Back in my university days I used to be mildly (or extremely) obsessed with this game:

It was a great way to waste a lot of time in a not particularly mentally stimulating way, but had just enough strategy that you felt a great amount of accomplishment once you beat all those pesky desk invaders. I mean really? Who likes desk invaders anyway? I know I don't. Lately though I've realized that every day I play a real-life version of Tower Defense. Actually, what I play is called Towel Defense (pretty clever, huh? I just came up with that 2 seconds ago). It is equally as stimulating, but not quite as fun because if you lose it means that the bathroom floods and you have to clean it up.

As perhaps you've guessed, this has to do with my shower. My shower is beautiful and I love it, but like most Russian appliances, it's totally inefficient. If it were a person it would be the one that you tell to "Go stand in the corner and look pretty" while adding "Dumb as a rock, God bless her." That's really what my shower does -- it stands in the corner and looks pretty. I appreciate the effort. However, here are some of my shower's negative qualities: it's bipolar, the drain is slow, and it LEAKS. Sometimes it literally decides to switch the direction that you turn the lever for hot and cold water. By that point you have to just turn it off, say something like "No, dear, you're completely confused..."....or "COME ON! I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!!" and start over.

Back to Towel Defense. Here are the rules: you have 4 rags. You must position the rags in such a way as to prevent the most water from spreading. Bonus points if any of the rags stay dry. Like any good game, the level increases every day. The first shower I took there was just a little trickle, and now I'm convinced that a good quarter of the water from my shower ends up on the floor.

Well, today I got a high score.

It's a little hard to see, so let me explain what's going on here: the yellow rags have completely stopped the water, leaving one blue rag completely untouched and the other blue rag with only a damp corner. I must say, good job self!

I will go to bed a winner tonight.

Oh! I forgot to mention that I also made (accidentally) blue muffins the other day.


Over the last few weeks I've talked a little bit about my oven. You see, it's a gas oven. Initially I was pleased because it's a fairly new gas oven that has a button lighter, so no matches necessary. Unfortunately, this is Russia and that button is broken. No worries! The landlady left me two boxes of matches. What she didn't tell me at first though was how to start the oven. A few days later she came back with some various items (a rug, silverware, light bulb, pan) and I asked her about it. Yesterday I decided to document the process.

Here's how it works: you rip up a bit of newspaper and make it into a little torch. Then you light a match, light the newspaper, turn on the gas, wait until it catches fire, and then put out the newspaper real fast. This is the exact method that my landlady taught me. In this video I do it masterfully -- no large newspaper flames, my newspaper torch doesn't go out, and the oven stays lit on the first try. Usually this process gets repeated 1-4 times.

That may potentially be the most boring video ever, but at least you can also get a feel for the scale of my kitchen. It's quite tiny.

Other updates:
I bought boots. I'm generally a "no heel" type of person, so naturally I went out and bought boots with 3" heels on them. To be fair I did look at hundreds of pairs of boots and my search had been going on for about 3 weeks. I really liked this pair, so I decided that perhaps my love for my boots would overpower the ache in my feet and maybe in time my feet might even come to appreciate them too. I also feel really Russian, which is pleasing.

I also finally got around to buying a sweater dress. Let me give you some history: Kendra and I have been ogling sweater dresses for the past year or two, but have always been too cheap and too picky to give in to our desires. Sweater dresses are amazing because they are big stylish sweaters. As we all know, sweaters are just one big bundle of warm soft wearable goodness, which is why they are so fantastic. However, sometimes you want to wear a sweater and look sexy too. Or, alternatively, you want to wear a sweater, but don't want to wear pants. Well, that's where a sweater dress comes in! So anyway, the other day I decided that I was finally going to find one, and I did! I think it looks pretty good:

Who knew that my full-length mirror would be so good for taking pictures of myself? It brings out the narcissist in me. New clothes don't help.

In other news the rest of the world (a.k.a. America) is finally catching back up to Russia in regards to the time change. Daylight savings ended here last week, so instead of being 9-12 hours ahead, for a week I was only 8-11 hours ahead. You'd think that it would have helped when it came to talking to friends from home, but in reality it only seemed to complicate matters.

I also bought tickets home for winter break. I've only been here for 2 months (and I still have 1.5 months to go before I'm home), but it feels like a really long time! I think that these first 2 months will have been the hardest of my stay here. When you're bombarded with so much new information all at once it has the habit of slowing time down and wearing you out extensively. Now that I'm starting to get more settled and build up a routine I think that time will start to make sense again. Either way though it will be great to be home and see people. I've found that the strangest things are making me homesick. Primarily idling cars. Every time that I walk through a parking lot and I see a car waiting it makes me think about being home and either having my own car or having someone that I know waiting for me. There's just something secure about having a ride. Unfortunately, while I'm here I'm banished to public transportation and walking. The weather has also been reminding me a lot of Sewanee. I sort of miss those long walks from Quintard to campus. I don't necessarily miss being a student, but I do miss the suite and all the fun times that we had. I even miss McClurg a little bit (mostly because now I have to wash my own dishes). I'm missing a lot of things right now.

However, I'm also starting to feel comfortable here. I've decided though that I need to focus more on building friendships here. Lately I've just been using the internet as a crutch. I get up, I go to work, then I come home and get online and hope to talk to people. I should probably stop doing that as much. The time difference means that I'm just wasting a lot of my time. We'll see if I actually end up changing anything, but it's a good notion. I'm at least realizing that I SHOULD change my habits....I'm just lazy sometimes.

Also -- it's 3:55 and the sun is setting. It's going to be a long winter.

When you live in a small apartment you often can't help looking out the windows all the time. Since there are only two windows, and they both face the same direction, I've gotten to know my двор and the surrounding apartment buildings quite well, and it seems like lately I've been having a lot of moments where I'll see something and think "I have to take a picture of this! I hope it doesn't change in the 1.5 seconds it takes me to sprint across my living/bed/guest room!" Here are some of the results from my camera dashes: a particularly striking full moon, early morning fog, a nice sunrise, and the view at night.

I took this last one because I was thinking about how oddly beautiful and comforting the lights from surrounding buildings can be. It's nice to know that even though I'm all by myself there are still people all around me.

There are now just 2 days of October left, and I can't say that I'm disappointed. Something about October just bothers me these days.

Another (I suspect) anti-climatic Halloween is about to go by too. It seems like the last time that I was actually with a relaxed group of friends and dressed up or went anywhere was freshman year of college. I don't really recall what I did sophomore year, but I suspect that I was waiting for Kendra to get home from a cross country meet for some belated celebrations. Then, the last 2 years I spent at ill-timed regattas. Those were reasonably fun, but still not quite the setting that I would have chosen. Now I'm in Russia. I suppose that it will be entirely my fault if I don't have an epic time, but I might be ok with that. I'm more the "stay at home watching a movie and passing out (note: eating) the candy from the candy bowl" type. Over the years I've learned that the most effective method of getting good holiday candy doesn't actually involve any gathering at all. All that Halloween candy that your family buys has to be eaten by someone, and in the end it doesn't really matter if it was by you or by cute little costumed children. Sometimes no one even notices the difference........

Unfortunately, the passing of October means that we are getting ever closer to the arrival of snow. While many people that I know are absolutely enchanted with the stuff, I could do without it. I'm not entirely sure what the temperatures are right now (because I don't have a thermometer), but they're pretty decent. If the entire winter was like this I would be a very content girl (aside from the devastating climatic changes that that would entail). One of the great parts about being in Russia during the winter though is the sheer hilarity of how concerned everyone is about the way you dress. Babushkas especially. The irony is though that I see a lot of Russians who can't possibly be prepared for the weather. When I'm bored on the marshrutka I like to critique other people's clothing (I saw a man in a seal skin hat today), and I very often notice young to middle aged women wearing very stylish but very thin coats. Can they possibly be warm in those? I suspect not.

Another little observation about Russia and the weather is just how absurd the roads are. It's absolutely amazing how just a little bit of rain can completely flood the roads! Spring is going to be fun when all the snow melts! Soon I'm going to have to break down and shell out the money for some boots. The only things that my tennis shoes have in store for me in the future are soggy socks, and that is not a fate that anyone desires.

On a parting note, I used my Russian washing machine for the first time this week. Aside from the fact that it makes funny noises and takes about 2 hours, it seems to work pretty well. There's just one problem:

There's no electrical socket in the bathroom.

So, I've been living in my new apartment for 3 days now, and so far it seems that I get woken up in a new and bizarre way every day. Yesterday I woke up to the sounds of a drunken man with an amazingly loud voice shouting what from my 8th story apartment appeared to be military commands. Not the most pleasant way to wake up, but I shut the window and went back to bed.

Today was sort of creepy. The weather has been extremely unpleasant the last two days (rainy, dark, dreary, windy), and so the sky had a sort of red glow to it when my alarm went off at 7 am this morning. What I heard next sounded like a scene straight out of the movie Ночной Дозор. For those of you who haven't seen it, here's the trailer:

I couldn't find the scene that I especially wanted, which is where so many crows are circling an apartment building that they cause an airliner flying overhead to crash, but you can get the picture.

