24 September 2013

Thoughts on the Fall

I've been thinking about this entry for a couple weeks now. I've been writing it in my head every time I walk through the rainy streets of Moscow.

It's the fall. I woke up one morning and all the leaves had changed. The city became quiet again, like the way I had remembered it when I first arrived. So I've been thinking about the fall, and all my falls.

The fall was always my adventurous time. Things always happened in the fall. I always fell in love in the fall. I was always brave and excited. It was my time.

I think back to my freshman year of college and that fall. It was brilliant and dingy and magical and cracked all at the same time. I allowed myself to be myself in all of it's forms. I made new friends, wild, crazy friends, and my nights never seemed to end. I listened to this song and wore feathers and glitter in my hair and I didn't care at all what anyone thought of me. I never felt so open or so in love with every single person that passed by. It was a beautiful time.

I healed a lot that fall. I recovered from things I didn't even realize I needed to recover from. Things that had once been so much apart of me suddenly seemed so wrong and I buried them deep and far away. My first college was an arboretum and I never learned the names of any of the trees, but I looked up at them happily when their leaves burned red.

My second fall was darker. Things weren't sitting right anymore. I didn't notice the changing leaves and spent a lot of time staring out windows and listening to this song. The first boy I had kissed in college had given me mono and my body shrunk and shrunk and I hallucinated in my classes, desperate for sleep. I didn't like where I was anymore. I felt mediocre and the people that had used to make me feel so excited and alive now made me feel insecure and worried. I sat outside one day in the arboretum, smoking a cigarette on the phone with my mother, and I decided I would leave and find a new home at the school I had turned down my senior year of high school. And that's exactly what I did.

When I arrived at Beloit, I was at my physical weakest, but my emotional strongest. I said yes to everything. I felt confident and mature. I didn't need my long hair anymore. I wasn't afraid to show people my writing and I raised my hand in class. By the times the leaves changed again, I was new.

My first fall in Beloit was a dreamy mess. I took an intensive writing class that made me lose my mind in the best way possible. I sent my dad my poems and he told me they were the best things he'd read all year and my heart soared across Wisconsin. I listened to this song and sat on benches in the quad, writing letters to my old friend, a writer in Chicago. We began writing everyday and I shared everything I could. He pushed me to write down everything and to write it well and I thrived on that. That fall, I sat in my room for hours with pens and paper and I never felt more creative or more perfectly in tune with the thoughts in my head.

The next fall, I met Ben and I felt so in love, but so unsure. I remember giving my mentor shitty writing and telling him I didn't know the difference between love and infatuation and he told me he didn't believe me. I listened to this song and wondered where I really did want my life to go. School was ending and my life obligations were up: choices needed to be made.

Then came the next year when the time for choices were made. And we choose Russia one fall night over a bottle of white wine in my parents kitchen.
"Where will I have a better time?" I asked Ben.
"Well... everyone is really nice in Japan. Like, really nice."
"But you'll never be one of them. You'll just always be an outsider. Not that that's a bad thing. But in Russia--you'll have real conversations. You'll make friends that will last a lifetime. I think you'll find a kindred spirit in Russia."

And that's really what he said and that's really why I'm writing this from my Soviet style apartment in the south west corner of Moscow.

And now it's this fall. Three weeks ago it began to rain and it hasn't stopped yet. Everyone keeps telling me this kind of weather is unusual, but I think all weather is unusual.

Ben and I have had some hard talks. We've had to be very honest with one another where we'd like to spend our fall next year. Part of me wants to go home--I love Moscow and all it's been for me, but it is a difficult city to live in. Sometimes I just ache to like, go to Trader Joe's or something. To just tell a joke to a cashier or have someone bump into me and then apologize. Really, when you're away from home for a long time, the things you miss are so small and strange. I miss my easy life.

But then I, like Ben, want to stay abroad. I want to see more of the world, before life really happens and it's harder. I don't want to look back and have too many what if's...
Everything was feeling difficult. The rain was so cold I couldn't even appreciate the leaves. I don't own rain boots and probably never will.

But this, like all things, like all my falls, worked out. We finally had a conversation that solved our dilemma and left us both excited about the future. I'll reveal more as our plans finalize, but I have a lot to look forward to. Lots of hard work, but lots of good things ahead.

