December 2008


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Last night I dreamed that I was laying on a beach, under a brilliant sun. I was warm and happy and completely relaxed, staring up at a pale blue sky. In reality, I had seen the sky twice in since I got here. Two times in 6 weeks. It’s a dreary overcast constantly. This has been harder to handle than the 6 hour days or the cold and snow. I am used to early darkness and bitterly cold temperatures – I am from Wisconsin, after all. But at home, we would have sunny days quite often – these would be the coldest days, but at least they were bright. I never realized that this was important to me, to see the sky.

When I woke from my dream, through my curtain I could see a shadow on the building next door. A shadow meant…. The sun! The sun was out!! I jumped up into my windowsill and stood there for a moment to convince myself that I wasn’t imagining things. It took me about 5 minutes to get dressed and get out the door with my camera. Last time the sun was out, I missed it by dillydallying inside, but I wasn’t about to be late again.

Just like at home, this clear day brought much colder temperatures than we had seen with the cloudy ceiling. Despite my frozen hands, (ungloved – I know, but I am stubborn when it comes to handwear, I have naked hands in the US too) I took pictures of the Hermatige and the square, the frozen Neva and random street, canal, and snow shots. Today was quite windy, so the supposedly 25 degree weather felt much more like 5 or 10 degrees. The sun was very low in the sky – to be expected in late December when you are at such a high latitude – so I had lots of long shadows to work with. When I found a place far enough away from buildings that the sun could finally hit my face, I noticed that although it didn’t carry any heat, my mood and energy level were lifted.dsc_0145

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Seeing that burning ball of gas was good for my eyes and for my soul.  Now I just need to figure out why ‘they’ would turn our heat off on the coldest day of the season yet….

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It’s been an interesting vacation/holiday/break so far. When I say interesting, I don’t necessarily mean exciting, but it has been a different type of break for me. Not bad, not great, but definitely relaxing and thought provoking. In the last 3 months of my life I have done more sitting around, doing nothing and waiting than I can ever remember doing since I was in elementary school on Christmas vacation. Even then, I remember dreading the break because I knew I would get bored and just want to go back to school. I have changed at little in that respect, but not much. I prefer to have plans and keep busy, so all this down time has taken some getting used to. A typical day goes as follows: Wake up around 11 or 11:30. I’m usually the first one up, so I putter around, making whatever you can call your first meal of the day occurring around noon. Then I might watch a movie or tv show I downloaded on my computer. Around 2 I might see my roommates and we might talk about what our goals are for the day, but not in that terminology, of course. We might leave by 3 to get something done, but by then it’s almost dark anyway. Come home later, make some food, watch another movie, read, knit, make some interesting food (today: bagels!) watch more tv, call home (now its about 12 midnight or later, and the US is in the middle of their day). Somehow waste more time online (if it’s up and working) read and go to sleep around 3am. Repeat.

For Christmas our apartment had a lovely dinner planned. We cooked for a lot of the day and watched A Christmas Story and Home Alone together. We made two chickens with a honey lemon glaze (DELICIOUS!), I made the stuffing again (even better now that mom sent me spices!) and we had carrots and potatoes and zucchini roasted around the birds. Cassie made sugar cookies and deviled eggs too. I was supposed to be on apple crisp duty, but we were just much too full for that. I’ll save it for another day. It wasn’t easy not having any presents to open, but, somehow it was much easier than that one year when I convinced mom that she should let me open my presents on Christmas Eve. I spent most of that Christmas day in tears. After dinner, I watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on my computer. That was a mistake. I had seen the movie before, but I guess I didn’t really think much about the plot or moral. This time I really took the ending to heart and got emotional. Then I decided it was a good time to call Karlie at her house in Tomah. Now, I am emotional and about to talk to my best friend, who’s voice I hadn’t heard in probably 2 months, and whom I haven’t seen since June. That wasn’t the most clearheaded conversation that I have ever had, but I am so glad that I got to talk to her. Dad called and talked for a bit too, and so did Kelsey! She’s the first person I have talked to from the US on my cell. She uses a prepaid program online where you get a pin number and use your own phone – I guess it’s only like 6 cents a minute. Should I get more information on that?

