27 February 2013


As I was sitting in my warm and empty classroom, drinking tea and listening to music, I began to think about when I decided I wanted to go abroad.

Ben and I had been tossing the idea around for awhile, but it wasn't until the fall of our "other" senior year that our plans began to take the form of actions. Aaaaand I began to feel hesitant. No, this isn't where my life is supposed to take me. I want to write about music in New York or L.A. not travel across the world to hold a "real" job. I'm not the type who travels--I'm too nervous. Too shy. Too "American". I'll never figure it out. I'll stick out, not make friends, getdepressedfailfreakoutgetrobbedetc. 
I asked my most trusted professor-- he told me to go for it. It will only help your writing, he told me.
I just don't know if I see myself living that kind of life... it's just not what I had been planning, I told him.

Everything felt torn between something for quite awhile until I read the forward of a collection of short stories--I think it was by Stephen King actually--that said (something like), "Go live. Move to another country. Eat food you would never normally eat. Learn a new language. Then when you come back, even if you're still writing about hooking up with a narcissistic biology major in your dorm room, at least you will have lived and the writing will be so much more."
It was much more eloquent wherever I read it, I'm sure, but that's all my memory has for today.

Anyway, I'm not sure why, but that was the most reassuring thing I could have ever read. I had to go abroad. I had to figure out how to make it work. These were things I needed to do. I committed my heart and time to finding a place for me in the world and now here I sit in a small classroom on a forested, snowy street in Moscow. I think of my life and all that has changed about my mindsets. There are so many things I already think about differently not that I have spent time abroad.

I appreciate the Russian mindset. I have come to understand why they do things differently than maybe I would, and I have accepted their culture. One of the main things I'm referring to here is the enormous fur trade that goes on in Russia. There's actually so much fur everywhere, it was startling to me the first week we were here. But since being here awhile and speaking to a few Russians about it, I see the Russian mindset when it comes to fur: it's tradition and it's warmth. Russians do not think about animals the same way Americans do. I'm not saying I agree with it, but I accept it and live amongst it, respectfully.

I understand the hardships this country has been through. And some of the aftereffects of the Soviet Union and communist reign. Some of them are as large as marble murals in Metro stations. Some of them hover over you in the form of threatening buildings built to remind you that you are small, you are just a Muscovite. Other details are so small, you might not even notice them, or worse--misunderstand them. My students cheat on their tests--and in front of me. This is not them being dishonest. This is a cultural thing left over from a time when everyone was "equal" and cheating was the only way to get ahead. This concept has been passed down through generations and Russians really don't see it as anything immoral or wrong. Even my wonderful and motherly administrator  was extremely surprised to learn that Ben and I had never (well, not never, but not since middle school!) cheated on tests.
I have said this before and I'll say it again: Moscow is a very emotional city. It has been burned, it has been seized, it has stopped wars and threatened to start them. To not think about that every time you walk through her streets would be a crime.

I greatly appreciate people who have immigrated to the United States. Especially my grandparents. This topic really deserves it's own post, but I'll touch on it briefly right now. Never before would I have ever been able to picture or understand the feelings that go along with living in a place where you cannot speak or read the language. It is such an overwhelming feeling and many times, kind of embarrassing. But when I feel upset by these circumstances, I think of the millions of people who have come to America and worked their way up from nothing. Some people (like my grandparents) came to America without having even the slightest bit of information about it! No internet! No chances to learn English in their home country! All they had were rumors and the faith that a better life was just across the ocean. It's such an admirable thing, I feel overwhelmed just typing about it. To just climb on a boat with a small child and head out into the great unknown... it takes a type of courage I have never really been able to even scratch the surface of until now. Really, my heart has never before understood the life of an immigrant. I'm not even saying it does now, but at least I now know what it feels like to be lost in translation.

I have learned to live without some comforts. All my water must come from bottles. The plumbing system is as old as Moscow itself and is essentially, undrinkable. So large jugs of water must be bought every week and hauled home. We forgot to pick some up one day and ate a bag of pistachios. Quite the mistake. I don't know if this counts as a comfort, but I have had a hard time using so much plastic and then not being able to recycle it. I feel guilty and strange throwing so much plastic into the trash.
There are other comforts I do without, like "my" products at the store (no more clean shampoo... organic is just not a word heard here) or foods I really loved (bagels. Really hurting without my bagels. And candy--America has the sweetest candy...nothing tastes right here). These are all minor, I know, but they still took some getting used to.

