Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Oh, Charles...

Sometimes you book a more expensive flight, thinking that with fewer layovers and a very direct flight from CDG to SLC, all will go smoothly. But the travel Gods like to have their way with us on occasion, and such was my fate this Christmas Day.

The flight from Moscow got underway a tad late...not surprisingly we had to de-ice the plane. Not late enough to be concerned about. Then there were the headwinds, which apparently slowed our plane down approximately 20 minutes. Something to be slightly nervous about when your layover before an international flight is only 1 hour 20 minutes. But I was still calmly confident that I would be easily homeward bound as planned. Then we landed. 45 minutes before departure. And waited. And waited. And waited for a solid 20 minutes. Our gate was apparently occupied. After a seriously mad and sweaty sprint across the airport, through another security checkpoint, I arrived at my gate, saw the plane, and the final people walking down the walkway to board.

I was told my flight was closed. And despite the fact that I could see people continuing to board, I was Shut Down! Denied. I tried being sweet and American and then I went for demanding Russian. In the end, I even broke out the obnoxious French attitude, but alas to no avail.

And I'm admittedly emotional. Travel crises on two hours of sleep are not my forte. And while some of that emotion stems from disappoint (my family had put Christmas on hold for me after all!), at the moment I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. Reading through Christmas and holiday greetings from loved ones around the world, I'm feeling unbelievably blessed.

When it comes down to it, holidays are really about the people in your life and the time you are able to spend with them. And I have some seriously amazing people in my life, to miss and be missed by. It's truly a gift.

And now...on to NYC! And eventually SLC!

Merry Christmas, Round 2!!!

С Рождеством!!!

It's here!!! This morning, at approximately 7:30 am, I indulged in the final chocolate from my advent calendar! She looked lovely, and tasted equally fabulous.
I then lugged my suitcase across the frozen tundras of Moscow to the marshrut, through the metro at peak hour, and made it to my last Russian class only slightly the worse for wear.

In said suitcase: 1 running shirt, and 1 running jacket. Snow or not, temperatures at home are warmer than Moscow's offerings, and I will be hitting the pavement! Everything else? Christmas fun! I'm effectively playing Santa and taking back Christmas goodies to America for the families of several of my expat friends here in Moscow. And I did a little Christmas shopping myself...finally!

I don't know what stores you hit up this year, but here's where I made my one-stop shopping trip:
Izmailovsky Market. The temple of all Russian souvenir shopping in Moscow.
But then, why are the streets almost completely void of people?! ANSWER: It. Was. SO. COOOLLLDDD!!!! Literally, I cannot recall a colder moment of my existence. Which actually made it all the more memorable.
Trouble finding the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for person? Or for anyone, for that matter? We have enough matryoshkas to go around! It's what that special someone has secretly been longing for.
If a matryoshka's not really your thing...first of all, who ARE you?!? But moving along. A close second for consideration: the fur hat. Rock it. Gift it. It's big. It's bold. And most importantly, it's warm. I have yet to buy fur here people. But the thought has crossed my mind many a chilly moment. I've never really understood the fur fashion. I do know. And it's called survival, NOT fashion.

Post-shopping, the only preparation left for the big day was relaxation and taking in a hefty dose of Christmas spirit. And what better way to do so than play in a Christmas concert? I think my hands were almost warm by the time we finished...

Pictured post-concert with my friend Nastya, also known as my Russian sister. She's one of my girls here in Moscow, and we've heard that we look like sisters more times than I can count at this point. Your opinion?

So there you have it! I've shopped. I'm packed. I'm Christmas-spirited up! And now I'm going to celebrate the LONGEST Christmas Day I have ever known!

36 hours spread across 11 time zones and 3 of my favorite cities: Moscow, Paris, and Alpine, Utah!!! A 5 am taxi, 5:30 am train, 8:20 am flight, 16 hours in the air, and at the end of the day, I arrive HOME right around 2 pm. That, my friends, is the beauty of time travel!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Other's Words...

If you ever ask me about my education, it will take you about two seconds to find out that I went to the University of Michigan and that I LOVE Michigan football.  Missing my weekly Saturday games this fall was slightly heartbreaking. When they didn't play in the middle of the night, I read play-by-play updates since watching the games was impossible. Not quite the same as being in the Big House or watching with a chapter of the Alumni club, but a girl has to make do.  But my love leads me to digress...paragraph point: I had a great experience in Ann Arbor.

I might not talk as passionately about my undergraduate days.  My time at Utah State was exactly what I needed. And there were so many great and rewarding moments along the way...though none of them had anything to do with our football team.  (Luckily they've represented themselves a bit better in recent years, but in my day it wasn't difficult to pass up a game for some quality practice time).  But despite life lessons learned, lasting relationships formed, and a handful of fantastic memories, the four years of my undergraduate education were some of the most personally difficult of my life. And I still haven't quite sorted through them. This summer, I set foot on campus for the first time in ages and, almost 7 years after graduation, my heart rate still quickened to an abnormal pace. Luckily, I had a dose of Aggie Ice Cream to keep things under control. Like I said, life lessons learned in undergrad.

