Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Best of the Rest

Our most recent updated featured some of our 2013 Highlights.  If you didn't receive it, but would like to (unlikely as I think all 5 of my blog followers are on our mailing list), just leave a comment and I'd be happy to send it your way.

As one page is simply not enough to capture all of 2013, so I'd like to devote this blog to those other special moments, people, and events, which made this past year so memorable.

Best Craig's List Purchase?


This $40 beast of a jogging stroller.  No, it doesn't fit in the metro.  No, it doesn't fold up much smaller than this.  No, it doesn't even fit through our front door.  It is, in every way, a beast.  But now, thanks to those $40 well invested, so am I.

Thanks to training runs with Anna and Peter in tow, I was able to train for a half marathon on New Year's Day.  What a fun experience.

And worth every venture outside, carrying Peter in the Ergo, the stroller folded up in one hand, taking Anna down the stairs with the other hand... it's no wonder that the actual running part felt easy.

For an account of our equally impressive celebration breakfast after the run (which ended up being neither celebratory nor breakfast) courtesy of the very worst customer service at The Beverly Hills Diner, see my friend and fellow runner's blog right here!

Best Christmas Moment?

As we learned from my last blog, Christmas was not a huge hit this year.

For me, though, there was one redeeming outing that I think I will remember fondly for quite some time.

A friend of mine here and I share a tradition of venturing out to Ikea before Christmas to enjoy the decorations, some hot coffee, and pick up those last minute gifts for friends, loved ones, and usually a white elephant exchange or two.  We usually choose one special treat (Starbucks coffee, a cinnamon roll, some frozen yogurt) to enjoy together before the shopping madness.  However, as New Year's Eve is the bigger holiday here, we usually have plenty of space leading up to the 25th.  

This year, we planned our trip for the 23rd.  My friend's parents were visiting, and one other good friend had decided to join us as well.  On a whim, I decided to take Anna with us too.

As Daddy and Peter settled down for a long winter's nap, Anna and I donned our coats, hats, and boots for the bus trip out there.  Anna doesn't go many places here apart from the local store, playground, school library, and church, so she was brimming with excitement and questions the whole ride.  The anticipation was mounting as she looked up at me every few moments to remind me of our journey's purpose, "we're going Christmas shopping Mommy."  

And perhaps one of the best things about toddlers, expectations, no matter how large, are usually always met and exceeded by the reality.

Her eyes doubled in size as we walked in to the mall where Ikea is located just out of town.  "Christmas trees!"  "Angels!"  "Ornaments!"  "Stars!"  "Reindeer!"  We stood in wonder, marveling at the decorations beautifully outfitting the entry way.  As I got a cart to ferry the young starry-eyed gazer, she bubbled over with questions and comments:  "What's that Mommy, do you know?"  "We're Christmas shopping, Mommy."  "Christmas trees, Mommy!"  If we could all see the simple things as clearly as this.

After playing a bit in the Ikea kids' section, Anna helped by carrying a basket for all of our presents and treats.  She loved helping to choose each gift, finding just the right ones for everybody.  

Finally, we met up with our group for dinner.  Reminiscing about our favorite foods back home, my friend said, "Chocolate frosty is my favorite!"  Anna quickly replied, "Frosty the Snowman is my favorite!"

Anna and this day were my holiday favorites.  

Best Return to Moscow
At one point, as we prepared to return to Moscow this past summer after having Peter, we realized that every single other coworker in our city would be either transitioning back to the States or on furlough by the time we stepped back onto Russian soil.  How strange to imagine their empty apartments, no longer needing to take certain roads and paths to find our way to their homes anymore.  How strange to picture ourselves alone in the city!  Of course, this is never the case.  Our dear, dear friends, and fellow members of the Dostoevsky Cool Club, showed up on our doorstep with 8 delicious meals and many other snacks for us the day after we arrived in the city.  What incredible friends.  We are daily so thankful and blessed to share life with them here.

Best Cancelled Bike Ride


Dan always looks forward to being in Colorado.  Among the steaks, the ribs, the brats, and other various meat products, he loves being reunited with his road bike.  Bicycle Village in Boulder even organizes group rides every Saturday morning which have taken Dan to more places in Colorado than even this native has ventured to explore.  This past year, though, we sadly seemed to have packed winter weather with us and week after week, snowstorms came and went, replacing our anticipated 70 degree Spring days with 30 degrees and snow.  Finally, March 13th, just a month after we'd been in Colorado, things were beginning to look up.  Dan planned a ride for Thursday afternoon, the 14th, the first really sunny day since our arrival.  Naturally, my water broke around midnight on Thursday.  When I told him what had happened the next morning, he initially thought I was joking.  The first ride of the season!  Maybe next year, Dan, maybe.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Rum pa pum pum.

This year's holiday seasons were undoubtedly the worst that I've experienced.

A long list of contributing factors all lead to this holiday catastrophe, but ranking #1, as with most of my disasters, would be my own expectations.  But before we get there, here are some of the others:

#4 - It rained.  No snow for weeks, no snow to come, no miraculous white powder to cover the grime of the city outside...  In Seattle, rain is par for the course.  In Moscow, snow is that uniting winter element invoking laughter from children, brightening the city, even causing occasional smiles from the babushki.  No snow, no winter.  No winter, no Christmas.

#16 - No tree.  They didn't sell Christmas trees at our metro stop this year.  Getting a tree from a different place in town would have required a lot of work and a lot of money, both of which weren't willingly relegated by Dan or myself this year.  We did joke about cutting down a tree from a nearby courtyard, but it turns out that procuring an axe is actually much more difficult in Russia than Roskolnikov leads one to believe.  It may even be harder than getting the actual Christmas tree.

#8 - Fondue that didn't melt, then melted too much, then separated completely.  This year I so excitedly birthed the idea of a brand new Culbertson family tradition:  cheese and chocolate fondue on Christmas night.  What could taste better?  As it turns out, a lot of things.  As with most holiday meals, this one was yet another that went wrong at the very last minute.  It felt like a real life 90's sitcom.  Trying to create that perfect meal experience for some dear friends on Christmas day?  It turns out that it's really only funny when people on tv are experiencing the holiday cooking shenanigans we all know to dread.  Rather than making my peace with bad fondue, I feverishly tried to salvage what I could of the separated cheese and burned chocolate, pouring senseless hours into a failed project.  Maybe next year...

#6 - Lots of people.  Little Space.  This is constantly a problem for me here.  I love to include everybody.  I so desperately want everyone to feel like they have a place and a home away from home where they're loved, appreciated, and valued, especially over the holidays which can be a trying time for the ex-pat community.  As I'm learning, my apartment does not always have to be that home.  In fact, the more people that squeeze in this two-bedroom space, the less does anybody actually feel comfortable and "at home."  This year, I learned:  more gatherings, fewer people at each, or ask somebody else to host ;)

#12 - Puddles, puddles everywhere.  This may go without saying, but beginning to potty train over the holidays does not always contribute to that special atmosphere referred to in #6...

#2 - We were in Moscow.  Family was in the States.  This needs no explanation.

#1 - Me.  I imagined sitting around our kitchen table, a steamy crock-pot of delicious fondue cheese and wine simmering away as we shared special memories, laughed, and sang our favorite carols together.  I imagined venturing outside for some ice-skating or broomball, snowballs, snowmen, or some kind of snow-filled frolic together to make the fondue even more warm and inviting.  I imagined Anna and Peter listening sleepily to Christmas carols after a full day of friends, food, and celebrating.  I... I... I...  I had expectations.  I had hopes.  I didn't have a chance.

It's hard to admit that the biggest opponent to creating this special day was myself.  But that's just how it goes some holidays.  We learn our limits, our priorities, and which recipes not to use by our failures.  I'm glad that we tried.  I'm glad that my friends are gracious to endure (even smiling) a difficult day.  I'm glad that I know better now.

So here's to next year.

Another year, another try.

And hopefully less of me and more of Christ's mass.