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Showing posts from February, 2009

Life update and plans

Hmmm, the past few times I've written about my plans on here, they've changed. So I will mark these as tentative.

I have been dealing with a few issues over the past few weeks (months?), which have now been settled.

1) Stolen identity. I didn't really think of it that way, but it sounds more dramatic. The money is back in my checking account, and I have a functioning debit card.

2) I received my Massachusetts ID in the mail quite promptly. Of course, now I have my passport back, but it's nice to have an alternative around just in case.

3) I received my Russian visa in the mail today, 3 weeks to the day from when I mailed out the application. I had ordered a processing time of 5 business days for the invitation and 7 business days for the visa. So if you add a few days for transit time, they did just what I asked.

FYI: I used Travel Document Systems (NYC branch) for my invitation and visa. I had to exchange a few phone calls with them before applying, for clarification purpo…

The next season begins

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

Silence is then kept for a time, all kneeling.

If ashes are to be imposed, the Celebrant says the following prayer
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the
earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our
mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is
only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

The ashes are imposed with the following words

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

-from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 265 (emphasis added)

Thinking of the children

I'll be in Russia in less than a week. I recently started to look forward to seeing the orphans again. I wonder how they'll receive me.

I thought about Liosha, who missed me last time I was gone.

I also thought about a little girl from the second orphanage. She came up to me once and asked if it was okay to say "Hi." I said yes, thinking she was smart for knowing that it was an alternative to "Hello" (she was only 6 or 7).

Then I heard the same little girl joyfully announcing my answer to others. And I realized that she equated saying "Hi" to addressing me informally. She looked up at me adoringly as if it had just sealed the friendship. And after that, she would always run up to meet me with a triumphant "HI!"...

A book I read recently about the famous Dionne Quintuplets reminded me of some of the orphans I know. The Dionnes were essentially institutionalized until their father protested and they returned to the family at age 9. But it was…


One of the reasons I dread doctors' appointments is the conversations that must take place in order to receive the appropriate kind of care.

First of all, there's the compulsory "How are you?" when the doctor enters. According to rules of etiquette I should say "Fine, thanks"...but aren't I supposed to be on my deathbed, since I begged to get this appointment?

The conversation with the doctor goes against instinct because at all other times of life you are trying so hard NOT to complain, and here if you have any hope of success, you must describe all your symptoms in detail.

Even for someone who has no problem complaining, there's the intimacy aspect. I don't know this person. No matter how friendly, I have no desire to share with him/her the personal details of my life! I don't want to show vulnerability to this stranger.

I am pondering this after receiving the report of a specialist I visited a few weeks ago. I was personally a bit disappointe…

Word study

In a recent series on dealing with habitual sin, our pastor mentioned that "to confess," in the original, means "to say the same thing."

Today I was trying to translate a passage from John 1 (with the help of a dictionary), and I ran into a Greek word I did not know. The first part was "homo" (same). The second part contained "logos" (word). Same word? I could not think of a verb that would correspond in meaning.

I resorted to the dictionary. There it was, "to confess." Now that I've run into it twice, maybe I'll remember it...

In order for something to be "the same," it must be compared to something else. To me, confessing is when God first convicts and then you agree with Him. God says "You've sinned," and you say, "Yep, that's true, I've sinned." Sometimes you are just agreeing with something stated in the Bible. That's the way I understand it, anyway.


My old (that is, former) college roommate came to visit over the weekend. It's hard to believe that almost 9 years ago we were little baby freshmen.

When we first met, I think Laurel and I were both a bit wary of each other. But as time went on, we grew more comfortable...

Pretty soon we were good friends.

My college experience would have been dull without her!

Laurel is now working as a copy editor for Redbook in NYC. I'm so proud of her. We're all grown-up!

Missionary reports

I was recently reading a missions magazine (it doesn't really matter which one), and found myself somewhat...bored.

It isn't that reading about other people's experiences isn't interesting. But somehow, what I'm looking for does not often correspond to what has been published. And it is odd to read about my own occupation (if it can be called that), without finding recognizable traits.

The typical missionary magazine contains reports from the field, updates on specific ministry areas, biographies of missionaries, and comments on missionary methodology. They give the impression that they are meant more for the sender, to know what he is supporting, or for the prospective missionary who is inexperienced and soaking up whatever information he can find. The information may be accurate; the stories poignant, but just how representative are they of everyday life on the mission field?

When I was a child, I heard missionaries speak often in my church. A few times a year we ev…

The REAL Real History of World War II

I recently read a book about WW II. But meeting an eyewitness was much more interesting. Just when you think the War is something confined to history books, you meet a veteran...

