Thursday, April 23, 2009

Conversations with my Uterus

It: You know what's great? Babies.
Me: Yeah, they're really cute.
It: We should probably have one.
Me: Someday, sure.
It: No. NOW.
Me: Not now. I have things to do.
It: I don't care what you have to do, I want a baby NOW.
Me: Yeah, well, too bad for you, Uterus. I'm in school. I'm not married. I have a list of vacations I want to take with my hot boyfriend sans strollers and carseats.
It: But isn't Mari's baby adorable? The way he laughs hysterically just because you repeat the word "Hippo" in a funny voice? Who wouldn't want that kind of audience around on a daily basis?
Me: But they also cry.
It: I don't care. They're so snuggly. Didn't you see the pictures of Cas's baby? Don't you want your own seven pounds of cuddly baby?
Me: Did you know it costs at least $6,000 to pay for a baby's first year? Do you have any idea how much diapers cost? Because I saw the sale price in the Safeway flier last week and, damn, that sale price is still really, really expensive. Who is going to pay for that?
It: Not my problem. You're the logic, I'm just the hormones and the emotions.
Me: They don't stay babies, they grow up!
It: Don't you want a kid?
Me: They whine. Their idea of fine dining is Chuck E. Cheese. They throw screaming fits in the most inconvenient places possible. They wake up at 4:30 in the morning for no reason at all whatsoever! And then they're teenagers.
It: They're hilarious. Wasn't your boyfriend's nephew hilarious this afternoon, flipping through his children's Bible and "reading" it?: "God, Jesus, Jesus, God...Jesus, God, Jesus, God...rock, God"? Don't you think it's great that they get so excited about the tiniest things? And you get to go to petting zoos and ride carousels and do all sorts of other things that are still really fun but kind of creepy and/or strange to do if you don't have a kid as an excuse.
Me: Yeah...but I'd have to discipline the kid, and pay for the kid, and get up when the kid gets up at 4:30 in the morning and accidentally locks himself in the bathroom. And think of all the things I do now that I wouldn't be able to do anymore. I really like beer. And riding my bike by myself. And sleeping past 9:00.
It: But it would be fun!
Me: But it would be hard!
It: But it would be rewarding!
Me: But I'm not ready!
It: But I'M ready!
Me: I know! But I don't know why you are!!! Shut up!
It: Baby.
Me: No.
It. Baby!
Me: No!
It: Babybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybaby.
Me: [head in bathroom cabinet, triple-checking that I still have several years of birth control pills, considering the advisability of swallowing two every day just to be on the safe side.]

