Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Possibly my last post from Orion!


It's been a week, and it's not been spectacularly eventful for Orion, but then I guess still unusual as compared to life back home.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we had classes, which were all right, we had 4th form twice in a row and on Wednesday they metaphorically threw our lesson plan out the window and insisted on playing games. Handily they were pliant enough to be happy playing a matching game with flashcards, then Go Fish with the same flashcards, then flashcard-themed charades (which over here is called krokodil, which I find super-cute).

Vicky and I fell ill again on Thursday. I spent all of Friday sneezing like crazy. We both started to feel a little better on Saturday but then there wasn't much to do as there were lots of visitors from a Moscow school on a day trip here. Apparently they took photos of Vicky while she was ironing toddler Sasha's underwear, I do wonder where those pictures will show up! I avoided such paparazzi and did most of my ironing duty at home listening to Gecko. If you would like you ears to be treated to what they describe as "Acoustic/Reggae/Samba/Indie/Hip Hop/Soul/Afro-beat/Punk/Fruit Juice" then be my guest and follow that link over to their Facebook, you won't regret it.

We started a 2000 piece puzzle, which it turns out is too large for our kitchen table, and then continued working on it while sharing a couple of cans of orange- and grapefruit-flavoured beer. As well as European drinking rules, we enforced the rule of drinking every time you match two pieces together, and for saying any version of the verb 'find'. I feel that as students we have an inherent talent for turning even the dullest and most innocuous activities into hilarious drinking games, it's just a shame I get tipsy on only 1 can of 7% beer now. Shocking.

Despite my insistence that I have the creative talent of a slug, I've found I have a bit of a knack for designing and making cute felt hair-clips, brooches and Christmas tree decorations. So far we've had two craft workshops with the school kids, and today we had a session with the kindergarten. I'd forgotten quite how exasperating kindergarten can be, when they're all asking you to cut things out at once, or they're getting fed-up and frustrated because they haven't got the motor skills to make their hands do what their heads want them to. I like seeing what the kids think up to make out of felt - the boys like making decorations that look like the birds and pigs from the Angry Birds game, which is hardly festive but I'm happy to see them getting involved and not casting craft off as 'girly'. I made a charming little owl brooch for Vicky which was so nice I made a copycat one for myself, I'll update this blog with pictures once I'm home.

Home! I'll be home this time next week! I am so excited, I've been enthusing that as soon as I land on British soil I want to take out a Union Jack flag and wave it about while singing Rule Britannia or God Save The Queen or something. Possibly a party hat and one of those party whistles that blow out and make a 'ff-twee!' noise wouldn't go amiss either.

Hence, I think this might be my last post from Orion, unless something truly remarkable happens, or I come up with another silly song parody, or I drink too much beer and get let on the internet.


Monday, 12 November 2012

The 9 Days of Ironing

To the tune of Ode to Joy. Obviously.


On the first day of ironing Orion gave to me a towel that was completely flat

On the second day of ironing Orion gave to me two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the third day of ironing Orion gave to me three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the fourth day of ironing Orion gave to me four duvet covers
Three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the fifth day of ironing Orion gave to me FIVE TEA TOWELS
Four duvet covers
Three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the sixth day of ironing Orion gave to me six frilly school shirts
Four duvet covers
Three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the seventh day of ironing Orion gave to me seven waterproof anoraks
Six frilly school shirts
Four duvet covers
Three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the eighth day of ironing Orion gave to me eight sheets still soggy
Seven waterproof anoraks
Six frilly school shirts
Four duvet covers
Three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat

On the ninth day of ironing Orion gave to me nine plastic tablecloths
Eight sheets still soggy
Seven waterproof anoraks
Six frilly school shirts
Four duvet covers
Three pillowcases
Two fitted sheets
And a towel that was completely flat


Why only nine days? I've run out of examples of ridiculous things we've had to iron. Warning, quantities may be inaccurate (I've ironed far more of all these things, apart from the tablecloths, but they definitely do get ironed, even though they're made of splash-proof plastic-coated fabric).

More verses may be added on request from any of the people who set us ironing here.

Hope you enjoyed the musical interlude, ta ta for now.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Volunteering in Orion... but on a really good day!

I didn't want to write this article before because I wanted to write about a really good day, when I took advantage of the opportunities given me as a volunteer to make a day especially rewarding and fun. Yesterday was really ace though, one of my best here, so it warrants a post.

08.30 Alarm went off, grumbled and slept in while it continued to go off every 5 minutes.

08.40 Got up, got ready for the day, put on my favourite shirt and denim shorts (I think that was a good omen).

09.45 Breakfast - skipped oat porridge and went straight for cheese on toast a la microwave, and hot cocoa to drink.

10.15 Washed the dishes, but there were barely any to do (the program kids are away, and unfortunately lots of people are ill)

11.00 Helped Max with a tiger puzzle. He was being grumpy about us giggling and joking, so we've given him the nickname of The Fun Police. The Fun Police is there to make sure that when you have fun you do it in a quiet, orderly fashion.

12.00 Went to work in Katya's house where I cleaned out the fridge while Vicky polished the mirrors, but that didn't seem dull because it was different work, and we got it done quickly. Plus afterwards Katya made us her really nice tea (I think it's Redbush, but I've never tasted Redbush like it in England), and we ate mandarins and coconut macaroons while watching a documentary about great architectural wonders of the world which included Tsarskoye Selo.

13.00 Went home and did some ironing. Having had 20 guests over we figured we'll be doing a load of washing and ironing sheets each day for about 12 days O.o

14.00 Lunch - Borscht (not what you'd think Borscht should be, but a broth with cabbage, peppers, potato and other veg with some bits of unidentifiable meat in. It's actually a decent soup as far as Galya's soups go).

14.30 Went back to the White House to chill out for a bit, read and chat.

15.30 Little Katya showed up and told us everyone was waiting for us to start the workshop, so we quickly threw craft stuff in a bag. We planned to have many options: friendship bracelets, Olympic torches, something with felt like finger puppets or board games. We got the idea because we'd heard the kids complaining that they were finding half-term boring. We put something together so they could have some creative fun, and get out the house away from their poorly parents and siblings.

15.40 Once inside the school I had the idea of using the felt to make customised hairclips, so legged it back to the house to get the hairclips I bought from England and haven't used.

15.45 Actually started the workshop. It was great fun - Vicky and Vanya made Olympic torches with gold card and fire-coloured tissue paper, I showed Katya how to make customised hairclips with felt, Lera and Ira showed up and made friendship bracelets, and Petya hung out and chatted.

17.15 The workshop having lasted longer than we'd anticipated, we tidied up and went back to the White House to finish the ironing, and then relax before dinner.

18.30 Dinner was surprisingly barbecue food. I think they'd imagined 30 people would be there but due to illness there were far fewer. Still, we had chicken legs, pork kebabs, nice flatbread, and a really delicious dish of chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and topped with cheese. Shame about the plain pasta as a side, but nothing really gets a 10/10 here. Apart from maybe the sushi at Katya's, that was amazing. We even had Pepsi to drink which seemed really rather novel.

19.00 Leaving the school after dinner Max ran up to us and asked us to come to his house and play Game of Thrones, and I'm glad we acquiesced because his 'Godfather' Steve was there. It was very nice to just hear an English voice, but also he had a great (British!) sense of humour and so we shared lots of laughs as we tried to explain the incredibly complicated rules of the board game. Not that Max wasn't trying, but merely that words like 'mustering armies' and 'cavalry' don't fit into what most people learn in their Russian lessons.

21.15 Left Tamara's house, popped in to Katya's to ask about breakfast, and then home to the cost forest room.

21.20 Felt at a loss for what to do as we've watched all the English films Katya lent us and those on my computer. Vicky had the idea of making badges as she has many safety pins. I made her a cute little owl. She made me a heart with '1D' in the middle. We have a sort of running joke that we love One Direction (which we don't, really). We have a shrine to them in the corner of our room made out of magazine references and have declared them the patron saints of our room. I can't even remember more than about 4 lines of their songs in total, so we looked up the lyrics of a few of their hits and Vicky tried to teach me the tunes. Ended up reading some amusing articles on cracked.com, after which it was time to brush our teeth.

11.45 Bed time -.- zzzzzz

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Just a quick one to say: WOW! 2000 pageviews! Either my family check this a severely worrying amount, or I have a lot of sweet friends and strangers who drop by to see what's up in this humble blog.

Today we had 'Sunday' on Tuesday, and we were invited to dinner at Masha's. Dinner was lovely: chicken in a tomato, pepper and olive sauce with mash in a pseudo-Italian style, accompanied by beer, followed by offcuts from 'Day & Night' cake. Plain sponge is day, chocolate sponge is night - om nom nom.

Then Tamara's son/Masha's older brother showed up with a bottle of 'The Source of Life' That's a mineral water. But soon we found out that it was much less innocent, home-brewed vodka, of a greenish tint in colour. Lena egged us on, I suppose this being the 'cultural education' part of our Russian lessons with her. So we did a shot, and frankly it wasn't half bad. Much nicer than Jagermeister or such herbal spirits, or any vodka I've previously tried. Masha's bro took what looked like a tea-cupful which was what I should have expected but didn't believe would be a reality. We had a nibble of black bread after, but learned that you're not supposed to leave long between the first and second glassful, so found our glasses filled again. Oh dear. We chatted and had a good laugh with those around the table. Then after a while the guy insisted we have a third glassful. Needless to say, Nottingham Rocksoc has provided me with much in the way of useful training for such instances. However, after three glasses I felt rather red in the face and quite tired. Despite many protests, invitations for tea, it being insisted upon that we look at baby photos, and being told that we must have one for the road, we managed to get away unscathed having had a very merry evening.

