Tuesday, January 28, 2014

First Day of Detskii Sad (Preschool)

Tuesday 28 January 2014
So we set out in the total darkness (at 8 am), Mom, Dad, E, K, and little A in the stroller, to get to detskii sad.  Waited for a tramvai, but that's rush hour and we had to wait for three to go past us before one had room to get on.  Then navigated the underground passage (down stairs, long tunnel, up stairs) which is the only way for pedestrians to cross the enormously busy thoroughfare nearest us.  Then we walked 20 minutes, and more by guesswork than fact arrived at the detskii sad just after 8:30.  Not to mention each of them had a bag of the spare clothes, extra shoes, socks, etc which every preschool wants, and in Russia even more so.  Oh, and did we mention it was --20 celsius.  Most people don't take preschool children outside in this weather, let alone half hour walk to detsad.  But we had waited a long time for detsad, and we weren't going to let this opportunity go unused.

As you can see, it was actually too dark to take a picture when we got there, but by the time we talked to both teachers and settled both girls, we could take a photo of the rest of us, leaving without E and K.

 This is the last we used the green stroller, because shortly after this, it hit a block of snow/ice it couldn't navigate, and the front wheel snapped clean off.

Here is the whole front of the building.

The building is much deeper than it looks.  From this side you can see what might be 6 classrooms, but there are actually 10 classrooms (not all filled yet), plus a gymnasium, a music room/auditorium, and a swimming pool (wading pool), a kitchen, a nurse's station, the director's office, plus other random rooms we haven't discovered yet. 

Here is the front door sign, which is not really legible, but you can see the number down at the bottom. Like New York, all public schools and preschools have numbers, and that's what everyone calls them (not names): 

This picture is of E and K when Mom came back to pick them up after lunch.

Normally they will stay for nap time, but on the first day, we tried half day.  Didn't work so well.  E said she wanted to stay (just to see what they did later), and K did NOT want to leave that disney princess bag in her cubby (she didn't believe we were coming back…).  P.S. The next day we took it back & she was fine with leaving it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What I did on my long vacation…

In the case of E, she got kind of stir crazy, but also a bit creative with things we had lying around…

K just pretends she gets to go somewhere.  We think she is imitating her mother in this shot. 

And as for the little one, she is very curious what Mommy thinks is so interesting on this silver plate, so she thought she would try it herself.  (E and K both insisted we post this photo.) 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Little Rebels

Just to prove the kids aren't angels.  Especially the little one.  Turn your back, and she does something you didn't intend:

But to fair to the youngest, she got the idea from her oldest sister:

Or maybe we weren't fast enough helping her do what she wanted, or whatever.  Who knows what a one-year-old thinks….

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

There are a shortage of employees in Moscow.  People come from all the neighboring countries to find work here.  Employees are so scarce, even McDonalds posts job ads in the subway:

The red banner across the top says: "How much you get working at McDonalds."

The three dots (red orange yellow), like bullet points, add the following:
--"premium every 3 months"
--"convenient work shifts"
--"worthy salary" (it is supposed to mean you can live on it, or that it's not insultingly small)

The yellow, orange and yellow stripes below that add:

"And in the program 'Work full time' -- additional package of benefits"

McDonalds, offering benefits.  Only in Russia.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kindergarten, or "it's not that easy"

Last week S got an official email notice that we were approved places for our two older children in the state preschool system (detskii sad).

This is the wrap up to a very long saga.

First the girls waited "at home" in the hotel until we found an apartment (since you can hardly register for school if you don't know where you are living).

Month #1 of "summer vacation."

Then when we got an address, S worked with an office at her university which is assigned to help in social (i.e. non work related) questions.  They took a couple of weeks to find out whom to call or contact (nothing is easy here).  They called around but kept getting answers either "wrong office" or "no places."  Finally they drafted a letter which was signed and sent by the office of the university Rector (like university president, very top admin person) to the very top of the Moscow Department of Education requesting permission for children of their employees on the visa "Highly Qualified Specialist" to attend government owned preschool.  Directions from our office -- wait.   30 days for official answer.