What is with the biological clock? Does everyone feel this way? Is it something that just happens around the age of 25? I've been vaguely aware of it for some time now, but in the past year or so it has been getting harder and harder to ignore. Penn has been teasing me lately, saying I have babies on the brain, and I try to deny it but it's true. It doesn't help that so many of my friends are pregnant right now (seriously, at least once a week when I check Facebook someone has posted belly or sonogram or newborn pictures). And Penn's sister and her two kids came to visit us this weekend and I thought that having them here would be sort of a pain and would be a wake-up call as to exactly how annoying it can be to have kids around 24/7, but no. It didn't work. Her kids were well-behaved and cute as hell, even the 4 year-old who was previously known as "The Terror." Sure, they had a few moments where I was secretly thankful that they're not mine and I didn't have to actually be responsible for taking care of them. For instance, they really did get up at 4:30 this morning and I was really grateful that I wasn't the one who had to drag myself out of bed and get them cereal and cartoons (I don't think they normally get up at 4:30, they're visiting from Europe and jet lag has them a bit least, I hope for Penn's sister's sake that they don't usually get up at 4:30 in the morning). Also, I can't say it's exactly enjoyable when you're trying to walk and every five feet someone wants to remind you of how much their feet hurt.
But then they do such funny and cute things that it's really, really hard to remind myself of all the reasons why I don't want one yet. Yesterday we were walking up to the capitol building and The Terror announced, "That's where Uncle 'Bama's works!" I died laughing. He's consistent, too. We saw the president on TV when we were eating dinner later and he said, "Look, it's Uncle 'Bama!" So apparently The Terror thinks the president is called Uncle 'Bama. I asked his mother why he was calling him Uncle 'Bama, and she has no idea, she said that's just what he has always called him since he became aware that Obama exists. I can't stop laughing every time I think about it, mainly because I wonder which of these two scenarios is true:
A) He thinks that Uncle is a name, so it's just a coincidence that several of the men in his family, including Uncle Penn, have the same name as the president of the United States.
B) He knows what "Uncle" means and realizes that he has several uncles, one of whom happens to be our nation's leader.
Truthfully, it's probably neither of those things and he has never even thought about what "Uncle" might mean, it's just a sound you make sometimes when referring to some people. Still, Penn and I got a big kick out of that. Uncle Dan, Uncle Penn, Uncle 'Bama...
So, yeah. I had a lot of fun with the kids and although it should have been really effective birth control, it wasn't. Someone still needs to punch me in the ovaries and tell them to settle down. I DO want kids eventually, I just don't want them now. Seriously. My brain tells me all the time that I am completely not ready. I'm not married (in fact, Penn will probably read this and freak out. Don't worry!! My logic is much stronger than my bio clock, I promise! And I'm not ready either!), I'm not at a point in my life where it makes sense to have a baby (actually, I'm not sure that point exists in anyone's life, but whatever), I don't have the money or the space or the time or the willingness to give up all the alone time I have with Penn. Basically, it's something I look forward to doing in the future but am not fully ready to do right now. There are parts of me that do feel ready, though, which I guess is reassuring. I didn't know if I'd ever get to the point where being pregnant didn't feel like a disaster, and I can now say that it wouldn't be a disaster if it happened. It wouldn't be great, but much worse things could happen. So that's good. It's just that there are so many other things I want to do first.

And now I'm going to knock on every wooden surface in the house in hopes that I didn't just jinx us.

Also, maybe we need a puppy! (I'm kidding, I'm kidding.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Things I Should Have Written About Last Month

Last night at the grocery store I bought a new brand of popcorn to try because it was on sale and because I've been on a popcorn kick lately. For the record, it was one of those pre-portioned 100 calorie pack things, and it had Weight Watchers points on the side of it so, okay, I suppose it is being marketed to a certain audience. When Penn and I got home from the store and were putting things in the cupboard, I noticed that the back of my new box of popcorn says, "We know you're a multi-tasking mom!" and then went on to tell me about some eco-friendly shopping bag that "Master Multitaskers" can get for mailing in three proofs of purchase. Sigh. I told Penn about the back of the box and said, "Is this really my demographic now? I'm buying products that just assume I'm a mother?" And Penn said, "Better get used to it!" And then I stood in front of the bathroom mirror for five minutes scrutinizing the wrinkles on my forehead (which maybe only I can really notice so far, but they're permanent now!!) and then I melodramatically whined to Penn, "We need to get married soon or else I'm going to be all wrinkly and you're going to be gray-haired in our wedding pictures!" (because we all know that the ability to have pretty wedding pictures is ENTIRELY the reason behind having a wedding). I don't actually care about this and I'm only writing about it here because it amused me, but I actually do have permanent forehead creases now (tiny, but permanent) and the other day on the subway I found a gray hair in Penn's beard and our friends are having babies and buying houses and, wow. I'm well on my way to being one of those women that subscribes to Redbook.

In other news, I have finally fully committed to my bicycle. I've had it since February and I've used it for exercise on the trails around here once or twice a week since then, but up until last week there hadn't been much good bicycling-for-fun weather, and the bicycle commuting wasn't happening yet because I didn't have a bike lock or a bag that I can carry when on the bike. But now that it's spring (and now that I finally have extra money to spend) I bought a good bike lock and a helmet and a water bottle that will fit in my bike's water bottle holder and a pouch to go under the seat so I can carry my phone and ID when I'm out exercising and Penn bought me a bike bell that says I Love My Bike and now I can actually really utilize my bike for both exercising and commuting. Hooray! But the main reason I wrote this whole paragraph was to tell you that my new bag has 12--12!!!--separate zipper pouches. Why? Why does anyone need twelve individual pockets in one bag? Yesterday when I rode my bike to work I had my laptop and a couple of books in one pouch, my sandwich and water bottle in another, my phone in another, my keys in another, and my lip gloss and a couple of pens in another and I still had 7 empty pockets. It's bizarre.