I have become more patient. Maybe it's because I literally can't be anything but patient, haha. Because I have to wait for Ben's translations or people to understand my broken Russian (or my understanding of their broken English) I have become much more quiet and steady. This is something I have needed like, my whole life so it's good that I am taking my time and learning not to grow irritated when interactions are not going at my desired pace.

This really has been a time of magical thinking for me. I have embraced all that is around me so much so that things like the cold or language barriers have shrunk under the excitement I feel when I see a beautiful church or funky shop. I have not been doing as much creative writing as I would have liked, but that's just not where my focus is right now. I keep my notes and I take my photographs, but right now everything is about experience and I am just  d r i n k i n g  it in.

26 February 2013

Watch: Home Movies

So my parents have recently uploaded the majority of our home videos to a website and Ben and I have spent the last few nights going through the archives and laughing our heads off at the strangeness that was me as a child. When I was three, a freak storm caused my house to burn down and as a result, I have a very vivid memory of my childhood. I believe this comes from a type of awakening that can maybe occur after one goes through a trauma. Regardless, I seem to recall almost everything about my life after the fire, but some of these videos of the short while before it occurred were surprising to me. 

Like, I called my parents 'mother' and 'father'? How weird is that?

Anyway, this one was by far our favorite and Ben has been quoting it all week. Cracks us up every time... 

"So deep... I can't go in there."

25 February 2013

School Daze

We get little treats from our students and their parents : )

Thanks to Ben's mom for this idea! I use plastic hammers that make a funny
 sound instead of fly swatters, but the kids love this game.

Oh, teaching. Another Monday morning. 
Lately, I've felt incredibly compelled to write to every teacher I've ever had and thank them for all the hard work they put in. Teaching children is no joke. I have developed such a strong appreciation for everything that is the art of helping someone to learn.

Today I begin my toddlers class which I'm very excited about. The program is called "Cookie and Friends" and I use a pink tiger puppet to teach little Russian cuties how to speak English. I hope it goes well... I'm wearing my lucky duck dress

Gosh, I really love teaching. I love the chance to be creative and helpful and to see my hard work pay off in the form of compliments from parents and students who are actually progressing when it comes to their language abilities. It's so incredibly rewarding, I'm wondering more and more if this is something I might want to continue doing in terms of a career. 

I had originally been studying Education in college, but when I transfered to sweet little Beloit, I gave up the resources of the big state school and found myself in classes that worked on the philosophy behind teaching and various methods, which I didn't find very helpful in terms of actually being in a classroom and working with students. We also did our field work in the Beloit School District which was quite startling for me. Beloit schools rank extremely low in comparison to the other schools in the state and the students I was interacting with were very difficult to work with. It was discouraging to say the least and by the beginning of my junior year, I was ready to call it quits and focus on my writing. 

I am happy the way my college experience turned out because I could never imagine not having my degree in Creative Writing and I certainly would not have been able to focus on it the way I did had I been double-majoring in Education and Youth Studies. I just don't think Beloit was the right place for me to learn how to be a teacher, but that doesn't mean the idea is off the table for me just yet. I feel very passionate and excited about the work I'm doing and I really hope these feelings only continue to grow. 

Well, I hope you have an easy Monday... and that you enjoyed watching the Oscars! Ben and I missed them, obviously (it was 4 in the morning or something for us when they aired), but are excited to watch the films that won! First up is of course Argo, but I'm really excited for Silver Linings Playbook. I love Jennifer Lawrence and it looked so good. Hopefully Ben and I aren't too tired when we get home tonight because Russia doesn't have very strict laws about illegally downloading films, so we can watch pretty much anything fairly easily (with the occasional dubbed Russian voices, haha). Cheers!

21 February 2013

soft moments

I was walking past the kitchen on my fourth day off from work with the flu, when I saw this light leaking into the kitchen, creating perfect golden ponds on the walls and floor. It's been a dark winter here in Russia, and catching a glimpse of the sweet sun has been rare. I stood transfixed as the light crept higher and higher up towards the ceiling, dwarfing me.

I had left a vase of dying roses in the kitchen that I was planning to cut and save as well as a few pastries Ben and I bought this morning from a stand outside our apartment. The sun just curled and spoiled around them, filling the entire room with vibrating life. I stood for a few moments in awe of the quiet moment and then I grabbed my camera to capture it.
Pictures don't do this moment of sunshine justice, but I had to keep it.

"live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild, wild air..."

