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Showing posts from October, 2009

Cute baby girl

Hannah is one week old!

We haven't gotten too many photos of her awake and alert yet*, but Angelica was excited to meet her new cousin.

*Edit: More photos!

Russia and the H1N1

I was cold in class.

It’s so hard to figure out how to dress nowadays. The metro is unbearable if you have too many layers on.

So on this particular day I had left my warmer sweater at home and was cold. As soon as we had a break, I jumped up and grabbed my coat, which I had thankfully not left in the cloakroom.

In the middle of class, the grammar teacher stopped and looked at me.

“Are you cold? Why are you cold?”

I shrugged, burrowing deeper into my coat.

“I KNOW why you’re cold! You don’t eat meat! That’s it!” continue/-
Well, I suppose I don’t eat a huge amount of meat daily, but I doubt that I would have a substantial layer of body fat even if I did.

“You have to eat meat! Sausages, cheese, yogurt, sour cream…fatty foods! Then you won’t be cold.”

She went over the window, promising to open it just a crack. Then she began to speak again.


I stared down at my desk in the awkward silence that followed.

“I went to buy myself a mask, and can you im…

Back for another year

I visited the difficult orphanage.

I know I should come up with a new code name that isn't so negative. After all, it is where Nastia and Masha spent a portion of their childhood.

Every school year, I pray about whether or not God would have me go there. Relationships haven't "gelled" as much as in other areas of ministry. At this orphanage I used to see some kids that I had originally met at camp, but many of those kids have already graduated. Each year there is always at least one person that remembers me, and the cycle continues. full post/-
I normally just show up when the school year begins, but I was nervous about doing that this year. Some orphanages have become pretty restricted, especially with the flu going around. So I was kind of procrastinating and wondering if this was the year that I didn't go back.

I tried to call and got no answer on one phone. Finally I called the other counselor in the group, and found that she no longer works there, and that the k…


I roll out of bed and turn on my computer. No, not my laptop...the computer that my brain becomes when I live in Russia. It often seems like my problem-solving skills are working every minute of the day.

I don't usually write about all the details of my day, because, well, who would want to read it? However, I decided to join some friendsand do it just this once. Maybe you will find it interesting.


My morning routine is pretty basic, and I'll spare you the description. :) However, one aspect is worth mentioning. When I leave each day, I feel as though I am going on a long trek. Since my schedule is never the same two days a week, I have to think through my day very carefully as I am packing my bags. It is likely that after I leave in the morning, I won't come back home in between activities. So I have to plan carefully. read more/-

I might need to take any combination of textbooks for class, teaching supplies, my Bible, my flute, clothing for different kinds of weather…

An (un)productive mind?

It's amazing how little there is to write about when you don't do a lot of reading. No input=no output. While writing topics don't always correlate with what we read about, the act of reading still does a lot to keep the mind sharp. That's what I tell myself, anyway. :)

Lately, my textbooks have doubled as my reading material. Not exactly the most enthralling topic to blog about!

Whenever I have a few minutes before bed and such, I read a little (in Russian) of "I Dared to Call Him Father,"an autobiography of a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. I don't have too many Muslim friends, but I have enough that it seems worthwhile to read.

What are YOU reading?

The church and the opposite sex

The last dating scenario I posted was a bit dismal. To remedy that, I'd like to share a great 2-part sermon from Josh Harris.

He provides some sound biblical principles for relating to the opposite sex as Christians. It's helpful for both single and married church members, but emphasizes the current dating situation in the modern church.

Part one focuses more on singles, and part two focuses on what the church can do to support them.

I couldn't find the transcript anywhere, but you can follow the link and listen to the audio file. It's quite user-friendly.

Test your Russian

Here's one for you linguists.

There's a fun (and impossible to spell) aspect of language called "onomatopoeia." This exists in the English language as well as Russian. In fact, I think there are more examples in Russian. Either that, or I've just forgotten English. (I do have bouts of amnesia when we are discussing a Russian word and the professor asks me for the English translation).

With this latest topic we were learning something which I later found out translated to "interjection." We have plenty of them in English: Oh, Ooooh, Ahhh, Shhhh, Ahem, Uh-huh, Nuh-uh, Psst, Whew, etc. The Russian equivalent often sounds more guttural. read more/-
The examples below were listed in the textbook as interjections, but I prefer the term onomatopoeia. I think of them as the sounds of comic strips. When we were asked to recall the equivalent in our own language, I realized that in English we often just use the verb.

