Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Taking a breather

It's been an amazing week! About a week ago I was at McDonald's in Massachusetts on my way to the airport; right now I'm using the free wireless at McDonald's in St. Petersburg. :)

Jet-lag is really tough, but I can't help but wonder if it is a blessing in disguise that dulls the senses and makes intense situations easier to bear...

I arrived in 90-degree weather and went straight to the new apartment. The weather has stayed in the 90's for the whole week. I have never seen this kind of weather here before. It's incredible, especially when you have the sun coming up at 5:30 and setting at 10:30. No fans or air conditioning in most places.

I didn't sleep much for the first few nights and forced myself to be up and about during the day. I got important things done like registration and started the long list of tasks to do in the apartment. It is starting to look more "homey" even though there is a lot left to do.

On Monday I worked for about 5 hours straight packing everything up at the old place. We had to take two trips since it wouldn't fit in the car, and finished the last load at around midnight.

Yesterday I went to pick up my registration, and as a bonus got to try playing a pipe organ. Hard, but fun!

Last night my apartment mate hung some heavy blankets over my windows, and I finally slept through the night!

So that's the week, in a nutshell. I'm hoping that we'll get Internet access one of these days.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A new way to read

So I bought a Kindle. And I need a packing break, so I'll write a little review.


Design/handling

The reviews I read said that the design of the regular Kindle wasn't too hot compared to others. Well, I find it attractive, but maybe not the most ergonomically sound. It took me some time to figure out the controls, and the keypad seems extraneous for the amount of space it takes up. A touchscreen you can call up would be better.

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Display

You will notice while changing pages that the screen goes black in-between. At first I thought this meant that the machine wasn't powered well enough or had some kind of bug. But I read somewhere that it's due to the special "ink" used to display the text.

No pictures at this time. :( I mean, they are not included, in the books currently available in the Kindle store. I'm not sure what the implications would be as far as energy usage, etc. But I'm sure they will be working on this.

Book access

You can do all purchasing through your Amazon account, via credit card. Browse, choose a book, decide to buy it, and it shows up on your Kindle. I recommend this as opposed to browsing from your Kindle, where there are less browsing/sorting options.

Selection isn't bad. There are a few children's classics like "Little House on the Prairie" that don't seem to be available yet, but the Kindle library grows daily.

There are a lot of books at free/reduced prices. Again, better to use Amazon. You can go to a "top 100" free book list, or browse topics and sort by price to get some good deals. I found a lot of classics for free.

The reading experience

Reading is the main feature, and the part that works well. It's fairly easy to "turn" the page, and the font can be adjusted to make the eyes more comfortable. The Kindle saves your place automatically, and you can be reading multiple books at once with your place saved.

Other features

The "read-aloud" feature is computer-generated and not something I plan on using regularly...unless I'm sick or something? Or my eyes hurt? Can't really think of a reason I would want to use it.

The browsing features need to be improved.

Global?

Haven't confirmed yet what access will be like in Russia as far as the wireless connection and downloading books. I'll know in a few days!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Suitcase mood, part 2

The hard part of traveling overseas isn't even the voyage itself, it's what has happened to your brain by the time you've reached your destination!

I do have to say that I'm humbled by this family's journey, and don't expect mine to be nearly as challenging.

Of course the packing and the leaving and the sitting and the lugging bags are a hassle. But when you arrive in a place 8 time zones away, well, it's a bit hard to focus. So the anticipation is like preparing for an operation that may leave you with temporary memory loss. And you feel like tattooing your name and phone number on your hand, just in case.
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I won't be sleeping much for the next few days, and my stomach probably won't let me eat all the foods I normally would be able to.

What country am I going to again? I have to make sure that I have all my documents in order, as well as some of the local currency, so that I can at least pay for the bus fare when I arrive.

Do I even have a fresh toothbrush and a pillow waiting for me for that first night? Maybe not...after all, I'm going to be living in a different apartment. And what's my new address, anyway? I'll have to figure out how to get there from the airport. I think I remember. But what if I have a brain lapse when I arrive?

How am I going to plug my computer in when I arrive? I forgot that it's a different voltage.

And I have to remember to get registered within 3 days. I dreamed that I had forgotten.

Hopefully I'll be able to tackle things one task at a time and get settled in smoothly.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Modern homemaking?

Moving to a farm?

It seems like everyone is these days...at least, according to recent reports on "radical homemaking."

This week, I read an article about this movement, as well as heard a radio program. It seems people are getting tired of the city life and the corporate world and are turning to more agrarian ways. I've seen it in Christian circles as a way to live more simply, in environmentalist circles as a way to reduce waste, and among people who are just ready for a change.

Among the newly coined terms: the femivore...today's independent woman, who may "stay at home," but pulls her weight in supporting the family farm...I guess. I didn't really understand the concept, myself. (NY Times)
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I have so many questions about whether or not this lifestyle is even something to consider. The first irony that hits me is the plethora of blogs out there, chronicling life on a farm. Having a digital camera and wireless Internet don't interfere with living a "simple" lifestyle? Doesn't someone still have to visit the office in order to develop this technology?

