Wow! It's been a while since I saw this screen!

I left you with a movie last time, so here's a movie from my summer:

Yes! That is Old Faithful exploding out of a mountain at a 90 degree angle! I've only just gotten proficient at posting videos on blogger. I'll worry about flipping it next time. You're just going to have to crane your neck for this one.

If you haven't guessed, I'm home from Tolyatti now. I never quite got around to that "meaningful concluding blog post", and for that I apologize.

So, if I wasn't updating my blog, what have I been doing this whole time?! I left Tolyatti around June 20th, and then I hung out in Moscow until the 31st. Then I was home for a month. I ate lots and lots of food to make up for not eating well in Russia, gained (back) 10 pounds, swam every few days, and enjoyed being back in the USA. Did you know that it's a pretty awesome country? At the end of July Kendra flew down to Tucson and we began our epic month-long road trip. That finished about 2 weeks ago, and since then I've just been a complete bum.
Our route. Not pictured: Alaska (we flew), The Grand Canyon,
Phoenix, and back to Sahuarita. Google maps couldn't
comprehend my directions once I got back into Arizona.

Since everyone always asks:
Most interesting thing you saw: Elephant seals
Most interesting place: Fort Ross, CA
Most beautiful place: ALASKA OF COURSE
Best thing: Seeing friends
Place I'd least like to live: LA or Idaho
Biggest surprise: There are Russians EVERYWHERE
Most annoying thing Kendra did: Try to make me eat breakfast before lunch
Worst things that happened: Truck wouldn't start once, cleaning nasty starfish and sand dollars, California traffic
Scariest thing that happened: Almost ran over a bear
Lessons learned: Use sunscreen ALWAYS, a GPS with an Australian accent > a GPS with an American accent, double-check addresses before going to the wrong campground, people in American hostels are creepy -- spend more and get a private room, my trucks's speedometer is off by 3 or 4 miles
Best story: Showering in the YMCA, off-roading in Utah

Happy birthday Tolyatti! Thanks for convincing me for a few seconds that the city was blowing up! You know, in most places they postpone fireworks when the weather is stormy.

Have any of you ever wondered why sometimes there's that car alarm that just keeps going off time and time again? Well, today I learned that it might be because the angry person whose car you parked behind is kicking it. I always wondered how Russians managed to get out of chaotic parking situations (the "parking lot" as we Americans know it is a rare concept here), and now I know.

It's June! Do you know what this means? It means that I get to change my calendar! I haven't actually done this in about 2 months, because somewhere in the middle of April I started feeling depressed looking at a grey picture full of slushy melty snow. I don't care if that's what April actually looks like, I didn't need to see that both on the street and on my wall. So, it's been on sunny, green, flowery May for quite a while now. I was skeptical that May would live up to its picture, but you know what? It really has. You would be amazed how fast plants can grow. In the past 2 months my dvor has literally gone from a wasteland to a jungle. Ok, not literally..but almost.

Another pretty crazy thing about June is that it means I'm going home soon. I'm here in Tol'yatti until June 19th, and then I'll be in Moscow until the 29th. I still have quite a lot to do though, so it hasn't sunk in yet. The university organized a summer camp for about 40 children whose parents either work at the university or are otherwise connected. It's supposed to last for 4 weeks, but I'm skipping town after 2.5...which I have to admit that I'm not particularly disappointed by. The camp was started last year, so it wasn't quite my idea. Today was the first day, and so far the kids are nice. This was the oldest group though, and I already knew about half of the group from the weekly lessons that I've been having with them, so that was helpful..particularly since those that I already know pretty well are the loud and easily sidetracked teenage boys. I know from experience that under no circumstances are D. and A. to sit next to each other, and I did have to confiscate a drawing. I also know from experience though that they're not bad kids, and they've gotten to be pretty talkative around me (which is really my main goal -- making people comfortable speaking English). Now to work on the remaining 6 scaredy cats.

Tomorrow will be my first day with the middle and youngest groups. The middle will be a big handful (I expect) -- fifteen 11-13 year-olds. Woohoo! I still haven't figured out what to do with them yet. Maybe we'll draw monsters or something. That could be fun.

Today I had my last class with the group of teachers that I've been working with this semester. It's sort of surprising, but my greatest hit as far as topics go was "rednecks". We devoted 3 lessons to it since everyone was so interested and today finished up by watching The Beverly Hillbillies. In case anyone's wondering, the closest translation in Russian would be деревенщина -- I know because that was our mission during one of our classes. I was kind of nervous about the teachers when I first started, but they've turned out to be some of the most fun.

Apart from all of the good that's happening, there has been a rather tragic development in the last week. My body has decided, without my permission, that it no longer has any desire to cook. This forces me to either scrounge or eat out quite a lot. I guess it hung in there for quite a while though; 9 months is respectable. On a somewhat related note, I had a dream involving Spaghetti O's yesterday. I was trying to explain the word "trashcan", and somehow in my mind holding up a can of Spaghetti O's and then adding муссор (trash) to it was a logical explanation. Trash...can....sort of? Apart from the obvious sign that I've been teaching too long, it made me miss one of my favorite easy meals. Yet another thing on the long list of items that they don't have in Russia.

Also, it's really hot here now. It's great.

I ran across THIS today and I wasn't sure who to share it with, so I'll put it here. If you don't understand it then that's probably a good thing.


A nice snowstorm

Early April -- gross

Late April

Bonus points if you've noticed that blue plastic bag that's been stuck in the tree for months.

One new lesson learned: don't pick up strange Russian bugs. They might sting you.

I know that sounds pretty obvious, and believe me I'm not usually in the habit of petting bugs, but last night there just so happened to be a rather large bug that had found its way into my apartment. After watching it hurl itself against the light in my hallway for a few minutes I took pity on it. It appeared to be a harmless mosquito hawk, and while I don't know if they really eat mosquitoes or not, I figured that it was worth saving it in the slim chance that it did (I happened to see my first mosquito yesterday). I was also in a pretty benevolent mood. Well, right as  was going in for the grab, I felt a burning sensation on the palm of my hand. That stopped that. See if I ever try to rescue a bug bare-handed again. Unfortunately for my uninvited guest that put a short stop to my feelings of good will and it was forthwith squished unceremoniously.

The string of strange phonecalls continues. Here is my latest (translated):

me: Hello?
- Hello.
me: Hello
...........awkward silence.......
me: Why did you call?
me: *hangs up*

Since a lady with a very similar voice then called my cell phone, I have a sneaky suspicion that the awkward call had been from a lady inquiring if I'd like to change my internet plan. Bad reception or bad receptionist? Hard to tell. Since I'm leaving in a month I didn't feel inclined to change my internet in any way though..even if it was free.

In other news my trusty bus #121, my favorite, no longer goes to the university. Hard times.

Today I had my last Chat Hour, which was actually pretty sad. It's a good group of people, and I'm going to miss them. I'll still be at the university for another 3 weeks (4 if you count the remaining days of this week), but I'll be working with children instead of university students. I'm not sure if it will be refreshing or exhausting. 3 weeks seems a bit extreme to me, but I'm not the one who arranged it. All I know is that I hope I know enough games to fill up 3 weeks.

I've been having a lot of what we'll call "flashback sensations" lately. Sometimes a certain smell or sound or temperature will make me think about events or places from my past. Maybe it's just a symptom of advanced homesickness, but whatever the cause I've enjoyed the memories. Here are a few of the things that I've been thinking about: rainstorms at the Cottonwood pool, the long (but now seems short) walk between Quintard and McClurg, sitting in bed and looking out the window in Alaska, walking through town in Middlebury, and Hope. Sometimes it's sad that there are days that you can't go back and enjoy again. For many days once just really wasn't enough. I suppose that's the beauty of the future though -- there are plenty of wonderful days left to be experienced. That's one reason (of many reasons) why I'm happy that the world didn't end on Saturday! I personally am interested in finding out where this story that is my life goes.