It just wouldn't have been a trip to Russia without vodka, right?
Night folks! x

Monday, 5 November 2012

Lol, 69

It's my 69th day here! It's been 5 days since I've actually had a proper day of work. I took 2 days off sick with the worst sore throat I've possibly ever had, and then the last 3 days I haven't really had set work - today Vicky and I have done the washing up twice and peeled potatoes, but that's really not a lot, and certainly 0 mental effort. We've had about 20 people living in our house this weekend rather than the usual three, so it's been quite noisy and hectic, especially at mealtimes. Today I'm happy to go back to the routine 30-odd who I've got to know the names of!

I've mostly been reading Anna Karenina - it got a tad dull for a few chapters with all the rambling about agriculture, but I suppose that part was all very relevant and interesting at the time, and now it's just history. It's picked up a bit now, and after all everyone makes empty promises to themselves to finish great classics of literature, and a year abroad is the perfect time to actually fulfil those promises.

Yesterday we went to see what was going on with part of this weekend-long game. The big round hall on the ground floor of the school had been turned into a fair, with sort-of Russian national stall themes: there was a fortune teller, a matchstick game (vs the 'babushka', the person who picks up the last match wins), a hit-the-nail-in-the-wood game (vs Yura and his hammer), darts, pillow duelling(victor beats their opponent off the bench and onto the crash-mat , a very easy version of basketball with a bin and lots of tennis balls, something involving skipping, and a dancing fool. It was all very jolly and cute, especially to see the kids running the 'stalls' and welcoming the visiting children to have a go at their games. Winning games earned little wooden tokens which could be exchanged for sweets or, if you got 5, a toy at the end. I overcame my initial shyness and tried my hand at darts, the matchstick game, 'guess how many hammers it will take you to get the nail in the wood', and 'basketball'. I also demonstrated the fact that I've never learned to skip, cue plenty of embarrassment and laughter.

By this time in 3 weeks I'll have landed at Heathrow. I'm really looking forward to it, I guess absence really does makes the heart grow fonder. Also I'm looking forward to all the exciting parcels I'll have in the post.

I've spent very little money while here: I've got over £60 of the £200 I brought with me left, and I've spent probably about £175 online. Not all on myself! Some of it is Christmas presents and music pre-orders and Kindle books, so not all selfish, materialistic purchases, and pretty much all the cash here has gone on souvenirs. One doesn't spend much living in a village in the middle of nowhere with only a single shop that sells very little worth buying.

That's all for now :)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Let it snow!

Oh the weather outside is freezing
Everyone's catching colds and sneezing
The boilers are on the blink, oh no!
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And we've bought zephyr for scoffing,
The electricity's threatening to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

When we finally get it right,
The heating and lights are all on!
And if we're really lucky tonight,
All night long we'll be warm.

The wind outside is howling,
And our stomachs are loudly growling,
But the gale continues to blow,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Apologies for any bad-scanning and awful rhyming, I never claimed to be a poet or lyricist.

I'm currently nibbling on a bun filled with home-made tvorog and looking out occasionally at the thick blanket of white and the snowflakes whirling though the air. I've now got a sore throat too, so I'm sure it won't be long before I join the other half of the village in their community cold.

The cows here give so much milk they've made signs to advertise its sale at 200 roubles per 3 litres (or 75p a pint). On top of that there's enough to make a big saucepan of cocoa each day, and to produce home-made sour cream and curd cheese (tvorog) too, all of which are very tasty.

I have learned very quickly to fear the word снежок! It means snowball, and no sooner does one hear it and duck than see a lump of snow land somewhere close to one's head. These kids are really accurate, and we're scared to take them on in a snowball fight because we know they'll win!

It's doesn't feel much like Halloween, but then we can't celebrate it here because apparently it's evil and scary. The lights and boilers being totally off in the morning was scary enough for me! I do wish I could watch The Nightmare Before Christmas though, as it's so weather- and date-appropriate.

Until next time (provided I don't freeze to death or perish in a snowball fight),

Oh the Weather Outside is Freezing
Everyone's catching colds and sneezing
The boilers are on the blink, oh no!
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And we've bought zephyr for scoffing,
The electricity's threatening to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

When we finally get it right,
The heating and lights are all on!
And if we're really lucky tonight,
All night long we'll be warm.

The wind outside is howling,
And our stomachs are loudly growling,
But the gale continues to blow,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Спасибо Sundays #toomany

This was supposed to get written yesterday, but yesterday was really 'meh' and so cheering ourselves up by watching the Inbetweeners film was more important. That film's really funny in the same way as the Inbetweeners series was, so if you don't like dick jokes then it's not for you.

With a month to go both of us keep mentioning/thinking about/counting down the days until we get home. Luckily my parents called last night and a chat with them reminded me that I can only function by having something to look forward to, and a big part of my feeling demoralised was that I didn't have anything concrete to look forward to here, so I was defaulting to the next good thing: going home.

Now I feel a bit better though, because I have stuff to look forward to here:
- A community game (sounds like a sort of live action role play game) on Saturday where Vicky and I might get to play baddies that the kids have to 'defeat'
- Potentially going to Kitezh (going to ask Katya about that happening)
- Game club, which has its first edition today - I really hope it works! The idea is to have a solid organised weekly session of Game of Thrones, Twister, Mafia and other such board and parlour games. Idea is to have a choice of games to play instead of having just Game of Thrones out and then a maximum of 6 players being able to play and others being left out.
- Half-term, when Vicky and I get a break from teaching (though teaching is one of the things I like doing most here, when it's going well)
- Starting new modules in the textbooks we teach - feels like it's about time to do some different topics.

Gratitude! That's what this weekly column's supposed to be about. Thanks this week go out to:
- Sergey for taking us to Moscow, being really patient while we took ages picking souvenirs, and being an all-round decent tour guide
- Vicky for being hilarious and for taking the One Direction jokes way too far. I can't believe we actually have a shrine now. For a band we don't even really like or know a lot of songs of.
- Bacon crisps, for existing
- Na Zdorove cereal, for the same reason
- Those ladies who came and gave the soap masterclass
- Jessie J for telling me it's okay not to be okay. (Yes, sometimes I listen to pop music, and what of it?)
- My friends and family for telling me to keep my chin up

Nobody likes Mondays anyway.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Odgar & Hare

Today has been as changeable as the weather: it's rained, snowed, hailed, been incredibly windy and been bright and sunny.

Both Vicky and I woke up in bad moods, partially due to the rain. At breakfast I felt unseasonably homesick and gloomy, despite a very encouraging conversation yesterday to the effect of 'keep your chin up, you'll be home and with your friends in a month'. Part of what keeps me going is knowing that quitting would mean binning my entire degree, and that is not appealing in the slightest seeing as I've worked so hard to get here.

Things didn't improve when Galya had a go at Vicky for not mopping and sweeping the kitchen last night - the bane of our lives isn't aware that as volunteers who don't know how to do all of the kitchen duties, when we're on evening duty we only do the washing up (which takes an hour). We're always paired with another adult who does the sweeping and mopping and putting away the food, which is really nice as it's lonely and creepy in the kitchen at night. Vicky left after doing the washing up, fairly assuming the guy on duty with her would be along later to finish off. Turned out he hadn't showed up, and Vicky got blamed for the results. Because I am a coward, I conveyed this last sentence loudly in Russian to nobody in particular in order to put Galya to right. She heard, and then claimed she hadn't been telling Vicky off, while still moaning about it all. Yeah right. She slammed the door in our faces while we were discussing Shakespeare, then she told us to shut up while cleaning the tables because Vicky and I were having an amusing conversation, which made me want to cut off her remaining fingers and feed them to her, disguised in a disgusting cabbage-filled pilaf.

We had to set 6th form an end-of-module test today, which felt mean but is mainly to help us - we need to know what to go over and where the gaps in their knowledge lie. Shockingly enough, it seems they didn't know the present tense of the verb 'to be' before we arrived! 5th form also had a test, but we did it as whole class rather than a sit-down-be-quiet thing as we know that's asking a but much of 4 rowdy 11-year-olds. Also worryingly, they didn't know how to spell 'one' :S.

After lunch we peeled potatoes (Galya told us she'd do it herself, but we insisted as Arina had asked us to. Don't want to give G any more fuel to her fire, as we can imagine her calling us lazy and unhelpful if we'd accepted her offer). Once we were done with potato mountain we had a spontaneous dance party to Call Me Maybe which was playing on the kitchen radio (because we can
, and because everyone already thinks we're crazy), then we cleaned Sergey's house, which is always alright because we get to listen to the awesome rock radio station. It was even more pleasant this time as Han, another volunteer (think he's from Vietnam) had made us special delicious sweet instant cappuccino stuff. He's really nice - we totally owe him for spontaneously doing our breakfast washing up duty the other day while we were at a lesson. He nearly did the same today but the dreaded G prevented him from doing us such a generous and pleasant favour.


On balance though, the past few days have been great:
- we've had decent lessons, although I still get nervous when I realise I'm just a student and have only a 140-hour TEFL certificate and no previous classroom experience before Orion.
- we got to make soap on Wednesday! Seriously, soap-making is really great fun - we made a 'friendship soap' by everyone mixing up colours and glitter with soap and chucking it all in one container (me and Vicky muffed it and added smell when we shouldn't have, so the whole batch stinks of peach and biscuits). Then we made our own individual soaps - I made a 'coffee cake' by mixing cappuccino and biscuit scents in a brown, bronze and gold-glittery soap, and a beautiful fruity rose with layers of red strawberry, yellow peach and green watermelon. Afterwards there was gold glitter everywhere!
- On Wednesday night we had another two-person-party for being here 8 weeks out of our 12 and a bit. Today it is officially a month until we come home on the 26th, which should also warrant partying but tomorrow is a work day, so we'll have another party tomorrow. Vicky is amazingly good at the 50 Shades of Grey drinking game, and really got into the spirit of enhancing the characters with silly accents - chavvy Anastasia Steele has to be heard to be believed.
- I've got quite into Anna Karenina now, though I'm only 23% of the way through. It's like reading a really tawdry soap opera where everyone's in love with someone who isn't their spouse.
- Yesterday we got pizza for dinner. 'Nuff said.

