Saturday, December 27, 2008

D&Z: Someday you'll be old enough to read this

Remember that time we packed up our 1-bedroom apartment in New York City, stowed all your toys away in Ini’s house in Philadelphia, and moved to Russia&Kazakhstan? (It really happened, I swear!) Do you remember being together all the time and not understanding what people were saying to us? Do you remember the long train rides and the chocolate eggs with toys inside and the playgrounds and the borst and the cold, cold snow?

I’m writing this little letter to you right in the middle of this time. We moved away from NYC 10months ago and the snow is thick and the air is cold, already 20 below this afternoon. We’re going to be in for a long, sequestered winter. And I’m a little scared. You see, I’m having a hard time adjusting to all of this and trying to be the best mommy I can. I know you’ll need a lot from me this winter and I want to be able to give all of myself to you but sometimes it’s so hard for me. Sometimes I just want to be by myself and think and read and write and maybe take a nap. Sometimes I let you watch TV a little longer than I probably should. Sometimes I forget to have patience with you. I forget to play with you.

I remind myself everyday that this is our precious time together – that we have this time to grow together in a way that is truly unique because we have nobody but each other. It’s like we’re on our own frozen little iceberg – no one else, just us. Sometimes this makes me sad – for me and for you. If I’m sad for me, I’m not my best for you.

Thankfully you give me fresh new chances everyday to try again to do better. Thankfully you are finding ways to really enjoy each other and have been playing together in the last several months with remarkable creativity. I admire the two of you and your ability to find pleasure in the little things we have. I want to find that too. I’m glad we still have more time here so that you can continue to teach me these things. I love you both very much. I realize that if you weren’t here with Nathan and I it would be reallyreallyreally crazy, like, crazier ‘than you’ve ever seen before’ (you say this a lot right now DPJ).

I hope you have good memories of this time together – I hope that you remember me being a fun mommy with lots of stories and games and smiles. I hope we can do this again, maybe, where I choose next time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A little Christmas scene

Our patchy pine.
Thebabes think it's the most fantastic shrub of nature they've ever seen. As it should be.


and a few other photo's of our winter wonderland . . .

A cute little dom in the village

Here's our vintage Lada -- makes great play equipment. Perhaps if the snow gets high enough we can sled down it.

Another nice looking dom covered in snow.

Looking down our street.

In front of our dom -- this is where we used to have a swing.

On the grounds of the Catholic Church in our village.
This is the little dom set aside for the children to play in. However, this month they are moving into a large modern building across the street with indoor bathrooms (those are the outhouse on the right). Also, where you see the earth plowed up a bit in front is a skating rink they are creating where the garden once was -- so brilliant and we can't wait!

The Catholic Church in beautiful white.
The small 'stable' on the left is where they reenacted the nativity on Christmas eve -- with a cow and a few of those angelic kids dressed up with a life size porcelain doll in a manger. We all stood around with candles and sang songs. Beautiful.

The kids at the Catholic Church poured water down the slide for an icy ride.
The wonderful Nadia, ever helpful and lovely, is taking care of Zoe as she prepares to take her turn.

The cold red nose and smiling eyes tell us that she is having FUN!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Because the neighbors are doing it

It's below freezing and I'm still left with loads of laundry each week, which I can only wash outside. Well, I do it in the shelter of the banya house but it's not kept heated.

I have to light the fire myself to get the water hot in the tank. I also bring in extra buckets and have them warming on the side with a little twisty metal plug-in heater -- it sends shock waves to speed up the electrolytes in the H2O (is that correct science?) if you touch the water or even the bucket with the device plugged in and sitting in the water -- it's a SHOCK!

I know, kind of dangerous. There is so much more I could tell.

