Sunday, October 11, 2015

Visiting the Office

This is what our children get to do if they are sick or otherwise not in school/preschool.  They have each been once now to our shared office space.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

K going to "night school"

"First Day of School" -- Take 3

This time it is music school!

We have been wanting to give our children music lessons.  And yes, there are some private lessons, but by far the most common way to get lessons is to go to a music school.  "Music school" is a Russian institution in which students who are selected for their musical capacity are given private lessons plus group lessons in music reading (solfedgio) and choir.  So it is a lot of hours each week, but a child ends up knowing a lot about music.  The music school nearest us, "Children's Music School Number 1", is celebrating 95 years this year.

S talked to Music School # 1 about places in mid-September.  But, like all other schools, they form groups in May and start on 1 September.  For piano (a "starter" instrument), the places are all full, even for paying customers.

A bit later, a neighbor in our apartment building whom we often see in our gated courtyard, said, "aren't you going to go to music school?"  When we explained that they told us the places were all full, she said, I sent my two sons there for violin, let me talk to the violin teacher.  So she put in a call to the teacher, and told us the teacher agreed to give us an audition.  She said we could bring all three kids (she maybe didn't realize how youngest was).    We consider it very providential that A plays the violin and always dreamed that his kids would play someday.  (What are the odds that the neighbor's sons learned violin and not some other instrument?)

What do you do for an "audition" if you don't play the instrument?  Well, she asked them to sing something (E and K independently picked Twinkle Twinkle), then asked them to sing the notes she played on the piano, and then to tell whether she played two notes or three (without watching her play the piano), and a basic rhythm test  (listen to her clap and then clap it back to her).  Well, they didn't do perfectly, or even as good as we know they can do at home, but she did agree that they have the capacity to learn music.  

But, because the afternoon and evening schedule are filled up already, we are admitted on the condition that we take the violin lessons in the first half of the day.  Well, this works well for E, who starts school at 1:40 (see 1 Sept post).  But not so good for K, who is enrolled in preschool (read "daycare") all day long.  But to get them in, we agreed.  (We agreed with her that three years old is too young for her discipline.)

Turns out it was only piano that was full.  There is still space for the "budget" (ie subsidized) places for violin, so E is enrolled in the "budget" place as a violin pupil, but this also comes with choir and solfedgio.  K at 5 years old is one year too young for a "budget" place so she gets only the violin lessons, but she would be eligible to start the full program next year at 6.

As of 1 October, E is starting two lessons per week on the instrument plus choir and solfedgio (learning to read music, music theory etc).  1 hour choir, 1 hour solfedgio, two 35 minute lessons on the instrument, all for the incredibly low (state subsidized) price of 260 roubles per MONTH.  (That's about $4.50 per month).  (Based on other prices, we would expect music to cost 260 Rubles per hour, but no, that is per month.)

K, on the other hand, is paying "private" prices this year, at 2400 R per month for two 35 min lessons per week (8 lessons per month), for something that translates to about $40 per month.

So, 1 Oct was E's first solfedgio lesson, this and choir are in small groups, by the year you started music school.  She and I were both worried about yet another "new school" experience.  But when I took her up to the class, two girls from her regular school class came right over and were happy to see her.  (Yay!)  They even told the teacher who she was.  They are also in her choir class, but they both are enrolled in the piano department (which means they got admitted last spring).

Now, any of our readers who have taken children to music lessons will understand the huge committment it is for the parent -- get them to the lesson (with instrument, and sheet music, and etc), wait there at the lesson, get them home or to the next thing.  Now, multiply that times four for E.  K just has the two lessons, and the teacher did them at the same day as E's lesson.  But E's four classes are on four different days.  (Come last, get the worst schedule).

Any advice for parents of children starting the violin?

