Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ice storm

it's always a breath of fresh air
in many senses of the phrase
to get out of the city.
even if it means a long white-knuckled drive
in terrible conditions
on christmas evening.

those ugly conditions created for us
a fairytale backdrop
that we woke up to the next morning.
the ice storm also meant
we were without electricity and hot water
all morning,
and couldn't go swimming--
but instead we found plenty to do
in the wide open air.
sledding, eating ice, hiking,
making ice houses and playing
who can keep the largest piece of ice intact.

and with this
we wished ourselves a merry christmas
before returning to the heart of the city.
but the russian festivities are only
just beginning!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

one good thing about christmas in moscow
is that it's almost guaranteed
to be a white one.

snow fell all day on christmas eve
as i scurried around the kitchen
in preparation,
singing along to the carols.
the girls got their dresses on
well in advance,
sat themselves down behind rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
and the final hours flew by
as they always do
in trying to pull together a feast for guests.

and even though i wasn't quite dressed yet
when the first guests arrived (early),
it all came together
and i might even say wonderfully.

and after the little ones were tucked
all snug in their beds
we stole away
to the candlelight mass at the anglican church,
which is always a treat--
at least it was until the fire alarms went off.

the next morning we awoke
to find stockings stuffed and gifts from a night visitor.

we whiled away the morning hours,
opening gifts

trying them on


and of course eating german pancakes
and dad's hash browns.

while the rain came down outside
creating an icy winter wonderland
that we then stole away to really enjoy
for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

first christmas

and so
my little apartment
in the center of moscow
certainly isn't as quaint
as the vintage christmas pop-up
that graces my desk.
it's not the same as going "home"
as i have for 97% of the christmases in my lifetime.
it's also not going to be spent in new york city
with so many dear friends
as i also would like to have done.
in fact it's not even in a country
that celebrates christmas.
in some ways
it's an odd feeling.

but we've invited alex's family over
for their first christmas
for a big night before dinner,
as is tradition.
my gifts are made and bowed up pretty,
my table is set,
my menu scrawled down:

-baked brie with pears & walnuts
-arugula salad with pomegranate & oranges
-turkey with pear & prune stuffing
-wild rice & cranberry salad
-sweet potatoes
-pumpkin pie
-hot wassail

can i pull it off all by myself?
let's just say,
you won't be hearing from me tomorrow.

but my fire will be burning,
our stockings anxious for stuffing,
my music will be playing all day,
it will most likely be snowing
and we'll feel cozy and even homey
even here.

a merry Christ's birth to you,
happy remembering Him,
and happy celebrating health, joy,
togetherness, and peace!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the stockings were hung. . .

when we moved in
we found a stash of firewood on the balcony.
when i asked the landlord
where he buys it,
he told me,
oh, that'll last you all year.
we were out in a month.

a fireplace in an apartment!
a rarity, a novelty, a dream come true!
we stoke it up every chance we get
and then lounge, wrestle, relax,
or watch it mesmerized.

but celebrating a christmas
in a home with a fireplace
of course necessitated a bit of work on my part.
that fireplace couldn't be bare
on christmas eve!
from my multi-talented and lovely friend merrilee
i set to work late at night
first snipping up an old linen tablecloth,
attaching the tops,
and then embroidering the names
and with that
i finally completed
our fireplace.

Friday, December 17, 2010

gift for Jesus

i wanted to think
she was really catching on to this.
we had a talk
about the real meaning of christmas
and the christmas gifts,
and then we made a special gift--
one for Jesus.
we wrapped it nice and pretty,
wrote His name on it,
and then set it on the mantle.
and over the last few weeks
have been slipping "gifts" to Him inside:
little slips of paper
where we've written down
the good deeds done around our house.

and so one day
after she wrote one down and slipped it in,
she came to me and said,
mama, Jesus is gonna say. . .
and she trailed off in thought for a second
and so i stepped in to help,
Jesus is going to say how happy he is
that we've done so many nice things,
isn't He?
and she corrected me,
no, Jesus is gonna say. . .
and she paused again,
then continued:
look at the cute baby you guys got!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


it's impossible
for a people to separate itself from it's history.
i know that over time
some ideals, some habits, even mentality can change,
but sometimes that takes decades.

i haven't had a whole lot of experience
with the russian medical system--
thank goodness we are all generally healthy--
but what i have had
has for the most part only served
to strengthen my opinion
that their general approach
is to always see a doctor,
medicine can heal everything--
the more medicine the better you'll feel--
and if there's any doubt,
be admitted to a hospital.

and so yesterday
when my fourth sense also fell under attack
(just some pink eye to mix things up),
i finally broke down
and agreed to see a doctor.
now mind you,
this was not just any doctor,
but the head of otolaryngology
at an exclusive health clinic.
and he checked my ears, my nose, my throat,
as any ear, nose and throat doctor should.
then he sent me in for a hearing test
which i don't think i've had
since elementary school.
and then he confirmed that i have
a double ear infection.
after which
he proceeded to insert
a foot-long tube into my nose
until it reached my throat
as i clutched my legs with such force
it left marks in the skin,
it was so painful.

