Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sleep Challenge: Week 1

The other day I stumbled upon an article offering X number of ideas for achieving Y. You know, ones that often turn out to be click-bait. In this case it promised tips for improving sleep quality:

I was pleasantly surprised to find some good ideas in there, as opposed to just time management ideas for making yourself go to bed on time.

A few that I can say I've already tried:

-taking Magnesium
-cutting out caffeine
-making the room dark for sleep
-getting some light exercise

Although I get around the same amount of sleep most nights, the quality varies. Sometimes I have trouble falling or staying asleep and other times I wake up in the morning unable to remember how the night went.

What I'm trying right now:

-switching computer to warm light in the evening with the software they recommend:
-getting out in the daylight earlier in the day (which is only possible before 3 or 4 pm)

Results so far: These sleep "hacks" are all pretty difficult when it is so dark outside! This week has been a tiny bit less overcast, so I feel better when I'm outside, and I don't feel so "confused" about the time of day even though I still feel sleepy.

When I first installed f.lux, I loved the effect as the screen was bathed in warm light. I felt like it was lulling me to sleep. Since then, however, I feel that I have "adapted" and once again learned to push through and have a second wind. I'm thinking about fiddling with the time zone so that it goes to warm light even earlier, in order to send me to bed!

Other steps I want to try:

-Using a "wakeup light" to mimic natural sunlight in the morning.
-Turning off wi-fi at night.
-Going to bed before the second wind kicks in.

And something I haven't figured out yet:

-Keeping the bedroom cool for sleeping. (forced hot air and the radiators don't seem to have any sort of knob for adjustment)

I recommend checking out the blog post! Have you ever tried to kind of reset your body clock?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Latest cooking fun

One thing that has made me happy lately is experimenting in the kitchen! And at other times going back to some simple comfort foods.

Every once in a while I like to treat myself to a trip to a different grocery store that is a little farther away and has more variety. It has a lot of imported products which of course can seem more familiar to me. But once I realized that my bill was nearly doubling, I decided to make it more of a special thing, or I get the staples at the regular grocery store and just go here for specialty items.

Recently I had a particularly satisfying trip where I treated myself to artichoke hearts, avocados, eggplant (imported) and frozen strawberries. I also bought some chickpea flour to experiment with. We don't have a "gluten-free" section or anything, but I do try to incorporate alternative items into our diet just to change things up. Oh, and I stocked up on oregano and cumin, two of my favorite spices that are sometimes hard to find.

Meanwhile, Andrei went to the store the next day and bought me a head of cabbage and a large butternut squash. These items were special because they're normally too heavy for me to carry home by myself, at least if I have other groceries! :)

Some things that I cooked:

1) Artichoke hearts: Tried making sort of a "skinny" spinach and artichoke dip. It worked out well when I snuck it into some quesadillas. But as a "dip" it tasted a little bit too healthy. :) It's really exciting to find preserved artichokes, but these didn't really taste good on their own, maybe due to their being canned. Sometime I will try the jarred version.

2) Avocados: For once I got some good ones! They ripened nicely and were a good enough texture to just eat with a spoon. I drizzled a mustard vinaigrette on top. I would love to eat avocados more but they end up being more of a special treat.

Ate two in one day. Need MORE!

3) Frozen strawberries: I got these to go in smoothies. Usually I just add one of David's banana rejects (he takes 2-3 bites and won't continue) to some kefir and blend. Sometimes I add a cube of defrosted spinach, and now I have the strawberries. I love the taste, but unfortunately I got some "threads" of something, couldn't tell which ingredient it was from. Maybe it was the spinach. Obviously the strawberries would work for baking, too.

Monday, November 16, 2015


If I've ever wanted to quit social media, it is now.

I have about 750 friends on FB, and most of the time I REALLY like all the different posts. There are definitely certain categories of posts that can be emotional triggers, depending on what I'm going through at the moment. But for all the chuckles and uplifting posts and fun photos, I don't mind one or two that are hard to read.

Lately, though...the negativity is winning. It has just seemed so...passive-aggressive lately, or something. I wonder if that's true or if I'm just in a phase where I'm sensitive to things like that.

A lot of times, the standard procedure is to post a quote, image, or link to an article that reflects the person's viewpoint. And it makes sense when what you want to say has already been wrapped up nice and tidy by someone else. But for someone reason this is where that passive-aggressive vibe comes into play for me.

A few months ago, it was Planned Parenthood. There were videos surfacing, with Christians speaking out against killing babies, while PP supporters accused critics of wanting women to suffer without cancer screening, Ob/Gyn care, etc (not to mention birth control and abortion). I had friends on either side who were equally passionate. And yes, many changed their profile pictures to reflect their views, which meant that I thought about the issue whenever their names came up in my newsfeed.