Read the Russian sound effects (transliterated) b…

Hello, world!

First photo of little Hannah, my niece!

A holiday and a fun blog


I actually don't use the caps lock button. I use the shift button instead. Nevertheless, I think the day is worth mentioning.

I found out via a blog where I landed while doing a search related to comic strips (to be explained later).

It turned out to be a quite entertaining blog on writing. Maybe the bits on publishing don't interest me, but I love all the grammar jokes and writing ideas. And the comic strips, of course! Check it out:

An excuse to write

My conversation teacher knows that I am a Christian.

She has been giving us essay assignments lately regarding our opinions about various topics. I like these homework assignments because in class we often have to talk about trends that are typical in our home countries, or that we've noticed in Russia. It is not so much opinion as a list of observations. The "What do you think?" questions are much more interesting.

Last week, the topic was gender. I was quite glad to have a chance to get those thoughts down on paper :).

This week, we had to write about our dreams for the future. It feels natural to write and also to mention my faith in the process. These are all topics that I can't think about outside the context of the Bible.

I can actually enjoy writing in Russian now, in contrast to when I was in university and my language skills weren't as strong. It was a chore then to write, looking up every ending and verb form. Now I write more or less without a dictionary a…

A stolen joke

I was helping kids in the orphanage with their English homework yesterday, and I came upon this funny story, which I will retell as best as I remember it. Sorry for the lack of citation…I will try to get the name of the textbook later.

An Englishman in Germany on business visits a certain café regularly. As he begins his meal, a German man comes in, also on his lunch break, and greets him with “Mahlzeit!” The Englishman replies “Taylor.” The German man smiles and walks away and the Englishman resumes eating.

The next day, the same thing happens. And the next. Finally, the Englishman remarks to an acquaintance, “Why do the Germans always greet me with their last name, even when we have already met?” read the rest/-
“What do they say?” asks the acquaintance. “Mahlzeit.”
“That means ‘enjoy your meal!’"

The next day, the Englishman arrives at the café and the German is already eating lunch.

“Mahlzeit!” the Englishman pronounces.
“Taylor!” replies the German.

A similar thing happens to me som…

Source of light

Sometimes Christian themes are secularized, or lose their meaning.

Lately, the topic of "light" comes up everywhere. I remember how in high school we went around singing DC Talk's "I want to be in the light." Or how about the more recent one, "Into marvelous light I'm running..."? There's also the favorite, "Shine, Jesus, Shine." When we think about what light and darkness represent, of course these words hold meaning for us. But when taken out of context, they aren't so effective.

What does it mean when the light goes on? We all feel something when we see the flicker of a candle, yet what is it exactly that we're feeling?

I had a high school teacher who was Jewish. On the last day of class, he lit a candle and gave a poignant speech about how we could bring light to the world. A Russian teacher here also talked about being a light. Also popular is the theory that "light always conquers darkness." +/-It's not a ne…


It can be intriguing to study in a cross-cultural environment. When I was doing my TESOL training, the most interesting part of the day was lunchtime. In the classroom, the students of different cultures had learned the rules. But once they got out their different assortments of food and began to eat, diversity was present once more.

Here are a few general observations I've made at the university here:

-Chinese students knock on closed doors, even to enter a classroom. Argentinians knock even on open doors, when entering a room occupied by other people. Americans knock on the doors of toilet stalls, changing rooms, or any room where a private meeting might be going on that they are interrupting. Russians....try the door handle?

-Only Russians use the cloakroom at the university. Everyone else is either really cold or doesn't know about this service.

-Whoever is in the majority talks the loudest. Not only Americans, but Chinese do this, yelling across a hallway to each other, even …

Gender equality in Russia

I didn't think there was quite as much gender liberalism in St. Petersburg as in my hometown. When you look around, traditional masculinity and femininity seem to be observed.

However, according to the (Russian) authors of the textbook that we use for conversation class, the genders are, in fact, at war.

For homework, we read a cute little text about how little girls are raised to play with dolls and little boys to play with cars, and this determines their future. Later in life, girls must "suffer" through being courted by men, while the unlucky men must buy flowers and be constantly thinking of ways to show their affection. Why must it be this way? How unfair life is... full post/-
Exploring the chapter further, I found some interesting viewpoints represented by texts that we didn't cover in class. For example, there was a description of "gender theory"-the idea that gender roles are determined not by biology, but by stereotypes determined by the culture. So …

Russian mothers and the imperative case

The average young adult in America does not expect a near-stranger to comment on how warmly he is dressed.