Right now though this life of mine is going to the store. I don't have any lessons to prepare for tomorrow, which almost certainly means that tonight I'll be up late doing a whole bunch of nothing. Unless I want to do this in the dark, I really need to buy a new lightbulb. Cheap Russian lightbulbs. At least I've gotten pretty handy at changing them.

These are all huge, I know, but otherwise blogger kept messing up the format. Oh the troubles I have.

Let's recap the last few days....weeks...sorry, I've been busy!

Here is the sped up version of May 4th-May 14th. Ok, actually, I take back my apology. It's only been 10 days. I find that totally respectable, and in fact, above average. Apology rescinded.

May 4th-May 7th: I don't really remember these days. There was a random holiday somewhere around this time.
May 7th: KENDRA COMES. Cue late night drive to the Samara airport with my worried tutor, getting pulled over by Russian cops, watching them (almost certainly) ask for bribes, wait for a while in a very sketchy airport, FIND KENDRA, drive home.
May 8th: get woken up by Kendra shouting "WHOA" in response to being woken up by some very bright rays of sun, assume it's a drunk in the hallway, go back to sleep for a few hours, procrastinate, go to Park House (the mall) for a tasty lunch, speed shop, hastily make salsa and a Mexican dessert whose name I forgot, go to a Mexican dinner with 3 other Americans (2 were visiting) and some Russians, make at least 1 Russian addicted to chips and salsa, go home, stay up outrageously late.
May 9th: VICTORY DAY. Grudgingly crawl out of bed at 9 am, shower, eat, speed walk to the victory day parade. Look everywhere for a ribbon for Kendra (everyone, including myself, had one, but no one knew where they came from), get stuck in a crowd, weasel into the middle of the crowd, watch the parade while peering through tall people and balloons, feel bad for Kendra and her shortness, feel some Russian patriotism, wish there were tanks (no tanks this year, they're bad for the asphalt). Walk around, look at movies for an hour, get sore feet, take pictures, make PIZZA, go to the central square, play Uno for an hour while waiting for the fireworks, watch the same man throw up twice in the span of an hour, get disgusted and move to a different place, SEE FIREWORKS, be mildly impressed (but more amused by some of the people's reactions), go home, MAKE COBBLER, consume cobbler, go to sleep late.
May 10th: grudgingly crawl out of bed at 10:30, shower, eat breakfast, rush to the university. Teach 1 class, introduce Kendra, walk home, buy pins from the Olympics at a museum, eat lunch, go to the train station. Kendra leaves :(
May 11th-12th: Nothing interesting.
May 13th:  Skip work (with permission), go to Samara. Tour television station, see monuments, see churches, finally figure out how to fashionably wear a scarf, be cold, see old buildings, eat pelmini, walk around a bunch, go home, get invited to go to someone's dacha, eat dinner, go to bed.
May 14th: feel like it's Sunday all day, go to Russian lessons from 2-4:30, go to store, buy dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, come home, do nothing productive, cook dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, be surprised that they aren't disgusting, write blog.

You know one reason why I hate tea? Because it's hot. Out of politeness I drank a cup of tea at the tv station yesterday, and my tongue is still burned from it. As far as taste goes it's bearable as long as you add enough sugar, but I really can't handle the temperature that Russian's prefer to drink their tea at. Ow.

I suppose other than this I really don't have anything to say. I've done a lot of fun things lately, but I took pictures of most of them, so you can just mosey over to facebook and have a look if you're curious (and haven't done so already). It will save me a lot of writing.

To make up for my momentary verbal ineptitude, here are some interesting things that I've run across in the last few days:

1). Interesting article about a literal eye for an eye punishment in Iran

2) Seen it before but still funny

3) Cute

Look! The leaves are coming out!
Off to have a picnic by the Volga

The end of a successful Saturday

Signs of spring:
Heat turned off
Kvass tankers on the street
Picnics on the Volga
The return of sunglasses
Going outside without a jacket

The ugly stage of spring is over, and now we can all just sit back and enjoy it. I know that there will be at least one more surprise snow shower left, but I think it's safe to say that the worst is behind us. I do have to wonder though how I'll survive Arizona in the summer. Yesterday it hit 70 and I was dying from the heat...I don't know if I can handle 100.

As far as future plans go, I haven't made many since my last post. Instead of deciding what I want to do, I've mostly been deciding what I don't  want to do. Time, as I'm sure that we've all noticed, is always changing... life certainly does require more planning when it's not static. Luckily planning is one of the things that I'm best at!

Here's a basic checklist of what needs to get done in the next 2-3 months: research as many graduate programs as possible, compile a list of my top choices, retake the GRE (laame. My results were ok, but I could do better, and unfortunately many schools actually think that they're important), assemble and mail applications like crazy, and wait. Depending on my choices, I'll then have to figure out what to do for either a semester or a year. More likely a semester..I'm not too keen on "wasting" a year. One thing that I'd like to do sometime is explore Eastern Europe. For some reason I've also wanted to start studying Czech. Or Finnish. Or anything!

On a final note, no matter what happens, you can all be happy that you're not a male anglerfish. Look it up if you're curious.

Ok life, go and mess up my perfect plans. If anyone's wondering why I'm up after 4 am, that would be the reason. Let me preface:

After much debate and agony I had at last settled on a plan for the next 1-2 years of my life. I was (assuming that I got accepted) going to go to California and learn to be a translator/interpreter. I would finally conquer Russian and live happily ever after. End of story.

I've spent the last week scrambling around getting transcripts sent, arranging recommendations, and filling out applications, only to be hit with last-minute doubts. As it turns out, these doubts were not unfounded. I was under the impression that the Monterey Language Institute, being an affiliate of what is in my opinion the best undergraduate language school, would have upper-level Russian as a component of the translation/interpretation program. Wrong. You're supposed to go into the program already having native or near-native fluency in your target language, and the program isn't designed to necessarily improve your language skills. Tough break! Can't someone just lock me away in the Defense Language Institute for a year and then set me free without having to join the military?

I know that a lot of people would argue with me and say that my language level is high enough already, and perhaps (ok, undoubtedly) I'm overcritical of myself when it comes to my Russian, but the truth is that I'm not quite ready to jump into translating without any support. I'd need at least another year or two in country focusing on the language before I could do something like that. I'm pretty good at Russian, and I certainly know enough to get by and talk to people (and even read Anna Karenina), but if someone were to throw me into the middle of a political debate or hand me a legal document I'd probably be a pretty lousy translator. plan.

This summer has already been dedicated to travel with Kendra. It's unfortunate that gas prices are rising steadily right as I'm planning to drive up the West Coast and up to Alaska (and back..but through the more boring states), but so it goes. I expect that in the long run prices will just continue to rise, and this may be one of the only times that I'm in a position to take such an extended joy ride.

However, when I'm not doing that I need to apply more seriously to grad schools. I let myself take it easy while I was in Russia because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, but I'm starting to have some idea now. It's too late to make it into the fall semester anywhere, but there's still some hope for the spring. A lot of the programs that I'd be interested in don't allow you to start in the spring though, so I may have to delay things until next year. I don't really like that idea, but it's my own fault. I guess I mostly just don't like the idea of being 2 years older than everyone else (I'd be 24 by the time I started! Practically senile!). It would also really feel like taking a step backwards...but, if the program was good and the school was somewhere that I really wanted to go, then it would be better to wait a few more months and start late than to dedicate multiple years to a program that I was only half-heartedly enthusiastic about.

