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Showing posts from October, 2007


I decided to teach the 3rd graders cursive. I thought they could handle it, and I didn't want them to be deprived, even though I'm pretty bad at writing in cursive myself.

Let's review how the first two cursive sessions went. Here are some visual aids.

In Week 1, the kids got tired after tracing the entire alphabet in cursive, so I let them stop at M in their notebooks.

In Exhibit A below, Katya managed to skip 4 letters between F and K, which I then added for her.

In Week 2, the kids claimed that it would be too difficult to write 13 more letters in cursive. So I let them do three more, N, O, P.

Katya spent most of the lesson crawing around under the table, but first made a fairly decent N, O, P.

Lolita did fairly well in Week 1. In Week 2, she wrote N, but then got confused and looked at the wrong line, writing K. After I directed her to the correct line, she wrote O and P in reverse order.

Galya also did well in Week 1. In Week 2, she made a beautiful N and then got tired.


The Future of Missionaries in Russia

Some amendments to one-year visa requirements are going to change things for missionaries in Russia, as well as for other foreigners here with the same kind of visa.

To put it simply, with the kind of visa I have now, I can leave and enter the country as I please within the one-year period. Last year the requirements added a clause that foreigners had to leave every 6 months and come back in and reregister. But that could be done by simply crossing the border into Estonia or Finland and then coming back in, even that same day.

Under the new amendments, a foreigner with a one-year visa to Russia can remain in Russia for a maximum of only 90 days within a 180-day period, and 180 days in one year. So even though the visa is for one year, you can only physically be in Russia for half of that. If you want to maximize your time spent in Russia, you will have to observe the following schedule: 3 months in Russia, 3 months somewhere else, 3 months in Russia, 3 months somewhere else. For short-t…

Religious freedom?

This weekend I traveled to Vyborg with a group of kids from one of the orphanages I work with. I'll write more about it later, but I wanted to comment on something we saw in a museum there.

This display shows some items confiscated by the border guards 20 or so years ago. This included anything from drugs and pornography to Christian literature.

Among the "dangerous" books is "More than a Carpenter" by Josh McDowell.

Unwelcome visitors

One morning last week I woke up and heard rustling sounds in my room. I had the feeling that I was not alone, but I couldn't think how any creatures could have gotten into my room. Sometimes I hear the rats in the walls, but there are no openings for them to enter the room itself. Yet the sounds seemed so close by. Later Tanya and I agreed that it was probably something in the walls.

Meanwhile, I was packing my things to move to another apartment. My room was in disrepair. At the end of the day I packed for several hours. I finally stumbled into bed around 2 am and reached to turn out the light. But the rustling began again. It had to be in the room. I heard the sound travel around the room, from behind one bed to behind another, to behind the bookcase. I sat on my bed waiting for something or someone to emerge. It reminded me of the bats back in Massachusetts. I would hear them scratching, and despite being afraid to meet them face-to-face, I wanted to see the creature behind the …


This an assignment completed by a 12 yr old girl in one of my classes. She was later adopted.

First they had to fill in some text.

Then they had to add both drawings and text.

And finally both drawing and text without prompts. They were allowed to look at previous lessons, though.
Notice the tear blotch. Apparently making comic strips is a difficult assignment and I'm a mean teacher.I wonder if God sometimes gives us assignments that aren't supposed to be difficult, but we cry over them.
"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Small victories

Despite being shot at and choked at my final lesson today, there were triumphs.

-getting up on time and out the door
-commuting for only 2 hours and not 2 ½ one way ( is it wrong to be thankful that the bus driver used the break-down lane and thus helped me be on time?)
-dealing with less behavioral disruptions
-having a student be honest and return something she had stolen
-avoiding being attacked by a cat despite stepping on its tail
-not having a sore throat
-getting home before 9 pm

-maybe getting to sleep before 1am? ;)


Yesterday I went to perhaps the most intense concert of my life. The featured instrument was none other than the famous Russian bayan (also known as the "button accordion," but that sounds too wimpy).