I think that the root of this discomfort is the emphasis of independence in American culture. To comment on someone's lifestyle is to suggest that perhaps he hasn't quite made the transition into adulthood. The boxes of macaroni and cheese, the baskets of dirty laundry....these are ignored. We focus on the accomplishments and refrain from criticizing adults.

Contrast this with the fact that in Russia you have several generations living under one roof, and you have a different story.

To make a long story short, I often have the experience of being "mothered." Think of a mother hen and you will have a pretty accurate picture. I'm often told that I've gained/lost weight, asked what I had for lunch, quizzed on some other rather intimate details. Maybe a curious hand reaches out to feel the thickness of my jacket, making sure it is warm enough. +/-

And maybe we …

An attitude towards Missions

I was reading this article recently in the Perspectives textbook. I broke up the paragraphs a little so that individual statements stand out.

-"Lack of interest in mission is not fundamentally caused by an absence of compassion or commitment, nor by a lack of information or exhortation.

-And lack of interest in mission is not remedied by more shocking statistics, more gruesome stories or more emotionally manipulative commands to obedience.

-It is best remedied by intensifying peoples' passion for Christ, so that the passions of his heart become the passions that propel our hearts. +/-
-Mission must never have first place in the Church's life. The Church is to have but one Lord-one passion-the One in whom all the fullness of God dwells...

-...It is insufficient to proclaim that the Church of God has a mission in the world. Rather, the God of mission has a Church in the world."

-Dearborn, Tim. "Beyond Duty," 1997. From the Perspectives textbook (p. 70); used by per…

October Snow


Today is my anniversary! I moved to St. Petersburg five years ago. Well, give or take a few days. It was definitely around this time. But who's counting?

If you had asked me for my "5-year plan," I wouldn't have been able to predict all the things that have happened to me! I have now been visiting Russia for over half my life, and lived here for some of that time.

Almost everyone I communicate with on a daily basis was unknown to me five years ago. Or if I met them at camp in the early years, I probably hadn't ever sat down with them and had a heart-to-heart in Russian. I remember wondering who my friends would be. Now I know...

Of course it is hard to go back to the mindset of being a newcomer. We forget. But I have memories of some very specific instances; of learning different things; of failing and trying again; of being shown mercy. God has surrounded me with mercy again and again.

But we never learn to predict the future, no matter how "experienced, &qu…

Vocabulary on the mind

In my lexicon class, we learn whole groups of words at a time, discussing their etymology and current use. We do a few oral exercises in class and then write sentences at home. In doing so, we can expect our "passive" vocabulary to increase.

Why "passive"? I don't know about you, but learning 40-50 words a week with insufficient practice means that I am able to recognize and understand the words in context, but not necessary use them in my speech.

Personally, I would like to build my active vocabulary as well!

So how can I memorize the words more effectively? Flashcards are great, but time-consuming to make. +/-
Lately, I have been taking advantage of modern technology to help me with vocabulary practice. Using a search engine, I enter in the words one at a time, cut and paste the 2-3 most representative examples that I find into a Word document, and print out my results for studying on the go. It's more current than even the latest textbooks.

Of course, there …

Bureaucracy and student life

I have felt like a secret agent, receiving one assignment after the other. Either that, or an errand boy. Anyway, the bulk of my paperwork is over, at least for a month or two.

I finally got my metro pass a few days ago. As far as I understood, the procedure normally goes like this:

-you fill out a form at the university
-they give you an invoice that you take to the bank to pay (this covers the cost of the plastic card)
-your information gets sent to the transportation authorities
-you receive notification that they have your information
-you go to the student headquarters of the transport authority with your passport and bank receipt
-they make your card
-after 10 minutes, you go to the kiosk in the metro and pay the monthly fee to begin using the card +/-
In my case, I went to the transportation authorities, but they didn't have my information. "But I was notified that it was ready," I said. "Well, you're not in the system." I couldn't argue with that.

I w…

Full Circle

In May, I attended a seminar on orphan ministry. As I got ready to leave for the summer, I wondered just what role it would play in my life.

A few days after I returned to St. Petersburg, I got an invitation to a sort of reunion prayer meeting for the people who had attended the seminar (and anybody else that wanted to come). It was interesting that I was beginning on the same note that I had finished on.

