given us. I was amused... Bree and Dim were not. Eventually Dim came and met us at the train station. And at 9 pm, we boarded the train back to Moscow. We were lucky in that we didn't have to share our berth we anyone else!

    Ceiling of Novgorod Train Station
    Train Station Ceiling

    Train Koupe Home
    Bree relaxing in our train car.

    So that's the last post of the February break!

    Sunday, March 2

    Trip post continues, Snow Shoeing!

    This was my favorite of all the days. We were picked up by our guide, Helge, and as we walked out to his pick-up truck, we learned that it would only be Bree and I on the trip. We went to a bakery to pick up lunch. It was the same bakery we'd been to yesterday. Yet another place where Bree would have difficulty buying anything that didn't have some form of meat. However, we got the shop early enough that the girlwas still constructing sandwiches, so Bree could ask her to not put meat on one and just add an extra egg. Yet another bread and cheese lunch. I ended up ordering a shrimp sandwich. However, this post isn't about food, it's about the hike!

    We drove a short 10 minutes up to a hill, strapped on our snow shoes
    Snow Shoers

    posed with the King crab Helge had in his truck (apparently he'd caught it the day before)
    I like snow crab!

    and headed directly into a field of snow.
    There was a great chase here.

    There were lots of animal footprints to be seen. Fox, hare and bird. In the following photo (taken by Bree) you can see where a grouse was being chased and then took off into the air:
    See the bird lift off?

    We trudged in the snow - it's tough work, like walking in really soft sand, even with the snow shoes.
    Walking into the sun

    Our guide told us about the tracks we were seeing as well as about the flora, such as the juniper that continues to grow and be green. Helge says that in the summer, he'll catch trout in the river and then smoke it with the juniper branches. I would love to try that.

    Apparently, the fact that this tree has berries means that the winter is going to be mild - which it has. Last year this time we heard repeatedly that it never got above -30.

    We hiked up to the Russian border:
    At the border with Russia
    The yellow post is the border. The fence is there to keep the reindeer in Norway.

    We'd worked up quite a sweat and appetite, but then found that you immediately begin to freeze again, especially your fingers, so Bree improvised with her sandwich:
    Very resourceful!

    At the end of the trip, we enjoyed our dessert:
    Snow Shoeing
    Note: I knit the hat and neck warmer I'm wearing :)

    Saturday, March 1

    I forgot!

    In taking my digital SLR to Norway I was reminded that I never uploaded the photos of my sister's car incident. Refresh your memory at the June 29th post "Ooops, She did it again!".

    Remember, she forgot to set her parking brake. And then her car rolled down my parents driveway:

    Car in the distance

    Where it was stopped by the fence leading to the pool:

    The runaway car
    Car overboard!

    My sister probably still has this attitude about me photographing it and then posting it, but I still think it's pretty damn funny...

    Very funny

    Vote for Don!

    My cousin Donovan is a finalist in a radio contest in Chicago to win a $27,000 wedding! If you head to Star 96.7 and click on "The 27,000 Dream Wedding Give Away" you can vote for one of the couples. The first couple Jessica and Donovan are the ones I think you should vote for ;)

    Don is a great guy, gave the eulogies at both my grandparents funerals, is loving and caring, funny and thoughtful. Being that he grew up in Ohio and now lives in Phoenix (his fiance is from Chicago) and I grew up in Atlanta and now live in Russia, I haven't actually met his fiance, but to be with Don she must be wonderful.

    My family and I would certainly appreciate a vote for them :)