At the same time, many were mourning the plight of refugees, and a lot of posts came up about that.

Oh, and the CUPS. Starbucks cups generated this year's annual Christmas cheer controversy. EVERYONE had to comment on it. I literally thought the FB world had gone mad.

Usually after the first round, the "Christian" response pops up in the form of blog posts that tell us what we should do, sometimes in the form of a letter "to the abused," "to the mother who had an abortion," etc.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Table for one

Today was a little bit of a crabby weird day! David had a screaming fit in the middle of the night and wouldn't tell us what he wanted. When we asked him in the morning of course he said he had wanted something like a snack, but why all the screaming??? Thankfully Andrei is always really patient with him, as I found the yelling physically painful.

Anyway, we were all a bit crabby in the morning, and Andrei was trying to finish some curriculum work that is incredibly draining and time-consuming. But David and I were in and out a lot, embroiled in various conflicts related to potty-training and the like. Yesterday's problem was that I couldn't get him dressed because he made his legs turn to jelly and wouldn't stand up!

David's new favorite game is for us to "switch" roles. He is Mommy and I am David. He gets to boss me around and it is pretty funny hearing his impressions of me! However, he somehow thinks of this game around bedtime. Then he gets to just read me a story and go off while I go to sleep in "my" (fit for a toddler) bed!

I've been trying to get David to strengthen his muscles more, so I've been letting him jump on furniture more, and setting up sort of obstacle courses. It's hard to get him to run around outside and he just isn't a risk taker in this area, which means fewer injuries, but also a lot of pent-up energy that he isn't letting out! I saw this great blog post today about boys and energy:

Meanwhile I was a little bit ready for a break and then Andrei stepped in and I started getting ready for worship practice. I just assumed it was time for me to go since he was taking over. I even thought I was going to be late! So I took the tram to the metro, and then actually had a few minutes to spare, so I decided to take a little side trip to Palace Square, since I haven't been there in ages! I was going to see if there was still a memorial to the plane crash victims, but it seemed that everything had already been taken down. I did take a little picture for my Instagram, and as I was doing that, a young man approached me and thrust one of those paper lanterns at me saying it was free. I put my phone away very carefully and tried to keep track of my pockets, flute, purse with phone inside, and a bag of clothes I was carrying to church. He then said that they were looking for donations for an orphanage, but didn't have any actual paperwork. I took out a small bit of cash and gave it to him, but he didn't really react, and I handed the paper lantern back, too. And then I kept rechecking all my zippers and pockets as I walked away.

I looked at my phone and it was 5:45 pm.

I got to church and climbed up the stairs, got through one set of doors, and the next set was locked! I went back to the hallway to wait, but started doing the math in my head. If it was 5:45 when I was at Palace Square, then it wasn't 7pm when I arrived at was only SIX! I had completely lost track of what time I should leave the house and what time things started. Not to mention my family didn't notice anything either. There I was, having dutifully walked from the metro to get exercise, but now completely exhausted AND hungry and not even at the right place at the right time! I could have been at home sweet home for a whole additional hour!

I headed outside with all my baggage and walked toward a pizzeria where we'd had the rehearsal dinner for our wedding. But everyone inside looked like they were on a date, so I passed on that. Next I found my way to a local coffee house chain. I made myself get something savory instead of a piece of cake. Big disappointment! The "burger" I ordered (costing a small fortune) was mystery meat with a mustard sauce and cilantro, and a side dish of pickled olives and peppers. I forget how different Russian "other" cuisine can be. I find that it's better to order something Russian, which is more predictable, rather than order some other cuisine and be surprised by the Russian spin on it (steer clear of the quesadillas). So, I'm glad I got a few burger fixes when I was in the UK and U.S. recently!

When I finally arrived at worship practice at the CORRECT time, it turned out other people had arrived early too, and visited the Starbucks around the corner. I could have been with them the whole time! Oh well.

P.S. There is no Starbucks cup controversy here in Russia.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Christian Education Rant

David has been more willing to attend Sunday school, which is his only school-like activity during the week. He is tolerant as opposed to enthusiastic, but no tears at least. Sometimes I wonder if it is very stressful for him, because he talks a lot about going home. After he spent some time with my MIL during worship, he had to keep tabs on where everyone was and make sure no one was going home without him. I told him we were going to go back upstairs to see the rest of the family after we did our Sunday school work. And I think he may see it as sort of a ticket to go home! But nevertheless, he is slowly adapting.