Anyway, after 45minutes or so the water is hot and the banya house is a little more comfortable, though I keep my coat on. I pour the hot water into the washing machine -- circa 50's design – add soap and it’s ready for 5minute cycles. All the clothes are washed in the same water (I don’t scoop it out and fill it up after each load, would you?) so I start with the towels (kitchen&bath) then the bed linen and then by color, whites first. The water is black by the end of the third hour. Nathan and his wood/coal activities make their mark and are always the last to go. Thus never getting *clean*, I suppose.

There is then the rinsing cycle – where I dunk them in a separate tub, wringing them out before entry and upon exit to the spinner.

Spinner. This is hard for me because last week the spinner began to lose control. It’s knocking up against the side of itself, making horrible scrapping noises and sparking and smelling. What will I do without a spinner? All these wet clothes in 30 below degree weather?

My neighbors, I note, are still using their clothes lines. But the water doesn’t evaporate, the clothes don’t dry.

They freeze. Like cardboard boxes.

Those are icicles!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pardon Me Poetry

Soulful Sutra
Inspired by Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra”

The Kazakh steppe -- flat land rife of wind and clouds

Lately it’s the breeze that rattles my square-minded, imageless stasis in never-never land; too dusty inside, over crowded with dead-beat contortions of irrelevancy – it is more crisp outside than in and I need that soulful gust to vacuum me.

It’s an invitation, a whispering bliss, where I can cackle with the renegade leaves and bend like the sensible grass and progress with the elevated community of clouds.

Air-crisp breath, the life of youth, the memories and merriment of time – of time peopled with little ones. Taking cue, I look to the deep recesses of those blue and brown eyes that plead with me, urge me, to come to existence. My heart wants them to know good, over-abundant joy life but my head buzzes and my body slurs, more bovine-esque than nimble-quick. spurtspurt sputtersputter.

Help me to swirl with your gusts, in your carpet-ride fresh imagination. I close my eyes and I smile – a clearing, a motion to take the hands of my children and run with you. We shall laugh together and breathe soul gulping lung-bursts and exhaust ourselves in your plentitude.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On the road for Thanksgiving

We returned from our week long Thanksgiving journey to a kitchen covered in soot. The floor looked gray, the counter tops had an ashen film all over them and the dishes looked dirty. These are the setbacks to having a wood and coal burning stove. So much work and I have to say that the floors might have been looking like that for weeks as Nathan gave up mopping in favor of wood chopping and coal hauling and I’ve long been in denial that it’s my duty now. I often reflect upon the gender roles of old and nod in understanding as to how it all must have naturally been delegated. So much work to do, each partner takes on what they prefer . . . usually.

Except, I still kind of hope that Nathan will develop bionic stamina and decide to mop these floors again.

We spent Thanksgiving in Astana with the humanitarian LDS missionary couple, the Wellings. It was a terrific day – filled with cooking and eating and relaxing and talking – just what it would have been like anywhere else. I indulged in their high speed connection again – Skyping and IMing to myhearts content. We all left the next morning for Almaty – the Welling’s on a 1.5 hour flight and us on a 23hour train ride.

:::Let us have a moment of silence:::

Thanks, it was tough.

But getting to Almaty had manymany rewards – we rented a nice apartment, went to church and spoke and listened to English in excess – had dinner and lunch get-to-gethers with more people I could talk and listen to and engage with. Oh the JOY! We met the other Mormon Fulbright family researching here in KZ, the Piepers (can you believe the odds of that?) they have a little baby and they are, I mean Evelyn is, really someone I need to learn from – it seems she has absolutely no complaints! She is who I thought myself to be: up for international adventure and hard things and leaving her heart open to love. I read her blog – she actually said she loved it here (or something like that) and I gasped, blushed, and felt guilty and then felt reassured that I still had 7 more months to get to where she is. I am determined to love it here (or at least love the essence of my experiences here.)

Here’s to another month to put myself to the test.


All of us feasting -- except Zoe who was napping.

Des doesn't mess around with bite-size pieces -- the cake was too good!