Albeit that I now publish some of my feelings on the internet, I generally tend to be rather closed when it comes to personal difficulties...I play the role of support system quite effectively so it's what I stick to.  Seriously. It's my job. And if you knew me at USU, odds were you wouldn't have guessed that things were rough, although you may have sensed my dependence on ice cream. And then I graduated and moved on in life and, rather than deal with the emotions that I had successfully repressed for 4 years, I scarcely looked back.  And in forgetting about my undergrad, I seemed they forgot about me as well.  So when my brother-in-law and one of my dearest friends who saw me through said 4 years emailed me the link to this article published in the USU newsletter, it meant a lot.

Hard times aside, I love Utah State and I'm proud of the education I received there. And that being the case, I've always hoped to make the people who invested in me at USU proud as well.  That's a work in progress. But so is their football team. And that's life. (Meaning work and progress...and not merely football, though I am not excluding it from said statement).

Speaking of which...the advent calendar is winding down! And if you're not seeing the relationship between football and an advent calendar, don't worry. It's me, not you.  But know this:  my chocolate calendar is counting down to more than Christmas.  And while I've missed watching many a game this season, I'll be happily cheering on my Wolverines come January 1st...Stateside! Go BLUE!!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Moscow Mondays: Живописный мост

Happy Monday! What joys has your Monday brought? Mine thus far has included:
  • My coldest day in Moscow yet: -20 Celsius / -4 Fahrenheit.
  • Despite the awful temperatures, today I saw sunshine!!! We're down to about 7 hours of daylight and those tend to fall while I'm in the catacombs of the opera. Sunlight, even when doing nothing for the temperature, is a beautiful thing. 
  • A final exam. Oh, Russian grammar...how thou dost try my patience. To help us channel our Russian energy, the university shut off the heaters for the morning. Okay, not really. But they were definitely broken. And it made me doubly thrilled to finish the exam. 
  • When it's -20 out, every step outdoors must be calculated. Post-university I decided to grab some delicious döner kebab, as it just so happens that the BEST place for it in Moscow is relatively near my university. When I say "relatively near" that means about 10-15 minutes on foot. In the elements. It was a risky decision, but oh so tasty!

  • This advertisement seen today in the metro = my personal life motto. "It's cold outside!" "In your soul it's warm!" Chocolate: "Optimism in your hands." Made. My. Day.
Today's original Moscow Monday game plan was a trip to an icon museum. But since I had only seen it on a map and couldn't accurately gauge how many minutes it would take to walk from metro to museum, it was out. So instead, I bring you:

Живописный Мост
I pass by it every day on my way into the center and I've been meaning to photograph it since Day 1. Today's sunshine made it irresistible, so instead of spending 15-20 minutes outdoors hunting for an icon museum, I spent about 40 minutes forgetting my frozen feet and snapping shots of what could be called my "hood."

While the red of the bridge is much more vivid in autumn or summer sunlight (I believe summer sunlight exists in Moscow, though I'll have to see it to be convinced), I love seeing the river iced over. Rumor has it that people walk across it comfortably in the winter months. Hasn't made it onto my to-do list...my calculations suggest that would be too long spent out of doors...but we'll see.
I found this blog that has some stunning pictures of the bridge in warmer days. Weather AND photo jealousy ensued and I'm determined to devote more time to learning to coax beauty from my camera.

While not my immediate neighborhood...this is my neighboring civilization.

But there's no place like Home Sweet Home.

This Moscow Monday was yet another reminder of the stunning beauty this city has to offer. And the two blankets, hot lemon water, and fresh pair of thick socks that awaited upon my arrival at my cabin? Equally gorgeous! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A "Broken" Day

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
~Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
I'm having a "broken" day. The type of day when your soul, after diligently and successfully working to build a strong front of optimism, strength, and courage, reminds you that you are fragile. These days can be triggered by something, but more often than not I find that they are a summation of the "nothings." All the little things we so diligently repress: fleeting feelings of inadequacy, the sting of ill-timed criticism, the weight of small but ever-so-disappointing failures, the chill of loneliness. On the "whole" days, it's "nothing." Mere trivialities that can be shrugged off, countered with ambition, self-confidence, humor, and hard work.

But somewhere, those nothings live on. And amidst the days of joy, success, laughter, and friendship, the toll of daily living builds and demands to be acknowledged. And then comes the ache of feeling. The ache of living. The Brokenness.

Nothing went particularly wrong today. But somehow in the last 18 hours I felt all my inadequacy. The obvious weaknesses and even the flaws of strengths. The loneliness that can't be erased with a phone call and the physical and mental isolation of life in a foreign country. Fatigue and pain surfaced that I hadn't had time to notice. All the nothings of life merged into a dull ache, and while the logician in me can look at the day and find success, I---someone who loves to conquer emotion with reason---ultimately could do nothing against feeling.

And in feeling my vulnerabilities, I am all the more aware that there are those whose today must seem far more "Broken" than mine. And I ache for and with them.

But while being Broken hurts, ultimately I believe it's where we find ourselves and, in turn, our relief. So while my day was a dull throb, I'm grateful. To truly live, we must take time to feel our humanity, recognize our fragility, acknowledge hurt and doubt, and then move forward with hope, faith, renewed purpose, and likely still uncertainty. Being at once completely whole in our brokenness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Moscow Style

Current Moscow temperature: -12 Celsius. And I'm sticking with celsius since it sounds more dramatic. For those of you not feeling the conversion, that's approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Add some wind to that and...bottom line? It's COLD! While we've already experienced some comfortably cold weather, this is new territory for the season. And I'm afraid it's only the beginning of what's to come.