Toodle pip old beans!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Trip to Mosc-ow!

The -ow! is for pain caused by said expedition - my legs and feet were killing me after walking round Russia's capital and its gigantic souvenir market all day on Sunday.

Angry, cook-related rant, please feel free to skip this:
Things started out rather shit. I mean literally, we woke up to find cat shit on the carpet in the hall. At the crack of dawn Galya promptly launched into a 5-minute tirade blaming us for not letting the cat out. I informed her that we had let the cat out, twice (he sneaked back in after someone the first time). She said she told the visitors to let it out, but she should well know by now that any unsupervised cat should not be trusted, and if one sees Smelly Cat (aka Basik/Basil/Ash/The Phantom Pooper) he should be lobbed out the door without mercy or relent. Either way, I have had it up to here *Lois indicates as far as she can reach above her head* with her blaming us for cat accidents, and leaving us to clear up after them when we haven't been the ones leaving them in the house. We always make sure they're put out in a timely manner, because they have no litter tray, food or cat flap here. Which seems odd because she leaves Nyusha in her room at night. Where does Nyusha go to the loo? What does she eat and drink? Galya seems to think cats eat potatoes and drink milk... we tried to update her on the 'cats are lactose intolerant carnivores' thing, but she laughed in disbelief. Poor kitten.

Having not satisfied herself with blaming us for the cat mess, Galya then proceeded to shriek at us for making her late. Nobody bothered to tell us we had to catch a specific bus to Moscow in advance, we thought we were getting a lift. So it was very rich of her, after delaying our getting ready by making a huge fuss and waking everyone up over the cat shit, to then start telling us off for being a couple minutes slower. In the end we caught the bus just fine. She sat in front of us on the bus so I attempted to blow up her head with my mind, Sheldon Cooper style.

/angry rant

It was a long journey to Moscow: a lift to the bus stop, then a bus to somewhere or other, then a minibus (marshrutka) to Tyopli Stan. We stopped at Typoli Stan at a shopping centre for coffee and pastries in Кофе Хаус (translit. Coffee House) then took the Metro to Red Square. Red Square was even more impressive than I'd imagined. Vicky and I went round St Basil's Cathedral while Sergey waited outside (he was our tour guide/chaperone for the day). I found it most interesting and educational; I learned all about fools for Christ, and who St Basil was. He seemed to go around butt naked working wonders. Fair dos.

We went to ГУМ, which is like a very pretty, classy shopping centre with the very fanciest brands. We popped inside the Russian equivalent of Fortnum & Mason's and nicked loads of free cheese samplers. Mmm lump of Grana Padano :-)

After that we contemplated going inside the Kremlin, but decided it was too expensive and that time was short. On our walks we passed the State Duma and the National Library. We walked from Red Square to Arbat and then all the way down it; it felt strangely quiet, but then it was a Sunday lunchtime. We stopped for lunch at Teremok - we had been after Italian food, but were so starving that we were quite happy with blinis. Sergey suggested we grab a coffee afterwards, but we spotted the doughnut selection and decided on pudding. Suddenly I realised it was a Dunkin' Donuts we were looking at, so absolutely had to get something (we don't have them in the UK, and I'd heard many good reviews from the US). I had a doughnut éclair filled with chocolate cream and topped with chocolate icing and crunchy chocolate balls. Delicious is an understatement.

We hopped on the Metro to the Ismailovskiy market: imagine the entirety of Camden Town was a vintage, military surplus and souvenir market, and you've nearly got it. We spent hours in there looking at the fake Kremlin and being indecisive over souvenirs. I think I've got most of my shopping done bar a couple of guys (Matroyshas don't strike me as very masculine gifts). Once we were done deliberating it was time to get back on the Metro and get on our way home. Queue visiting revolting portaloos, a bakery called paul's, but not that Paul's (oh fine French patisserie, where art thou?) and hopping on a marshrutka back to who-knows-where, where Lyosha was waiting for us in the car.

Overall it was great, but it's strange to think I might live in Moscow for three months. It's like someone being taken to the Houses of Parliament and Oxford street and then being asked if they want to live in London. It's just the tourist sights, not places where one would live and see every day.


Yesterday we helped the children write Christmas cards to their Godparents (I think that means people who sponsor them). They decorated cards with feathers and sequins and such, with our help as translators. It was charming, if a little unseasonal! Knowing the post around here, the cards might just arrive on time! We have Liza from Ecologia Youth Trust here for the week, she's a friendly, witty lady and I enjoy chatting to her at mealtimes.

Today we're back to the ususal: teaching classes, moving logs and ironing. Bizarrely someone did the breakfast dishes during our class, so we were relieved of duty. Strangely masochistic as he is, I'm very grateful to the guy.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Same New Same Old?

I haven't updated since Sunday because we've really fallen into a routine here, and frankly I don't know whether that's exciting for anyone to read. Since a 3 weeks ago we've been receiving weekly timetable rather than daily, which makes it seem like time is going much faster. If you want a routine run-down, here it is:

08.30 - Wake up, get up and get ready for the day
09.45 - Breakfast
10.15 - Wash the dishes
11.00 - Free (aka lesson preparation)
12.05 - Teach a class
13.00 - Either teach a class or free
14.00 - Lunch
15.00, 16.00, 17.00 - One of these hours is free, the other two hours community work and/or other housework. Timings of each mixed up.
18.30 - Dinner
23.30ish - Bedtime

After dinner we're usually free, lesson planning, chatting, reading and so on. We had our first Russian lesson in over a week yesterday, which was nice because it was our last lesson on participles (which are devilishly hard in Russian, but frequently used in literature). Next time we'll be on to a much easier and more amusing topic.

Vicky's off washing dishes now, tomorrow will be my turn to do after-dinner duty. We've been added to the rota for that because all the adults here take a turn on it to add to their huge workload.

Nothing new with people really, I still find the cook infuriating, impolite and revolting as ever. Kids are still sweet and still crack me up. Kittens are still cute.

It's not really a grind or a drag though: I enjoy teaching, I don't mind all the housework because I know it's appreciated, and I've got good company to talk to.

Think of it as old but good, like an album that you've listened to many times. Sure, you've got your favourite tracks, and some you don't know and love so much but still like listening to. Can you tell I've been listening to London Calling by The Clash quite a lot over the past few days? What a brilliant record, simply timeless.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Спасибо Sundays/ Halfway Sunday

Today we are officially more than halfway through our time here in Orion. To celebrate we've been drinking Russian beer, eating marshmallow clams called Zephyr, crisps, and some things called Choco-Pies which are similar to Wagon Wheels. We've been playing the Science of Sleep drinking game while watching the film, which is a great film: funny yet confusing.

Спасибо this week must be said to:

- Yura for the incredible home-made sushi today (smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber flavour), easily the best dinner here yet in my opinion

- Maxim and Vicka for inviting us to play Game of Thrones - having read most of the rules in English Vicky and I are now much more on the ball. After I left for kitchen duty Vicky placed second out of four people. Max obviously won haha, but he's very competitive. Makes me want to beat him at it even more!

- Katya for taking mercy on us: after the 'experimental week' it has been declared that the Kindergarten are incapable of behaving themselves properly in our 'classes', and therefore we won't be looking after them from 5pm until 6.30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Huzzah! Instead we will have classes with the two 6-year-old girls Daryona and Sonya. (Monday update: we had our first lesson today and it went very well: a lot of improvising had to be done, but the end result seemed to be that we had educational fun.

- Vicky for being especially supportive and, as usual, hilarious, and for making sure I pay my sit-up fines for using the computer.

- Kozel for making tasty, tasty beer :P

- The students who are working hard and giving us plenty of patience while we try out new things and work on our teaching style and lesson content. The books we're working with can at times be very dry and repetitive in their lesson plans, so we're using our creative powers to tailor them to be more interesting to the students.

Additionally, I've started from the beginning of my Serbian textbook doing all the exercises, in an effort to keep my Serbian up. I don't want to come back in 4th year and look confused, and moreover I intend to go to a Serbian summer school next year so I'd like to be of a decent intermediate standard when I go.

Monday edit

Just in case you're looking for some useful phrases you might need to learn the Russian for before coming on your year abroad, I would recommend the words for:
- Help!
- Flood!
- Hose
- Mop

I wish I were joking, but seriously, we were washing up a filthy milk churn from the farm when all of a sudden the drain hose detached from the half-full sink and the whole lot of filthy water spilled out onto the floor. There was dirty water EVERYWHERE. We were mopping for a full 50 minutes to get the place clean, leaving us only 10 minutes to prepare for our 4th form lesson.

Perhaps I'll look back on this blog later and laugh, but right now, I'm still feeling horrified.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

I Never Could Get the Hang of Thursdays

Hello there, it's Thursday and I'm feeling a little fed-up.

Someone once told me if you share your nightmares they won't come true, so consider this me telling loads of people so they definitely, definitely don't come true. I've been plagued by horrid nightmares the past two nights, one involving my house burning down and another involving coming home to find my motorbike ripped apart so it was nothing but a pair of wheels, some bent chrome and handlebars, that made a spluttering sound but wouldn't start. Poor Waspie :( I do miss riding loads, and due to my broken finger over summer I didn't feel confident that I could control my bike,  so didn't ride at all.

