Friday, August 27, 2010


Shopping for school shoes, believe it or not.  For about twenty-minutes all Anastasia wanted to do was try on heels, and I was actually enjoying it, as I marveled how gorgeous her feet and legs looked in absolutely every style.  We eventually got some school shoes - plain black, but with a wedge that made them a little higher than I like.  Funny thing, I hardly noticed height on them when we bought them, probably because they are nothing in contrast with these.  But, a true Russian girl - Anastasia has no problem whatsoever walking in heels.  You'd think she learned to walk in them...  In fact,we went on a walk last night (always thinking ahead, Nastya wore her new shoes, wanting to "break them in") - in the dark, in our little neighborhood, where the sidewalks are old and cracked here and there, skewed by tree roots underneath them, etc.  I stumbled along, but she walked like a model - and wanted to go a lot further than I did!


Someone said they wanted to see more of my house, so perhaps that in part inspired my taking this photo, but the chief inspiration was a actually program only partially heard on NPR about what people buy, why and whether or not the purchases really make them happy.

It is a funny thing, isn't it?  Sometimes we spend a lot of money on something that we believe will bring satisfaction, and almost from the first - it doesn't.  And, then there are things that bring a  delight and pleasure from the first that doesn't even diminish with time. 

These towels fit that latter description. 

All I did was go to Sears and buy a few towels on sale.  Previously, I had white towels.  It seemed like the only reasonable way to go, with the blue, black and white already a "given" in the bathroom color scheme.  But, I gave up on the "scheme".  No; my purpose was entirely utilitarain.  I wanted people to stop using a towel and throwing it immediately in the oh-too-convenient-laundry.  I was doing at least one, if not two loads of towels a day, and my continual reminder that "if you use the towel to dry off a clean body - how can it be that dirty?" fell on deaf ears. 

I couldn't really change where the dirty laundry is thrown, but I could move the towels to the hall closet, making acquiring a new towel much more difficult.  And, I could color-code the towels so I could see which ones were landing in the laundry.  Little did I know that these cheerful towels would make me happy every time I look at them.  I wish I could say that there was a different pretty polka-dotted one for every family member, but they only had three color choices in the that style, however the others are bright, cheerful colors - and so far, the scheme is actually working.  While this is not what you'd see in "Victoria" magazine, "Old House Journal" or even "Country Living", I really think that the effect is not all that bad from a decorating point of view (though to be quite honest, I gave up on that a long time ago....)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This is when I wish I either a) had a better camera or b) knew how to use any of the features on this one.  Can you see that this is a McDonald's "Play Place"?   Yes; indeed - and can you see the lights of the business right acros the street?  "Intimate Ideas".  Yes; you have that right - a little porn shop. 

This is the McDonalds closest to our house.  I will never forget the first time I was there.....back about twenty years ago.....  The weekend we were moving in and I took my oh-so-protected little Aidan and Lydia here.  In those days the place across the street had a much less obvious name.  It was called the "Book Mark".  Well, I was raising my kids right!  Aidan saw that from his perch on the play structure, and said, "Oh, Mom!  A bookstore!  Can we go!"  Well, sure!  

I suppose in deference to the neighborhood, the nature of this shop wasn't all that obvious, so we were all the way across the street when I realized that this bookstore was not going to offer what we hoped to find!  And to avoid the subject we never came to this McDonald's again.  (Told you I was protective.)

With my less innocent ones (Hey! - they flipped the channels on Russian TV before I met them!) I don't even think about it.  But - it is a bit odd from the urban planning point of view, isn't it?

Monday, August 16, 2010


When I was at my cousin's house in Indiana, she showed me this bowl.  This bowl, she said, belonged to our grandmother McFall (my mom's mother) and she used it every day to make biscuits or cornbread - oh, many were the times when she watched grandma whip up something in this bowl!  The bowl was a wedding present, and there probably wasn't a day in her life when grandma didn't use that bowl, she told me.

So, I thought my mom would like to see the old bowl.  My mom looked at the picture and told me she'd never seen this bowl in her life.  In the end, she admitted that she didn't hang out in the kitchen much....but I could tell she was not confident that that was, indeed "grandma's bowl".  

And historians try and relate artifacts to people who lived hundreds of years ago!!!

PROJECT 52, THIRTY (and more)

We have a wonderful park quite close to us - a county park in the city, with this beautiful lake - a grassy and sandy beach, boat rental, a swimming area, walking area, playground and splash pad!  

I sit in the grass, usually, and read while watching the kids swim. 

Idyllic - except - apparently this week when we were there, Nastya got into some sort of conversation with a gaggle of boys around her age, one of whom "asked her out" - which means what in present-day parlance?  Not sure.  She said no, but insulted him in the process...saying (you don't even want to know this; I am dying of humiliation and horror) that his skin was too dark.  They were all AA boys, but this one was not up to her standard.  I repremanded her for:
a) talking to strangers, and for
b) being rude, and for
c) making personal comments, and for
d) being unkind, and for
e) saying anything at all related to race. 