I was looking forward to a relaxing evening of music. The musician (bayanist? bayan player?) came out and gave the customary speech about the program and the history and style of each piece. I think that Russians like to give speeches. The first piece, a Bach prelude, seemed promising. The next one, Vivaldi's "Winter" (1st movement) suddenly picked up speed. A whole orchestra seemed to explode out of the one instrument! A lady sitting in the front row started moving her hands as though playing along. That wasn't anything unusual, although I would probably save that kind of display for the privacy of my home. Then she began to move not only her hands, but her arms, her head, her whole body! I couldn't look at her anymore as it was making me nervous!

And so it…

Drinking tea

They all eat first and then drink tea. Vera told me they are taught that your stomach will rot if you eat and drink at the same time. I still can't eat without drinking anything, it gets all dry in my throat, so I had a cup of tea while I ate and another one while the other people did.

-from a very insightful article about Russian "tea culture" and how it plays a role in everyday life

Russian communication: No means Yes?

Russians don’t always say what they mean. I’m not trying to argue that Americans always say what they mean or that Russians never say what they mean. But there are incidents.

If you offer to help someone, he or she will often decline two or three times before accepting the offer. This also means that if someone offers you something, don’t be surprised if they keep asking you.

Hostess: “Do you want more?”
Me: (it was good, but I don’t want to be a pig) “No.”
Hostess: “Are you sure?”
Me: (that means I probably offended her by saying no. What should I do?) “Ummm….I’m fine.”
Third party: “Of course she wants more. Give her more.”

Here’s a line that works sometimes: “No thanks, but it was very good.” That way you don’t offend anybody. But you have to say it with confidence, or they will think you are just being shy.

Also, sometimes Russians say, “Thank you, but no,” which confuses me because I think the “thank you” is a sign that they’re accepting, and start acting accordingly, until I hear the “n…

Church retreat

Last weekend I attended a church retreat for an extended time of fellowship. We spent the night in a Finnish seminary center outside of the city. It was fun to have the whole church together.

On Friday night everyone started arriving as they got off work. We ate a light supper and then had a time of worship and two lessons on our theme of the weekend, which was Dedication.

On Saturday we had more times of worship and study, and during the breaks there were opportunities for discussion and encouragement.

We also heard a testimony from two ladies (one a missionary from Norway, pictured below) who are serving in Medvezhegorsk.

We went home tired, but in good spirits and with new things to consider.

You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.Lev.20:26


While I'm preparing a longer post, here are some photos for your viewing pleasure. I think this falls under the category of "behaving like a 2 yr old" or "why it's midnight already and I haven't gotten anything done."

How to keep an 11-yr-old happy

Seva is a boy I tutor in English, and he often has behavioral problems. We have a lot of "power struggles" where he tries to be in control of the lesson. "Let's leave the tv on," "Give me 5 stickers," "Let's play the new game I made up," etc. Today he had a new textbook, so there was incentive to study. We read through an alphabet poem.

Then we got to R. "R is for robot."

"Read in a robot voice," Seva commanded. For some reason I complied. He liked it so much that we read through the poem a few times (taking turns).

So it seems that all this time, all I had to do was speak in a robot voice. I should try it with my other students and see what happens.



Sorry, this post has nothing to do with my marital status. I just wanted to comment on an observation I made recently in the metro.

I was riding home at the end of the day, and a young couple got on. I thought “oh, great, now I’ll be subjected to another sickening public display of affection.” Then I caught a glimpse of the girl’s hand and saw a ring. She’s married! I looked at the guy’s hand. He’s married too! They’re married to each other! It was a pleasant discovery.

In Russia I notice a lot of couples engaged in what I consider inappropriate displays of affection, but I don’t think there’s anything cultural about it; I think rather it is related to the fact that I ride the public transportation a lot. Riding the escalator in the metro an average of 4 times a day, I get an eyeful of that kind of behavior. And I think to myself, “How can he be treating her that way? She doesn’t belong to him; she’s not his wife.” Of course I am making assumptions that the couple is not married, but ma…

Birthday wishes

Happy Birthday to my grandmother! She just turned 80 years old! I'm very thankful that we saw each other recently and were able to spend time together.

Queuing revisited

Before I posted "Queuing," I had the feeling that I should edit it more. Usually I try not to write negative commentaries on Russian culture. I think it's interesting to point out differences, or explain why something seems strange to me, but I try not to be judgmental.

My article on Russian queues ended up being more negative than I planned. Therefore, I apologize for making unfair generalizations and being judgmental.