The fall has been good to me again. I've been listening to a million songs and appreciating the leaves. Things are happening.

20 September 2013

How to Live in Moscow: Beauty Edition

So, one thing I would like this blog to be is a resource, for not only expats, but for expats living in Moscow. Since I am listed on a couple expat blog websites, I really would like to devote more time to making little guides to living in Moscow, as it can be a tough city to navigate around (especially if you don't speak much Russian).

Now listen, I'm no expert by any means, but I have lived here for about eight months now (?!?!?!?) and I have picked up a thing or two. Maybe I might be of help to someone feeling a little lost in this city.

Okay, so I thought the first instillation would be about beauty products, where to find them, and (if you can't read Russian) what to look for on labels. It took me a long time to find the products I have now and I know I would have appreciated something like this. I also got quite a few questions on the products I use (which is understandable--I'm always curious what works for other people), so I thought I'd make one big post.

Also, not all of these products are exclusive to Russia (many of them can be found in Europe, a few in America I believe), so hopefully everyone can take something away.

Without further adieu...

My skin, hair, and body care products!

Okay, so these are my hair products.

First up, we have my shampoo and conditioner. Before I left for Russia, I had been using sulfate free shampoos (I believe the brand was called Nature's Way) and I really liked those. But when I got to Moscow, I couldn't really find any organic shampoos in the super markets, so I just stuck to Dove products because it was a brand I recognized. However, I was in the аптека (pharmacy) the other day and I noticed they had an awesome selection of organic hair and body products, so I picked these up and so far so good. My hair feels light and fluffy, but I'll probably keep experimenting until I find a brand I love. Check out your local аптека for organic/sulfate free products. 

Second, to the left, I have an argan oil detangler. I normally used Moroccan oil, but when I ran out here, I couldn't find a replacement. So, I went to Tsvetnoy and browsed until I found an after-shower leave in product. I like my hair to look natural, but tamed, so if that's what you're going for, I recommend H. Air. Spa Detangler. And it smells like heaven. 

And my third product, my deep conditioner, is Nordic and it's just okay. I don't know if I'd recommend it, I don't really notice much of a difference when I use it, but I also found it at Tsvetnoy. They have lots of other hair care options there as well, so it's definitely a place to shop for your hair needs. 

Okay, body stuff. 

So we actually just ran out of our Trader Joe's body wash stock, so I went to l'etual and picked up some Korres body washes for Ben and I. It's a Greek brand (I'm bringing some to Amsterdam for you, Mom!) and I adore it. Everything smells like Mount Olympus and you feel like an angel's booty after. 

Let me just say something about l'etual and getting the most bang for your buck in Moscow. 
I'm not gonna lie, Moscow is literally the most expensive city in the world and every time you go to a cash register, it's gonna hurt. So here's a cheat for you: get yourself a l'etual card (they'll offer you one every time you go in) and build up those points. After awhile, you'll start to get better and better discount cards (I'm at 15%, inching up on 20%) and the prices won't seem so crazy. Or, if you're hanging out with Russian chicks, they are bound to have the beautiful gold 25% card and they might let you borrow it. L'etual also has pretty great deals and sales every now and then, and you can stock up on make-up, perfume, whatever. I like it better than the other cosmetic stores. 

I also use that body exfoliant, but it's nothing special. I bought it for like, 250 rubles or something at a подружка (which has the most amazing Korean face masks as well) and I use it when I take baths. I'll probably replace it next time I make a stop at Lush, but it's fine for now.

Oh man, this is taking longer than I thought. 

Those are my face products. 

The green one is a light soap, I use it in the mornings. It's pretty standard. You can find them at your local grocery store. 
The white one is for clogged pores, I believe. I like the little exfoliating pad, but it can dry your skin out quickly, especially if you're like me and are prone to dry skin. I only use it on nights when I went out or days when I wore a lot of make-up or something. 

Then I have my wrinkle cream because I am insane and paranoid about wrinkles. It's just a cheap Olay wrinkle cream and the box was in English. I bought it at l'etaul, but they sell them everywhere. I put it on in the mornings and night. 

Okay, so this is my night cream. The word in white is the word for 'night' in Russian. I highly recommend this night cream to anyone (but especially if you have dry skin-it's like a milkshake for your face), but if you don't like the L'Oreal brand, that's the word you need to find yourself something else.

