Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One year later: another attempt

Funny story: I had all these unfinished Advent projects last year that I photographed and was going to write about, just to say...here's what I tried to do and didn't finish. I had even titled the post "The Advent That Wasn't." But it never even made it into my drafts folder, apparently. Or else it's there and I'm blind...anyway, here's a little Advent inspiration (or examples of what not to do)!

The postcard garlands that wouldn't stay up...

The Jesse Tree that didn't turn out to be very fertile...

A tipsy angel.../closest thing to a "Christmas Tree"

Felt figures I never finished cutting out...

The unfinished Jesse Tree symbols...

The scene of the "crime"

The lack of candle holders...

The toddler who didn't go to the Christmas Eve service. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Orphanage Update (Structural Changes)

My counselor friend from the orphanage came to visit us again the other day, and as always she updated me on how things are going over there. There are some big changes going on in how the orphanage is run and funded, from an administrative standpoint.


-the orphanage was run as an institute of education (like a boarding school?)
-St. Petersburg orphanages had their own extracurricular classes led by onsite specialists (dance and music classes, academic tutoring, arts and crafts, etc.)
-orphanage counselors were by law (and academic background) considered educators and would therefore begin to receive pension after putting in 25 years of work in their field

-the orphanage is a social agency
-kids are transported around the city (non-profit organizations lend a hand) to their extracurricular activities since the orphanage is a social agency and not an educational institution
-orphanage counselors are now considered social workers (despite background as educators) and will "retire" with everyone else, when they turn 55 (60 for men)

It sounds kind of funny to an outsider because in the U.S. at least, social work and orphans go hand-in-hand. While I have no doubt that orphanage workers received apt training through their School of Education degree programs, it had always struck me as strange that anything to do with orphans (foster care, host programs) needed to be addressed via the Educational Committee. And that any inspections were done through them. There are a lot of other nuances to do with paperwork, attestations, etc. Whether or not this is a good move in terms of monitoring the care of orphans, the short-term effects may not be so beneficial...

These changes will have an impact in terms of personnel. Nearly all of the counselors I had known at the orphanage will be leaving. Why? Because they are educators, and had been promised a pension after 25 years. My friend Galina is 5 years away. Another counselor I know only had 6 months to go. But if they stay on at the orphanage, their status gets changed to "social worker" and those benefits are lost (or downgraded). So those that had only a few years left are leaving to finish out their careers at schools and kindergartens...maybe to return, maybe not.

Who will be working at the orphanages? Most likely, a combination of younger social workers (who do not have enough years of experience to mind the loss) and older staff who are already getting their retirement benefits and working practically as volunteers. Galina told of one older academic tutor who is now listed as "housekeeping," because it just doesn't matter for her at this late in her career.

What about the kids? The orphanage is seeing a lot of troubled kids these days. It's uncertain whether intake is being handled differently (one girl is suicidal, yet was placed in a regular orphanage?), if they're hurting because of all the staff changes, or if it's just a sign of changing times. What will happen to them when the good educators leave and the new, inexperienced ones come aboard? Where is the incentive for professionals to work in orphanages? I didn't used to be of the "leave it to the professionals" mindset, but there is a certain skill set needed for working in an orphanage...street-smarts, too.

As for the extracurricular activities...it sounded annoying to me at first; to have the kids running all over town. But then again, that's what non-orphanage kids do. And they do have their own transportation. But still, the orphanage was always a place where you could see rich culture in action: artwork, amazing performances, and the most festive of celebrations. I wonder if they will be able to keep that up in the future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Food Chronicles

I decided to look at what our family was eating to see if I could make some changes.

Breakfast: Omelets

Lunch: Homemade soup (chicken or pork w/ veggies using homemade broth), + sandwich (1 piece of rye bread with a slice of cheese or leftover roasted pork/chicken)

Dinner: Various kinds of meat+rice/pasta/potatoes +salad or other veggie

We have tea after every meal with a small treat of some kind (ONE piece of chocolate or ONE cookie). And snack on fruit or homemade croutons, etc.

Verdict: I know that I don't eat enough of some things, like fruits and veggies. But it's hard to believe that with 90% of our food made from scratch we could be way off the mark. People keep talking about the evils of grains and sugar and it's hard for me to believe that having a few slices of bread or a few cookies per day would be ruining my digestion.

A lot of women in the fitness discussion groups I frequent seem to talk about "real food" and "Paleo" all the time. So I decided to check out a new e-book written by a woman I'd run into before in the blogosphere. She blogs at http://trinaholden.com/blog/.

-My Thoughts-

Even though I am not sold on the "real food" movement, I really enjoyed this book. Yes, I rolled my eyes about all the "staying close to the source" and buying local everything and finding a raw milk source and whatnot. I wish someone would put out a book like this for urban life! And the dessert section is frustrating...I don't know where to buy sugar substitute or eggs that can be consumed raw.