No plans for tomorrow…Still haven’t gotten our ISIC cards, so it will be a lazy weekend, most likely. Which is probably good, since new years is coming now, and I have no idea if people sleep during that holiday. It sure doesn’t sound like it, but you will be the first to know, either way.

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and is enjoying the snowy, cold, classic winter back home! Lots of Love and Hugs, Jen

So, everyone knows, or can guess, that this Christmas will be different for me.  Well, different can be bad or good, I say. (this is a recent development, the ability to see change as good or bad)  So far, this Christmas has been different, but good.  Tonight was the party in Petergof with the teachers out there.  They are great, guys.  Both Oksanas made salads (not like lettuce salads, but like potato or vegetable salads, its Russia people.)  The other teacher, Jana brought the desserts and the native English speakers (plus one German) brought the alcohol.  It was wonderful to just sit and relax with everyone and talk.

I made the Oksanas a card (it took me WAY too long, something that you couldn’t really tell by the way it turned out.  So I am perfectionist.  Shoot me.)  But, the card got me two kisses and hugs from them and it got put on the whiteboard with magnets.  I tried this bread with mayo, cucumber and fish…. I don’t know what kind of fish, and… they still looked like fish, but without heads or bones.  But, after 3 glasses of champagne, I thought I was ready.  I had to try it, I mean, I am in Russia, when else will I try traditional things?  It didn’t taste that bad, but, I don’t remember exactly tasting it at all, truthfully.  We almost stayed too late (the busses and Metro don’t run all night), and had to scramble out the door.  I didn’t have time to change my shoes back into my boots, so I just grabbed them and ran down the stairs…. and…. on the marshrutka…I realized I didn’t have my winter boots anymore.  I think I left them at the bus stop.  Unfortunately Oksana was already home when I called her and she had put her son to bed, so she couldn’t go back.  She said she will check in the morning, but… I have made my peace with my winter boots.  They were good to me, but…so long!

Tomorrow’s Christmas!  Technically, TODAY is Christmas, but not to me.  Not until I wake up in the morning and begin all that cooking!  Merry Christmas to you all, and I love you, miss you, and think about you all the time!

This last week of work was pretty rough.  I knew that soon everyone would be leaving, and the break was looming over me instead of being something I was looking forward to.  Admin also informed me that I would be working on Saturday for 8 academic hours (6 ‘astronomical’ hours).  I had to finish a present for my sister and just make it through the week.  But on Thursday we had a Secret Santa exchange that was really fun.  I took lots of pictures that are up on my web albums, but none that I am in (except at the bar…).  My Secret Santa was Elizabeth, and she got me a little Christmas tree!!  I was thrilled, since I will actually BE here for the holiday and don’t have any kind of decoration. Pictures of that later.

Today was a deliciously good day!  Slept in till 11, made some french toast, cleaned the kitchen.  Aaron (of Aaron and Cassie, roomies of mine) made me coffee… Then the three of us went to the far southern boarders of St. Petersburg to ‘Mega Mall’, which includes…. wait for it…. IKEA!  We all got what we were after.  Cassie – winter coat (they’re from California, so…she needed a real winter coat), Aaron – tiny laptop, and I got a puffy purple comforter, a dusty purple curtain, a nail file, eyeliner, and so on.

After we got back to the flat, I watched my FAVORITE tv show ever, Brothers and Sisters, had a little cry (its a GOOD show) leftovers from last night (that potato bake recipe that Mike sent me, only WITH brussle sprouts!) , a beer… checked my email.  Then Zahra came home and gave me my REAL mail!  I was so excited, I practically dropped everything to follow her back to her room where my card was waiting.  My Grandma sent me a Christmas card!  So so lovely – she wrote me quite the note inside too.  Will have to write her back, for sure.  Also, I have a package waiting at the post office!!  No idea who’s came first – but probably my mom’s, since she sent it BEFORE THANKSGIVING!

Tomorrow I have Russian Lessons and I will pick up my package.  Then I will probably go to get my International Student ID Card (ISIC) so that we can get into the Hermatige for FREE! (among other things).  This 3 week paid vacation thing is starting to turn out quite well, I think!