I took my shoes to get fixed so that I could have them before going back to Russia.

I went to the only shoe repair place in town. The original Polish owner of the family business shuffled slowly over to the counter to help me. He said they could fix it and we set the time and price. Then I mentioned that I needed them because I was going to Russia.

A light came on in his eyes. "Russia! It's cold there! You'll freeze." He said that he had worked with Russians in a P.O.W. camp during the War. The winters, he said, had been cold, 55-60 degrees below zero. I explained that I was going to St. Petersburg, and would dress warmly.

We asked him how long he had been in America. "I came over in 1949. I was 27. Today I'm 87." I felt like a dumb kid and didn't know what else to say. I felt …

Update on passport renewal while abroad

I e-mailed the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg with a question about passport renewal, and they responded very promptly.

This is what they said:"Thank you for your e-mail. You are welcome to apply for a passport renewal. Since your current passport is valid for less than two years, we can return it to you without canceling."

If that's true, then it's possible that I could get a new passport, then keep the old passport with the 90-day visa, while applying for a new LOI with the new passport. That would be very convenient.

I'm hoping to get this taken care of as soon as I get back to Russia, so that I'll have the new passport for starting the next visa process.

Teen pregnancy and the fate of youth

I might be preaching to the choir here, but I am finding it hard not to comment on the interview of Bristol Palin, teenage mom.

I hadn't paid much attention to the news reports about Bristol Palin because I felt that it was their family's business. I don't think it should have gotten so much publicity, and I don't think it had anything to do with Sarah Palin's campaign.

However, as you know, Bristol Palin herself appeared in an interview, and I am glad that she is keeping the dialogue open, whatever her motivation.

In the interview, Bristol sounded like any first-time mother. She was tired from lack of sleep, a bit dazed from how her life had changed...yet totally in love with her new baby. Other than the teenage lingo, you would have thought Bristol was just another celebrity mom, visiting a talk show.

Bristol tried to make a reference to abstinence, but the interviewer seemed to be more interested in the lack of contraception involved, and in the poor teen having to …

Proof of identity

I decided to try getting an official ID card since I don't have a driver's license and I get tired of carrying my passport around everywhere.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles has the requirements listed on their site. It was a little hard gathering enough documentation since I don't have my passport right now and I don't have any debit or credit cards. I presented my social security card and birth certificate. For proof of residency I had brought two pieces of mail: a bank statement and a health insurance statement. The bank statement had a P.O. Box, so it didn't count. The health insurance statement was already 30 days old, which was technically not recent enough, but they accepted it.

I also didn't have anything with my signature on it, but I had signed the social security card shortly before we got there, and they accepted that, even though I technically should have had 4 forms of ID, not 3.

The ID cost $15 and I have a temporary one until they send the real card…

Real History

I'm not a history buff, but when I saw this book in the new book section at the library, its glossy illustrations enticed me.

And why not learn more about WW II?

I studied it a few times in school, but it is such a vast topic that there is still a lot I don't know, and that which I knew, I've forgotten...

I am going to be lazy and use the product description on Amazon as a starting point for discussion. Added emphasis and subsequent comments are mine.

"As with the series’ first entry, The Real History of World War II remains authoritative, non-academic, and appealingly designed with illustrations, maps, and more."

-"Non-academic"? If that's true I'd like to see what academic looks like. For me it was like a textbook with pictures. Perhaps this means that he wrote the book independently and not as part of a research project.

-the illustrations are great, but the maps didn't help me other than in providing more eye-candy. They look like scanned ima…

Off topic

Now that Valentine’s Day is safely past, I have to get this off my chest.

I have noticed that in romantic films, at the moment when the guy and girl meet for the first time, one of them is: 1) Engaged to someone else, 2) Happily dating and/or dating around, or 3) “Married” to one’s job.

The plot consists of one or both individuals simultaneously dumping their "awful" former pursuits while falling in love with the new person. As if life before that moment was pointless.

Often, this first love is planted there to make the storyline more interesting. I think it is put there to form a “damsel in distress” scenario, so that Mr. Right can swoop in to the rescue. Appealing? In a worldly way, yes.

However, I sometimes feel sorry for that first love who was planted there. Screenwriters make sure to call attention to a few flaws, that are almost not flaws at all. For example, he's too boring and has his life all planned out. Or, she's too needy and wants to be with him all the tim…

Russian visa questions for ex-pats

I am going to post some questions here related to passport renewal. If you are living abroad, this might relate to you. I'm hoping we can have some information exchange.

My current passport expires in March 2010. I still have a full year. It seems like it would be convenient to just take an extended Christmas break to renew it.

