Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Avoiding desensitization

It was too windy for my umbrella, and it took three tries to find an ATM that worked. Sometimes the day starts out like that. I usually ignore the distractions, but today it struck me that in tuning out these nuisances, I was tuning out people as well. My protective measures were TOO protective.

Maybe everyone experiences this in a big, bustling city-I don’t know.

I have to keep asking God to help me lift my eyes up to look in the faces of the “people going by.”

“I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘how do you do…’” (sings Armstrong).

No, it isn't a warm, spring day. But there are still a lot of pleasant moments to appreciate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I was at the orphanage, and the counselors were in the hallway, blocking the way to the kids. They were whispering together while at looking at me. They said the kids were busy.

“You want to play at being their mother for a little while, is that it?”

“Well, I came to teach them,” I said. “Help them with their homework.”
The counselors snickered unkindly.

“And teach them English.” Again they snickered to themselves, mockingly.

When I woke up, it felt like my dream had been about a real situation. I wonder if I am afraid of such a situation in real life, or was it just a test to shake my confidence?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Those Russian names

Perhaps the Russians would say the same thing about us with our Matthew's and Joshua's and Sarah's. But isn't the stereotype true, that Russian first names repeat far too much?

In my cell phone, the numbers that I recorded from my first few years here have simply the first name written in Russian or English with no other identifying characteristics. Once I got to the second and third occurrences of the names, I started adding last names and other clues to help me remember which one it was. However, even the first initial of the last name isn't very helpful. Obviously I know my friends' voices; but nevertheless it is helpful to know in advance who is calling. +/-

So now those numbers are lost to me...the ones that are listed only as "Nastia" or "Olga." I will probably never remember which one.

I had a dilemma the other day. I was falling asleep in front of a movie, having a case of the Sunday-afternoon sleepies.

Suddenly my cell phone rang, displaying a first name which is unisex in the Russian language. Uh-oh. I guessed it was a male friend of mine, but when I answered, it was a female voice. The situation grew even more mysterious...

She used her last name, but it still wasn't ringing a bell. And it felt rude to ask. So in my drowsy state I went along with the conversation. She was asking for the phone number of a mutual acquaintance. Okay, that gave me a few more clues. I promised to send her the number.

Later, I went through some names in my head and came up with a possibility of who it could have been. It was someone I hadn't seen for 3-4 it makes sense that I wouldn't have expected her to call. But I certainly should have displayed more enthusiasm upon hearing from her. Oops!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

First Day

I got up yesterday morning to register my visa at the university. I couldn't wait another day since it was Friday. It seemed like it took a long time to get light, but then it turned out to be a gorgeous day.

I knew roughly where the right department was because I had been there once to inquire. But it was the kind of situation in which I knew I was at the right building but could not figure out how to get inside. I went into one building labeled "dormitory" which looked familiar.

"Miss, how can I help you?" asked the receptionist.
"I just arrived yesterday and I'm here to study..." I said.
"So what did you want?"
"Do you need housing?"
"Then you probably want the department for foreign students. Go through the courtyard and turn right." +/-

Well, I searched for that courtyard. It seemed like the instructions were so easy. The first courtyard was locked and the second one was a residential complex, and beyond that I was already getting away from the university. I finally called my friend from Canada who studies there now.

It turned out that the entrance to the courtyard was IN the dormitory. All I had to do was go around the reception desk. And the secretary had watched me go the wrong way, out the door. Interesting.

So I went through the turnstile and down a set of stairs into a courtyard...the same one accessed by the locked gate. A girl was walking ahead of me and asked in perfect Russian if I knew where the international department was. I said I was looking for it, too. She said she was a foreigner, but I doubted it. I asked where she was from and said she was from Georgia (as in, the republic).

We went in and she asked directions, and I started to follow her. But the woman on duty said "Wait a minute...who are you?" And it turned out that I was supposed to talk to her first about everything. So she took my passport and migration card to start the registration process, and told me about the classes. I was to go to another address at 3 pm to talk to an administrator there. I still had about 3 hours...

In the meantime, I met my Canadian friend for tea, and then I went to visit my friend from church. Her mother was visiting from the North, and had made soup with deer meat in it. I guess that's venison? Except it wasn't a stew; it was more liquidy.