What if you don't live in a climate where it is possible to grow your own food? Or if local authorities don't allow it?

How would you get medical care? Who would provide it? Again, we can't all live on farms...we are too dependent on certain professionals.

What would be your form of transportation?

Our local newspaper (the Daily Hampshire Gazette) offered a few tips for "how to start" (how to start what?):

-hang your laundry out to dry
-dedicate part of your lawn to a vegetable garden
-get to know your neighbors so you can cooperate to reduce spending
-shop at a farmers market each week before heading to the grocery store
-donate things you don't need to help others save money and resources
-carry reusable bags on all your shopping trips
-learn how to preserve one local food item for the winter
-get your family to agree to spend more evenings at home, preferably with the TV off
-cook for your family
-focus on enjoying what you have and whom you get to share it with, rather than on what you want or think you need ("Radical homemaking," p.C2, July 16, 2010)

Some of these pieces of advice are sort of "duh;" some are helpful; most are practiced by the rest of the world. So if we tried them, maybe we would live a little bit more like people in less privileged nations?

For example...

1) Hanging your laundry to dry. This works well almost anywhere. I always dry my clothes on a line in Russia. I just have to plan for them not to be ready for 24 hours or so. The only thing I miss is not being able to fluff them up in a dryer...more ironing takes place.

2) Donating things you don't need. This sounds a little bit self-centered, since those "in need" would like new things and not just your rejects, which aren't always in great shape. But obviously it's better to give things away to someone who would actually use them, as opposed to them sitting in storage. If you lived in a one-room apartment, you would quickly see how this simplifies life.

3) Carrying reusable bags. Again, in other countries, the stores do not necessarily give you a bag with every purchase, so this is already in practice. I don't always use canvas bags, but generally try to get as many uses as possible out of plastic/paper bags.

4) Preserving food. I don't know how to can or jar foods. Many people in Russia do, and I love sampling the results. :) Another solution is to freeze produce or even prepared meals. I like having frozen berries on hand for baking, even though it isn't quite the same as tasting the real thing. I don't know if it is any healthier than buying them, but more economical, at least, when you buy in season.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hymn #12

It's hymn time! I haven't posted one for awhile.

We sang this one at a meeting recently, and I really like the words. They hit on some key truths and key heart issues.

This observation from Verse 2 is especially striking:

And from my smitten heart with tears Two wonders I confess:

The wonders of redeeming love And my unworthiness.

I had this vision of a person kneeling, turning up a tear-streaked face towards Heaven, and confessing these two realizations.

Complete lyrics:/-


Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Verse 1
Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty Rock Within a weary land.
A home within the wilderness, A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat And the burden of the day.

Verse 2
Upon the cross of Jesus Mine eyes at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears Two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love And my unworthiness.

Verse 3
I take, O cross, thy shadow For my abiding place,
I ask no other sunshine Than the sunshine of His face.
Content to let the world go by, To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self, my only shame, My glory all the cross.

Verse 4
O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where heaven's love And heaven's justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch That wondrous dream was giv'n,
So seems my Savior's cross to me, A ladder up to heav'n.

-Elizabeth Clephane/Frederick Maker


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The bats of summer

Last summer, the attic was being sealed off to get rid of our bat "tenants."

With the bats "gone" and the light-bulb replaced, my dad was now willing to go in and retrieve my millions of boxes so that I could sort them (he did find a carcass, probably the last one).

So I've been consolidating my memorabilia and defending my position as the family pack-rat archivist.

Soooo many amusing and interesting items...like these 5000-ruble notes from 1993, when the ruble had depreciated. This might have been from our first trip to St. Petersburg in 1996. I remember thinking I had so much money, when in fact it was only worth a few dollars. continue/-







Then there are my first compositions, like the "chapter book" I started when I was 8. I'm sure I was doing a lot of reading and reusing some of the story-lines. But it is still cute to read.




I found a few chronicles of family trips, complete with weather reports and tales of sibling/cousin interaction...



...journals of teenage angst (sort of)...







....prom corsage, anyone?




Oh, and spiritual development was happening then, too.




Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cooking bloopers

Can't quite put this one on the food blog! My mom and I were determined to have successful results a few days ago using a pizza "slip."

You are supposed to "build" the pizza on the wooden slip while the pizza stone heats up in the oven. If you have seen them do this in pizzerias with brick ovens, they make it look easy-breezy.

We lovingly assembled our toppings...read on/-



And then came the transfer. It was a flop, literally. The pizza accordioned; the uppermost toppings spilled onto the hot stone with a sizzle, reminding me of those fajita platters that they carry by you in restaurants to tempt you. But this was a monster. We put it in anyway to bake, and got something interesting and even tasty:



Pizza #2 had the same problem, and I didn't want it to meet the same demise, so we folded up the edges to make it more easily transferable. It took on the characteristics of a calzone or stromboli.