So anyway, that's what I woke up to this morning: red sky, intense racket, and swarms of birds being tossed at random by the wind.

The perpetrators:

There were so many more of them than this shot could capture. I'm hoping that they aren't a permanent feature here.

Additionally, one of my neighbors seems to have a morning ritual of coughing up every one of his (or her?) internal organs. Russia is full of strange noises.

Also, in keeping with odd events, I got to participate in my first census today. Ironically it was Russian and not English, and at first I had no idea what was going on or why on earth some pushy lady at my door wanted to know how many people lived here and why she wouldn't just go away when I said "I'm not Russian" and let me finish my nap. She also insisted on coming in and using my table before I had fully grasped that she wasn't anyone from the apartment building but was a census worker. Actually, I got to do it twice today since the first lady wasn't expecting a foreigner and didn't have the correct documents. I was sort of glad because I was quite rude at first and I wanted a chance to redeem myself. The first experience was something like this:

*loud knocking interrupts my nap resulting in instant surprise and grumpiness*
Me: *opens door hostilely*
Woman in big coat with bag, pencil, paper, and Russia scarf: Hello I'm fdrjsifgjwosjgre fdsfg will you participate in wjrewjafjeajfgea.
Me: I'm not Russian.
W: How many people live here?
M: *failing to understand why this has any relevancy at all and regretting opening the door* .....I was sleeping.....*motions to the bed as if to say "If you'll go away now I'd like to continue"*
W: So you won't participate?
M: *thinking "Who. Are. You?"* uhhh....
W: May I come in? *comes in without waiting for answer and heads toward table*...*mentions something about documents*
M: *trailing sulkily behind* You don't need my documents, the International Office at the university takes care of everything
W: Oh, no I just didn't bring the form for foreigners.
M: *finally figures out that this is a census and not an aggressive building supervisor and cooperates somewhat more willingly, but still mostly sulky about the nap*

Then someone came back later with the correct forms and made me do it all again. I tried to be extra nice because I felt guilty. She said my name was pretty, but didn't like accepting that I don't have a patronymic.

I can also start the oven now. It involves sticking a flaming newspaper torch into the front of the oven and waiting for the gas to catch fire. This is how the landlady told me to do it.

Today I also made ranch dressing from one of the ranch packets that I brought along. I used it to eat a carrot.

What's happened lately? Если честно, I've kinda forgotten. So, sometime ..........
Alright, this is funny. I'm sitting in the university right now and this kid is dancing to Georgian (or perhaps Azerbaijani, considering that's what his shirt says) music that's playing on someone else's cellphone. For real dancing too, he actually knows the moves and is jumping and such. The girl who's playing the music seems to be his dance teacher. That was somewhat unexpected. The dancer was at Chat Hour on Monday, but I told him hello and he looked at me blankly and said привет, so perhaps he's forgotten who I am.

Where was I? Ah, yes. So, sometime this month, in the vicinity of 2 weeks ago, I went to Moscow for my Fulbright orientation. It didn't really orient me, but it was a nice break from work. This lecturing stuff is tiring. I'm getting pretty tired of talking about family, hobbies, and where I'm from.

Now the girl is dancing too. They seem like fun.

So in Moscow, when I wasn't waiting in security at the American embassy or learning about English grammar, I was exploring the city. By the city, I mostly mean the metro. On the first day I tried to go to red square, but it was closed for Putin's birthday. He is so inconsiderate. If he was going to close Moscow's biggest attraction on the only day that I had a lot of free time he could have at least had the decency to invite me to the party. Gosh.

Additionally, the girl is dancing in 6-inch heels and holding the cellphone. Takes talent.

On the way to and from Moscow I took the train. It's 18 hours, but not too bad since about 10 of those hours are at night. This time I was in a full женский coupe, which means only women and mostly older women. I think next time I'll just go with the general platzcart. However, I was pleased that I managed to both find my way to and from the train station in Tolyatti, which I hadn't had to do yet. The solution was pretty simple: a taxi. I wouldn't quite say that I'm a pro at taxi calling, but it's not nearly so intimidating as it used to be. Nothing is quite as intimidating as it used to be. One day I even went by myself to meet up with a realtor and look at an apartment. Yeah. I'm so brave.

Speaking of apartments, I finally have one! It's hideously expensive for this area, so it's costing me a whole $330 a month (depending on the value of the ruble). However, it was recently remodeled, so even though it's small, it's pretty nice. I've spent 2 nights there, and I'm starting to get used to it. The first day I was completely disoriented and without internet, so I dejectedly yet determinedly walked to the grocery store and bought food. I intended to make a celebratory frozen pizza since I now had my very own oven. When I got home I turned on the oven to preheat, and when I came back after about 10 minutes it wasn't even warm! Now, this oven/stove duo is a fairly modern gas variant that has a starter button for lighting it. Great, right? Yeah...the button is broken. The landlady discovered this the other day and left me matches for the stove. No big deal, lighting a match and holding it next to the stove isn't particularly troubling or challenging. There is something that I didn't think about and that she didn't mention though: the oven. In general, I just turn the magical knob to the number that I want and wait a few minutes. However, while I thought that I had mastered the whole oven-using thing, I found myself with no heat in the oven, no pizza, and a fear that I was filling the entire apartment with gas. So, I quickly shut it off, turned on the fan, opened the window, and sulked for a little bit. I really wanted that pizza. My internet also wasn't working so I couldn't consult it to figure out how to make this pizza night work. After waiting long enough that I was certain I wouldn't blow up the entire apartment block, I made french toast instead for my first meal. Satisfying, but not as much as pizza. I also had to sacrifice a bit of my coveted maple syrup that I found in Moscow. Syrup, by the way, is not something widely available in Russia. Neither is peanut butter or tortilla chips. Or regular lettuce. Stop and think about this for a second. Here is what I usually make when I'm in charge of feeding myself:

-French toast
-peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
-spaghetti o's
-grilled cheese

Uhh....yeah. So, I've been making a lot of grilled cheese, and I brought along a jar of peanut butter. I guess it's time to learn how to make new (some might say "real') food. The landlady is coming over tonight with some other things though, so I'll mention the oven then. She seems like the type of person who can get things done, so maybe she'll have someone come over and fix it. I really don't fancy having to crawl into the oven and light an elusive pilot light every time that I want to bake tasty things.

I also have a washing machine! However, at the moment I'm completely intimidated by it and try not to touch it when I'm in the bathroom. Russian washing machines have a sort of mystique surrounding them. They are usually the most prized possession of any babushka lucky enough to own one. Usually foreigners aren't allowed to touch them. In Irkutsk I could use the washing machine, but only with babushka supervision. They are extremely fragile beings. Generally there is a draining tube that hangs over into the bathroom when you want to use it, but mine doesn't seem to have this. I think mine might actually be connected to the wall. I will verify this tonight when the landlady comes. Along with not blowing up my shiny new apartment, I also don't want to flood it.

Today I'm going with a friend to see about setting up some new internet. It will probably take a while to get set up, and I'm not sure how I go about paying for it (since mailed bills here don't really seem ideal), but it's good internet and I want it. I'm talking good enough to start a movie online and watch it all the way to the end without having to stop and wait for it to load. Right now I have to wait 30 minutes to watch a youtube video. I've been fantasizing about this kind of internet ever since I got here. Which, by the way, was only a month and 10 days ago, which seems impossibly short. If you think about it though, the longest amount of time that I've been in Russia was one semester (3/3.5 ish months), so I'm about halfway through the longest time that I've ever been in Russia. Thinking back to Irkutsk, after a month and 1/2 I was feeling pretty settled, so I guess it is a respectable amount of time. I'm ready for an America break though. Mostly I just miss people.

I've met a fair amount of people, but so far not many that I think "Hey! We're going to be lifelong friends!" I miss close friendships, after college I got pretty used to it. It's always hard having to start from scratch someplace new. University students here are so young.

However, Moscow was really nice because I got to see Kendra! It was both odd and normal to see her in Russia. I really enjoyed just having normal hang-out time. Being the token American makes me really miss normalcy. Kendra has a pretty nice apartment way out in the middle-of-nowhere, Moscow. However, it could be worse. In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving (who knew there was such a thing?) we went to another teacher's apartment. This teacher really does live in the middle-of-nowhere. She doesn't even have a metro stop! After much trial and tribulation we finally found her apartment, which was full of many other people who apparently had no troubles at all with directions. Most of the food was gone, but the company was nice. So many English speakers in one place. I was having culture shock.

