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Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Job

Way back, when I stopped working full time, gave up my business and we moved to the country I made a mental plan to return to work when Damon went to school.  I have always wanted to help out with the kids’ education—just give them a gift from me.  Maybe it’s simply a way to stay involved in their lives.  So I’ve had part time jobs every now and then, but they were always very flexible and tended to be on the creative side of things.
Damon stayed home to go to school when we moved to Moscow so I planned to get a job.  I watched the job postings for family members every week.  I applied and I interviewed.  The first interview was a disaster.  Chad and I were at a conference in Bangkok so I called Moscow via skype.  Jet lagged, I sat in the hallway of the hotel, the only place I could get reliable internet.  The interview itself was odd.  I knew there were about 5 people sitting in a conference room in Moscow, but one person would ask me a question, I would answer, then there was dead silence.  The longer this went on the more uncomfortable I became so that by the end I was babbling nonsense in response to the questions. 
Thus the game began.  In one interview I was told that I needed to start at the absolute bottom of the totem pole and work my way up—because his wife did.  I nailed another interview and thought for sure I was getting the job.  It was a bit devastating to have to contact them because they never bothered to let me know someone else had been hired.  One I knew I was way underqualified for and another could have been interesting.  I walked out of one to be told that I definitely was the best candidate for the job.  Didn’t get it and I don’t know why.
                When I was offered the job I now have, I about fell out of my chair.  I had truly given up hope that I would ever work again.  It really was a blow to my confidence.  It even became a bit comical to learn that no one else interviewed for this job so they had no choice but to offer it to me. But over the year of living here and watching the different offices and dynamics I have learned that a full time job would have been more than I wanted.  One of the offices would have been a very heavy environment.  Another would have had a fair amount of overtime.  I can see that God had my back on this.  He knew the best place for me here at this embassy.   I always trusted Him, but even in trusting, life can become discouraging.  It could have been a miserable two years in Moscow in a job I hated.  But I enjoy my job and am accomplishing many of my goals.  This job hasn’t taken away from time with the family either. 
                I’m in the working world again.  I’ve got 8 more months before we move and I have to make a decision about what type of job I want next.  I have lots of time to add skills to my resume.  You may not hear from me very often because life is busy, but it’s good to have my time filled in a profitable way.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Procuring Ballet Tickets