If I had to wait a year though, then what would I do with my time? I can't allow myself to simply stay home on the couch and wait it out. My main goal in life at the moment is to get my Russian to an incredibly high level, so the logical answer would be to go back to Russia. But....since I've just spent a year in Russia and need a little time to recuperate, I think maybe just half a year in Russia would do it. This part of the plan is still fuzzy, but what I would probably do would be to find a study abroad program for the spring semester and just take as many Russian classes as possible and do an internship and anything else that I can as a sort of last hurrah for Russian so that I can спокойно move on to another subject. Believe it or not I do have other interests besides Russian..I'm just incredible one-tracked and a perfectionist sometimes, and I won't be happy until I can convince myself that I'm fluent in Russian.

Until that point...well, I'm not sure. I guess that I have a lot of things that I'd like to improve. I have a lot of books that I want to read, a lot of American food that I want to eat, I wouldn't mind finding a community orchestra to join or taking violin lessons, and perhaps there'd be the possibility of some light translating work. I also wouldn't mind starting another language. Maybe I'd even dabble in a "real job." Or, most likely, at the last minute I'd find something interesting to do and run away to another state or country for a while.

Sigh. I did like my old plan though.

Oh well. In other news I read Lolita the other day. I've been avoiding this book for a while because I thought that it was going to be pretty disturbing. It was, but only for the first 10 chapters or so. For being a book about a pedophile, I actually liked it quite a bit. Nabokov can get rather wordy, and sometimes it was obnoxious, but overall the style worked for him. The plot was also more complex than I had expected. I guess that there's a reason that Lolita always shows up on the "Most Important Books" lists. I did end up having a dream about going on a long road trip with an older man after finishing, but luckily I was not 12, and neither of us tried to seduce the other.

Next up on my list of books to read are: Peeling the Onion (Gunter Grass) and A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemmingway). A library that I've recently started going to is now providing for all of my classic literature needs.

I drew this because this is how I felt after a presentation that I gave to teachers today.

Those are my superstar glasses.

I just woke up from some crazy dreams. I have to write them down before I forget. I'm not sure how many dreams I had last night (I remember at least 3 distinct dreams), but they were all incredibly vivid. I usually have pretty in-depth dreams, but these just had really extreme details. The last one made me so tired that I felt like I needed a nap when I woke up.

In one dream segment I was walking through a fair in Russia. They were reading papers that children had written, and I realized that I understood everything perfectly..even the mistakes. Then I realized that they were in English. I thought that it was strange that someone would have gone through the effort to translate a children's essay, but then I noticed that I understood everything everywhere. Everything was in English...but they were speaking other languages. That's when I realized that something was translating my life.

In the last dream I was walking with a friend of mine. We'd heard that there were some fires, and we wanted to go see if it was true or not. As we walk down the road, we see that a building is on fire, but it's still small. My friend runs into the building to try to get people's attention, while I start screaming "Пожар!" as loud as I can. The neighboring building is also on fire, so after screaming hysterically I decide to see if the buildings beyond that are on fire too. The next building is a church, and it's on fire. I open the door and yell "Пожар!!" After a little while a group of teenage girls come running out in cheerleading outfits (from a sign I can see that they have a practice room in the basement). I ask them in Russian if anyone else is in there, and they nod. I open the door again and scream in a mix of English and Russian that people need to get out now. As the minutes go by I become more and more frantic because the fire is getting bigger. At one point 2 old women try to go inside, but I scream at them and hold them back.

Finally I see a side door, and I dash inside. In a separate room I can see a middle-aged woman in a white track suit and several teenagers rehearsing. I yell at them and tell them to get outside right now. They ignore me. Finally I resort to insults to lure the woman outside. I tell her that she is a stupid white whale and that she's fat (in English and Russian). This works, but when I get outside I'm perplexed to see that the fire is gone. I look dumbfounded, and the lady smiles and tells me about the church. It's called the Church of the Ashes and it's a miracle church. It's famous for catching on fire but not burning, although she admits that this is a rare phenomenon.

The other buildings really did burn down though.

I haven't had a dream that's made me so emotionally agitated in quite a while. Although, that's not so say that this isn't a common occurrence. I have a lot of dreams involving me trying to stop some sort of disaster and being ignored by the people that I'm trying to save. The result is that I end up getting angry and frustrated and panicked and run around everywhere trying to help. I'm sure that'd be a lovely project for some psychiatrist out there.

I read this today, and it really reminded me of 8:30 am classes:,19985/?utm_source=recentnews

Just replace the word "reading" with "lecture" every time you see it and you have me. One time I got cocky and planned for 6 people and only 3 came...put a serious kink in my game plans. My sentiments were also pretty similar to the author's the time that only 1 person came. He received a very individualized hour-long lecture on football (American! I refuse to start calling soccer "football". I don't care how logical it is!). Luckily I only average 1 8:30 class a week.

Today was a long, but good, day. I left the house at 8 am, and got home at about 9:45 pm. My first class had a strong turnout of 6 people (almost the whole class!), and we talked a fair amount about technology..particularly cell phones. I tried to subliminally (or blatantly) implant the message in their heads that cell phone addiction is bad, and that they shouldn't use them in class. I don't think that the idea took, but one can dream.

My second class was supposed to be about US history. It's a perfectly fine subject, but I'll admit that I was dreading it a little. I made this presentation last semester, and I've used it a fair amount of times since then, so I find that it gets a bit boring for me. Sometimes keeping people's attention for a span of 15,000 years can be a challenge. At least my masterful whiteboard illustrations seem to keep them perky most of the time. Back to the story:  the schedule said that it was in room 716, so I dutifully went to the room and waited around for a few minutes. However, no one was to be found. I suspected that something was amiss, so I decided to call the teacher. When her phone didn't work, the only thing left to do was roam the hallways and scout out the teacher's lounge. My initial hallway search failed to bring about any results, so that meant that she must be in the lounge. When I opened the door I was surprised to see all of the teachers gathered around a table filled with fruit, bread, sausage, cake, and candy. Before I could say a word I found myself seated at the table, fork and teacup in hand, facing a massive slice of cake (in reality it was 2 slices). This is a pretty common position to find oneself in when living in Russia. Whenever I made the mistake of talking too long between bites, I was immediately scolded and asked "Amanda! Why aren't you eating?!" The feast, it turns out, was in honor of students taking their finals. I've also become the hero of the department, since this week I got introduced to a middle-aged SINGLE American man who just moved to Tolyatti, and I've promised to bring him by the office.

Skipping ahead a few hours, two girls from Chat Hour invited me to go see a concert in honor of the university's 60th anniversary. They asked me last Monday, but in the span of a week I'd managed to completely forget about it, so it was a little bit of a surprise. Luckily I hadn't made any other plans though, so it wasn't a problem. It turned out to be pretty cool. It was a little long (3+ hours), and when I drank a bottle of water with lunch I hadn't had a concert in mind, so I was getting a little anxious toward the end, but luckily all emergency situations managed to be avoided. Russians are particularly fond of dancing and skits, so that was what the majority of the event was. My favorite involved a soccer team's ritual pre-game dance (based on the haka dance), but then with a reenactment of the Titanic bow scene to show their soft side (immediately followed by Jack putting Rose in a headlock to show that they're still manly). There was also a really amazing group of boys who did lots of crazy flips. Russians are incredibly seems like even the non-athletic people still have 6-packs (girls included). This only applies to the younger generations though, once you pass middle age it's pretty much instant babushka/dedushka status. Kinda reminds me of this picture.

What followed that was a windy walk home. I suspect that a storm is coming, so it's nice to be back in my pjs out of the wind and dust.