Perhaps I'll do what I was too lazy to do before and mention some events of Russian history. I should call attention to the food shortages that changed the philosophy of queuing. Standing in line all day was the only way to survive. The length of time spent in line was long enough that there had to be special rules. The rules developed during that time period remained, although the conditions changed.

In America we don't usually have to stand in line quite that long. However, there are always exceptions. For example, someone mentioned that Americans …


Can you spot the American?

Here I am with some of my friends earlier this year when we visited a Gospel concert.


The metro stop where I live has changed a lot in the past few years.

In the foreground you can see the remains of the small kiosks and shops that lined the street. In the background, what used to be a wooded area is being developed into modern shopping centers.

Neighborhoods all over the city are undergoing a similar process.

A brighter day

Yesterday’s orphanage experience left me feeling helpless and wanting to get the children out of there faster. I ended up crying myself to sleep.

Today I went to a different orphanage. I went into one of the groups where they were doing homework, so I could help with English. The counselor was yelling at one of the kids for being dishonest about her grades. I understand now that when Russians yell, they aren’t necessarily angry. Now that I can understand the words, I can tell when the words are kind even if by the volume it sounds like the two people are about to eat each other up.

First I helped Denis, one of the boys who used to be afraid of me. He was sitting there trying to find a pen that worked. It looked like he had taken two of them apart and couldn’t get them back together. A third exploded in his hands, sending ink all over. Just like a boy! We struggled through his homework, with me spelling out several of the words. After the last question he slammed the workbook shut triump…

Disobedient children and confusing Russian men

It was a strange day.

When I arrived at the orphanage, the girls came running down the hallway energetically like little puppies. “I’m Galya!” “I’m Katya!” they giggled.

Immediately there was a fight over who would sit where. I had designed a very simple board game. Roll the die, move a few spaces, and identify a word in English by drawing a card. Within a few minutes, the three other kids were making fun of Galya. They threw her playing piece on the floor. Then they couldn’t find it, so I gave her mine. Finally Galya ran from the room sobbing, as the other kids yelled “you’re psycho!”

I couldn’t help but feel sad. Kids are often mean to each other, but usually those offended can run to mommy, and Galya has no mommy to run to.

I couldn’t find Galya to calm her down, so I reluctantly returned to the remaining students. Misha had an outburst about every two minutes, when it was not his turn. He shouted and slammed his hand on the table, sending things flying.

At the end, I gave them each a v…

A Close Call

Today I was at the office, and the woman that does registration for foreigners asked me on what date I had entered Russia most recently. I went to get my migration card, the stamped document that you fill out when you go through passport control. It wasn't in my passport where it should have been.

I couldn't think where I could have put it! I always keep it in my passport, or at least in my purse. If I tried to keep it somewhere else, I would forget where I decided to keep it. I couldn't remember taking it out, so all I could think of was that it had fallen out accidentally.

When I got home, I had a free hour for cleaning my room, but instead used it to tear apart my room looking for the migration card. I tried all the little piles of paper with no results. Finally I tried the trashcan, and there it was. God is good!

P.S. After I took this photo, I almost forgot to take the migration card out again and put it in a safe place. :) When will I be organized???

Forgetting English native language.....

Me(or I): "Sveta has a girl."

Mom: "What does 'has a girl' mean?"

Me: "I don't know how else to say that Sveta has a girl. Knows a girl (but that doesn't imply any relationship to the situation)? Has a friend (But that would require further information to clarify that the friend is female and not male)?

Mom: "Ah. Your English is getting rusty perhaps."

Me: "Perhaps."


It turns out that I've gotten used to teaching older kids and adults. I seem to be clueless about what to do with 3 and 4-yr-olds.

Due to the growing number of children and the presence of toddlers at Sunday school, we decided to take the youngest kids and teach them separately.

So we read a little bit of the Creation story and then asked a few questions.

"Who created the sun?" we asked.

"I did!" shouted the 3-yr-old.

Hmmm. We read the story again.

"Who created the sun?"

"I did!"

"No, God did."

"God did!"

I had planned a lot more activities for the lesson, but it looked like we needed to take it slowly.

We managed to get through 3 verses of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," as well as a very intense coloring session. I didn't realize that coloring could be laborious.

Maybe next time we'll try puppets. :)