Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hair Bows

Grandma B sent some long pink ribbons in the mail (thank you Grandma!).  This is what the girls decided to with them:

And yes, I let them go to school like this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

First Snow

snow flurries Friday night.  Didnt melt overnight.  Not much, but there.

This photo and the last two posts brought to you courtesy of a new app we found for the iPad, called Posts.  S is almost never at the computer, but carries the iPad everywhere.  And open wifi on some subway lines! 

Welcome Fall

In E's first grade class they put on a show "welcoming fall."  This is E (in glasses) and her best friend, both dressed up as "fall" dancers.   Down below is a photo of (most of) the class in their "fall" outfits. Most of the children performed short poems or songs, or had lines in the "skit" to welcome fall. E's contribution was to be part of a dance with other girls, which she did very well.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We will have weather whether or not....

The first two weeks of September, we had perfect weather, bright and clear and fall season.

The last two weeks of September, we had some cold days, doubling up sweaters & jackets, got out kid hats.  Still bright (except for getting up an hour before sunrise), still fall, but really brisk.  Every color leaves you can imagine.  Maple, ash, birch, oak, linden, an amazing variety.  And a lot more trees than it seems if you assume first that we live in an entirely concrete jungle.  No grassy places to walk, just decorative edges around the buildings, fenced off from people.  

Then we had two weeks of much milder temperatures, back down to just a sweater.  

This week has been gloomy and five kinds of rain, at least (mist, drizzle, light rain, intermittent, occassional), so you never travel without a raincoat or umbrella.  Most umbrellas, tho, dont stand up well to the unpredictable bursts of wind.  

Moscow isnt a "windy" city as such, but you get lots of unpredictable breezes twising their way between 5-story and 14-story buildings, gusts of air across wide thoroughfares with buses exhaust eddying across the roads, and wind forcing itself like an elephant through alleyways, cutting like a knife through unseasonable coats. 

Today, we are expecting temperatures around freezing, with real feel of just below freezing, so we got out the early winter gear.  Snow pants, which are called "shtani" in Russian.  We use the Russian word because last year the girls did NOT want to wear "snow pants" if there wasnt snow.  So they are "cold pants".  Our two year old A was excited to see her spring cold suit (jacket/shtani), which she tried hard to put on herself.  Our four year old K insisted on wearing her shtani.  She was so excited going to preschool in shtani--now I can be like the other kids! 

When we had the previous cold spell (+5 celsius) someone brought their daughter to the "baby preschool" (As class) wearing already the pink cold suit which we just got out today for our youngest.   This dad thinks Muscovites are weird about the cold.  In Siberia, this isnt cold.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Schedules, Or "A Week Like Any Other"

As anyone with kids from five to eighteen will appreciate, once school is in session, a parent's life is dictated by when the kids have to be where.  Our day during the school term looks like this:

2 parents get up at 6.15 to get dressed & ready.

Wake up three kids at 6.45.

Breakfast, read scriptures (we just finished the Gospel of John today)

Get three kids dressed, put change of clothes in a bag to go (each girl now has her own drawstring bag, sold as a bag for extra shoes, but can be used for anything....

Comb hair, put in elastic bands

Get on shoes (why is one shoe always missing in the morning? even tho you coulda sworn they were both there the night before!) 

Get on jackets or raincoats, depending on likelihood of rain. 

Parent #1 leave with E to go to first grade by 8.00 am at the latest.  7 min walk.  

Once at the school, E uses an electronic card to go through a closed turnstyle.  Parents not allowed.  Like every other "civilized" and "cultured" institution in Russia, the school has a "garderobe" or set of coat racks, on the first floor past the turnstyle.  E takes off her coat and changes her "street" shoes for "inside" shoes (hence the shoe bag) and goes upstairs to the second floor to her classroom.  

Paint is peeling from the exterior walls of the school, and falling off the walls in her classroom, but the teacher has a computer, a screen, and as of last week, the classroom has an "interactive board"  (smart board?) but the software wasnt installed correctly so the magic pen doesnt work. 

Her classes start at 8.30, but the teacher starts at 8.20 with "morning exercises" done by their desks.  classes are generally 30 min long, with breaks in between.  The first grade has four main lessons: "Grammar" (Russian language),  "Writing" (cursive penmanship in Russian), "Math" and "The World Around us" (some social studies, but mostly trees, plants, ie environment).  Children start school at 7 (or 6 1/2) in Russia, but it is assumed on Day 1 of first grade that children can read and write their letters (in block print), and that they can read aloud basic sentences.  This they are expected to learn in the final year of "preschool", either in daytime lessons or evening "supplementary" lessons (which is what we did, since our preschool didnt have the daytime school readiness lessons).  But everyone does read and write at least a bit on first day of first grade.  There is also Gym class 3 times a week, Art once a week, and Music once a week.

If S is teaching that day, S takes E to school and then heads over to the bus to the subway for a 45 min commute to work, arriving 9 or 9.15 for a 10.30 class, which runs until 1.30 (with a break in the middle). S teaches in a brand newly re/constructed building in the very center of Moscow (Metro station Lubyanka, if you look on a metro map), but her office is in an "overflow" building 5 min walk away.  