My sense of style is adjusting accordingly. As I peruse the Facebook or some of my favorite blogs, I find my mental dialogue significantly altered. Rather than the usual, "Oh, what a cute little dress!" or "She has REALLY gotten in shape...looks great in those shorts!", I find myself thinking, "Where's your coat?" and "Sweetheart, don't you want to put some real clothes on? Your ankles are showing!!!" Temperature in their respective location is irrelevant to my automatic thought process.

A recent girl's night out to my favorite Moscow mall (Метрополис, Метро Войковская for anyone who's in Moscow and curious) also reflected a change in my tastes. The only thing that could really catch my attention? Sweatpants. In every form. And large, oversized, cable-knit sweaters. Basically, the more it resembled a blanket, the more attractive it was.

Consider the following, and you can see what I'm envisioning. Except none of the loose, flowing business...you wrap that blanket tight around you lady!

While I have yet to spurge on a blanket/sweater, I am seriously eyeing these:
The Russian's first concern when it comes to cold is footwear. They're convinced that if your feet are warm, the rest of you will follow suit. I'm not going to argue with them...they've dealt with this climate longer than I have. Winter boots are in order! BUT, are these the ones?

1) They're EXPENSIVE! I don't think I've ever paid this much for one item of clothing/shoes.
2) They're UGGS. For some reason, I've long been biased against them. And I don't care much for the look of the originals. But these...
3) They're EXPENSIVE!

1) I will wear them EVERY day in the foreseeable future. This is a true statement...currently I can not envision life beyond winter. Warmth is a distant memory.
2) After finding them online 2 evenings ago, I have dreamed about them every time my feet hit the pavement.
3) I read approximately 50 reviews: the woman from Alaska had me when she said that they had fabulous traction against ice! In general I don't really feel at danger in Moscow, save for my greatest foe and constant threat---the layer of ice that now seems ever-present on the streets. I've almost fallen approximately 34 times and am certain to actually do so any day now. Unless I buy these?
4) I have not purchased any clothing/shoe/accessory in 4 months. So while these aren't exactly in the budget, maybe I've unintentionally saved for them?

If you have anything you'd like to add to the JUSTIFICATION list, please feel free to comment. You're only invited to add to the HESITATION list if you provide me with an alternative comparable in look, warmth, and ice-defying traction. And then you will be my best friend.

And there you have it. Style? There is no such thing. Warmth triumphs all. This evening, that means sweatpants, sweater, and ACTUAL blanket (not the sweater version). With a cup of cocoa for good measure.

Sending warmth wishes your way!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

'Tis the Season

So...when did December happen?!? Someone told me the date yesterday and I was seriously shocked. Not just as in, "Wow, I knew it was the 7th, but I just can't believe how fast this week has gone by!" but rather, "Wow, I really have no concept of time and fully believed it was somewhere around the 3rd." It happens when you don't look at a calendar.

My main regret in being so acutely unaware? The neglect of my Christmas decor.
When I say decor, I'm using it in the singular sense of the word: this advent calendar is my one and only. Unless you want to count the mounds of snow outside my cabin.

This chocolate beauty was purchased in Germany in mid-October on my way back from San Francisco. We always had an advent calendar growing up...mom's was hand-sewn and crafty, and unfortunately neither of those descriptors are in my personal vocabulary. BUT chocolate is. So when I saw this (and was informed that it would be infinitely more expensive if available in Russia), I got a jump-start on the holiday season.

And then, forgot. About a ***calendar filled with chocolate***!!! Who is this person!?! I hardly know myself anymore! Answer: One who keeps way too much chocolate in the house. To the point that a chocolate calendar is left huddled in the corner, wanting for attention. NO LONGER! I successfully got up-to-date with little effort, and threw a Reese's shaped like a Christmas tree into the mix for good measure.

So, what's happened in the week that managed to escape my notice?

In order of random thought:

1. I have a roommate. He has yet to make himself visible, but I've heard him scurrying away overhead. My Russian neighbor/colleague refers to him as "Jerry." I. Hate. JERRY!
People, I've dealt with a mouse or two in my time...I'm OVER it. My neighbors on the other side can't understand my disdain. Today I was told how adorable, small, and cute little mice can be. If I was starving to the point that I needed to eat a rodent, I might find them somewhat attractive. Otherwise, get thee hence!

2. A holiday part to kick of the Christmas season!!! Two years ago, I was in Moscow for the first time. And attended a Christmas party at the home of Lyuba, the English teacher for some of our Bolshoi artists. It was one of the most magical evenings in my life, albeit that I understood approximately 25% of what was being said. The singers all broke out some American Christmas carols, and then followed them up with Russian, Ukrainian, and Armenian folk songs. Fabulous food, fascinating company, and an overall sense of awe at the foreign cultural experience that was that evening.

Fast forward two years. Same house. New and familiar faces. Understanding about 90% of conversation and actually engaging and playing a part in the evening that I had before only witnessed. Music, food, friends...and a reality check. Two years ago, I never would have envisioned that I'd be where I am today. And therein is the true beauty of life. The unexpected. Twists and turns that occasionally bring you around full circle.