(Unlike in the US, you don't apply directly to a school, but to the department of education in your city or city section for permission to attend the school or preschool near you.  Like we said, nothing is that easy here.)

Month #2 of "summer vacation."

After 30 days, the official answer still wasn't received (it got delayed in the Russian postal system), so someone from the university called someone from the department of education and got an electronic copy of a scan of a paper letter with the "official" answer.

In two full pages, the answer boiled down to "we are happy to serve families who are citizens of Russia and permanent residents of Moscow."  In other words, the preschool system, as of September 2013, was officially not accepting any more foreigners or the recently moved to Moscow.

So S hollered, and several people at work agreed that since we were invited to work in Moscow, our children can't be simply excluded.  Finally some administrator said a certain other administrator (vice rector somebody) had close connections with somebody in the central office of the department of education, and that the vice rector somebody would make a call.

After the holidays, which in Russia is Jan 1-8.

Month #3 of "summer vacation."

So we heard tentatively by Dec 30 that it would be a "go" at some point in January.  Everyone gets back from the official holidays and doesn't do much for a few days (slow ramping up).  But then we heard unofficially that yes, it is confirmed they will get a place.  But where?

So finally 13 January we got two emails (one for each child) telling them where they would be assigned. Other things got in the way, but a coordinator at S's workplace was able to call the preschool to which we were assigned and made an appointment to go visit the preschool.  (More later).

At the visit, the director explained the forms we need to bring.  The girls have to have complete physicals (more later) and official letters saying they are healthy enough to attend preschool.  This of course takes several days (more later).

Month #4 of "summer vacation."

But we are looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.  They have a place, imperfect as it may be, and they probably can be starting next week some time.  

The end to the long duree…..

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pasternak Lived Here

Our church congregation arranged for a group tour of some famous writers' homes in a distant area of Moscow.  We met on the metro and boarded a tour bus for the drive out there (about 45 min).  We stopped at three "home-museums"--homes they lived in which have been turned into museums.

The first was a dissident poet-musician of the 1970s.  His house was so small that when in the late 1990s they made a museum, they built a little wooden house for the tour groups.

The kids mostly were bored by the long Russian explanations and played in the yard.

It was really cold that day.  This is K's "winter coat", suitable for Siberia.

For some reason, A left the house wearing her pioneer bonnet (the yellow bonnet underneath the blue snowsuit):

The second was the home of Boris Pasternak.  He came from a very distinguished family.  Believe it or not, he was famous in Russia mostly for being an excellent literary translator, because his books were banned during the Soviet era.  He translated a lot of English and German literature.  He wasn't allowed to collect his Nobel Prize or anything.  But after 1991, Russia finally acknowledged his literature, and some of his devotees were able to turn his beautiful large home in the countryside into a museum.  It was so amazing.  He wrote poetry about working in his house, which the museum docent recited to us. Amazing.

This is Pasternak's house, surrounded by woods, in a village near Moscow.  Look at the amazing sets of windows--it really lets in a lot of light.

This is Pasternak's desk, where he wrote his most famous novels and his most famous translations:

The other half of the upstairs room, looking out on the other part of the woods:

E on the landing:

 Daddy holding A in her blue snowsuit:

While the adults listened to the very talented docent reciting Pasternak's poetry, K decided it was nap time:

The woods which remain around Pasternak's house.

The docent explained that in Pasternak's lifetime one side of the woods opened out onto a field of grain (about which she quoted more of his verses) and over the field he could see the ancient Russian orthodox village church and historic cemetery.  But nowadays, some wealthy Russians bought the land and built themselves some mansions.  She almost cried at the "crime" she said they committed (in ruining the grain field Pasternak immortalized in verse).  But then, in general, most educated, "cultured" people do not like the super wealthy for not respecting Russian tradition.  (No love lost on either side of that divide, from what we can gather, since the super wealthy have no use of all that boring old stuff.)