This past week went by really fast. I can't believe it's already the weekend again. We had a good visit with Penn's mom last weekend (and I thought the birthday cake was tasty, by the way!) and then this week I've just been working and trying not to get overwhelmed by all the e-mails that my department chair has been sending out lately about scheduling comprehensive exams and making book lists and...blah. There is so much that needs to happen in the next 7-8 months, but hopefully by the end of 2009 I'll be a PhD candidate (as opposed to a PhD student, which is what I am right now; you're not a candidate until you've passed your comprehensive exams and you're ABD-All But Dissertation).

Anyway, I promised a few more highlights from my Russia trip, and since it has now been almost a month since I went, I guess I should wrap that up. So, here are some bullet points of the highlights:
  • We took an overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Anna and I ended up sharing a sleeper car with Dr. New and Dr. Scary. Actually, we spent a lot of time together on the trip. It's a weird situation at this point in my education, because I'm definitely not just a student, but I'm not quite a colleague yet, either. Anyway, the train was fairly comfortable, but it was ancient. Anna looked at the reading lights above our bunks and said, "I'm fairly certain those were made by Stalin himself." Seriously, the train might have been around for that long. Also, the snack that was waiting for us in our compartment was red caviar in little jars. Not really what I would think of as a midnight snack (we caught the train at 11:30 PM), but interesting. I brought the jars home to the states for Penn. It's really, really salty. Oh, and we also had a snack pack for the morning, and it had yogurt in it but it wasn't cold. Our hotel in St. Petersburg had free continental breakfast and they would put out unchilled yogurt every morning, too. Isn't yogurt supposed to be refrigerated? I was too scared to even try the room temperature yogurt, but I'm guessing since that's how they serve it everywhere in Russia it must be okay. Still, yuck.
  • You know what rocks, though? Russian porridge. I rocked the porridge every single morning. Ooh, and they had these muffins with marmalade inside. They came in handy little plastic packages so I'd swipe a couple every morning to eat when I got hungry walking around town.
  • Other Russian food that rocked: pelmenis and varenikis. Freakin' addictive dumplings in sour cream sauce. I need to find somewhere to get them here (I guess pierogis would more or less fulfill the craving and those are relatively easy to find in this part of the country). And blini, which are thin buckwheat pancakes similar to crepes but a little thicker that could be either savory (smoked salmon, yum!) or sweet. I'm also going to make a sweeping generalization here and say that Russians are really into potato salad. Sometimes we were on our own for meals but a lot of times when we were together as a group we had prearranged meals. Often the prearranged meals were "traditional" Russian food, and every single time we had a Russian meal, the first course was a potato salad (and the second course was borscht, and the third was meat in some sort of cream sauce). A couple of times at a restaurant separate from the group I would slowly sound out the menu, order a salad, and then remember too late that "salad" pretty much always means potatoes with something.
  • While I'm at it, here are a couple of other sweeping generalizations: 1) Russian women love knee-high spike-heeled black leather or pleather boots. And while I'll wear knee-high leather boots to go out at night, I don't generally consider them work appropriate (well, okay, maybe sometimes appropriate at my job, if worn with tights and a skirt that is at least knee length, but I don't think I'd be wearing them if I had a corporate job). Apparently in Russia it's perfectly acceptable. 2) Russians are big fans of the cloakroom. Which I guess makes sense, considering you're wearing coats for so many months out of the year. You know how here in the U.S. there is sometimes a coat room at a nicer restaurant or a theatre or club, but even then you generally have to tip and/or pay and so it's optional? Not in Russia. In Russia, everywhere we went had a coat room unless it was a coffee shop, and even then there were coat racks everywhere. Draping your coat over the back of your chair like we do here just wasn't acceptable. There were a few times in museums where it was kind of chilly and I wanted to keep my coat, but it wasn't allowed. There are old ladies manning the cloakrooms and they get pissed if you don't check your coat.
  • The Hermitage Museum is amazing. I'd go back to St. Petersburg again someday just to be able to go back to the museum. I've been thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure it's my favorite of all the art museums I've ever been to (and I've been to a lot of impressive museums: the Met, the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi Gallery, The Tate, the Philadelphia Museum of Art...I do really love the British Museum, too, although I feel like that's a different kind of museum and it's sort of like comparing apples to oranges. I've never been to the Louvre--it was closed due to striking workers the one time I was in Paris--so I can't make a comparison there). Given, I'm not judging entirely on their art collection, although that was very impressive. Name a well-known western artist and there is probably an entire room (at least) devoted to that person's work in the Hermitage. It's a HUGE collection. I was there for 6 or 7 hours over the course of two days and I probably only saw 40% of the collection. What made it impressive for me, though, was the design of the Winter Palace and the other connected buildings. It was so beautiful inside. The ceilings were covered in detailed painting, the floors were incredibly elaborate inlaid wood, there were glittering chandeliers...Many of the rooms were literally breathtaking. I would walk into a room and go, "Da Vinci, wow...OH MY GOD, look at the floor!" Also, one of the professors that took us on the trip used to work at the museum before he came to the United States, so because of his connections we were able to go down into their vaults and look at things that are not normally displayed to the public. It was amazing. We got to see tapestries from the 1200s, dresses that belonged to Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra Feodorovna, tiny little shoes belonging to Nicholas II's children, caftans worn by Peter the Great. It was fascinating, not so much for the garments themselves but because of the history of the people who wore them.