Oh my gosh. This stuff. 

So, I'd heard about Bioderma products from YouTube beauty bloggers before, but you can only get it in French pharmacies, so I didn't pay much attention. Well, the other day I was walking past an аптека and it occurred to me that they might have it because pharmacies here carry a slew of very expensive European face products. And whatdya know.

So I use this on days when my skin is feeling really dry, or I didn't wear much make up. It basically just removes everything from your skin and leaves it feeling really fresh and clean. It never dries you out and you don't have to wash your face after. It's amazing. 

If you have dry, sensitive skin and don't mind spending a lot of money of good face products, I recommend buying this one off Amazon. Or just come to Moscow!

And now my extras. 

Quickly, because this is getting so long. Deodorant. Kind of tricky here. You are not gonna be able to find your stick deodorant, I can tell you that. I searched everywhere, but I could only ever find non-scented ones and I finally caved and bought this Dove roller. It's fine, though I'm having my mom bring me stick deodorant when I see her in Decemeber. You can buy the one above at L'etauls or подружка. 

I also have a little bottle of lavender oil (лабанда in Russian) that I wear at night. You can get those anywhere in the banya section. It's probably by the dried leaves. 

Aaaaand, my nailpolish. Ben just bought me this one for our anniversary and I'm obsessed. It's the Rouge Noir color and it's perfect for fall (though I'm sure you can find cheaper alternatives--Revlon and O.P.I. are great and also everywhere). 

This is my perfume. It's men's cologne from Scotch & Soda. It has a woody, oriental smell and I just love it. I picked it up in Munich.

Oh my goodness, everyone get off your computer and buy yourself this hand cream. It's perfect and amazing. The flavor is honey (мед) and it literally makes your hands feel like you had them roasting in candle wax for hours. Highly recommend.

Some other tips...
1. This might seem obvious, but don't buy your razors from a street vendor (they're everywhere). I tried to save money and bought a pack of Venus razors and they were shit. I don't know who would spend their time making knock-off Venus razors, but someone did. Just go to a real store. 
2. Again, подружка has the most amazing face masks. Look for the ones in Korean- I don't know what's in them, but they smooth out your skin like nothing else. 
3. The water is very hard in Moscow (which, if you are living here, you should know and not drink it), so I use purified water to wash my face. You can buy a large jug of water at the store for 50 rubles and just keep refilling it with filtered water. 
4. Manicures are pretty inexpensive here and almost all Russian women will have their nails done. If you're feeling kinda blue about how much money you just spent on junk for your face, why not treat yourself to a mani ;)

I hope that helps!

14 September 2013

Proust Questions

So, a couple weeks ago, my blogger friend Haley tagged me in a post to answer some Proust Questions about myself.

1. What is your greatest extravagance? 

Jeez. Probably clothes. I love clothes, I love shopping... that's usually what I want to do when I get paid. But since coming to Russia, Ben and I save a lot of our money for upcoming holidays (we're going to Amsterdam in the winter and then it looks like Italy in the spring, and we're trying to fit in a trip to Nepal/India/or Thailand near summer), so realistically, probably travel is my greatest extravagance.

2. Which word or phrase do you most overuse?


3. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what do you think it would be?

I kind of feel like I'm doomed to white girl problems forever- so probably just another version of myself.

4. What is your most treasured possession?

I thought about this for awhile. I don't know if it counts as a possession, but obviously if my house were burning, I would save Ben and think of nothing else. Really, I don't know if I have one (here). I suppose my laptop or passport, but those would just be for necessity. At my parents house, I have about 20+ diaries and journals from my teenage years and they're pretty important to me. They're really horrible and awkward and I would literally die of embarrassment if anyone ever read them, but I love looking through them whenever I'm home. I journaled everyday from the time I was 14 to about 19-20 and I would be devastated if I ever lost them.

5. Which talent would you most like to have?

Okay, this is actually super dorky, but I wish I was like, a reaaally  good hip-hop dancer. Or maybe a rapper.