When it came time to get home we were in for even more troubles (primarily thanks to a tardy pumpkin pie. I don't even really like pumpkin pie!). The last bus from the apartment to the metro leaves at about 11. So, at 10:55ish when I was attempting to drag Kendra and the pie out of the kitchen, I asked one of the guys who lived there which buses we could take. He told me the numbers, and then said that one of them had just left. Weeelll...we went to the stop and took our chances. I consoled myself by thinking that even if we had missed the bus we could still just take a taxi to the metro station. If any taxis would stop, which they wouldn't. Apparently out of the 3 of us waiting we were all woefully inadequate at waving down taxis. There also weren't any of the usual taxi ads plastered to the sides of the bus stop or written on massive billboards. Even the sketchy taxi just hanging out on the side of the road near us ignored us. After 10 minutes of this we gave up and decided to go to a different bus stop on a slightly more major road. To get there we had to pass a stop light. Stopped at the red was an empty taxi, which I pounced on. Not literally, but almost. We all jumped in and I asked how much to the metro. He said 800 rubles, and so I looked him in the face and just told him НЕТ and then we got out of the taxi. While we were waiting dejectedly at the other bus stop an unmarked black car glided over and parked near us, obviously wanting our attention. I pointedly ignored it (because I'm distrustful), and so he backed up. I sighed and went over. The conversation was something like this:

Driver: Where do you want to go?
Me: How much to the metro station?
D: *hears accent* Where are you from?
M: That's not important, how much to the metro?
D: Where are you from?
M: Maybe I'll tell you when we get to the metro if you give us a good price.
D: Why won't you tell me where you're from? How much will you pay me?
M:....400 rubles?
D: 400? I'll do it for 200.
M: ok! *we all get in*

Along the way I chatted with the driver, and eventually revealed that we were a group of American English teachers. He wanted to know what would bring us to Russia, and particularly this area, so I told him. Then he wanted to know what was interesting about Russia, so I told him that too. Kendra is of the opinion that I buttered him up a little, but I still maintain that everything I said is my honest opinion. Russia is one of the most interesting places in the world, it's the biggest country in the world (and thus very important), and I like the people and blini best. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the metro, and when I got out 200 rubles to pay him, he told me to keep it. So..while I was kind of irked by missing the bus over pumpkin pie and our taxi troubles, we did save 50 rubles by not taking the bus (transportation in Moscow is ridiculously expensive, by the way!).

This week my clubs are starting up and my Russian lessons too. This means that I'm about doubly as busy now. I need a weekend! Sadly, Fridays are my longest days. I start at 8:30 and end around 6. There is a break in there, but it's more annoying than anything since I don't just live across the street now. So, there's a random 2 hour break. I probably will just waste the dollar it takes to go home and take that time to eat lunch. I don't know, we'll see. Life is starting to get a lot more expensive. Oh, about Friday though, Fridays are so long in part because they involve Movie Time. While this sounds fun, and it is mostly, I still have to do work for it. This week we're watching The Beverly Hillbillies. This is mostly because all I have are the movies that were on my ipod, so my choices are sort of slim. I think they'll like it though! Last week we watched The Truman Show. They were particularly amused by the bathtub man. It's always interesting to see which parts make people in different countries laugh.

This is getting pretty long, but there's still another important bit of news that I found out about yesterday. One of my teachers from Русская Школа, Елена Николаевна Щепина, died this week. She got sick in the middle of our program and had to return to Russia, but I was hopeful that she was getting better. She's one of the nicest and sweetest people ever and even though she was always tired and in pain I'm glad that we got to have her for a couple of weeks of classes. RIP Елена Николаевна.

Well, here we are, the 1st of October already. Perhaps "already" isn't quite the word that I'm looking for. Time has actually been going by pretty slowly. However, I have the sneaky suspicion that things are about to start going considerably faster. I'm just finishing up my 3rd week here in Tolyatti, and I'm starting to feel relatively settled. I looked at my first apartment on Wednesday, but I'm not especially excited about that one, so I'll hope that there are better apartments available. I am, however, excited about having a place of my own. When you're in a foreign country especially you need something of your own. Some little corner that you can claim for America...or at least pay to borrow for America. I have my rooms at the dorm, but it's still not quite "mine." One of the things that I'm going to miss the most and be the most thankful for is not being quite so easily accessible to people.

One of the biggest annoyances to me right now is having to switch back and forth between languages all the time. When I'm in class (logically) I speak English. A lot. This means that anytime anyone at the university tries to speak to me in Russian my reflexes and comprehension are pretty slow since my mind is set to English mode. Then in the evenings at the dorm I speak Russian with my friends. After I've had a few minutes to get readjusted I do just fine...but until that point it's pretty bad. I stumble, I'm slow, and of course I have an awful accent. I've never really thought that I had that bad of an accent, but I guess I'm usually around Russians who are more used to foreigners. They say it's "interesting," but all the same I'd like to try to minimize it. I haven't gotten a straight answer about if it's a pleasant accent or I'd guess it probably isn't. Russian accents aren't usually considered particularly musical in English either though, so I guess it wouldn't be fair if American accents sounded great in Russian.

Next week I have orientation in Moscow, which should be much more enjoyable than the orientation that I had in July. First of all, I actually want to go and I won't mind being away from Tolyatti nearly as much as I minded being away from Middlebury, and second of all....well..that's probably about it, actually. I doubt that it will be the most exciting thing that I've ever done in my lifetime, or even this month, but it's a vacation from work and I'll get to see some friends. I'll also get to eat well...which I hate to admit I have not been doing lately. I promise I'll do better when I get my own kitchen! Also, my tolerance for sandwiches will probably run out fairly soon.

I'm starting to get the hang of this whole presentation/public speaking stuff. That's pretty much what I do. I don't really do any "teaching" at all because I don't see the same students very often. I have 2 groups that I see every week, but the remaining 7 groups or so I probably see every 3 weeks. Actually, aside from the regular groups I haven't seen any of the groups more than once. This is both good and bad. It's good because it means that I can recycle presentations now and then, but bad because sometimes it doesn't seem right to just jump into a topic without working up to it. I'm also starting to get really good at just talking a lot. It seems to me that the usual strategy is to just put me in a room with students and make me stay there for 1.5 hours. What I do during that time is up to me. Very often there are far too many people to interact with individually, so I just have to talk and ask questions every now and then. My favorites are the smaller advanced groups because we can actually do stuff. Very often this involves me drawing things on the white board (my method of choice). It amuses me, and generally them as well, so we all win. Bigger beginner groups usually just get power point...which isn't as interesting for any of us. The only plus is that it involves pictures.

Today was kind of odd though. I was told to only prepare something that would take up 20-30 minutes. It was the first time when the teacher actually had their own lessons plans, and I actually felt a little rushed. Generally I spend a lot of time stalling and trying to speak slowly and ask questions to take up time. Today I just went in, talked about some stuff, and left...and now I'm sitting bored in the teacher's lounge. I actually would have liked to have stayed and talked longer with this group because they seemed cool, but the teacher was watching his watch pretty closely, so I made a speedy exit. I would have particularly liked to have talked to one girl more...she spent the summer in Seward, Alaska. Seward! How random is that? Unfortunately, she did not know the Chases...but still, Seward is pretty awesome. I wanted to ask her what she thought of it.

The weather is starting to get colder, which annoys me. Let me set the record straight again: just because I'm from Alaska and I like Russia does NOT mean that I like the cold. I actually hate it. I just know what I have to do to endure it (which is maybe why I hate it?). My room in the dorm is always really cold too..which makes me glad that I won't be there during the winter (although I've been told that once they turn the heat on it will be really hot..typical dorm). After the unbearable heat this summer I thought it would take a long time before I complained about a room being cold again. Well, the current cold is far less miserable than when I had to sleep with no blankets, minimal clothing, and a fan pointed at my face...but it still makes me pouty when I have to get out of my warm bed in the mornings. My feet get cold!

Besides this not a whole lot has been going on. It's a pretty quiet town. Next week I should start taking Russian lessons. The grant says that I have to have 10 private tutoring hours or 20 hours of group lessons...and I am choosing the 10 hours. Where I will fit them all I don't really know, but I will certainly be busy. It's also hard because my schedule changes at random every finding 10 hours when I'm never in class might be a challenge. I'm excited about continuing with Russian though!

No pictures yet, but that's the internet's fault. It really is bad. It does alright for checking e-mail, and it's a million times better than no internet at all...but anyone who has tried to have a regular conversation with me in the last few weeks knows that it is extremely flaky and volatile. It likes to play mind games too. Sneaky, sneaky internet. I have plans to replace it after I get back from Moscow though. The guys down the hall (who have great internet) have already agreed to help me. Can't wait!

Well, week one has come and gone. Most weeks probably won't be like this, which is both good and bad. The good part is that I've hardly been working at all because people have been giving me time to get settled and teachers don't know their regular schedules yet. The bad part is that I really haven't known what I'm doing. It's taken a week to try to figure out just what sorts of things I should be talking about and what my position is -- am I just a lecturer, am I a teacher, am I just supposed to lead discussions, or is there something else? Well, I don't QUITE have all of this figured out yet, but I think I'm something in between. I'm supposed to think of America-specific topics, share my knowledge, and then try to get the class to talk as much as possible...which means that I need to start brainstorming games and other such sneaky teacher tactics. The hard part is that with the exception of 2 groups I won't be seeing the same students regularly. This means that I have to overcome my innate desire to introduce myself every time I see a new class. I will also have to get over my love of logical progression as far as themes go.