Unfortunately, that won't work for stay in Russia. When I apply for a Russian visa, the passport must be valid for 6 months AFTER the next exit date from Russia. This means that I cannot order a visa that will be valid beyond September 2009, until I get a new passport.

Additionally, when I order a visa, I must have the number of the passport that I will be using to get the visa. Therefore, I must have the new passport before ordering even a letter of invitation, a potentially long process.

In the worst case scenario, I could spend up to two months waiting for documents (okay, I didn't really do the math, but you get the idea):

-2 to 3 weeks for a new pas…

Lewis on love

What else would I write about on February 14? Nothing mushy, though.

My sister brought a Valentine's cake for us to share.

A few days ago, I recalled this quote from C.S. Lewis:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
I remember coming back from a short-term trip to Russia. Christ’s love had done new works in me and through me. I am not talking about romantic love in this case. It comes in all forms. But I came home and crashed. I felt like I had been deceived. What was the point of loving and leaving? I felt like I was su…

North American and Russian nature

Yesterday we had spring-like weather and there was a lot of melting.

I didn't let the dog get too close to the edge because I was afraid he would fall in the river and get stuck under the ice. And I didn't want to have to jump in after him.

I managed to find a birch tree so I could pretend I was in Russia. I searched for quite a while before I finally found one.

The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?
Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob. -Psalm 24: 1-6

The Shocker

We have been speculating on whether or not the KGB spies on my blog. But I've just experienced something potentially worse.

I had found a good deal on plane tickets and went to the bank to see if I had enough money in my checking account to pay for it (I forgot how to check the balance online).

Imagine my surprise when the little slip came out with the amount printed on it: -2000 dollars. Ummm. That was not what I was expecting.

I walked away thinking about what to do. Was it really possible that I had overdrawn my account so drastically?

I went back to the ATM. I saw a description of the "mini-statement" feature and decided to print that out to refresh my memory. I had paid some doctors' bills recently, ordered documents, etc. But I think I would have noticed spending $2000+.

What was odd about the mini-statement was that it showed identical amounts being withdrawn several times. For example: -150.13, -150.13, -150.13, -150.13, -210.07, -210.07... Well, that was clearly …

A plea to teachers

We need to bring grammar back into American schools.

Today I was writing a note and began to write "Yours and _____'s health." Then I switched it to "Your and ______'s," which seemed correct, but sounded awkward.

And what if you were including yourself in the phrase? "His and my car." Obviously "our" sounds better, but how do you get more specific and still sound correct?

The strangest mutations probably stem from the lack of a distinct "you plural" form in modern English.

Let's try a little noun declension.

1) Nominative/Subject: How do you communicate that you mean you plural and not singular? I refuse to say "y'all," but I accept "you all." I also think that "you guys/ladies/women/men/etc." all sound okay, when used in the appropriate context (our pastor recently clarified that when he says "You guys," he means all of us.)

2) Dative/Indirect object also works out okay with above form…

Reading material for missionaries

The post that I wrote for missionary blog watch is now up, along with the other entries. It's all organized in a link list. They are redesigning their site, and it's much improved.

I haven't read all of the articles yet, but it's a good way to get a lot of different perspectives all in one place. And they already have the new writing assignment posted (just scroll to the bottom of the page), so if you have a missionary blog, you could participate. If you've already written about the given topic, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you submitted a previous post.

Sorry for all the links! It seemed like the easiest way to get information across.

"Gifted Hands" gets my thumbs-up

My parents and I were looking for something decent on tv the other night and caught the end of the Ben Carson story on TNT (which, by the way, is airing again on Thursday, February 12 @ 12:00AM ET ).

It was about to start again from the beginning, so we decided to keep watching. We could tell the movie had some Christian values in it, but we were flabbergasted when our young hero dropped to his knees and begged God to help him with his temper. It has been a long time since I saw an act of repentance on television!

The movie was good, but I decided to investigate a little to see if it was close to life or if it had been sensationalized. I didn't have to do extensive research online, since I quickly ran across a very informative post on a Christian blog. I suggest checking it out. As an added bonus, it turns out that Dr. Carson avidly defends his belief in God as the Creator of the universe, and openly challenges Darwin. This is timely, as many are celebrating "Darwin Day" t…

Panic and progress

It took me a fair amount of time to put together my Russian visa application. I had done it several times before, but I was using a new company that had some additional requirements.

I don't know anyone who LOVES doing paperwork, but I know some who are good at it or don't stress too much.