One of the dreams on my girl's list of things to do in Russia is see the Nutcracker ballet.  We didn't manage to fit it in last Christmas, so I wanted to be sure we didn't miss the opportunity this year.  A few months ago I began checking out theaters and dates and cost.  I quickly ruled out the Bolshoy, although beautiful, I wasn't willing to spend $300+  per ticket.  I also found that because the Russian Christmas doesn't fall until mid January most performances are closer to the new year.  So I hunted until I found one early in December that fit my budget and would help set the Christmas season for us.  I asked Chad if he was interested, but he was fine leaving this as a girl's outing.  So what began as a small family trip to the ballet morphed into a group of high school girls and moms going together.
I sent out invitations and before long I had a nice group put together who would like to go.  I made a trip to the box office and was given a general date of when tickets would go one sale.  I was pleased because I was well ahead of the game.  Not quite feeling comfortable with how things work here I enlisted the help of one of the Russian nurses in Chad's office.  Together we have been checking the website, waiting for sales to open.  She called the box office once a week to see if there was any new information.  She was always told "just keep watching the internet." 
Well this week it seemed that the date was getting too close so I told her I was going to stop by the box office the next day to get a bit more information.  She decided to call just to check up and they told her that indeed the tickets could be purchased at the box office and they actually did not have the complete amount left that I wanted at a certain price point.  We were both stunned.  With all the calls she made it seems that at some point they would have told her that although the tickets were not yet for sale online, they were for sale in the box office.  She then tried to purchase the tickets over the phone with no luck.  She couldn't even get them to set the tickets aside for me to pick up.  We were both frustrated.  "Kris,"  she said, "you better go over there right now.  They are open for two more hours."  She made another quick call to ask if I could use my credit card then I ran out the door and left supper for the girls to figure out.  
I arrived at the box office sweaty and tense.  I waited in line then finally made it to the window.  I handed over the instructions the nurse had written for me in Russian then slid my credit card under the window.  "Nope, I won't take your credit card."  WHAT?  I was speechless.  We argued and argued back and forth.  She would not budge.  I finally convinced her to set aside the tickets with my name on them and I would be back when the box office opened the next day to pay in cash.  
I left dejected.  The air felt heavy and seemed unusually hazy--it fit my mood.  I decided to walk around the Kremlin wall.  I watched the soldiers march in for the changing of the guard at the eternal flame.  I wandered around the corner and just stood there looking at Red Square and Saint Basils.  I really don't make it down here often enough.  Each time I am amazed at the beauty.  Right now it is especially pretty with the early, dark nights that cause the lights to twinkle.  I finally wandered back to the metro station and headed home.
At home the girls and I scraped every ruble together to come up with the cash needed to pick up the tickets.  I was nervous and excited thinking that things were finally coming together!
The box office opened at noon so my goal was to be there a bit early to beat the line.  I got there at 11:45 but there were already 10 or so people in front of me.  Feeling particularly worn out I just stood there waiting for the doors to open.  People came up trying to place themselves in front of me, but fortunately I have gotten pretty comfortable with a jab of my elbow to keep my place in line.  As soon as the doors opened it became complete chaos.  Everyone ran for a window then pushed themselves forward.  I think I proceeded to ram into a few more babushkas, but I was to ornery at that point to care.  I waited and waited only to watch a lady cut in front of me then get on her cell phone to have a lengthy discussion about which tickets to purchase.  A few more people moved forward then just as I was ready to step up to the window the lady on the phone squeezed up to the window cutting me off.  I was ready to scream!  Funny how I had just read in my devotions that morning about being kind to mean people.  Lord, really?  Do I need to learn that lesson today?  So I sighed and let her buy her tickets.  
I moved up to the window and passed yet another note in Russian to the lady.  "You're in the wrong line, your tickets are at the next booth." she said.  Come on, you can reach the tickets from where you are sitting!  Just get them and let me go home!  No, she absolutely could not get the tickets.  She had several conversations with the woman who was in the next booth, but she would not pick up the tickets and sell them at her window.  I looked at the line and stated that I was not waiting again.  So she said I would be next at the window to purchase the tickets.  I squeezed over.  The people in that line had their act together.  They really know how to not let anyone past them and they weren't about to let me get by.  Somehow I managed to make my way to the glass and be close to the window.  I saw the lady in my old booth talking to her colleague about the tickets.  She pointed at me and explained that I was next.  The new lady nodded.  The tickets were right there by her fingertips.  Why oh why couldn't she just pick them up?
So finally the customer who had been being helped at the new window moved aside.  I was ready to jump in but the young lady who was next in line had been watching and she was not going to let me by.  She gave me the evil eye as she elbowed me and stepped forward.  Fortunately the woman behind the window explained that I was next.  The customer was not happy and refused to move.  We stared at each other.  I was very close to sitting down right where I was and having a major meltdown.
Now you have to understand that the widows at the box office are covered in flyers and maps of theater seating.  There is only about a one foot by one foot piece of blank glass to see through when buying your tickets.  So I squatted down and looked sideways through the opening.  Although I couldn't see the ticket woman, I passed my id through the window.  I could just see her pick up the tickets, read my name and count them.  I shoved my $800 in rubles under the window.  She slid the tickets to me and like that I was free.  Thirty seconds at the window was all it took.
It took me the rest of the day to calm down.  I called the nurse to let her know I was successful and she said "Do you see Kris what I have to go through it my own country?"  
Now I am just looking forward to the ballet and a special evening with my girls!
Lady who would not move to let me buy my tickets.  I had to work around her!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Whirlwind Trip to the States

I'm sitting in the Detroit airport ready to go home.  By home I mean

Moscow.  In the last fifteen months it really has become that--home.

But being back in Michigan was good--really, really good.
I made this trip specifically to check out colleges with my daughter.
I had no intention on returning to the states during our two year
post, but Maddie is a senior and she has some big decisions to make
that we couldn't simply do using only the internet.  I don't know
where the time went, but here I am enjoying my last days having her
around all the time.  The girls and I were a brew of excitement only a
week ago as we sat in the Moscow airport at the beginning of this
journey.  We were laughing and giggling and talking about all the
things we would do during the week.
It hit me how far away we have been when we arrived in New York and
had a bit of time to grab a snack between flights.  We stopped at a
kiosk and all three of us stood there frozen, staring at the selection
of foods.  Finally Elena whispered "there are so many choices."  That
broke the spell and we began to marvel at all the products available.
The shock didn't stop there.  After arriving in Detroit we went to get
our rental car.  By the time we made it through the line Maddie
exclaimed at how nice everyone was.  Yes, this was in Detroit!
Russians have a reputation for being harsh, stoic people, but I also
think the barrier I create by not speaking their language adds to the
general feeling of isolation from society that we often feel.  My
wonder of America did not stop as I pulled onto the highway.  There
was so little traffic!  I could just sit back and relax as I drove.
Certainly the three lanes in my direction were busy with cars, but
after walking daily along the five lanes in each direction of bumper
to bumper traffic on the ring road just outside the embassy, this
driving was a breeze.  I had forgotten the wonderful feeling of a car
and long stretches of road!