Tolyatti/Togliatti (I like Tolyatti because that's the name in Russian, but on most maps it will be Togliatti) is a big town as far as numbers go, but little when it comes to the atmosphere. A huge contributing factor is that the town is actually physically split up into 3 sections (with woods in between...bizarre, but sort of nice). While it's bigger than Irkutsk, the transportation system doesn't seem as advanced...if one could call Irkutsk's transportation system advanced. I've seen a few buses, but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to getting around. Mostly people rely on either their own cars or marshrutki, which are generally yellow ~15 seater vans that zip around at breakneck speeds and more or less have regularly marked routes. In Irkutsk I generally avoided them because 1) it cost more, 2) you have to know exactly where you're going so that you can tell the driver to stop, 3) you had to yell out the name of the stop that you wanted...and there's a lot of pressure involved with that! Here they're pretty unavoidable unless you want to take a taxi everywhere (even though they're very cheap..about 50 rubles/$1.60 to go from one part of town to another). Tolyatti marshrutki have taken a small step toward atoning for any discomfort/confusing that they may cause though. Rather than yelling in an uncivilized manner each row of seats is equipped with a buzzer to let the driver know when to stop. You can now pass the entire trip in complete silence! Some of the seats face backwards though, so there is still plenty of awkward eye contact to keep you busy.

Today I didn't have any classes, so I took my first solo Tolyatti marshrutka trip. Luckily technology is catching up to Russia and you can now look on the internet and find out which marshrutki and bus numbers go to the area that you're trying to get to. Additionally the map has all of the stop names on it. This will only help you when it comes to making sure you get in the correct vehicle. The only place that you'll ever find the names of stops written is on maps and on the sides of buses and marshrutki. It's up to you to figure out where the stop is...which can be accomplished either by asking fellow passengers or, my preferred method, gut instinct. Luckily everything went smoothly, and I now know how to get to the mall. My mission for today was to find winter boots and a medium-weight coat. My predecessor left behind a full-length winter coat that fits bearably well. However, it's starting to get a bit chilly, and I wanted something to wear for those days when it's not -25. After about an hour and a half of looking in every store that had coats I finally found one that will suit my needs. As I learned in Irkutsk, for a coat to truly fit in in Russia there must be fur present somewhere on it. Well, this one has a massive fur ruff, which means that I can now fit in. I will probably feel too awkward to wear it anywhere besides Alaska in the US (PETA fanatics everywhere and whatnot), but I may have to since I'll be coming home for 2 weeks in the middle of winter and taking my Russian clothing with me.

I know you're curious to see, and since blogger still won't let me upload any pictures, go HERE.

What do you think, do I look Russian? If you ignore the pajamas? I am obviously way too cool to ever consider looking at the camera.

Unfortunately, I did not succeed in finding boots. After much agonizing I finally found a pair that I intended to buy, only to notice a tag saying that they were the last pair...and not my size. Shopping for size 8-8.5 shoes is like shopping for big foot in Russia. Seriously, it's ridiculous. There is NO way that all the 6'2" women have smaller feet than I do. I think that there must be a secret back room or something where they keep the real shoes. Russia is also one of the few places in the world where fully lined boots can have 6 inch spike heels.

It's really odd being in Russia basically by myself. I'm really used to having at least a small group of other foreigners with me to rely on and hang out with. I'm not completely abandoned because there are still plenty of people to help me get things done, but this first week has been fairly lonely. I think that once my clubs (chat hour and movie time..woo) start up my social life will as well. However, the other day during one of my midday bored naps I got woken up by a knock on my door. It was O. from down the hall (I'd thought that this was mostly just a dorm for visiting professors). It turns out that hiding under my nose are at least 10 students. Well, O is an incredibly chatty and curious girl, and she introduced me to everyone that she knew. Later that night she, S (a guy who lives down the hall) and I went for an evening walk around the town. This seems to be the cool (only?) thing to do. It was very nice, and involved a great deal of Russian. I haven't seen her around since...although to be honest I haven't really looked. I needed time to recover from all of our previous conversations! I will definitely see her again this week though, because coming Monday is a group of Italians that she is especially keen to meet...who, unfortunately, don't know any Russian and must rely on English to communicate here. Sadly, O's English skills are mostly confined to weather observations, so I suspect that I will be sought out as a translator. Should be fun. I've been told by the people at the international office that this will be a great chance for me to learn about Italian cooking. Later tonight, if things go as planned, I've been invited to walk around with one of the other teachers once she finishes work. She's super nice, so that should be good too. I have to say, after several multi-hour walks I know everywhere within walking distance pretty well....but I could always stand another walk. With all the walking that I've been doing I will probably be in great shape by the time that I come home. I will also be spectacular at giving presentations. Both useful skills.

Sunday I'm going to meet up at the mall with another American who's in town. I actually already know her since she was in St. Petersburg with me 4 years ago..I will probably get to know her a lot better though. She's also teaching English somewhere, but I don't know the details. Unfortunately, she's in another section of town and about and hour away by she might as well be in another town entirely. I suspect that we'll get together from time to time though.

Hopefully in about a month's time I should be completely settled in. I'm currently just hanging out in the dorm because I have a month where I can stay here for free, so I might as well save some rent money. I'm really looking forward to having a permanent place though...more particularly a fully-equipped kitchen. There is a kitchen here, but it's rather sparse when it comes to pots/pans/other useful things. I did, however, find out an address that I can use for getting letters. If any one is interested, just ask. Serious inquiries only though, so if I give you my address you had better send me something. I've also been told that it's a Russian custom to dance before you get your letters, so perhaps I'll come home with some improved dancing skills also.

I'm here!

My trip was fairly devoid of adventures until the last leg of my flight. I spent the majority of it trying to politely avoid having my translation skills put to work translating a heated complaint from my neighbor about one of the stewardesses. It seems that there were some issues when it came to the segregation of business class and economy bathrooms, which resulted in my neighbor getting deeply offended.

Once we landed in Moscow (2 hours late!) the line to get through passport control was tremendous. I spent the next 45 minutes or so inching my way up to the counter, and luckily by the time I was finished my bags were already on the conveyor..and more importantly in Russia in general. After that I quickly found an ATM and spent about 15 minutes following signs for the aeroexpress train that takes you from the airport to the metro system. All of this went pretty smoothly and after 45 minutes I found myself let loose in the Moscow metro system with about 60 pounds of luggage. As I hauled my bag up and down stairs and kept a wary eye on my backpack I was reminded again how much I hate traveling with a lot of things. Aside from the crowds I found my way to the train station without incident. However, somehow I wound up in the basement of the train station and after asking directions from 2 different people (with completely opposite answers) I finally found my way up to the surface. I had a slight moment of panic when I noticed that it was already 3:50 and I was supposed to have met the lady from the Fulbright office who had bought my ticket for me at 3:30. This panic only heightened when I couldn't find her and I wasn't entirely sure what she looked like. After 10 minutes of running around the train station (which luckily isn't very big) I found her standing next to the train to Tolyatti. Let me remind you that it's now 4 and the train leaves at 4:10.

After a minute or two spent clearing my documents I staggered aboard the train in sweaty jubilation. I lugged my backpack and suitcase down the narrow aisle and greeted my coupe mate by misstepping and standing on his foot for more time than is really socially acceptable. I stowed all of my things and sat down to rest and think about my near miss. Soon the train started to move and it turned out that there were only going to be 2 of us in the 4 person coupe. After about 10 minutes of silence I figured that that was how the entire 18 hours was going to be. However, S (as I'll call him since I'm not really supposed to use names...more rules) turned out to be a fairly sociable man in his mid 30s and we talked for an hour or 2. He's a police man in Tolyatti and gave me his address and phone number with instructions to call him if for any reason I run into trouble. He also said that he and his wife would be happy to have me to dinner sometime and I promised to let him know about any English clubs.

Around 6 pm I couldn't stay awake any longer and I went to bed. I tried to add a picture of my train, but my internet wasn't too keen on that idea. After sleeping a solid 10 hours and waking up at 4 am I spent the next 3 hours sleeping fitfully and worrying about missing my stop. I didn't though.

When I got off the train I was met by my coordinator and her husband. I had to stand around for about 2 minutes though mildly wondering if I had a ride because I don't look like my passport picture. So far everyone that I've met has been super nice. L and L took me to a pizzeria and then immediately helped me get a new SIM card for my phone. After that we took a quick walk around the main part of town, and then I got dropped off at the dorm where I'll be staying for the next couple of weeks until we find a regular apartment. The room that I'm staying in is nicer than the regular rooms because it's mostly used like a hotel for visiting teachers. I have a living room, bedroom, bathroom, refrigerator, tea pot, iron, tv, and vacuum cleaner. If it had a kitchen it would be pretty tempting to just live here. The main problem is a lack of good electrical outlets. There's one really nice one that the refrigerator has taken over, and the others range from ok to scary. The one over my couch is kind of hanging out of the wall and I can see arcs of electricity whenever I plug things I've decided that it's off limits.