And we ended up with pretty unique twin "pizzas." We haven't quite mastered the technique yet...



Monday, July 12, 2010

Keeping up and pleasant surprises

Does it ever get old? ...the thrill of receiving an awaited piece of paper; a report card, diploma, plane ticket, letter, paycheck, etc...

I did battle with the Fed-Ex drop box on my first day back in the States. I was determined to get my visa application in the mail, but was having trouble focusing.

I had the forms, but no envelope. I stared at the drop box and wondered where to get one. I circled the machine like a predator checking out its prey. Then I poked at a flap, which opened to reveal supplies! Oh, and a sign read "lift for supplies." All of this seemed so foreign...

I had struggled with the visa application (and won) while in Russia, so no delays there. After about 30 minutes of wrestling with the Fed-Ex billing slip, I was ready. The sticky label buckled as I placed it on the envelope, but I wasn't about to rewrite it for the second time. It would have to do.  continue/-

Next stop, the bank. I walked in and headed to where the deposit envelopes used to be. Where were they now? I walked inside, circled the table where there were various forms. No envelopes. I went back outside to the ATM and read the "envelope-less" deposit notice. What...how...?

I stuck the check I was depositing into the little slot and the machine ate it up with a WHIR. Seconds later, the contents of my check showed up on the screen, and then a receipt with a mini-version printed out. Crazy!

Moral of the story, read the signs. And expect lots of change if you haven't been in your home country for awhile!

Even before I had time to check the Fed-Ex tracking number to see if my visa application had made it, the Fed-Ex guy was ringing the doorbell and handing me an envelope. My visa is already here! It only took a week. What am I going to do without the drama?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Determination

Have you ever just assumed you weren't eligible for something, crossed it off your list? I know that I do it. I'm too young, weak, busy, clumsy, single, etc...

I was helping with a program to aid local Christian families in becoming foster parents. I didn't have professional training and my Russian wasn't great for dealing with bureaucrats, but I could offer some encouragement and help with spreading the word.

A single woman at a local church was interested in finding out more and going through our training program. I took a packet of information, and prepared to meet with her.

When we met up at her workplace, I was surprised to see that she was about my age...just a working single girl, trying to make ends meet like everybody else.
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I had met so many people who "wanted" to help but were struggling financially; living in cramped quarters; unsure of themselves...or, who simply weren't winning favor with officials, for whatever reason.

At the same time, the orphans had their own disadvantages that created obstacles: connections to relatives who didn't want them to be adopted; behavior problems; emotional scarring...

You start to limit the possibilities...but here was someone who wanted to give it a try. And little by little, she got to know a group of siblings from the orphanage...took them out on weekends; to her house for visits; had many occasions for bonding. All very quiet and unassuming, until you look and see that all these little steps have added up to something incredible.

I do think that there is a feeling of "that's not my thing" that comes from the Lord. We can recognize where we are not gifted; where it does not seem God is leading. But other obstacles are just temporary; difficult to move by human strength, but having potential in the supernatural.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Acceptance

We were entering the dressing room in a clothing store in a certain town that has a larger Russian immigrant population. The attendant's name-tag said "Yelena," and my mom ratted me out in pointing to me and announcing, "My daughter lives in Russia!"

To which Yelena responded by asking if I spoke Russian, and I said, I did, a little bit.

Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes in Russian and by the end of the conversation she knew I was a missionary and had invited me to the Russian Baptist Church nearby. She even wrote down her phone number, labeling it "sell phone." I don't know if I will make it there for a visit or not...

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The thing that feels comfortable when coming back to the States is not so much that I know all the rules. I feel pretty awkward with some of the customs, but I feel at ease because of the diversity. It isn't weird to have had some sort of cross-cultural experience, or to wear funky clothes, or to cook exotic foods that might look or smell unusual (but probably taste delicious).

It was interesting that Yelena had become fluent in English and been able to find a steady job, but maintained the connection with the Russian Church, a little piece of her homeland.



When I was visiting my brother and his wife in D.C., we were visited by some Congolese (her nationality). They probably faced some challenges getting through the week in a new culture, but weren't afraid to wear their typically colorful apparel on the streets of America.

And none of this means that in another country the acceptance is absent, or that recent arrivals in the U.S. won't miss home bitterly or feel the loneliness of isolation. It is just an aspect of life that I appreciate here, the cross-cultural openness.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Resurfacing

It is always strange to be writing a blog post from a new location. The last time I clicked on "New Post," I was on a different continent.

The worst of jet-lag is behind me, though it's still hard to focus my mind on something and do it. But it is nothing to complain about!

I headed off to D.C. a few days after arriving, where I met my youngest niece (8 months) and saw some college and even high school friends! We marked our 10-yr high school anniversary this year, so it's nice to see how the Lord has enabled friendships to continue.

And now I'm back in Massachusetts, waiting for my new visa...

click to meet Hannah/-