A little of THIS and a little of THAT

Initially I started this blog as a way of sharing my experiences overseas with those that were interested...however so much has happened over the last two years, including more travelling to foreign destinations, revelations of some kind or other, and experiences I thought others could learn from that I decided to mix it all up.

I hope that somewhere you'll find something that interests you and that you'll be able to learn from.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Adventures in Russia - Part 1

Dobra Den here in my time zone or Dobra Utro to those of you that are across the sea from me, or geez by the time I finish writing this, Dobra Vechi, in either case Privet. Good Afternoon, Good Morning, Good Evening, and Hello.

Here’s my first addition of my Russian adventures as far for those that haven’t heard anything, or those that have just got the little updates here and there.

Most of you can only imagine what going into a new country feels like, those that have travelled and those of you that I have served with in KAF may have a small idea into how I was feeling before my big move, being somewhere new, learning a new way of things, being surrounded with the same people day in and day out, and getting accustomed to new foods. This outside of KAF, which in my mind being in the little bubble we’re in, is my first time in a new country.

I’ve been here three weeks and in short I LOVE it. My first day here was rather neutral. I met a lot of people who were wondering who I was, having arrived here a month and a half after my husband and kids. Yes I do exist, I am real. By day two I was in total culture shock, it was my first day in the real world of Russian shopping and getting to know the city. Thankfully it was short lived and I was on the way back to home. Home or “the bubble” as we call it is a little gated community which houses Canadians and Americans posted to their respective embassies and to millionaire Russian families. Our community is gated and stood by guards 24/7. The kids here have all the freedom to run around and play without getting out, as children here have to be accompanied by an adult in order to gain access to the real world. We have a small store here with every day needs, feminine supplies, bread, milk, eggs, and of course sweets and even a small supply of fruits and vegetables, there is a small pond and waterfall the children can drive motorized boats in, a community room to host parties, and two parks, one of which with a small gazebo and community fire pit. Garbage pickup is daily Monday through Friday, and there is a shuttle that drives you to and picks you up from the METRO stations, as well as a Monday through Friday service to the smaller mall to do groceries for a couple of hours. Outside the gate there is a walking trail, attached to it are the locks, where the boats come in, and another trail and the river nestled in the forest.

My first experience grocery shopping. The best way to describe it was an indoor farmers market, fruit, vegetables, deli meat and cheese, meat and breads lined the small indoor square. Most days though I just go to the regular grocery store. There are pastries, cookies and sweets of every kind here, and it has become our nightly routine to enjoy a cup of tea and something to go along with it. I feel so European, next week I will have to start running again so that all the carbs don’t go straight to my newly KAF skinny ass. The Russians also have a thing with pickling things. They make some great coleslaws, pickled cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and exotic things that I’m not even sure of what they are. Crepes are also huge here, and are used for cakes, layers of whip cream and crepes stacked upon each other and of course stuffed with strawberries, raspberries, bananas and chocolate, or apple and cinnamon, and anything else they please to stuff between them. There is a new experience just in trying the food here. My favourite as of yet, the coleslaw, which normally I am not a big fan of, and the pickled cucumbers, done so just to add a little flavour of dill, but not done so they are like a pickle. I guess that doesn’t quite make sense, and maybe that is something else I will have to get a picture of just so that you gain a better idea and the raspberry crepes served with tea at the little cafe in the mall. There are a lot of small markets around and more so there are a lot of small stands around. Little carts dedicated to selling one of either, fruits and vegetables, bread and pasties, cigarettes, magazines, ice cream, or flowers. We have learned to not even look at the price of the food here, some is more expensive, some is slightly cheaper, and some are completely outrageous. Strawberries here go for about $25-$30 for a small basket of about 15 berries. We basically just throw whatever we want in our cart and pay for whatever the register or the calculator says at the end. You can get basically all the same things here as in Canada with the exception of a few things. Robbie just found 100% pure maple syrup here, it’s not Canadian, but it’s something to put on our Sunday pancakes. The milk is taking some getting used to, for those that have tasted the KAF milk, it is quite similar, stored out of the fridge and has a shelf life that is forever, regular milk can be bought here at the local store in our compound, but it has its price. The one bad thing about the food though, the sodium content in everything you eat. There is so much salt, even in the meat, I swear they must feed the cows salt cubes. The currency here is called rubbles, for every hundred rubbles it is equivalent to five Canadian dollars.

The city is huge; the subway line in itself is gigantic. There are 11 lines in total with more currently under construction. Here is a link to a map of the line to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. http://www.wtr.ru/moscow/eng/metro/metro.html I have so far only travelled on the green and red line. The two lines needed to go the Embassy. This task is relatively easy with the basic knowledge of your Cyrillic alphabet, or at the very least a paper with the Cyrillic alphabet on it. The metro stations here are like none you’ve ever seen. I have yet to take many pictures of them, but I will make sure I do as soon as things slow down here and I am able to just go out and travel the metro for the sole purpose and taking some pictures. They are ornately designed in marble, chandeliers’, and decorative tiles. Usually when you go out you’re in a rush to get where you’re going to and you need to leave ample time to get where you’re going. In a city of 17 million people, more than half the population in Canada, traffic is horrible and the 11 lanes are nowhere near enough to get people where they’re going quickly, a fifteen minute drive to the Embassy usually a good hour and half minimum in the morning. Most of your day is soaked up in driving and getting to where you need to.

The city of Moscow is beautiful, I guess is some ways it’s beauty in the eyes of the beholder, but for those that appreciate differences in social and economic living conditions, it’s unique and wonderful. Moscow is one of the oldest cities, and it shows in the architecture throughout the city and the statues that depict Roman times. There are parks everywhere you turn, old and weathered with more statues, and clean. There is a lack of garbage almost everywhere you go here, the city keeps its streets clean and there is no lack of workers here or jobs to make sure that it stays that way.