When I went to my first university, I lived in the biggest dorm in America, and the fire alarm was pulled pretty regularly at which point people would gather outside in the parking lot for a few hours. So this one time, someone turned on their car and started playing music, and these really cool girls started hip hop dancing in the parking lot. Then these other girls came and challenged them to a hip hop dance off (I'm not even making this up, it was so cool). So they're all twerkin' and lurkin' and smirkin' and I stood in awe (I told you I have white girl problems). I really wanted to burst out into the circle and just break out some ridiculous dance moves and show everyone up, but alas, I have no skills.

6. What is your motto?

Say 'yes' to everything!

Thanks, Haley!

12 September 2013

Anniversary Date Night

Alright, so after we had our five-days-of-gifting, we went out on the actual night of our anniversary. We got lucky and actually had the night off (for the past few weeks we've just been testing students for a few hours at our old school and usually just bum around), so we took a vodka shot and went out to our first restaurant. 

I had a real hankering for Italian food, so I googled "Italian food in Moscow" and picked the first link that came up. It had good reviews, so we got dressed, we showed up... buuuut we just weren't feeling it. We had saved a good chunk of money to spend, so it wasn't exactly the prices (but goddam does it hurt spending $20 on a drink), but the atmosphere was weird and this pair of guys behind us kept staring at us because we were speaking English. I don't know. We just weren't into it. 

So, and this is because we are classy folk, we ditched the nice place and went down the street to a Chili's we saw and we had such a good time. 

But after a few hours, Chili's wanted to close and ya know, we hadn't had dessert yet so we decided to continue our booze-fueled date next door at the cleverly named "Restaurant".

Big. Mistake. 

At first, Restaurant was just a creepy, empty restaurant, but on a trip to the bathroom (which started innocently when I noticed the busts of famous Russian writers and began to follow them), I stumbled upon a literal rat race which was equal parts disturbing and upsetting. 

So date night ended with Ben declaring we needed to adopt the rats, and an extra bill for an "oreo" cake (we knew it was too good to be true, but we tried). Oh well. That's how it is, when you live young and fast... I guess?

As you can see, I'm holding quite a few bags. Every once and awhile, one of the makeup store chains here in Moscow has this insane sale where (if you borrow your administrator's store card) you can get 50% off of anything.

So I went bananas. Then we went to dinner.




Look at Dostoevsky bein' all shy in the corner.

Ok, so I took a bathroom selfie. But my legs were looking skinny so I thought I should document it. 

This is a picture of what Ben looks like riding the metro. In case you've been wondering.

Oh my goodness. These dogs. They're such a thing in Russia, though nobody will tell me why. But every one who walks by, rubs the nose, the foot and the back leg. 

And I know this is a couple of days late but...

Oh my God. Oh my fucking God. 
Breaking. Bad.

Yeah? Any of you into it? I have been freaking out all week. Uggggh, what's going to happen?!

11 September 2013

Two Years

Hello all!

So this post will be about me and Ben's two year anniversary! Hooray! 

I can't even believe it's been two years! I love being able to say we've been together for two years now--it just sounds so much more legit now, yeah?

Well, we had an awesome few days (because we are children who couldn't wait to open our presents, so it lasted for a few days, haha). Ben actually woke up yesterday and told me he loved our anniversary because it was like "both our birthdays!" We might have over done it a bit with the presents, but we had the money and it's just so fun to spoil someone you love. I'm already looking forward to Christmas. 

But materialism aside, I can't believe we have another year under our belt. I love our relationship so dearly, I could never even put it into words. Ben and I have done so many crazy things together this year-from a non-stop twenty-four road trip from Chicago to New Hampshire, to holidays in Montreal, Vermont, Cape Cod, Maine, and Munich. We've lived in a tiny town in New Hampshire (down the street from Ben's parents) and in a haunted apartment in Beloit, Wisconsin (with the most dramatic neighbors one could ever imagine) and now in one of the biggest cities in the world-Moscow! We've been on dates, we've become master bagel makers, and watched a million movies. So much. Such a year.

And can you believe it? That's one year folks! We're insane! Oh my goodness. We were talking about all of our crazy adventures last night and at some point I just said, "Ben-we've been through so much stuff. If we can do all of that and just be happier and closer, I think we could get through anything."
And I do. I really think that. 

