Archive for November, 2012

November 30, 2012

A Definite ‘Up’ Day

In recent posts I have shared stories about how I am a babbling idiot or that some Russians are mean. So I think it’s time for a happier recollection of a pretty great day I had.

A couple weeks ago I spent a few days volunteering at a children’s hospital (one that I visited with the youth conference in July). There wasn’t too much I could do there being pregnant and the hospital having recently transfered many of the kids to a new location, so eventually we all realized it was best that I stop, but this story is from before that.

To get to the hospital I would take a half hour ride on a metro, wait for a mini-bus thing (called a marshrutka) and take that for about 40 minutes to the last stop. Marshrutki can be kind of unpredictable as far as departure times go. My second day going to the hospital the wait for a marshrutka was incredibly long. Nothing was coming. And the line is outside. And of course it was freezing. And a few minutes in to the wait it was drizzling. And my umbrella was at home. Thankfully my coat is waterproof and my schedule at the hospital wasn’t strict, so I was ok waiting. Just a little nervous since I am now two people and not just one.

A little old couple was standing behind me in line. They were using this martrushka in this particular area for the first time. After a while of waiting, the little old lady looked at me and politely demanded that I stand with her under her umbrella. She generously held it over us as she told me they had never used this marshrutka before and she wondered what was taking so long. Unfortunately I couldn’t shed any light on the situation since this was only my second time and the first time I took it, the marshrutka basically came right away. Our conversation topic basically stayed the same the entire wait, but it was pleasant none-the-less.

When the marshrutka finally came, I sat behind the couple. Before exiting, the little old lady turned around and said she wished me much happiness and health. A very sweet wish to offer someone you only ever spoke to about a mini-bus and the weather. I smiled and returned her sentiments. And of course thanked her for her kindness.

I arrived at the hospital to spend another afternoon sitting with Lydia. A woman who takes care of a 9 year old boy in the hospital. Kyril was abandoned by his birth mother and adopted. While riding a bike he was hit by a truck and severly injured. Incomprehensibly, his adoptive parents chose to also abandon Kyril who was now lying in a hospital bed, unresponsive, but alive. Lydia was assigned to him and for a very long time never left his side. When we came to the hospital in July, one of our parcipants was able to relieve her for the first time in weeks so she could go take a walk. Kyril is doing much better now than he was in July, but he still cannot speak, control his movements, or get out of bed. I pray someday he can run around and play like little boys his age. And I admire Lydia for her dedication. She has a life and a family of her own, but she gives it all up to support Kyril. She loves him as one would her own child.

I knew this day was her birthday because I overheard her telling someone the last time I was there. Despite the fact that I didn’t know her that well, I wanted to bring her something. The only thing I really had to give her was a little paper icon copy of the Kazanskaya Mother of God. I had just received it a few days prior after venerating the icon itself. The icon was in Moscow for the Kazanskaya Feastday (November 4th, new style calendar). Andrei and I were fortunate to go to services that day at the Kremlin where the Patriarch was serving and the icon was present. Later, the icon was brought to an Orthodox “Expo” and that’s where I had the opportunity to venerate it. To be able to do this while pregnant was especially significant for me. After venerating the icon, they handed me the paper copy. My plan was to take it to the hospital with me when I, God willing, give birth in April. Knowing that Lydia, in her situation, would not have the opportunity to actually venerate this majestic icon and I did, I decided this would be my gift. She deserved it much more than I ever could.

I had no idea how much it would end up meaning to her. She told me that what she wanted for her birthday was to buy an icon and to be in church. Although it didn’t exactly happen that way, it turned out that the hospital priest came by to give Kyril Holy Communion and blessed Lydia for her work. Then I came and gave her an icon. This was enough to fulfill her birthday wishes. Her intense gratitude and tearful joy was incredibly humbling for me.

It definitely was one of the best gifts I ever gave.

And a pretty great day in Moscow.

November 20, 2012

In Moscow Only Spongebob Makes S’mores

A while ago I wanted to introduce some of our friends to the amazingness that is s’mores. That plan got a little messed up, but I recently got to try again.

While hanging out with Andrei’s cousin and her son I told them about my rice krispy treat/Russian ‘marshmallow’ disaster. That reminded them that they had a question for me.