I also got fed-up with having my hair in my eyes, so I cut my own fringe! I've done what I'm sure is a terrible job, and it's a little too short, but I can see again so the outcome on the whole is good. Anyway, by the time I come home it'll have grown out again, and frankly, these people gave a 6-year-old a mullet. A mullet! Poor girl. I rest my case against hairstyling finesse here.

Friday edit: I got fed-up with the disgusting way Galya the cook leaves things out in the dining room after breakfast: the lemon was covered with fruit flies, and the cheese and butter had also been left on the side, so I tried to nicely explain to her that was unhygienic and that it'll make everyone ill. She said I was being angry, but I wasn't, I was just horrified. I corrected her when she said there was no room in the fridge, as I'd just cleaned and reorganised them the day before yesterday. Then we covered all the things in clingfilm and put them in the nice clean organised fridge. I left with a smug sense of victory. Seriously though, if a health inspector had clapped eyes on that kitchen before we had our mass clean up he would have instantly shut it down. Now, he'd probably just close it for a few days. I can't believe I eat anything that cook prepares. The way she's missing fingers tells me she shouldn't even be trusted with a sharp knife.

Another observation of the strange ways of life in Orion: apparently the best way to catch mice is to cover a piece of cheese in glue and leave it on the floor. When Galya linked the conversation about seeing a cat catch a mouse in our house to the tube of glue that she was holding, my and Vicky's first reaction was to call her mad. However, upon taking this up with Katya, she informed us that this is in fact the best way to catch mice, and that the alternatives are a) Cats, who make a big mess of the mice and leave blood everywhere, or b) Traps, which don't work. I don't think my worries about the inhumane nature of disposing of mice by gluing them to cheese even factored in Katya's mind. As far as they're concerned these mice are as revolting and as unfeeling as dirt. I've kept pet mice, and I can't help but think they're cute.

Though not fed-up with Russian food entirely, I really miss a lot of British food. Until I came here I didn't appreciate the wide variety of cuisines I usually consume on a weekly basis, or the selection of herbs and spices that are used to flavour some of my favourite dishes. Here we eat seasonal vegetables, and I haven't seen a floret of broccoli nor a leaf of spinach since I arrived; I'll even admit I've previously failed to appreciate the year-round availability of fruit and veg of all types in the city. So together Vicky and I compiled a list of all the food we miss, with a view to appreciating the abundance of delicious food available in jolly old England when we get back. Additions marked with an L are entirely my cravings, while a V corresponds to Vicky's own hungers.

Lois and Vicky's pig-out on return to England:
- A whole tin of Ambrosia custard, with a spoon
- Roast dinner - peas, gravy and roast potatoes, mashed swede + carrot
- Indian food - mango chutney + poppadoms
- Chinese food
- Dominoes
- Cheddar
- Cauliflower cheese
- Proper sausages - V - leek and cheese veggie sausages, L - Linda McCartney veggie sausages
- L - My lentil, spinach and coriander soup
- Chocolate buttons
- Baked beans on toast with cheese
- Jacket potato
- Jaffa cakes
- V - egg, fried, boiled, and with soldiers, scrambled or poached
- Chocolate biscuit cake
- scones with jam and clotted cream
- crumpets - with golden syrup
- hot chocolate - white
- Starbucks chai lattes
- Mexican food! - Doritos, nachos, enchilladas, fajitas, salsa, gaucamole
- Spaghetti - L - carbonara, bolognese, V - her own pasta sauce
- Cereal - Shreddies, L - Choco Flakers, V - Frosties
- V - Chicken caesar wrap from Frankie & Benny's
- Cherry tomatoes
- Cucumber
- Cocktails
- Toasted sandwiches including panini
- Mango juice
- L - Fish and Chips, proper chippy style with lots of salt and vinegar.

Comments people! Which foods do you think you'd miss most if you were away from home for 3 months?

In a bit,
Your fringe-y author x

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Blog In Which Things Get Better

Part of the whole self-improvement jazz is to try and sort out all those niggling problems that make your life unpleasant. On the other hand, without unpleasantness, there's no contrast to make the pleasant visible. Everybody's got to do some of the jobs they hate, because Mr Muscle only cleans bathrooms.


I haven't enjoyed taking Kindergarten. Fact. Things they like include jumping on me, using me as a horse, shouting "Cartoon!" in Russian until we put a film on, and hitting each other for funsies until someone gets hit too hard and starts crying. Due to their bad behaviour, and the way they didn't listen to a word we said in English or Russian, we came to the conclusion that it was impossible to teach them any English, or any games for that matter. They also didn't seem to be able to explain Russian games to us. For those reasons we gave up on playing with them. We did put a lot of effort into producing pictures for them to colour in: three letters at a time we went through the alphabet. Then we ran out of letters, and just watched a few films while Sonya and Daryona the 6-year-olds went to Kitezh last week, leaving us with Nastya and Danya the 5-year-olds. Now they're all back together, we'd just been doing colouring in that involved more than one word e.g. a farm scene, a pond.

Today was a giant leap. Katya had told us that she would be in our Kindergarten lesson, would do a few games with us all and have a talk. The upshot of this talk was that the 4 of them like our lessons, and want to continue, and would like to have better classes. Together it was concluded that this must be achieved through respecting us - treating us as they would the other adults - and by introducing rules to improve behaviour. However, if by the end of this 'evaluation week' their behaviour is still unacceptable (so if they're still driving us barmy), then our thrice-weekly lessons will stop. I'm not sure I like that idea, seeing as today after Katya left and they finished their colouring they actually wanted to play a number game with flashcards. Even Nastya pronounced the numbers 1-5 correctly from the written English, even though she can't read Russian! I was very impressed. Katya has told us what English the older girls do know, and what games they know how to play. This will prove incredibly useful.

The action plan is to make proper lesson plans, with 3 or 4 activities on, so that they can see that the cartoon will come after the colouring in and games and such. This way we might actually only watch 30 minutes of film each time, rather than ending up watching them for an hour! I'm cautiously optimistic that maybe we might be good at taking Kindergarten after all. It would be a shame for them to miss out on what help we can give them with English, which they will all study at school.

The 4th form's behaviour also improved today. Not good by a long shot, but Vicka only pretended to fall asleep twice, and little Katya stopped saying "No Lesson!" once we'd shepherded her into the classroom. They enjoyed drawing self-portraits and labelling them.

5th form seemed happy to work on some English today after a few doss lessons of watching Racing Stripes. Though we went in with no lesson plan, Maxim handily turned up on time while the others were 10 minutes late. This meant that Maxim could show us where we left off in the book and we had time to look at the lesson plan quickly and translate what we could. With 2 pupils to a teacher we could keep an eye on the pairs of boys and give them lots of support. They didn't seem bored, only a little frustrated, but then I think it's been a while since they've had a proper lesson and they've not been in language-learning mode.


On to the awesome!

Yesterday Maxim tried to teach us how to play the incredibly complicated Game of Thrones board game. It's ridiculous - the rules make up a whole booklet! There are so many little bits and pieces of card or plastic to place on the board or in front of you. We managed to play less than 2 rounds in over an hour before the whole village came upstairs for the Therapeutic Community Meeting. He has challenged us to a rematch though, so Vicky and I have found the rulebook in English on the internet so we can put up a fight against him :D I really appreciate his friendliness, and patience with us.

Today we had an 'Autumn Festival' in Orion, complete with beautiful bouquets of yellow roses (my favourite!) in the dining room, and a play. The play was really sweet, based upon saying goodbye to Summer for the year and welcoming Autumn in: the girls performed a dance with leaves in hands, there was a game involving gathering paper leaves, children acted and recited poetry. There were riddles to solve with sweets as rewards, and also a Summer vs Autumn poem competition. I contributed a silly little rhyme:

"Summer is great, Summer is fun
We all eat ice-cream in the sun
Our ice cream melts, and then it falls
Onto the ground, oh hang it all!"

Yeah, it's not Pushkin, but I did think that up in about 10 seconds! I read it out, and then Katya translated it to Russian, even making it rhyme :O She didn't translate 'hang it all', but I think my tone of voice explained the disappointed sentiment and intended humour and got the intended giggle.

This evening Vicky felt like doing some sewing, but lacking any cross-stitch kits I proposed we used her materials to make some friendship bracelets. Though my first attempt failed about an inch in, my second attempt is looking good. I hope Vicky will like it anyway.

Joy was also in abundance today because I finally received a package my parents sent on the 4th of September, containing 3 bars of my favourite dark chocolate and my book of silly children's songs that I think the kids will enjoy.

Hooray! x

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Спасибо Sundays! #3

It's a crime, but I missed this last Sunday due to the aforementioned cooking for 12 people. I think today Masha thinks we're baking a cake for teatime - I think emergency Victoria Sponge skills might finally come in handy.

So, on to the appreciation:

- Lizzie at Third Year Abroad for deeming my writing worth reading; I'm over the moon to be published on such a great site, and a big warm welcome to all the new readers who are coming over from there! If you haven't seen it yet, pop over her site to read my 10 things I wish I'd known before leaving for Russia.

- Vicky for being all-round hilarious, introducing me to the wonders of the film Hairspray just now, and for correcting me. Turns out the Sumatrans are not an alien race from Doctor Who, that's the Sontarans.

- Lena for her Russian lessons. 9 years of studying Russian and I've never understood participles until now. This will make reading Russian literature so much easier, as although they're never used in speech, they are a staple of written language as they use far less words to convey the same meaning.

- Maxim for the amusing game of Pokemon pictionary and for being a fellow fan of fire-types.

