Monday, April 29, 2013

Out of Order

Since the ground has thawed in the city, workers have sprung to life, finishing projects that had been delayed all winter. In our building, this involved repainting the stairwell. I'm not sure why this had to occur in the spring, but it did. I often wonder what the system is as to prioritization.

So for a week or two we had the paint fumes, and we tried to do as much airing out of the flat as possible, without freezing ourselves and/or David.

When they were finished, they painted the elevator. The elevator is a tiny space with one dim lightbulb, so dark brown seemed like a strange paint color, although it did cover up graffiti nicely.

I tried summoning the elevator the other day when I was leaving for a meeting. It didn't come, and on my way home I found that it had been repainted a gray color, probably due to complaints about the dark brown. It smelled again, but there was hope that these projects were done.

The next afternoon, we came home from church and found the elevator stopped at the first floor, with the doors open. It struck me as strange that the doors were open, as they usually shut automatically. But we squeezed in anyway with the stroller, took a few minutes to count and figure out which button was ours (the numbers had been painted over), and pressed it carefully. The doors closed, and I was relieved that the elevator worked, as I was not in the mood to trudge up to the seventh floor. However, the doors closed, and we didn't go anywhere, and they didn't open again.

We were stuck in an elevator with a baby and paint fumes. We started pressing the "door open" button and the emergency "connect with dispatcher" button, or where we guessed they would be, sans labels.

When someone came in from outside and began to call the elevator, we shouted, "the elevator is broken! We're trapped in here with a baby!" The man grumbled over the elevator being out of order, and decided to take the stairs.

We didn't know a phone number to call, and the emergency numbers had all been painted over (they are usually marked in later with magic marker). The only people we know in our building live directly below us, and they were the realtors who sold us the flat for their friends, who were their neighbors (long story). That phone number was on Andrei's cell phone...which he had forgotten at home when we'd left for church in the morning.

David was starting to wake up. Well, if he got really upset, I could nurse him, but that was going to be hard without having had anything to eat/drink myself. Would I pass out eventually from the paint fumes? How long was it going to take to get out? Minutes? Hours? Were we in actual danger?

We used my phone to call Andrei's parents and ask them to call and get a tech over to our building.

Meanwhile, people kept coming into the building and seemed to not hear us calling for help. One woman heard us and we asked her to call the emergency services and she said "I don't know the number" and walked away.

Finally, another woman realized we were stuck and walked away saying "Just a minute." That sounded hopeful.

Apparently this woman found a phone number (or Andrei's parents got through), and 5-10 minutes later someone was banging on the door and saying "You in there, which floor were you trying to get to?" Don't ask me why that mattered, but he went up to another floor and called the elevator and the doors popped open. "He" being the technician.

Freedom! As soon as were were out of the elevator, into the building walked Vladimir the downstairs-realtor-neighbor and his wife. So they hadn't been home after all. Hopefully they would have helped us out if they'd happened by five minutes earlier!

I don't know who the woman was that called the tech, but I'm grateful to her!

Oh, and the elevator technician, chipping away at stuck pieces of paint and gum that were clogging the elevator shaft, asked why we hadn't pressed the emergency button.

"But we DID."

"Evidently you didn't press hard enough."

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Visa Run (sort of) to Kiev

Why Kiev?

The week before last, we finally sat down to plan a trip out of the country. David's 6 months in Russia were coming to a close, and we had to at least cross the border and come back in to get new registration, though his visa is good for 3 years.

We were planning on visiting the Baltics again. However, when we sat down and looked at the calendar, we realized that once again we couldn't get Andrei a visa in time! What a nightmare! One factor that was different this time was that we didn't need to DO anything out of the country, we just needed to leave Russia, and this could be done in one day's time. Whereas last time we had avoided booking a hotel room because we needed a longer stay, this time we could just purchase a 1-2 day tour and get Andrei a tourist visa.

As it turned out, we still didn't have enough time, nor the necessary documents.

I thought about just getting to the closest border alone with David. I started trying to find out if any friends would be able to enter Finland or Estonia with us. Andrei continued to pursue various visa requirements.

To make a long story short, our next step was to find a country that would let us all in without an entry visa...and that country, this time, was Ukraine.