  • One night a couple of friends and I went to a restaurant called "Lucky Shot" that advertised "Lots of meat and game over an open fire," and there was bear on the menu. Bear! It was $90 a serving so we didn't get it. I guess it's so expensive because someone has to go out and actually hunt the thing. It's not like you can farm bear. Have you ever seen bear on a menu here? I haven't.
  • One night a bunch of us went to a drag show. One of the guys on the trip read about it and wanted to check it out. It was such a funny experience. None of us speak Russian so we missed most of the jokes, but it's amazing how much can be conveyed just through tone of voice and gestures. At one point the two drag queens took a couple of our guys up on stage and joked about them for a bit and then picked the smaller guy up and carried him back to our table. It was hilarious. Everyone in the coffee shop (the drag show was at a coffee shop/bar) sang a Russian national song at the end that everyone knew but us, and as soon as they were done the drag queens came running up to one of our guys, who had already told them he was from Brazil, and told him, "National song Brazil!" So he gamely sang the Brazilian national anthem. Everyone was cheering and laughing. I was proud of him for playing along. That same night we started talking to the people at the table next to us--most of them spoke very broken or no English and I was the best of the Russian speakers in our group at the time (and my entire vocabulary consists of the numbers 1-5, "thank you", "bear", "beer", "chocolate", "tea", and the words that happen to sound the same in Russian and English, like coffee) but one of the girls was actually relatively fluent in English so we were able to get by--and they were going to take us to another dance club. However, after almost 45 minutes wandering the streets of St. Petersburg in the middle of the night, during which time our translator was swigging from a handle of whiskey and getting progressively more and more tipsy and my friends and I were becoming less and less clear on exactly where we were in relation to our hotel, we decided to call it a night and head home. I think our Russian friends were very insulted that we didn't trust them, but it was getting a bit shady and we had lost our translator to the whiskey, so what else could we do?
  • I think that was also one of two nights that I saw the gypsies. We were walking down the street and I heard horse hooves on the cobblestones and I assumed it would be mounted police, but no. Both times it was a couple of women about my age or maybe a bit older riding their horses through the street with the reins in one hand and a can of beer in the other. It was my friend who had been to Russia before that told me they were gypsies. I have no idea if it's actually legal to ride your horse through the city center of St. Petersburg. My guess is no.
  • Another highlight of St. Petersburg was our visit to Catherine Palace, the tsars' summer home about 40 minutes outside the city. The palace was insane. It was HUGE, and it's divided into baroque and classical styles, both sections of which are ornate as can be. The famous Amber Room is also there, which was sort of interesting although it was much smaller than I was expecting it to be. Anyway, the palace made me realize why there was the Bolshevik Revolution (seriously, Russian royals, who needs that much effin' gold leaf when everyone else is eating beat soup and freezing to death?!) but it was still pretty stunning. I did have a mildly scary experience at the palace, though. We had gone through the palace with a tour guide, and at the end of the tour she said that she was going to give us twenty minutes to look at the gift shops and then we were going to meet in the lobby. So I looked around the gift shops and about ten minutes before we were supposed to meet up to go to lunch I decided to buy myself an amber ring and buy a gift for my mom. Then there was this whole series of ridiculous events where the cashier didn't want me paying with a credit card so I tried to use my debit card in two different ATMs but couldn't get cash out for some reason so I came back to the store and finally convinced her to just let me pay with the credit card even though she stuck her nose in the air and growled, "This is small charge for credit card," (it was a $45 purchase, I wouldn't exactly call that small, but I guess it's all relative when some of the items in the shop were selling for thousands of dollars). By that time twenty minutes had passed and I was supposed to be back with my group, but here's the thing: I could see them. From where I was standing at the cash register making my purchase, I could see my group about twenty feet away putting their coats on and gathering up their things to go outside. So I knew we were about to leave, but I figured I had a minute to finish my purchase. But I literally looked down to sign my credit card receipt, looked up, and my entire group was gone. Vanished! In the entire nine days we had been in Russia prior to that point nobody had moved that fast the whole damn time, and the one time I need everyone to loiter an extra two minutes they actually decide to leave somewhere on time (seriously, the whole week prior to this we'd pick a meeting time and then actually leave 10-20 minutes after said time). I didn't think it was a big deal, though. The coat room was just around the corner, I figured I'd run over there, grab my coat, then head out into the snowy garden which is where I knew we were going next and catch up to them. Well, yeah. That didn't happen. I grabbed my coat, left the lobby literally a minute after they did, and they had already disappeared down the garden paths! It didn't help that the garden is huge and that every single person in sight was wearing a black coat, so in the big sea of tourists I couldn't possibly tell which group was mine. I briefly thought about just heading