The Wellings are expert pie makers and this apple was divine!!

Waiting on Sunday morning for the bus to take us the CHURCH!

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Almaty Kazakhstan!

Nathan and babes standing outside the church building.

We went with Evelyn and baby Sophie to the Zoo. Zoe got to play with the guinea pigs a little bit.

Gazing at the massive birds.

Monday, November 24, 2008

There was once this little baby -- juicy and yummy -- that came to me one morning on November 20th, 2003. We named him

Desmond Paul Jones.
He also goes by Des, Desi, Mr. D, Jonesboy, and Truly Scrumptious.

He was such a baby then, more baby than boy. Just baby – littlelittlelittleinfant. Our first. OH! How the love swirled, family all around us, rejoicing in this newperson. OUR BABY.

This blue-eyed, smile-lover has been with all of us for 5years now. Such a celebration. DPJ coaxed me for months on how he wanted it all to shake down. “Surprise me mom, when I wake up, go and hide and then jump out happy with a box!”

Oh, this boy, this boy. We took him to Pavlodar for a couple of days, stayed in a hotel with a nice hot shower (shower!), ate pizza and Turkish food, went and saw High School Musical 3 (songs and everything in Russian!), took him to a toy store where he picked out a Power Ranger Dinosaur Robot Guy (!?) and really had a fantastic time together. I love my family.

Waking up to a BIRTHDAY display -- a happy ballon ensemble
(Thank you suprise box from NYC friends! Those are your ballons&coloredpaper&Sharpiemarkers!)
with chocolate chip muffincake
(Thankyou Wellings à la Wikles!)

Going a bit crazy with the chocolate -- I also added cut up bits of dried apricots. YUM!

Early morning arrival in Pavlodar -- waiting at the frigid the bus station.

The pizza has arrived! It was sooooo good! (whew)

Our first and consistent friend Rosa, who now lives in Pav, joined us for dinner. It was perfect and they even had Howl’s Moving Castle playing on the nearby television. We felt right at home.


Thank you Grandma and Grandpa Simkins for the soon to be opened BIRTHDAY BOX (it’s arrived and waiting for us in Astana – we’ll be there on Thursday!)

Thank you Grandma and Grandpa Jones for the BIRTHDAY CARD and all the loving emails. We smiled and smiled and smiled . . .


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Once in a blue moon . . . don’t pinch me yet

I have been in a gluttony over post-election media reading. Such soaring, edifying, hopeful analysis. One doesn’t get that very often from the newsy outlets and I’m a girl who loves to find shared, optimistic, happy ideologies in people. I love good news. (Later, later, I will divert reading to the Congo again and mourn for the rest of the world’s people.)

The New York Times published this piece:
Among Young Muslims, Mixed Emotions on Obama
Published: November 6, 2008

About a group of students who met recently at NYU to speak of the conflict they felt in supporting Obama because they were Muslim. They wanted to wear the buttons, work for the campaign but wondered if their head scarves or Arabic sounding names would harm the movement and cause spin that would be hurtful to them and the candidate they supported.

We live in a country that has struggled for nearly a decade to delineate and disassociate the ideologies between Islam and terrorism. The students mentioned Colin Powell and what a hero he was when . . .

Answering a question about the candidate’s faith, Mr. Powell said: “Well, the correct answer is [Obama] is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?”

I appreciate how Colin Powell turned that question around – what are you implying by making this a talking topic? Is there something wrong with allowing freedom of worship in this country? Do you fear a person’s faith if it is not your own? (Romney went through a lot of this too. A lot.)

Another paragraph, at the end of the NYTimes article, yields the following:

Mr. McCain’s only supporter in the room, Jameel Merali, a junior studying
hospitality management, said Mr. Obama’s victory was a wonderful thing, though
he still had reservations about his view of economics.

After explaining his understanding of Mr. Obama’s view, and contrasting it with his own [ . . .] Mr. Merali concluded that all in all the system of checks and balances would protect the nation against any intemperate economic decisions the next president might consider.