- Vicka and Katya for giving us a chance to teach. Even though they're used to just doing fun-and-games stuff with us, we took our lesson plans in hand and managed to give them a double lesson on prepositions of place and names of toys. Despite their constant protests of "I don't want to learn English!", "I'm bored!", and "I want to sleep!" at the beginning, by the end we had them correctly identifying the whereabouts of my tiger and penguin toys, and doing 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes".

- Arina for the delicious herbal tea and for showing us her charming home. She's got a lovely story of why she's here: having studied Orion for university and having written her dissertation on the place, she decided to return at the mere age of 22. She volunteered for a year before becoming part of the community, as is the rule, and decided to stay. After that her long-term boyfriend Lyosha came to Orion to join her, and they were married a year and a half ago in the school hall, with a Carribean theme. D'aww. I think this makes Arina all of 25! With 4 foster kids! Well, turns out one of them is a 'Program Child' - his parents pay for him to live here, for food and board, and visit him when they can. Like a long-term boarding school, but living with a family? There's nothing like it for comparison really.

- and last but not least Masha for lending us the Belly Dancing DVD. We've nearly died/died laughing at the fat-burning workout - mad hopping and panting and hugging poles for support abounded. Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah :P Also, the woman who does the Level 1 & 2 bits, not the rhyming twins Neena and Veena, is so funny. We don't think we'll do her classes as they're less of a work-out and more of her just showing off what she can do! Also, it's more orientated towards teaching the individual moves to spice up one's dancing in clubs, rather than as a half-hour lesson with warm-up and cool-down like the beginners' course. I want a proper DVD for Channumas I think (are you listening Santa?).

Soon I'll be off to lunch at Katya's, so that's all for now.
Have a super Sunday too!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Things that pass for normal

They say that normal is just a cycle on a washing machine, but this past week there were some things that passed for normal here, or merely somewhat exciting that I find utterly extraordinary or downright weird. Here are some:

- A baby calf was born - this was exciting. I just don't think the Russians grasped quite how extraordinary we found it when Vicky's name suggestion of Buttercup was picked for the newborn. Neither of us had never seen a newborn calf in real life, let alone had the chance to name one. The calf is just adorable with its gangly legs and it's little white patch on its forehead. Welcome to the world Buttercup/Лютик (that's Buttercup in Russian, pronounced Lyootik, still a very cute name).

- In Russia it is socially acceptable, in fact ordinary, to just eat jam with a teaspoon out of the jar or dish you are presented with. I tried this for the first time the other day, and it was very nice. However, when Arina told us to dig in to a giant Nutella jar with a spoon, I just couldn't bring myself to. It's OK if it's my own jar, and nobody's looking, and I've had a really bad day... but just like that... out of someone else's jar on a teaspoon... that's fine here?! When we spread a 'normal' amount on a slice of bread, Arina kept inviting us to put more on. I think this is the first time anyone has ever encouraged me to consume more of their Nutella.

- One can buy tarragon-flavoured soft drink. TARRAGON-flavoured. It's a luminous green, slightly sparkling drink which comes in an elegant glass bottle. It's not unpleasant but certainly odd. Glad I didn't know what it was before I tried it, or I might never have brought myself to. Not as pleasant as Birch-juice, Cherry juice (currently my favourite unusual beverage), Kompot or Peach-Apple juice though. 

- There is something cuter than small kittens. Even smaller kittens! There are three more kittens, that we didn't even know existed, only a month old and still with blue eyes! They are teeny-weeny. This brings the village kitten-count total up to 10! They really ought to get them spayed/neutered :S

- I am a cat bed. Nyusha decided that I am a mattress, and fell asleep right on my waist as I lay on my side, in a most inconvenient fashion. When I had to move to make myself comfortable, I tried to make a space in my lap for her to lie in, but she decided the crook between my arm and head would be better and essentially made herself into a pillow. Kitten-pillows are quite nice, and have a neat purr/vibrate function. 

- 10-year-olds can and will serve tea and make breakfast. While Sasha was on the farm looking after the new calf, the two 4th form girls she's looking after invited us to hers for tea, and then proceeded to make toasted cheese sandwiches, make tea, and put out quite a spread (despite our protests that we'd just eaten). 

- Making dinner for 12 is something one can accidentally volunteer for. Once Lena discovered in conversation that Vicky and I enjoy cooking, she said 'Oh! You must cook for us! Tomorrow night!'. I paraphrase, but that was the gist. We spent quite a while trying to decide what to cook, our brief from Masha being 'Something English/ We have lots of pasta/ Something with chicken/ I love apple pie'. I'm very glad I bought my student cookbook with me, and for BBC Good Food, because we settled on Chicken and Leek Pasta bake and Apple Pie for pud. The fact that we turned up on Sunday to find there were only onions, no leeks, left us undeterred. Though stressful, the experience was most rewarding: I got a big buzz from cooking, and a delicious meal, and a truly delicious apple pie. Masha gave us wine and a toast(!) at dinner, which was charming and left me red as a beetroot and very giggly. The recipe for the pie is here http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2052/ultimate-apple-pie - I deviated and used whichever apples we had lying around, which were eating apples.

- Buying 77kg of whole walnuts is apparently a good idea. I can understand the enormous tub of honey: honey is a delicious and natural sweetener and lends itself well to many dishes. However, why on earth would it be a good idea to buy 77kg of walnuts? Flagman's living room is dominated by bins and trays full of walnuts. Every house has a bin full of walnuts. Even our house has a glass bowlful because Lena forced us to take some; Vicky doesn't like them and I don't like opening them, but they'll look nice while we watch them rot. If you know an easy and foolproof way of opening a walnut without a nutcracker, let me know in the comments.

- After no more than a few unobserved lessons' practise teaching in a pair, one may be entrusted with teaching English classes solo. Due to Katya and Yura being away in Kitezh with the 1st form for a week; Sergei being in Crimea with a group of kids and adults from Kitezh at a place in the mountains where an old guy teaches them Kung-Fu; Sasha looking after Buttercup; and Lyosha needing to go off somewhere in the car; people were so thin on the ground this morning that they had to split Vicky and me up so she took Kindergarten and I took a 4th form English class. Thankfully, they just wanted to watch the rest of Sleeping Beauty and that took a whole 45 minutes. I do want to teach proper lessons though, and I have found the teacher's book with all the lesson plans (in Russian, but easy enough to understand), so I know what I'm doing if I get asked again tomorrow.

You read it! You can't unread it! Stay tuned for more Tales of Interest!
P.S. Cookies for those who get that reference.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Catch-up by Numbers!

The past few days I've lacked internet due to the password changing without notice.

So, what's new in Orion?

1. The gold colour of the school! It was blue, yellow and green plastic cladding, but they decided to paint it a colour more in keeping with the rest of the village so it's painted earthy gold. It looks lovely.

2. New major effort on the vegetable patches. Dimitri, at the grown-ups only meeting after the village meeting on Sunday, talked about how the garden was going to waste and covered in weeds. This has led to a big push this week to get them all weeded and hoed and tidied up. Lol hoes. This also has meant that we've talked to the children a lot more.

3. Pizza magically appeared. After discussing the awesomeness and absence of Domino's here on Thursday, as if our wish had been granted, pizza was served for dinner on Friday and it was Pepper and Ham flavour and amazing :D

4. We realised that all the Milka that the shop sells is gone off: the record for most gone-off is held by my chopped-nut bar, which went off back on the 29th of May. This begs the question of what it was doing until the time it went off, and for those extra few months it was hanging around until September. Our best guess is that the entire shop is stocked by lorry accidents. It is still edible though!

5. We went outside the village again: Katya and us two volunteers took the Kindergarteners down to the river. The river is what happens if you turn right out of the village, walk a tiny bit down the road until you're pretty sure there's nothing interesting about to appear, and then turn down the hill. The river itself is pretty, and used to be deeper and better for swimming in until they built the road over, so now it goes through a tunnel (if I understood correctly!). In the winter they go skating on the frozen river, and skiing down the snowy slope. So cool. But apparently we won't see any good snow in November unless we're very lucky.

6. Our trip to Moscow should be on Monday, but we haven't checked if it's still happening. One way or another, we hope to go very soon. We are conspiring to go to Кофе Хаус (English people, that just says Coffee House), where one can choose from a vast menu of delicious cheesecakes, and Шоколадница - which, to the uninitiated, is this chain of chocolate cafes where you can buy hot chocolate that is literally just a cup of melted chocolate. Om nom nom.

7. Yesterday we mostly used Vicky's Magic Painting book to amuse the Kindergarten and ourselves. The ones Vicky and I did this evening will join our families, the Daleks, and the terrifying deer and other forest animals painting on our walls.

8. Storms are terrifying: the wind howled and the rain lashed the windows - the lights flickered on and off and there was even a short and terrifying power cut. Suddenly I felt like I was 5 again.

9. Yesterday I had rather a rubbish day, but I know why I was feeling rubbish and I'm taking proactive steps to fix it. Therefore, today has been like the opposite and everything is just dandy. Huzzah!

10. Vicky and I have Prince Ali from Alladin stuck in our heads, reeeeally bad.

11. Discovered another Incompetent Englishman thing: we can't peel sausages as quicky as the Russians.

I think that just about covers it. Nyusha the kitten disappeared for a few days, but we came back from dishwashing to find her all on her ownlies in a very playful mood. She loves to chase my owl necklace :3 She's now snoozing inconveniently on Vicky. D'awww!


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

You kinda had to be there...

This past two days have been full of much hilarity.