One thing that I've noticed in Russia is how terrible most popular pop music is. I miss the days when lyrics involved  more than crude sexual references and partying. A few weeks ago I visited a school, and one girl eagerly asked me: "What kind of music do you like?? Britney Spears? Rhianna?? Lady Gaga???" She was completely shocked when I said that I couldn't stand any of them. I was surprised myself at how offended I was that she'd even suggest them. Then I had to think to myself "what DO I like?" Usually when I get asked about my favorite music, books, or movies, my mind instantly goes blank. I have favorites, but there are so many that I've liked that usually I just can't evaluate all of them instantly. Lately I've started writing a list just to make things easier on myself (since these are  questions that I get asked on a daily basis). I was going to write out my top 3 choices, but then I couldn't decide on just three...because they're all favorites, some are just a little more favorite. If you don't know what that's a reference to, go watch this now!! Then go and watch everything else that he's ever done.

So...after some agonizing decisions, here are my choices (in no particular order):
Вдох Выдох - T9
Летний Дождь - Бумбокс
Rise - Flobots
Dust in the Wind - Kansas
Remember the Name - Fort Minor
Make You Feel That Way - Blackalicious
Drive - Incubus
Paganini 5 - Edvin Marton
Hurt Feelings - Flight of the Conchords

As for books, well...that's a lot harder (and still a work in progress).

Do you know what are crazy? People. Yesterday was a rather underwhelming day as far as productivity went, so the majority of it was spent making/consuming muffins and watching BBC Human Planet episodes.

One episode really caught my attention. I remember reading about this in the news last year, so it's nothing new, but I still find it just as fascinating now as I did then. The idea that groups of people can still exist in the world who have never had any outside contact just blows my mind. I suppose as a sort of world traveler, the size of the world has seemed to shrink in my mind over the last few years; I've always found it comforting that home, if I need it, is only a flight away. However, there are still some places out there that remain unreachable. Maybe that's one reason that I like Siberia so much -- it's one of those places that you can still get lost in. I recommend this book if you'd like to read about one such example. I read it last year for a paper that I was writing, and while it didn't help me very much, I did really enjoy it.

Can you imagine what those poor people felt when the plane flew overhead? Sometimes when I'm having a hard day I like to imagine how much worse their day was. I think that it would be about the equivalent of seeing a 500ft dragon-shark-bear fly by. That would definitely make me unsettled. I hope that there's not a massive colony somewhere in the universe that we don't know about yet.

In other news, I bought my ticket home on Friday. I hadn't planned to, but during a random conversation with Kendra I decided to see what the prices were like right now. I stumbled upon a $1000 ticket to Tucson with all American companies (since I'm here on a government program, I'm required to use American companies), and pounced on it. It sounds like a lot of money, but for a 1-way ticket to a small airport on American companies it's about as good as it's going to get. It's still obnoxious that it costs about the same for a 1-way ticket as it does for round-trip (sometimes 1-way is even more expensive!). I fail to see the logic in that.

Having a ticket in hand (/inbox) really makes the end feel closer. Sometimes it just feels like I'll be here forever. Sometimes it feels like April will last forever (Seriously! I wish this month would end already. May has fun plans. I even changed my calendar to May because I couldn't look at the depressing foggy melty snow  picture anymore). I think that my wanderlust is definitely starting to kick in though. I haven't quite figured out what I'll do next, but I'm looking forward to it (ideally starting grad school sometime in the next year). I do know, however, that the summer is scheduled to be awesome.

Last night I had a really beautiful dream. I can't describe it very well (nor will I try), but it involved sitting outside in Alaska on a cold clear wintry night. In one direction I could look up past the trees and see the stars, and in the other I could faintly see the sun setting. It was incredibly peaceful. It seems like a lot of people either don't dream very much, or can't remember them, but I dream almost every night and usually remember. I like that about myself.

p.s. - I thought about it, and if I had to decide, even knowing all the details, I'd have gotten braces again.

Here's just an amusing snippet from life today:

My return from some substantial grocery shopping coincided with that of an elderly man who lives on the 4th floor. As I strain to lift my hand high enough to press the elevator button, he looks me up and down and says: "Now there's a Russian woman! A bag in each hand and one on the shoulder!" He chuckles to himself and says "That's Russia" a few times. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'm American.

What do I do here? Well, it's sort of a strange mix, but luckily one of my students has taken a few pictures/videos of my lessons and was kind enough to share them with me yesterday. These are all from what's called "Chat Hour." This is an open class on Mondays where we do whatever I want us to do. I am omnipotent.

This first clip I was surprised to know existed. While maybe not my finest explanation, it was one that people have remembered....I'm not sure if I'm pleased or embarrassed to know that it will now survive the ages in video form. Let me give you some background:

We played this game quite a while ago, and the way that it starts is we sit in a circle and play "Never Have I Ever." Hopefully all of you Americans out there are familiar with it, since it's a camp staple. If you're not, then you go around the circle and every person has to say something that they have never done. If you have done this, then you put up a finger (or put one down, whichever you want). The first person to reach the appointed number of fingers loses. The catch for my game is that as soon as you lose, you have to go to the slang dictionary and pick anything that you'd like for me to explain and write it on the board. I have a full honesty policy, so I will explain anything (with a straight face) that they'd like. Even the "PMS Monster." And I did. Anyway, in this clip I'm explaining "spaceship ethic." Here goes:

CLICK HERE Blogger is dumb and kills my internet whenever I try to upload videos.

Yes, all you Trekkies out there, I know that Spock and Captain Picard are from different series. I just like Captain Picard better than Captain Kirk.

HERE's another clip from a game that I don't have a name for. I learned it over the summer, and it was really fun. The way it works is that each person gets a number of papers (I use 6). On the first paper you write a sentence, then you pass your stack of papers to the person next to you, they read the sentence, and draw a picture. They hide the original sentence, and the next person writes a sentence based on the picture. You keep alternating until you're out of paper. Spaceships seem to be a reoccurring theme.

I didn't really have any grand expectations for yesterday, but things turned out pretty cool. I got up, messed around for a while, went to my Russian lessons, gave a talk about April Fool's Day, and then had about 30 minutes to kill before Movie Time. I got my daily juice, and retired to the teacher's lounge to read the news (and get on facebook?). At 3:50 I went to go unlock the room that we always use. This room happens to have 2 doors, but one of them is almost never used. The lights were off, and the door was locked, so I unlocked it, and then was surprised to see a large quantity of balloons and decorations in the room...and even more surprised to see teachers and students having a formal photo session in the back. I didn't know what else to do, so I locked the door again and went back to the computer. It turns out that Friday was what's called "The Last Bell" for seniors. This is their last day of classes...they still have state exams to take, but it's the last day that they had to go to formal classes, and so they spent the morning giving presentations, and the afternoon celebrating. In the US we usually only celebrated after exams, but I like the Russian version better of celebrating before and after.

I spent about 5 weeks meeting with this particular group of seniors, so we'd gotten to know each other pretty well. They very enthusiastically invited me to their party, so I spent the next 2 hours running back and forth between the party and the movie. They're a really good group of kids, and they're all about my age too. Then I got invited to go back with them to one of the girl's apartment for a post-party party. I learned that there are pretty interesting dynamics within groups of students, but that's to be expected when you've been with the same people for 5 years. Think about all the drama that goes on in band (if you've been in band you know what I mean), and then imagine what it's like with only 10 people. Once they got tipsy they also forgot to be shy around me at all, so it was really nice just hanging out with people. I got a really interesting compliment too -- one of the girls said that I had beautiful hands. She swore it wasn't just the alcohol talking.