A Quick Trip

After doing a little research, Andrei and I booked plane tickets to Kiev. With a little one in tow, we try to find a balance between comfort and frugality. In this case, needing to make a short trip was not worth a lengthy trip by bus or train with an infant to care for. We spent a little more money and booked a 2 hr flight. We also took taxis to and from the airport, to avoid dealing with public transportation...though we did check out the metro for a little sight-seeing, just not with all our baggage.

My Travel Notes

-off to a rough start...our route to the airport was blocked off by traffic due to bicyclists. Lots of nerves, but we made it.

-I was looking forward to buying a bottle of water once we got through security. Come to find out, it still wasn't allowed. The first place said they would only open it and pour it into a cup. I stared at the bottles in the cooler longingly...then downstairs I tried another place and they said they would sell me the bottled water, but without the cap. I am CRANKY when I don't have access to drinking water when I need it. I decided to buy it anyway and just chug it. Turned out it was 20 rubles MORE than the first place and I didn't even have enough money, so I had to go get more from Andrei.

-I forgot about getting on a bus from the terminal to the plane. Next time I will have to plan for getting dressed/undressed at every checkpoint!

-a few degrees make a huge difference! Kiev is "ahead" of St. Petersburg in terms of spring, and it felt SO pleasant, even with a brisk wind and the sun going down earlier in the evening.

-we loved the architecture! And Kiev seemed more sprawled out, like Moscow, and with hills, as opposed to the flat St. Petersburg layout.

-a different feeling, but with the same Soviet aura. Statues of Lenin...certain lettering on buildings. Andrei could explain it better, probably.

-handicapped ramps in a lot of places, yet tons of staircases and underground pedestrian tunnels-exhausting even for the person not lugging the stroller! I found this write-up:

-people seemed more friendly/familiar, starting with the cab driver telling us about his grandchildren (of course, that could have been just Andrei's talkativeness!) We visited a local church and they were very hospitable, even offering to show us around the city.

-same language "confusion" as Estonia-it's not Russia, but everyone speaks Russian, and/or English. However, Ukrainian is easier to understand than Estonian!

-people were more likely to take us (me?) for foreigners. First the cab driver guessed that I was American, which surprised me. Normally even if people don't think I'm Russian, they assume I'm from a nearby country or at least Europe. I wonder if I was wearing something weird, or maybe David's stroller looked American? Andrei's backpack? Someone randomly spoke English to us in the metro, too.

-non-smoking zones! It was a pleasant surprise to go out to eat and find that the restaurants were all smoke-free. I did see people smoking on the street, but they seemed more careful to not smoke out other people, especially with a young child.

-an amusing experience on the way back: we waited and waited for everyone to show their boarding passes and get on the bus from the terminal to the plane. Well, the plane was at the next gate. We waited 30 minutes only to ride about 10 meters. :)

What visa-free zone will we discover next?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Weekend in Kiev! (sneak peek with photos)

Some visuals from our latest adventure. As always, click to enlarge.

Morning snack in the hotel!

David loves his new big-boy stroller!
In the local church we visited.

Khreschatyk is pedestrian-only on weekends!

We were here, too-Independence Square
Too tired to take a closer look at St. Sophia's.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Grieving in April (trigger alert)

Well, that was a strange week. I'm sure a lot of you in the U.S. would agree. For me it was especially strange given the last topic I wrote about on here, BEFORE the Boston Marathon and subsequent events.

Late Monday evening (April 15th) Russian time before bed, I wrote this:
He knows exactly what we are going through, and He has perfect, albeit mysterious, reasons, for allowing our loved ones to suffer and even die. So even though I grieve, I still affirm the perfect sovereignty of God's will.

But I didn't know how soon it would happen AGAIN. Literally a few minutes after I published the post, I went online and started seeing headlines about Boston. People were injured and possible killed; terrified and confused. And sad. 

I didn't know anyone present, and I don't have many ties to Boston, despite having been born and raised in Massachusetts. But it was upsetting that an inspiring, family-friendly tradition had been tarnished by bloodshed. While I had sat at my computer writing about grief, the bombers were getting ready to take other people's lives.

I went to bed late, after reading the news over and over again.