“Do people in America really roast zephyr (marshmallow) over a fire?” The son had seen it on Spongebob Squarepants and was intensely curious. Since I had recently found the American style marshmallows here in Moscow I decided I had to introduce them to this childhood rite. It’s hard for me to imagine someone going through their entire life not even knowing what a s’more is! Or the simple joy of roasting a marshmallow! When I went to Italy in high school, the family I stayed with was fascinated by the fact that we eat frittatas/omelettes in the morning for breakfast instead of in the evening for dinner (something they had also seen on T.V.).

The next time Andrei and I came over, we brought the s’more fixings. Using chopsticks and their stovetop we brought them up to speed on what it is to be American. And it was a success! Unless they were just being nice, they were thrilled with the results. It’s fun sharing different foods.

Andrei’s cousin and her son hope to visit us in America this summer. I can’t wait to pull out our little fire pit and show them s’more making in all its proper glory!

November 13, 2012

The Big Reveal

The Big Reveal is not very big – surprise wise – considering many of our family and close friends already know the ‘secret’. Also, depending on timing you probably saw something on Facebook before reading this post. But it is big in happiness, in excitement (and scariness)…and in blessings.

Andrei and I are expecting our first baby.

Due April 16. So, sometimes lenten birthday cakes – woohoo! At least I have good practice in that (my birthday is always during lent).

Most everyone’s first question (after the due date) is how I am feeling. Actually scratch that. Everyone asks if the baby will be born in Russia. That answer is no – I am leaving Moscow in a few weeks and will stay until the baby is born. After that, we will see.

Back to the other question though – I feel pretty good. Have not had any morning sickness. I’m mostly just tired and hungry (I think 2nd trimester energy is a myth). That’s about it. I also kind of feel like a bit of a poser. There are about a bazillion pregnant girls I know in my Russian community back home as well as some old college friends. In Moscow I’ve noticed the smoke more, the lack of being able to order a huge veggie salad, and my very strong desire to go home and start setting up our house already. I have been eating lots of pickles. But I do that normally so I don’t think it has anything to do with the baby.

Mostly I feel blessed. Cliche, I know. But here’s the thing:

In July (2012), I participated in a Russian Orthodox Youth Retreat/Conference in Moscow. My cousin’s husband was the organizer and I helped him a bit with coordination before and during the program. The conference was centered around the idea of Orthodox marriage and family. We started our conference by participating in Moscow’s For Life Conference (they call it a Festival – but it was more like a conference) which began on Russia’s Day of Family, Love and Loyalty/Faith. This national holiday coincides with the day the church celebrates Peter and Fevronia – patron saints of marriage.  So the theme was strong and prominent. The For Life program was essentially an anti-abortion conference discussing and presenting many social programs in Russia that help families. The goal is to reduce the number of abortions in Russia (which is astronomical). There were also focuses on other social programs, but for us that was the main interest. It was interesting that rather than having an ‘anti-abortion’ approach to the public, most of the participants of these social programs said they focus on  defending family values and duties. Our little group of ‘foreigners’ was inspired by their courage in standing up for these important principles, their successes, and their spiritual approach.  Although implementing these social programs in America would be much more challenging, perhaps someday their courage will rub off and there will be hope for us too.

After the For Life program we went to Ekaterinburg to visit the site of the murder and martyrdom of the Royal Family. We also met with local Orthodox youth to share our experiences in the church and different religious socializing groups. To me this place was especially important as my saint is Holy Royal Martyr Olga (the eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II) who was killed with her family in Ekaterinburg. I can’t express how close I felt to her and the family in this place. A place that was so bittersweet. Where sadness, joy and peace are experienced in one emotion and one prayer. The local organizers told us they wanted us to feel like not only they were hosting us, but that the Royal Family had warmly embraced us as well. And that is exactly how I felt.

In Ekaterinburg we were presented again with the importance of the Orthodox family. The lessons of humility and unbreakable faith that we learn from the Royal Martyrs as well as Sts. Peter and Fevronia were resonant throughout the entire stay. Each day of the whole youth conference I felt the importance of my role in my marriage and of my marriage’s role in our church. I could feel my love for Andrei growing during each visit, each church service. And in each place, at every relic and every service, I prayed that we could start a family. That my children could see and appreciate and know all of this beauty and truth.