Today I haven't really done anything, and it's nice. Sometimes I do wonder about how logical I am though. I found out that my bread was moldy (bread gets moldy SO fast! I just bought it like 4 or 5 days ago), and I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go to the store. Do you know what I decided to do? Instead of getting dressed and taking 10 minutes to run to the small grocery store around the corner, I did the "lazy" thing and made my own. Or am in the process of making's in the oven. That's how my mind works I guess. Rather than getting dressed and going out in the cold, I'd rather just spend 2 hours making the fool thing. At least it's probably healthier and better tasting..and maybe it won't go bad as fast. You never can tell how long things have been sitting on the shelves here.

Also guess what? It's supposed to be in the 40s this week! Yaaaaay!

Well, today is April Fool's Day, and while I hope to avoid making a fool of myself today, I haven't been so lucky in the last few weeks.

Here's one interesting encounter that I had with the cafeteria lady earlier this week. I haven't been in the best of moods lately, and it makes me a bit distracted. Unfortunately, when I'm distracted my Russian skills seem to do the most suffering. I have this juice addiction that I've developed, and sometimes during the day I just gotta have my fix. Well, this was one such day.

When I went into the little school cafe (it sounds more picturesque than it is), I was the only person there. That's probably because it was closing, but someone left the door open, so a poor foreigner who doesn't always read signs came in anyway. The cash register lady was nice enough not to say anything and just gave me a wary look. She knew that I was after juice though, I go there almost every day. Anyway, today my typical boxed juice was out of stock, so I had to settle for a bottle. While trying to specify this to her, I completely forgot the word "bottle" and replaced it in my mind with "wine glass". Now, I'd just used this word correctly and without any special thought the day before. She looked confused, so I reminded her that I wanted the "Apple juice in the wine glass." She lifted her eyebrow and picked up a small box of apple juice and asked if that was what I wanted. Usually she gets my order right, so I wasn't sure what had gotten into her this day. I repeated "No, the apple juice in the wine glass! There, below that." To this she dryly asked "You mean the one in the bottle?" I sheepishly realized the errors of my way, said yes, paid, and mentally beat myself up over forgetting such an easy word for the rest of the day. БУТЫЛКА not БОКАЛ!

Also, just a random side note, the marshrutka driver the other day called this old woman crossing the street a "Kamikaze babushka." It made me smile.

Lately I've been losing things like crazy. I lost my eraser last week, and looked through all of the rooms on the  7th floor trying to find it, only to discover the next day that it had been in my purse the whole time. Then, on Friday (right in the middle of movie time) I realized that I had lost my key to the teacher's room. Or at least figured out that it wasn't in my pocket where it should have been. I left in the middle of the movie to tear apart my purse in hopes that it, like my eraser, was just hiding out there. No such luck. I figured that it had fallen out at home, and I managed to convince myself that I'd heard something that sounded a lot like a key falling out of my pocket, so I didn't stress too much...but I did take my coat just in case someone locked the door. At home I casually searched the floor around the couch that I use as my second dresser. Then I not so casually searched the floor everywhere in my apartment. I looked in the cracks in the couch, I shook out my blanket...nothing. Beyond those places, there just weren't many other logical places for a key to hide. I began to resign myself to the fact that it had probably fallen out on the marshrutka, and I was never going to see it again, and on Monday I was going to have to grovel in front of the supervisor and beg to be trusted with a new key (that I would even offer to pay for!). Russians are sort of weird about security. They really like it, and they really enforce certain things, but overall the system isn't generally very secure. I half expected that because I'd lost a key they'd change the locks on the teacher's lounge, and everyone would have to get new keys. Then they wouldn't give me a new one because I'd just lose it too. Or, on the other hand, I thought maybe she'd just whip open a drawer and give me a spare that she'd had lying around and like it was no big deal. I was hoping for the latter...but thought it would probably actually be more like the former. Then, later, after I'd completely given up, I was talking to a friend on Skype, when I happened to look at the foot of my bed. Sheets aren't fitted here, so things tend to get messed up pretty quickly. Do you know where that stupid key had been? It had managed to get tucked in between my sheet and my mattress. Sometimes I seriously think that there's some sort of little spirit that steals all of my things and puts them in ridiculous places.

My trip to Moscow couldn't come at a better time. Everything is muddy and nasty in Tolyatti (although I don't expect any better in Moscow), I've been struggling to come up with lesson topics, and I haven't been the best company ever. Luckily the sun is shining more, and Kendra and Ryan have promised to help cheer me up and get in some quality friend time, and I'm already feeling much better myself. Somewhere in there I'll have to take the GRE and do my final Russian interview for the CLEA, but those are minor details. 

I completely got called out on my lack of a hat today. Hats do bad things to my hair (like this), so whenever I can I try to avoid them. Plus it takes like an extra 5 seconds of my day to put it on.  So, today when I was waiting for the elevator to go downstairs, an elderly man came out of a neighboring apartment and waited with me. To avoid feeling awkward (because I'm an awkward person and I never know what to do with myself when there are strangers around) I very fastidiously put on my gloves and made sure that they were straight and tucked into my coat sleeves. Once we were safely into the (very small) elevator, the man bemusedly looked at my head, and then my gloves, and said "You're wearing gloves but no hat? Your head will be cold! I'm old and I've done the opposite all winter -- I wear a hat and no gloves." I smiled and hastily showed him that I had a hood that I'd put on. I hadn't planned to use it..but I felt obligated to after that.

I'm not quite sure what it is, but people always talk to me in the elevator now. Maybe I just look like I belong there. At first, after playing the ritual rock-paper-scissors-esque floor number game (the elevator only knows how to go to one floor at a time, so the person with the lowest number gets to press the button), my elevator companions and I would just stand in silence and avoid eye contact. Then, starting about 3 weeks ago, people started to say things. Usually it's just complaints about the weather or things like that (or in the case of a drunk and disoriented man:  making sure that he was in the building that he thought he was), but it still started rather suddenly, and still surprises me. I like to secretly wonder how many catch on to the fact that I'm not Russian. I think that I do a pretty good job of fooling most of them.

One thing that also amuses me is when I have conversations like this one that happened on Thursday:

After opening the door to the deserted teachers lounge and putting on my coat, I was getting ready to leave and lock the door when a girl comes in and says: "Can I speak to Natalya ----- ?"
me: " one else is here"
her: "Do you know when she'll be back?"
me: "No, I'm leaving right now"
her: "You're from America, right?"
me: "Yeah"
her: "You speak Russian really well, even without an accent"
me: "..Thanks, I try"

My thoughts: could you really tell very much about my Russian? I barely said anything at all. I've had this happen several times where I'll say a sentence and then I get compliments on my Russian.  Somehow I suspect that people would be impressed even if I only knew how to say 10 words.  I also have the opposite happen a lot, where people assume that I don't understand Russian at all, so they start explaining in a mix of English and charades until I ask them to please just tell me in Russian. It's also a great party trick with kids -- if I say any Russian word in the middle of my presentation there are instant gasps of surprise.

Today I went to the movies with a friend and saw Little Red Riding Hood...or Red Riding Hood...or whatever it is in English. It's called Красная Шапочка in Russian. I really didn't know what to expect -- I hadn't seen any previews or anything since I don't really see any in Russia. I half expected it to be a cartoon, so when I saw the movie poster, I started thinking "oh dear..I didn't know that this was a scary movie." Then, naturally, it would involve scary wolves, which I am almost as scared of as sharks and tigers. Ok, like half as scared of. I blame my childhood phobia on THIS. I remember having nightmares now and then about being trapped in my house because hungry wolves were circling it. ANYWAY, the movie turned out to be really good. They took a really interesting take on the old story and turned it into a sort of mystery thriller with, naturally, a love story thrown in. Overall it was really well done, and I kind of feel like watching it again right now to pick up on things that I didn't catch at first. The person that I was with is one of those people who knows everything about every movie ever made, and he also agreed that he liked it, so I feel like I have an expert opinion to back me up. It also certainly didn't hurt that the 2 conflicting love interests are incredibly attractive men. Well, or one of them was, the other was just mostly so. Here you can see them having a manly standoff. It made up for the scary wolf. I was also glad because the dubbing was really good, so every character had their own voice, which isn't always the case. Unfortunately, online reviews weren't especially impressed by the movie, so perhaps being in Russian improved it. It helps that I haven't seen Twilight, which is apparently what the style is reminiscent of. I still stand by my opinion though -- I enjoyed it, understood almost all of it in Russian, thought the set was pretty (and the people prettier), and enjoyed the new twist to my generally least favorite fairy tail.