I had to "eat and run" in order to catch the lady at the Russian language department. Once again it was a treasure hunt as I had to enter a courtyard and find the right door. There were a bunch of American-looking students standing around outside one of them, so I took that as a cue.

I went around checking the doors for the correct room number and asked for "Nina Nikolaevna." I was told that she would be there shortly.

Pretty soon a grandmotherly-looking lady with a bun in her hair came down the hallway.

"Are you Nina Nikolaevna?"
"I am she," she replied. "I thought you might be waiting for me."

We sat down to have a chat. She took down my information, writing it by hand into a little notebook. I was instructed to visit the group lessons next week and see which ones I like. I almost liked being there as a potential student, speaking Russian. I felt like someone's pet instead of on the street when I am a clueless foreigner.

I stumbled home....actually, I fell once near a construction site. It was already 5 pm when I got home. That's a long day for having just flown across the ocean!

But, it wasn't over yet. Once we got my computer configured for the Internet, we took a trip to IKEA for some hangers and other organizational items. Now the books look nice at least, but other things are overflowing.

And that was finally the end of the day.

To make up for it, today was far less complicated, unless you count trying to fit all my odds and ends into the 3 shelves...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Time warp

If you're visiting for the first time: I've just returned to St. Petersburg after a summer away.

Everything is familiar yet strange at the same time. I do everything automatically, because I have learned it...yet it feels like I'm in a dream.

I know I've slept in this bed before. But I got used to the other room. I wake up confused because instead of the wall being on my left, there is a wardrobe. And instead of a desk to my right, there's a bookcase.

The people are the same too, except for the fact that four months of life have gone by...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

At last

I'm finally leaving for Russia! I bet you're tired of reading about my trip preparation, and I'm tired of writing about it!

I can't wait to blog about something else.

Packing has been as much of a chore as usual. I'm not sure if I'm more excited to be going to Russia or to be done packing!

In other news, my sister Anastasia's downstairs neighbors were robbed at gunpoint last night. :( I hope she's okay! She was alone with Angelica since her husband's at a funeral.

Anyway, I have to leave for the airport. Hopefully my next post will be from St. Petersburg!

More on apostilles

This is a part of my series on applying for temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I'm trying to get my documents organized before I go so my parents can mail some of them out as it gets closer to January.

Here's what I learned today about authenticating birth certificates:

-The Secretary of State actually has a few offices. I don't necessarily have to send the birth certificate to Boston, or Worcester (where I was born). The nearest office is not really close enough to hand-deliver the documents, but there is that option.

-The turn-around time is only about a day or so. At least, that's what I was told. So in general this is one of the easiest documents to get, as long as you have a certified copy of your birth certificate accessible. If you don't have a copy, it will just be an extra step.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Travel prep

Nothing too exciting going on around here! I made a lot of packing progress today, but I still have some organizational details to take care of, that I have been putting off.

While my relatives were here this weekend, we got to talking about jet-lag. It's one of those things where you forget how it feels until you have all the symptoms yet again and finally realize...THAT'S why I feel so weird.

But the nice thing about jet-lag is that it goes away. So I am making a note to myself in advance that it's okay to feel disoriented for a few days...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Good news and bad news

Wow, what a day! The first half consisted of my sister's wedding festivities. We got up at 6:30 to get our hair done, and the day continued from there. The wedding was beautiful, and I expect to have some photos soon.

I managed not to cry during the wedding at all. Then I got home and my visa was waiting for me on the kitchen table. I opened it up, and...


See that date saying September 24th? That's the entry date. But I was supposed to arrive in St. Petersburg on September 22nd.

I had been so pleased with the travel company for being prompt, and here was this big, glaring mistake. I have never had any trouble with a visa like that before.

I am not sure where the glitch's possible that you have to wait a certain number of days after the visa is issued to actually enter the country. Usually it is only about 1 day, but the rules may be different with student visas.

Anyway, regardless of what went wrong, there is no changing the date in a visa. It's not like you can get a note saying that that there was a mistake and to please let you in the country two days early.

Meanwhile, all the relatives were starting to arrive back at our house for post-wedding socializing. I managed to get on the phone with British Airways, and they did have a seat available on Wednesday, arriving (legally) on Thursday. My parents are going to the airport that same day, so we can carpool.