into the garden and searching for them, but then I remembered my mom's constant lecture any time we were going somewhere crowded when I was a child, "If you get lost from me, DO NOT TRY TO FIND ME. Stay right where you are and I promise I will come back for you." So that's what I did. I went back into the lobby, figuring that at some point someone would realize I was missing and come back for me. I knew they were going to wander in the garden for a bit and then go to a group lunch, and I figured that if they never noticed I was missing while they toured the garden then when there was an empty space at lunch they'd figure it out. And I figured at the very, very least if somehow they got all the way through lunch without noticing I was gone they would absolutely, definitely notice when they got back on our van to drive back to Petersburg. So I was like, "Okay, just chill. It may take two hours, but someone will realize you're gone and they'll come back." And that's when I realized my wallet was missing! Yes, I lost my entire tour group AND my wallet in a five minute period. So I ran around frantically trying to ask the cashier (who spoke limited English) and the coat check woman (who spoke no English at all whatsoever) if they'd seen my wallet and getting progressively more and more panicked. The only reason I was okay about that was that it was the last day of the trip and I figured I could just go back to the hotel, cancel the credit and debit card in the wallet, and bum a bit of money off of someone just to get me back to the states. So I knew it was going to be okay, but I was like, "What kind of bad karma is this?!" Fortunately, everyone realized within about twenty minutes that I was missing (and I think it only took that long because everyone had sort of split up temporarily to see the garden and it was only when the whole group came back together again that someone thought to do a headcount) and my prof and the tour guide came back for me. I actually felt bad when they came into the lobby because they looked so much more scared than I felt. My prof said, "We were panicked!!" and he gave me a big hug and started trying to hustle me out of the building when I was like, "No, wait, I have a bigger problem. My wallet is missing!" My professor probably thought I was the biggest dingbat in the world at that point, and he said, "What was in it?" and I said, "Just two credit cards and my student ID" and he said, "Oh, that's okay, that's nothing." I'm sure he was thinking, "Good lord, this woman lost her passport and we're supposed to leave in the morning and now I'm going to be stuck in Russia with her until we can figure this out." Fortunately, I know better than to carry my passport in my wallet or purse (I carried my passport, whichever card I wasn't planning to use that day, and my driver's license in a flat fannypack type thing that I hid under my pants). I asked my professor if he could ask the coat check lady if she'd seen the wallet, and he said, "It's useless. It's gone. I'm surprised this didn't happen earlier, to be honest." But amazingly enough, she directed him to the information booth and there was my wallet, just sitting in their window!! I had been carrying it in my hand while we'd been in the palace (since I had to check my coat and backpack in the stupid cloackroom), and I think when I realized my group was missing I got so panicked as I was putting my coat on that I temporarily just forgot to hold onto the wallet since I don't normally carry my wallet in my hand and I just dropped it to the floor or something really flighty like that. So anyway, I was reunited with both my group and my credit cards and now it's just a funny story for everyone else to tell, the time *A* got lost at the Catherine Palace.
  • One final story: on our trip home we had to get up at 3:45 AM, take a van to the St. Petersburg regional airport, fly to a Moscow regional airport, and transfer somehow from that airport to the international airport to catch our flight to New York City. Note that I said "transfer somehow". No one had bothered to figure out how a dozen people and all of our luggage were going to get from one airport to the other. So I watched my Russian professor do the best thing ever. He took out a thousand ruble note, handed it to a van driver, had a brief discussion, and then said, "Hurry, everyone, bring me your things and get on this bus." So we all piled into the van with our stuff. There was another old man already on the bus, along with two women in the back seat who just sat there like statues as we loaded all of our luggage around them. Finally about five minutes into the drive the old man looked at Misha and said, "Did you RENT this? Where is it going?!" Misha explained to him that the bus was going to drive us to the airport but then it would go on ahead to wherever it was originally supposed to go. Basically, it would be like me climbing onto the crosstown bus, handing the driver $30, and saying, "Can you drive me ten blocks downtown first and then come back up here and finish your route? Thanks, buddy." In other words, that would never happen here! But in Moscow the driver was just like, "Yeah, whatever, no big deal." The best moment, though, was when my professor said to no one in particular, "This is very Russian. Don't panic." And we weren't panicking, until he said that! Fortunately, we made it to the airport safely and we made it home safely and the whole trip was a really interesting experience.
  • Russia is probably the hardest place to explain of anywhere I've ever been. It's modern but not, European but not, capitalist but not, gray and dreary but was somehow very much what I expected it to be and not what I expected it to be at the same time, and the feeling I had when I was there was different than the feeling I've had on other trips I've taken, although I still haven't been able to put my finger on what made it feel different. There's a tension there that's impossible to explain, and not even entirely a negative tension. Go, though. It may not be first on your list of places you want to see. I know Russia is maybe not on everyone's dream vacation list, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, go. You'll see some beautiful and interesting things, and you won't regret it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm Baaaaaack