There have been a lot of anxieties in this little home. The double u's have come. Worry, worry, worry. Our jobs ask a lot of us and it is stressful to meet every demand. The MCATs are approaching and Ben is studying harder than ever. And he's worried. He's not sure if he's ready, but plane tickets to Munich (the closest testing station to Moscow) must be bought, a seat must be reserved. Decisions and responsibilities loom over us constantly. Everything is pressing and adulthood did not wait for us to settle into a post-college groove. It came for us quickly and there are times I feel like I've lost my gravity. 

But then there is sunshine in your kitchen, and the promise of weekend mornings, and walks through your snowy neighborhood, and croissants from the bakery to remind you that you are alive and good and that your worries are important worries, but they will pass. These are important things to remember and never take for granted. 

20 February 2013

films i watched this week

This week has been a week of films. They were all so powerful and thoughtful, I'd feel wrong not sharing.

Another Earth shook something in me. I watched it under the premise that it was a sci-fi film, which it is in some ways, but the human story that did unfold was incredibly touching and caused many conversations about life and second chances over here. This movie is more like a visual poem than a romance or science fiction film. It's about a girl named Rhoda who ruins her life by a poor choice just as another planet, an identical planet begins to approach Earth. When Rhoda enters back into society four years later, the second planet is closer to our Earth than the moon and expeditions abroad are preparing to take place. Rhoda wanders around somewhat trying to repair her horrible mistake all while philosophical questions are asked in the background about life and the ideas of parallel universes.

I know this is a little vague, but I want you to be surprised if you ever get around to watching it. After Ben and I watched this, he fell asleep and I sent him an email about all my thoughts and he wrote back the next morning challenging my ideas with some really great ones of his own. There are also just some terrific lines in this movie. Watch it. It's an interesting one.

This trailer does not do the film justice. Not at all. This film broke my heart in the same way Blue Valentine did. The director Sarah Polley makes really detailed and thoughtful films and this one is no exception. This film is visually honest (no airbrushing-- the characters wear no makeup, sweat in the heat of the summer, and in one particularly beautiful scene you can see the hair on Michelle Williams' arm caught in the sunlight and it's incredibly sweet and real) as well as emotionally. It's about a woman, Margot, who is happily married, but meets a new neighbor who she has an instant attraction to. Though she has a good relationship with her husband and is very close to his family, she wants more out of her life.

The choices made in this film are real and painful. I'm sure anyone who watches this will be able to relate to any or all of the characters at some point or another. All the conversations and feelings expressed make you feel like you're sitting in the room with the characters. I felt very melancholy after watching this, but I had to appreciate the acting and the truth of this film. Sarah Silverman also gives a very touching performance as a recovering alcoholic.

Aaaaaaaand this one. Oh man. It's a classic of Robert Altman's and it's called 3 Women. It also has super young Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall which is great. It's about a girl named Pinky (Spacek) who moves in with her mundane coworker Millie (Duvall). Millie thinks she lives this really glamorous life, but it's actually pretty quiet and self-obsessed. The movie really seems like it's going to be about these two whimsical, enchanting women until innocent moments begin to become unsettling.

Stylistically, this movie is awesome. It is very eerie and quiet in that way seventies horror movies are and the music is just so perfect. Altman actually said that the idea of the film came to him during a dream and I can completely see that as the whole seems like something out of a strange imagination. It's really good, especially if you have the patience to sit through an art film.

19 February 2013

Sick Daze pt. 2

It happened. And I knew it would. 

To be honest, I can't believe I haven't gotten sick yet. Between the travel, living in a city, and the teaching of children all day, it's a miracle I've lasted an entire month (!!) in Russia. 

Oh, I was naive. A child. Reckless and running through the streets of Moscow in thin tights, without a hat! All because I wanted my top knot to make it to the club...
But that was then and I've changed. I'm a new woman. A woman who gets flu shots and carries antibacterial soap with her. A woman who goes home after work when she feels a cough brewing in her chest. A woman, who does not scoff at tea.

Maybe I didn't learn last time, but now... now my friends, I will fear the flu.

I had to chase my 25 drops of medicine with strawberry milk. It. Was. Not. Pleasant. 

So, get flu shots, my friends. Or shoot yourself up with vitamin C, whatever you have to. Beware the winter germs of death. That is all. 

17 February 2013

making do with what you have/cream cheese monkey bread

The snow stopped just when I was beginning to think it never would. The sun began to peek through the clouds and Moscow left it's monochromatic setting and burst into deep, vivid colors.

