Thursday, November 29, 2012

Home Again

Finally, finally home.

Saying Farewell to Sticky Fatboy.

We left Monday evening after dinner. It was a good thing we had the day to pack and prepare. We took a hired bus to the St.P airport(ending our stay with carsickness) and flew out around 10pm. We spent the night in Moscow and by the time we were settled in the airport lobby it was about 1am. I've personally decided that if I travel again, I'll simply pay more to avoid ten hour overnight layovers in airports, or book a hotel. I do not have the gift of being able to sleep in any circumstances. Then we had our ten hour flight over the ocean, also uncomfortable. At JFK I parted ways with the Ds for my connecting flights to MN and NE. Mentally, at this point, I wanted to run screaming through the airport looking for a bed. But I managed not to.

All-in-all my trip was made up of about forty-eight hours awake, with fourteen in the air and twenty in layovers. I had been so dreading the trip. It was just as terribly long and horribly uncomfortable as I expected, and I'm so glad it's over.

Monday, November 26, 2012

As they say in Russia, SpaZebra!

"Thank you" in Russian is said "Spasiba" (Спасибо= Thank you). It's one word we know and say often. Friend H made a joke of saying it "Spazebra." It just sounds better that way. We're all very thankful for our new Russian and American missionary friends and the kindness they've shown us during out time here. Even Dog Evil crowned himself with distinction by relieving himself three times in the apartment the morning of departure. He wanted to make sure we wouldn't forget him.


We're down to our final hours in Russia. Living a few blocks from smokestacks of StP and Tsarist palaces has been nothing if not different and interesting. It's a mixture of history that reminds me of the rooftop scene in Mary Poppins and grandeur of Downton Abbey. The stark and gloomy side makes me think of the triology of Bourne movies(part of the Bourne Supremecy is based in Moscow). Everyone looks like an assassin here, if only because people don't smile so much. 

Sunday night at the  Михайловский Театр(Mikhailovsky Theatre). 
We finished off our time here by going to a Children's Ballet. 
Departure in three hours!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Russian Thanksgiving

Today, Friday, we all celebrated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Russia, so the Ps have a tradition of inviting over other missionaries for a noon feast for a traditional American meal. Most of the people who came today are part of the Christian School here. 

The P apartment Ladies in the obligatory feather caps

The meal was amazing. We were stuffed. Then, since Friend H is homesick and I'm worn out, we agreed that if we became overpeoplewhelmed in the now even fuller apartment we would simply go for a walk. We did walk down to Smolney after lunch

 Sticky and Miss K trying on hats. Most of them turned out small for adult heads,
 which resulted in a lot of fittings and some precarious headgear.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


 Mr. C in front of a Russian conveyance structure.

Tonight Friend H and I went out for dinner. At this point in the venture I think we're both searching for a dredge of sanity, which is not to be found in great supply at the apartment. So we combined a bit of gift shopping with a nice dinner at the Galleria Mall. The Galleria is pretty fancy and mostly way too expensive for me, and there are SO MANY people(all smoking, of course). We ate at a sit-down place called the Eggplant. Eating a nice dinner alone was worth the extra cost, and the food was really good. I had a lamb pilaf, and we split a bread bowl that had hot cheese and butter in the scoop. When the bread arrived on the table the waitress added a raw egg and stirred it up in the center, and the egg cooked in the hot cheese and butter.

Svorosky Prospect, the street we live on.

I'm still working on Christmas presents for the family. I'm having terrible trouble with gifts for all the boys. None of the normal tourist gifts really apply to men, and the tourist T-shirts here are awful. There ought to be T-shirts that say things like "I got squished by a Babushka in Russia" or "I wrestled a Dagostani on vacation" or "I survived being a missionary nanny."

Friend H at the Eggplant with some amazingly sweet and oh-so-cute looking macaroons that Mrs. P bought for me. We snuck them in for dessert.

The Ds and Mr. P arrived back on Tuesday, and we're fast moving into our last few busy days in Russia. Tomorrow we're celebrating a birthday, followed by Thanksgiving in Russia and a trip back to Vyborg, ending with a visit to the ballet on Sunday. Then on to my forty hour journey home.