Well, I think that's officially the longest I've ever gone without posting since I formally embraced this whole blogging thing years ago. Obviously, I've been busy. I don't really want to dwell on why I've been busy because, really, who ISN'T busy with something? Suffice it to say I went to Russia, had a 28 hour-long trip home (including a four hour layover in Moscow and a six hour layover in New York, followed by an hour sitting on the tarmac because JFK really sucks balls), and have spent the past two weeks playing catch up.
But now I'm finally back to my regular routine and I don't feel like all of my work is in this enormous, ominous Indiana Jones-style ball rolling along behind me and threatening to consume me completely. And it hasn't been all work the past two weeks. There was a really lovely, warm afternoon that I spent watching Penn play his rec soccer game (and actually--horror of horrors--playing myself for the first six minutes of the game because it's a coed league and they were short a girl. Considering that the only thing I know about soccer is that you're not supposed to touch the ball with your hands, it's a really good thing an actual female player showed up). We also had a couple of Penn's friends stay here with us last weekend so we did some tourist stuff with them in City A and went to a concert. Oh, and I went to a different concert, one featuring Tragedy: the World's #1 All-Metal Tribute to the Beegee's. (My suspicion is that it is the world's ONLY All-Metal Tribute to the Beegee's) So yeah, I've had some fun time, but no free time, if that makes sense.
But now I'm sitting here waiting for my cake to cool enough so that I can frost it, and I actually have time to write. Yes, I actually baked a cake today! I'm planning to surprise Penn with it when he comes home from work tonight since it's his birthday today. It's a yellow cake and I'm frosting it with browned butter frosting. I suspect from the way it looks that the edges might be a little crispier than I would have liked, but that's nothing a little frosting can't mask, right? And since this is my first attempt at baking a cake from scratch (actually, I've never even baked a cake from a mix), I'm not planning on being too critical of myself. If it's edible and remotely resembles an actual layer cake when all is said and done, I'll be pleased.

