Quote of the Week

photo by Ilya Varlamov

Friends,

Did you realize that since Russia invaded Ukraine the ruble has plummeted, the Russian economy has tanked, BUT Putin’s popularity is higher than ever?

People are always surprised to hear this. I myself am always surprised to hear this. How can this be? A recent article by Gary Shteyngart explains the phenomenon well: it’s Russian TV!

“What a powerful weapon Putin’s television is. How skillfully it combines nostalgia, malice, paranoia and lazy humor; how swiftly it both dulls the senses and raises your ire.” -Gary Shteyngart

“This is geopolitics as middle-school homeroom. Like an ambitious tween who longs for social success, Russia wants to be both noticed and respected. The invasion of Crimea and the bloody conflict in Eastern Ukraine got the world’s attention, but now the cool nations are no longer inviting Russia for unsupervised sleepovers, and the only kids still leaving notes on Russia’s locker are Kim Jon-un and Raul Castro.” -Gary Shteyngart

I’ve always talked about Russia’s current leadership being similar to a bunch of pubescent teenage boys with Napoleon complexes. Gary Shteyngart says it with a bit more eloquence. Fantastic article, and well worth a read!

P.S. metro photo, which so perfectly encapsulates the Russian mentality by Ilya Varlamov found here.

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Donetsk Artist

by Angela Dzherikh

Friends,

Have you been following the news out of Ukraine? It can all turn into a wash of distant information, don’t you think? Politics, prejudice, and stories like a geopolitical football game you’d watch on TV, or some unrealistic giant game of Risk you hear about on the radio. It’s hard to get a grasp on the truth of what life there really tastes like.

A friend of mine who’s a journalist working in Ukraine recently posted a link to the work of a Donetsk artist. The art is captivating – such a realistic glimpse of the post-Soviet reality in the CIS. Looking at the paintings made me feel instantly transported to the gritty neighborhoods, grocery stores, and courtyards of Donetsk. These look like scenes I can actually remember from the bus or electrichka, or walking to get my shoes repaired in a Moscow suburb.

Have a look:

by Angela Dzherikh
by Angela Dzherikh
by Angela Dzherikh
by Angela Dzherikh

Such strange and lovely post-Soviet moments, don’t you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Do you have any favorite artists from the CIS?

P.S. please check out more of Angela Dzherikh’s work here and here.

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Recent American Favorites

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aspen and snowfall

Friends, there’s been a lot of nostalgic sniffling for Moscow around here. Feeling homesick for Russia definitely happens, but that is by far not the full picture. The truth is that life is pretty great here in the U.S. Of course there are good days and bad days, but slowly, slowly life is starting to take shape here.

Some of the developments are loud, like economist husband getting two job offers in one week (!) just recently. (How very helpful and stabilizing!) Mostly, though, it’s quiet things that blink silently into our lives, and then stay put, growing into substance and shape, filling our lives with texture and rhythm. These are things I’m thankful for. These are things I delight in. These are things that make me feel rich.

As proof, I present to you a list of recent American favorites:

  • Finding a few babysitters that are sweet, and near by, and totally affordable
  • Mom, sister, brother. Always. They’re the best. And now they live just minutes away
  • Almond flour (impossible to find in Moscow) + salted butter (you used to be able to get it. Has it been banned now?)
  • Writing work that keeps me thinking, growing, creating. I love writing. I love working. I love hashing things out with smart people
  • Bible Study Fellowship. Why have I never heard of this before? They’re so organized. So great. I get to go on Monday nights for a lesson, and then have little homework assignments all week. This is learning and devotion I’ve been craving.
  • The library. I love the library so so much. I’m not sure there’s anything that makes me feel richer than leaving the library with an armful of FREE books!
  • Dark salted chocolate. Mandarin oranges.
  • Friends that have let me back into their lives. Phone calls. Lunch dates. Long talks
  • Anna Grace. She’s giving hugs now, you know. When she sees me come into the room her face lights up, and then, when she’s in my arms she nestles her fuzzy little head into my neck. Be still my heart! So THIS is what it means to have a daughter…
  • Economist husband likes it here. He’s found tennis lessons near by. He’s found not just one job, but two. It’s only been two months, and he’s beginning to feel comfortable in his own skin. The other day he told me he didn’t want to go back to Russia. It’s big stuff, people.