Also, I'm 1/9th of the way through Anna Karenina in Russian. That doesn't sound like much, but keep in mind that that's over 100 pages. I've really struggled with reading books in Russian because usually I can't read fast enough to really get into the story, so I end up getting bored and giving up. It's really strange being transported back to the way that I felt in first and second grades -- instead of being fun, reading is frustrating and boring. Once you get good at it then it becomes a sort of moving picture that you can get really absorbed in, but until that time it's just words that you have to consciously think about so that you can get the plot. Anna Karenina has made me really excited, because I've started seeing scenes instead of words when I read, and this is the first time that it's really happened. It might seem strange that this would happen with a work of classic literature and fail with some of the more modern books that I've tried, but my lessons for the last few months have really focused on reading, and especially with a focus on higher level literary styles. So far it seems that Tolstoy's writing style really fits well with my vocabulary. He's also much better in Russian. I liked him well enough in English, but the translations were always a little dry. It's also interesting how time and languages can change the way that you think about the characters. I read the book about 4 years ago, so the details are fuzzy, but I remember that in general I just though that Vronsky (the guy that Anna runs off with) was a self-absorbed jerk and that Levin was the nicest person ever. In Russian I actually sympathize a lot with Vronsky, and he seems like he's just a nice guy. Not the most knowledgeable, but certainly not bad. Levin, on the other hand, is extremely socially awkward. Maybe it's just that now people who fall passionately in love without any real basis and without checking to make sure that the other person feels the same bothers me. Maybe before I thought that it was romantic or something. I can also sympathize a lot more with Kitty turning down Levin's proposal because of her feelings for Vronsky. Of course it would have saved a lot of people a lot of hurt if she'd just said yes, but the easiest way isn't always the best. It would also have made for a very short book, since she's not even the main character. 100 pages in and the real story is only starting to develop. That's Russian literature for you.

Well, now I think that I'll get something to eat, and maybe hunt around online for somewhere to watch Red Riding Hood again or read some more. The weather got wise to my wanting to take pictures of spring and got cold again, so pictures will have to wait some more.

Well, spring, in all of its muddy glory, has come to Russia. Like all other cities located in northern climates, spring has turned Tol'yatti into a concrete marshland. Now I know why Russian women wear high heels: it's so that they can ford the rivers (aka streets) and stand around in swamps (the bus stops) without getting their feet wet. I too have begun to embrace this habit. My other (non-heeled) winter boots have leaky soles, so they have been banished to the closet after one too many damp socks episodes. After growing up in Alaska I'm very familiar with the effects that melting snow can have on a landscape, but the difference is that in Alaska I didn't have to walk through it all the time. In Sewanee, spring meant daffodils, sunny days, and no coats. I've been so spoiled the last few years!

I've had this brilliant idea for the last few months to bring my US cell phone with me so that I can take sneaky pictures without feeling extremely conspicuous, but I've just now started carrying through with it. The disastrous road conditions that a severe lack of a drainage system has caused are something that's definitely worth documenting. Unfortunately, I always seem to be running late when it's light out. Seriously, it's like there's some sort of paranormal force that holds me in my apartment and makes me late. I know for a fact that I need 20 minutes to get to work..25 if I want to be a little bit early. Then, right as I start putting on my shoes and coat and putting things in my bag, time starts to go by twice as fast, while I suddenly am unable to move faster than a 90 year old woman. So, by the time that I'm finally out the door, I find myself with only 15 minutes and have to sprint (/walk briskly..I can't actually sprint on slush in heels) to the bus stop and pray that numbers 121 or 146 come immediately...and curse them silently when they don't. Then there's the school elevator, which is itself a force to be reckoned with. There are 4 elevators, but according to my studies, only 1 moves at a time, and then it is morally obligated to stop at every single floor. Naturally my classes are all on the 8th floor.

I've been really jealous lately of all my friends back home who are on spring break. So jealous that I've had to make my own. Sort of. Not really. Actually, I'm just going to Moscow to take the GRE. It does, however, mean that I get to miss a week of school and see some cool people! I've been getting spring fever lately and a bit worn out, so this break will be greatly appreciated. It's hard being a celebrity. I'm also tiring of city life. Did  you know that it is never ever completely dark in my apartment? For some reason the drapes in my living room are only for decoration and don't cover the whole window, so there's always light coming in. Every now and then I'll see a star, but that's pretty rare. There's also always noise. And my upstairs neighbors have been remodeling for over a month now. Seriously, how much stuff can they change? These apartments aren't exactly big.

Now I need to get ready and go. That's my complaint about spring for the day. I'll try to get pictures soon.

Just tell me this picture doesn't make you smile

Sometimes I feel like I speak terrible Russian, but then I realize that it's because there are often mix-ups here, and I end up getting asked things that seem completely out of context. For example, here's a phone conversation that I just bumbled through (phones are also ridiculously hard to understand people through):

*teacher calls*
me: hello?
t: are you here?
t: ah, but you're on your way?
me: no...I'm home, but I'm leaving soon.
t: hmm, I see. When will you be here? 20 minutes?
me: (thinking "why..?") my class doesn't start until 10:55. I have 2 half pairs today.
t: 10:55? Hmm, ok. You'll come to the teacher's room?
me: (thinking "no, I think I'll just go to the classroom") Which room?
t: the teacher's room
me: I'm....not with you today.
t: you're not?
me: no?
t: are you sure you're reading the schedule correctly?
me: yeah...I'm with ____ today
t: hmm, that can't be right, you're supposed to have her every other week, and you were there last week. I'll ask.
me:'s on the schedule.

So, we'll see. I prepared for that class, so I really have nothing else that I can do. This happens pretty often. Luckily the schedule is my ultimate authority, so any time anything is wrong I can just say "It was on the schedule!" and all blame is shifted away from me.

Let me tell you a fun story that I heard today. I have no facts to support it, but somehow I think that it's entirely believable. This is the story of how the potato came to Russia. For all of you who have been to Russia, it's hard to imagine that the potato hasn't always been a part of Russian cuisine. Neither have tomatoes or sunflower oil. Honestly, what did they eat before that?

This all start's with Pushkin's great-grandfather -- Abram Petrovich Gannibal. Just a reminder to all you who don't study Russian literature, Pushkin is the Russian Shakespeare. His great-grandfather was captured as a boy in Africa, and was given to Tsar Peter I as a curiosity. Young Abram was then raised with the tsar's son. Later he went on to become a major-general and was overall successful. He also, apparently, was quite the troublemaker. As a youth he was sent to Paris to continue his education. While there he happened to develop a relationship with a certain count's wife, and, well, let's just say that they really hit it off. So much so that she got pregnant. Unfortunately for both of them, it was very obvious that the father was not her husband. Abram dueled with the count and caused quite the international scandal. He was promptly returned to Moscow, much to the disappointment of his godfather Peter I.

Now, back to potatoes.

After one of his travels, Abram brought back that beloved vegetable known as the potato. He wanted it to be spread all over Russia, but his first attempts were complete failures. The farmers didn't want his stupid potatoes because they were completely satisfied eating cabbage, meat, kasha, and whatever else they had at this time. Perhaps part of the failure to impress the peasants was due to the fact that they didn't explain at first that the good stuff grows UNDER the ground.