Monday, November 19, 2012

One Saturday Remaining

This past Saturday Mrs. P suggested we visit the St.P museum of Ethnography, and we needed to get out, so we suited up and headed out. I was driving the two-seater stroller on the way there(which is rare), and I ended up running over everyone's toes on the trolly bus trying to gain a steady position. I felt really bad about that.

 The museum was full of ethnic costumes made of furs, linen and wool and decorated in embroidery, trims, beadwork, and lace.

I've been wondering if I'll notice anything in particular when I get home. One pleasant change will be the absence of ever-present smell of cigarette smoke wafting through the window, and the sound of continual traffic, which I've actually grown used to enough to sleep through it. The car horns are bad, though. When drivers get mad they lay on the horn, and it's pretty loud. Friend H and I have a running joke about throwing the bunny and cage out the window onto the offenders below. Once home, gone will be the weird youtube ads in Russian, and gone will be the dog who eats any food available plus the garbage and then deposits the results around the house.

 Clothes from the chilly part of the world. I sewed with fur once, and it went badly.

There was a hall of modern fashion based on traditional western Russian dress. They weren't anything I would wear, but they were interesting nonetheless.

Amazingly, in America, almost everyone will speak English and I'll be able to communicate without pointing, and people might actually smile once in a while. There will be way less walking and way less people everywhere, staring openly. And there might be a little more sunshine.

We're still working through the flu here; most of the kids have had a mild case. The Ps succumbed yesterday and had to miss church. One of the church men, a very(very, very) outgoing man named Deema, brought them communion later in the afternoon. The Nannies are holding out to be healthy.

Random facts, Sticky Fatboy is obsessed with cars. Mr. W thought that leopards had wings, and is allergic to ketchup. Miss K didn't believe that the world spins round. Girls whine more than boys.

 And thus ended our second to last weekend in the country of Russia.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Mysterious Adventures of Sticky Fatboy

One night when I was focused on a pile of dirty dishes Friend H picked up a random book to read aloud, to keep the children quiet and to ease my labor. The book was one of the Mysterious Benedict Society series, which I have never read. It's a sort of wordy fantasy mystery story. The characters all have odd names, like Raynie Muldoon and Sticky Washington. The kids enjoyed the story and the dishes got done faster.

You talking 'bout me?

The other night while cleaning up Mr. J we got to joking around how dirty and plump he was, and how we should call him Sticky Fatboy, or Sticky Fussypants, like a character in the book. The name stuck, no pun intended.

Last night at dinner we had a rousing time discussing this and that, and about midway through Friend H looked at Sticky sitting next to her and said, is he choking? Sticky Fatboy had been feeding the long end of his bib clasp down the nearest hole available and hadn't realized this was the cause of his own purple face.

Sticky has also been trying to lock himself in the bathroom, among other things. Then I found him on a stool in the kitchen, sucking on a dishcloth. Not even a prison cell would be child-proof for this child. This morning Sticky was hanging out in the laundry room while I was making sandwiches in the kitchen, and he found a toy in there that almost gave Friend H a heart attack- a hatchet. Goodness knows what a sweet missionary family in Russia needs with a hatchet, but hopefully it was something other than what Sticky had in mind.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It was a Dark and Rainy Morning.....

....when we visited the Russian Museum. The RM is where Russian art is displayed, as opposed to the Hermitage, where all the other stuff is. The RM is also, I think, a lot more doable with children. It's smaller and less overwhelming, and the paintings were more story-like and easy for the kids to enjoy. There were less stairways, too.

This painting of Pompeii was enormous, bigger than my living room wall back home. On the opposite wall there was one just as big of a raging ocean and a sinking ship, with a distinct smell of oil paint overall.

The six oldest D children with very sweet smiles. For Trip 2(Friday-Tuesday) the D parents are taking Baby O, Miss T(the oldest) and Mr. C, who is a very sweet six year old. That leaves five children to two nannies and three evening helpers. So, if Nanny 2 and Mr. A can keep their competitive debate to a reasonable level and Grandma's health stays stable I think we should do alright on our last days here.

I enjoyed the museum's folk art section, even though most of it was not very old. There were traditional outfits, enormous sections of bobbin lace, and clever carved wood toys that the kids really liked.