"First Day of School" Take 2

K, our five-year-old, is beginning her "prep class," (Russian: podgotovkiye zanyatiye), the evening classes which are run by the school, for children to come after their preschool day and do "school", little 25 minute classes where they start learning letters, seasons, and basic counting.  She has been so excited to start "night school".  Although, she says, its too bad there is no Night Bus (like in Harry Potter), as we walk back and forth to the school (same School 9 where E goes) in the dark.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

First Day of School

E starts another school year, as the 33rd pupil in a classroom, 22 boys and now 11 girls.  It is School Number 9 in Perm, right in the center of the city, near the large amusement park, with the ridiculously long name "Municipal Autonomous Educational Institution School Number 9 in the name of A.S. Pushkin with in-depth specialization in the physics-mathematical profile".  Or, "School 9" or "Phys-Mat school" for short.

Normally pupils have to test in to the school in the spring, so it was highly irregular for us to come at the end of August (25th, to be exact) to request a place in already crowded classrooms (all of the second year classes were over their quota of 30 students already).  But, the department head of our university, the direct supervisor for both A and S, called and explained things to the school, and set up the appointment to discuss her admission.  Our landlord lives in our building and has a son E's age who is in the second grade [In Russia, students are one grade behind the numbers of US grades because Russian pupils start at 7, not 6, but they come to school knowing how to read and write and do basic numbers.].  The landlord called his son's teacher directly and said, if the director agrees to let her in, will you take her in your class?  So with both formal and informal ties working for us, we got in. 

But this is not a case of the "undeserving" getting a "lucky break," or something they don't deserve and can't handle.  E has demonstrated that she can answer math questions correctly EVEN when there are NO math symbols to give her a clue, that is, based entirely on Russian words.  (But we get ahead of ourselves).  She is good at math and enjoys it.  

The first day was hard for E, because unlike her first day last year, where some children and the teacher were familiar to her already from her "prep" classes (twice a week in the evening, children in preschool would go over to the school to learn to read and write to be ready for first grade).  Here, she knew no one but the landlord's son, and didn't have a chance to know him very well yet either.  So, a bit stressful, and a bit chaotic, without any real lessons, just a lot of rules.  Unlike in the US, where a new group is formed each year, here pupils sit in a classroom with the same teacher and the same 30 other kids for the first four years.  So all the children knew the teacher, knew the "house rules" and how the teacher likes things.  Its a big handicap for the new kid.  She wasn't the only one, but she didn't know that the first day, either.  

So, kudos to E, who started a new school for the second time in two years (three, if you count preschool).  

Oh, and did we mention -- she attends "second shift".  Schools in Perm are universally overcrowded, so all schools  in this city run two shifts, AM and PM, or first and second shift.  Each school decides exactly when they start second shift and which groups go second, but everyone we have talked to says second grade gets second shift across the whole city.  So her classes start at 1:40 pm (or 13:40 by 24-hour clock, which everyone uses here), and are finished at 5 or 6 pm (17:00 or 18:00), depending on the day.  Blech.  And this in a city where the winter sunset is before 5 pm.... 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

On the train to "Hogwarts"?

30 July we loaded the largest truck we could find (as individuals -- larger are commonly commercial use only) and sent off our belongings on the sometimes perilous (as in pot-holes) road from Moscow to Perm.

31 July we paid for someone to clean the apartment, got our deposit back from the landlord, and loaded 5 people, 3 carseats, 3 Trunkis, 5 backpacks, 5 suitcases with wheels, 3 carryons with wheels, two Ikea bags of pillows, 2 Ikea bags with houseplants, and 2 bags of food/kitchen stuff into a minivan taxi.  

Taxi to train station, where we got ripped off by some luggage carriers, who said we had to pay them 3,000 rubles (over $50 at the time) to take our stuff to the train, or else we would have to carry it ourselves up & down two flights of stairs.  Turns out you can just go around the train station to the actual platform, and we didn't need the stairs anyway.  This was Kazanskii vokzal, at which trains go in the direction of, you guessed it, Kazan, and beyond, but through Kazan.  (Moscow has 7 major train stations and 3 major airports.)  