Parent # 2 leaves either at the same time or no later than 8.10 and takes K and A on the bus one long stop, which is only 3-4 min in off peak, but at 8.15, it crawls along in really slow traffic on our side street which clears up a bit when the bus turns on to a major thoroughfare, where it stops next to the metro entrance.  The next bit involves getting a small child K and a not much lighter 2 y old in a stroller across this same major thoroughfare.  This involves navigating an underground pedestrian tunnel—most large streets in Moscow are crossed this way, some have ordinary crosswalks, and only a few have built pedestrian bridges up & over—down a double flight of stairs, through a crowded tunnel, fight against the foot traffic streaming into the metro (think Fezziks line "Everybody mooove!"), and then navigating the stroller up the double flight of stairs at the other side.  

Note the frequent mention of stairs.  Sorry, we cannot invite Judy to come visit Moscow.  Many metro stations have escalators, and most apartment buildings over 5 stories tall have elevators (including ours), but everywhere else, it's stairs.

After the stairs, then there is a ten minute walk to get to the preschool, but that is mostly tree-lined side streets (and lots of curbs), and the worst is over.  K gets dropped off to her shiny new building officially by 8.30, but the entire trip takes 30 min, and so sometimes we arent there until 8.40 or 8.45.  Each classroom has its own changing room, children have individual cubbies (like lockers without locks, or like the YMCA), where they take off their coats, "street" clothes, and change into "inside" clothes.  This is a very rigid expectation, all the parents help their kids change, but neither parent nor child (except us) complains about how ling this takes, dressing at home, then redressing again at the preschool.  Its just a way of life.  But it certainly cuts down on laundry, since inside clothes migt get lunch spilled on them, but have no sand or mud from outside, so if they dont spill, the kids can and do wear the same inside clothes a few days in a row (again, except for us, just different habits).  Allow K 10 minutes to finish changing shoes (she already comes in her inside clothes bec we dont have time to wait another 20 min for her to change clothes too.

Her day schedule looks like this: 8:30 to 8:50 Breakfast (cooked, either porridge or egg something), 9:00 - 10:00 am "lesson" time, 10:00 "second breakfast" (a piece of fruit, apple, pear etc), 10:30 to 11:45 play outside time, 12:00 to 1:00 lunch (hot cooked meal, including 'first' course = soup, 'second' course = cooked main dish, meat, chicken, or fish, with something like noodles or potatoes on the side, 'third' course = something else, sometimes a bit sweet (crackers, fruit, or kompot (homemade juice boiled from fruit, K likes pear best), but not candy or cake). 1:15 pm to 3:15 nap time, 3:30 "snack" time, something cooked and "filling" (noodles, or a small meat patty, etc). 4:00 to 5:00 pm, free play (parent pick up permitted), then 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, outside play time (parent pick up by 6:00 pm requested, tho officially they are "open" from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm).  Other preschools have slight variations on the time, but not the order.  Some preschools have only bread at 3:30 and something "filling" for "dinner" at 5:00 then play outisde.  "Lesson" time for K is one in the classroom (20 min) such as gluing, cutting, pasting, drawing, or clay, and one out of the classroom.  Two times a week is Music (which is learning little songs but mostly a lot of dancing around) and Gym claass twice a week.  Once a week is "swim", this preschool actually has a very small, very shallow pool, where a teacher teaches them in turns in groups of 4-5 kids basics of pool safety and going under water.  I cant imagine actually getting strokes across a pool that small, certainly not for 6 year olds, but it is such a rare thing for a preschool to have a pool, and the girls have loved it.  

From dropping off K, then you walk around behind the new building to the old building, where A has a little class of other two year olds, in a "group of short time stay" (I kid you not, thats what it is called).  Drop off permitted any time from 8:45 until 9:00 or so, but if later the teacher is not strict about it, the way that K's teacher is strict (biiiig trouble for coming after 9:00 am to regular preschool class, never do that again).  Again, each class has its own changing room, same routine of switch street clothes for outside clothes.   She has a nice teacher, and the size of the group varies, since it is all entirely optional at her age.  They play with toys or do clay, or have a little music time, from 9:00 to 10:45.  Then they put on their street clothes and go play outside from 11:00 am, with parent pick up from any time after 11:00 until 12:00 noon, when that teacher goes home.  This is the one thing they are strict about.

So, A really likes her class, and playing, but is also really glad when she gets picked up.  

However, her pick up time is 12:00 noon, and the earliest K can be picked up is after lunch at 1:00 pm.  (earlier is not allowed!!!!!). So the parent on pick up duty has to decide whether to wait an hour for K, and then take them both home, by which time they want to play with each other and not nap at home (and we all know what a 2 yr old who skips a nap is like by evening....) OR, one parent picks up A and takes her home and gets her down for a nap, then the other parent picks up K either at 1:00 pm or at 4:00 – 5:00 pm.  