I tried to tell her that if those were not nice boys they could well have taken offense and hurt her seriously.  (If I'd been one of them, I'd have been tempted.)  Sometimes Anastasia seems to be nearly devoid of compassion.  She said Zhen started the interaction - and  I realize when I think of Zhen, at a public beach, talking to other boys - of course, that seems just fine. 

Nastya is going to be a challenge....frankly, there are times when I feel like giving up right now.  And I don't even have access to a girls school, let alone a convent.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Here comes Zhen from football practice, or as it is called in our home - "American" football.

I've always been in favor of sports.  There is some deep Protestant work ethic in my character that balks at seeing anyone "sit around", so I like to see the kids get involved in things.  Furthermore, Zhen is one of the most athletically talented children that I've personally known. 


I don't know what to do about this.  I think he is overly competitive - at least in terms of athletics.  (If only he had the same zeal for spelling tests!)  By overly competitive, I don't mean that he gets upset if he loses (he doesn't, unduly) or that he wants to win so much he cheats (he doesn't)...  But, athletic competition seems to bring out something chemical - adrenalin?.....anyway, some sort of deep-seated determination that HE WILL NOT BE VANQUISHED

That, unfortunately, translates to his easy willingness to be in-your-face defiant to me.  Now, this is not my Zhen.  He's not the most compliant child ever, and he's often willing to argue about things.  But, never, prior to athletics, was he ever defiant.  The mood is so extreme and so obvious, that I actually figured out the connection rather quickly (for me).  That kind of awareness is not ordinarily my strong suit. 

The first instance was last winter when he played basketball.  I had [unfortunately] scheduled tutoring to occur directly after his basketball games on Saturday mornings.  Bad combination....but rather than just complain about tutoring or whine, or argue - he out-and-out refused to go.  (I got him to tutoring, but I can't quite recall how...I think it was something along the lines of "Do you want to go to McDonalds' and then to tutoring? or do you want for me to simply pull up in front of the school and wait until you are willing to go in?  That and nearly an hour of working on him.)

A couple of months ago, when Zhen and Ilya did a "real" futball camp, we had another incident (details are happily lost to my memory; I just remember it was horrible).  Then night before last - football.  I cheerily came into the bedroom ready to read books before bed, "Have you brushed your teeth, Zhen?" 

"I'm not going to."

And it went on from there.  It is awful!  I pull out all the stops - a firm order, delivered in a no-nonsense voice (which just gets a firmer refusal), a firm hand on the arm to direct him (which gets a disturbing physical rebuff).  At this point in these episodes I get really rather frightened (but don't show it).  You just can't have a child who defies you!  I've never had this occur with a child at home or in a school setting - not to this degree!  If he were still 5, I'd use a swat or two on the rear and carry him into the bathroom....but he is 11 and stronger than me, and clearly in a frame of mind to physically "take me on" (or Craig, or anyone else - I can tell he would fight to the death).   And, this is what I mean!  This is NOT Zhen!  Zhen is my cuddly, mother-loving sweetheart. 

I am honestly ready to forbid competitive sports if this is the result. 

I've had a couple of conversations with him about it -  clearly he doesn't seem aware of what is going on - all I can get is "I didn't want to brush my teeth."  In the end, he did brush his teeth of course.  I'd decided that this was going to be a hill I'd die on.  I cannot allow defiance like that, obviously.  I'm not sure what really got us through it.  I sat next to him and prayed.  I told him that I would sit right there until he brushed his teeth, if it took forever and I am sure he could tell that I had equal determination to his.  Meanwhile, Sergei, who is my Coordinator of Justice and Fairness, unknown to me, was standing in the hall ready to be "enforcer" should I need it.  I didn't notice this until Zhen went into the bathroom, but perhaps Zhen did. 

Craig is not so ready (as you can imagine) to forbid athletics.  But, I will be firm about this if I see no other way around it.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


With that title you are probably expecting something intelligent or erudite - but I don't have it in me at the moment....   No, only an observation.
When my mind doesn't immediately recognize a word in English, it just as immediately tries to de-code it in Russian.  Every single time I pass this building... Every. Single.  mind rejects this as an English word and tries to read it in Russian - which only works for the first half of the word, unfortunately. 
But it makes as much sense in "Russian" as it does in English.  [In taking this photo, by the way, I had to pull up in front of this building that I usually only pass on the left and in doing so, I solved the years old question - what the heck is this place?  It says on the side that it has something to do with media.  Ah, ha!]

Anyway, I've also noticed another funny language-related phenomenon.  Whenever I am trying to communicate with a person who does not speak English well, my mind keeps trying to send out Russian messages.  First instinct: talk louder.  I know that is stupid (so why does it come so naturally?) but while I am squashing the impulse to just talk English loud and slow, I find that my mind is busy giving me things to say to the Guatamalan lady or Chinese man in Russian.  It is so silly!  It is as though my mind has two languages:  first choice:  ENGLISH  second choice: FOREIGN (which in my case means:  Russian)  No other alternatives will be accepted.  I can't help but wonder what my mind would do if somehow I knew three languages.  Would it start working intelligently?  Or would I feel even stupider?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Just a newsy bit here.  This past weekend Sergei and I went to the Esarey Family Reunion in southern Indiana.  We went down there not knowing a soul.  We stayed with my cousin Diane whom I hadn't seen since I was about 7....and as there is quite a bit of difference in our ages, we didn't have any sort of relationship even then.  Diane is very into genealogy.  I am, too, but have only explored my father's side.  Diane was quite anxious that "our branch" of the family be represented, and my mom wasn't up for it, so she asked me to go in her place and take Sergei.  Diane and her husband are lovely people with a gorgeous home; they were very hospitable....and Diane is one of those people who can talk a mile a minute; that can be very comforting in such situations!  You don't have to sit in dread of uncomfortable silences, certainly! 

The Esary/Essery/Esry/Esarey family is generally full of very presentable and pleasant people, so I had a nice time. Nancy Allen Esarey was my great grandmother, mind you, so the family connection isn't all that strong.  However,  the family was one of the first to settle the area, and were educated and well-to-do people. My grandmother said that we should be "Esarey-proud".   It took mammoth amounts of courage and patience for Sergei to deal with all of this, let me tell you!  

Saturday consisted primarily of lectures on family history and the family's role in history.  Even things that might be of some interest to any American, didn't have that same "allure" to Sergei who misses a lot of the connections.  The relation to Ethan Allen, for example.  Or the story of Dan Rhodes, who married an Esarey, and ended up leading the rescue team for the Donner Party.  Sadly, even "Oregon Trail"and "California Gold Rush" were new concepts to Sergei so "Donner Party" didn't ring any bells either.  I've read a few books on the topic, so I was quite engaged.  The presenters were family members, but history professors and writers by profession so they did it up right with power points and all the other helpful visuals.

Sergei did get a work-out, standing on a chair and posting various slips of paper, representing family members on this cool family tree.
When we went out to the old "homeplace" he was directed by Cousin Diane to get a commemorative stone for my mom.
He got a further bit of exercise and fresh air during the cemetery visit.
And, he got a lot of nice food....  Generally I'm not very fond of "photo cakes" but I did think this one was cool. 
And he got a bit of a walk along the banks of the Ohio.
But for the most part he sat at one of these tables and listened to lectures about people, events and places in which he had absolutely NO interest....and through it all, he was gracious, polite, and absolutely a gentleman.  I was so proud of him.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Note the office listed first:  Legacy Modeling and Talent Agency.  Hm.  I decided to give this a try.  I might not ever have put a toe in this water had it not been for the fact that a little girl from Zhen's orphanage won a full college scholarship in a competition for child models.  And...the fact that Anastasia looks breath-taking in whatever she puts on.  Too big, too small, cheap, poorly constructed - she makes it look beautiful.  And, she's photogenic.
However, I also know that many so-called "modeling agencies" are just schemes to make money off those who wish to have a modeling career (or their dopey mothers).  I don't know the mom of the other girl very well, but we are FB friends, so  asked for a few guidelines about how to spot a "real" agency vs a "scam" agency. 

Unfortunately, this one....seemed like something in the middle.  I do have the idea that they probably send out a few people on jobs.  However, I also have the feeling that they do their best to get what they can, on the side, from those foolish enough to fall for it.  One thing my acquaintance warned me against was any insistence that I have five or six-hundred dollars' worth of photos done by "their" photographer.  Check.  There was also great emphasis on all their classes (which cost an arm and a leg) and their website? - you pay to have your photo on it.  That is what they call representation?

The key, I was told, is whether the agency wants to represent you  - if they want to represent you they will put money into you.  That request to pay to be on their website was the final indicator for me.  If they want their models to get work, that is the least they can do - it doesn't even cost them anything! 

As usual, I found an amusement factor in all of this.   Unlike most "stage moms" I expect - I was not going in there to "sell" my daughter.  For one thing, to my view, she will sell herself.  Or not.  Seems to me they would either find her "model material" or they wouldn't.  My presumption is that there are some specific things they are looking for and she either has them or she hasn't.  So, I was a dead zone.  I began to see a little bit of desperation in the face of the interviewer (who was the owner of the agency).... I wasn't trying to be difficult; I just wanted to hear what she had to say, and wasn't impressed by it.  I just wanted information. And then there was Nastya.  I am also expecting that most moms usually bring their daughters in there because the girls themselves have stars in their eyes.  Giving up on me - and my lack of response to the high-priced classes, high priced photos, and tales of success, this woman asked Nastya what she wanted to do and Nastya said quietly, "I don't know."   She asked, "Would you like to be an actress?"    Nastya looked at her.  "No."   She finally eeked out that Nastya thought she might model for a photographer.  I could tell by the way things progressed that the "clincher" for many girls and mothers is the "opportunity" to "walk the runway"  - a twelve-foot long platform in one of their little rooms, a mirror on the wall.  Nastya showed not a flicker of excitement or glee (first time, honestly, that I've appreciated this cool demeanor she puts on) as this woman took her in there to see if she might be appropriate as a "runway model".  Nastya was perfect (to my mind); she went in there in a business-like way and walked the runway like she'd done it for years.  Nary a glimmer of a smile,  until she actually was walking, and though I know this workmanlike approach was Nastya's version of nerves, for all the world it appeared to be the coolness of a professional.  "Has she modeled before?" 


I don't know if we'll try this again.  It's up for grabs whether I see if there is another local agency...or try to do something in Detroit. It is hard to put a lot of energy into something when you don't know what you are doing, and do know it might be a foolish waste of time.


Remember this post?  It was about my efforts to help an unfortunate fellow who used to come by our food pantry.  Because I drove by this place where he lived on my way home, and he only had a bicycle, I'd bring him groceries from the pantry. 
I was stunned by the community behind the scene.  What looked like a regular hotel from the street was actually a teeming community of the maginalized on the flip-side.  Men passed out on the sidewalk.  Hopeless-looking young girls, no older than 15 or 16 with babies and toddlers, sitting dully  in unkempt rooms; elderly, grizzled men drinking from bottles undisguised by even the wink of a brown paper bag.  It was a terrifying, heart-rending place.  And then I understood why, over the years, we'd seen the Deluxe Inn appear again and again in the crime reports.....I think there must have been 8 or 9 murders or shootings there over the years.  A woman I know adopted a baby, found abandoned, barely alive, lying in filth in one of these rooms.  [As an aside, and to my dismay, someone recently told me that ex-cons were often given a bicycle to get around and a voucher to be housed here.... But nothing untoward occurred to me and after a few months, to my relief I have to admit, without a word to his faithful servant, one day Ted had disappeared.  He "went to California," a toothless woman told me one blustery evening;  she shrugged and agreed to accept his last load of groceries.]

But, the times, they are a-changing.  The Deluxe Inn has been shut down, and will be razed in the near future.  But, someone had a rather brilliant idea - and last week it was given over (in what must have been a pretty organized way) to grafitti artists.   The result is breath-taking and has become a destination this week.  Because this place has been so much a part of our background I went, and took photos.  Pretty amazing, don't you think?
The other interesting thing was how those viewing the artwork appeared to be a mix of "regular folk" from all parts of town and the very people who used to live here.  
I was thinking, too, of how healing this project was in some ways....this place has had so much history.  If some unknown church-worker/housewife has all the connections with it that I do, I expect that others, likewise, have many and varied associations with this place.   How brilliant to let it become a palate for expression of so many different ideas and emotions.  One of my favorite pieces is on the wall between Ted's room (which was on the right) and the young girl's room, on the left.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Not a very nice photo of Craig...but what enchanted me was the way the pattern of the lace curtain fell on Rosie's haunches.    A lovely, relaxed afternoon. 



When I caught sight of this gentleman and his purchase, I had to ask for a photo. 

I'm not sure I would have done it ,if he'd been a complete stranger, but as it happens his wife was my spiritual director for a few years, and we have a friendly acquaintance.  He had no clue why I wanted the photo, only looking bemused when I pointed out the visual charm of the purple shirt and purple flower.

He and his wife became the guardians of their infant grandson only a few years ago, at the sudden death of their daughter....and the now four-year-old was running around him, happy as a lark. 

We got there late.  I cannot get used to the 2 p.m. close time....especially on a Saturday in summer.  Zhen went with me, and charmed a couple of ladies, who were beginning to pack up, out of several zucchini, tomatoes, and beets.  The one thing I ended up purchasing was a big slab of homemade butter from an Amish gentleman.  He had chickens, too, and cheese, but they were anxious to leave and I was, for once, prudent.
We have been enjoying the butter, though.  The one thing Ilya mentions most that he wishes he could get is "Russian butter".  I can not get him to admit this is as good....but it is the closest he'll get, I expect.  Though Ilya recently revealed that for a few years he lived with his grandmother on a farm.  He and his brothers and she lived in an apartment there and she milked the cows.  So my guess is that he is thinking of butter so real, he may never taste its like again.  Unfortunately.