This is Pushkin. He was a famous Russian poet who died rather foolishly, shot through the spleen in a duel. We finished off the day and our feet(or are my feet only ones that feel like they've been through the inquisition at the end of the day?) by visiting the market again. The outdoor market has all types of matryoshka dolls, hand-painted and carved ornaments and traditional scarves for outrageous prices that one must wrestle down to reason. Having purchased my obligatory matryoshka, I hope I've conquered the market here. It's funny, whenever we go out we see the stretch Hummers and limo with bridal parties out taking pictures and the cheesy costumed people(POLYESTER!) dressed as Peter the Great and Catherine. They need makeovers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Catching Up

Since I've lately had some new visitors from my entry on Fresh Modesty. To answer a few questions:
My blog title "The Marchioness" is taken from a character in Charles Dickens' book "Old Curiosity Shop." I love Dickens' works, and that particular character seemed a humorous comparison to myself. I've been blogging since I was seventeen, although I've changed my blog address since then

Messrs. W and J hanging out in the laundry room

I am in Russia because I'm of the mind that when travel opportunities come along I should take them, especially right now while I'm single(which is hopefully not permanent). This particular opportunity came along at Presbytery last May, when the Ds mentioned they were looking for nannies to go with them to Russia. The Ds have eight children under almost thirteen, and knowing they would have a busy speaking schedule while overseas they sought out extra help.

Monday morning I found out that Grandma had been admitted to the hospital on Saturday, her ninety-fourth birthday. She's now home on Hospice, but we don't expect her to live very much longer. It's been frustrating, stressful and depressing to have this going round in my head. I'm hoping she can hold out for eleven more days.

Feeding the birds leftover lunch.

The D parents arrived home from Trip 1 on Monday night. As a welcome home I made "my" chocolate cake(recipe here). It turned out different than normal, probably because I haven't figured out the oven temperature controls. Thankfully frosting covers a multitude of sins. The frosting turned out super rich because the only plain chocolate at the corner store was 90%. Wow. That was a good Russian experience.

The Ds second speaking trip was still up in the air late last night. They sent out a request for additional funds, since the money for Trip 2 was spent on the extra visa costs(Many thanks to the T family for covering all my remaining expenses!) and extra funds did come in; but the schedule was still in question. In fact, it was changing every hour and I got to the point of thinking JUST GO ALREADY! Mentally, of course. I would never say that. Today they're booking flights, so I think the trip is a go.  

In other news, Miss N threw up last night.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sightseeing is Exhausting

Friend H invited me to go out sightseeing with her on Saturday, an offer I couldn't turn down. Since Friend H is volunteering at the school on weekdays she can only get out on the weekend. Apparently she felt like having a bit of company during her leisure time. And with her boyfriend fifty seven million miles away, I must be the next best thing.

This is what our street looks like at 9am in the morning by the bus stop. Smolny is in the background and it was another clear day(that makes, like, three this month!). Our child-free goal was to leave the apartment by 9am. We felt very adventurous and daring going about by ourselves. We took bus 11 again down Nevsky to the bus stop in front of the Hermitage and then walked(walked, walked, walked) across the bridge to Peter and Paul Fortress.

Looking back over the bridge from whence we came. 
Leaving early as we did(9am) we totally missed morning rush hour, which was nice. Being jostled on the street and standing in a crowded trolly bus are certainly part of the required Russian experience, but one best taken when in a stalwart mood and not on a full day of walking about.

 One adult entrance ticket into Peter and Paul was 270 Rubles. The admission tickets gave entrance to Cathedral, which is under construction, the prison, the Commandant's House Museum, and two smaller museum rooms with drawings and information about the building of the fortress. There were various other small museum rooms about the place that required separate tickets. Overall I would not recommend P&P for young children. The museums had a lot of text to read and probably 80% of it was in Russian. Seeing the graves of the Tsars from Peter the Great to Nicholas 2 was neat, but the construction in the Cathedral took a lot out of the experience. It was, overall, a beautiful place for a walk.

A shield on display in the Commandant's House Museum. 
Our goal was to get through the Commandants' house in time to be outside for the 12pm cannon shot.

