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She put up big American and Russian flags on our dacha when we first built it, much to my chagrin. The American flags have broken off and are in our storage room. The Russian flags are still there. I'm not a flag person, at all. I simply don't get "patriotism" and read it as "nationalism".

I was worried she would want to re-install the American flags but she hasn't. She gets how I feel, especially now. I wouldn't mind if she put up Canadian flags, however.

Today when I was shoveling snow

I was thinking about food stamps. I keep reading about how Republicans are certain there is huge Food Stamp Fraud and I can attest to... an anecdote!

When I was 18 and lived in a five bedroom house with seven other young lesbians all under 24 in Phoenix, Arizona, our landlord, Cherie, asked me to sign up for Food Stamps. "You can pay your rent in stamps and keep your money for yourself!" Something smelled wrong so I refused. I had a job at Rainbow Car Wash on McDowell and could pay my $55 a week, thank you very much. (I mean, I made $99 a week and was pretty much rolling in dough, by my standards.)

My family had been on food stamps for a time. (I believe after the divorce, when my never-having-had-a-job-in-her-life mom had to get a job. I was mortified when she first trepidatiously used them, so I must've been a teenager when that happened.) Food stamps really helped us and were a necessity. When Cherie asked about food stamps for rent, I just thought, "Something's not right."

So, in my experience, fairly wealthy women who live in Scottsdale and drive the latest model Mercedes and have multiple rental properties will sometimes ask their gullible tenants to sign up for food stamps to pay for rent. I have no clue how this works, and I really don't want to.
It's -22C these days and I hate the thought of animals not only freezing but starving. (It's -35C in Moscow which is ridiculous!)

Today I put out nine slices of bread because the first two sets of three I initially put out were immediately gone. I know it's the Jays. They come in and steal all the bread from the Great Tits and Sparrows. Which is fine since the smaller birds prefer seeds anyway. I also put out some salo, which is basically a slab of animal fat. Birds LOVE it in winter months.

I grew up in Arizona, moved to San Francisco when I was 22, and then moved to Russia when I was 44. The whole concept of Winter is still pretty new to me. We had snow at our cabin in Pine, Arizona but it was maybe two inches? I can spend every day, three times a day shoveling snow and never be finished. I'm also a terrible snow-walker, though I have become better. I used to fall almost every day trying to walk in snow. I asked N for clamp-ons my first several years here, to no avail. (I think that would've been "steedno", shameful. ;) )

Okay, time to check on the cats.
Last I was posting here, I had just moved to Russia and things were quite stressful. They didn't actually feel that way but reading back over my posts, I was stressed.

Nowadays, things are much calmer. We're living at our dacha ("we" being me and my gf, N) outside of Saint Petersburg with our two cats, Uma and Koba, and our two lovebirds, Ari and Buzik. ("Arbuz" is watermelon in Russian and they look like little watermelon faces so we thought that was appropriate.)

I've worked at my school for almost six years now and my lessons have been entirely online for the past ten months which is both good and bad. I miss seeing my students but I don't miss the security rigamarole every time I had to enter the buildings. I also don't miss the expense of taxis. I traveled many, many times by Saint Petersburg Metro which invariably made me ill. The Metro is really deep underground here and the escalators are quite steep. By the end of those rides I'd be shaking in the knees and not feeling great for my lessons. But I did it. Now I feel much better for my lessons, and I have no commute!

My gf, N, (I'm using an initial because she has a highly popular LJ in Russia and has a very unusual name) works and works and works so I'm alone most of the day, at our dacha (country home). We built this place with our own two hands (in one month!), so I'm especially fond of it. We have generally spent summers here but this is the first year we're spending the winter here. And it's cold! It's -22C right now but pretty cozy inside. I'm happy N made me pack so much "vata" (insulation) into every wall, despite how itchy my face and hands were. She's a very smart woman.

I enjoy being alone during the day, but I'm never really alone because (besides my quite heavy class load) there are a lot of wild birds, and foxes, and rats, and muskrats, and stray dogs to tend to around here. There are even beavers, but they never ask for food. Of course I also have my "pets". Now that it's so cold, Koba and Uma just want to spend all day in our banya (Russian sauna). So I start the "pech" (wood stove) and keep it stoked for them. You've never seen such happy cats. Five delivered meals a day and my petting schedule of every half hour. Our birds have their own bedroom here and I have tricked it out with toys and spend several hours a day (when I can) interacting with them. They're so smart! I love birds so much.