Who knows 21 Russian verbs?  (points to self) This girl.  That’s right, I can tell you all about how I talk, walk, relax, study, read, understand, know AND listen.

Watch it, or I’ll start talkin about you AND yo mama (reading the newspaper or something else utterly tantalizing)!

Yesterday I got to try out my ‘mean teacher’ persona and lay the smack down on some little kids.  They were literally RUNNING around the desks, chasing eachother and screaming.  So, I physically stopped one of them (just grabbed them so they couldn’t continue running) and set them down in a chair.  Since they barely understand anything in English and I only know 21 Russian verbs, I said, rather forcefully – “NO.  You don’t talk anymore.  I talk, you don’t talk.  You sit and listen when I talk.”  I was right down on their level and speaking very clearly not too far from them.  Then, I turned around and Oxana was watching!  I was slightly embarrassed and half proud, because it totally worked.  We got the work done that we needed to do, and they weren’t so crazy.  Woo!

Also – One month in Russia!

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So, Christmas here is probably going to suck.  It seems as though everyone is going away or has someone coming here or is in some sort of lovey dovey relationship (blech!) so the three weeks we get off (WOO) for Christmas might be really boring. 

Today was pretty pointless.  I walked and walked all over the city (it seemed, I know I can’t cover the whole of St. Petersburg in a matter of hours) and didn’t get much done.  Found the US Embassy – and found out they employ Russians as security guards…whatever.  Learned that it is REALLY hard to send money home from here, and had confirmation that it is really just a few people in this country who speak English, at all.  Overall, it was pretty frustrating, but at least I learned something and got some exercise.

The internet hasn’t worked in my apartment since last week sometime, so I have to do all of my ‘keeping in touch’ at school.  We only have one computer, so it is supposed to be for resourcing for teaching.  Hopefully our internet starts working again soon, but I can’t complain too much since one of the other teacher’s flats didn’t have WATER for the whole weekend.  But still.  Internet, water… basically on the same level of need for my life.

I want to go here:   http://www.syote.fi/?deptid=28547 probably in February to be able to save enough to go, but, I would love to go during our break, since it will take like 16 hours to get there, so half of a 2 day weekend would be spent travelling.

Is ANYONE going to come visit me?  I want to show someone around and have them meet my friends and see the sights that have been my life for the last month!  It’s less than $1000 in May! Just checked www.kayak.com… Think about it!

To home I go…. to the world without internet. shoot me.

Well, Thanksgiving went off without a hitch!  The turkey (as we decided it was) was pretty good, if small.  Potatoes and gravy, definitely worth seconds, but man, the stuffing was where it was at!  That was scarfed up quite quickly.  From now on, I’m making my own stuffing, thankyouverymuch!  Cranberry sauce was a hit, but… I didn’t like it so much – I couldn’t get over the texture, the grittiness of it.  Anyway, we had about 7 people show up and take part, including a Brit, an Australian and a South African.  After we all stuffed ourselves (as could only be expected, that’s practically what Thanksgiving is, anyway) we all sat around listening to each other’s stories and jokes.  I really feel lucky to have been put in a position to experience these people.  I can learn so much from them, if I give it a chance.  Besides, they are hilarious and genuinely good people – awesome company.

Another success!  Today, on the way home from work, I stopped in to a small grocery store just next door to our apartment complex.  This is called a ‘produkti’.  Here, you have to find what you want and tell the cashier sitting in a little booth what it is you mean to buy.  Then, she charges you for it, and you have to take the receipt to another cashier type lady and she gets the product for you from behind the counter, or presses a button to unlock a cooler for you to retrieve your drink or whatever.  Well… I have been slightly terrified of these places and refused to try to speak to the cashier lady.  UNTIL TODAY.  Today I surveyed my options, and made a selection (in my mind).  I stood in line and confidently told the cashier that I wanted, ‘peeva. bochka’.  And, SHE UNDERSTOOD ME.  Charged me the right amount and everything.  I BEAMED as I walked out of that store today, holding my $1 bottle of beer like a trophy, which it was.