So I went back downstairs to see my relatives. I am really glad that I didn't know about this issue before the wedding! I had enjoyed myself, fully expecting that everything was fine. Now I guess I will just have a few more days to pack and catch up on sleep before traveling.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Counting down

I got an e-mail from the travel documents agency with a Fed-Ex tracking number for my Russian visa, so it should be here shortly!

In the meantime, my sister's wedding day is almost here. Relatives started trickling into town on Wednesday. We are spending the night in Connecticut since it's a morning wedding, and returning Saturday evening.

That do everything else before leaving for Russia. :) I lost a lot of time last week waiting for the mail. But that doesn't matter now. I just have to somehow prioritize, and stay...on...task...

[Photo: The bridal party (plus mom of the bride) takes charge...]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teen with a mission?

I have mixed feelings about teenagers and missions trips. And I've had mixed experiences. One observation is that because of a certain amount of immaturity, teens are subjected to special rules, which may in turn drive them to feel like less is expected of them because they are young.

On the flip-side, teens often lack a lot of the analyzing that we do as adults. I can remember being bolder about witnessing, because I wasn't worried so much about offending someone because of culture, religion, or otherwise. Again, it's both a plus and a minus.

I can remember a lot of occasions when my teenage peers and I displayed behavior that, when looking back, was not the best witness for Christ. The interesting thing about my situation was that the Russian camp staff watched me grow up, in a way. Although I was aware of being "set-apart," I still went through all the normal teenage struggles. But I was sincere in wanting to serve the Lord. Some of us hide our "ugliness" better than others, but we are all still being refined. As missionaries, our weaknesses are going to come out in one way or another. +/-

Earlier this week, some youths 5-10 years younger than I shared about their recent short-term missions experiences. It was good timing because I had been reading my old Russia journals from the teen years and reminiscing about all my various experiences.

I am really glad that I have these journals. It is so obvious that I'm young from the way I describe things. In some ways it was my place to complain, as I tried to refrain from complaining while serving. Yet I can remember the progression of my thoughts and the spiritual growth that was going on in my heart. I chose my words very carefully so that I would remember. The details are a bit boring, but I included them all deliberately.

The following entries describe a chain of events over a week's time, including a tragedy that happened while we were at camp.

Thurs. July 6th (2000)

Today there were "Olympics" again. Alice led the morning meeting. Her topic was Godly Wisdom. Today was Ira's day off, so Lena came to Group 56 with me instead. I didn't have anything specific planned to do with them. It began to rain very hard and there was thunder and lightning. I spoke to the girls about God a little bit. Some of them believe in reincarnation. One girl has a pet rat named Jessica.

Lena was afraid of it and it nearly brought her to tears. Then we just talked about favorite pets and colors and things. I wrote in some girls' journals. I told them I would do gospel bracelets tomorrow.

Later, people from the village came again. The little girl was all dressed up. She looked really cute. We watched the closing ceremony for the Olympics. Kids received awards in each sport. Various groups performed. We didn't have a prayer meeting because of the various activities taking place.

I went back to the Fisherman's House. I kept hearing music and applause and laughter. Olga told me that they had inflated the bouncy castle. I went over there and found Kirk, Mary, Elliott, Jeff, Tim, Vova Music, and some others. You could swing from a rope to the bouncy castle.

Sat July 8th (2000)

At breakfast I heard that there had been a car accident involving Vova Music, Sasha, and Sergei. The meeting was very quiet and solemn. We prayed about the accident. We had heard that Sasha's neck was broken. Then we sang and my dad led devotions...

We tried to plan for Bible study but found ourselves stuck, so we prayed about it. We decided to just sing and pray with the kids. Later there was another outdoor disco. Faith passed along some of her kindergarten kids to me, so I had a little mob. We signed cards for Vova and Sasha, and for Marina, whose birthday is tomorrow. Sergei may go to jail since he was driving.

The bouncy castle was open but the boys were being really rough. I have a skinned knee now from Tim shoving me.

Thurs July 13

After lunch we had practice for the square dance to be performed Friday night. The end of the session is almost here, so there are a bunch of evening concerts. My partner is Elliot. Then there are Matt and Ira, Faith and Tim, and Andrea and Jeff. Alice was teaching us, but she's not feeling well. One of the dances ("Hurry hurry") is tricky, so we had a little trouble. Afterwards it was too late to visit my group, so I skipped it.