In the winter, it's lovely because no one ever comes up to our dacha and knocks on our door. In the summer? It's sort of a hot house of visitors. I'd really like to journal about them because they're quite amazing.

Of course the best is when my N is finally home every evening. She always insists on cooking (except for when she's in the mood for Mexican, which only I can approximate). And then we just spend a quiet evening together. I love her very much.

Tags:

We're in Colorado Springs, Colorado

We've driven 25 hours from San Francisco since Tuesday morning. Rather, Nikol has driven. I've been in charge of entertainment.

Today we spent the sunset hours in the Garden of the Gods park, our destinatiion. It was amazing. So beautiful. We're going back tomorrow morning for opposite lighting. And then immediately driving back to SF.

I feel really shitty about blowing off friends in SF before we came here and am too mortified to check in on FB. I had vague plans with them and none sounded terribly interested so I think it's okay, but I'm still beating myself up about it.

One of my very dearest, oldest, dearest friends made it sound like she'd be visiting us in SPb last June and she simply ran silent and I had no hard feelings but I fear most people are not like me.

It's actually a lot deeper than that: my best friend chooses drugs over me always, my second best friend is rarely available to me unless I genuflect to her and mostly I'm not willing, my old friends were not ever really good friends, they just like the idea of me.

Recently, I lost two friends of over twenty years because they did all the "work". Okay. I don't miss them. They made demands and I can't meet them.

I'm a terrible friend, if you want more than infrequent emails, Skypes and phone calls. If you're suffering, I am a constant friend and this is what pains me the most. When I suffered most, my only friend was my drug addict friend. She was there for me, constantly. For the friends who dumped me, I was there every single day, maybe five times a day for them when they suffered, multiple times. But no more.

Traveling on the road with Nikol is sublime to me because we are the perfect travel partners. She says, "You had a huge coffee, you must need to pee." I do and she stops. "Baby, you must be thirsty. You act like a camel when you're driving but do you want water?" I ask and she does and I run in and grab her one. Plus, I love having her to myself. It's so rare. (Our first night in America, one of Nikol's clients called SIX times between midnight and seven a.m. Good gourd!)

I've met some very lovely people in Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The billboards sicken me but the people are nice.

I sincerely hope

That every woman I know votes. I have voted in every election I've been able (though I've overwhelmingly been on the losing side) but I take voting very seriously.

I've had three girlfriends (with whom I lived) who were completely apathetic and so I got to vote twice. Do not be apathetic! That's how fuckers win (unless you have a gf like me). I'm proud of Nikol because she voted in the National election even though we were in Istanbul. She made a point to go to the Russian Consulate early in the morning.

I read rapturously and in great detail exactly-- the many propostions, the small time supervisors/educational seats-- there was no political vote beneath my extensive research. Every vote is incredibly important.

In Russia, I still vote. I'm now unable to vote in California (of course) but I can vote on a national level. And I will. I hope you will, too.

Remember, we were only allowed to vote 89 years ago.


I see, now, on so many blogs, women making excuses for what's going on now. It's NOT okay! Last I checked I was a human being with choices. That may soon not be the case.

Pure evil in Texas.

We're cattle/chattel!

We're only incubators, not human.

I believe, here on LJ, I'm preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, I need to purge.

We Have Come To The End Of The Book

This is always a helter-skelter* time in classes or in individual lessons. Because will they pony up for another book or will they just lean on me to print print print?

To be honest, most students do not ever get their own books and this makes it very hard on me. I usually end up buying them a book because it's cheaper than printing/copying them or looking up worksheets and printing those up. Now that I'm going into my second year teaching at this school (actually more than my second year) I think I will insist that students buy their own books. I'm tired of paying for printing.

If you want a conversation only lesson? Yes, I will come with only my mouth. If you want to learn grammar or vocabulary or grammar? You need to buy your own book.

I prefer books (and I know which ones now are the best) because there is a natural progression and repetition that is not possible to replicate on your own. I will always add my own materials when I see where a student/class is lacking but I'm not going to scrap lessons together anymore. I don't NEED to anymore, I have a mighty arsenal of the best of the best, but if you want to learn the language, you're going to have to pay an additional 1000 rubles ($30).

I think that's fair. When I took private Russian language lessons in San Francisco, I had to pay $2500 for 50 classes (one hour each) and I had to buy a book ($50). If I canceled a class? That was $50 right out of my pocket; I was never able to reschedule. You can't make it? You still pay. It was much stricter. If teacher canceled? I had the choice of rescheduling or getting a $50 credit. (I mightily disliked my first teacher but really liked my second so I was happy I rescheduled.)