E's class day is finished at 12:20.  Some parents pick up their child then.  Most other parents signed up for "extended day" which doesnt cost extra, but kid can stay until 6:00.  It costs 100 R per day for lunch, which is part of "extended day".  Its pricey for what a kid eats, but most parents figure since they are allowed to charge for lunch but not for the afterschool hours, they are using the former to subsidize the latter.  Tho maybe not, since unlike preschool where food is prepared on site, and distributed to classrooms, the school has a contract with a food service company whcih brings it in daily and the kids eat in the cafeteria.  So E has lunch (same kind of 3 courses as described above) 12:30 to 1:30, then they run around outside until 2:30 or 3:00.  Then she either has the choice of sitting in class until we come get her (any time after 1:30), and finishing her homework and writing notes to friends, etc, or in E's case reading a book, OR, she can go to "clubs", so we opted for "clubs" (also free, also at the school).  She has Music (where they learn Russian folk songs -- ask her about playing the spoons some time!) two days a week Mon and Wed 2:30 to 3.30 and Bead club Tue and Fri 3:00 to 5:00 pm.  She is VERY good at making things with beads! 

Then we pick up K between 4:00–5:00 and E sometime around then as well.  Everyone is usually home at 5:00 or 5:30.

Dinner 6 ish.  Baths on alternate nights, E finish homework, noisy play time, bed time.  We aim for 8:00 pm but its been closer to 8:30 or 9:00 pm more often than not.

Then we finish dishes, laundry, our own work, etc, and stumble into bed around 11:00.

Total travel times involved here: detskii sad drop off, about 90 minutes, school drop off about 30 minutes round trip. Detskii sad pickups, 2 at an hour each, or one at 2 hours, including wait time between the two detskii sads. School pickup, about 40 minutes (have to wait for her to come downstairs, and get outside clothes on.) Grand total, about four and a half hours just getting kids to and from their lessons.


Monday, October 6, 2014


We have been really busy and not posted photos lately.  So here is the recap:

E officially started Russian public school 1st grade on 1 September.  After a couple of weeks of difficulty, she is really doing very well.  How many 7 year olds do you know who can do homework independently in a foreign language?

Worst part is that the school never announces anything on paper unless its a form we have to sign.  Everything is told to the children verbally and they are expected to go home and tell their parents.  Parents of school children anywhere know that is a recipe for disaster.  Now try it in a foreign language.

K went back to her same preschool, same teachers, same set of kids on 1 September.  Well, they added a new teacher, but the other two are still there, plus all the kids are the same (maybe 1 new one?).  Welcome to Russia, where if they can keep a group together, they will.

(E's first grade class, for example, will sit in the same seats and have the same teacher and no student reshuffling for 4 years, until they go to the 5th grade.  This is not specific to her school. It's Russian government education. )

A (now officially 2 years old) started a preschool class mornings only on 2 September.  9 am to 12 noon.  It is technically the same preschool as K, but it's in the old building next door, so it doesn't "feel" like the same preschool, either to the kids or to the parents who have an extra drop off/pickup.  The first week, A was really not sure about this, and was a bit hesitant about being left, but never left.  She was ready for the adventure.  By the second week, she was going cheerfully off to class after taking off her coat.  Sure, she still runs to meet us when we pick her up, but she really enjoys having somewhere to go & other kids to play nearby.

S is teaching two classes on research methods at the university.  One is Wednesdays for 3 hours, one is Thursdays 3 hours.  It is about the most essential but most boring class to teach (says S).  They are on different levels, and slightly different subjects, but it gets very confusing, who heard which lecture last?

A is traveling for a couple of paid events this month and next.  He is waiting for something to come out of some interviews he has had lately.  

So, the kids are growing, changing, learning Russian.  We are about the same we were a year ago.  Well, except a little more Russian-ish.

And thankfully completely out of the loop of US news & not-news.

So many people in Russia live so precariously, or are so busy, they don't have time for nonsense.  Now that is us, too.

Money, again

Yes, the ruble is collapsing. Especially against the dollar. 

Sept 2013, 31 R = 1$, now, 40 R = 1$. 

I didn't realize the US economy was doing better, but evidently it is. 

Did I mention we get paid in rubles?  Hired by a Russian university, we have no other options.  It is also illegal to "peg" any price or payment to a foreign currency amount.  But since 1999, that didn't matter, since the ruble was held stable by actions of the Central Bank, so that the ruble bounced around 30 R to 1 $ (29-33) for more than a decade after the 1998 default. But the central bank decided in 2014 to let the ruble "float", to not "prop it up", to not keep the exchange rate within certain bounds.  They have gradually been phasing out their "prop" so the ruble is falling like with gravity. 

Sanctions do not affect the ordinary citizens of Russia on the whole. Might be a few imported items not on the shelves, but there are no empty shelves (imports being replaced by domestic products), and not all imports have been affected (yet). 

However, internal inflation is also going up in Russia generally and in Moscow in particular. Officially the inflation rate (Aug 2013 to Aug 2014) is over 7.5%. But in the year we have been here, a lot of food, clothing, and other consumer items have increased by 10-20%. Including our rent. 

No one starves in Russia but the poor. I used to say Russia is a country where it's easier to be poor (than in the US). That isn't true in Moscow.