Happy (it’s almost Christmas!) Friday

Happy Friday, friends! Or, as the girls from Little Women would say, “Here we com a-wassailing!”

We’ve had a slow week here – a bit of job hunting, a teething baby, some snow shoveling, grocery shopping, and present wrapping. I’m counting down the days until family get-togethers on Christmas Eve.

Here are a few links for your December weekend:

 

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The Ruble

tishkina07 : “Mega Belaya Dacha, midnight”

Homesickness for Russia? Cured.

Look at these awful photos collected by Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov. These are people hitting the stores in Moscow to buy out inventory with their rubles before prices go up. Look at those lines! Hell on earth! I have absolutely no desire to be in Russia right now.

olga.lifestyle: “Today again I didn’t bring food with me – I couldn’t have imagined spending 5 hours on a Monday during the day in Ikea.”
tanya_roock: “You say there’s a crisis? This is the line for fur coats.”

Friends, you must be keeping up with the news of Russia’s falling ruble. It was the world’s worst performing currency this week. It was up to almost 79 rubles to the dollar on Tuesday. I’m sure many of you, like us, have lost a lot of their savings and salary. One expat working in Russia told The Moscow Times, “It’s not worth my time to show up to work, as I have no need to earn any more of this currency.” I think that pretty much sums it up.

So what does the crashing ruble look like in Moscow right now? It looks like people lining up around the block to buy Ikea furniture. It means people whispering at the office, worrying about their jobs being cut. It means Facebook posts with swear words, exclamation marks, and the exchange rate. It means Apple halting their sales in Russia. It means people crowding into tourist agencies to cancel their New Years trips abroad, no longer able to afford leaving the country. Online the falling ruble looks like this.

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but things in Russia are getting ugly, and I think that this is only the beginning. What will Russia look like in 1 year? In 5? I see life getting very difficult for those of us who live in Russia, have loved ones in Russia, or do business there. It’s hard to watch and hard to be a part of.

The only good news for us? My recent nostalgia and homesickness for Moscow has suddenly worn off!

What about those of you living in Moscow? What does it feel like now?

For those of you who are interested, here are a few articles about Russia that I found insightful this week.

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Christmas in the suburbs (with a baby!)

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Friends, have you ever studied the Christmas story?

I love coming back to this story every December. Reading the Bible (especially this part of it) is like taking a Shakespeare class. I love returning to these themes, and these classic stories for the same reason that I loved reading Dostoyevsky and Homer in university. It gives you a new perspective on the world. Discussing these stories is a way to discuss life.

So I love talking about Luke, Isaiah, Daniel, and John in study groups, and thinking about what the author’s original intent was; putting these ancient characters in their historic and cultural contexts. I love looking at the Old Testament and the Jewish prophecies, and how they fit in with New Testament letters and tales.

And, by the way, now that we’re here in the U.S. isn’t it so strange how layered this story has become, 2,000 years later in suburban America? I mean, originally, Christmas was actually completely bizarre. It’s this story about an unmarried Jewish woman impregnated by God, giving birth to God’s son in a cave in Palestine. It sounds like some really bad science fiction movie starring, perhaps, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So how, 2,000 years later in suburban America, has it become the winter holiday it is? Christmas, as we know it, is set against this background of hot chocolate, red and green sweaters, fir trees decorated with glass ornaments, awkward family gatherings set to tunes about reindeer and snowmen. Christmas is now fake wooden mangers in the snow, a frenzy of holiday spending, the taste of peppermint, the smell of cinnamon, and movies about a man dressed in red coming down chimneys to put presents in our footwear.

But once you’ve sifted through all the layers, and you come back to that original manuscript with a teenage Jewish virgin who travels donkey-back to the mountain city of Bet Lehem to give birth, you start to wonder what all the connotations of this story are; this story that some 2 billion people claim is the start of their religion.

If this is the story of Emmanuel; of how God came to us, what does it mean that He came as a baby?

This is my first Christmas as a parent, and so when I think this year about God coming as a baby, it means something wholly new for me.

God does not come to us as a politician, speaking to the press, and toeing a party line. He does not come to us as a businessman in a downtown office, with whom we must make an appointment. He does not come as a celebrity whom we see on a screen. He does not come as a success; someone we have to build a network in order to meet.