I had all afternoon to myself, and I intended to spend it exploring the neighborhood, but instead I took a nap. Then I ate dinner with L & L and their son and 2 of their friends. Tomorrow I'm getting picked up at 2 to be taken on a tour of the town by 2 more people that I think work at the school. I start doing official things Monday. From what I understand the way it's going to work is that at first I'll just be helping lead segments of classes, and once I'm comfortable with that I'll be given my own classes. My first topic is appearance...more specifically attraction. That should be interesting!

It's really late.


I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to post this, but since I am trapped on an airplane for 6 more hours, this is probably a good time to write all about what I’ve been doing lately. Since I don’t have internet I’m not sure where I last left off, but I’m certain that it was quite a while ago.

As perhaps you’ve guessed by the fact that I’m on a plane to Moscow (and ideally will be in Russia by the time that I post this), my visa came! The Russian Consulate in San Francisco is extremely efficient and I highly recommend them as well. From the date that I frantically sent off all of my paperwork (so frantically in fact that I left a section blank) to the date that I got my visa back only 8 business days had passed. Now, those 8 days were completely tortuous and I was just sure that I was going to have to change all of my plans and lose all of my money, but luckily none of my worst fears happened…yet. I won’t be in Tolyatti for another 30 hours or so, so there is still plenty of time for things to go wrong. That’s not an invitation though.

Things are starting to sink in a little that I’m actually on my way, but it seems like no matter what there’s always something more pressing to think about. For instance: will I be able to survive another 6 hours of just sitting? Walking already seems like a thing of the past. When an older Russian lady snuggled up to my back while I was waiting in line I did start to feel a little bit more like I’m in Russia though. Goodbye personal space! I’m also starting to get some of my fighting spirit back when it comes to waiting in line too. I may or may not have done some jostling when it came to getting on the plane.

Back to last week. After I got my visa back I basically just spent a day or two gazing lovingly at my visa and feeling intense relief. Around Thursday my parents started to realize how close I was getting to leaving, so I put off packing to do touristy things. Friday we went on a family date to the zoo, a movie, and Olive Garden. We hadn’t done anything like that for a while, and it was fun. Sort of made me feel like a little kid again.

Saturday I had to be serious and pack, and it sucked. It’s no secret that I despise packing. Someday it would be nice to stay in one place long enough to have all of my things handy and in one location, but knowing me that will never actually happen. The good news is that I’ve packed enough that my routine is pretty automated now. The Fulbright office has been kind enough to give me my own personal library of English teaching materials, and I’ve added about 10 books of my own, and I’m definitely looking forward to lugging all of these around the Moscow metro! The good news is that all of these get to stay in Russia, so that should free up roughly 1,000 pounds of space in my luggage.

Sunday passed by pretty quickly. I went to church, came home, packed some more, napped, packed, and went out to dinner. I’m not quite sure what happened to all the time between dinner and 1 am, but somehow it all disappeared, which left me very tired when I had to wake up at 3:45 am to go to the airport. What’s worse is that I couldn’t actually fall asleep right away either. I’m not sure what the cause of this insomnia was, but it was probably a combination of the fact that I hadn’t been to bed before 3 am in a week and I was pretty excited to go to Kansas and see Brian.

There’s a new rule that your visa has to be issued a minimum of 5 days before you can enter Russia, which left me with some days that I just needed to hang around the US. So, I spent 3 of these on a well deserved trip to Kansas. Monday from 12:30 am to 10:00 am Thursday went by in warp speed. Unfortunately, time has a way of doing that when you’re with people that you like. But, even though it was over way too quickly, it was definitely a worthwhile and very enjoyable trip. I recommend Kansas. They do have wolf spiders and brown recluses though, which is a minus. The same minus applies to Arizona.

This brings us to today. Since 10:30 am (approximately 12 hours ago) I’ve been doing absolutely nothing. I had short layovers between all of my flights, which worried me a bit, but there aren’t a whole lot of flights going to Russia. Luckily both of my connecting flights got to the airport about 30 minutes early. This greatly improved my opinion of United Airlines. Until of course my flight to Moscow got delayed 2 hours and they ran out of chicken. However, as long as we don’t get to Moscow too late for me to catch my train my experience will still be on the favorable side. My luggage also needs to make it there in a timely manner. I’m real particular about that.

Maps that chart the progress of your flight are the most depressing thing ever. So are people in front of you who put their seats back. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Once I’m in Russia my schedule should look something like this:
1) Go through customs
2) Get baggage
3)Check to see if there’s time to use the free wifi that my neighbor says is in every Russian airport (He’s a pretty interesting guy. He says that America should be ashamed of itself for not providing enough food for us on the airplane. He was pretty heartbroken over the fact that he had to eat pasta instead of chicken too.)
4) Locate the airport express train that takes me to the metro system
5) Enter the metro and acquire a ticket
6) Somehow carry all of my stuff
7) Locate the correct train station
8) Meet Oksana, who will give me my tickets for the train
9) Remember how trains work
10) Ride 18 hours on the train…ideally spending about 12 of these sleeping
11) Find my contact in Tolyatti
12) Hope that there’s a place for me to sleep and internet

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Basically I’m going to be busy. This is my first time being mostly just let loose in Russia, and it’s a little intimidating. Generally there’s a group leader who takes care of all things travel and lodging related, or at least friends to consult with, but this time I’m going solo. I suppose it’s a good thing to know how to do though.

Weeeeellll…..that’s really about everything that I can think to write about. Airplanes aren’t very good at conjuring up inspiration for writing. I deeply envy everyone who can sleep on planes.

First of all, I am typing this on my netbook's insanely small keyboard, so any mistakes should be attributed to this. I don't really have anything to say, and I'm not really in a mood to write, but I wasn't doing anything this seemed like a reasonable pastime. Additionally, I love spellcheck. While once a pro speller, the Russian language and a pronounced lack of time to read for fun (thanks college!) have taken a huge toll on my comprehension of spelling rules. Not that English really has any.

Currently I am hanging out in Arizona simultaneously worrying about and trying to forget that my passport is in San Francisco allegedly being processed for a visa. There are also a massive number of details looming over my head regarding to my impending journey to Russia. Funny how this seems to be everyone's favorite conversation topic. For future notice: if you see me and think "Gee, Amanda looks like she wants to talk about how it's getting really close to time to leave, the whereabouts of her visa, all details regarding her living situation, or anything that might have any connection to paperwork" your intuition is probably misguided. The correct approach would be to stop, rethink, and start a conversation about something completely unoffensive and relaxed like kittens or the weather.

On a completely non-Russian-related matter, yesterday I got back from an epic AKA/Cottonwood adventure. Well...I suppose it wasn't quite "epic" since it didn't involve scaling volcanoes or something of that magnitude, but it was still pretty fun and a nice change from ultra-suburban Sahuarita.

On Wednesday I ventured 2 hours north to Tempe, AZ where Amanda #2 goes to school. Kim met us there, and I was pleased to note that despite not seeing each other for several months, our internal clocks are still perfectly aligned. Without coordinating our departure times we both managed to get to Amanda's dorm at exactly the same time and wound up across from each other at the 4-way stop next to the parking lot. Additionally, we had both decided to wear blue-green dresses that day (have I mentioned that this summer we both met Brians at our summer programs? Eerie). Amanda's intuitions were a little rusty and she showed up in shorts...we made her go back to her room and change. After everyone was appropriately dressed and Amanda's whiteboard calendar had been sufficiently altered, the 3 of us headed down to the local mall to do what girls do -- eat, try on fun dresses, and take pictures. I haven't decided yet if I regret that those all inevitably made it to facebook. At around 5:30 Amanda had to go do lame school stuff, so Kim and I drove up to Cottonwood. This drive (2 hours) probably would have been a whole lot more interesting had we been in the same car.

Cottonwood appears to still be Cottonwood. You folks who have lived there know what I'm talking about. The thing that seems to have changed the most is my dear (sarcasm) Mingus Union High School. They've done some remodeling, painted it a rather unbecoming reddish orange color, and encircled the whole thing with a fence. I'm glad that when I went there the security was markedly lax...especially since now you can't use the tennis courts or the track anymore thanks to that oh-so-secure 6 ft chain link fence that protects the property. The tennis courts were definitely the best part about the school (aside from a few students and teachers), and it used to be fun just to walk to the football stadium for heartfelt talks. I'm a big fan of empty football stadiums (or soccer or lacrosse or anything else involving bleachers and solitude).