Our first little one is due 9 months after I returned from the trip.

There is never the ‘right and perfect’ time to have a baby. But this experience got me a little closer. And I don’t think it was a coincidence.

My Favorite Reactions/Responses to Our News

“You’re my first friend…who did this on purpose”


Brother-in-Law: D. Andrei and T. Olya have some news!

Nephew: What kind of news?

BIL: The best kind of news…

N: They bought everyone an iPad?!?!?!


“…those cold nights in Russia will do that to you”

November 3, 2012

…Aaaand Back Down Again

As a sort of follow-up to my last post, I wanted to share another awkward Moscow story. The awkwardness all fueled by me – not any scary Russian cashier or pulled over taxi driver (who really was a funny guy). Althoug  the woman working at the dry cleaners, where this story takes place, was a little frightening. But she wasn’t mean. Just expressionless and a little cold. I, on the other hand, was a complete wierdo.

The first time I went to the dry cleaner next door (Himchistka No 1), I just popped in to check prices. The place is small so the lady behind the desk/register was about 3 feet away from me. I looked at their price list in complete silence and for some reason the fact that she wasn’t asking me if I had any questions and that we hadn’t even made eye contact was making me really uncomfortable and hot and sweaty. At the same time I was happy because I just wanted to check the price and not necessarily use their services. On my way out I tripped up the alternating sized stairs and almost broke my face. I ran out before I could see if anyone saw me. I returned later with a skirt and gave it in to be dry cleaned.

This was months ago during one of our other trips out here.

Two days ago (only the day after the incident with the taxi driver) I went to the dry cleaner to drop off shirts for Andrei. This would be my second time using their services (but the third time in the place). She inspected the shirts and then asked for my last name. I started to spell out Schafranek (in Russian Ш-а-ф-р-а-н-е-к) and somewhere in there messed up the letters and had to start over. I don’t have to spell my last name out loud in Russian very often, so have pity on me. Plus the lady was scaring me in my already awkward state. Again, she wasn’t mean…I just expected her to be so I was already on ‘Defenseless American Idiot Mode’.

I remembered that the first time I used them, for the skirt, they had completely botched the spelling of our last name (most likely because of me, but whatever). So I knew it wasn’t going to pull up a record when she spelled it correctly this time. Nothing came up on her screen, as expected, so she asked, “Have you been here before?” For some reason my brain thought it would be easier to just say no than to explain that they spelled my name wrong the first time. So I answered no. She asked me again had I ever been there (as if she didn’t believe me) and I lied again, looking down at my hands, “No.” I could feel the look of blushing childish guilt spreading over my face. Why couldn’t I just say my name was wrong the first time? All I wanted to do was throw the shirts at her and run out.

She continued to create an account for me with the rest of my details, “What’s your first name?”. Easy, Olga – everyone in Russia can spell that on their own. Then she asked for my number. And I had a mini panic attack. In my 2 second pause before answering I realized that perhaps my old record with the messed up name would come up because the phone numbers would match. Even though the name was mispelled it was close enough to see that I was the same person (plus my first name would be there too). And then she would know that I lied, possibly about the stupidest thing you could ever lie about. Within those 2 seconds I decided that if it did bring up my account I would just say that Andrei must have come in with something and left my name and phone number for who knows what reason. Luckily nothing alerted her in the system, or if it did she stayed silent for which my ego is forever grateful.

She printed out a pick up slip and receipt for me that I had to sign. I signed my initials. At home when I sign initials I sign, OSS (Olga Stephanie Schafranek). Without really thinking, but sort of half thinking, I went to sign in Russian and signed OCC (an O with two Russian S’s). Which is wrong. My initials in Russian are ОСШ (Ольга Степановна Шафранек). I just stared at the receipt as I gave it back to her…defeated. I wasn’t going to try to write over it or cross it out at this point. I had already messed up my name once in the last 5 minutes, I wasn’t going to show her that I did it again. Although she could figure it out for herself if she looked.

At least I watched my step on the way out that time.

I’ll have Andy go pick up his shirts.

For those interested: one pencil skirt cost 600 roubles to dry clean; two dress shirts also cost 600 roubles. 600 roubles is about $19.