By the time we finished our really useful Russian lesson with Lena yesterday it was very dark out (only lit by the lights outside the houses) so I let Vicky and Lena get down the stairs before I switched the first floor light off. I got down a few stairs while holding the banister, then realised my error: in trying to save the planet, I had blinded us all! I managed to get down the stairs somehow, but that only meant that 3 of us were stumbling around in the pitch-dark, circular room, bumping into pillars. I thought I'd found the door, but only walked into some kind of chair. Eventually, someone found the corridor with loos that leads to the dining room, and cleverly remembering there's no light there I switched on the toilet light. More laughter ensued as we gratefully managed to find the rest of the light switches and get out through the kitchen. Maybe you had to be there?

Then today Masha invited us to dancing, which meant skipping karate, but Vicky and I were game to try something new. Immediately the title screen made us crack up: the blonde model wearing a hot-pink bikini top made me think it was a really dodgy dance-video, possibly to do with stripping. I hadn't figured out at that point that "Танец живота" (lit. Dance of the Stomach) meant Belly Dance!  More confusion ensued as we realised our televisual teachers were identical twins, and cue embarrassed giggling as we were instructed to stick our chests out and circle our hips, thankfully not at the same time. Actually, it was a great workout, and we stayed to do another episode with Masha after Ira and Lera (two of the 9th grade girls) left. However, I can't speak for how my abs will feel tomorrow, as I swear they nearly exploded during the second episode.

One more funny episode: we got followed home by Nyusha the kitten, and we let her into the house to come play. Thing is, next thing we knew she'd jumped into the bin and was eating something out of it! Revolting. She then had the cheek to try jump on our beds, but I stopped her. Funny thing was, she then started licking her paws and deliberately looking at me as if to say "Look! I'm clean! Let me on the bed now!". Silly Catface.

Also, there's this brilliant thing Galya makes, which is like full-fat cream cheese with onion (spring onion?) in, and I think garlic maybe, and there must be something else I can't put my finger on because it STINKS. It is also DELICIOUS. We don't know what it's called, so we just called it Smelly Breath. This stuffs needs to exist in the UK. Galya also made poppy-seed pastries today, which I got proper excited about, but they are really rather plain and not a patch on my mum's. I'm so spoilt. I also miss Nutella (chocolate spread here is really bland) and peanut butter and combining the two in a toasted sandwich with banana. Mmmmmmm...

Many hugs,
A happy and affectionate Lois :)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Спасибо Sundays #2

This week I am grateful for:

- Vicka for being the funniest when she told us we had a special karate session with her. She cycled round the village giving us 'encouragement' as we ran our fifth lap of the day (we'd thought karate was off so ran laps instead), then lead us through warm ups. It was at this point that Sergei came along and told her off: karate had been delayed by half an hour and had just started! She's so funny and cheeky.

- Vicky for being mega-supportive and listening to me pour my heart out when I found out on Friday that my Grandma has been diagnosed with cancer.

- The fourth form for not being too harsh on us when we took three double lessons instead of Sasha while she had meetings.

- Nyusha the kitten - for being utterly adorable and massively comforting.

- Terry Pratchett for writing awesome books that one can escape into.

- the fact that despite the rain we had a BBQ lunch!

- whoever runs the shop down the road deciding to stock Milka chocolate!

- Katya for having a chat with Galina - she's making much more of an effort to be understandable now.

- Pokemon Fire Red emulator - where would I be without you?!

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Today's blog is very different, because today I had some mini-epiphanies while talking to Vicky, so many thanks to her for listening to my ramblings and being helpful.

Epiphany 1: You can't fix friendships with a magic wand. If your friends have fallen out or don't get on there may be no hope them becoming friends (again). One or both of them may really be so upset that they are irreconcilable. You can hope to stay friends with both of them, and ignore when one complains of the other or tell them you don't want to hear it.

Epiphany 2: A short while ago I was upset and moping over a guy I very much like, but know a relationship with him is for all intents and purposes impossible. I wrote a note and tucked it in my Kindle cover, and it read "You will find someone better". Today I realised that someone better is single me.

Since I began my first relationship aged 15 ½, I have spent roughly 2 years and 8 months out of relationships in the last 5 years and 9 months. I find this shocking, and have come to the conclusion that I am a serial monogamist. I've never before committed myself to the goal of finding out who I am when I'm single, what I'm like when I'm not longing to be someone's girlfriend, either chasing a relationship or being chased, or falling into one for one reason or another. I've even gone on dating sites while I've been bored and single for a few months, seeking out someone new, interesting and attractive to talk to. No more!

I have enough self-confidence now that I don't need strangers to tell me I'm good-looking, because I'm happy with my appearance. I have plenty of new and old, interesting friends who I neglect to spend enough time speaking to. While pursuing relationships and being introduced to the hobbies and interests of my boyfriends, I haven't cultivated many of my own. I used to be a real bookworm when I was younger, before I, like my group of friends, became more interested in "Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll". Part of finding single me will be to reawaken that urge to read and learn for leisure, as I have so much time now. I will also apply myself to learning a martial art: gaining a new skill will increase my fitness and self-confidence, and if I keep it up then I could even have belts to show for it. It just so happens that I have the opportunity now to participate in karate lessons: I've had this dream of taking up a martial art for some time, but hadn't made it a reality until moving here.

My promise to myself is to be single for at least a year. I'm nervous to find out who I am when I'm single though, as I don't know whether I'm mad when I'm single for long periods of time, or a crazy cat lady, or whether spending more time in my own head will drive me bonkers. I'm naturally more inclined to think more about other people's problems than my own - having a boyfriend gives me someone to care for and help out and listen to, and I guess without that I'll have to think more about caring for, helping and listening to myself.

Self-improvement is the only way forward.


Yesterday there was an epiphany of an entirely different, terrible nature. I discovered via a message from my mum that my maternal grandmother has cancer of the lining of her lung. Tomorrow she will have an operation to remove fluid from her lung, and to take a biopsy to find out more about the nature of the cancer. I did a whole lot of crying yesterday, and again I must thank Vicky for being really supportive. I know nothing is a foregone conclusion, but I think I was crying mainly because it sounds like it must be really scary and painful for my grandma, but also scary and painful for my family and I wish I could be there to offer my support.

My thoughts are with my family at home who I'm sure are doing their best to take good care of Grandma Marilyn.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Ruddy Good Telling Off

Today I've been on the receiving end of several telling-offs (tellings-off? Correct me in the comments section).

I think it all started going wrong at breakfast time. I've been reading Jon Richardson's book
It's Not Me, it's You and I'm starting to agree with him that if you can fail at such a rudimentary task as starting the day then you may as well go back to bed. As it stands it was buckwheat or oat porridge for breakfast, so I'll take it that was a bad omen.

After washing up we began preparing for our first class with two 10-year-old girls. We planned to work in the first lesson and make friendship bracelets in the second bit. Once we were actually setting up for the lesson - after some confusion over which classroom we were in - Vicka walked in and showed off the... *drum roll* ... friendship bracelet she had begun making in the previous class. Oh dear. 
We decided to worry about that bit later because our lesson plan could take far longer than we'd anticipated, which it did, in fact we worked for the whole hour and a half without a real break. Even in the break time, Vicky and I were sitting for portraits(!).

Everything was going well, though taking about twice as long as anticipated... until partway through the shop role play the two girls started arguing over who would get the cute animal magazine, and who would be left with Top of the Pops. They weren't even supposed to open them, they were just for the game, but they argued and argued.   Then Vera, who is 16, walked in and told us off! She said they shouldn't be playing in their lesson, they should be studying. Well, up until a few moments before she walked in they had been behaving themselves, and the role play was there to teach them vocabulary and to use the vocab they had been focusing on in the previous lessons. I am mentally sticking my tongue out in Vera's direction. After the lesson finished we let them take a few bits home: the magazines, some beaded necklaces, some UK flags, and they were so grateful they gave us each a big hug. D'aww.

After lunch while playing with some kittens in the picnic shelter David Dean stopped for a chat with us which was pleasant, and offered his assistance if we need him to sort things out in the realm of relations with the adults, so that was nice. I didn't realise that by the end of the day that I'd suddenly be having such bad relations with the adults!

We spent 2 hours in the afternoon sorting out clothes and washing grubby shoes from the boutique - they are old hand-me-downs and donations as far as I can tell, as amazingly enough I found a Jaeger cashmere pullover in the mix. Sadly it looks stained, but what a diamond in the rough! Over the next few days we have to get all of the clothes washed, ironed and folded ready to be sorted out.

After that we cleaned the ground floor of the school - just as well Katya came to instruct us on the clothes else we would have cleaned the first floor! (Non-language students: on the continent there is no ground floor, that's the first floor, and all other floors and numbered accordingly). However while changing the mop water I got my second telling off. I was pouring the mop water down the sink, seeing as it's got bleach in I didn't want to go chucking it on the grass and killing all the grass and animals. Galya the cook then came in and started giving me an earful, saying I should throw it on the grass, and I told her I was worried about killing the animals. She seems to think Vicky and I are somewhat stupid because we don't understand her when she speaks really fast colloquial Russian, and seemingly can't be bothered to either slow down or try to explain in different words, so just treats Vicky and I like simpletons. We pretty much reply 'Yes' to whatever she says because we've no idea what she's saying. Nevertheless, I gave the sink a very good wash and the next lot of mop water got thrown on the unsuspecting grass.

At dinner time Katya invited told us to sit on the grown-up table, which was nice because a) it took the stress out of trying to choose where to sit, which I find a constant trial in any cafeteria situation and b) I found out who Olga is. She lives in a house outside the main circle of Orion - it's vast and had a lovely-looking green roof and balcony. She's a life development coach or something similar at the weekends, and Monday-Thursday works in Orion sorting the boutique, helping with Kindergarten and doing craft classes with the kids. So that explains the friendship bracelet mishap earlier. She has two adopted children of her own. As such, she has a unique position of constantly interacting with the community, also caring for orphaned children, but her and her family not actually being part of the community circle. Apparently she moves to Egypt for the winter: jammy!