We accomplished everything I had hoped during this trip.  We started
in Lansing with Damon where my parents joined us for the day.  It was
warm (compared to the snowy, frozen land we had left behind) and we
walked around the MSU campus enjoying the pre U of M game atmosphere.
 I happily showed the girls my old dorm room.  We splurged at The
Student Book Store on sweatshirts for all.  My mom graduated from MSU,
Chad's mom, Chad, myself and now Damon is a student.  We have a lot of
family history in this one spot.  The last MSU sweatshirt I owned was
25 years old and is long gone.  We watched the band warm up.  I sat on
the grass with my fingers buried deep in the green blades.  The fall
leaves glimmered like golden coins catching the sunlight.  An autumn
rainbow of colors floated to the ground as the breeze gently tore them
from the branches.  I have missed the red and orange colors of fall.
Moscow falls are beautiful but very yellow.  We followed the band past
Sparty before heading over to visit with a friend at a tailgating
party.  Marching bands are distinctively American.  They are energetic
and full of pomp.  Everything felt right.  The city still fits and
brings back warm memories of happy, carefree days.
I was able to see Damon's room, meet some roommates and friends, go to
church with him and get a little taste of his life at college.  He has
found a wonderful group of people to share his life with.  Now when he
mentions a name or place or activity I will have a little nugget of
information to roll around in my mind and create a picture.
Maddie wants to study American Sign Language and become an
interpreter.  She had the opportunity this week to visit college
classes, meet with academic counselors, shadow an interpreter for a
morning as she interpreted at a high school, and spend a night in a
dorm room.  We are going home confident about studying ASL.  I think
she has narrowed her decision down to two schools and just needs to
sit with the information and experiences for a bit before making a
We visited family enjoying the life of a house full of kids.  Games
came out and my girls were willingly led to floor where pieces were in
piles.  The air was filled with little voices asking questions and
small hands pulling us in different directions to get us up to speed
on their lives.  It's a busy house but I'm so glad things slowed down
for one night so we could visit.
I grabbed moments here and there to visit with friends.  The easiest
thing turned out to be meeting with a group of women for dinner.  I
only got a few minutes to catch up with each person, but the hugs
spanned the time and distance and will carry me with fond thoughts.
The laughter and spontaneous conversation will ring in my mind for
months to come.
I knew my time to shop would be limited so I came prepared with a
detailed list.  We packed lightly--even packing our carryons inside
the check through luggage so we would have lots of space.  Our first
shopping experience was squeezed between two appointments.  There was
a Walmart across the street so we ran in with my list in hand.   The
first thing that hit me was "All those silly videos about the people
of Walmart are so true."  It was a shock that I am still trying to
erase from my memory.  We did great sticking to "the list" but then we
hit the Christmas aisle.  I think it had just been created because
each item was neatly in its place.  Nothing was strewed about or out
of order.  All the fabulous new designs and products for the season
were too enticing.  The girls and I loaded up on gift tags and bags
with the comment that we would have space to squeeze it into on the
return trip home.  Thus the gluttony of shopping began for me.  I
actually did a marvelous job sticking to my list, but I simply hate to
shop this way.  There was no time to shop for my favorite item or the
best price.  The pile continued to grow uncontrollably and this
morning as I was shoving and weighing and sitting on suitcases it just
felt like my bags were vomiting my glutenous behavior of the week.
Living with a feast or famine mentality when it comes to things is
rough for me.  I want to stay balanced and content, but a one week
trip home throws me completely off kilter.  I was so relieved when the
checkin computer at the airport said I got two suitcases per person.
That was contrary to what I read online, but I was not going to point
that out to the airline.  We gladly checked our overstuffed carryons.
So now I am headed home.  I am exhausted from this whirlwind trip, but
I am deeply satisfied with how every element came together perfectly.