Here, I have students who cancel cancel cancel and they prolong their lessons ad nauseam. Oy, I like to finish them and move on. (I'm not counting holidays, of course, and I AM out of the country a lot--because of my visa needs or because of Nikol--I don't begrudge my mistakes.) I just wish my school would be "more professional", in the terms in which I understand "more professional".

I love my students and often am a self-sacrificing dork for them but if I'm spending more than what I'm making, no. I need to say "No!"

*Not to invoke Charles Manson nor The Beatles--my understanding of helter-skelter came from Charles Dickens.

One thing I don't get about Russia

Why is their TV so difficult?

So many British shows are available here. Nice for me, except Russians (apparently) like echo translations. Meaning the English is spoken first and then the Russian is shouted over it one second later. Wouldn't it be better to have Russian subtitles? OR full dubbing? I mean the echo dubbers are so distracting in their emoting that I can't hear anything but them. The echo translations make me a bit crazy. Can I please hear the English? Maybe? Or no echos? The combination makes me nuts.

This is the bastard child of dubbing and subtitles and it sucks.

I'm guessing Russian broadcasting systems couldn't care less about deaf people. They have no closed captioning in Russia. (This is what my gf tells me. With Irina and Alex in San Francisco, we simply watched movies in CC mode and everyone was happy.) Need I say, again? It's not possible in Russia. I have to hear some man interpret everything. In crappy women's voices. UGH.
I want to write them here (and archive them) because my archives have been very useful to me. In order of when I first procured them:

1. Vasili - From JUNE of last year. I don't know if the school has a time limit for when students can pay and then take lessons but, if they do, surely Vasili's time must soon be up. He only wants lessons on weekends. He canceled his last lesson in early February (one hour before, I still get paid) and I have not heard from him since. I adore him (I adore all my students--Russians are endlessly interesting to me) but he only has three more lessons. His eyelashes are insane! Only on my brother have I seen eyelashes that long. He only bought thirty hours. I love his mother. She's maybe a decade older than me and is so fashionable and decked out every time I see her. All the young men I teach live alone with their mothers. Vasili's mom cuts up fruit and herbs, lays out pickled tomatoes and mushrooms, and an array of teas and coffees when I arrive. I'm like royalty. I tweaked his CV and cover letter and he got a new job, in Dubai. He's no longer in SPb very much.

2. (Int. Bus. Class-these classes I've had now for 12 weeks) - Valery - He's so freakin' funny. Where Vasili is very serious (and just over thirty), Valery is nearing 40, married and he can make great jokes in English. His face is so cute. He has black hair--very short, deep brown eyes and a tiny mouth. He's very, very intelligent. He began in the Pre-Intermediate class and the day I was going to ask him to jump up to Intermediate (he dominated every conversation and was clearly not Pre-Intermediate), he asked if he could jump a level. YES! He's the salesman of the company and I can tell. When he gets something wrong and I explain it he says a very small, "okay". I know I have to explain it with Valery. I could never just say, "Incorrect".

3. (Int. Bus. Class) - Nikolai - Nikolai is the student that is most often gone from classes but he is the funniest. His hair is short grey and he has the most typical Russian face, to me. When Nikolai is in class, I know it will be a fun class because he can spin role plays into pertinent everyday causes. He is able to take English easily into philosophy which is why I wanted to run Intermediate into Upper-Intermediate as soon as possible. Nikolai can often overtake classes because he has a lot to say. Our first lesson, Nikolai offered me a ride home. I didn't take it (Nikol always drives me home) but I thought that was sweet. He also only has daughters so he is fiercely in favor of girls.

4. (Int. Bus. Class) - Vladislav - Vladislav is a very nice man. He's the most reserved of the group and I often stop to ask, "What do you think, Vladislav?" Valery and Nikolai could easily run over him with their big personalities. When he starts to speak I wave off the others and make them listen. It's funny to me because he told me on our first meeting that he has the biggest problem with listening. NO, he doesn't. He has the biggest problem with speaking. He's a great reader, has excellent pronunciation but he rarely interjects. I have to make sure to be a traffic light for him. He is the best at word puzzles. Lately, he's been saying, "I am great in English." Yes, you are, Vladislav!