Boarded the train 10:00 pm, got the kids settled, though it was a long time before they slept.  We thought about buying a compartment of 4 beds (two upper, two lower), but didn't think we could fit the luggage in, so we bought two compartments of 2 beds each (K and A as the smallest shared a bed).  Good thing E and K and A have seen the first two Harry Potter movies, because they were so excited to be in compartments -- are we really going to Hogwarts?  (no).  Well, let's pretend we are going to Hogwarts, until at least midnight. 

Most everybody slept, at least a little, until the train made its first stops on Saturday about 5:30 am.  Our ticket prices included one meal, plus we had a lot of food with us, so we never did see the dining car.  But between books and coloring and plopping on the piles of our pillows and train pillows and looking out the window, there was plenty to keep the kids busy until we arrived in Perm at 9:30 pm, Perm time (which is 7:30 pm Moscow times).  

All trains run on Moscow time.  It is tough, for getting to the station in time to meet a train, to remember the train arrival and departure times are listed on Moscow time.  But when you are ON the train, the "internal" time ALSO runs on Moscow time, and this makes a lot of sense, so when you order dinner, you look at your watch still on Moscow time and you know how long til dinner, or how many hours/days you have been on the train.  But a little disconcerting for really far away places.

There are towns for which trains stop (long stops) and towns which stop for trains (whistle stops, where an entire economy springs up around selling stuff from the platform to the people on the train).  

Our total train trip was 21 hours on the train.  Getting too and from the train was much harder, the train itself is the way to go!  No traffic jams, can stretch your legs, can read a book (if the kids let you...)

On to Perm! 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Birthday Mommy

This little hand is E giving Mommy flowers for her birthday.

These are the flowers she made.

Happy Birthday Mommy -- candles on the omlet for breakfast.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Playing on the Playground

This is a very interesting circle on the playground literally outside our front door.  You can walk around it, or stand in one place and it turns.

This is E riding her bike in the big park across the street and tram tracks from our house.

This is in our own playground.  Each time A tried throwing the ball it ended up behind her.  

This is our two year old hiding in a train structure in the park across the street.  

This is our four year old K on top of the train structure. 

This is another view of E on a bike, this time in the playground outside our front door. 

This is a view of our playground with our building in the background, facing the door we go in.  Our apartment is on the seventh floor, the windows where the small balcony is not enclosed with windows. This is the small tail end of a building roughly the shape of a U, with the top of the U on each side bent inward (this is the turned in part).  The ground floor of our building houses two pharmacies, a grocery store, a hardware store in the basement, and two doctors offices.  Our entryway has two floors which is part of a preschool (Not the one we go to, unfortunately).  The building has 8 entryways, each with its own elevator, with four apartments on each of floors 2 through 8 or 9.  Apartments range in size from 1 room to four rooms (ours).  Six of the doorways (including ours) face into the central courtyard, half of which is this playground, the other half is just grass and trees.  Someone once had a flower garden in that latter part, but we do not know whether that gets renewed every year or not, since we have only been in this building since November 1st.  

Literally two buildings away from us is the entrance to the subway, which is considered absolutely prime location in Moscow, that is, to walk 5 minutes to the subway, any stop, is considered better than any building where one needs a bus or tram to get to a metro.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Underground shopping

Most very large streets in Moscow are crossed either by a pedestrian overpass or underpass.  If you are lucky, you have an underpass.  The overpasses have more stairs, and only some of them are enclosed or covered from the elements.  The big street we must cross everyday to and from preschool has an underpass because it also feeds to the subway entrance.  And the best part of an underpass, is not only is it a break from the snow/rain or wind (which can be really severe), but also because any self respecting underpass has a string of tiny shops, called kiosks, of a lot of things people might need on the way somewhere.  Our underpass has kiosks for all kinds of useful things,  from hotdogs and other snacks, water and candy, gift bags, flowers, batteries for watches, chargers for phones, cases for phones or glasses, umbrellas in the rainy season, charging cables for phones, key duplicating, it also has no fewer than three kiosks for womens clothing, and one for nylons, and two for household linens. The clothing is mostly cheap chinese stuff, but the linens are Russian made.  