God moved into your family, into your arms. He woke you up in the middle of the night, crying, needing a diaper change, demanding your attention. He came silly – cooing, and blowing raspberries, and giggling. He came learning and playing peek-a-boo. He came with round cheeks, fuzzy head, toothless grin. He changed who you were as a person, changed the way you saw the world. God came as a disruption; a destruction of the quiet, secure little life you’d built. He came as your responsibility, as your future, as a new member of your most intimate circle.

So, if that’s the story of Christianity, doesn’t that mean that, for the majority of the time, I’ve got this whole Christianity thing wrong? If God comes to us as a child, I guess that means we’re probably all taking this whole religion thing, and ourselves, a little too seriously? Maybe relating to God means a bit more silliness? A bit more patience? A bit less rushing?

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Jesus (Matthew 18:3)

That’s how I want to experience God this Christmas: as a new parent with a baby; as a child filled with wonder.

So that, my friends, is it. And here’s wishing you a Merry, Merry Christmas, full of laughter and wonder, exhaustion, inconvenience, disruption, and delight, whether you meet it in the U.S. or in Russia; in the suburbs or the city; in the living room or a church or a hospital or a gas station. I hope your Christmas is full of joy, and good news, and celebrated with the God who is near; the Christ who is with us.

Lots of love from us here in the suburbs!

 

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Russian Masters and Servants

Masters and Servants by Lilia Li-Mi-Yan

One of the artists shortlisted for Russia’s Kandinsky Prize was Lilia Li-Mi-Yan for her documentary photo project Masters and Servants. Her work is a series of portraits depicting Russian home owners and their household help. Super interesting, no?

Masters and Servants by Lilia Li-Mi-Yan

I love seeing the various interior design choices of these people, and the poses they chose. All the “servants” seem slightly uncomfortable. Even more interesting are the poses the “masters” chose to take. Check out more of her work here.

Masters and Servants by Lilia Li-Mi-Yan

Li-Mi-Yan was born in Turkmenistan. You can check out the work of the two other artists shortlisted for Kandinsky, including the winner of the prize, Pavel Pepperstein here.

Masters and Servants reminds me of the crazy Russian oligarchette who wrote an article on how to manage a household of servants. 

P.S. photos found on Li-Mi-Yan’s website here.

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Quote of the Week

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Russian President Vladimir Putin surprises German Chancellor Angela Merkel with his pet dog in 2007 in Sochi – DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty

It’s an oldie but a goodie. Have you seen this Merkel quote about Putin? It’s EXACTLY what I’m talking about when I say Russia is currently ruled by 13-year old boys.

“I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man,” Merkel said. “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”

I was reminded of the quote when I read this article the other day.

Do you have any favorite Putin quotes?

P.S. the quote and the Putin/Merkel picture were found on Vox in this article. Totally worth a read – go check it out.

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December Links

Hello friends!

How is December finding you? Economist husband and I haven’t really celebrated Christmas in over two years, so we are loving being in the U.S. and with my family for the holidays. I can’t wait for the Christmas brunches, and story-reading with my family, and the Italian food on Christmas Eve, and the candlelight service, and Anna Grace’s first елка.

What about you? Do you have any holiday traditions you look forward to? Any ways you like celebrating Advent?

Here are a few links for your December:

P.S. bublik photo found here.

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How Did We Get Here?

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Life is finally taking shape here.

It’s an overcast December day – snow has crusted the streets and the yard is white with rabbit tracks balding the snow in green patches. Elvis, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, and just about every other musician you can think of sing songs on the radio: alerting us about the Christmas it’s beginning to look a lot like, and warning us about Santa Claus coming to town. The UPS truck trundles around our neighborhood often, bringing brown Amazon boxes, and the mail is full of coupons, and promises of sales (“Extra 20% off!” “Hurry in while sales last!” “A second helping of savings!” “Let’s Go Gifting!”).

Where are we? I barely recognize our life.

I barely recognize us.

Finally economist husband is here, and finally we’re all together. Finally our cozy basement apartment is set up, and we’re settling into a new routine. I have a bed. My clothes are unpacked. The suitcases are put away. My computer is set up on a desk. I actually invited friends over yesterday. Most of our neighborhood is settling down into a winter hibernation, but I feel like I’ve only just begun to wake up.

