January 2009

So on Monday, I was knitting between my two classes in Petergof… just kind of biding my time since I was ready to go.  Just trying to relax.  Then I walk to the other classroom and start talking with Fiona, joking about stuff, whatever.  My back is to the door and she says….”Oh my gosh, Zahra just walked in.”  Yeah, that’s right, my boss.  She came and surprise observed my intermediate level class.  Ugh.  It didn’t go well, at all.  I am just not good at being ‘on stage’.  Plus, we had been taking the lessons pretty easily since we were ahead in the book, but this day I decided to dig into the grammar a bit more and we did ‘passive’… and that’s all she saw was me teaching grammar.  Ugh.

Today I had my tutorial (a general check in – how are you doing in this class? are you on pace?  giving enough homework, etc) PLUS the observation feedback.  I am sure you can guess how much of a blast that was.  Basically, one of my classes really really dislikes how I teach – and it isn’t the class that Zahra observed.  It is the class that I thought LOVED me – the one that gave me the gifts for Christmas.  They gave me such bad reviews that Zahra is giving the class to another teacher.

This is not ok with me, that a class really really dislikes me and the way that I teach.  But all of my other classes like me (from both what I can tell AND their written feedback), so what am I to do?  Anyway, it wasn’t a great start to my day, this ‘meeting’.

After teaching today, Fiona and I stopped at a sushi place that is called ‘Two Sticks’ in Russian and their symbol looks both like a pair of chopsticks and birds.  They have this amazing bird video playing on like 8 huge flat screens inside and wonderful food.  It was a great time and just what both of us needed after a blah (or worse) Wednesday.


So… I really don’t remember learning about this in history, but I know about it now, let me tell you. The Lenningrad Siege was absolutely TERRIBLE, and knowing that these people are strong enough to live through that is awe inspiring.

I am linking to a blog called English Russia – there Russians write articles about Russia – so don’t mind the grammatical mistakes (I’m doing my best to remedy the situation, geez). Today’s article was about the Siege, and it’s worth a look. http://englishrussia.com/?p=2235

The first picture you see is of Dom Kineegy (phonetically, I guess), with the cool globe top. It’s literally a block from where I walk everyday, and I walk directly by it at least 3 times a week – and I have been in there about 5 times. Between Dom Kineegy and the building that looks like it has been exploded is the Moika canal – if you were to walk up there and look left down the river is where you see the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled blood. The corner, then, just before the giant, gaping hole left by the Germans is the metro station that I use 3 or more times a week. Cool, eh?

Dom Kineegy shows up again in a couple pictures. And you might recognize St. Issac’s in a couple too. Awesome that I know where these places are. I really would like to do some more research into the siege, someday, when I have time again….

So, quickly – what’s been on my mind?
1. Boss moved out of apartment – good news. You never want to live with your boss!
2. Started wristwarmers!
3. I would die for some peanut butter m&ms right now. That’s all I’ve been craving for a week or so.
4. My cupboard shelf is second to the bottom. Way to go Urn!

Ok, then, lets get back to it!  Coming out of the bathroom, turn left into the kitchen.  Turn left again into the ‘real’ bathroom.  I say ‘real’ because it actually has a BATH in it.   Behold!  The washing machine!!  Really can’t understand anything on it, but that’s a minor detail.stpeteapt2-021

This is the bath and sink area.  Random disgusting shelf thing in the shower that NEVER dries and accumulates more mold everyday.  Pretty sure we could also have a pet living in the random space under the tub.  Scary!stpeteapt2-026

As you step down the two stairs from the bathroom, you will see in front of you our ‘food cupboard’.  I know, I know!  Fun game – guess which shelf is Jen’s!  I will tell you in my next post. 🙂stpeteapt2-008

Here is our random and possibly deadly hot water heater.  It hangs directly above the kitchen sink, and when you turn the hot water knob on high, this guy will kick on,  shooting flames out of the hole in the front and making a big ‘woosh’ noise (if you turn the water on low, the same result will occur, it just takes longer to work and the woosh is usually scarier).  The pressure change created by this will rattle the doors in the whole apartment.  Eventually you get used to ducking away to do dishes.dsc_0186