Underpasses without such shops can get dirty, and used as urinals, or by beggars, but underpasses with kiosks have none of those problems.  Not to mention it is convenient to grab a snack or buy something on the way home.  But the mayor of Moscow wants to shut them down, for some reason. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

But I Cant Wait Until I am 8

For then I'll be baptised, you see--

The Big Day, The Big Event...

14 February 2015 2 pm Moscow Time (GMT +3)

Church built building (only font in city of Moscow) located at Moskvarech'e 21, Moscow, Russia

Yes, E picked Valentine's Day for her baptism. 

And, for those who keep track, as a child of record, she was entitled to be confirmed during the same service, which she chose to do.  This happens so rarely in Russia that some members were confused on Sunday -- why wasnt she confirmed at church like the converts? 

Baptised by Dad

Confirmed by Dad, assisted by two Russian members (who were also formal witnesses for the baptism).

The special girl:

Proud father and daughter

Our family

Four of the sister missionaries who helped teach E the lessons before baptism.  She met with them since August, two of them are now in other cities so they couldnt come. 

Missionaries and us... 

We invited members from our Russian speaking ward in which we reside, and also the English speaking ward which have been visiting lately.  Only one person came from the English ward, because she was giving a talk.  One other excused herself in advance, while the others just didnt bother.

From our Russian ward, this is a photo of most of the people who came.  The man holding the little girl came despite the fact his wife had a baby that morning.  Another family texted in the middle of the meeting to apologize that they were stuck in a huge traffic jam/gridlock, and wouldnt make it, two others called ahead to say they were sick, and two others couldnt come because they were organizing the Young adult conference which was scheduled for Valentines Day.  A few saw us on Sunday and had forgotten, but most of our Russian friends either battled odds or tried really hard to make it.  

The three ladies nearest E have been pinch-hit kid minders for us, ie have been to our house.  The younger one with the long hair is currently the Primary president, while the man in the white shirt was the designee from the bishop to preside and conduct.  In the second photo, the man with the curly hair teaches the 2-yr olds in nursery, and has on occassion been able to give us a lift home.  

We also had a total of 10 or 12 missionaries, but we didnt manage a photo with all of them.  They sang "Nephis Courage" (Primary songbook). It turned out great! (can you just picture 10 enthusaistic 20-year old men and women belting out "I will go, I will Do!" -- yeah, it was cool).

Her presents, some of which E got given during the meeting so we couldnt take a picture of the gifting.  

These treats were supplied by the missionaries (we brought juice and store bought cookies, but only had to open up the juice).  

Presents _and_ treats (which Mommy let them eat as much as they wanted) -- awesome!

"Our turn next" 

the girl in pink is named the same as our middle daughter, and is her special friend from Primary (about 4 months younger than our K).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Each brings a greater joy to me

E's 8 year old birthday party.  At our apartment, beginning 3 pm, was supposed to last until 5.

Planned activities: make cards or other paper crafts (ready supply of pencils, colored papers, stick glue, scissors), pin the tail on the dog (E painted the dog herself), cake (E chose no ice cream), open presents from guests. All the planned activities took half an hour.

Spontaneous activities, dreamed up by the girls (these are three of her friends from school, so they have lots of experience playing together at recess etc): crawling in the Dora tunnel or standing it up and dancing in it, piling baloons in the Dora tent, popping the balloons, playing with the presents they gave E, taking out ALL the kid dressup clothes (we have a suitcaseful) and trying on everything that would fit, bouncing on the exercise ball, playing hide and seek (we had NO idea that our 4 rooms had so many good hiding spots, and not the usual under the bed!), and bouncing on the bunk bed (which they all thought was cool, no one had ever seen one for real).

One girl brought a younger sister (without asking, I might add), who is 3, and she played quietly on her own or with our 2-going-on-five-year old A.  Only K, our four-year-and-half year old, wanted to join in and got left out.

E wanted her friends to stay and watch some movies, but we said, no, its already late.  The girls called their parents (who knew so many 7 year olds had cell phones?) and the last guest left at 6.30.  We were exhausted, but the birthday girl had fun.  Of course, no one got to bed on time that night....