What about you, friends? In the midst of whatever difficulty you’re facing, what’s developing? What’s taking shape? What’s bringing gratitude to your days?

As a last aside, don’t you wish you had more faith and trust sometimes that God was going to pull you through? Looking back, I can see that He has always come through. And now, I can see Him piecing things together, building our lives. If only I would have more faith ahead of time, and in the thick of things…

 

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Have a Lovely (Valentine’s Day) Weekend

Morgot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev

Hello friends,

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here – out of town visitors, job interviews, cold weather, and a baby who’s suddenly decided she’s too busy for naps.

About you I have not, however, forgotten. For your weekend browsing I present several links:

P.S. Fonteyn-Nureyev photo found here.

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Re-Patriation

illustration by Beatrice Alemagna

What, my fellow internationals, makes a place feel like home for you? Family? Friends? A favorite pillow? A place to prepare breakfast? A drawer in which to store your socks? A wall on which to hang your favorite prints and postcards?

I’m sure you, like me, know home is much more complicated than that. It involves memories attached to streets and buildings and certain shades of light. It involves friends you can call up for adventures and favors. It involves work you are pursuing. It involves investing in banks, and in relationships, and in homes whose walls you’ve painted.

I’ve been struggling with feeling at home lately. Minnesota does not feel like a place I want to be right now. I miss the buzz of twenty-thirty-something ambition that you get in cities. I miss the arts, and the history, and the shock of the foreign unknown we had in Moscow. I miss my job. I miss my multi-lingual friends, and all their dreams and plans.

I miss my old life. Is it possible my life here will ever be as interesting as it was over there?

There was one day, early this month, when Minnesota felt like home. We went to an art museum filled with Ojibwe beaded vests, and Sioux robes, and plastic Matisse cut-outs for baby to play with. We invited friends over, and burned our Christmas tree in a bonfire, and drank hot cider in the back yard. We talked about a big life decision, and we were brutally honest, and the conversation made my heart pound. Then we watched a movie, staying up late into the night, talking politics, religion, family histories.

It was a day full of bright colors, and purpose. It was a brief flash into what I hope a life here will look like. Because, for the most part, while I hate to sound whiny, life here feels boring and swampy, like I’m half-alive. It’s the combination of joblessness, parenting a toddler, and feeling smothered by a new life that doesn’t quite fit. It’s like trying to wade through mud. I’m desperate to get going, to work, to engage with something, but am unsure of where to invest, where to work.

Coming back home is very much, in the words of Robin Pascoe, “…like grieving. You’re grieving the loss of a life. It doesn’t mean that the new life you’re going to create for yourself isn’t going to be a marvelous life… (it’s just that) like the stages of grief, you need to go through them…”

I wish there was some sort of short-track to feeling at home again, but I’m afraid it’s a process that just needs to be lived through. Repatriation, they say, is something that takes between 18 months to two years.

What about you, fellow re-patriates? Any advice for adjusting to life back at home?

PS. Beatrice Alemagna illustration found here.

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Have a Great January Weekend

painting by Evgeny Lushpin

Friends, how are you? Keeping warm? Enjoying the third week of this brave new year? Excited for Saturday and Sunday? Exhausted?

It’s been a crazy week for us – lots of deadlines, and interviews, and running around. I’m looking forward to a (relatively) quiet Friday before we hit the ground running again on Monday.

Until then, a few links for your viewing pleasure:

P.S. Evgeny Lushpin painting found here.