How did we get here?

My life is so unfamiliar. All the rhythms, the smells, even the people are different. There are quiet mornings now, phone calls in English, trips to Target, an 11-month old toddling her way around the living room furniture, a new car in the garage, a snowy suburban yard.

I have to think hard to remember Moscow – the tang of dust always in the air, the slam of metal doors in the apartment building hallway, the rhythms of work, and weekend, and traffic. But I remember well the person I used to be there. And the person I am now? I’m not sure I know who that is. Who is this person with no job? With a toddler? Living in her mother’s basement? Living in the suburbs?

We wanted a life change and we got it. Now begins the slow process of building up a new life. I miss the person I used to be, and the world I used to inhabit. Being here is restful, wonderful, full of potential, but I’m also slightly uncomfortable with this new life, like someone walking around in a stiff pair of new shoes.

Have you ever been here? Are you here right now? Lost in an unfamiliar place? Unsure of who you are anymore? Swept up by change? I’d love to hear about it.

Friends, I’m looking forward to writing a bit more regularly now that life has quieted down some. Thanks for sticking around :)

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New Film: Leviathan

Friends,

Have you seen the trailer for Andrey Zvyagintsev’s new film “Leviathan”? It looks incredible!

The film is about “someone who had a direct clash with power” in rural contemporary Russia. I love Zvyagintsev’s gorgeous cinematography, and his thought-provoking plots. An interview I had with him a few years ago remains one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done in Russia – he seemed such a creative, curious, artistic, and thoughtful person.

Calvert Journal has a very nice review of this film. This quote about Moscow stood out to me:

“People say Moscow is made of rubber, it stretches…Many people try to go there as it gives you a chance to survive, it’s a very rich city. Unfortunately the country is built in such a way that the centre attracts the peripheries, not the other way around. Moscow is like a separate state and that’s a cause of envy in provincial towns. The country’s gigantic — it’s impossible to follow everything and keep it under control.” -Zvyagintsev

Will you see it?

 

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Quote of the Week: My time in Moscow made a man of me…

photo by Tomer Ifrah

“My time in Moscow…made a man of me…made me an artist…there was a reality and a brutality of life that I think was very important, as a young American, for me to see.”

- Jon Bernthal

Great quote (via this article) from “Fury” star Jon Bernthal who learned to act in Moscow. I can relate to his gratefulness towards Russia. I look back at who I was before I moved to Moscow and who I am now – at first I didn’t like the person I felt Moscow was turning me into. Now I’m thankful for the person I’ve become, and barely even recognize the girl who flew into Sheremetyevo airport with two suitcases and big dreams seven years ago.  I wonder what sort of person moving back to the Midwest will make me?

What about you, friends? How have you been shaped by the brutality or softness of where you are currently living? Are you who you want to be? Are you surprised at the type of person life has made you into? Are you grateful? Not yet? :)

All for now. Lovely Moscow metro photos, no? They’re by Israeli photographer Tomer Ifrah who wanted to explore the metro as “a place of social contact and as a cinematic backdrop for everyday interactions.” You can see more of his work here.

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October Holding Pattern

by Vincent Van Gogh

I knew the nostalgia and homesickness would come.

Moscow now is a distant place I see through Instagram posts, and newspaper headlines. It’s stills of red October sunsets on stone buildings, and walls of traffic. It’s depressing stories about the falling ruble, repressive new laws, and spats with the West. It’s Facebook pictures of friends picnicking in city courtyards, launching projects, debuting at theaters, going to yoga classes, traveling to Ukraine, and Paris; working, growing, moving on.

I miss living in a world capital, and feeling the buzz of traffic, people, politics, and the entire world moving by outside my window. I miss the opportunities, the art; I miss being in the thick of things; I miss brushing up against the lives of my friends – their work, their art, their drama.

I’ve been in the U.S. for several months now, and still feel like I’m in a holding pattern. I’m waiting to find a job. My suitcases are still packed, waiting for a renovation to finish before I can put my things away, and settle in. It feels like I’ve been in transition; waiting, waiting, waiting forever.

It’s not that I want to go back to Russia, but it’s hard to be in a holding pattern for so long. One life has disappeared, and I seem to be unable to pick up my new life. So much of my daily existence has disappeared that I feel disoriented. With so much of my new existence on hold, I feel swallowed up other people’s lives, routines, identities, homes.