We didn't have time to do much in terms of prayer meetings. The concert tonight featured kids impersonating pop stars. We were hanging around outside the Club before it started. I noticed a couple groups of team members huddled around looking worried. I asked a few people what was wrong, but no one would tell me. I figured there had been a fight, because certain members had begun to get on each other's nerves. Courtney looked really upset. I asked what was wrong and she said, "I think you can figure it out," not in a mean way, just in a hushed voice. At that moment I realized that Vova had died. I said "Oh" and Courtney nodded. I felt kind of stupid that I hadn't figured it out before and annoyed that no one had told me. Elliot came up to me, and I wasn't sure if he knew yet, but he gave me a hug, and it wasn't a silly hug but a sad one. A couple of us went over to pray silently with those about to perform.

At 11, we had a team meeting about Vova. It was very solemn. Also, I was hungry, so my stomach kept growling. We did some sharing and praying. I hated seeing everybody so sad. Having witnessed Vova's baptism last year and seen how kind he was I feel confident that we will see him in heaven. I feel that God will use this somehow. But it's hard to explain to the kids and everybody why things like this happen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


When autumn comes, I bloom anew;
The Russian frost does wonders for my health;
Anew I fall in love with life's routine:
Betimes I'm soothed by dreams, betimes by hunger caught;
The blood flows free and easy in my heart,
Abrim with passion; once again, I'm happy, young,
I'm full of life - such is my organism
(Excuse me for this awful prosaism)

И с каждой осенью я расцветаю вновь;
Здоровью моему полезен русской холод;
К привычкам бытия вновь чувствую любовь:
Чредой слетает сон, чредой находит голод;
Легко и радостно играет в сердце кровь,
Желания кипят — я снова счастлив, молод,
Я снова жизни полн — таков мой организм
(Извольте мне простить ненужный прозаизм).

Whom better to quote in the fall than Pushkin? :)

(from the poem "Autumn")

Monday, September 14, 2009

At the bookstore

I went to a local bookstore recently to redeem some old gift certificates that I had found while cleaning my room. I felt a little guilty that I wasn't going to be spending much money, but I think I've done my part lately to support the economy. ;)

The gift certificates I'm talking about are not the modern plastic card with the bar code, which you can use to buy things online. This was a calligraphed form on regular cardstock.

As I handed over the gift certificates, the clerk looked closely at one of them and asked,"Have you had this awhile?"

"Yeah," I said. "You don't make them like that anymore?"

"It's just that it's the handwriting of the original founder, who died in 2001." He nudged the other clerk who had also worked there for several years.

"Wow, look at that, " she murmured, shaking her head. They both paused in remembrance of their friend who had passed.

I got a few cents in change back, so I hadn't given them much business. But it was a noteworthy visit, nonetheless.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Breaking up

Play Nice or Go Home

I was shocked to read an article advising people how to "break up" with those who annoy them. See the original article here (it's pretty short).

The article suggests taking steps: first issuing a warning, then gathering ideas and evidence to state your case, then cutting ties if the person refuses to concede.

I find the aforementioned method condescending, to say the least. I can think of a few situations where a person is an addict or has otherwise destructive habits. In that case, intervention is important... +/-

Check Your Motives

...However, the article seems to be referring to people who annoy you personally. And in that case, you would have to be very careful to point out mistakes in a way that is not merely serving your own needs, but is constructive to the other person. There is a fine line between what is simply a personality difference and what is inappropriate behavior.

How do you know that you aren't the crazy one? Think carefully about that before confronting someone.

If someone is letting me know that I'm being offensive, the way that message is delivered to me is very important. Being confronted with a list of "grievances" is not something that I would respond well to. I wouldn't want to feel like I was being plotted against. It's important to think before you speak, but waiting a week while you form a good argument borders on manipulation.

You Don't Have to be Best Friends

I agree that there are some people with whom we're incompatible for one reason or another, and in some cases we can avoid close contact with them. This can save unnecessary stress and senseless arguments. Or we can avoid certain conversation topics.

However, is it really necessary to go through the whole process of telling a person what's wrong with him, if you plan to cut ties? Wouldn't it be better to just walk away peacefully?