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New Home (Before and After)

Anna Grace
Anna Grace

Friends,

It’s a tiny bit embarrassing to share these photos because they are, after all, pictures of the place I am currently living which is in my mother’s basement. But mostly I’m not embarrassed. I’m really grateful for this place to stay. Actually, I love it. It’s bigger than our Moscow apartment, and it’s so cozy, and quiet, and we have it set up just the way we like it. After seven years of temporary Moscow rentals, we have loved buying new furniture, painting the walls and living in a clean home.

I thought you might enjoy a little before and after tour. We worked hard to clean things out, paint the walls, re-do some of the electric (with the help of an electrician), and install an entire kitchen complete with plumbing (with the help of a plumber and construction crew). This is all thanks to my mom who was game for having us move in temporarily, and came up with the ideas to renovate, and put in a kitchen.

BEFORE:

 

hallway/future office
hallway/future office
future bedroom
future bedroom
doorway
doorway
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future bedroom/view of kitchen wall
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future living room/view of bedroom
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future kitchen
future kitchen
future kitchen
future baby room/closet
future baby room/closet
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future baby room/closet

And then we come to the AFTER pictures (taken right after Christmas, thus all the decorations):

Entrance/hallway/office
Entrance/hallway/office
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living room/doorway
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bedroom/living room
kitchen
kitchen
kitchen
kitchen
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nursery/closet
closet
closet
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nursery/closet

Doesn’t it look great? We are so thankful for our new place! We love it!

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2015!

THE HIERARCHY OF PERSISTENCE John A Sargent III

Friends, 2015 is upon us!

Things feel a bit out of control this year. Economist husband and I find ourselves immersed in a whole new life, slightly disoriented. I can’t swallow a big, overachieving set of New Year resolutions. Partly because I don’t feel steady enough on my feet yet to make plans. Partly because the future is too wide open – there’s nothing to anchor to. Also because promises at this point just feel overwhelming.

So, instead of resolve, let me make a small foray into excitement. The following, my friends, make me excited to turn the calendar pages; to wake up in the morning; to put my head down and get to work!

And you? What is it that you’re looking forward to this year?

P.S. The Hierarchy of Persistence by John Sargent III painting found here.

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The Best of 2014

“Roses” by Andrey Timofeev

Is it just me or does this year seem shorter than both 2013 and 2012? It seems shorter by far than any other year that I can remember. Maybe it’s because so much has happened? Maybe it’s because Anna Grace is here and growing like a weed? Maybe it’s because economist husband and I were separated for so long, and it felt like life just stopped when he wasn’t here? Maybe it’s just because I’m getting old?

Whatever the case, the end of 2014 has come to an abrupt end.

Before we part ways with the old year, I thought you might enjoy a look back at a few highlights from 2014 (from Breakfast In Moscow and elsewhere):

Breakfast in Moscow highlights:

What about you, friends? What were some of your favorites from the past year? Your successes? Failures? I’d love to hear any book or film recommendations.

And a very, very big thank you to everyone who commented, who keeps coming back here, who emailed. Thanks for your encouragement, your kindness, your conversation, your interest. Looking forward to many exciting new pages and projects in 2015. See you next year!

P.S. gorgeous roses photo by Andrey Timofeev found here.

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Christmas Ballet

Happy Christmas week, my friends. Before I sign off for the holidays, I thought you might enjoy this peek inside the Bolshoi’s preps for a Christmas ballet in London:

Aren’t those dancers AMAZING?

That’s all. Merry Christmas! :)

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Artists, Want to Travel to Russia?

Painting by Masha Keating

Are you an artist interested in Russia?

There is a 2-week fellowship for artists doing work related to Russian culture or history. The deadline to sign up is February 1st, 2015, and the fellowship goes from May 11-24. More details here.

Will you enter the competition?

Have you ever had an idea for a Russia-based exhibition, play, or photography project?

P.S. gorgeous Masha Keating painting found here.

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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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