I wouldn’t exactly call it writer’s block, but it’s hard to carve out time to blog when I can’t even carve out a spot to put my computer down.

Yesterday, a new acquaintance encouraged me to give myself a little grace. When you go through huge life upheavals, it’s completely normal to be thrown off balance. If I’m stressed out, or emotional, or not getting as much done as I’d like to, there’s a pretty good reason for it.

So that’s where I am this October: waiting, waiting, waiting, and a bit frustrated to still be waiting. I miss parts of my old life, but I’m thankful to be here, and excited for what our new life will turn out to be here.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, friends. I’m not exactly sure how Breakfast In Moscow is going to change over the next couple months, but I’m excited to see what will happen as I transition, and move out of this holding pattern.

Until then, a few links to brighten your October day (whether it’s a gray one in Moscow, or an on-fire one in Minnesota):

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80 Things a True Muscovite Would Never Say

Friends,

Have you seen this article from The Moscow Times this week? Hilarious, and so true.

80 Things a True Muscovite Would Never Say

Is there anything you’d add to the list?

True story: after my first stint living in Russia I went to visit my cousin out of the country for a week. She and her roommates had a huge stockpile of plastic shopping bags in their kitchen, and I actually asked if I could have some of them to take back with me. After just a few months I’d sunk deep into the Russian plastic bag obsession.

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August

Russian dacha – photo by Vika Bogorodskaya for “The Village”

Is it August already? Summer is flying by!

Moscow has been HOT the last few weeks. Friends keep posting videos of midnight IKEA excursions to take advantage of the air conditioning and then, of course,  this happened in St. Petersburg.

Also, obviously, things are heating up politically. Economist husband went to a McDonald’s over the weekend and found it had been vandalized. And Russia banned imported food in retaliation for Western sanctions. Who expected that? Russia is changing quickly, and I don’t like the direction it’s going. More and more of our friends are thinking about leaving. Of course I’m still in the honeymoon phase of transition to a new place, but being here in the U.S. makes me so sad for Russia – all the missed opportunities, squandered hopes, and pointless frustration that happen when you live in a country or a city with leaders more interested in stealing, hiding, and controlling than upholding the law and working to better the lives of their countrymen.

Alas! I stray dangerously close to the proverbial soapbox, so let’s talk about what a great month August is, and all the wonderful things going on in the world:

What about you, friends? How is your summer going? Any recipes to share? Interesting articles? Good book recommendations?

 

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Quote of the Week

photo by cara zuri

Friends,

Did you see this article by David Remnick in the New Yorker the other week? It was so so good! It’s long, but well worth your time for insight into what is going on in Russia right now.

Here are a few random quotes I liked:

“Putin speaks more and more in terms of Russian vastness, Russian exceptionalism, of Russia as a moral paradigm” -David Remnick

“He (Putin) really does kind of superimpose the way his system works onto the way he thinks our system works. He grossly exaggerates the role of the C.I.A. in the making of our foreign policy. He just doesn’t get it.’” -David Remnick quoting former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul

“Commercialism had obliterated the European culture he (Dugin) loved and reduced its citizens to a state of profound “loneliness.” As for the Americans, he found them “honest and clear and pragmatic and very free, and they are not so corrupt or hypocritical or decadent as Europe—but they are absolutely wrong at the same time in the metaphysical sense. They have a cult of real evil there. What they have taken for the most important value—individuality—is absolutely wrong. . . . I think American society is simply insane.” -David Remnick quoting Aleksandr Dugin

If you prefer listening to reading, try this NPR interview with Remnick instead. 

Have you read any good articles lately?

P.S. St. Basil’s photo by cara zuri found here.

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First Impressions of the U.S. (Honeymoon Stage!)

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I’ve heard that adapting to a new culture (or re-acclimating to an old culture) goes in waves starting with a honeymoon phase, then rolling into shock, recovery, and adjustment before starting the whole cycle all over again.

We have been in the U.S. for over a month now, and I think I’m still in the honeymoon stage. I’m still basking in all the exotic, wonderful parts of my new/old home. I wonder how long it will last?