“That’s the beauty of it,” said Mr. Merali, who was born in Tanzania. “The way it was all set up by our founding fathers.”

Did you catch that? He said OUR founding fathers! We are strangers no more.
(He feels absorbed, he feels represented in this country. This gave me the chills!)

Isn’t it so powerful that one man, one leader, can symbolize so much? And cause such elation across the globe Obama has many things yet address that will likely bring more substance to people – you know, policies and stuff – but right now I feel he’s managed to accomplish something policy makers can hardly aspire to, just by being himself. The margins and the center of the population are standing shoulder to shoulder, we are assessing our future with hope, we are jointly proud of what has been accomplished by this act of democracy. We are eager and empowered to work together to enhance life together.

I know some of my readers may not agree with my sentiments and perhaps I should qualify all my euphoric remarks with caveats and conditions on performance. But I feel like riding this moment. THIS EXACT MOMENT IN TIME. It feels good and it feels potent.

Sometimes I feel very simple. Sometimes the transcendent element I celebrate, after reason has been engaged, is when people find a way to mutually respect each other, regardless of their point of view. Obama said in Chicago, at his
acceptance speech:

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends -- though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.

So, this is it – the simplicity I spoke about inmylittleself: I respond to love and I respond to others who feel it toward each other. I love LOVE. And this is why, at this moment in time, I am celebrating the spirit of union in ourcountry and love/hope/faith for a man who will be our president and what that means for us and for those we interact with in the world. They might love us a little better right now too. That’s good, real good.


Let's sing . . .

We share the same biology // Regardless of ideology // How can I save my little boy // From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy // There is no monopoly on common sense // On either side of the political fence // Believe me when I say to you // I hope the Russians love their children too.

What might save us me and you // Is if the Russians love their children too.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pardon Me Poetry


My thighs rise like bloated
wheat kernels and
I am unsteady.

What seems like a
ready reference skill
eludes my eye/movement

Those mutts still have
their chance at my heels;
but the call to prayer
rings clearer as I
arch forward.

My breath pulls out
in great puffs.
The front tire sandwiches
thin against the patchy
pavement -- more dust
than tar.

This multi-decade body
shuffles through itself,
chronicling my blithely
earned and carelessly
underused life-functions.

To move is to
access self; my
blood pumps unforgettable
rhythms -- and I listen.

Random beautiful

I have this friend in NYC, she works at this swanky bakery on the upperwest side. She speaks French and she LOVES literature. I like that about her.

Her name is Meredith. Isn't that such a lovely name? I love how saying it uses my whole mouth – all these exquisite sounds.

Anyway, the reason I'm posting about her (hope it's ok, Mere) is because I received an email from her this week telling me that she's received a job offer outside of the city and she's decided to take it.
Here's the random beautiful math:

a single white female
who is mormon
takes new job in a bakery
in Beirut, Lebanon

are you gasping for air yet –


She's going to move there to work in a cupcake bakery.

Isn't that the random-est, cool-est, beautiful-est thing you've ever heard? [She nearly trumps Obama.]

Hat's off to you Cherie!
Vive Beirut!

Friday, November 07, 2008

When a girl grows up

My grandma recently turned 100 years old. Can you believe it? o-n-e-h-u-n-d-r-e-d! 10x10. Maybe you know people that experienced but it’s always seemed to me like such a rare gift. My grandmother, Grace Bishop Simkins, is our family’s singular gift. I love great matrons. Grandma Grace is the epitome of vivacity in mind and body and will and temperament.

You see, my grandma has this laugh, this delicious laugh. Someone once described mylaugh as needing a chair of its own (I’m paraphrasing without the author’s eloquence) but it made me think of my grandma’s laugh; it tickles and rebounds through the space of a room and ones heart with such joypower. Happy, enlightened, life-living power that just won’t sit still – it RICOCHETS!