then he recommended i come back
for some more of those procedures,
recommended i go to a hospital
for some repeated intravenous treatments,
and then proceeded to write me up
a few prescriptions.
ten, to be exact.
yes, ten.

faith in russia?
faith in its medical system?
mmm. . .  shaky, so far.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

christmas concert

you know it's one thing
to creep into those churches
when all is quiet
and there's not a soul in sight,
all you can hear is the echo of your whispers
or my shhhhh's 
to my curious children.

but there's absolutely nothing like
listening to organ and choral music in a cathedral.
the acoustics, the atmosphere,
the spirit. . .
some of my favorite memories
from my new york city days
were of both of listening to music
in cathedrals,
as well as singing in one.

and we may not have been the quietest
or most reverent in the audience,
but taking my girls
to the messiah (selections)
and the many moods of christmas concert
at the evangelist-lutheran church of peter and paul
will be one of my favorite memories
from moscow.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


i have been desensitized.
and not by 6 grueling years of mothering.
but by a beast of a head cold.
i've never had such a congested head in my life.
my ears have been so plugged for days now,
with the kids finally in bed
now all i can hear
is a painfully obnoxious high-pitched tone
ringing, throbbing, ringing, throbbing. . .

there are a few advantages
of being disabled so.

-the noise level in my house
has conveniently seemed to drop about 50 decibels.

-i cannot taste that disgusting
vitamin c drink.

-i cannot smell my baby's diapers.

but the disadvantages:

-because i can't smell his diapers,
the poor soul got a rash today.

-i cannot hear any phone ring,
any call for help,
any baby cry from another room,
and only half of what is said right next to me.
soon they're going to start calling me granny.

-and worst of all,
i can't even taste those delectable
rich and chewy gingerbread cookies
that we got iced just this evening.

i know they're darn good,
because i tasted somebody else's last week
and had to have the recipe.

but gosh
i'd love to be able to taste ours. . .
and smell. . .

and hear. . .

Friday, December 10, 2010

on talents

and after four minutes
of watching that awe-inspiring grace
pouring out of their every kick, leap and twirl,
i leaned over to him
shaking my head and said,
aren't they amazing?
he smiled,
and then a few seconds later said,
your pancakes are amazing.

* * *

it was just a few years back
that i sat in the bolshoi theatre
staring down from the balcony
at a similar sight--
what i don't hesitate to say
were some of the best ballerinas in the world.
and as i sat and admired
their every perfect move
my mind started reeling
about those ballerinas and who they were
off the stage.
their lives had been dedicated to dance
since primary school.
their bodies were sacred,
given over wholly to their career
and maintaining their ability.
their inevitable dedication,
their obvious passion,
their raw talent. . .

who were they?
what were they like?
were they perfect in just one thing?
average in everything else?
were they pleased
with where their endless labor had taken them
thus far?
what had they had to sacrifice?
what did the future hold?
were any of them like me in any way?
were any of them mothers?
could i ever have been like them?
with any of my talents?

and i began to think
about what i had been given.
those things that are sometimes called
those things that i sometimes wonder
if perhaps have been buried.
i began to wonder
about that dusty guitar.
the paints that hadn't seen the light of day
in years.
the sewing machine that lay in storage.
the piano, the knitting needles,
the calligraphy pens, the jewelry supplies,
the sketchpads, the choral sheet music,
the pilates mat, the quilter's hoops. . .

were they buried?
buried by the burden of being a mother?
by the inexorable sacrifice
that giving a soul life
followed by another
and then another
by the inescapable phenomenon
that any time that might be deemed personal
slips further and further away from me
with each passing year
like that sandy beach
that watches the ocean water
slip quietly away at low tide?

and as my mind began to wonder
why i was given any hint of talents
if i never did make of myself
a professional ballerina,
never even have the time anymore
to pull out the paints
or sing in the choir
or dust off my sewing machine. . .
why have them?

and it was then
that my mind turned a corner
right there on the balcony
of the bolshoi theatre
staring down at those
who had used their talents quite differently,
that i began to think
that all those things
that have become dusty and rusty over the years
perhaps aren't the most important of talents.
perhaps now is my season
to uncover and awaken
a whole different package--
one including
and the ever-elusive patience,
among plenty of others.

surely these are also talents.
and most certainly
i have lifetimes of labor ahead
in each of these areas.
and without a doubt
it is these things
that will make me a much fuller person,
and give me a much richer character
than being able to play that gigue well.

and so
during these years of low tide,
i hope i can use my time differently.
i hope i can take better advantage
of that school that mothering is--
to whittle away at all those imperfections,
to practice daily,
to hone those characteristics,
and to focus on those talents
that matter much, much more.