I'm so grateful for where my life has ended up. I'm so grateful Ben Coonan is my boyfriend. I'm so grateful that even on my worst days, he still thinks I'm the best. I remember hearing about him when I first transfered to Beloit (I really do). My friend Alex was telling me about his messy roommate and how he told me he was, "like a genius. Like, this kid can speak five languages and play guitar hero backwards. You'll probably like him, but he has a girlfriend or something and is going abroad forever."

And I even remember being in someones room playing beer pong and Ben was there and was showing this girl how to solve a rubik cube. And he was so cool and so intelligent--he really left an impression on me. 

And now here he is! He's literally walking into our apartment as I write this, so I'm going to sign this off for today. But there are some pictures below (and I'll put the ones up from my phone tomorrow) and I hope everyone out there has a good day.

So thanks for reading about all of our adventures. And an even bigger thank you for all the sweet well wishes on facebook, email and instagram. I felt so loved. I'm so grateful for this blog and all the sweet people it has led me to. I guess it's been a year and a half for us now, yeah? Well I'm so grateful for that as well. Here's to another great year!

I found some tea light candles in a cupboard and decorated our living room. I thought it just seemed so much more sweet with candle light about. 

I made pasta carbonara which turned out really well. Ben did get home from work about fifteen minutes later than I had anticipated, so much egg-cheese noodles weren't as gooey as I'd hoped they'd be, but I'll get it right next time. I used this recipe. 

Oh, this was one of my favorite gifts! Ben bought me a bubble bath kit from Lush, which I absolutely loved because I adore taking bubble baths. I used the Twilight Bath bomb right away and it was divine.  When I got out of the tub, my skin was so smooth and smelled delicious. And it let out a bit of glitter as well, which was fun. 

So this was one of the big gifts I got Ben. This is probably the nicest vodka (I don't think you can even get it in the United States, and if you could it would cost an arm and a leg-even here where vodka is dirt cheap, it was very expensive) you can buy in Russia and Ben has been drooling over it since we got here. 

I was actually thinking of getting him scotch (because men like scotch, yeah?), but when I was at the market, I saw the Beluga and I decided on that. He was so excited!

Eggs benedict in bed, courtesy of Ben.

New shirt and tie from Topman.

And new socks! Also from Topman.

Oh yes. And then we did a shot before we went on our date. I'll post pictures of that tomorrow. 


06 September 2013

13: Stillness: A Story About Flowers

I told this story at a party once:

I grew up in a neighborhood that was always being torn down.

I can't even remember a time in my life when the streets were quiet and absent of plastic orange fences and plywood, large dumpsters, men in wife-beaters, hanging off the shingles, and slamming those nail guns into the roof. When I was young, my dad would take my brother and me on walks and we would sneak under the orange fences and explore the empty, half-built homes. Together, we would decide where our bedrooms would be, where we'd put the pool, and what we'd do with the basement. I collected thick, rusty nails from the sites and buried them in holes, with handfuls of glitter, in my backyard. 

But at some point, the lure of the construction sites ended, and they were just eye-sores that led to mini-mansions and odd, pants-less neighbors and gaudy landscaping. One by one, the 1970's ranches that embodied the midwest so well, gave way to cold homes that towered over ours. 

One day, as I was walking my dog, Mickey Garbage, around the block, I came across a recently torn-down home. Sparked with an odd curiosity, and ears filled with the music above, my dog and I wandered to the chain link fence to stare into the empty pit where a small, denim blue ranch had once stood. As we peered, I noticed something strange in the back of the property. Lifting my too-heavy-for-a-small-dog dog over the orange plastic fence, the two of us wandered beyond the pit to what was once a backyard and, to my surprise, discovered a grove of sunflowers. 

Really, they just appeared. And they were huge. Bigger than anything I'd ever seen, scraping up against the sky if you stood close enough. I couldn't believe it; there must have been about 50 of them, all of them about ten-feet tall. 

After several moments stunned by their existence, I quickly grew anxious with the knowledge of what happens to plants when mini-mansions are to be built, I raced home with my fat dog and told my green-thumbed father about the sunflowers. 

"We have to go get them! They're so big-they've probably been around for a long time! We need to go get them and plant them in our yard or the trucks will come and the men in wife-beaters and they'll rip them up, just like the trees and the flowers and everything else around here. We can't just leave them there!"