I'll be honest, I hadn't gotten to know the other people that well since there was so much to take in during the sessions. But there was a general atmosphere of unity that drew us together despite being near-strangers. And we were all eager to try out these new connections and see what we could do as a representation of the Body of Christ. +/-This time, there were familiar faces, even if we did have to introduce ourselves all over again. I immediately met some kindred spirits. As we went around the circle, specific callings started to match up. There was a sense of hope that w…

The day I accidentally paid a bribe

This happened a long time ago, but I was reminded of it again recently.

It was my first year living in St. Petersburg. My friend (also American) and I were riding the bus. As usual I flashed my all-purpose paper bus pass at the conductor. In those days, the conductor didn't have an electronic wand to check passes. But sometimes a "controller" would get on the bus with an instrument that he could use to scan your documents and take disciplinary action if necessary.

I obediently showed him my paper pass.

"Blah blah blah" he said. I guess my Russian wasn't very good at that time.

"Show him your electronic card," my friend said. I took out my electronic metro pass that accompanies the bus pass. +/-"Blah blah blah." Apparently there was a problem. I finally understood from my friend that I was supposed to have (handwritten) the number of the electronic card on my paper bus pass, so that they would know that I had paid for them at the same time. …

A dream or not?

In the middle of the night, there was a sound. It wasn't coming from my alarm, it was farther away. I got up and realized it was someone at the callbox. I picked up the phone and placed it back on the receiver without answering, remembering how persons of "questionable character" had always tried to get into my old apartment building.

I decided to go to the bathroom while I was up. I opened the door and on the floor was a huge puddle. I decided to go anyway. Just then, the phone rang, and my roommate managed to get out of bed to answer it. I looked at all the water and realized that the phone call was somehow related. "There's water on the floor!" I grunted. +/-I went back and collapsed on my bed. I checked the time. It was 5am.

The doorbell rang. We put on our bathrobes and answered it.

There stood a young man. "Okay, let's figure this out," he said. "There's water pouring into our apartment from above, and our power is out. He then we…

Just call me Sasha

This morning I finished my homework for Grammar and Lexicon, but when I got to class, I found that the schedule had changed and in the afternoon we had Conversation Practice, the class for which I had not done my homework. Sigh.

I was supposed to tell something "interesting" about my homeland, and over lunch I quickly composed a speech about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock.

When I reached the classroom, I found it empty. Checking back a few minutes later, I found a note from my groupmates that they had gone to a "party." I noticed that other classes had been invited too, so I joined them, passing my bewildered teacher on the way down the stairs. +/-
This "party" was the celebration of 60 years of communist rule in China. The Chinese students had put together a little presentation.

In the department where I study, probably 75% of the students are from China. They mostly have separate classes, but we see each other in the corridor. In one of my classes, there …

It's official...

One element of cultural shock lies in the difference in what is regarded as professional, or official.

There are times when I notice something like a typo and think...we would never allow that to be publicized in the States. And at other times, if I am performing or presenting something for review, I realize that to the Russian eye I look ill-prepared, because I haven't used a format that is up to their standards.

The mark of the ink stamp is very highly valued in the Russian Federation. Visitors have their first encounter with this at passport control. When you hear the big STAMP! you know that everything is okay and you have passed inspection (a lot of countries stamp you at passport control, but in Russia especially this is a sign of things to come). +/-
In fact, it seems that anything that has a stamp on it is regarded as official. I have been amused upon noticing seemingly mundane announcements with an ink stamp. It seems a bit excessive.

Another reason it seems strange to me, …

Just for laughs

What's the result when you try to translate Chinese-English into Russian? Confusion!

My friend asked me to translate a user's manual for her, but I had a lot of trouble deciphering it, and often had to go by the diagram.

Most amusing were the "care" instructions at the end:

1) When you on-off the door, please do not overexert, for fear mangle the parts.

2) Every season put a few butter in the path, and let the door move about freely.

The pros of being a student

While language training is a must for missionaries, I have never really considered it a priority since I had studied Russian previously and get plenty of language practice in daily life.

But due to the current visa regime, I've been "forced" to become a student. Of course, I could have tried to get all my paperwork together to enter a degree program. But since I am trying to figure out about residency at the same time, it seemed practical to take a more low-key approach and become an "exchange" student.

I have three Russian language classes, 14 hours a week: Grammar, Lexicon, and Conversation Practice.

Here are some of the benefits that I've observed over the past week of attending class: +/-
-I receive feedback about my language skills. My friends don't normally correct my grammar/pronunciation. Error correction is a must in language training, so while I still acquire a lot of new words daily, there are some weak areas in which I've become stagnant. N…