The next morning (April 16th), I woke up to the news that my grandfather had died. I have to admit, while a bombing is sad in principle, it's not the same as losing a family member. And that was really when I had to figure out how to put my own thoughts into practice. I think it is easier to write about tragedies that aren't so close to home.

As a result of all these events, I have been thinking about death a lot. There are times when it happens to someone else and there are times when it's close to you. When I see elderly people, I think of my grandfather. When I hear about anything medical-related, I think of the blood-soaked pavement in Boston and of all those people suffering. When I'm in a car and it swerves, or the driver slams on the brakes, or someone doesn't stop for a pedestrian, I think of the car that likely "clipped" another, causing the huge, fiery crash involving my dear orphans. And then there was my friend whose mother recently remarked that he'd likely had strep for awhile before his fatal illness, he'd just thought he was "tired" often do I, do any of us get that feeling? Just the other day it hurt to swallow...I thought I was coming down with something. And then there are just thoughts about mortality in general.

It is hard to come to terms with someone not being around anymore. It is confusing; a mystery.

I want to make it clear that I am not "worrying" or being a hypochondriac. I am just contemplating what it means to be human. There is nothing that can prevent us from eventually dying: not seatbelts, nor flu shots, nor any other safety measures. We have to come to peace with this.

Lately I have been trying to pray through these thoughts as they come. I ask the Lord for protection of different kinds, for peace in dangerous situations, for the Lord to care for my loved ones if something happens to me, for care for ME if I lose someone to death, and for the strength to endure a painful death, if that is in my future.

I am sorry if it all sounds upsetting. All it is, is facing my fears and surrendering them to the Lord. And I feel at peace.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


A little context here: David opened the drawer, dove in, and helped himself to a snack. Apparently our work here is done; he can now fend for himself. ;)

Those crackers are actually ANCIENT, but David didn't seem to mind!

Too Many Eulogies

I want to clarify about the title of this post. From a human perspective, everything feels "too hard." People we love often lose their lives "too early." There is "too much" tragedy around us...doesn't it seem like more than our fair ration?

Although God is compassionate and allows us to grieve, I also think of Psalm 139, verse 16: "...all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (NIV)

He knows exactly what we are going through, and He has perfect, albeit mysterious, reasons, for allowing our loved ones to suffer and even die. So even though I grieve, I still affirm the perfect sovereignty of God's will.

The Accident

A lot of you know what happened to the orphanage recently, but I will do a quick recap.

The orphanage that I visited for something like 8 years in a row had sent a group to another city for an excursion, during school vacation week.

On the way back, the bus was in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer. I got the news that 6 people had been killed, but I didn’t know which ones. It felt like one of those school shootings where you don’t know at first who survived and who didn’t. And you don’t have any contact.

I got online, gathering information really quickly. A few of the orphans/staff already had posted about grieving. Everyone was in shock. I found a few news reports, including one with a list of all those injured/dead. But which were which? The next thing I found out was that all those who had been killed were adults: of the orphanage group, 2 drivers and 2 other chaperones. It wasn’t until a few days later that I saw some photos and matched the names with the faces. I recognized them all.

And the children, the precious children…relief that they are alive, but sadness that they experienced this. People have posted some GRUESOME photos of the wreckage, and I just cannot imagine the horrific scenes that the children witnessed. And what gut-wrenching fear was felt by the other members of the orphanage family, who were not with them at the time?

The counselor I am friends with was not on the bus. I spoke to her by phone and she was headed to the hospital to see the injured. I could hear the grief in her voice. Reach out to her, Lord.

A few weeks have now gone by and most of the injured are back in the orphanage, but the road to recovery, emotionally at least, may be long.

And now, a few words about one of the deceased, an orphanage counselor in her 50’s.

I walked to the bus stop with her once. (I know I shared this with someone, but I can't remember if it was on my blog or not.)

I felt embraced by many people at the orphanage and largely ignored by others. But whenever I had the opportunity to actually talk to someone, it turned out that they were just misinformed about who I was and what I was doing there.

As we walked along, not ever having chatted before, Maria said to me, "Many volunteers come and go. But KEEP coming." We talked a little bit and she just couldn't understand what would sustain me in this country, and I can't remember if I shared my faith. I hope I did. 