After dinner came the THIRD and final (hopefully) telling off of the day. Katya came to our room holding Top of the Pops magazine, and I wondered what it could be about. Turns out it has pictures of a topless male popstar, and a female popstar making a face that suggests a rebellious devil-may-care attitude. Katya very kindly and sensitively explained that they don't want their kids seeing such images, and I could only be incredibly embarrassed; I had no idea what was in the magazine as it had been wrapped in a plastic cover to hold the free gifts on to it. Had I known I wouldn't have bought it: simple as. Though obviously these kids have some idea of western popstars as they know enough about Lady Gaga to suspect she is an alien.

Katya also talked about the Galya episode, explained that there is a third way which is to throw the waste water on the paving stones, which I am much more happy about. Then I managed to burst into tears while trying to explain about the whole "I barely understand a word Galya says but I wish she'd try to speak slow and clear Russian to us because I really like cooking and I don't just want to peel potatoes because she thinks I'm a simpleton incapable of anything else". I'm paraphrasing here. She said she'd have a word with Galya about these matters, so I feel much better, but I did need to consume two Minature Heroes to deal with it all.

As it stands Vicky is cheered me up by reading bits of Top of the Pops mag to me and going all fangirl over One Direction. Everything will look better in the morning.

Bye for now,
An Exasperated Lois x

Monday, 17 September 2012

Спасибо Sundays!

I know today is Monday, but this is Russia, so yesterday was Monday and today is Sunday. This was all to do with having lots of guests yesterday, so the cook was working and wanted a day off today, so yesterday was a normal working day and today we relaxed. I say relaxed, Vicky and I joined the karate class yesterday so we had an hour and a half of training today.

Yesterday we went to the third floor of the school for our very first karate lesson, only to be told 'Go outside, you can't see, it's a surprise!'. So we began our class in the open air as the sun was setting beautifully, we stretched and practised stances. It turned out that the surprise was a guided meditation lesson - which involved sitting in front of a tealight and listening to Sasha talk, which in fact was really rather nice. I tried to follow the meditation guidance but I got a bit lost trying to understand what the flames burning inside me represented. Still, it was pleasant to sit in the candlelight and get really relaxed by the smell of incense and the sound of a gong.

Today karate was back to 'normal' - after stretching we moved to the playground, where we had to 'gently beat up trees', and more terrifyingly, gently beat up our partners. Vicka, my partner, kept encouraging me to hit her harder, and laughing at me for apparently dancing as I punched her belly. I couldn't help laughing. Still, I'd rather punch her too gently and be considered weak than punch a child too hard and floor them! The last part of the lesson was spent on the kids practising routines of moves, which involved moving about the floor and punching the air, but obviously Vicky and I couldn't participate in that bit.

Each Sunday there is a therapeutic community meeting of everyone in Orion, save those who are off on trips. At the end of the meeting everyone is invited to volunteer their expectations, and also to thank those they wish to thank. In the spirit of this game, and also in the spirit of Gala Darling's Things I Love Thursday weekly article, I will also endeavour to post a weekly list of things I am grateful for.

Things I'm saying спасибо to/for this week:
- Beautiful sunsets
- An abundance of playful kittens
- Phone calls with my family and messages from friends
- Sasha, for being a really fun karate teacher and for letting us into the karate class in the first place
- Katya for breakfast and dinner, and Sasha again for cooking lunch
- All the kids in the 5th and 6th classes who made the alien lesson really fun
- Gordyei, for lending me his copy of Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times in Russian
- David Dean (a visitor here from Scotland, who is somewhere in his 70s, super nice, and a counsellor who advises Orion and other places in how best to manage the process of raising children) for suggesting to the adults here that Vicky and I should be made part of the circle during meetings and more included and mealtimes, because honestly he's right - I do feel like a second-class person when I'm sitting away from the rest of the community
- Vicky, for being hysterically funny... "Lois! Your feet fell off!" need I say more?
- Everyone who reads this blog!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kittens or Hitler?

The lack of posts over the last few days has been due to a lack of much remarkable.

Today was pretty funny/scary:
- I knocked a stack of breakfast plates onto the floor, told the cook I'd broken 2, but on closer inspection I figured out I'd broken 5! Oops!
- During Kindergarten Nastya and Danya had a fight, pulling each other's hair and slapping each other. We didn't really know how to get them to stop, then Danya hit Nastya so hard she started crying. I tried to get Danya to apologise, but had no idea how to say "Say Sorry!" in Russian, so did so part in English... "Скажи Sorry!" didn't work, he just put his finger in his ears. Russians very seldom apologise: I've only heard one "Прощу прощение" the whole time I've been here. Vicky handled it by asking Nastya what she wanted: she wanted a sweetie and she knew where they were. Soon she was back in the kids' room offering sweeties round to all the children including Danya: I guess they must have these fights all the time and forgive each other just as often.
- Fact of the week: farting is internationally funny, and the kindergarteners love to announce "Я пухнула"... so very ladylike. They also equally love to blame it on others. Today they blamed it on me because, and I quote them "У тебя есть большая попа". For those who don't speak Russian out there, that means "You have a big bum". I cracked up at their cheekiness :D

By way of an explanation of the title of the post - we were offered the opportunity to watch a documentary about Adolf Hitler with everyone, but we declined in order to play with Smudgy the kitten. I think we spent the evening in a much more lighthearted, pleasant and relaxed manner because of it.

Good evening!

The internet stopped working while I was typing up that last post, so apologises for the absence. Having used Google translate and the marvellous Russian slang dictionary at http://www.russki-mat.net, we have now found out (and laughed a lot, and have been appropriately shocked) that the little 5-year-olds, having said "Lois - you have a big bum!" then said (excuse their French) "Vicky - you have a big c**t". Note my self-editing to protect my parents' delicate eyes. We're pretty horrified that they know such a strong word. The c-word is not so bad in Russian, and actually has the strength of the f-word in English: as in, so overused it hardly has any strength at all and some people use it every second word.

There's lots of extra people about now, we have neighbours in 'our wing' of the White House who are foster parents from Kitezh, they seem very nice and smiley. Even when we nearly woke one up from a nap while watching Mulan, the other very politely asked us to be quiet, and when she passed me just now she actually thanked us for quietening down! Praise majestical headphone splitters, meaning one can watch films comfortably without making so much as a peep.

Today we also had a relatively successful English lesson, and it was actually a laugh. The aim was to get them to do a role-play in pairs of meeting a stranger for a first time - we decided to make it fun by getting one of the pair to be human and the other from outer space. We had a false start when we hadn't looked up alien in advance, and we had some difficulty getting the kids to settle (we moved to the third floor as the classroom was tiny, they ended up getting out the armour and handpads for karate and mocking up alien warfare... at least they entered into the spirit of it). Still, we had success in eliciting appropriate questions from the class and getting them to converse in English. In the end, we had to move downstairs as our 'classroom' got invaded by visitors, which meant that in pairs they produced a dialogue in front of the class. I think it was pretty quick thinking of me, when one of the boys started communicating in alien-ese (cheek-popping), to hire a translator to speak English for him.

We had free time for the whole 4 and a half hours between lunch and dinner today, so we went to the farm and spent a jolly hour playing with the kittens there, naming them, and rescuing one who seemed to be having the back of her neck nibbled off by her siblings. When we put her down again she curled up in the protective paws of the sleeping dog - d'aww ^_^

I'm overjoyed to have my Russian mobile working at last, although I've been called 9 times today at least by a mystery number who hangs up as soon as I say hello. Creepy.

That's about all to report for now,
Stay tuned x

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Teaching and Learning

Sunday was as relaxed as anticipated: Katya and family welcomed us into their home for all three meals of the day which was most kind. There was a therapeutic meeting again which I think I grasped more of this time. Most of the day was spent on the sofa watching What Women Want and Hope Springs  - the latter of which featured Colin Firth looking rather yummy and being very funny, so I'd recommend it.

Yesterday was a day of teaching and learning. I did a solid hour's potato peeling after washing up, so I learnt how to efficiently use the potato peelers (a useful and often employable skill I assure you). After that we were invited to watch Sasha's English lesson - a double with the 5th form. I noted the things I thought were positive about the lesson, but also some improvements that could be made. It felt embarassing to correct Sasha when she got English phrases wrong - at first I thought they were errors and that she needed teaching the correct ones, but much like I do when I think about language too much, they were just mistakes (or at least I'll have to take her word for it). It feels good to see someone else try to teach and not get everything perfect first time, as I know I won't!

During Kindergarten I was in a really sad mood, thankfully the children were more feeling sitting and colouring in and playing (almost) quietly. We finished off The Little Mermaid and started on The Fox and The Hound. I didn't realise it might be quite... un-PC(?)... that the Fox is in fact orphaned right at the beginning. Nobody burst into tears though, so it can't have been such an insensitive oversight.

We had our first Russian lesson in the evening, courtesy of Lena. Though I found it pretty easy, it wasn't boring or unhelpful: the topic of family was covered a long time ago in my 9 years of studying Russian, so I picked up some new vocab and revised lots of old that I hadn't used in a long time. We even received our own workbooks and had homework to do afterwards - it feels like being back in school in a good way.

Today is a lovely, sunny, chilled-out day, only 3 hours of helping.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Pleasant Surprises

After the emotional washing machine that was yesterday, today has been refreshing.

For breakfast (why do I always post about breakfast? Because it's always a surprise!) we had cheesecake! I am not even joking. Cheesecake, with baked apple. Vicky and I swear they are fattening us up so they can cook us on a cold winter's evening.