On Thursday Kim had some things to attend to at the bank, so I took over her house and her computer for the morning/early afternoon (since these things always take longer than expected). After that we ate a particularly late lunch at...Murphy's Grill? I honestly can't remember what it's called. It's always interesting to eat there, because it will forever be associated in my mind with senior prom...and rotisserie chicken. Curiously enough it was completely abandoned at 4 pm. Not a popular lunch hour, I gather. Then we journeyed up to Jerome, which has always been a favorite of mine. We got there just in time to watch the door of the candy shop being closed, but we were not too late for ice cream (a fact that we took advantage of)! Second to abandoned football stadiums on my list of "good places for deep talks" is the picnic table looking out over the Verde Valley in Jerome's park. Nothing goes better with talks than ice cream, so Kim and I used our fortuitous location and food situation to talk for an hour or so about recent events, concerns, fears, hopes, philosophies, prophecies, and anything else that might come to mind. The return trip consisted of a jam session in Kim's car and the promise to find other bad pop music to sing to online when we got home.

On Friday we went to Sedona with Kim's mom. We spent a lot of time looking at fish at a plant nursery, I tamed a stone elk, and Kim and I discussed the merits of various hot tubs. Then we had another late lunch, and went to a once happening (but now mostly abandoned) strip mall. I did, however, find a shirt at the Gap outlet store there. Sedona is a very strange and very pretty place..that's about all that I can say about that.

Saturday I woke up late, watched some swimming, realized how late it was, and drove home.

Ok, I am officially out of things to write about.

Friday, August 13th, 2010: Day 2 since the end of the language code

Mood: coherent/shocked
Hours of sleep: 11
Location: Sahuarita, AZ
Hours of homework done today: 0

So, once again life is back to "normal". I currently find myself back in my usual position, which is on my bed glued to my computer. However, I can't help but feel vaguely unsettled by all of this. I feel like I've had so many wonderful and bizarre experiences in the last few weeks that my brain is still working on processing them all and hasn't had time to catch up to the present....which just leaves me mildly confused. It certainly doesn't help that within the span of 48 hours my life has gone from one extreme to another.

At this time 2 days ago I had just finished my final exam. I was in bed attempting to get in a nap before lunch because the night before, and every night for the past 4-5 weeks, I had gotten far too little sleep. If I was awake at this time, I would have been thinking about what I would have for lunch, when I was going to see Brian, and what I wanted/needed to do that day. These thoughts also probably would have been in Russian.

Actually....come to think about it, those thoughts aren't very different from what's going through my mind at the moment. The only differences are that they're in English and I've already had lunch. The point that I was trying to make though is that a whole lot has been going on lately.

I spent the majority of this summer back in Middlebury, VT enduring their 9-week summer language program. This is the same program that I did 2 years ago, and I really hadn't had any intentions of repeating the process because 1) It was hard, and 2) The people were such a huge part of it that I really didn't think that I could do it again and have similar results. BUT, for some reason (caprice, fate, boredom, forethought..I don't know, I can't explain it) back at the end of the school year I decided "Hey! I'm going to do a language program." So I did...and boy am I glad. Of course it can never replace all of those times with Jasmine, Jared, Jordan, and all of those other people with J names, but I have to say that this time was absolutely amazing. First of all I met this pretty wonderful guy (who I hope by now knows who he is) who, as Kendra sagely pointed out, is perhaps the only person known to man who has the capability of making me sacrifice massive quantities of sleep for extremely prolonged amounts of time. The people were also fantastic. I had many a great night playing billiards in The Grill(e?), dancing in every discoteka available, wanding aimlessly around Middlebury at every hour of the day, going swimming, playing volleyball, putting off homework for as long as possible, and other such variations of hooliganism. This time around I was in the 7th level (the highest) as opposed to the 4th, which meant that I understood pretty much everything and was considerably less intimidated by the Russian language. Overall this summer was amazing, and I'm going to really really miss everyone. Thank God for facebook, skype, telephones, planes, cars, letters, smoke signals, and every other possible form of communication or transportation available.

There are some pluses to being home though...especially the pronounced lack of homework and the ability to express myself fluently. Also the food is better.

My current plans are: finish visa applications today and go to Russia sometime soon. Also, A.K.A. needs to have a reunion immediately. I am sorely overdue for picnics, Dutch Blitz, girly movies, and T-Pain.

That's all I can think of to say at the moment. More to come later, probably.

Oh no, not the language code!

If you don't hear from me again, the Middlebury KGB got me.

So Where did we last leave off? May 2nd? Well, a lot has gone on since then. For starters: I graduated. However, after surviving only 1 month of freedom, I once again find myself in a rigorous university setting. The only difference this time is that I've switched languages.

I also now know where I'm going to be in Russia -- Tolyatti (Togliatti). It's a rather large industrial town on the Volga River that was named after an Italian communist. All of the historical sights that dated from before the Soviet era were also washed away in a flood 50 years ago. Sounds pretty picturesque, huh? However, the good news is that the people seem really nice, and the town is located in an interesting area. I've corresponded a little with the girl who was there last year, and she said that she had a really good time. It is also pretty far off the tourist track (unless there are people out there with Lada fetishes), so it will be really good practice for my Russian speaking. As far as the living situation goes, it sounds like I have a choice: I can either live in the dorm, or find an apartment. The apartment sounds like the better situation to me, but I'll admit..the idea is a little frightening. I've never had to rent an apartment before, let alone in Russia. The idea of being alone in Russia is also kinda scary. Of course I'll have a babysitter from the university who will make sure that I don't die, but I won't have a Russian хозяйка to make me food, tell me how the buses work, and make sure that I don't go out on the street with wet hair. I also suspect that my daily diet would consist of a whole lot of macaroni and sandwiches. Not that I mind that too terribly.

My current problem is dealing with the constant stream of paperwork that insists on overwhelming me. The worst part is that I keep having to juggle it all between different addresses. By the way -- getting a visa approved? How does that work anyway? I have had very little guidance on this subject. I know that my invitation has been approved and is being expressed mailed to me at this very moment...but then what? I guess I'll figure that out when it gets here. If I were to get metaphorical, this would be the part of life where the training wheels are starting to come off. There's still a hand lightly holding on to the seat of life, but you know at any moment it's going to let go and pretend it didn't.

On a lighter note, today I saw a baby squirrel and a baby bunny within 5 minutes of each other. It was so adorable I thought I might choke. This year at русская школа I'm living in a dorm that's off in the woods. You wouldn't think that there would be as much wildlife around since it's not a particularly dense section of woods, but there is. The vast majority of this wildlife also enjoys peeking into my room to see what's going on. The other day I was sitting at my computer looking up Russian verbs or checking facebook or something and I look over to find a little face looking at me! It was a SQUIRREL! He was sitting on the ledge outside my window and seemed very intrigued by the goldfish crackers on my desk. I tried to take a picture, but I couldn't get my camera ready fast enough :(

Oh, by the way, Coolio did come to Sewanee. It was absurd and epic all at once.

I suppose I should go be social or something.

p.s. - the bugs here are crazy. Something bit me on the ear and it is really unpleasant.

I really don't know why I'm still awake. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was up until almost 6 am last night. It's really a bad sign if you can sleep until 1 and only get 7 hours of sleep. It doesn't help that I'm one of those people that needs an average of 9 hours of sleep to feel healthy, so for me 7 hours just leaves me feeling deprived. Lately I've also found myself lost in time -- by that I mean that I keep confusing the days. I've also developed this habit of waking up a few minutes before my alarm clock goes off (but who can blame me for that, my alarm clock is awful). This is nice in some ways, but in other ways it just leaves me more confused. Take Friday for example: at 9 am my eyes pop open; (<-- I'll just be frank here, I really don't know how to use semi-colons, but I'm trying to integrate them into my writing because they make you seem smarter. This didn't seem like an appropriate place for a . or a , so perhaps smashing them together into a ; will do the trick) my alarm clock is set for 9:02 because it's 2 minutes ahead, but I can't bear to short myself on sleep time. With trouble I turn over to look at the clock. Then I think to myself "I didn't hear any noise, why am I awake right now? Isn't it Saturday? .....ohh....right, it's only Friday and I have class. !@#$." On the bright side, today has felt like Sunday all day, so it's a relief to know that I still have another day of freedom. Perhaps this confusion has come from my current feelings of being in a deluded time warp -- I know logically that I only have 2.5 weeks left in Sewanee, but I've managed to fool myself into thinking that A) I have months left, or more accurately B) I'm never leaving because college never ends.

Guess what, college does end....temporarily at least. I'm one of those unwilling academic types: I always swear that this is the last of my education because I can't take it any more, and then I get roped into further schooling. Well, to be fair, it wasn't like that after high school, I've always intended to go to college. Grad school is definitely that way though. There's still time for me to chicken out, but I'm coming to the realization that school is much easier and more interesting than getting a real job. I just hate writing essays...and taking tests...and reading boring books.