Anyway, after that, she would always smile at me, so genuinely. She was always busy helping the kids and I was, too. But there was that warmth. I wish I could have told her that SHE was a part of the reason that I could go on living here, that God sends people like her to encourage me with a life-giving smile.

In this post I admired some art done by the kids at the orphanage. It turns out that Maria was the one behind the paper sculptures. I learned after the accident that she had been the in-house origami specialist, as well as math tutor. 

What a treasure! Clearly, she will be missed.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Meet and Greet

Well, I got nominated for a blog award in which I am supposed to share some details about myself. I am also supposed to pass it on to someone else. I checked back to a post I wrote about the blogs I follow, and I think about 90% of them are now defunct, though there are still a few of you hanging in there!

Anyway, I do want to give a shout out to a new blog, authored by my sister, where she writes about "balancing family life and art." Lots of ideas for parenting toddlers. Check it out: Seeking to Create.

So, here are the questions from the blog award, with my answers.

11 "random" facts that you may or may not know about me

1) I'm an introvert! Let this serve as a warning that I'm horrible at introducing myself.

2) In third grade, I was nominated “future novelist.” I lied and said I knew what the word meant, and then finally I had to ask the teacher. I haven't written any novels, but in those days I suppose they couldn't have predicted that I'd become a blogger!

3) I’m third oldest of seven children.

4) 2 of my sisters were adopted from Russia

5) One brother lives in Africa (currently Lesotho) and I traveled to Kinshasa, DRC for his wedding. So you can imagine that family reunions are difficult to pull off!

6) I had a crush on my husband for 6 years before he asked me out.

7) I’ve played the flute since I was 10.

8) I started visiting Russia when I was 14, that’s over half my life!

9) I grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts

10) I’ve never had a driver’s license

11) I have a BA in Russian Studies and a minor in Studio Art.

And here are the new questions that Stephanie chose for me:

1. When did you start blogging, and why? I started in 2007. I wanted to record some snippets of daily life to keep family/friends informed.  It’s hard to continually explain to different people what life is like in another country. A lot of details of life are the same, and then there are differences. Regularly posting some observations on daily life feels more natural and is accompanied by less pressure than composing a fancy newsletter.

2. Describe yourself in one sentence. Can I use semi-colons? ;) If people could know one thing about me, I would want them to know that I’m a follower of Jesus.

3. If money was no concern, what would your dream vacation be? I don’t have specific dreams, but lately I have been thinking about London.

4. What's your ideal way of spending a Saturday? Mostly nesting, but maybe taking a short walk to get some fresh air if the weather is nice.

5. What's your go-to lunch? Homemade soup and an open-faced sandwich, then tea.

6. Fiction or non-fiction? What do I actually read or what do I think I should read? In general I like biographical/historical topics. I look for interesting biographies, especially if tied to a specific historical period, but sometimes I end up reading fluffy historical fiction.

7. You have a pet lizard. What's his name? Bo-bo. First thing that came to my mind. But in truth, Lizard is what people call ME.

8. When did you become a Christian? I was a conscious believer by age 5 or so and experienced genuine repentance.

9. What are you afraid of? I thought it would be silly to write that I’m afraid of the dark, but then I noticed that the person that nominated me admitted to it, so I will join her. :) Abandonment, being trapped, etc. Oh, and spiders.

10. Funny memory. Broad topic! Well, I probably have many from when I first moved to Russia and was making faux pas (what’s the plural?) all the time. For example, I got on a bus and bumped into Andrei, whom I had met twice before, and it turned out we were getting off at the same stop (and our buildings were even next to each other). The bus stopped and Andrei got off and I thought it was rude that he didn’t wait for me. Come to find out he had gone ahead to help me off! Oh, those Russian men! I didn’t even know what to do with his proffered hand.

11. What's your favorite season, and why? Spring! New life, expectation of changes, long-awaited rewards, daylight, fresh air, picnics, and my birthday, at the tail-end.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lessons, Part 7

On becoming an instant expert...

Welcome to the club!

One of the most interesting (and positive, I suppose) things about starting a family is how excited OTHER people are for you.