We got waylayed by certain exhibits. We had just gotten our coats from the coat check(we tried to avoid it, but the bored guard enforced it) and were ten steps from the door when the cannon went off. Friend H thought this was hilarious.

Continuing the big door/small woman theme, here's the gate out to the quay. It costs extra to go up on the fortress wall, but there was still a very nice view from the dock, for Free! We even stuck our shoe tips into the Neva River. All these old buildings and bumpy cobblestone streets make me long for my stays and petticoats and American Duchess shoes.

From the quay we walked through the museum rooms where we enjoyed the warmth and a hilarious video of St. Petersburg's three hundredth anniversary fireworks in high speed. Then we ended our tour on a dark note by finishing at at the prison. From there we walked forever, haggled at the market(by ourselves!) and met up with Nanny 2 and the kids at Carl's Jr for some much needed repast.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like all I ever do is sightsee, though that tends to be the exciting part worth posting about. It's hard to make whiny children and laundry and schoolwork interesting enough to type out and make public. I'm also trying to guard the privacy of the people I'm living with, as much as I would like to vent at times. I will say it has been somewhat emotionally stressful for all of us to work together with so many equal authority figures(Really, I feel sorry for the kids), and to always be with people who had never met eachother until a few weeks ago. We have two weeks left, and as our time escalates near the finish I expect we may struggle more with short tempers and sinful irritations. That will be the time that I personally will need to guard from laziness, and to work in supporting the D parents in their work. If you're praying for our trip, many thanks. And friends, do know that I am free to skype most mornings. I would appreciate the encouragement of seeing friends from home.

Directing attention elsewhere: Living with the very nearly engaged Friend H, the topic of singleness and marriage comes up a lot. It made me think of this sweet story from last summer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gelato in the Rain and Taxidermied Animals

Number 258 on the "Things I did not expect to see in Russia" list: The skeleton of a Blue Whale.

We spent the week mostly in domestic pursuits, school, feeding people, cleaning up from feeding people, and keeping people in line. The other night Mrs. P treated us to gelato from a (relatively) nearby store. We suited up and walked(walked, walked, walked) to this cute little place with a friendly Italian owner and picked out two scoops each. Mine was raspberry and chocolate. On the way back it started raining and by the time we got home we were all wet, chilled, and ready for bed.

Today after lunch and school we took the much hated but necessary bus number 11 down past the bridge to the Zoological Museum. It's a lot of work to get the kids ready to go out and haul the stroller too, but we've been doing school pretty faithfully and it was good to get out.

 Plus, where else would we have gotten to see centuries-old mummified cats, embalmed creatures, wooly mammoths, pinned bugs as big as my hand, and giant whale skeletons? Above is the Narwhal skeleton.

The kids loved it. Even Jackson was able to run all over since most of the exhibits were behind glass. Right now we have six people under thirteen and five over fifteen, so it's really a pretty good youth/older ratio. It's hard to believe we have less than three weeks left. I don't know what may happen in our remaining time here; the D's second trip away is in question, so if they end up spending all the rest in St.P our time will be a little different than expected.

This was the more attractive part of the bug section. Those huge horned beetles that you always think of in relation to a horrible south American jungle filled with murderous cannibals? They had those, too.

 Now, you might think this is a big fish. But it's actually not. This is a comparatively small fish when you see some of the other displays.

A turtle skeleton and Calvin. They had every classification of animal in every size preserved from the time of Peter the Great on. 

Taxidermy: anatomy , anhydration, animal physiology, anthropology, biology, blast-freezing, bottling, brining, canning, comparative anatomy, curing, desiccation, dry-curing, embalming, entomology, ethology, evaporation, freeze-drying, helminthology, marination, mummification, ornithology, pickling, protozoology, quick-freezing, smoking, stuffing, taxonomy, zoology, zootaxy.

A frozen baby mammoth. Sadly there's not room here for my photos of liquid preserved squid, the giant mammoth without much hair left, the giant crabs and vultures, and hairy camels. There were also Siberian wolves who looked totally nasty("He is scared of the wolves," Antonia whispered to me. "In his country there are very many, and they eat men and women.") and anaconda snakes as thick around as my waist. All stuffed, of course.