I discovered last week that Scrubs is a hilarious tv show. One of my suite mates happens to own seasons 1-6, and so I popped a DVD in in order to entertain me during a solo dinner in the room. We have a pretty large collection of movies in the room (mainly thanks to the same suite mate), and it seemed impossible at first that I'd exhaust all of my choices, but movie nights are now met with long negotiations about which movies we can "stand" to watch again. 10 Things I Hate About You is almost always a contender. Anyway, I'd seen an episode of Scrubs here and there when it was on tv and I knew that it was amusing...but it turns out that it's hilarious! I'm so out of the loop of popular culture, but I'm not so sure that that's a bad thing...

Sewanee is going to be under a severe storm and tornado watch for the next week or so (seriously -- our last weather bulletin was entitled "It Ain't Over---yet. More to come."), but so far I've yet to see much of anything. The problem is that counties here are fairly large, so any time there's a watch on the other side of it, we get included. Apparently Nashville is legitimately flooded though, I watched a video of a building floating down I-24. There's certainly something to be said in favor of living on top of a mountain...flash flooding is a very minor concern. The wind has been a little crazy, but most of all it's just a tease. Kendra and I have tried diligently for the last 2 days to go kite flying, and every time we get out there the wind lets us down. It lures us outside, and then strings us along hopefully with gusts at perfect kite strength. However, the gusts are just far enough apart that the kite never gets up very high, and running doesn't the end it just makes us look foolish. Friday afternoon I believe that there was a wedding or ceremony of some sort in Cravens Hall, which has large windows looking out onto the soccer field behind our dorm. I'm sure that they got quite the treat watching Kendra and I frantically run back and forth with unruly certainly didn't help that Kendra's kite is a rather elaborate pirate ship.

Coolio has, sadly, been delayed. Last weekend his plane got canceled due to heavy rain. We'll see if he ends up coming or not...perhaps he's just *cough* too cool for school?

Tomorrow's plans include a whole lot of nothing, so I guess I better go now and get rested up. It is, after all, 4:30 am.

HERE's a link to the video of the building floating down the interstate. I'm not entirely sure where it is, but I'm sure that I use that section of road regularly.

I found a good poem last night. With Russian poems I'm never sure if I've understood the meaning correctly or not, but in my mind it amused me. I'll make an attempt at translation (it's much prettier in Russian, of course).

Евгений В. Харитоновъ /Yevgeny V. Haritonov (the author)

В "Детском мире" / In "The child's world"
в детство впал / in childhood it sank in

невоздержимо / uncontrollably
захотелось купить / that I wanted to buy
пластмассовый / a plastic
пистолетик / pistolette

из тех / from which
что стреляются водой / shoots water
я хотел такой / I wanted that kind

в детстве/ in my childhood

но они были жутким / but there were terrible
дефицитом / deficits

теперь я счастлив - / but now I'm happy
и у меня есть / and I have a
пис / pist <-- you will not here that he's starting to break words apart
толетик / olette
стреляющий водой / that shoots water

есть у меня свой / I have my own
личный пистолетик / personal pistolette
писто / pisto
летик / lette


<--- peace сто лет = the same sounds as the word pistol, but means "peace for 100 years"

<--- лети к = the diminutive ending, but means "fly away to..."

иду / I'm walking
стреляю в прохожих / I'm shooting passersby
мокрый террорист/ I'm a water terrorist
из-за меня / because of me
не умирают люди / people don't die

+30° в тени / +86° in the shade
29.05.2007 / May 29, 2007

Well, I've passed my comprehensive exams, so it looks like I'll be officially graduating (not that there was ever any doubt that I would). I also apparently won honorable mention in a national Russian essay contest. My professors congratulated me Wednesday, and I happily accepted the congratulations (I had mostly forgotten about that contest, I'd done it once or twice before and never won anything) and decided that I would go online later and find out more information. However, I haven't been able to find anything! I really wanted to see who the other winners, since there's a good chance that I know at least one or two of them...and it's always fun to see your name in print. I think that I was in the 4th and hardest group, so that's pretty impressive.

The essay contest news couldn't have come at a better time either. I found out on the day that I had to give the oral part of my comps, and it's always a good idea to put your professors in a good mood before they begin the interrogation section of your exam.

With comps out of the way, I now just have to write my honors thesis, write another paper, survive a couple of more classes, and take my final exams. Unfortunately, I only have about a week to do the honors thesis (which will probably be 20-30 pages) and the other essay (probably 8ish pages), so I'm freaking out a little bit. I also found out a bit of irritating news. It looks like I'm going to graduate .001-.05 GPA points short of summa cum laude because Sewanee doesn't round. This didn't bother me before because I figured I either had it or I was too far away for it to be an option, so I could just get my work done and coast to the end with a clear conscience. If I end up getting a 3.749 I am going to be severely irked.

While we're on the subject of GPAs, let me rant a little bit more. Basically, it's unfair. Everything is severely weighted here. Unlike many schools, where an A is a 4.0 regardless of a plus or minus beside it, an A- here is a 3.67. A B-, in comparison, is a 2.67. Since when is a B of any sort below average? Teachers don't seem to realize the extent of the damage done by those pesky little minuses, and slap them on at random if there's any doubt. I also find math bad grade can drop your entire GPA drastically, but one perfect grade can only bring it up a tiny bit. Math is also unfair in another sense...I only wanted to take Calculus I, but I was forced to take Calculus II because by some fluke I got a 5 on the AP exam. I know I suck at math, and I tried to say so...I blame that B- on Sewanee.

There's a reason I only donated $2 to the Sewanee Anual Gift Fund (that and the fact that I got a hilarious thank you card)....

In other news, Coolio (THE Coolio) is coming to Sewanee tomorrow. One of the fraternities was suspended from having parties last year, but they still collected dues. As a result, they've amassed a large quantity of money, and they figured that the best way to spend it would be to hire a famous rapper to come for Spring Party Weekend. It's a pretty good idea, I have to admit. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be really stormy tomorrow, so hopefully it won't get canceled.

This summer is looking like it's going to be hectic, to say the least. However, I think that it will be an improvement from last summer, which was completely inactive (save for 5 or 6 days in there). I'm going to begin by driving solo cross-country. I've driven up to 13 hours by myself, but I've never had to go for multiple days. More specifically..I've never had to book a hotel room on my own before. I think it'll be pretty easy long as the credit card works.

Well..this is enough procrastinating for now. Mostly I just wanted to rant about my grades, and there's no one online and everyone that I live with has disappeared. That's the way it usually works.

When you're perfect in every way. I can't wait to look in the mirror, 'cause I get better looking each day!"

I can identify with this song so much.

Well, today is Easter. It's kind of hard to contrast mentally with last Easter when I was still in Irkutsk. I suppose the dates don't exactly match up, but the general time frame is still the same. Last Easter it was still cold and snowy, and I remember Igor's family invited me to spend the night with them. It's interesting that Easter here is more of a morning event, generally involving a sunrise service or morning church service, followed by lunch and Easter egg hunts. In Russia the most interesting events happen at night. The most devout people spend an entire day and night in services, but I only went for an hour or so.....mostly because I'm not Orthodox, and I lock my knees, so standing up for hours and hours wasn't a smart idea. Inside the church everyone crowds together holding lit candles (seems dangerous to me, but Russia never was one to be much concerned with safety) and listening to a priest recite prayers. I suspect it's sort of like what happens here -- most people never go to church except for the big religious holidays, so on those days the churches are completely packed. At midnight (I don't actually remember if it's at midnight, but it seems like a logical time) everyone left the church and stood outside. Then a couple of priests come out and led a procession around the church (I believe 3 times). I found it somewhat funny that there was a police officer stationed in one spot to make sure that no one fell into an open drain while walking around in the dark (it seemed like an awful lot of foresight for Russia). After the solemn candlelit procession, everyone stopped and gathered around the priests, who then led the gathering in a chant about the fact that Christ had risen. After that we went back to Igor's house (while the more devout returned to the church for more services). There we had a long meal that lasted until about 3am. The whole family got together and ate, toasted, talked, and exchanged gifts. Then Igor and I stayed up even later watching some movie on tv and then soccer. It was a pretty good Easter. I probably should have written about it sooner so that I could remember more, but sometimes it's annoying to take time to write about things when they feels like you're wasting the time that you could be using for more interesting things. It's weird to think that Igor is dead. I still can't decide if I want to remember these memories more or forget them completely because of it.

Today, in contrast, is bright and sunny and almost uncomfortably warm. I woke up late and then had lunch with Kendra. To our pleasant surprise, the cafeteria workers at McClurg had hidden Easter eggs, and we found a few of them. It always feels strange to be away from home on Easter, but I guess in reality it's been 4 years since I was home. For a religiously affiliated school, we sure don't get much time off for holidays. In celebration of the day we went to the library and got a movie to watch later, and may or may not spend some time outside enjoying the weather (the couch is awfully comfy..I'm content to enjoy the weather via the window).