It started before Andrei and I were even dating; friends (and family) being just desperate for me to get married. Not in a mean way like I was living a pathetic life. Just that they wanted to see me happy, in this particular area.

When we announced our engagement, I suppose single friends were just as happy for us as the marrieds. But what was interesting was that friends, already married, whom I hadn’t talked to in DECADES were suddenly “happy” for this new development in my life. Why do they finally come out of the woodwork when I’m getting married, and not getting a new job, or whatever? I think someone even said "now you're one of us!"

Well, I DO like being married. And now I do the same thing, drooling over other people’s engagement announcements and wedding photos. Not just when my friends get married, but when their siblings and cousins do the same!

BUT…even more compelling is what happens when you become a parent. Not only are you suddenly excited for everyone else having kids, but you are now an EXPERT, and you MUST SPREAD INFORMATION about anything and everything parenthood-related you have experienced. (Hence this blog series.) The urge is STRONG!

As soon as you find out you’re having/adopting a child, you start documenting the journey, and that becomes fodder for educating others later. Then of course, three seconds after you've become a parent, you’re ready to turn around and tell that friend in her 9th month just what to expect.

I often laugh at myself dishing out the advice. “Oh, I remember four months…”  “Oh, that happened to us, too.” “What worked for us was….” I can already think of a few families with babies younger than ours with whom we've discussed issues like feeding and rocking.

I also find it funny now that as soon as I see someone post an ultrasound picture or birth announcement or whatever, I find myself emitting squeals of joy. Having children must not be too bad if we are all ecstatic for our friends to join the club.

We suddenly have all the stroller models memorized and can explain the ergonomic qualities/flaws of all the leading baby carriers. But there are also the challenges of parenthood, some more publicized than others, that we gain immediate experience in. And it isn't as easy to share about some of those intimate details, whether it be health issues, changes in relationship roles, or emotions that are just blah. Nevertheless, under the right circumstances, parents love to dish out advice, whether they have 5 days or 50 years of experience under their belts.

I think it's safe to say you join the club for life! If you have any questions, feel free to ask! Hee hee. :)

Friday, April 5, 2013

To flee or not

I am still working on (reading) the Bonhoeffer biography. Lots of thoughts to slowly digest.

Right now I am at the part of his life where he is torn over whether or not he needs to be in Germany. Of course, as readers, we know how his life ends up.

Bonhoeffer did a lot of traveling, and could have escaped from Germany as the conflict was heating up. But when he did travel,-to America, for instance-he felt restless being away from Germany.

Journal entry from 13th June, 1939—The country house in Lakeville, Connecticut, is in the hills; fresh and luxuriant vegetation. In the evening thousands of fire-flies in the garden, like flying fire. I had never seen them before. Quite a fantastic sight. Very friendly and “informal” reception. All that’s missing is Germany, the brethren. The first lonely hours are hard. I do not understand why I am here, whether it was a sensible thing to do, whether the results will be worthwhile. In the evening, last of all, the readings and thoughts about work at home.
Another entry from the same time period: It is almost unbearable. . . . Today God’s Word says, “I am coming soon” (Rev. 3.11). There is no time to lose, and here I am wasting days, perhaps weeks. In any case, it seems like that at the moment. Then I say to myself again, “It is cowardice and weakness to run away here now.” Will I ever be able to do any really significant work here? Disquieting political news from Japan. If it becomes unsettled now I am definitely going back to Germany. I cannot stay outside [Germany] by myself. That is quite clear. My whole life is still over there.

Later, we learn that Bonhoeffer did in fact cut short his trip in favor of returning to Germany. Was it mere homesickness or a greater sense of obligation? Perhaps some of both.

Even in a time of peace, I think we often feel a sense of urgency and restlessness when we have to be away from what we believe is our place of ministry. It reminds me of times when I've been delayed from entering Russia. 

And it also resembles our situation a little bit, with people asking if we want to seek a better life elsewhere. In Russia, we're a religious minority. And the country has seen better times. For some these reasons are motivation to leave, and for others it just creates more opportunities to trust in the Lord.

*Quotes were included in the Eric Metaxas biography. I need to go back and get the page numbers...

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...