Love Them or Leave Them

Also, I find that a lot of the time, these "crazy people" are the ones I'm closest friends, family, co-workers, and fellow church members! And I wouldn't have noticed their "annoying" behavior if I hadn't spent a lot of time with them. If I'm going to hand out warnings or "break up" with each person who annoys me, I'm not going to get very far in my personal relationships. I'm not going to die to myself, and won't do much growing.

You can apply this to a simple case of sibling rivalry. What do you do with kids who keep getting on each other's nerves? One or both of them might need a time-out to calm down! But in a case where feelings have been hurt or injury inflicted, confrontation is needed. Repetitive conflict will need a stronger dose of intervention. But you can't separate the siblings indefinitely; they are a part of each other's lives. Rather than designating one of them the naughty one who is socially unfit, they need to learn to compromise.

I guess the article is just another example of how the Gospel is missing from the way people live their everyday lives. Everything is about "me" and getting rid of those things that stand in the way of my own success.

Is it any wonder divorce is so rampant? If you've been through a complicated situation, I am not trying to minimize your pain. I just think that we too often hear the message that we can control everything, or shut something out that God wants to use to make us stronger.

What I Would Have Written

My modified advice would be:

-if it's a person you don't want or have to see regularly, just keep your mouth shut and find ways to ignore the behavior. Let go of your preferences temporarily.

-if it's a person you plan to spend a lot of time with, find ways to either get used to the issue that's bothering you, or confront the person as quickly and humbly as possible, so you can move ahead.

-always check your motives!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Waiting for the mailman

The vigil is over.

I waited by the door for 4 days. I hadn't realized how often a mail truck of one kind or another comes down our street!

On Tuesday, I didn't get my invitation. But I still needed my HIV results, so I could wait one more day.

On Wednesday, I waited all day, and still didn't have either by evening, until the doorbell rang. It was the doctor from church with my lab results. No invitation that day. But another discovery I made was that many Russian Consulates no longer accept individual mailed-in applications. You must use an agency. So I called the agency to inquire and quickly went about gathering the additional 3-4 documents that they specifically require. +/-

On Thursday, I woke up to the sound of a mail truck. I have learned to recognize the sound! I ran to the window and saw a white truck with the "Fed-Ex" emblem pulling away from our house. After throwing on my bathrobe, I ran downstairs to check the mail basket, but there was nothing there. They must have been visiting the neighbors.

Thursday came and went.

On Friday, I camped out by the front door again. If the delivery service required a signature, I didn't want to take the chance of missing them and having my invitation brought back to some warehouse until I could track it down!

The university had not told me which express mail service they used, nor was there any sort of tracking information, nor were they returning my e-mails.

It felt a bit ironic that 4-5 days was seeming slow to me. But each day I was recalculating the possibilities of getting my visa on time, and those chances were dwindling, especially as the weekend approached.

I was sitting on the couch with my laptop, when I heard yet another truck. I looked outside, and it was not the white Fed-Ex; it was DHL. It had to be for me! I went out on the porch as the delivery man approached. It is true what they show in the commercials about kissing the delivery man. I didn't do it, but I wanted to!

It did require a signature, so I was glad I was home.

Now my visa application is in the mail. Praise the Lord! I wish I could get it before my sister's wedding in a week , but we'll see.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What if the Russians don't come?

We have a songbook at home called "Rise Up Singing." It contains a lot of folk songs, oldies, etc. that are good for sing-alongs.

I often laugh when I come across this song:

What if the Russians Don't Come?

My town has a plan for its civil defense
So we'll all take Route 70 when it gets tense
My wife sewed directions in my underclothes
So I'll know where to run when the big whistle blows
We held a rehearsal last Saturday night
And all things considered our town did all right
Except on the ramp when that truck tried to pass
And it took us three hours to clean up the glass.. +/-
What if the Russians don't come?
What if they like where they're from?
What if they're not in the mood to invade?
What if they're tired, or drunk, or afraid?
What would we do if their generals just said, "This is dumb"
What if the Russians don't come?