Yesterday I had my last regatta the collegiate level at least, I suppose that there's always the possibility that I could join a club later. A lot of people asked me if I was sad that it was my last race, and I answered them all with a "NO!". I'm pretty glad that crew is over, but yesterday did make me wish a little that there was more time. My first race was with my regular boat, and we improved dramatically from last week's regatta. We ended up 4th in our race and just missed finals...but that was probably the perfect position to be in, because if we had made it to finals we would have had to row again. I think that with a couple of more weeks and some coaching we could have done even better. I'm the only senior though, so perhaps the boat will stay together and that can be their project for next year. My next race was in a "mixed 8", which means that you put boys and girls together. Not all regattas have this category, so for us it was more of a fun/experimental race. None of us had any high hopes because we'd never rowed together before (I'm not sure why, we already knew who was going to be in the boat). We had a somewhat shaky row up to the starting blocks and practiced a start or two for the heck of it (it's hard enough to start with 4 rowers who are used to each other, we were pretty sure that there was no hope for the 8 of us). We get there to find that all the other teams are pretty jovial about this event too...although I think that they had at least practiced a few times together. After some jostling about to get pointed the correct way (the wind had picked up by then, which makes it very hard to stay straight in your lane), we were off! When you're going backwards it's very hard to tell where your competition is at...especially when you're a club sport who practices 2-3 times a week vs. a varsity school who practices twice a day and you are pretty sure they are way ahead of you. There were 4 boats in our heat, and 2 shot ahead of us in the beginning..but one was behind us the whole way. They looked like they were struggling quite a bit (especially since the water was insanely choppy by now), but I just figured that they weren't very good rowers. I guess we weren't actually that far behind the other boats though, because at one point our cox shouted "You're almost there, and it's not as embarrassing as you think it is!". We got 3rd in our heat...and as it turns out, 3rd in our race (there were 2 heats), meaning that we medalled! Our time was a 7:37..which isn't THAT fast in the whole scheme of things, but it's certainly faster than I've ever rowed (it helped that there were boys with us). The winning boat had a time of 7:06 and the other was about a 7:10, so we really weren't that far behind.

I also got some of the glory that I've felt that I've deserved since I'm the only senior who has stayed (my freshman year there were at least 20-30 of us, and of those 20-30 I'm the only one who has remained). The coach/team gave me a Sewanee sweatshirt and a little necklace with an oar on it. So, I came away with a medal, a sweatshirt, a necklace, a shirt from the event, and an overall feeling of satisfaction with my races. I'd say that's a pretty good way to end a 4-year athletic career. I've been unspeakably irritated with crew before, but I've had some really good times too, so I'd say that overall it was worth it.

As always I have a ton of homework to get done that I don't want to do. Comps are looming ever nearer, but more frighteningly so is my honors thesis. However, it's a beautiful Easter afternoon, and I am going to watch a movie instead of thinking about that.

Happy Easter everyone!

Here is a song for you:


Well, I've already told enough people (who read this) that there's no reason to beat around the bush (that's an odd expression..) --


This is GREAT news for many reasons:
1) I had no backup plans
2) It's a paid trip to Russia for a year
3) I can officially put off applying/thinking about grad school for another year
4) I have an answer for when people ask "What are you going to do after graduation?"

In typical Fulbright fashion I've only found out the bare essentials so far. I don't know which city I'll be going to or when exactly I'm leaving, but I do know that I must: complete college, get a very in-depth physical done, and attend orientation in July.

For those who don't know, what I received was the Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistantship), which is a highly competitive government-sponsored program that will send me to Russia for 10 months to be a resident English speaker. Basically I help an English teacher by giving presentations on various aspects of American life and by conversing with students...however, from what I've heard from others who have received this, I think I'll be doing a good deal of actual teaching too. In my spare time I'm supposed to get involved in the community, have a personal project, and essentially be awesome and make people love America. I think I can handle that.

Yesterday started out rather, for lack of a better word, "blah". I woke up at 5:45 am to drive Kendra to Nashville for an interview because I'm an amazing roommate. When we left it was dark and so foggy that I could barely see 20 feet in front of me (typical Sewanee weather). To fortify our bodies for the long day ahead, we made a quick stop by the Waffle House. They overcharged me for my eggs and toast, but I let it go since the waitress was new and we were in a hurry. The first hour of the trip was pretty uneventful. Kendra and I listened to bad pop music and focused on staying awake......which was made pretty easy by the next event. I'm always wary of semi-trucks and pieces of big machinery, so I was cautiously (yet hurriedly) passing an oversized construction vehicle (whose purpose I can't even guess at) when all of a sudden I heard "BLAM!!!" and a puff of smoke enveloped the right side of my car. I swerved instinctively to the left (but not too dramatically) and hit the gas. My first muddled assessment of the event was that someone had simultaneously shot a rifle and thrown a brick at my car. In actuality, I had had the dubious luck of passing the vehicle right as one of its 12-18 tires blew out. Luckily the only damage to my car was a tiny chip in my windshield.

Then, in Nashville we discovered that mapquest's directions were completely wrong. Just so you know, exit 46B doesn't even exist. We eventually corrected the first step, only to find that the second step was also wrong (should have taken a left instead of a right). To confuse matters even more, in the center of Nashville there are two roads: Rosa Parks Blvd and Rosa Parks Ave. As far as I can tell, they intertwine at random. At one point the road literally looked like this: --\__ (with a stoplight in-between). In keeping with our usual luck, the only person that we found to ask directions from was from out of town. However, he did give us a cute, but completely useless, map of downtown Nashville. We should have arrived 15-20 minutes early, but instead Kendra finally made it to her interview 2 minutes late.

On the way back I decided to be productive and get my oil changed. I stopped by Wal-mart figuring that I could get lunch and do a little shopping while I waited. Wrong. Apparently I chose oil change rush-hour and the current wait was 2 hours. That was definitely more time than I could handle loitering in an unfamiliar Wal-mart on 3.5 hours of sleep, so I skipped the oil and shopped instead. There was a small glimmer of good fortune when, as I was holding the first aloe-containing lotion that I found (to treat my sunburns from my last regatta), and elderly lady gave me a coupon that she had for it, since she didn't plan to buy it. Saved me 55 cents.

In Monteagle I decided to see if the automotive place changed oil. It turns out that they do, but Tuesdays they have sales on oil changes, so I was advised to come back the next day (today). Dejected by my lack of productivity and my waning energy levels, I halfheartedly decided to check my mail. I knew that it was a bad habit to check my mail every day in expectation of receiving word about the Fulbright, since I was sure that I wouldn't find out anything for another couple of weeks. Even worse, I'd done some online stalking and found out that acceptance and alternate letters came in a big manila envelope, and denials come in small envelopes (You should never know this ahead of time! It would just make you instantly depressed if you got a small envelope). However, I automatically drove to the post office. Low and behold, stuffed into my mailbox was a large manila envelope! I made myself wait until I got back to my dorm to open it (I needed to compose myself in case I was just an alternate). After I hesitantly opened it, I quickly scanned the first couple of words and found "congratulations" and "accepted". Phew.

Out of habit I checked my mail again today, and now I have a mystery package. I'm a little skeptical though, last week I had a mystery package too, but it turned out that it was for Adams Conrad and not for me. Seriously, how does a 2000-something school have another person whose name is so close to mine?

Comps (comprehensive exams to graduate) are in a couple of weeks, I need to write my honor's thesis, write some other papers, and do a whole lot of paperwork and studying.....................but instead I'm blogging. At least I did laundry tonight.

Forecast for spring break:

Speaking of.....did you know that spring break starts tomorrow? Yeah, I can't really believe it either. I've known that it was so soon, but it seems that I've mostly just ignored that knowledge since I'm not prepared at all. I need to do laundry, and pack....and study for my last midterm and eat dinner and go to orchestra. Sometimes there just isn't enough time in the day. Good thing I have a washing machine at home!

I reluctantly took my Art of Diplomacy midterm today. I apparently ignored the fact that midterms are upon me as well, since I only allowed myself an hour to study (even though I'd had all of last night and all day today). I think I did alright. Not spectacular, but hey, who cares? IT'S PASS/FAIL!

I'm still debating on if I want to take my french horn home or not. As far as practicing goes, I need to, but as far as traveling goes, I have no desire to deal with the hassle. I also don't think it would be monetarily worth it -- the size is just unusual enough that it wouldn't fit in an overhead bin, so I would have to check it, pay another of those ridiculous fees, and risk damaging my instrument. My french horn isn't the grandest model ever, but it's still a good $800. Am I just trying to find another excuse not to practice? Probably. I guess I'll just go to orchestra tonight and see how it goes. Maybe someday if I ever get rich and I still play the french horn then I'll get one of the fancy ones with the bells that screw off (meaning that the case is square-ish).

I wish that the year would just chill out a little. I'll be glad to graduate, but I'm not ready to do all the work that's waiting for me between now and then. We are now beginning the perilous slide into the end of the year: finals, comps, and papers -- OH MY!

I'm still waiting to find out any news about the Fulbright. I've heard from various sources that most people either find out in March or April, so we'll see.

I thought about this thing called "5 second movies" today....
Here are some good ones: Titanic, Rocky I-V, Star Wars II

About this blog

Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia