Friday, January 29, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions, Month 1

I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions this year. I didn’t choose a Word, either. Frankly, I was just too tired and busy at year’s end to figure out where I wanted to go next. So anything with a year-long arc was destined to fail.

I decided this year to make my plans month by month. Every month, I’m going to choose one (or maybe two) new things to see through to the end of the month. At month’s end, I’ll re-evaluate. I’ll either keep going with my new habit if it’s working for me, or I’ll drop it without regret if it’s not. Thirty days seems a bit more manageable than 365, after all. And since I tell my clients in the gym to take things week by week or month by month when they are setting goals for themselves, I figured I should do it, too.

You probably guessed by now that one of my first goals for the year wasn’t writing. I can’t even remember the last time I sat down to write for a solid chunk of time, but I’m pretty sure it was well before my computer died last December. (The computer, by the way, is still trying to recover from that particular trauma. For the most part, I am computer-free right now, alas.)

I spent the month purposefully not writing.  I thought about it, sure. And I mapped a few vague ideas for future articles or stories or blog posts. But I wrote exactly none of them. I just wasn’t feeling it.

No, January was my month to focus on family and personal health - which in retrospect is kind of ironic, considering how many nasty health issues we’ve run into this month. It’s been a long month. And H1N1 hit the community with a vengeance this week, so I’m not convinced we’re through our January string of illnesses yet.

Health. For my family, my goal was to make dinner at home every night. I gave myself one pass per week to go out if needed, but that’s it. I love cooking, but lately I’d been spending less time on cooking and more money on going out. Partly this was because the holidays were so busy - I didn’t always have time to make a good meal at the end of the day. And partly, well, vegetables can be harder to source in the dead of winter, which led me to some less-than-delicious meal choices. It’s sometimes easier to order a salad from the diner than to go out in search of fresh lettuce and make your own.

It’s January 29th as I type this, and I’ve more or less reached my goal of cooking every night.  So I think I’ll roll this goal over into February and try to do it again. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and really, I enjoy hanging out in my warm kitchen chopping vegetables and stirring pots. It’s therapeutic for me.

My personal health goal was to return to a focus on weightlifting in the gym. I’ve been slowly moving over to HIIT and bodyweight programming over the past 6 months, and my numbers in the gym were falling. So I wanted to get back into heavier weights on the bench press, the squat and the deadlift. I wanted to try to increase my pull-up numbers, too.  I failed on the pull-ups. For some reason I can’t seem to get past 7 or 8 consecutive pull-ups, which isn’t bad, but I’d like to get back up to 10+. My other numbers went up, though. I’m still not lifting as much weight as I was in Amman, but I’m getting back there, slowly. I added 15 pounds to my bench press just by hitting that lift hard this month. It’s still embarrassingly light, but I don’t think I can add more without a spotter, and I’m usually alone in our rinky-dink little weight room.

I think I’ll keep the weight lifting goal in February, too, just to see where it takes me. I don’t have specific numbers to hit; I just want to get a little bit stronger every week. And I’m adding in another health-related goal next month, but it’s a bit too personal to talk about. So no, that one’s going to be a secret.

And then Lent is starting soon! Do I want to make some Lenten changes this spring? Some years I do; some years I don’t. This year I’m thinking Lent might be a good time to change my social media habits. I’m kind of done with the drama that seems to surround Facebook, anyway. I’ve been unimpressed by the way a few of my colleagues and friends handle their Facebook accounts, gossiping and unfriending and generally behaving badly. Then, too, the people whom I most want to keep track of are often the very ones who don’t post frequently enough to make it worth my while to be on there looking for them. And of course, it’s an election year, which seems to bring out the worst in people. I find it all tiresome. So, while I don’t think I’ll disconnect from my social media accounts, I do think I’ll more or less disappear over Lent.

March? Who knows? I may get back to writing in March - especially if my computer is finally up and running by then. But I think it likely that by then I’ll be in countdown-to-USA mode. So my March goals may have more to do with move preparations. I don’t know yet. But I have some ideas. It’s good to know where I’m headed, literally and figuratively, one month at a time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Today in Moscow

John Quincy Adams, first U.S. representative to Russia, outside the Embassy, before the snow began to fall.

They warned us that a winter storm was headed our way, bringing with it lots of snow and a twenty degree rise in temperature. They were right. We went from zero degrees Fahrenheit up to 20 degrees within about an hour's time last night. And this is what we woke up to this morning:

Well, that's not quite true. The photo above was taken 3 hours after I woke up, when there was finally enough light to see. We're still experiencing extremely short days - in the winter, the sun rises late, sets early and never gets far above the horizon.

The front steps, after they were shovelled:

I never thought I'd say this, not ever, but when I went out this morning and my thermometer read 20 degrees, I said "wow, it's actually warm today, at last."  Nothing like a couple of weeks hovering around - and even below - zero degrees Fahrenheit to make 20 degrees seem warm.

It's supposed to turn cold again by Friday. I took advantage of the brief respite from the frigid temps to hop on the bus to Dorogomilovo with some friends. The cupboards were looking pretty bare after my self-imposed hibernation. If you could ignore the icy bits of snow pelting you in the face as you walked, it was actually a pleasant morning to be out, for the first time since the new year began.

My neighborhood vegetable market (...and yes, I know that first sign says "meat." I don't buy meat there.):

Tractors had already gone through and moved the snow out of the market lanes. The parking lot, though, and the sidewalks leading to the market? Not so much. I left the wheelie cart at home and lugged a backpack instead. Smart move on my part, because there is no way that cart would have gotten through the parking lot.

Here is how we buy spices in Moscow:

All of those spices - cinnamon, cumin, coriander, garlic, red pepper, sesame seeds, basil - for about $5 total. I'm going to miss the spice sellers when we move.

And this is how we buy nuts and dried fruit:

A kilo of dried mango. Half a pound of dried cranberries. Raw almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds. Pistachios. Apricots. All for maybe $30?  I'll be making granola later today, in my warm kitchen. The yogurt is already cooking on the countertop. Tea is brewing.

The best kind of winter day.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

...on to Bratislava

I've always wanted to see Bratislava, Slovakia. It's just an hour's train ride from Vienna, so we went there on my birthday. (Thanks for the awesome birthday present, z...)

It was cold, grey and sleety, but still so pretty in the Old Town area. The markets in Old Town were lovely, and just different enough from the Viennese markets to be interesting.  There was a lot less English spoken, however, and very little English signage, so it was trickier to out figure things like food and drinks. 

We actually found a vegetarian food stand in the market, with dumplings and soups and bread slathered in pumpkin and bean purees. I think I maybe spent $40 on dumplings alone, they were so good. It was tricky to order gluhwein, because all of the drinks had cute names like "Black Bear," so I had no idea what I was getting. No worries, though - I made it work.

Best hot chocolate ever!

We were excited to find trdelniks like we had last year in Prague.

Again with the cookies.

I'd love to go again some day to explore - when it's a bit warmer.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Vienna Christmas markets

Right before Christmas, we skipped town for a few days and met up with some friends in Vienna, Austria, to check out the Christmas markets.

When we returned to Moscow, I discovered that something had happened to my computer while I was away. The whole thing was dead. Everything - photos, articles, a short story collection I was working on - all of it was gone.  I had to erase the hard drive and upload the files from the offsite server where they reside. Alas, the files are still uploading, 2 weeks later. It's going to be awhile before I'm back up and running.

All this to say, I'm a bit behind in blogging the holidays. And also: back up your hard drive! (Especially if you live in Russia...)

So. Where were we? Vienna. The last time we were there, our eldest was just a few months old. So it's been awhile.

It was cold and damp and foggy most every day we were there. But there were friends, and there was gluhwein, and there was market food, so it was all good.

St. Stephen's was just down the road from our hotel, and the market there was one of my favorites.

Hofburg Palace.

Nighttime street.


It was indescribably cold that night. Pretty sure they were just hugging for warmth.


S and N.

Foxie. The best souvenir ever.

My first baby is so much taller than me now.

Our second try at the Rathaus market. Do not go there on a weekend evening. It was crazy crowded and no fun at all.  This time around it was much better.

With the GlobeHoppers!

First gluhwein of the morning.

First cocoa.

First cider.
Me n B in front of St. Stephen's.

While we were there we went to see Star Wars. Because nerds. It took a couple of tries to get the right language. And then some of us even went to the Star Wars Identities exhibit. I'm told it was excellent, but I didn't go. I'm not the nerdiest member of the tribe.

Schonbrunn Palace has another really nice Christmas market.

Look closely: We got photobombed by a drunken horse.

At the subway station.

Our last night at St. Stephen's.

We collect nativity sets. At least we did! This is our last one for awhile - I think we're up past two dozen at this point. It's kind of a problem for us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christmas Eve at Sergeev Posad

Today is Christmas Eve in the Russian Orthodox church. Which theoretically makes it a good day to visit the Golden Ring city of Sergeev Posad. Located about 35 miles northeast of Moscow, Sergeev Posad is home to one of the largest monasteries in Russia. Tourists and religious travelers alike flock here, so it can get pretty crowded during the Christmas season.

Of course, we are currently experiencing some painfully cold weather here in Moscow, and sightseeing when the temperature hits zero degrees Fahrenheit is not my idea of a good time. Still - we had to get out of the house for awhile, so we broke out the glove warmers and hit the road.

First stop was the the town of Radonezh. You go to Radonezh to stock up on holy water from the holy spring, and according to our tour guide, some people even choose to go for a holy swim in the holy spring, even in the dead of winter. We were pretty much the only people at the spring this morning, and none of us opted to go swimming. I did manage to get my hand in the water, but that was as far as I was willing to go.

(Seriously, it was cold. I went once to Lake Baikal, in Siberia, in the middle of winter, and I think it felt colder at the Radonezh spring today. Beautiful, but ouch.)

He was very careful not to fall in.

Then on to Sergeev Posad itself. Isn't it beautiful?

The entrance. Once you walk through that arch, you'll be surrounded by churches of all shapes and sizes.

Inside one of the churches. Still cold inside. No, I'm not sure why that huge group of soldiers was in there with us. I'd guess they were touring the place as well.

You can take pictures inside some of the churches, and they are some of the best preserved/ maintained churches I've seen in Russia. Truly beautiful. Today a choir was singing inside one of the churches, hidden in an eave somewhere, and it was hauntingly beautiful.

Back outside the wall. So. Cold. That's a statue of Sergei himself...

But. We had one more stop before we could go home. The New Jerusalem Monastery and Gethsemane Gardens were built by the Russian Patriarch Nikon back in the 1600s, I believe. Nice place, but we weren't there to tour the grounds. We went inside to view the underground caves. Until the 1930s, monks used to go into those tiny caves and spend days, weeks, even months in there praying. That is some seriously hardcore prayer right there. We couldn't take pictures inside, but it was dark and creepy and beautiful all at once. Also slightly warmer. A young seminarian led us around and told us about the history of the place.

That's it. That's our day. Much more to say, but it's late and I have to work in the morning.  Merry Christmas to my Russian Orthodox friends.
Please. Write your own stuff.