I hate filling out applications because I get stuck on certain questions which seem ambiguous and/or grammatically flawed. I also panic if the line is not long enough to fit very important information. And I can't get past it. I cry over about 90% of applications because I don't understand the questions and feel like an idiot.

For example, I was required to fill in (out?) an itinerary for the travel company (even though I don't have a plane ticket yet because I was waiting for them to give me a time estimate, which they wouldn't give me until they had received my documents and reviewed them).

The itinerary form said something like: Enter _______ on _________
by __________________…

A sampling of churches

Is it a violation of ethics to borrow a bunch of 14-day books, not expecting to return them on time? I read all week, but I still have a pile...

Here is one that I finished. Yay!

Sundays in America was written by New England novelist Suzanne Strempek Shea. In this particular work she travels all over the country, but I think that her Massachusetts political leanings come across...

Sundays in America is subtitled A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of a Christian Faith, and that's a pretty apt description of the book. Shea is emerging from having grown up Roman Catholic, and after not being involved in a church for several years, decides to go on a journey exploring various Protestant congregations (I would argue here that several of the churches, such as an interfaith gathering, are not technically Protestant, but that is her stated goal).

As the author begins to visit churches, she notes very thoroughly her first impression upon entering the church, including decor, dress code, racial mak…

Missionary preparation and relationships

When I wrote some advice for missionaries, the real assignment on the missionary-blogs site had been to write advice for those still in the "before" stage, to help them in making decisions and becoming prepared.

When I face a question like What basic advice would you give to someone just starting out ? I draw a blank. How can I tell someone else how to live his life? Can you really break down your life into a set of instructions? I certainly can't do that by drawing on my experiences. It would seem very amusing and frustrating for someone else to try to mimic the path that I have taken.

Here are just some of the questions that are up for debate: Should a missionary have formal Bible training? What about cultural training? Is it necessary to hold a college degree? Is it better to go alone, or with a team? Single, or married? With a missions organization or independently? Should a missionary plan to stay his whole life, or plan to train others to replace him? Show me a rule,…

What to give Russian orphans

Unfortunately, this is going to be a rather materialistic post.

I made a promise to the kids...that I would bring them something from America. I very rarely promise special treats, let alone from a specific place. What was I thinking? The kids have all they need materially, although many of their worldly possessions are rather uniform and impersonal.

But I was going to be missing some of their birthdays, as well as a few holidays, and I wanted to give them something to look forward to. So I made a promise. I am really just thinking of some kind of souvenir that they will find interesting and fun.

But now I can't figure out what that present should be. If it's candy they will eat it all immediately. Clothes are boring. They receive stickers at their lessons regularly. Christian paraphernalia is a bit tacky, and they don't exactly need something that says "Jesus loves me" all over it in English. I think that something like a box of markers would be more interesting: i…

Too late

I was searching for something non-trashy to watch on television and paused on PBS. A drama was on and I could see rolling hills and 19th century costumes. I hoped it was something uplifting like Jane Austen, and not Tess of the D'Urbervilles which seemed to be on each time I chose this station. The tv guide described the movie playing as something like, "A girl struggles to improve her life after sorrowful circumstances." That sounded hopeful.

As the film continued, however, I knew it had to be Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Yet I hadn't read it since college, and hoped that the ending was happier than I remembered. Perhaps I just wasn't remembering correctly. What I do remember is that after taking 19th century British Lit., I decided not to major in English. No offense to British Literature or the course itself, but the themes were so dark, or at least we were encouraged to interpret them that way, that I could not imagine myself spending 4 or more years devotin…

A furry guest

I glanced out the kitchen window this afternoon and saw an unexpected visitor.

(The photo is fuzzy from zooming in) We called animal control just in case it was unusual for an opossum to be wandering around in the daytime. They said it was probably fine, but we should watch him to see if he's walking as though he's drunk. If he is, it could be rabies. But probably not.

Russian food and American entertainment

You know you've lived in Russia too long get pel'meni cravings. Nastia managed to find some for me at a Russian store in a neighboring city.

Unfortunately, they were just so-so. A big hunk of dough with a little pea-sized ball of meat inside. The second time I made them, I fried them up with some scallions after boiling, and that added flavor.

I find that pel'meni quality has a big range, in general. So it's not surprising.

In other news, I watched the Superbowl this evening. I invited my sister over, but we agreed not to make a lot of junkfood since we seem to do that every time we get together and then get tummyaches. We ended up with soup, fruit, and pita crisps with hummus. The ice cream sundae doesn't count...

Anyway, watching the Superbowl was rather amusing because it ended up being my sister, her boyfriend, my dad, and me. All of us except my dad had a book nearby for when we got bored. Not because it was a boring game but because we're not exa…