The next surprise was when Katya came over to inform us we had a class, right then! After a laugh trying to find the right room and the right class to teach, we finally got in to find all these 3 11/12-year-olds sitting on their low chairs, gazing far up at us. First thing we did was introductions - we've been here a week and a half, so though it's hardly a shock that we haven't learned all the kids' names, it was funny to realise they didn't know our names. Introductions out of the way, the first thing we did was rearrange the chairs into a circle - it's hard to play games in the context of two standing teachers and three kids seated in rows. We fumbled plenty attempting to explain the 'I packed my suitcase and in it I put...' game - we gave up on doing it in alphabetical order when we realised that was really tricky for them, and just played with whatever words they could remember. The 5th form, as their first lesson of term, did the verb 'to be'. This came as a surprise to both of us teachers, as 'to be', though hard to learn, is a vital and constant part of our language. Vocabulary-wise they were comfortable with animals and classroom objects. So really elementary level, even though they're 5th form. Just as well we're starting on the Kindergarten kids now!

At 3pm we wandered trying to find the person who was to set our 'work in the garden' task. All it took was a quick knock on Katya's door, and it soon turned out she was the one who was meant to show us where the overgrown lettuces were. I don't know the technical gardening term, but instead of being nice little ground-level lettuces they had turned into tall mini-tree lettuces, and according to Katya that means they're 'not good'. That was explanation enough, so we pulled up lettuces for an hour.

4pm was the most exciting time of the day - time to collect mushrooms! Lena and several of the children passed us in the garden, I think not realising we were meant to come with, so we ran, grabbed our gardening gloves, nicked some knives out of the kitchen, and caught up with them at the edge of the village. We each got a bag, and a model mushroom, and set to hunting down these little peachy-fleshed inside-out-umbrella mushrooms. At first Vicky and I picked up the wrong ones, and it was pointed out that these had dark undersides. What innocent Westerner would've thought they were wrong, when they look the most like the ones you find in the supermarket, and when the correct ones look bizarrely inverted and fuzzy? Vicka, one of the 4th form girls - who I would describe as none too keen on physical labour but quite the gourmand - gave our picking efforts the once-over, pointed out how she knew which ones were rotten, and immediately I warmed to her for being a clever little mushroom-policewoman.

The 'volnushka' mushroom: freaky-looking, and completely edible (allegedly)
Another surprise for today was how much I've missed English chocolate! I opened up the London-bus-shaped Olympic-commemorative Miniature Heroes tin (Cadbury's sponsorship here I come!) with a sigh, deeply inhaling the familiar and oh-so-British smell of Dairy Milk. It was a smell for sore noses. I shared them with Vicky, Katya and family over a lovely cup of peppermint tea while watching a Russia Today program from 3 years ago about Kitezh and Orion. It was amusing to see how the children have grown - little Sonia was excited to point out her cameos - and also how the village has changed. They used to have a currency called the Ori here which the children earned per hour of work, and could spend on food etc in Orion. The children tired of this 'game of economy', says Katya, and now prefer the 'game of authority', which I think is a way of saying they'd rather earn respect than earn money, because it's strange to carry out monetary transactions with people on an everyday basis when you think of them as your family.

It's Sunday tomorrow, which means rest, relaxation, and watching films. Perfect.

Picture from http://www.ecosystema.ru/08nature/fungi/273.htm

Friday, 7 September 2012

Fetching Tartan Paint

Today has been an emotional washing machine. It all started at breakfast, when I was starving hungry - when I'm too hungry I easily burst into tears over nothing.

The guest mugs had disappeared, so I grabbed a random one for tea. Lena, one of the older grown-ups, pointed out it was her mug, and my eyes just decided to leak. Thanks eyes. Then I was crying from just being so utterly confused, feeling like I couldn't do anything right and like I don't have a hope of fitting in when I can't even understand the mug system. Lena was so sweet, she just said "It's your mug" and that just made me cry more because she was being so nice to me. She even hugged me and said "Я люблю тебя" (tr. I love you), which coming from a Russian, famed for their general lack of smiley-ness, was so ridiculously cute I giggled. After eating breakfast I felt so much better I near-danced around the kitchen tidying up, while attempting to explain to the cook that I wasn't really sad, just hungry.

We washed up after brekky, which seems less of a slog each day now we've developed our "Who Wants to be a Restauranteur?" gameshow idea. The pitch is that people who want to start a cafe or restaurant are dealt out what seems like an insurmountable amount of dishes and cultery to clean. They must scrape, move to the sinks, wash up, rinse, and put away all of it (no drying dishes here). Each day we've been further optimising the task, despite only having one plug between three sinks. Potential winners of the game show must show the required amount of initative to plug all of their sinks (they get to choose their sink set-up to try and get the best time, but there will always be fewer plugs than sinks).

Katya alloted us an arbitrary hour to do the washing up and peel potatoes, but in reality it takes about 40 minutes to clear the first task, and in fact we peeled potatoes for a further 50. So already we were behind schedule. Then our next job was to clean the first floor of the school, which was a mega job because the porch was filthy from everyone's muddy shoes, and the main hall is really rather large - in an hour we managed to sweep and mop the porch, and sweep the main hall. By that point we'd missed our chance to sit in on an English lesson, and had to apologise to Sasha the teacher! Thankfully, Masha had invited us for tea, so we took a break at 1...

So here's the turn around. That which has put everything in perspective. It was 1pm, Masha had had 3 hours without her little girl Sasha, but she still hadn't showered, because she was so busy. Masha looks after 5 kids. Masha, along with Tamara, built the first house in Kitezh with her bare hands, because hiring workers was too expensive. Together they dug a 1.8m deep and 30m long trench for the gas pipe. Masha is only 27!

This woman is hardcore.

Katya wanted to check whether 4 hours of housework a day is alright, and having just discovered all this about Masha, both Vicky and I said yes. Because we're volunteers, and we said on our applications that we're willing to help in any way we can. Right now, what they need is help keeping the place ship-shape while they focus all of their minds and might on getting the education system here right. These people have created this whole village, this whole lifestyle, for the benefit of these children, and they put that ahead of everything else, even just simple stuff like having a shower.

So I cried for the second time today, cried because I am so in awe of the amazing dedication of these people to the cause of creating a new and happy life for orphaned children.

After that I felt much happier, like I can take any amount of work they assign me. Being a 'помощник' means being a helper, and I want to help these people any way I can, because they need help far more than I need a sit down.

Also for lunch we had heaven on earth - mushroom pastries with chive soft-cheese. I rescued a trapped butterly and set it free into the blue sky and that was delightful too.

I attacked the task of mopping the floor after lunch with vigour - I put my ipod on and danced with my mop until the entire hall was spotless. When Katya came to sweep the stairs with only a little dustpan and brush, that further reminded me that we're all helpers here. Maybe we don't get thanked every time we complete a task, but then who's around to thank us? They're all busy doing their own jobs!

The kindergarten girls were utter sweeties today - proper excited to continue watching The Little Mermaid! The girls all ran inside; Vicky went with to get them started on colouring. But by god, the next emotional washing machine cycle made me go white!  I ran after the little boy Danya to corrall him in. When I found him, he was collecting twigs. He said something about a knife but I didn't understand. He went over to a tree-stump, sat down, and to my horror pulled a knife out of it and began scraping the bark off these twigs! The blood drained from my face as I saw he was holding the twig between his legs, and I desperately grasped for the words for "Stop! Don't! That's sharp and dangerous!". Thank heavens he handed me the knife for a second, I think just to hold it, and I refused to give it back and hid it high up in the wood pile. He took to attacking nettles with a very heavy log after that, but he shortly got tired and luckily Tamara crossed our path and told him to run inside. So we raced inside, and soon he was joining the girls quietly colouring in.

So a happy ending to the story of today: the story of redefining my idea of 'difficult'.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Orion Diet Plan

It's a huge lifestyle change moving here. People pay a lot of money to go to spa and fitness retreats so they can lost weight, get fit and relax, but here that just happens by the by.

I'm pretty sure I'm already losing weight here. While I was home for the summer there were the constant temptations of biscuits and chocolate and puddings, plus my parents' bizarre ideas of reasonable portion size and constant offers of seconds. Pudding isn't a thing here - occasionally we're lucky and Galina the cook makes sweet pastries with fruit or curd cheese, but generally dinner is just a savoury main with bread and fruit. Yeah, I've got a stash of treats under my bed, but the 'dark' chocolate I bought at the corner shop is horridly sweet, and my gingerbread stash is basically gone. I'm keeping the smarties for a special celebration or something. I've got another 6 yummy and filling 'Nakd cocoa delight' bars (highly recommend), but they need to be kept for the days when it's omlette for breakfast (bleurgh). Seconds don't really exist - leftovers might be eaten at another meal time, or a hungry and deserving child will snap them up. People pay a lot of money for people to cook them balanced meals with the right amount of calories and to be denied unhealthy and overzealous quantities of food, but this all comes included in the (incredibly reasonable) amount we paid for accomodation and food.

I'm definitely doing way more excerise here - moving logs and jars, doing housework like cleaning, washing up and ironing. Housework may not sound very energetic, but a couple of hours a day and it's a radical calorie-burner. It's funny to think that although one can walk across the whole village in about a 2 minutes (I'm not exaggerating), one can still get such a work-out.

At home I tend to stay up until 2am, but here we get a solid 9-10 hours sleep depending on when we go to bed - we don't have to get up until 9.15 am which is pretty sweet. I've taken up being an evening showerer so there's no rush in the morning, and it's something to do in the evening. Though days are busy, we get a couple hours' free time in the day to relax, read, write, listen to music or whatever takes our fancy. There's even creative opportunities like today's tote bag painting session which was super fun.

Maybe it's just the multivitamins I've been taking, or something in the water, but I'm feeling very healthy and happy at the moment :)