Anyway, I have a couple of posts flitting around in my head, but I think I'll start by writing about Russia. I'll just give you my highlights, although if you're my friend on Facebook you can also look at some of the pictures I posted. There are 250+ pictures over there with commentary and you definitely don't have to look at all of them, although even with my non-existent photography skills I still think I managed to get some really nice shots. I think Russia would be a real (or amateur) photographer's paradise, by the way. I was constantly blown away by the colors and textures. So much of it was unexpected, and so much of it was utterly different from anything we have here in the United States.

We were in Moscow first. I'm glad I went to Moscow for a couple of reasons. First, I don't know that I'll ever get there again. It's not as if it's exactly close to anywhere else (St. Petersburg, on the other hand, can be relatively easily tacked on to any tour of Scandinavia or northern Europe, so I can actually imagine ending up there again someday). Second, while St. Petersburg mostly felt like the rest of Europe--if you've been to Amsterdam or Venice or Germany, then you already have a schema that St. Petersburg will fit into pretty well--Moscow was more challenging. It's a huge city, labeled in a language I don't speak at all, full of things that made me go, "Well, this is kind of like [whatever] but, huh...bizarre." As just one example, I ate at a sushi restaurant one night (sushi seems to be very trendy and prevalent in Russia right now, much like it was in the U.S. about ten years ago) and the tables spilled out into the corridors of a shopping mall, the decor of which prominently featured a disco ball. Uh, okay. I feel like Moscow is a nice transition city for a traveler. Like I said, it still feels very European in a lot of ways, but there aren't many English speakers (I've found in most of Europe it's easy to find someone who can understand you, but in Russia I was almost always having to use charades to get my point across), and while after a few days there I knew the cyrillic alphabet and could painstakingly sound out words like a kindergartener learning to read, the language barrier was still sizable. However, having tackled Russia I now feel like traveling to Asia (which I plan to do...someday) won't be quite as jarring and overwhelming.
My highlights of Moscow? Red Square and St. Basil's were impressive, of course. I was thrilled to discover that it looked exactly the way I imagined it would. Usually places are smaller than I had imagined or not as colorful or whatever, but St. Basil's did not disappoint. We also took a tour of the Kremlin and the armory museum there, which I thought was great. My favorite room had the coronation and wedding dresses of most of the tsars and tsarinas. One of the wedding dresses blew my mind. It was so simple and yet so pretty that I looked at it and thought, "That's it, that's the dress I want to get married in someday." I've been looking for images of it online ever since and of course I can't find it (they only have images of the gigantic 1800s coronation dresses, and this was a late 19th century/early 20th century empire waist number that's, as I said, actually fairly would help with the google searching if I could remember whether it belonged to Empress Alexandra or Maria Fyodorovna, but I can't). Fortunately, a couple of the people I was on the trip with bought catalogs of the collection, so I'm planning to bug someone to make copies of the pictures of that dress for me pretty soon so I can keep them for inspiration. I've never been one of those girls who imagined her perfect wedding dress, so it was surprising to fall so in love with an outfit. I realize any dress I eventually wear will not be an exact replica of that dress, of course, and I also realize I'm waaaaaaaaay putting the cart before the horse here, but I suppose if it doesn't end up being a wedding dress for some reason it can be inspiration for a really rockin' party dress, right? :-)

Okay, so twenty minutes went by and so my cake finished cooling and I frosted it and then my mom called and then Penn came home and I surprised him with the cake (it looks very homemade, i.e. messy, but I hope it's going to be tasty when we try it later!) and now his mother is going to be here any minute (she's staying with us for the weekend), so I have to go. I'll have to save my musings on St. Petersburg for some other time.

Have a nice weekend, everyone. It's finally spring!!