After this we stopped at a cafe (the only one open in this small town in winter), and all got some soup.  We ordered borsch, but we got delivered some random soup.  It had shredded carrots and cabbage and meat bits, like borsch does, but it didn't have a single beet, so it can't have actually been borsch.  When a woman in our group asked how we liked it, and S explained the beets were missing, the woman sort of indicated her soup wasn't top notch either with the phrase "well, it can be eaten."

The third stop was the home of Kornei Chukovskii famous writer of silly stories for small children (sort of like a Russian Dr Seuss).  That's a pen name derived from his real name Nikolai Vasilyevich Korneichurov. You can read more about him on Wikipedia, even in English


Stalin tried to have him banned (he could find conspiracies against himself anywhere) but the guy was too popular.  Generations of Russians have grown up on his stories and everyone knows them, probably by heart.  But he was a famous translator as well--he translated lots of children's literature.

This is Chukovskii's house:

Chukovskii used to collect all the village children in the summer and read them stories in his backyard, as the following sign commemorates.

 They do summer events there now, and have a small raised platform.

For a children's author, the staff at this museum were not very hospitable.  They gave the children from our group (us & one other child) a special children's tour, which involved showing them some toys people sent this famous author as gifts, and then sent us outside to play.  We didn't hear anything about his life or work.  Did we mention how cold it was outside?   So K put on a little show for us while the adults were in the warm interior listening to the rest of his life story.

On the whole, it was an amazing trip.  It was a very long day, but we were glad to see it.  It was perfect winter weather--sunny, crisp, bright, and cold, even by Russian standards (--22 celsius).  Maybe the kids weren't impressed with the history, but even they enjoyed the excursion.  This is A on Daddy's lap as we went from one place to the next on the tour bus:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Little Angels

To close out the holiday season, E and K helped Mommy take the ornaments off the tree, with the following interesting results:

Everything takes more time than you want it to

This should be the tag line to all of life in Russia.

Everything takes more time than you want it to.

Going anywhere in Moscow takes an hour, either because of a long metro ride or a long walk.

Washing machines, even the new ones, take 75 to 120 minutes for a load, depending on the cycle.   But the machines hold about 5 kilograms (10 pounds) of clothes at a time.  For adults, that is two pairs of jeans and two shirts, or 8 shirts. For kids, that is a few days worth of clothes.  But there are no drying machines.  The word "dryer" is used for the rack you hang clothes on.  Ours is the large style and holds two loads of clothing.  So every day we run at least one load of laundry.  If we skip a day (last week we skipped 3 days), then there is a backlog.

Russia skipped the "pay by check" stage of financial transactions.  Once upon a time, everything was cash.  Nowadays, cash can be still used (most places), but most commercial businesses (shops, etc), will also accept plastic cards--but only if they have a chip in them, not the magnetic stripe, and usually only if they are a debit card and use a pin number.  A lot of places have trouble with credit cards you sign.

Because there are no checks, the most common way to pay, for example, phone bill, water bill, electricity bill, and school fees, is to pay from bank to bank.  Most Russians take the bill to the bank, either their own bank or the bank which is used by the payee, and stand in a line to pay at the window.  This means that "going to the bank" happens frequently and at the most commonly used banks (Sberbank in particular) there are always long lines.  Oh, and on top of the time expense, there is always a commission charged by the bank.  3-10%.  Some banks also now offer "telebank" services (internet banking), which is what we try to use when we can.  We still pay a commission (except for the cell phone), but at least we don't have to stand in line.

But imagine every time you get a bill you would write a check for, you have to spend an hour in line at the bank to pay it (plus time to and from the bank).

And there are a lot of things like this.

Now you see what we mean, everything takes more time than you want it to.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Tourism again

With "holidays" (from nothing) we decided to do a little sight seeing.

This was a monument to a war fought and won over a century ago, about how Russian forces "freed" some people from the "infidel" captors somewhere.  It's written in old script, so it's hard to read.