Would you like a cup of tea?  Or how about a whole box of sugar cubes?  Everyone needs a little Christmas Mystery in their lives, and in their tummy, don’t you agree?  Well, let’s sit and enjoy our drinks.  Tell me how you’ve been!stpeteapt2-012

Oh – but avoid this chair.  It leans even when nobody is using it and wobbles in a terrible way.  stpeteapt2-011

I have posted some pictures of my apartment on here before, but they are just not up to the task of drawing a complete picture of where I am living.  And, whether you know it or not, you ARE interested in seeing the quarks of my living environment.  It’s pretty…special.  Let’s begin:

Here  we have our lovely hallway as if you just walked in.  A wonderful shade of pale blue mixed with random white splotches which are probably the result of a previous tenant’s violent struggle for their life.  Moving on.stpeteapt2-006

Up ahead you see what we call ‘The clothes dryer’.  A wire wrack.  But, it works, just slowly.


Turning right, you enter my bedroom.  This is the new arrangement after I decided that I didn’t want my bed to take up a full 50% of my floor space.  Voila!  Tiny bed on the floor.  stpeteapt2-031

Turning around in front of the window, you see the current location of my previous bed.  Behind my bureau, where I can use the legs as hooks!  And – there are all the cards you wonderful people  have sent me, illegally on my bureau, right where I am SURE to get in trouble for having ‘things on my walls or any surface to make the place look like home’.   Too bad.  stpeteapt2-030

Taking a peek INSIDE my bureau…. Exciting, no?stpeteapt2-001

Oh, you need a bathroom break?  Ok, I’ll show you where it is.  There’s the lightswitch (yes, on the OUTSIDE of the room, right where I can turn the light off on you whilst you are relieving yourself)lightswitchsm

And here’s the bathroom:broomsm1

A Dolphin Fairy awaits your arrival.  How very…nice and creepy.stpeteapt2-017

Speaking of creepy:  Doesn’t the mirror look like a coffin?  Or is that just me?mirror

What is that giant white box next to you, seemingly disconnected from anything, because it is?  Who knows.  Nobody here does anyway.  Wash your hands and come into the kitchen with me.broomthing

TO BE CONTINUED>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Phew! I thought that 3 week break would never end! Part of me was cheering for that outcome – a never ending break doesn’t sound so bad, right? Alas, it had to end, and now I am grateful for the return to routine and purpose. Not that it was easy to get back into, it wasn’t. Trying to go back to working was pretty depressing, for some reason. My first day back was adorned with news of a new class and complaints from students about my lessons not being interesting enough. What a great way to boost my self esteem and ease my worries about my capability as a teacher. Sigh. This start sent me into somewhat of a tailspin emotionally, but, I am glad to say, that is over now.

I am teaching 8 times a week now Monday through Friday, 5 different classes, and I think I have made adequate alterations to my style for the few that had complained. Then, payday came and I got 4 Christmas cards (thanks Mom, Dad, Toni and Aunt Dede!). The slip for the package from Dad came too, but I haven’t picked it up yet. It isn’t the simplest process.

During my new class today a (really really cute) student told me that it was a ‘very nice lesson’ as he walked out of the room, and another student responded in agreement. So.. that means my students like me! And, I am not a terrible teacher! WOOO!

Next day – since we have no internet: Turns out, the package is not from Dad, but from an unexpected sender. Tina and Julie from Trinity sent me a care package filled with wonderful gifts – candy and tea, lotion, homemade stationary with my initials and beautiful alpaca yarn in blue and green. After I braved the post office and returned to school, I opened it in the classroom where a number of other teachers were preparing for class. Getting a package is fun for receiver and spectator alike. Even seeing things from home feels like a gift, and everyone loves the mystery of a surprise. Speculation began before I cut the tape. “Maybe it’s a Bible!” (I had told them who sent the package) “Yeah, a RUSSIAN Bible!”. “Open it, open it!” Then, as I pulled each item out of the box, cries went out, identifying each individually. “Tea?! Niiiice. Oh, my gosh, what is that?! Oh, it’s yarn!? That blue is beautiful! What’s in that package?! Did you read the card?” And so on. It’s a good day when a package arrives. It certainly helped keep my mood’s momentum on the upswing.