I've heard about Russians since I was a tyke
So here's what I know about what they are like
They don't believe in God, they don't have no fun
They're brainwashed, they're dull, and they all weigh a ton
And in the Olympics whenever we meet
Their women are men, and their judges all cheat
Maybe you shouldn't rely just on me
I've not seen a Russian except on TV

What if the Russians have lives?
What if their husbands have wives?
If they come home late from work on the bus
And have to fix dinner for children that fuss
They may be too tired to come put us under their thumb...
What if the Russians don't come?

Our leaders said we're behind in the race
We needed those missile just to keep pace
If we don't stay up there lap after lap
The Russians will tumble us right off the map
Well, I'm getting dumb but sometimes I forget
What I've got against all these folks I ain't met
I can't figure out why they want World War III
Could it be they are wondering the same about me?

What if the Russians are scared?
What if they're all unprepared?
What if poor Ivan's as worried as I am?
Tired of worrying about Uncle Sam?
Why don't we stop before one of us does something dumb?...

What if the Russians don't come?
--Phil Hoose (1983)*

It's funny to read these words considering I was one year old at the time the song was written and grew up oblivious to the Russians being our "enemies." It wasn't until I already had Russian friends that I began to learn my history better in school. So everything was the opposite for me.

It feels a bit odd posting about war (or lack thereof) on 9/11, but on the other hand, maybe it fits.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." -Ephesians 6:12-18

*Lyrics disclaimer: Different versions didn't match up, so please offer corrections if necessary.

Finishing up summer projects...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting a student visa to Russia

I don't have my student visa yet, but I'm making progress. There were a few surprises along the way, and it's been harder than I initially thought.

The basic procedure is:

-contact the university/place of study to find out your options and start the invitation process
-while waiting for your invitation, find out from the consulate what else is required
-send the invitation with everything else to the travel agent or consulate
-upon arrival in Russia, register within 3 days
-check in with the university to determine your class schedule/settle fees
-if you want to stay longer than 90 days, apparently, you arrive on a 90-day visa and extend it once you're already in Russia (haven't done this yet)

Here are a few things I was not expecting: +/-

1) Invitation processing time=at least 4-5 weeks. They told me 1 month and it has been over 5 weeks. Make sure you factor that in. Invitations are pretty hard to expedite, unless you use a travel agency, and even then it's limited to certain types of visas.

2) The Russian Consulate requires an HIV test for a student visa of any duration. At least, the one in NYC does, according to the website. For other types of visas this is usually not necessary for 90 days or less.

3) The visa application for U.S. citizens has changed slightly. It actually looks like all the information is the same, just in a slightly different format. It drove me crazy trying to fill it out online and print it out. If you can write small, you might want to just print it out and fill in everything by hand. Or get it into Word format and play around with fonts.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

Today our church had its annual service outdoors in a local park. The weather was beautiful! I sang in a choir that had been arranged for the day, which was fun since I barely did any music all summer!

Afterwards, the whole church headed over to a picnic site for a cookout. My sisters had come, and my parents gave rides to some international students who have just arrived back in the area for the semester.

Clockwise from left: Emily, Me, Raquel, Paola, Dad, Angelica, Shawn, Anastasia, Ngozi, and Mark.
Bottom picture: Staying warm.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vision and visas

I had forgotten how intense going to the eye doctor can be! Everyone was very kind, but it was disorienting. Meanwhile, the drops dilated my pupils so much that I could barely see to check out (even in glasses). And they stayed that way the rest of the day. I could not think of anything to do that didn't involve reading, writing, or drawing. Even cleaning my room is sight-intensive because I have to sort through a lot of papers. My pupils were still huge at 10:30 pm and I decided to just go to bed early. They were fine in the morning.

The doctors did not feel that my prescription had changed. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. It's good that I don't have to buy new contacts or glasses. It's bad that I don't know why I've been having trouble seeing! The contacts specialist was trying to think of possible solutions, and gave me some aspheric lenses to try, with the prescription slightly tweaked. They are comfortable so far, but I am still having trouble focusing. I'm not sure if it will be worth to buy some more or not. Meanwhile, I want to see if I can get my glasses fixed up without actually buying a whole new pair. +/-

It is really hard to make myself rest my eyes. I cannot think of anything to do. I could take a walk, but it's not on my to-do list!

Next topic...

