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!
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