For the others, this picture was a joke. But in my case, this was how I felt sooner than I should have. I'm a fading flower post-midnight it turns out. (Really, that should read post-10 pm, but that's slightly embarrassing).

3. I got fired by my Russian teacher. No joke. She had had enough of meeting with me at the early hour of 8:30 am and informed me that her complexion and health were suffering because of it. She tried to pass me off to three of the other teachers (these are individual courses) and I was flatly refused each time. Word has it there might be one who's willing...which would be convenient, given that I'd like to learn this language someday.

4. I started studying. For real. This was before getting fired. And after. It's exam month my friends. And while grades might be irrelevant in this stage of life, academic performance and the challenges therein will never lose their attractiveness. So it's back to the books. I have a serious amount of grammar to master.

5. Snow. It deserves its own number here.

And that's a December snapshot. What's your month looking like thus far? Hopefully it's chocolate-filled! 'Tis the season!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

November: That's a Rap

So, really I know the expression is "that's a wrap" but somehow I like to envision what life could be if the saying was "that's a rap." If the saying were such, the speaker would then inevitably break into spontaneous rap, exhibiting why exactly their sentiment was rap worthy. I don't know that it will catch on. I'm just saying it could up the entertainment factor in our lives.

But seriously, November is over. FINALLY! This blog-ever-day game has been wearing thin. Since about day one. But like all life trials which we inflict upon ourselves, this has had its positives and negatives. In true Russian spirit, I'll first offer up the negatives.

1. TIME: I consider it one of my most valuable commodities and there always seems to be a shortage of it. So committing a fair amount of it to this project was not something that I took lightly. And frequently not something I enjoyed. It led to #2.

2. LACK of SLEEP: My schedule is such that on most days I leave home by 7:30 and don't make it back until 10:30 or 11 at night. In that period away from home, I have access to internet on average for about 5 minutes. Which means that the majority of this month's blogging happened after I made it home, had a bite, and was caught up on work/emails: between 12-2 am. It is NOT my most alert time of day, which occasionally made the writing process far from fluid. And me perpetually sleepy.

3. THINKING: Since I decided to clutter your blog feeds, I decided I had to try and write about more than one topic. Which required thought. And my internet presence has never been something I gave much thought, save for the professional side (www.stephanierhodes.net).

So let's move on to to the positives.

November has been not only my happiest month in Moscow, but also one of the most fulfilling in recent memory. While I do not tribute this solely to blogging, I do think it was strangely enough a contributing factor. Here's the thing: No one wants to read about the miseries of your life on a daily basis. Everyone has rough days, and I think it's important to acknowledge them. BUT if you're searching for the positive, for the interesting, for the entertaining, and for the meaningful...you will find it. And your life and outlook will be the better for it.

In list form I think that equivocates to:


2. TIME: Committing to a project and sticking to it is rewarding in the end. Regardless of the nuisance it may seem during the process.

3. THINKING: Far too often we live our lives unaware. Not noticing the details. Or else not thinking them noteworthy enough to remember come the end of the day. But in reality it's the little anecdotes, the trivialities, and the details that shape our lives. And when you're searching for subject matter, you're more inclined to notice them.

My life, like yours, is filled with ups and downs. And this month was no exception. But somewhere in the midst of November's hills and valleys, I found myself more capable of enjoying the view, regardless of the angle.

And with these thoughts, I bid you farewell. While the duration is undetermined, a blogging break is in order...I have a month's worth of sleep to catch up on!

До встречи!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Staying Healthy in Moscow: Is it even POSSIBLE?

People, help a girl out. Only 3 months in Moscow and I'm already on sickness #3. I will now exercise my mathematical expertise by saying that's an average of one cold per month. Except that Cold #1 lasted approximately a month, which alters the average significantly. Math aside, I am OVER it! How do you stay healthy in the winter months? Any secrets? Our winter is clearly underway, and likely not going anywhere anytime soon, so it's time to find the inner strength that has to be lurking somewhere in my immune system!

We now have a serious amount of snow accruing, and continuing to do so. I share the following picture in contrast to yesterday's. Given the darkness (I'd take pictures in the daylight if we had any) it may not be quite as apparent, but note the bench below in comparison.

It's a decent amount of snow, but nowhere near an obscene amount. So I was a bit surprised when Moscow seemed caught off guard by the pile up. We're in Russia. They know about winter right?! When I commented on the subject to a Russian friend, I got this video in response. For any Russian-speaking readers, enjoy. And for any non-Russian speakers, it's a comedic sketch on how winter is new "news" every time it comes around. You can appreciate the facial expressions at the very least.

I felt a bit caught off guard myself...of the two pairs of boots I brought to Russia, neither are going to cut it for the winter. Luckily, I have a Stateside shopping date in the near future!

Hope you're warm, healthy, and basking in rays of Vitamin D!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


There's something about the first magical snowfall. We've seen snow in Moscow already this year, but not the beautiful, sticking kind. I'd call it more of a muddy slush. There was a light snow falling when I left home this morning, with a thin coat on the ground, but it continued as the day wore on. And by the time I left work, Moscow was a new city, blanketed in a lovely, soft layer of white.
I could have happily wandered around the center all evening...something about this type of snow makes me feel 5 years old again. Skipping wouldn't have been out of the question, were I not aging and wary of losing my balance. Joking...maybe? After a bit of roaming, though, I decided the best way to appreciate the snow was at home. With a blanket, book, and hot chocolate.

Snuggled up in my cabin in the middle of the Silver Wood as the snow falls. (With functioning internet, as a side note.) I love this version of Moscow!

November 27: A Day Off

While my posts may be a day off due to the Russian internet crisis (if I have a problem, it must be of national proportions), today I actually had a day off! It had been a 10-day stint of work, and while that's obviously doable it's definitely not preferable. So how did I spent it?

In rehearsal. With the Russian National Orchestra. AND some of my Houston opera family. This week I have not one, but TWO visitors from H-Town and I'm loving it. One of the beauties of my profession is the traveling often required. And while I am not doing said traveling at the moment, I'm grateful that other people are! Especially in my neighborhood.

Lessons learned at rehearsal:

It's such a gift to be surrounded by talented, inspirational people.

Playing a gig at 12:30 am the night before ANY rehearsal in which you may be called upon to translate is a BAD idea.

Translating? Not an easy job. Props to all those who are good enough in their languages to do it effectively. While I did only a very little bit and had to find synonyms for adjectives that I have yet to learn in Russian, it was totally thrilling. And terrifying. Oh, this language...

While traffic in Moscow is ridiculous, it is sure lovely to be in a car every now and again. That is NOT a marshrut.

Post-rehearsal I made a visit to the opera to see another familiar face and was presented with a gift she had brought me from a true friend:
T2 was already one of my favorite people, but in sending me these from Houston, he secured his place at the top of the list. Christmas and Reese's in combination!!!

Next up was a stop at the gigantic Библио-глобус bookstore for yet another book on Russian grammar and some enjoyable browsing. I've always been a sucker for bookstores--there's something so awe-inspiring about all the information and possibility contained in the seemingly endless pages available! And this store is the real deal. If you're in Moscow, check it out!

Add a religion class in Russian to the end of the day, and this girl was seriously exhausted from a "day off." But I came home to pumpkin pie and Reese's and look forward to the sugar-enduced coma that will shortly ensue.

Since I couldn't post from my computer yesterday, I am now including a Turkey Day picture. This makes me laugh every time I look at it: gloriously ghetto and I SO know how that turkey feels! Long legs can be such a challenge!

November 26th: Happy Turkey Day!!!

Occasionally your home in the forest and the fates combine against you. Such is the case this evening, as I type my post for Day 26 of the NaBloPoMo in Microsoft Word. Knowing that it will not reach publication before tomorrow evening, best case scenario.

The internet's gone out. Again. **Sigh**

Except that my neighbors have it. The new router just happens to be invisible to every other computer in the world except theirs. So I hate them. Not really. But sort of.

Instead of fuming on about such things, let me wish you Happy Turkey Day! That's right, the day finally came to put the bird in the oven. I had a 4-hour gap in my schedule to cook and eat Thanksgiving dinner and get out the door dressed to play a concert. This was NOT a drill people!

I want to set the scene for you with a few numbers. I had:

0 ovens
0 measuring cups
0 kitchen appliances (spatula, whisk, masher, etc.) Luckily a very functional fork.
1 giant multi-tasking knife
1 neighbor. With an oven.
1 large pot. 1 pan.
1 purchased non-functional can opener.
2 stovetop burners. 1 large. 1 small.

Needless to say, things in this Silver Wood got a little crazy. At least statistically speaking. I cooked the turkey in a pan that it almost fit into and without any tin foil to cover it on the last leg (in every sense)...to keep it from getting slightly over-darkened. Stuffing, pumpkin pie crust, and filling all had to be made in the same mixing bowl. Though I opted not to do so simultaneously. My tiny countertop had to be supplemented with some floor space--for storage, people! Wasn't rollin' out the pie dough down there--and my sink was and IS still overflowing with the 5 dishes I own.

And I loved it. We had our first truly beautiful snowfall today and it was absolutely blissful to be at home and awake for four hours. Chopping, mixing, kneading, and slashing cans open with a pocket knife was so therapeutic! It almost convinced me I like cooking as much as I like baking. The feeling was fleeting, but lovely nonetheless.

And while I had approximately 5 minutes to down the works...turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, green beans and their mushroomy soupiness, and pie (saved for tomorrow!)...eating felt somewhat secondary. I use the disclaimer of somewhat as I never actually consider eating anything but of utmost import. But the real pleasure of this feast was in the anticipation and the preparation. Topped only by introducing my Russian friend and neighbor (it was her oven that carried my turkey baby) to some of the flavors of an American Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stop and Smell the Roses

C’est un métier que j’ai appris dans ma jeunesse… quand j’étais malheureux… Je dois peut-être aux fleurs d’avoir été peintre.
I love flowers. And I love French. Combine the two with a dash of Monet and it's parfait. When I was twelve, I had a corner of our backyard designated as my flower garden. On my first trip to Washington DC, I purchased some flower seeds from Mt. Vernon and couldn't have been more excited about a souvenir. (I purchased = "my parents purchased" for a 12-year-old). And while I have not had a flower garden or even a house plant since, I still fall for flowers. Luckily, they're a thriving part of the Russian culture and after two concerts this week, I have a lovely bouquet on my kitchen table. In a totally classy plastic Pepsi bottle vase. (Unfortunately/Fortunately shrouded in the picture below).
But while I may have flowers, I'm missing a piece of my 12-year-old self. I had two gorgeous bouquets in my apartment last week, and while I remember walking into my apartment one evening and smelling that it was time to throw them out (gross...I know), I don't actually remember ever smelling them. Or really even giving them a second glance. Except to avoid tripping over the bouquet I strategically placed on the floor. Slightly pathetic, no?

I don't need to go back to the 12-year-old Stephanie who likely sang and talked to her flowers...I sing and talk to myself and others all day...but since when did life get too busy to take a minute and inhale the amazing scent that has made me smile so many times before? And how did I manage to go an entire week without really even seeing them?

Life is full, when I'm optimistic. Other days it's just flat out overwhelming. But a little reminder to slow the pace ever so slightly never hurts, and I'm going to use this round of roses as a healthy little reminder of perspective, balance, and simple enjoyment.

With yet another concert wrapped up, I'm hoping a slightly revised schedule will also aid in this week's quest. Tonight was our last of this series, and I'm looking forward to moving on to some new repertoire, new challenges, and new discoveries. A musical change of scenery, if you will. Although this scene looked pretty great, even from backstage.
While I didn't catch the view before they dimmed the lights, it's always slightly exhilarating seeing a theater from this perspective.
And while the music and art might be performed on stage, the dressing rooms (which have doubled as coaching studios in more than one company I've worked for) are often where the real discoveries are made.
So, after a brief pictorial detour, I'd like to invite you to treat yourself to some roses this week. Be they literal or figurative...I recommend both...it can only add to the beauty that is already your life!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Serving up sour cream

One of my favorite things about visiting, or in this case living, in a new country is discovering the FOOD! No shocker for anyone who has witnessed my mad skills in the eating department. But we are what we eat, right? In which case this method is clearly the best for researching and adapting to a foreign culture. I'm all over it.

Russian fare has its staples. Beets. Dill. Mayonnaise. Cabbage. Potatoes. The list continues. The item which has drawn my recent attention? Sour cream.

Sour cream in my American existence has been used on primarily two occasions: baked potato night and taco night. How often does baked potato night happen? Since I struck out on my own 10 years ago, maybe twice. Taco night? More frequently...maybe twice a year. But I find I'm often too lazy resourceful to purchase even a small container of sour cream that is bound to sit spoiling in the fridge after eating approximately 1 tablespoon.

How many containers of sour cream do I currently have in my Russian refrigerator? Two. And they're medium-sized. Both this evening AND yesterday I had heaping spoonfuls of this white goodness. With DESSERT. Go figure.

As it turns out, sour cream is a go-to ingredient in these parts. If you have a bowl of soup, be it borscht or several other varieties, it's going to come with a spoonful of sour cream added. And if it doesn't, you best be requesting it. Otherwise, you're not getting the real Russian treatment. Blini, our equivalent of crepes, or an anorexic pancake, are also frequently accompanied with a generous dob. Depending on the flavor, of course.

And dessert for the past two evenings? Syrniki. Here, they can be considered a breakfast meal but they're a bit heavy for my average breakfasting taste. Basically a really thick pancake made out of a type of cottage cheese, sugar, and eggs. Toss in a little flour and you're good to go. As long as you've got a side of sour cream and jam.

Which I do.

And maybe you do too. Am I the only one that's missed out on the sour cream craze previously? Please fill me in if that's the case.

Regardless of my past, I feel this is a part of the Russian culture that is definitely embraceable. Occasionally odd, but nonetheless doable. Sticking power post-Russian life (whenever that may be)? I'm skeptical, but will revaluate when the time comes. For now, here's to the Russians and their love for yet another milk product!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Building a Foreign Language Vocabulary

This week I found myself engaged in an extended conversation about the Moscow Zoo and the animals that reside therein. And I was grateful for every animal flashcard that my family quizzed me on prior to departure for Moscow. The animal flashcard unit happened to coincide with Shark Week, a popular occurrence in our household, so акула (shark) was firmly engrained in memory. But despite said flashcards and the unfailing vocabulary of "shark," said conversation about the zoo left something to be desired.

What to do about it?

There's only one clear solution: watch Король Лев. The Lion King. Which is, not surprisingly, easily available in Russian on the internet. I think I'm going to use this as my new study tactic. Slash relaxation tool.

So please excuse me for the rest of the evening. Scar is currently serenading me and I need to study.

Thanksgiving Someday

Remember when I bought a turkey and was ecstatic about my newly-found life purpose? That purpose being to stuff and cook said bird.

Well, it's still in my fridge. And I haven't exactly determined when Thanksgiving will take place in this household, but I'm preparing for it nonetheless. Pie crusts are made and filling them is on the itinerary for tomorrow. I've cubed and dried bread for stuffing and have all the ingredients to brine the bird. I'm adopting the whole "If you build it, they will come" approach. If I keep gradually preparing, maybe my schedule will open a window for bird bake-age. And, especially critical, maybe an oven will appear in which to do so. I'll keep you posted on the status of said Thanksgiving miracle.