5. (Pre-Int. Bus. Class) - Sergey - Sergey always calls me "Jenice" and he didn't until about two weeks in so I feel reluctant to correct him now. In my business classes, he's struggling the most so I don't want to confuse him. He's adorable! Like a blondie teddy bear. So small and so cute. And he loves his family so much, he talks about them nonstop. We had three individual lessons together but he still scored lowest on my end-of-book placement test. Yet, he's often the first to supply correct answers in lessons, so I'm confused. What can I do to help him? When I gave that placement test he looked completely crapped out. That is not like Sergey. He's usually so bubbly. I am very invested in his success. We went over "say, tell, ask" like mad and he still got them wrong. I think it may be because he talks too much and doesn't listen. What else can I do?

6. (Pre-Int. Bus. Class) - Vladislav - (Russians have the same names over and over--I know at least 20 Natalya/Natashas, Sergeys, and Tatyanas/Tanyas) - He asked me in the first lesson to call him Slava, so I do. Though Nikol tells me it is highly disrespectful. Slava is the big boss of the building. Once I knew this, it made it difficult for me to call him Slava but when I call him Vladislav he slowly shakes his head at me. Okay, so, Slava, is far too advanced for Pre-Intermediate. I would have suggested he go up to Intermediate, too, with Valery. BUT Slava is never in the building. He has been to maybe four lessons out of the last sixteen. When he is there, he looks crapped out. And he gets fifteen phone calls. It's stressful for me to have Slava there because he so clearly needs to be somewhere else. I think he's very nice, to me, and I want to help him. He rarely joins in the conversation and when he does he is always correct.

7. (Pre-Int. Bus. Class--NOT my Advanced Elena) - Elena - Front Desk/Customer Service. (I can always tell a (y)Elena, no matter how they're dressed. When we go to the bowling alleys I know who exactly is a Elena. Elenas are the hidden intelligentsia, in my experience.) Elena is the one person of this class I had little hope for, because she was so disjointed in her English understanding, in the beginning. The smartest women who hide behind their intelligence are always Elenas. When I gave my end-of-the-book test, Elena scored High-Intermediate. But she will not speak in class. This makes me want to goad her all the more. Maybe offer free lessons.

8. Timofey - I only have six more lessons with him. He's gorgeous, in a male model way, and I adore him but we won't have enough lessons together to really connect. He's kind of a misogynist ass anyway.

9. Julia/Yulia - I love the way her mouth moves. It's not American at all. Of course not, she's Russian. I think I'm teaching her and then she sends me such horrific sms-es (texts). Next lesson it's all about writing. Good grief, I know her main point of English contact is email.

10. Advanced Elena

11. Evgenya - Advanced student. My boss and coordinator. I think she's amazing. I would do anything for her--okay within limits. She's brilliant and my main concern with her is that she realizes how amazing and unusual she is. There is no one like her. I recently decimated her CV and cover letter and haven't heard back (they were too long!) but I know her. I know it's because she's busy with her life. I did the same to Vasili's (see No. 1) and he came back, chosen out of 532 CVs, with a new international job. I know my power with resumes.

12. Natasha - Advanced student. Another coordinator at my school. I love talking to her because I am endlessly interested in quizzing Russians. She's so sweet. We have excellent conversations. She's a great student. Our time together flies by. I often hang out ten minutes after because we're so rapt in talking.

13. Marina - cutie pie (beginner) 11 year old. I bought her books which cost me/Nikol $90 but much cheaper than printing out endless worksheets. Plus, I think Marina really deserves an excellent education. I have 14 lessons left with her. Enough for a whole book. If your parents won't buy it for you, I will.

One thing I've found in teaching English: very wealthy parents make their kids work very hard. Sasha (an old student of mine who was 14) had to not only go to regular school, but had to go to extra-curricular schools, had to mentor younger students, had to keep a strict schedule and was happy for it. Because she saw how she was getting ahead on her own merit--granted on the dime of her parents, but because of her! SHE was making the rest happen.

Yulia, Ilya, and Nikolai (old students of mine, in their teens) had very wealthy parents but they were also plopped into hotel service as un-paid interns "to learn the merit of hard work". And now they're established in the business. Later, with their parents' money, they will know how to run businesses.

Wealthy Russian parents are very smart. They put their all into strict schedules, extracurricular studies and work experience. They do not let their kids sleep in late and be lazy. I wish my parents had done the same for me. (Not the money part, but the discipline part.) If you get to thirty and are undisciplined? It's frickin' hard to get over that.

Thank goodness Nikol's athletic discipline rubs off on me. And thank goodness I love my students so much.