Well, Abram was a хитрый man, and he clearly had a good understanding of the Russian mentality. He took his potatoes and planted them in several flower beds, and then he posted signs saying that anyone caught stealing them would be beheaded. They were all gone in a matter of days.

Next he planted potatoes in a vast field. He appointed a guard to watch the field, and made it known that all trespassers would be shot. Then he instructed the guard to fire off a few shots every evening, and then go home. Once again, all of the potato plants were quickly stolen, and potatoes began showing up all over Russia.

Now you will find potatoes at every single meal, and in almost every single dish.

Some snapshots from life:

This is the ridiculous swarm of crows that occasionally mobs my apartment building. I finally got a picture of them.

This is an artsy view into my hall. It came about, however, after I was trying to figure out where this horribly obnoxious hammering noise was coming from. My neighbors seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to bothering me during naps. Actually, life just seems to be against me napping, which is unfortunate, because naps are a beautiful thing. Anyway, at about 6:30 I decided that I was going to sleep for a little bit ("Who naps at 6:30 in the evening," you ask? Tired teachers, that's who!). I got into my nice warm bed, turned off the lights, closed my eyes, and...couldn't fall asleep because someone was assembling furniture next to my bed! Picture me looking like THIS as I look through my peep hole after unsuccessfully trying to nap for an hour.

It's also worth checking out the article that this picture came from (which you can find here). Let me give you some of the highlights from it:

"Russian woman beats bear barehanded after it attacks her husband"
"Vitaly grabbed the angry bear and tried to pull it away."
"We were locked in hand-to-hand combat and rolled downhill."
'Tatiana had attacked the bear from behind and dragged it away, she then shouted at the animal so loudly that it fled into the forest."
"I didn’t know that my wife was so strong,” he said after a medical checkup."

Umm..attacking brown bears? That's pretty BA. Let me remind you, however, of this fellow:

By the way, I think bears are the scariest animals ever...but equaled by sharks. Wolves are also scary. OH! And tigers!! See here: This is what spawned my great fear of tigers. How Kim managed to see that on a big screen and remained unscathed is a mystery to me. Just listening to the music gives me the creeps. Ugh. Tigers.

On second thought, tigers might be scarier than bears.

Lastly, this is what happened when I ended up having to completely reset my computer. EIGHTY-FOUR updates!!! Disgusting.

That's all. If you're still in search of some reading material, I recommend this site:

Well, spring, not here yet. Luckily Maslenitsa started this week, which is a Russian holiday that is meant to celebrate the end of winter and get in some last minute good food before Lent. The holiday, like most holidays, was originally pagan though, so that means that there are still lots of interesting customs that have remained over the years. Blini, for example. The rest of you know these tasty treats as crepes. I've been assured that they are very different from crepes...but...let me just tell you a secret. If you're not French or Russian, you would never know the difference. It does, however, irk me when it gets translated into English as "pancakes". They're not not the same at all. It'd be like mixing up toast and French toast...but without the bread...and....yeah

The direction that I was trying to go with this was that traditionally at the end of the week of Maslenitsa you burn a scarecrow lady, which symbolizes the burning of winter. Personally, I think that Russia should have burned winter months ago.

Alright, so I keep getting wrong numbers at my house, which is super obnoxious. Like this one guy who just called (and is calling me back right now). He clearly does not have the right number. I didn't quite catch who it was that was calling..but I can almost swear that it sounded like "военная служба"..which translates to armed perhaps it was a recruiting officer? Maybe he was trying to catch a young man trying to avoid the army? I have no idea. I'm probably making this all up, but I like my version best. Sometimes when I don't understand something in a conversation, I make up my own version of what happened, and it usually works out pretty well. This kind of reminds me of when I got a new cell phone in college. Apparently I got someone's old number (Chris), and he neglected to tell anyone..including his parents and parole officer...that his number had changed. Fun times.

Lately life has been pretty anti-climatic. I go to work, I go to Russian lessons, I come home, I make food, and I do stuff on the internet. Then I repeat. Sometimes I do things though! Such as go to the movies, which is how I celebrated "The Defenders of the Fatherland" day. The Black Swan, as it turns out (and as I already suspected) is a very creepy movie. My coordinator wanted to see it, and so she invited me to come along and keep her company, since her husband and son were going to go watch a manly fighting movie. I think that she was expecting a bit more ballet than gore, but it was still an interesting movie. I doubt that I'll watch it again any time soon though. Probably the best part is just that the person that I was with jumped and squealed any time anything scary happened, which was greatly amusing to me.

The rest of the holiday I spent trying to fix my computer, which I had inadvertently killed earlier in the day. As it turns out, I probably shouldn't try exploring the inner recesses of my computer and deleting programs. I guess some of them are actually there for a reason..although it certainly doesn't always seem like it. Luckily after much frustration and eventually just resetting it to its factory settings (meaning I completely lost everything...but not really because it saved all of my files in a backup folder), it is back to normal. There's just one thing that really bothers me though: my computer WILL NOT go above 87% charged anymore. Or rather, it will, but it won't say anything above 87%. Now to freak me out I think that it will go up to 100% charged, and then stop charging because it's done...and then still show it at 87%. Then I'll come along and see that it's not charging and fret and chastise my computer and fiddle with the plug and get all-around irritated. Mind games.

It's kind of crazy that I've already been here for 6 months, and that there are only 4 more to go. Although right now I think I'm hitting that crash stage where you really just want something exciting to happen. The everyday flow of life has gotten a bit mundane, and you need a little something to energize you for the push to the end. I have some potential plans to liven things up, but it that doesn't work then I might just have to jet (or train, as it is) out to Moscow to see some people and cheer myself up a little. It's amazing how small a city of about 1,000,000 people can feel sometimes. Also, they still haven't gotten tortilla chips back in the store, so sometime I will have to go to Moscow and bring back like 50 bags with me. I'm not joking. I am exaggerating a little'd probably only be 10.

Well, now I have to go off to work. Again. Didn't I just do this yesterday?

I'm really looking forward to some warm weather. It's not actually that cold, but I'm tired of wearing coats and hats and seeing dingy snow everywhere. I could really go for some green. And darkness..did you know that it's never actually completely dark in my apartment? I haven't seen the stars in months. That's city life for you though.

Ok, for real, I'm leaving now. If only I could remember if I've brushed my teeth yet or not....

I got in a fight today. Here's what happened:

the instigator

It all started innocently enough. I wanted pizza, so I thought that I'd try making some from scratch. First, this required making sauce. I've never made pizza sauce before, but I found a recipe that looked simple enough. There was one thing, however, that I didn't take into account: opening the jar. I was prepared for a lot of new challenges living alone, but I can't say that figuring out how to open tricky jars had been something that I'd worried about.

After straining and bruising my hands for about 5 minutes, I decided that it was time to try something else.

water torture

I figured that some hot water would do the trick. It didn't. Well...this brought up the question "just what DO you do when you're by yourself and a jar won't open?"

Usually you'd try to get another pair of hands to help you out. I didn't have that, so in desperation I decided to try to use all 4 of my limbs. Keep in mind I'd been trying to open this jar for a good 15 minutes by now.

When that didn't work I resorted to beating it. Despite my best efforts and threats, the jar WOULD NOT OPEN! After snarling angrily at the jar (what? I live by myself, I can do strange things), I sat back down at the computer to see what other tricks were out there. At this point a curious thing happened...the little button on top suddenly popped. "AH HA!" I MUST open now! Well, it still put up a good fight, but after some more pulling and beating I was at last VICTORIOUS!

don't mess with this

these are actual glass shards that came off of the jar with the devil sealant

I will crush you and eat your tomatoes for supper....or lunch tomorrow, since so much time was wasted trying to actually open the jar

THE FINAL REVIEW (Jan. 11 - Jan. 24):

My flight back to Moscow was, unfortunately, pretty eventful. A large part of this has to do with a certain man named Mike. I have never in my life met anyone like Mike, and I hope to never be seated on a plane next to someone like him again.