My dad walked back with me to look at the sunflowers, and hopped over the orange fence to evaluate them. He came back and told me that their roots were too deep and he didn't think they'd survive the transfer. I don't know what it was about them, but leaving them there really did a number on me. I still think about them from time to time; those long, thick stems, breaking up into the sky and those giant, sunny heads tilting altogether in the wind. And me and Mickey Garbage just standing there in the sunshine, the last eyes to see them growing happily in the summer. I don't know--it just go to me in one of those ways. 

After I was done with the story, this guy who ran the campus bar came up to me and wrapped his long, Minnesota farmer arms around me and rocked me from side to side. 

"That was such a sweet story, Lis."
"Thaaanks Sean."
"You must have been such a cute kid-I could just see little Lisa and her dog with those sunflowers-you should write about that someday."

I left the party after that and walked back to my dorm wondering if it was stranger that I had actually been nineteen when that happened or that he would think I was younger. But that's not really the important part of the story, just that there was once a secret grove of sunflowers in my neighborhood, and for a few days they were exposed to everyone, and then they were covered up so good, it's like they were never even there. 

03 September 2013

12: Home

As fall settles in around us (and it is. It actually is), I've been loading up my computer with movies, ready for nights in. Our summer was fun and full of expensive drinks and dizzying rides on the Moscow Metro at 6 a.m., but as the leaves change and the sun begins to set earlier, I'm ready for the winter hibernation.

Here are some movies I'm looking forward to seeing, as well as some recommendations for your fall nights.

I remember when my parents saw this movie, they told me about it so quietly, and so shocked--almost because a story like this even existed--that I avoided even so much as watching the trailer. But a couple nights ago I was sifting through online articles and fell upon a review of Alice Munro novels and mentioned this film. The trailer made me cry and my heart aches to anyone who encounters an illness as cruel as Alzheimer's. Nevertheless, I am determined to see this film in the near future.

Oh, Spike Jonze. You and your quirky ways. This film looks both equal parts disturbing and heartbreaking-kind of like Lars and the Real Girl, yeah? I took a class my senior year of college on artificial intelligence, and this subject matter was brought up almost daily. We wondered often if Turing test-passed machines would ever be widely available to the public, and if so, what their impact on society might be. I think this film will also attempt to show the vulnerability we experience in relationships and the delicate nature of love and intimacy. I'm very much looking forward to baking some scones and sitting down to watch this one (because one of the very few perks of living in Russia is no pirating laws...actually, there might be, but nobody cares enough to enforce them).

I love Sarah Polley's work (she also directed "Away From Her" as well as "Take This Waltz" which I broken-heartedly adored). She's so honest and raw- it's like her heart is just bursting out of the screen. The first minute of the trailer makes it seem as though it's just a film about story-telling within families (of which mine should receive awards for), and this would all be well and good, but a major twist is thrown in and gives this film a spot on my "Must See ASAP" list. 

And while we're on the subject of stuff to watch, I just have to add these suggestions...

American Teen- My best friend in high school took me to see this movie, and we both left the theater kind of fucked up from it. We went to a super clique-y high school and we both rejected the majority of the nonsense, but it was still a lot to see it played out in this documentary on the big screen. Just like high school, it's mostly depressing, but there's some cute, happy moments in between. It always shocks me what people will allow others to see when a camera is around. 

Happy- I love this film. It really changed the way I thought about happiness and made me feel like I had so much more control over my emotions and my life. I think American society spends so much time trying to deal with depression and not enough time trying to increase happiness. It's so sweet and uplifting-it's definitely a message I think needs to be promoted much more frequently-highly recommend. 

The IT Crowd- I had been meaning to watch this show for  a g e s  but never really seemed to get around to it until the other night when Ben brought it up. We've only watched a handful of episodes, but I love it! If you have an Arrested Development (before this fourth season monstrosity)/Party Down/Brit-com kind of humor, sit down and watch the first few episodes (their short too). 

Do any of you have any movie recommendations? Let me know!

01 September 2013

11: Far Away

...but still so close. 
I love our weekly chats with my parents. Sometimes Mickey Garbage even joins. 

And here's a little song my mother gave me when my 8th grade freckle-faced boyfriend and I broke up (we were starting high school, we wanted to see what else the world had in store for us) and I will now give to you:

Oh, Carole. 
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