I had e-mailed the university asking about my invitation, and they finally got back to me on Friday, asking for my mailing address. So I'm guessing they won't get my response until Monday. I am hoping to get the invitation by Tues. -Wed. so I can have it in the Consulate by Friday in order to get the visa a week later since I 'm leaving the following Monday.

In other words, there's no room for error at this point!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Eye problems

Over the past few months, my vision has deteriorated. I haven't had a check-up for a few years, but I didn't really think it was necessary.

Except for the fact that I can't see.

Lately I have been having a lot of trouble reading on my computer screen, as well as any kind of text. I can't think of any medications or anything else that could be affecting my vision. I had thought my vision had "stabilized" (at a whopping -6), but maybe not.

Anyway, I'll probably be writing less until I get a new prescription, if that's what the problem is. It's one thing to type without looking at the keyboard, but it's another when you can't see what is coming up on the screen...

Who am I?

Anybody know what this is? It reminds me of a kangaroo rat or something. It was in our garden.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Special delivery

The rest of my brother's luggage arrived from Congo.

This is going to make my Russia luggage seem like nothing! :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Improvisation (a tip on staying organized)

This concept has popped up twice in one week, so I thought I would record it as an idea to use. And maybe it will be useful to someone else as well.

The first time was at choir rehearsal. It was phrased something like, "The better you prepare, the easier it is to improvise." In the context of music, I can confirm this. You might not know how or when the plan is going to change. But if you know it might be coming at some point, you can be ready. You can listen to recordings and role-play and hone your skills. If you play accompaniment, knowing those chords helps you to make something up if necessary. You need to know the ingredients and basic rules. +/-

In the King's College choir's Nine Lessons and Carols, one boy each year is selected to sing the solo in "Once in Royal David's City." However, he is not told in advance. They are all ready to sing the part. He is following the plan, of course, but with a degree of uncertainty.

A piece on a blog also caught my eye. The author writes, "It’s like my mother told me once, you need a routine so that you’ll have something to be flexible from!" (Lanier Ivester, "Monday at the Farm-in-the-City" at

This is true, of course. When you decide to "play it by ear," not solidifying plans immediately, you don't really mean that you are going to sit around doing nothing until the time comes. You will structure your plans and maybe get the materials ready, but prepare yourself for rearranging everything.

There are so many applications. For me, it's often about keeping a running inventory of which tasks need to be done and how long they will take. When I find myself with extra time, I can pull out that busywork or 5-minute phone call. Sometimes I just can't concentrate on one long task and need to alternate. Or I am stuck waiting for one important piece of information, and must do something else in the meantime.

I'm always disappointed by cookbooks which claim to have "3-ingredient" or "30-minute" recipes, only to find that they require some kind of special sauce or concoction that I'm not likely to have in the house. To me, improvisation requires either working with raw material or making something new out of something old . It's making a feast out of potatoes; a quilt out of old scraps; a concert out of whatever instruments and voices you have on hand.

And then there are the times when your plans are going wrong. Here, improvisation means that you must know your lecture well enough to deliver it when the powerpoint fails; know your city well enough to take a detour when your route is closed; know your body well enough to take care of yourself when something doesn't feel right.

But of course, it's important to remember you're human, too. :)

Hither and thither

I really need to go to bed, but I wanted to post a quick "weekend update" before it's already the middle of the week!

Yesterday (Sunday), my sister and I went to a bridal shower that was being thrown by her future in-laws.


The shower had a "Hawaiian" theme, can't you tell?

We were at a house in Connecticut right on the water. I dipped my feet in the water for the first time all summer. Kind of sad with the ocean so close! I also got sunburned for the first time this summer...I guess I have been inside too much!

My mom couldn't make it because she was at the airport picking up my brother and his wife, who were flying in from Congo. Meanwhile, my dad had also been in Boston at a baseball game with the guys. So we were all scattered. But that's typical, I guess. There is always something going on!

Tomorrow we're celebrating three (I think) summer birthdays. Have to fit it all in before the wedding and next round of birthdays!

Must be Monday

Our tenants in the basement seemed so impressed by the clean-up job that they moved right in!

I'm a little more lenient with basement spiders* than in my bedroom, so I made sure he got to safety before turning on the machine.

*I realize that daddy long-legs isn't really a spider, but he's a creepy arachnid nonetheless.

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...