To clarify: I wasn't even directly next to him.

Here's how it starts: I'm happy that I made my flight out of Chicago, I'm investigating the cool cupholder thing built into the tray, and I'm trying to use my fancy American cell phone as much as possible in the last few minutes before takeoff. I'm seated in the middle row of one of the big international airliners (one with the 4 seats in the middle that have 2 aisle seats and no windows). I have the aisle seat on the left, which I'm pleased about because I'm starting to like aisles more than windows. As the plane fills, I note with glee that the seat to my right might remain empty. I'm already making plans for how I'll use it to stash my coat and book and anything else that I'd like to have at hand and not underfoot. In the seat adjacent to the empty one I note that there's a rather hefty man with unkempt long black hair and abrasive features, who is very pointedly attempting to make conversation with the young lady next to him.

"Whew," I think, "I'm so glad she's there to keep him occupied. I hate small talk, and I will totally fight him if he thinks he can have any of my empty chair space."

I ignore them for a while longer while I fiddle with my phone. Curiously enough, after a few minutes the young lady then says that she's feeling claustrophobic and is going to move to another seat.

"Odd," I say to myself, "I don't see how the back of the plane is any more claustrophobic than the front."

Yeah. She totally ditched me to fight off Mike myself. That !@#$*.

Then my hefty neighbor lethargically turns to me and says (in what I can only describe as a stoned voice): "Hey. I'm Mike."
I was having none of that. I put on my mean face that said "Oh, I'm sorry, were you talking to me? 'Cause I was definitely just sending the most important text of my life, which meant that there was absolutely no way that I heard you." He didn't seem to pick up on that. We then had the following conversation:

Mike: What's your name?
Me: ---
Mike: What's your name?
Me: *busy texting*...Amasdadmsafa
Mike: You American?
Me: ................................Yeah.
Mike: You got a boyfriend?
Me: Yes!
Mike: He American like you?
Me: mmmhmmm

At this point he gets up and moves into the empty seat next to me, taking over half of my seat with his bulk, and making me very angry. Remember that at this time there are now TWO empty seats in this row and he decides to sit right next to me!
Mike: You want some company? *holds out hand as if he intends for me to hold it*
Me: No.
Mike: Just a lil' bit?
Me: NO!.....could you SCOOT OVER?

He lumbers over one seat, but decides to drape his hand over the empty seat so that he can grasp my armrest. This irritates me to no end, and so I take my blanket and put it over his hand and continue to use my armrest. I do not give up armrests, ESPECIALLY if someone is reaching over an empty chair to take it from me!

Now the plane starts moving and I have to put my phone away. I then take the airline's magazine and read the letter from the president in English, French, and German. I can't read French or German, but I can certainly pretend and pretend that it's the most fascinating thing that I've ever read. All of this was done while looking severely to my left to avoid Mike's gaze. After an eternity the movies finally start, and I choose something that looks completely cheesy and try to shut out the world.

Mike, as it turns out, is an extremely lonely and needy man who has no sense of personal space or propriety. About 5 minutes in he pokes my arm. I don't deign to acknowledge it. He pokes it again and says: "Hello."........"Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello." I don't even look at him because "Going The Distance" is clearly the most magical film ever produced. Then Mike creepily waves his fingers in front of my face. Outraged, I turn to him and say "What you you want?!?!?!" which he replies "Why are you so quiet?" In extreme annoyance, I answer: "Because. I. Am. Watching. A. MOVIE!!!"

I guess some hint that I'm not into small talk finally makes it through his skull, so he heaves a sigh and decides to thrust his head through the space in the seats in front of him. Perhaps he pokes them too, because a little while later a stewardess comes by and very sternly tells him not to bother the other passengers, and then tells me and the people in front of him to let her know immediately if he does anything that makes them uncomfortable. He was not happy about this, and looked around and sighed a lot out of extreme boredom, but he didn't try to talk to me again, and I, for my part, made sure not to look to my right for 8 hours and 40 minutes.

Eventually I made it to Moscow, only to find that my bag was lost. It was lost for 4 days, which was extremely annoying, but luckily I was staying with Kendra for a week and her shirts fit me. We had a good time catching up, and stayed up way too late way too many times. I also learned that her daily commute is terrible and puts my 15 minute marshrutka ride to shame. It was also her birthday, and we got to celebrate (although a few days late) with a cake mix (and root beer) that I had smuggled back from America.

Then I had orientation, which was somewhat odd since I really hadn't thought about work for what seemed like months. It's good to meet with other people and exchange stories, but I can't say that I was at my social high point. Mostly I just really wanted to sleep. Most evenings I made the hour-long commute out to where Kendra lives to eat supper and hang out (since it will be a while before I see her again), and a couple of times I saw another friend who also happens to be in Moscow.

Now I'm back in my apartment, and it's odd. Although I've only been gone for 3 weeks, it feels like much longer. I don't have any kind of a schedule yet, and it might be a little while before I do since I think that regular classes don't start again until February. I've been hanging out almost exclusively with Americans for so long now that I think it's going to be a bit of a shock when I realize that I'm in Russia again.

Oh, also my 23rd birthday is coming up in less than a week. I have no idea how I'll celebrate, or if I will. I already had a birthday dinner with my parents, so I mostly feel like I already have celebrated. In Russia apparently the birthday person is supposed to cook a big meal for all of their guests. I can tell you now that that's definitely not happening..but perhaps I'll invite a couple of people to go out to eat and see a movie or something. I dunno, I haven't really thought it out yet.

Now, friends, you know all about what's been going on in my life!

REVIEW PART III (Dec. 30-Jan. 10):

Under the Fulbright program I'm only allowed to be out of the country for 14 days. I really think that I should have been allowed a month after the awful time I had trying to leave Russia. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but I did have a pretty fantastic time.
I was too busy to take many pictures, and most of the things that I did (while extremely fun for me) would not be very interesting to most of you, so I'm not going to write much about them.

Essentially, while I only had a few days, I did as much traveling as possible. First I stopped in Chicago for a couple of days, which is conveniently where Brian was for the holidays. I got some much needed food, rest, and company, and then I went on to Arizona to have late Christmas, actual New Year's, and early birthday celebrations with my parents. Unfortunately, Arizona was COLD, but that's ok because I really didn't go outside very often. Mostly I just enjoyed sleeping, watching movies, and eating lots of American food that I had missed. I was sad to leave when the time came, but not too bad since my vacation wasn't over yet.

From there I went to Minnesota to see Brian at his school for some much-needed catching up time. Unfortunately I spend most of my time these days in Russia, which is much too far away. Aside from the excellent company, it was nice to just be on a college campus again. Last year I mostly just wanted out, but colleges really do have a special atmosphere that you come to really miss when you leave. Plus Carleton has goldfish crackers in the cafeteria, which is awesome.

Sadly, my real departure date came much too quickly. Due to some vehicle snafus we had to scramble to get me to the airport on time, which didn't leave much time for thinking about the gravity of the situation. That was probably best, since no one likes long, drawn out, sniffly goodbyes. Once we got to the airport I only had 20 minutes, which is definitely the closest that I've ever gotten to the airport. The irony is that after pleading and begging my way in front of nearly everyone in the check-in and security lines, I got to my gate and found out that my flight was delayed by an hour and 40 minutes. I then awkwardly waited and hoped that no one that I had cut in front of saw me.

Vacation was wonderful...but much much too short!

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