Though I am drenched in flu, I have spent my mornings photographing the plants and figurines around my apartment, ignoring Ben's pleas for me to go and rest. My mind is still curious even if my throat has closed and I cannot speak.

I don't know if it's being in a foreign country, or having very, very little money, or even a combination of both, but since coming to Russia, there have been many things that Ben and I have had to compromise on. Most of what I'm talking about has to do with our everyday comforts and food, but they are all things we have learned we can just "tough out".

I have grown greatly as a person in this last month. The buzzing and blooming confusion that was my birth into this new world has subsided and now, now I am living and moving and becoming not the Lisa who came to Russia, but the Lisa that is in Russia. The simplicity I had become accustomed to--Walgreens on the street corner, my mother a telephone call away, labels written in a language I could understand-has been removed and I had no choice but to accept and conquer.

Moving to Russia is a wake-up call. It's a slap in the face. It's a kick in the shins. It's a meteorite tumbling into the mountains in your backyard.

But you make your adjustments. You learn that food, no matter how many times you've made it, will never taste right and signs, no matter how many hours you sit with your dog-eared Russian phrasebook, you will not be able to read the labels on packages within a month. You learn, you learn, you feel lost for a moment, and then you have learned.

It's a good, healthy thing to be poor. To be a little lost. To forget all the words of your own language and immerse yourself in that of another's.

And with that I present to you our version of this version of Cream Cheese Monkey Bread. Enjoy.

You will need dough, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, cream cheese, and milk (for drinkin'!)

Fill some dough with some cream cheese.

Mix cinnamon and sugars together. 

Write your thoughts down. Always.

Still rockin that flu look.


15 February 2013

This week...

We had a little snow.

I got some pretty little roses after a bummer day. 

I made dinners every night.

I learned four new words: quiet, healthy, not dangerous (there is no word for safe, haha), and good-bye (polite).

Ben begged me to find a new chore for him because he despises doing dishes. So I gave him the chore that haunted my childhood. I'm looking at you here, Mom! ; )

Chicken burgers with cucumbers, lettuce with some traditional Russian greek yogurt/sour cream stuff. Handmade by me :) recipe here.

I don't know if you've heard, but Mother Russia was hit by a meteorite this morning. I'm listening to The Breeders and The B-52's and expecting spooky things to happen...

14 February 2013

sweet, love daze

I love Valentine's Day. 
The whole "holiday" has gotten such a bad rap because of obnoxious pink candy aisles in Walgreens and Hallmark cards that sing Taylor Swift songs at you, but all and and all, I think it's nice to take some time and reflect on the love you have in your life. 

I'm very grateful this Valentine's Day. I had to wake up extremely early to cover a class in the center of Moscow and Ben not only came with me, but woke up early and made me his amazing Apple Cinnamon Crepes.  Oh, it was such a sweet treat and made the hour long metro ride so much more enjoyable with warm, sugary apples sliding around in my stomach. 

Russians don't celebrate Valentine's Day, so Ben and I have been alone in our Love Day except for a small cafe we stopped in for lunch. I caught the waiter a few times smiling at us, and after awhile he shyly came over with this heart shaped macaroon and set it on the table. It was such a nice gesture and so much more appreciated when you live in a country where the people tend to keep their smiles to themselves. 

I feel like since coming to Russia, I have felt so much love all over my life. Obviously, Ben and I have grown so much closer since embarking on this insane experience together, but I also have felt a lot of love and support from my family and friends. So many people, from distance cousins to people I haven't spoken with since high school, have sent me messages of encouragement since I made my decision to live abroad and it has just meant the world to me. It has been a very loving time in my life. 

So these are my thoughts on Valentine's Day. One of my student's brought me a strawberry and brandy cake-- my first gift from a Russian! Russians are notorious gift-givers... if you walk around the streets, you'll see an obscene amount of people with flowers or presents, so I felt extra excited to be included. 

I hope everyone reading this had a day filled with love. In anyway it may have come. 

11 February 2013


The Bolshoi Theater. Probably one of the most important ballet theaters in the world.
How amazing is it to live in a city? Where everywhere you go, there is a new adventure, a new photograph, a new person to wonder about? I am so in awe of Moscow constantly, if I were to really photograph everything I saw and loved on a daily basis, I would never get anywhere. I took these iPhone pictures over the course of our Saturday/Sunday nights. 