On the way back to the bus stop by the bridge across the Neva was actually saw a live animal: a bear with his owner. The bear was drinking milk at the time, and we didn't wait around to see if it actually would dance to the music. Being so close to a loose bear, even though it did have a muzzle, made Mrs. P very nervous and the children very excited. And thus ended the day.

The Hermitage building.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dearly Departed Ds

This morning the D parents and two of the D offspring left for a week long speaking tour on the other side of the country. To illustrate how far it is from one side of Russia to the other: it's seven time zones from NY to St. P; it's also seven times zones from St.P to Vladivostok. So now Nanny 2 and I are now officially in charge of laundry, cooking, clean up, and oh yes, the children, with the much appreciated sometime help of Miss P, Mrs. P, and Friend H.

On the way to church last Sunday: Me, Friend H, and Miss T.

We two Nannies, one an enthusiastic, outgoing seventeen year old from California and the other a fairly quiet twenty-four year old spinster from Nebraska, must achieve a balance of authority over six lively children between the ages of almost thirteen and one.

Pray for us.

It's voting day back home. I've been so disconnected from the political area this past year it feels a little unreal. Even though I did change my voting location after we moved, I didn't have time before my trip to find out about early voting or voting overseas, so I ended up not voting. After being so involved in the election cycles the last six years it's rather nice to take a break.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Another Day, Another Palace

Miss P is on school break and Mrs. P is back from her father's funeral, so today we all went to the Catherine Palace and Gardens in Pushkin, which is now a wealthy suburb of St.P. We walked the five blocks to the metro station and sped away: about four stops on the orange metro line and five on the blue- and then took a taxi bus to the Palace. All in all it took about fifty minutes one-way. 

 We all enjoy taking the metro except for getting through the entryway turnstiles- they sometimes get stuck and it's a pain. I dread the turnstiles. Everyone enjoys the super long escalator and trying to stand on the super fast train. Photos aren't technically allowed in the metro, because it's also a fallout shelter. Inside all the train doors there's a sign: "Do not lean against the door!" and also in Russian: "Не прислоняться!" We were joking about how "Do not lean against the door" must translate into Russian: "Do notleanagainstthedoor." Mrs. P said the literal translation for the Russian is "do not lean your elephant against the door." We thought that was pretty funny.

It was grey again. I think it's just always going to be grey, which is fine with me, but it's hard to take good photos.

We didn't go into the Palace. The line was a mile long and I'm sure it cost. We walked around the gardens, which were amazing even in the off-season. It must be so beautiful in the summer, though I hear the crowds of people are constant. I prefer empty gardens, personally. There are so many people in St.P.

 I wouldn't mind exploring a house this size.

Walking all over is exhausting. It reminds me of my time in Scotland. Other than during the political season we don't walk this much back home. Today we walked and walked and walked all day. buying those $8 boots from Goodwill the week before I left was the best trip investment yet.

Some servants stairs outside the bathroom. Or, as it's called on the English signs here, the WC- water closet. You had to pay 20 Rubles to use the bathroom, and one of my coins was rejected as out-of-date, being from 1993.

Finally, a door my size! There were all sorts of small buildings scattered throughout the gardens. One can imagine all sorts of dramatic and romantic meetings and duels happening, back in the day. It made me particularly think of Christa back home(you would have loved it, Christa!).

An example of the buildings on the Palace grounds: There was a whole small village made up of Chinese architecture on the grounds. It wasn't open to the public, but you could see it from across the stream.

Another outbuilding.

A quaint bridge.

A grand bridge. 
Yesterday this blog passed the 100 mark with 112 official pageviews. I think that's pretty exciting, though I'm still unsure if it's all due my parents checking frequently.

Another outbuilding, taken on the way out. This is about where we lost Mr. A as he stopped to tie his shoe in the crowd of tourists. We got a few blocks away before someone noticed he was missing. Thankfully Mr. A, being eleven years of age, has good presence of mind and was thus quickly found. We walked around the nearby outdoor market (which was selling mostly clothing and produce) and then headed on home. Remember our latest drunken drama story? Apparently those drunk men from the other night were from Dagestan, probably illegal immigrants here working on a nearby construction site. We've seen one of them at the store twice since then.