It has been fascinating to watch David's peer group develop, after years of teaching Sunday school myself. Preschoolers have the best comments, and very short attention spans! I shake my head just remembering how we kept trying to have "lessons" with them when they were only 2 years old. Of course there are older kids too, up to age 6 or 7. But there are 5 or 6 that are David's age, so they form the majority.

Earlier this fall, an announcement was made that in the next month or two, preschool parents would be expected to stop attending Sunday school with their offspring. I was a bit outraged at this decision being made for us! I know that it is difficult for the teachers when there is a peanut gallery full of parents. And some kids do act more mature with their parents absent. But who was going to accompany the young ones to the potty? Help with the complicated craft projects? Remove an unruly pupil? And what about the ones feeling anxious? It just didn't seem like something you could do on a specific timeline, especially when the kids aren't EXACTLY the same age. 6 months or a year can make such a huge difference developmentally.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

How the week went

This week felt easier, but it didn't hurt that Andrei was home more! His weekly schedule alternates between lighter and heavier workloads, though of course there is always preparation to do for the next time.

I got more breaks, and took a walk every day, sometimes combined with grocery shopping. I got outside more than David did. After the latest (mutual) meltdown, I have not felt eager to venture out together again. I heard someone reference not "cutting corners," and I think that is so crucial with 2 and 3 yr olds. You have to leave lots of time for transitions. You cannot just stop playing and head from point A to point B. There is no such thing as squeezing in a quick activity, because you have to allow time for preparation and then easing out of it. (But of course if you have PLANNED for the activity to kill a lot of time, it won't. ;) )

Another thing accomplished this week was a closet renovation I'd been trying to get done for several months. David watched a lot of TV, and regular housework didn't get done. But it is one of those tasks that will set off a chain of other things getting organized. I will share more about that in another post.

We don't set our clocks forward or backward anymore, so now we are 8 hours ahead of N.Y. time, as opposed to 7 during the summer. However, it has been getting significantly darker, both in the morning AND in the evening! I am sitting here and realizing it is only 2pm...really? When it is overcast, the whole day feels like night! Not too cold yet-holding steady around 40 degrees.

We did host Bible study this week. We try to have it regularly, but cancel when we are sick or when Andrei has to catch up on some work. All-nighters just don't work for us anymore! In our small group we have been discussing the Beatitudes. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." That fits in well with current events, though I think sometimes it is hard to even mention them out loud. Our church has seen some sorrow this year, and there is more loss to come. But we hope in the Lord.

A City in Mourning

Last week's air tragedy was felt pretty deeply by the people of St. Petersburg. That's the impression I've gotten as I've seen the various posts and interactions that have come up in social media this week. Never-mind terrorism or the fact that the victims were just ordinary people on vacation (or that we flew into Pulkovo recently too). The mood has been more one of mourning.

As I said, I got a lot of these impressions through internet interactions. I didn't go downtown this week or venture beyond our neighborhood, so just by going about everyday life, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. But bits and pieces started to come together as I saw what friends and acquaintances were writing.

One friend remarked how we (as residents of St. Petersburg) are all just a few links away from knowing someone who was on the flight (my paraphrase). And she went on to share the Gospel, for those who may be thinking more about Eternity at this point.

Sure enough, I did see some connections come up. A graduate of an orphanage that I used to visit posted a photo of one of her peers, who lost her life. I recognized her as a girl I had probably met at the orphanage or possibly summer camp.

Over the past few days I have sat down and gone through some of the news stories and read more about some of the victims and looked at some photos. Some of the tributes are very touching, and even poems have been written. Russian culture is beautiful in that way.

But I had to stop. I don't know about you, but I feel that when mourning, it is important to have SOME information. I needed to know more about what happened in order to accept what happened as reality, and to understand (as much as is possible from the sidelines) the depth of loss that loved ones are feeling. But when it comes to the details of death, or intimate final conversations, or graphic photos (sorry), I feel that it borders on sensationalism, voyeurism. And I don't think we are meant to really fill our heads with horrible images.

The investigation continues, but I don't know if I want to read the news anymore.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Our recent trip to the U.S. (which we arrived home from about 10 days ago) had to be timed very carefully, as it interrupted the school year. We also had the following to accomplish:

-travel before mid-October (when David's old visa would have run out)
-be in the U.S. in early October for my cousin's wedding on the West Coast
-arrive in the U.S. sometime before that, to get over jet-lag and get the visa application in the mail
-travel on a day when Andrei would be free to see us off
-be in the U.S. long enough for the visa to be ready, without having to expedite
-avoid arriving in Boston during a Red Sox game
-avoid early morning flights
-have Andrei arrive and fly back with us during a week when he has the fewest amount of lectures to reschedule

So, we did just that. Here is how we passed the time (sorry, can't get photos in order):

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...