Of course the appeal for kids isn't the history….

It's the pigeons.  E in the blue coat (Lands End), K in the purple/yellow coat (Lands End).   A was in the stroller, somewhere.

The goal was to visit this museum, which on the website was billed as a "Museum of Industry".  Cool, we thought, especially since it is in an imposing pre-revolutionary building.

But the website didn't mention that it was completely shut down for reconstruction.  I guess we will have to wait a couple of years.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Years, part 2

We read on the website that the Zoo was open on New Years and would be free!  It's only 300 R admission for adults (children are free) (so about $9) but, hey, free is free.  Some of the other museum choices cost more on the holidays, and most everything was closed on New Years.

The metro was really empty.  All day long.  Very odd, like a ghost town.  No one goes anywhere on New Years' Day around here.

But the zoo was packed.  Wall to wall people.  Most animals were inside, and some indoor places we just couldn't get into with the crush.

So after walking the usual route around, and letting the kids play in the play space, we gave up.

E did get to see the snakes/alligator house which we didn't see the first time, and K liked the elephants (their 'house' is of course enormous).

It was mostly grown ups in the zoo.  Most things to do are closed on New Years.  This was the ONLY thing we knew of that opened up.  And if you have friends visiting from out of town for the holidays, and they aren't completely drunk, where else do you go?

So we'll try the zoo again on an ordinary day.

New Years, part 1

Russian children get their presents on New Years Eve or New Years Day instead of Christmas.

It actually makes a lot of sense.  Have all the silliness one day, and the religious stuff another day.

Since we hope to have bilingual/bicultural children, we decided they deserved at least some of a Russian New Years.

So, Grandfather Frost (literally "Dyid Moroz") came to visit us in the night of the new year, and our children woke up to more surprises (minus stockings).

For E:
--a small metal toy box (can't have enough things to put things in)
--a plain Russian white cotton scarf
--a mini doll (ab 4 inches high)

For K:
--a small metal toy box (ditto)
--plain white Russian cotton scarf
--a 'doctor' kit (since she always likes E's kit from home)

For A:
--a plain white cotton scarf
--plastic doll cooking utensils ("mixing mixing")
--toy car (since she loves everything which "goes")

The kids had gone to bed on New Years eve about when they always do, we stayed up to watch the official broadcast of Moscow midnight -- a short speech from President Putin and a close up view of the famous Kremlin tower as the clock struck midnight with its twelve strokes.  This was shown on every TV station. After a few minutes of solemnity, they all turned back to whatever they were showing (concerts, parties, etc).

They do sell nonalcoholic carbonated juice in the fancy bottles --it is sold as "children's champagne" (complete with Disney princesses), probably because around here, it's only small children who don't have one glass of the real stuff for new years, even if they rarely drink any other time.   But we were so tired we forgot to open it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Russian Idioms for the Kids

Now we have three Russian phrases, one for each child:

For E, 6 almost 7, we found the word зачитается (pronounced "za-chi-tay-et-sya") which is the conjugated form of the verb "to be absorbed in reading" (or read yourself lost)

For K, 3 1/2, the doorkeeper of our building said "она сам себя хозяин" (pronounced "ah-na sahm sye-bya kho-zya-een") which means "she is her own master".  The doorkeeper said this because she has told us before K needs a hat and we say K won't wear a hat even when we tell her to.  (This is a pretty serious failing for a child in Russia, where every child has a hat on!)  This phrase is not usually a compliment in Russia; sort of, but not really.

For A, at 1 yr and 4 months, at the Russian ward Christmas party as she raced around on her own adventures, a church member said "Наполеонские планы в глазах" (pronounced "Na-po-li-on-ski-i plah-ni v gla-zakh) which means "Napoleonic plans in her eyes."  That woman was very kind, but again, we think it's not usually used as a compliment.

I guess we have arrived, now that the kids all have "stereotypes" here in the new culture...