But aside from the shopping side of the equation, Trina definitely has a knack for making things sound doable, and she assigns some simple tasks for those who like their checklists.

Here are a few sections of the book I found applicable:

1) Bone Broth

Making my own chicken broth seemed like a no-brainer. If I make soup, I use homemade broth, but I don't actually make it that often because I don't have stock vegetables on hand like onions, celery, and carrots.

"Your Real Food Journey" suggests: use bone broth in almost everything as a substitute for water; use it to boil your rice, pasta, etc. Again, that wasn't a new idea to me, but I'd never purposed to do it regularly. The life-changer was that she mentioned simmering just the bones. No soup veggies needed, just cover the chicken bones with water and some vinegar and simmer away for several hours. Then you have some broth you can use the next day for cooking your dinner. We eat chicken so often that I could definitely see myself doing this a lot.

2) Cultured Foods/Homemade Yogurt

Fermentation is a part of the Russian food culture, and I could see myself getting into it. "Your Real Food Journey" claims that fermented foods have special enzymes that can aid your digestion if you include them in every meal. Kefir and sauerkraut are the main ones around here, but the book has recipes like "Gingered Carrots" that sound edible as well.

As far as homemade yogurt, she suggests using some whey, which I'm pretty sure I could find in the supermarket here. The dairy section in Russian grocery stores is huge, and that includes cultured products. Hopefully I will make a yogurt attempt one of these days. If not, I can always just buy some kefir. Homemade is "better," but sometimes baby steps are necessary. Extra dishes have to be factored in!

So those are a few projects I'd like to try. As far as cutting out foods/food groups, well....the jury is still out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I rejoined the worship team recently thinking it was going to be a Friday night/Sunday morning commitment...but that was before I knew about the worship night coming up (tomorrow). And obviously my family also wasn't expecting me to be at rehearsals 2 nights a week. Yeah, I might not do the worship night next time...but on the other hand, I got this kind of jumpstart back into church stuff. It's 2 evenings away from my family, but it's also 2 evenings of deep conversations and riding home in the metro together, just like old times. It's kind of like when David was a baby and Andrei would have a big workload or something...suddenly things were more challenging, but it also helped me to move forward and gain some new skills.

I mentioned the relationships, and what can I say...we all are still learning how to die to ourselves. But we're aware of that, and we're praying about it. I don't think there is a strategy for running a worship team that would allow us to be productive and peaceful and perfectly musical all the time. But for our worship to be an offering it will take sacrifice, it seems.

Another interesting factor is the size of the group. When a team is growing, we probably all think to ourselves at one moment or another, "Do I really need to be here?" Or maybe, "Does he/she really need to be here?" And it can be a delicate matter, especially when there are more than enough willing participants. But I realized that it's actually a relief to be "expendable," as it were. We can take turns without it seeming like we lack commitment. and no one will begrudge a sick baby.

The costumes and constant posting of pumpkin photos on social media remind me that I'm living in a foreign country...what are these fall festivities of which you speak? Tomorrow is just a "regular" day here...maybe with the exception of some parties. And worship night.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Prairie Life

If you're looking for some wholesome historical fiction about homesteaders, I can recommend the "Butter in the Well" series. I downloaded both volumes for free on my Kindle, though they cost a few dollars now.

The two books in the series are written in the form of diary entries, which the author based on various historical documents and other publications. They are fictionalized accounts of the lives of real Swedish immigrants. The first is written from the point of view of a young wife, and the second- that of her teenaged daughter.

The diary entries are all pretty simple and some are even mundane. We hear about which foods they are canning on a given day and which new inventions have come to town. Sometimes there is a list of people who are sick. Sentiments are included, but not always. The simple style makes it seem more realistic, as if a real person is just writing his/her thoughts as they come and trying to record things for posterity. Even though it isn't very riveting, it is convincing.

At the same time, there are often several entries in a row that talk about historical events or inventions, and you get the feeling that the author is trying to pack as many facts into the text as possible and then just connecting it all with a few imagined details. It can get a bit tiresome.

All in all, the series is very calming and educational. An enjoyable change of pace, and it was interesting knowing that these people really existed, even if the specific thoughts in the fictional "diary" never actually crossed their mind. It looks like the author (Linda Hubalek) has a few other similar series that I might check out as well.

And the characters of "Butter in the Well" ARE Christians, but there is nothing "preachy" going on in the narrative.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Two days in the courtyard

Didn't manage to get one of those perfect fall photo sessions, but I got a rainy day and a snowy day for you! :)

Pondering his next puddle...


"Mommy, no gyubs (gloves)!"

"Catch you!"

Hmmm...I think we will admire the view from INSIDE today!