Despite the lack of Thanksgiving in my household, I successfully crashed another Thanksgiving feast with the offering of a pecan pie. I don't care for nuts. Or pie really. But when you happen across hard-to-find pecans and have been told that it's your host's favorite? Done and done. It was always one of Grandpa Rhodes' favorites, so I happily enjoyed a trip down memory lane while making it. And given my love for multiple Thanksgivings, a pie was a small price to pay for Thanksgiving Round One.

Ate turkey, check. And more importantly stuffing, check. Pie, check. Gratitude? Feeling it.

Two years ago I celebrated my first Thanksgiving out of the country. In Moscow. And would have never guessed I'd be living here today. I'm so grateful for the unexpected. For the twists and turns in life that take you to places and in directions you yourself never imagined.

I'm grateful for possibility, for scheming and dreaming, for success and even for failure. I'm grateful for the ability to change, to grow, to adapt, and to learn. And to eventually become.

And most especially? I'm grateful for all the people that make the above possible.

Happy Thanksgiving! Round One...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Little Joys of Life

We have already established that I live in Moscow. In the woods. The Silver Wood to be exact. A decent distance from the rest of Muscovite humanity.

Tonight I was pretty wоrn out from 3 hours of commuting/grocery shopping post-work day and was relieved to see my marshrut waiting outside when I surfaced from the metro. This number of marshrut is a rarity after 10 pm, and it was already 10:15. And the fabulous thing about this particular marshrutka is that it saves me a 20 minute walk, which feels like an hour when laden down with groceries.

The danger is in the driver. Living near the end of the line has its problems. Mainly, none of the marshrut drivers want to drive ALL THE WAY to the end! If they've gotten rid of their last passenger, they'll flip a u-turn and head back. I have witnessed this first-hand many a morning as I've walked from my "stop" toward the main road, where my ride can be seen vanishing in the distance.

I was once again the last passenger in the marshrut this evening, with about 5 minutes to go until home. This is the moment when the driver looks at you, wondering how far you're going to make him drive. And I, as apologetically as possible, said yet again: "To the end of the line, please." And waited for the attitude that would ensue. Or the flat out refusal to take me that far. Both are normal.

Instead, the driver simply said, "Да. Конечно." (Yes. Of course.) And he said it in a seriously kind, helpful way. As if my apologetic attitude was completely unnecessary and he was more than happy to do his job and make my life easier. It was the first time I'd experienced this reaction in 3 months.

Two words. And they made my night.

It's all about the little joys my friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Joy of Juicing

I got home from work today around 9:30 and was filled with the inevitable dread that accompanies making dinner post-normal eating hours. Until I saw that my spinach was looking like it was on its last day or so of life. And then I knew what had to be done and dread turned to joy. JUICE!!!

If you ask for a list of my hobbies, juicing will likely be included. It gives me that much pleasure. I have owned a series of juice extractors and have even successfully carted them in my luggage and onto planes. (Only one at a time, mind you...I'm not quite crazy enough for multiples. Yet.) If you don't own one, you should. That's all.

I'm normally a fan of Trader Joe's (a lovely grocery chain in fortunate parts of the USA). And when I say fan, I would happily shop there every day to buy out their supply of dark chocolate peanut butter cups. And peanut butter-filled, chocolate-covored pretzels. But I digress...juicing. Despite said love and devotion, I happened across one Trader Joe's advertisement that left a sour taste in my soul. None of that mouth business, it cut right to the core.
It felt like my best friend wanted to cut me, take my fabulous boyfriend for herself, and offer me an ugly replacement who is not a good kisser. If you're with me on this one, then yes. I did just call my juicer my boyfriend. And if you're not with me...it's likely you're not alone. It's late.

We have no boyfriend-stealing Trader Joe's in Moscow (sadly!), so I was left to my juicing joy. And proceeded to spend the rest of the evening juicing nearly everything in sight. Russia does not have a great selection of greens, but I've still managed to make a successful variation of my favorite green juice mix. (Recipe included below). This country does, however, have some shockingly huge carrots. The average-sized lemon is included in the picture for scaling purposes.
They also have an endless supply of beets, so the red juice options (and ensuing stains) are endless.

After making three batches of juice, I decided I should actually drink some. And since juice doesn't feel quite right in a coffee mug, I opted for the only other glass that came with my apartment. A shot glass. When in Russia...

If you fancy a shot yourself, try the following:

Kale (If you live in Russia, disregard this non-existent ingredient)
1 Large Cucumber
2 Green Apples
1/2-1 Whole Lemon
Parsley (Do not accidentally use cilantro. It will not be a success and you will still feel obligated to drink it.)

Pick your own proportions...it's part of the joy of juicing!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Moscow Mondays

Monday. To most of of you this word means work. Shackles. The end of peaceful weekend reverie. Real life and Karen Carpenter.

But here in Moscow, Mondays are my "day off." What that means in Moscow-English is that I attend 6 hours of Russian class, but come 2 o'clock...the day and this city are mine! When I first got here, I made Monday my designated "Moscow" day, picking an item off my bucketlist and making an afternoon of it. Then life and work happened, as they often do, and my afternoon of freedom became the time to clean, grocery shop, regroup and reorganize. And now the time has come to mesh these versions of Monday, in the pursuit of that unattainable ideal of balance.