My super-duper cousins compiled some of my grandma’s writings into a memoir and titled the collection, “Living with Grace”. Such a lovely double meaning.

We all adore her – wouldn’t it be a comfort to know that later in life you will eventually be adored, revered and celebrated?

Lets all live for it!!
Not just for self-serving purposes.

Here’s an important crux to happy family units:

Because of who Grace Bishop Simkins IS, we are closer to each other -- we all want very much to be in her presence, to care for her, to LOVE her. She is that awesome. She is that powerful. We then discover each other and our common link and how much she is reflected in each of us. I love you because I love her. Love works that way sometimes.

Grandma, I hope you know that we/I feel this way about you. I salute you and all that you’ve lived and struggled and found joy in. I hope that one day I’ll know more about your life and that it will inform me in ways that will be a credit to you. I like that old saying, to be a “credit” to somebody.

I love you myfamily and I wish I was there celebrating with you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

This is SO exciting!

Following the election countdown over the last few hours here in KZ-a-stan has been surreal and super thrilling!!

And I am so excited for our country -- I am about to cry. I love you mycountry and I love our new president-elect and his little family and I pray so hard to our FATHER IN HEAVEN that Mr. Barack Obama will be blessed with goodness and inspiration and meekness and strength and love and compassion and intelligence and temperance and everything that is good.

I love you mycountry, mypeople.
I believe in your goodness.

Thank you -- peace out.

p.s. Dad, it's going to be ok. Trust me.

....and thanks to for such great homepage election coverage!

Monday, November 03, 2008

All because of a boy . . .

How long ago was it? Over 200 years ago? Seeking knowledge has such resounding affects on people, on futures.

I’m thinking of Joseph Smith.

It all seemed so impossibly wonderful that weekend in October, when we were in Astana (capital city of Kazakhstan) sitting in the cozy living room of LeRoy and Anne Welling. They are people we’ve only met one other time, in September, and here we were being retrieved from the train station, sleeping on their floor, sharing their food, using Skype on their uber-sweet computer with flashlightening speed and feeling LOVED.


We transformed the living room Sunday morning, dressed ourselves as nice as we could (shoeless!) and settled down with Jhanna, who is from Mongolia and the only other member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Astana. We took the sacrament together, we talked of the sacrament, we heard Jhanna’s testimony and challenges, we sang, we prayed and all was translated into Russian for Jhanna. We also read the scriptures and talked about righteous leadership and what can happen when we allow God to influence us. And what happens when we don’t. Read the Book of Mormon, it’s all there. I love the Book of Mormon.

So impossibly wonderful.

But it was possible and all because a boy of 14 decided to pray to a God who would surely answer his prayer.

If you're in need of some recreational listening, click over to the following academic conference the Library of Congress held a few years ago, titled "The Worlds of Joseph Smith". If you click over and feel overwhelmed start with Bushman's address (session 1) or Given's (session 2). A word on Givens: the guy is so unbelievably eloquent -- it makes me weak in the knees.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Desi Candor

While pretending: “I’m new. Shake my hand. I crawled out of the wall. Glad to meet you.”

Zoe when we grow up to be real people we’ll be married and you’ll be my wife and I’ll be your . . . FATHER and we’ll have lots of children. Sometimes you can visit my apartment too. Do you want to visit my apartment Zoes? When I’m five you can come to my apartment.

“Does she love me? Does grandmaGrace love me mom?” While looking at pics of our visit last November (’07). My grandmother turns 100yearsold next month! We love you grandmaGrace!

I like seeing Zoe do lots of kinds of funny things.

While kicking wildly and making sharp movements with his arms, Des called out, “Do you see? Am I like tofu mom?” He meant Kung Fu.

You know what I’m thinking about? [Pause] Oh! I need to think about it . . . [Long pause] Ok, I thought about it . . . [In an very mysterious voice] Secrets for everybody in this whole land and the New Yorkans!