That’s all for now – might be some other news a-brewin, but it’s too early to say. Tomorrow’s Friday. A weekend will be nice.

A couple of weeks ago I went museuming with Denise. We started with the Zoological Museum and saw hundreds upon hundreds of stuffed animals. Kinda creepy, but you get over it pretty quickly. I even got to introduce my Aussie friend to a badger and a skunk! I was so proud. The main attraction at this museum is the baby woolly mammoth, but it wasn’t very exciting, if you ask me, although nobody did. The zoological museum’s biggest downfall: NONE of the signs were in anything but Russian. So really, I learned…… nothing. Just looked at stuff. It did make me think a lot more, like… all of these 15 animals look similar to the American grey squirrel that I saw EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE… but I can’t tell which is the REAL one. Same with white tail deer, bison, skunks, etc. It’s kind of embarrassing to really have to inspect and consider and reconsider if that animal really comes from your backyard. Denise was of no use, since all of her ‘home’ animals are exotic to me, and vise versa. Luckily, I could readily point out the badger and the bald eagle, like a good Wisconsinite (the badger being both the state animal and my alma mater’s mascot).

After the Zoological museum, we crossed the street (and wandered and wondered at signs) to find the Kunstkamera museum, which seemed to be a museum of cultural items from the past. Most of this museum was also only in Russian, so again, just gaping at stuff. There was one section of the museum, at the top, in the back, that was in both Russian and English. The ‘museum of oddities’… I guess Peter the 1st had somewhat of an obsession with researching the human body. Basically, this room was filled with dead babies and dead baby parts. In jars, on shelves. I had lost Denise before we got into this room and as soon as I stepped over the threshold and realized where I was, I thought, ‘I can’t do this on my own… Where’s Denise?!’ I found her quickly and began exploring with support (moral, imaginary support, but still). It was enthralling and appalling, equally. They had baby heads, baby insides, deformed babies, ‘sensory organs’ (like baby lips and eye sockets and ears), conjoined twins of all varieties… In each case, there was also a distraction, usually aquatically themed. Signs 1-10 would say something about each jar, and sign 11 would be ‘starfish’, or ‘miniature alligator from Zimbabwe’ or something. The effectiveness of this was lost on me; I felt it actually enhanced the creepiness factor. Baby fingers AND an alligator, in the same case? This whole time, I was also thinking that there is no way that this type of thing would come to fruition in the US, so I should look and see things that are rare. I was starting to fear that I would have nightmares about this room though too, since I have had nightmares about being locked in a museum overnight, and this would be the WORST place to be locked in and forgotten overnight. Finally, we left, because the museum was closing, stopping first in the loo. When I came out, all the lights were off, and Denise and I had to walk through part of the place in the dark to get our coats. *shudder* It was pretty terrible.

We then decided to walk back across the bridge and try out the Korean restaurant on our block. We told stories about home and other places we visited and talked about various other random topics. I believe I complained to her about the meat situation in Russia, because we were about to eat beef, and that’s rare. At Carl’s Jr here, I haven’t had one burger with out ‘bits’ in it. I am not sure what these bits are, but, they are hard and shouldn’t be there, end of story. Denise told me of when she was living in Thailand and about how hard it was to find quality meat there. She had local friends (and lived with them) who would sometimes cook for her. Once they spent hours and hours making this wonderful sauce for chicken, a traditional sauce that is supposed to be unique to each chef/maker and wonderfully delicious, so of course Denise was looking forward to some tasty local cuisine. After the sauce was made and the chicken boiled, everything was smelling delicious and amazing. Then, after all that, Denise watched in horror as the women chopped up the chicken, right through bones, cartilage and flesh. Everything was chopped into tiny pieces and thrown in with the sauce. Every bite was crunchy and full of grainy, sandy bits. I was pretty traumatized by this picture, but then our food came and I got over it.

I didn’t escape nightmares that night though, oh no. After the stuffed animals, dead babies and cut up chicken bones, I knew that I wouldn’t have a good night sleep. But what did I dream about, after all that? The chicken. I dreamed that I was living in a place where the only meat you could find had this gravelly texture, and it was horrifying.