While today is not yet over (there is homework waiting to be done!), I'm going to coin it a complete success. Why? Get ready for it...

I. Bought. A. TURKEY! Those of you in the USA are at this point offering a pathetic, slow clap, if even that. Turkeys are, after all, literally almost a dime a dozen. And if they're not that cheap today, they will be come Friday. BUT, here in Moscow it's another story. You can come by turkey bits quite easily, and rumor has it that you can even request a whole turkey at the market. It might still come live with feathers, but since I haven't tried that, I can't testify one way or another. I decided to try the route where I pop my head into every upper-tier grocery store I passed over the past week. (Someday it might be worth outlining the grocery gradations in Moscow...that day has not come.) Today, my efforts were rewarded. I purchased my beautiful little bird and took it to class with me. I don't have children or pets to show off, but I was thrilled to put my turkey baby on exhibition.

I had arranged to do some sight-seeing post-lessons and considered taking Indyeka out on the town as well. But like any good parent, I decided it was best to let her nap at home. By herself. In the freezer. Please take notes if this is the first time you've been introduced to this parenting style.

I headed back to the metro to meet up with one of my Russian friends/tour guide. Friendship is awesome. Tour guide and simultaneous language practice just makes the relationship that more rewarding. Not sure how much I bring to the table yet in these relationships, but I sure make a great listener!

First stop, Park Pobedy, via the famed Парк Победы metro: it's the deepest in Moscow and the 3rd deepest in the world when calculated by mean depth, at 97 meters/275.591 ft. and the deepest in the world when calculated by maximum depth. (Stephanie's Scientific Measurements are sponsored today by Wikipedia.) And the escalators are the longest in Europe...it takes around 3 minutes to surface from the underground. I fell in love with this metro station today. Yes, you read correctly. A metro station. Maybe it was the turkey bliss exuding from my being, but I think it also had something to do with the shocking lack of people and the fascinating design.

The amazing visual spiral that the reflections and patterns create is completely fascinating. It probably brings to mind all those artistic metro stations in NYC. Or maybe DC? False...the Russians win this contest hands down!

Eventually I decided to surface and see what the outer world had to offer. It's offering was cold. But I snapped a few quick shots of Park Pobedy and the Triumphal Arch before diving inside to grab some hot chocolate. And take a phone call saying that I was now to meet my Russian friend on the other side of town.

Still exuberant over my turkey child and my newfound romance with the metro, I braved the masses at peak hour and made it to Chistye Prudy. It turned out to be worth the effort.

Good company, good conversation (despite the fact that I could not remember the word for raccoon for the life of me! Critical to any conversation...) and a great city. And let us not forget: the turkey.

A Moscow Monday for the books!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Address Survey

This is not some awkward internet post where I sleazily ask you all to tell me your address so internet stalkers can put their hobby into real time. But I would like to ask the following: is there an adult out there who doesn't know their address?

Stephanie slowly and sheepishly raises her hand.

There are a few things most of us can answer without a second thought: phone number, social security number, address, and birthday being among them.

I have now lived in Moscow for 11 weeks. And today I realized I still don't know either my address or phone number. Slightly pathetic, yes? I memorized my first Russian phone number (pre-theft), but for Round 2, I just added contacts into my phone as they called. And on the occasion that I need to give out my number...I have it carefully (and slightly shamefully) saved in a text message. Why have I not memorized it? If you can solve the riddle that is my mind, I hereby award you a gold star. Apparently I find it important and perhaps even in my power to memorize a gazillion words in Russian, but can't wrap my head around seven numbers (I do know the first four). What empowerment will be mine when I can finally recite those figures by heart!

As regards the address, no explanation can be offered. I love maps. My dream is to have a nerdy study filled with fabulous books...the real kind...and a giant world map that fills an entire wall. I think this love is somehow tied to my love of language and travel. That one shouldn't be much of a riddle, so no gold star awards this time around. This love of maps should equivocate to love of knowing my location. But fact of the matter is, I don't receive mail in Russia. When filling out my paperwork, the required address is that of my registration, which happens to be my university. And I can easily explain to someone how to get here via public transportation, so...what's the big deal about this address nonsense anyway?

Google knows where I live and that's all that matters. And they probably can find you too. And take a picture of your house and show it to the world. Which is not creepy at all. But I digress...

Now that my justifications are offered and my ridiculousness has been placed on display for public derision, I am hopeful that I will find the inner motivation to be an adult. Or even a kindergartener. They seem to have this phone number/address down. We'll see if it takes me another 11 weeks!

Best Seat in the House

While my glory was brief...in total about 45 seconds of playing and 5 minutes on stage...I'm still convinced I had the best seat in the house. I love the mass of sound, color, and possibility that comes with a skilled orchestra, and performing alongside them (however brief that virtuoso recitative may have been) is always a highlight.

And while I have played for auditions on the mainstage previously, tonight officially marked my company debut with the Bolshoi Theatre. So I'll take that recit and run with it. Additionally, this evening was also the first time I saw my name in a program in cyrillic. They can't make up their minds on how to spell it here: Родес or Роудс. And since neither are actually correct pronunciation-wise, I prefer the first. I think it looks prettier. And we all know that's what really counts. :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...