Moscow is a strange bird to meet. It doesn't want--or need-- your love. It's a stable and confident city that feels no need to point out it's good qualities or accomplishments. It does not brag. It remains understated and only shows it's good side to those willing to look for it. There are no signs for magical and historic places. You just stumble upon them, leaving a bar, trying to catch a train for work, wandering through a street you saw once through a window and thought worth exploring...
and that is the magic between living somewhere and visiting somewhere. 

We ran into The Bolshoi leaving Moloko the other night. Ben grabbed my hand as we passed it and told me what it was. I stopped. I couldn't believe it. The Bolshoi. The world's most famous dancers and choreographers and opera singers and directors have created and performed here. It is no secret I love ballet. It is no secret that I have wondered where the magical Bolshoi was, but to just fall into it's lap? Oh, how easily my heart is charmed by surprises like these. 

The next morning, well afternoon, when Ben and I finally decided to drag ourselves from Sergei's beautiful flat and find ourselves a cheap breakfast (our bar tab was quite... impressive. We will not be going out until our next paycheck, that's for sure), we wandered onto a street with a McDonalds and a marvelous red church with blue and gold domes. Munching on french fries and a chocolate croissant, the pads of my feet burning from my four-inch wedges, Ben and I continued down the red brick road towards the church, pushed forward by our curiosity and the mystical church bells that we seemed to be the only ones hearing. 

The street was quiet with Muscovites and water drizzled effortlessly from the sky. Ben and I dipped our heads into small shops and found a garden gypsies were selling silk scarves and traditional Russian clothes out of small, wooden stands. Circus music played throughout the square. More rain came down and my feet grew angrier. I felt so easy, twenty-free, and free until Ben reminded me we had to return home to work on our lesson plans. My heart is always sad when it has to go home and live "in the real world" that is my full-time job, but relaxed when I remind it we have just begun to explore. More days of Moscow will come.  

10 February 2013

Hipster Moscow Life

Oh, sweet weekend. How I craved you. 

I want to apologize beforehand if this entry is jumbled and poorly-written. I'm quite exhausted from my night out and am just trying to get some thoughts and pictures down before I forget.

Ben and I met our friends for drinks last night at a little hipster bar called "Milk" across the street from the Red Square. It was a gorgeous venue adorned with thick chandeliers and skinny Russian girls smoking thin cigarettes and drinking tiny vodka drinks. Ben and I had just gotten our first paycheck the day before (nothing special--it was for only three days of work, but it still felt good) so we ordered a few more drinks than we probably should have (our bill was obscene), but it was such an awesome time.

Ben's friend Sergei, whom he met in Japan and then spent a lot of time with when he was in Moscow studying abroad, brought along his girlfriend who is a classical piano player and a lovely person. I had such a nice time talking with her and when her two girlfriends joined us around midnight (I told you Russians go out very late), it was even better. I had been really missing hanging out with girls and it was helpful to hear their Russian, as Russian women's accents are much different than their male counterparts. They taught me a few words and gave me some general advice about living in Russia and dealing with Russians. 

I felt so happy and so comfortable. Before Ben and I came to Russia, he told me that the main thing he learned from his travels was that everyone, everywhere is going through the same stuff. When I asked him what he meant, he said that any problem I could imagine, any concern, any dream, people around the world were feeling the same things. And it's true. No matter where you grew up or what you wear or how you act, people really aren't all that different. I'm glad the more I get settled into this country, the more I can see that first hand. 

I do wish I could have taken more pictures of this amazing bar, but like always, some Russian woman came and yelled at me to put my camera away. I don't know what it is about Russia, but you can't photograph anything. Sometimes they let you, but you have to pay first. It's incredibly frustrating, and I probably wouldn't listen, but Russians can be quite intimidating. So sneaky iPhone pictures will have to do. 

Sergei and his girlfriend, Masha

After we left Moloko (which was a milk shop during the Soviet Union), we went to Sergei's favorite bar (it's kind of punky-hipster, divish) and had some cheap beers and garlic bread dipped in bleu cheese. At the second bar, which I had been to before, they played an interesting variety of music (AC/DC, Jon Bon Jovi, The Meat Puppets, Michael Jackson...) everyone sits at tables very close to one another and smokes lots and lots of cigarettes. They have only one TV-a large projector in the back of the room- that constantly plays a television channel featuring the most bizarre Japanesse game shows. Have you ever seen any? They're so bizarre. 

Anyway, the night was wrapped up with good conversations and good beer. And a gypsy cab for 300 rubles that made me feel very sick to my stomach. But otherwise, I felt very thankful for another chance to explore Moscow and make it feel even more like a home. 

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