Are you happy I gave you a kiss?

My fingers are pretty.

Tomorrow I’m going to learn not to do bad things.

Mom? Can you come to my bed and cuddle and talk about what we’ll do when we get back to New York and Heidi’s place?

“It’s evil that you make me try! I hate it!” On being required to practice wiping his own bum.

Zoe loves me!

I didn’t fall asleep last night – I laid down and transformed.

Are the Holy Ghost and God ever funny?

Is Grandpa as old as this matchbox?

I want to go back to New York tomorrow!

Des: I’m funny right?
Zoe: No! No way Jose!

I don’t know how in the world I got peepee on my pants.

Am I pretty Zoe?

I handed a napkin to Des and directed him to please wipe his ‘mouth’. When I looked over a minute later I found he’d put the napkin inside his mouth and was solemnly wiping it out.

During another bathroom independence session: “No!I don’t want to be like Oliver, he wipes his own bum. I don’t want to wipe my own bum! YOU DO IT!”

I hate when you say ‘NO’. I hate that cute voice.

After a halfhearted attempt to eat DPJ announced,”I’m done with my gas. Food is my gas.”

“Heidi is the one who loves us best!” While chanting and walking around in circles with Zoe.

Mom? Do you know what my earth would be like? STRAWBERRIES AND MANGOES.

“Well, I don’t see how we can make it better if we can’t use superglue.” He’d torn or broken something, which I can’t remember anymore, that couldn’t possibly have been mended with superglue. He’s of the opinion that superglue is the magic-fixer.

“I was nice and hard working – it was great! I had sweat.” After making a half-dozen superhero collages.

After a little gas escaped his rear-end Des observed, “It sounds like a helicopter.”

Desmond said, in dependable bigbrother fashion on the first day of pottytraining Zoe, “I’m the one who watches over Zoe to make sure she doesn’t poop everywhere.”

Why didn’t Heidi come with us to Russia?

I’m a lovely work of art, right? Or is Jesus a lovely work of art?

Zoe en Voice

Desmond! Choose the right!

I got hurt on my blood.

Do you wuv me?

With a plastic playphone in hand Zoe says, “Hello my little grammy!”

We began potty training during the month of October and during one session in the bathroom she looks up at me and says, “I need privacy”. So I left. I’m so glad we don’t have to go out to the outhouse! People train their babies so early in RU/KZ, usually between 18mos-2yrsold!

One morning while Des was still sleeping, Zoe couldn’t resist his quiet little figure on the bed and she went to him, stood over him and then leaned down and said against his cheek, “Oh, Des! I wuv you so much!”

I went out one evening to get water from the well and as I returned I saw Zoe watching for me from the dom with her little face pressed against the window. Once inside she explained to me, “I look at the moon mom. I talk to the moon. I say, where is mymommy?”

Zoe had pulled a chair over to the fridge and was searching through all the pencils and crafty items we keep on the top. I asked her what she was doing and she replied, “I want smell the glue

Every morning Zoe is usually the first one awake and her first destination is my bedside. She’ll stand there and gently call to me until I wake then she crawls in beside me and we cuddle and giggle and, yes, she still nurses (morning&night). When she’s sufficiently satisfied with her fill-o-mommy-love, she’ll sit up with that rosy twinkle on her face and say happily, without fail, “How ‘bout we eat kasha and eggs? How about that?” It’s become such a signature saying that we each mimic her regularly.

I want sip of mayonnaise.

At the breakfast table Zoe sighed and asked, “Heidi sit by me one day?”

Zoe had her hands tangled up in my hair, “I play with yours hair – it’s toy

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Have you ever taken an 8+ hour daytime train ride with your babes? (Planes count) And after finally reaching your destination with one heavy bag strapped on your back and another in your hand take those steep, perilous steps down to the platform and then . . .


land oddly, twist your ankle and crash in a heap with a shriek? Did two people ever struggle to pick you up and nearly fall in the process?