There are malls here the same as any big city, although fashion here has its price. A pair of jeans will go no cheaper than a hundred dollars, and an eyebrow tweeze the other day cost me 600 rubbles, or $30 Canadian. Fashion here is a little behind, think 80’s. I’m unsure if it’s the economic state of Russia or if it’s what they consider the in thing. Skinny jeans, even on men, mullets, and hooker boots, no matter where you look it’s women and hooker boots. Paired with skirts, dresses jogging pants, and that’s no joke, and jeans, there are hooker boots of every kind. Fat heals, and skinny heals, short heal and wow how can you even walk in that heal? (and some of them can’t). There is no shortage boots here that is for sure. There are stores here that cater to the hooker boot. I even saw an 11 year old walking in 2 inch high heeled shoes the other day.

No matter where you go there are security guards, the grocery store, the stores within the mall and walking around the mall, and even subway stations. Moscow is desperately trying to clean up the city and decrease crime. The country although still a little corrupt, is trying to do away with the tags associated with Stalin and Lenin. Although still high on the list of what Russia is, most people would rather forget that they existed and the tragedies and horrors associated with their name.

Halloween is somewhat celebrated here, but mostly costumes are sold in stores for the purpose of the non-Russian families that live here. We celebrated Halloween just over a week ago, kids go door to door in the compound, and there was a haunted house built by a couple of the Canadian families here (Ron provided the electrical portion of it). We also had a tent set up with a buffet of or potluck of items and tons of booze. Halloween was great, it was just like home. Christmas stuff is also coming out now, just like back home, you can never escape the holidays. There is always something to do on the weekends, and just about everything is geared towards the families so that children aren’t left out and you aren’t left scrambling for a babysitter, although the options for nannies here are phenomenal, with the amount of millionaires around us, a large number of them choose to pass the parenting or dog walking to someone else.

My Russian is sllllllllllowly coming along. I know a few key phrases, but am still working on my Cyrillic and counting, I know some numbers but can do with knowing a few more. I take some time every day, more some days to practice and study. I have some websites I go to, and a couple cds as well that I learn off of. Mostly it’s just about being repetitive and going out and doing it. Unfortunately with being in Toronto during the month of September I missed the Russian lessons which started, so I’m hoping that they will run again after the November break. Ron says that even without the lessons and him taking them, that I am still better. LOL
And so that is the world I have lived the last three weeks.

Although not ready, I get a small break from Russian this week as we fly four and a half hours to the city of Rome for our first vacation. The kids who have a break from school every month to two months tops have their first one this week into mid next week. We’ll spend our first night in Rome, go to Pompeii, and then head back to Rome for four more days before heading back home on the sixth day.

I should also mention quickly that we made our first trip to Red Square last week as well. We did not go inside the Basilica as it was getting cold, it is something we will probably do first thing in the spring or summer.

Will update soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Growing Old, or just maturing...

As we get older...
At the tender age of thirty one I am learning that age, gray hair, and maturity are not our only defining factors in growing older. Every day we grow and every day there is something else that makes us a different person than the one we were yesterday. My tastes have changed, the way I do things have changed and my personality has changed.

My age definition has come from simple things like makeup and high heels. Never wanting to wear makeup until well into my twenties, it is now a must whenever I am dressed up, it is not necessary for me to wear it to the point where I feel naked without it, or when I am going to the gym etc...I do not need to wear it every time I step outside my front door, but I do feel more complete with it, at my best and more like a girl, no longer the tomboy who pulls her hair into a pony tail. Granny panties no longer do the trick. I no longer live by the rule if it can’t be seen then it doesn’t matter. For me looking and feeling like a girl includes pretty panties and bras that match. I no longer don chunky thick heels and flats in fear of falling on my face, instead I wear dainty heels that sometimes make me come close to rolling my ankle, but give me an added height that makes my husband cringe when next to him, and accentuate my long legs. It seems that only a couple years ago heels would be completely out of the question for my knowledge on how to walk in them was incomplete, however suddenly it seems that it is something automatic, and known. I now enjoy a nice pair of heels paired with a dress or skirt when appropriate.
I have grown a more mature taste for things I use to think we’re not for me.

Maybe my palate has come to appreciate these tastes or maybe it is out of necessity that it has come to accept some of them. I consider myself a tea or hot chocolate drinker, but it is now, after needing the boast occasionally that I have partaken in numerous cups of coffee to help cope with and stay awake for my jobs after countless nights of no sleep due to insomnia. One of my favourite things to do when at home is to sit with a cold glass of white wine, it is only the last little while that I can enjoy a subtle glass of red, a flavour I have never been able to enjoy due to how arid and tart I found it.

My social skills have developed as well. I state rather freely that I am a rather timid person, but those that know me and even those that don’t know me that well now laugh at the statement. I admit I have come a long way in recent years. I open up more than my young twenties and can easily converse in social situations.

My music tastes have also grown to include more than the typical today’s top 40’s. I no longer enjoy most rap and hip hop, in fact it quite annoys me, I can only stand so much trance and house music, instead I have grown to enjoy country and classical along with my favourites.

It’s funny I always thought I would be the cool mom, that I would always like the same things my kids did and that I would be able to tolerate all the annoying little things that annoy most parents. I thought becoming a mom at such a young age would give me an advantage over other parents with me being so much closer in age to my own kids. I didn’t want to be like my mom who now at the age of 58 is afraid to touch a computer or anything else that is considered modern technology.

By far, I don’t feel old and as if I can still keep up with what’s hot and what’s popular out there. I am indeed growing older, still young at heart, but things are changing.