Here are a few first impressions of our new life in the suburban U.S. :

  • Everything here is sooooooooo easy!
  • No traffic!
  • Yard sales! they’re amazing
  • The consumerism gets to you right away, and eats away at your soul – at least it’s eating away at mine. I have to consciously step away, and tell myself “less is more!”
  • The choice of what you can buy and where you can buy it is overwhelming. We’ve gotten away with so very little shopping for such a long time, that it’s paralyzing to be presented with so many stores, prices, and options. It takes me ages to get through stores – I dawdle, for example, in the yogurt section trying to absorb all the different choices, and decide what to purchase, and whether or not to purchase right away or shop somewhere else (organic! grass-fed! non-fat! full-fat! Greek! pro-biotic! smooth! creamy! pasteurized! ultra-pasteurized! pineapple! vanilla! plain! pumpkin! blueberry! sugar-free! natural! soy! non-soy!) I fight between the urge to snap things up like some deprived Soviet hoarder, or just stare at the dairy section for ages.
  • People’s yards are amazing – i love going for walks and just looking at the way people have landscaped their spaces. Beautiful. Refreshing
  • I feel so much calmer here – birds tweeting, wind in the trees, clean air, happy baby. It brings so much joy to my heart to see the wildflowers on the side of the road, and the summer clouds in the sky. It’s not that there isn’t green/nature in Moscow, but it’s so much more accessible here. I’d forgotten how soothing I find it.
  • I love being able to drive and get around, and see family/friends
  • I love my church here.
  • because everything is easier, I have so much more time. I play cards. I go for walks. I set up long Skype dates. I clean. I play with my baby. I hang out with my sister. I pick strawberries. I go to bed at 9:30. I have actually purchased (at a yard sale! $2!) and re-finished a Thonet-style wooden rocking chair. I’ve stripped the wallpaper in my mother’s basement. It’s incredible how much you can get done here.
  • I’m on my computer/iPhone a lot less.
  • Anna seems to be sleeping a lot more peacefully and regularly. She’s also less fussy as she’s not cooped up in an apartment for most of the day
  • I try not to be, but I’m a little freaked out by how friendly people are in public. My knee-jerk reaction when someone starts chatting is to get away as soon as possible. I’m always really suspicious of what they’re up to. Are they trying to swindle me? Are they weird? Are they flirting? Will they hurt me? It’s crazy! It’s super uncomfortable – all my alarm bells go off. I have to actively remind myself that they’re just Minnesotan, and that’s just how they normally interact with others.

Also, I’m surprised at how I’ve turned so (white suburban) American so quickly! I wear Teva sandals and shorts. I drive a compact SUV. I even started on the Paleo diet with my sister the other week! Seriously! What’s happened to me?

In general though, things are just really, really great. One of the things I realized almost right away is how comparatively great it is to have a baby here. I’d always told myself that, as long as you were a decent parent, and didn’t live in a war zone that childhood would be great for your kids. It didn’t matter whether you lived in suburban Minnesota or Moscow - childhood is such a wonderful time that you’d have good memories no matter what. Now that I’m here though I’m really, really glad I’ll be able to raise my daughter in the U.S. I love having a yard and walking trails near our house. I love being able to have her  outdoors all the time – taking her on walks, to strawberry patches, and family get-togethers, and swimming pools. It may be cliche, but this is a GREAT place to raise a family.

Honeymoon phase is in full swing!

Have you ever moved back to your home country? What was hard about it? What was great about it? Any advice for the rest of us?

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July Monday

Cyrvynne xyx print by Spires

Hello friends,

Thanks so much for stopping back here. The move has been so much more time-consuming than I thought it would be! It’s been hard for me to make time to post. But I miss the blog. The introvert half of me misses the reading, reflecting, and writing lifestyle that comes so much more naturally when you live in a 1-room Moscow apartment.

I’m not sure how this blog will evolve over the next few months, but thanks for bearing with me, and for coming back to read. Your comments, emails, and hellos have been so encouraging!

Until then, here are a few thoughts for the start of your July week:

And finally, this quote:

“Life is about experiencing all the things you find interesting and fascinating. Just get out there and experience as much as you can. Participate in life.” – Louie Zamperini

I’m thinking a lot this July about how to organize my life around experiences and things I find fascinating.

How are all of you? Any quotes or links or tips to share with the rest of us?

P.S. Art print by Spires found here

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