Did you ever lean against the side of an old soviet train and shiver and quake and just want to cry&cry&cry&cry for your mother?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting ready for the big bad winter

As I’m writing this it’s currently about 60 degrees outside and has been comfortably around that number for over a week. Yippee! Nevertheless, we’re gearing up for a ferocious winter. Ferocious because we’ve never endured a winter in Kazakhstan and we expect it to be bad. Really bad. I mean, we’re about an hour away from Siberia!

A cozy hibernation requires lots of wood and coal. Our neighbors, the Salzberg brothers, are in the business of woodcutting. When Nathan finally caught them on a sober day they loaded up their big truck with logs and rumbled over to our side-gate and unloaded all of this . . .

There are two empty sheds near this pile so we decided to use one of them for wood storage. But first Mr. Jones has to chop all those logs up so that they’ll fit into our stove and he’s sure been busy with that axe! I have to say, I love watching him engaged in all this manual labor about as much as I like the vision of him pouring over books in a library. My new macho man has since decided we need another truck load of wood (he’s broken 2 axes already – Desi calls them ‘oxes’) but truly we really don’t know what we’re doing and expect to burn through a lot of wood. We’d like to feel we can liberally do so without fear of running out in the middle of a deep January freeze and then needing to chop another truck load and perhaps get frost bitten in the process . . . you get the idea.

It took a few more days, but Valya finally busted into our kitchen one morning and said it was time to go get the coal. An hour later Nate arrived with a driver and 7 tons of coal. They dumped it in one big black dusty heap and now hard-worker-Jones gets to shovel it all, bit by bit, into the other empty shed. It’s taking a long time.

Meanwhile after each session he comes in coated with coal dust. This is a big change for a guy who’s used to city life with thebabes and moonlighting libraries and classrooms! He has the marks to show it too. Our first lighting up of the stove was very exciting – Valya did the honors while we watched and took notes. It’s going to take some practice to get it as hot as he did. I may have the hydraulics a little skewed, but the way I see it is the heat rises to the attic where there is a tank of water which is heated and pumped via external pipes and radiators throughout the house. It works! I love that I can hang wet laundry on the pipes in the winter and have them dry there. All of our winter things and other miscellany arrived from Russia last month. We are not going back for that last hoped for month. We did end up getting our Russian visas (for 1month) but we are out of time.

Nathan Jones also fixed the old fashioned washing machine in the banya. One side is a spinner, which I was always able to use, but the other side it turned out only needed a little squirt of oil and now it’s rotating like new (it’s maybe a 50year old machine). I’m happy to have things simplified a little – though I still have to remove the clothes, ringing each of them in the process, and then rinse them manually and give them each another cursory ring, then place them in the spinner for a real professional job. They dry more quickly this way, of course. All this still takes about 3hours, non-stop action, but the weather’s been great and I’m still getting my kicks out of it. It’s nice to be so easily pleased.

Also, we decided to buy a used bike at the local rynick. It’s been a bit of a trial and we’re regretting it. My very first go at riding a bike again took me by surprise – it’s hard!! And it wasn't long before I fell and skinned my knee – tearing one of my 4 pairs of pants. Ugh! The fall messed up the right peddle too. And then the tires went flat. Nate was able to replace the peddle after a series of frustrating attempts and then the pump I bought turned out to be a real ‘light-weight” not doing the job properly. We borrowed Valya’s pump but after a week it went flat again! And again! I bought the bike to make life easier, I must say.

Lament over. Here are a few more pictures:

It’s BLAZIN’!!

A nice box of freshly chopped wood.

This is my borst cooking on the wood burning stovelove it!

Desmond P. Jones has his first chore: gathering kindling for the fire

I’m a hard working guy.

Zoe and I taking a moment to cuddle and kiss.