Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How many bananas?

This morning Jaan ate a banana and asked for another. I told him, "No, two bananas is a whole lot for one little boy. No more right now." He replied, "But Mama, I only asked for ONE more, not two."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sweet Raia

Here's an entry just for her.

Girly girl
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

I mentioned that our neighbor brought over a stack of books for Jaan. She also brought valenki for Raia ("so that she can look like a real peasant girl" and have warm feet, of course) and a set of matryoshki. Raia has adopted the matryoshki and cannot put them down. She stacks then in all kinds of creative ways, pretends to count them, carries them around, and babies them. She'll cuddle the biggest one and put her finger over her lips, while hissing at me to be quiet, because the baby is asleep.

Papa's girl
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

This is Raia's drill. She's learned from her Papa! She makes a great "d-r-r-r-r-r-R-R-R-R-R" noise while she works.

Playing dress up
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Here she is dressed up as her hero: Jaan!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Arts and crafts, part 4: finished projects

I think these are the last photos I had on this theme. Jaan and I made another fitted sheet and a "sleeping bag" for his trains. Then we made this organizer to hang by our door:

Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Here's our finished Thanksgiving display! We had a lovely day, and we hope you did, too. True, it wasn't much of a holiday for us, since Will's gone, but we're thankful anyway, of course. We made another paper turkey and a pumpkin pie for our English teacher neighbor, but when we went to take them to her, she wasn't home. Jaan was terribly disappointed, so we left a note asking her to come up when she got home. Not too much later, she came in with a huge book of Pushkin for me to borrow and a whole stack of books to give to Jaan. We sat and talked for a long time, and Jaan was thrilled to be able to give her the turkey he had made for her.

Will had to wait longer for our visas, so he missed his train home, but he did get the visas at last! He'll come in on a night train, then to the bank first thing in the morning and on to Vladimir as fast as he can. (For the beginning of the story, you can read what I wrote in our prayer requests.) Please pray for strength for him and for everything to go quickly and smoothly at the bank, so that he can get to Vladimir in time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A regular, happy day

My little helpers
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Doing laundry before going out.

We had a wonderful morning. After getting some things done around here, we went for a walk in the woods, all four of us together. Jaan and Raia like to get off the sled and push and pull it: Jaan in front, Raia pushing from behind. Her little legs move so fast! I say she's training for a dog sled race.

(Yikes! As I sit here at the computer I can see the building across from us. It has a terrible problem with icicles, which can be very dangerous. I guess they decided to do something about that this year. There's a man crawling along the edge of the roof, with a hatchet, chopping off icicles. Some of them are bigger than he is!)

Now Jaan and Raia are sleeping off all the exercise and fresh air that they got this morning. When they wake up, we'll finish our Thanksgiving display. I might come back and post more photos today, but no promises.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Arts and crafts, part 3

Today we made paper turkeys. (The colored ones are quite pretty, if you need any Thanksgiving decorations.) Jaan really enjoyed making a similar angel last week at the orphanage, so I decided to try this. Again, he loved it! Raia liked scribbling all over, too. Her turkey didn't even last long enough to get pictures of it, though. I got them posed and then. . . .

"Don't break it!"
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

The head!
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

She ripped the head off, crumpled the rest of it up, and popped it all into her mouth.

Jaan's playing with his turkey now. Later if I can get it away from him, it will be the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving decorations. We're not going to do a full Thanksgiving celebration this year, because Will will be in Moscow, but we can decorate some. On Saturday when the youth come over, I plan to have at least pumpkin pie, and maybe some other seasonal treats.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Just a cute picture

Popcorn before bed
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Last night Will rearranged our bedroom. For the first time since we've been married, I can get out of bed on my side, without crawling across! I love it! It makes me feel like a queen. Simple pleasures. . . . It looks so nice, too.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Arts and crafts, part 2

Raia wasn't the only one busy painting. Jaan and I have really been enjoying the bullfinches we see almost every day, so while Raia painted, we did too. We made pictures of our bullfinches! I didn't suggest it to Jaan, and I didn't tell him what colors to use or anything. As usual, he was watching me, though. He certainly knows what a снегирь (bullfinch) is, and how to paint one!

Getting started
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Our paintings
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Arts and crafts, part 1

We've been spending our mornings out in the snow, and our after-nap time having fun inside. This morning we went sliding on a little ice slide at a local school. It's the perfect size for preschoolers. Once the big kids came out, it was a little too scary. Jaan and I were afraid of all the pileups, but Raia still thought it was great! She kept diving right in, and I was terrified that she would get squished. I brought Jaan and Raia home exhausted and starving. Now they're asleep.

Yesterday, Raia had her first experience with watercolors:

Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Hanging up her work
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

I'm having trouble posting pictures, so this will have to be continued later. . . .

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bible stories

I was trying to post this all day yesterday and couldn't get it to work.

"About idols"
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Jaan has a few Bible story books. The one that we read before bedtime is at toddler level, with the stories in both English and Russian. Recently the story of Hezekiah destroying idols the really made an impression on him. We had to read it several nights in a row, before Jaan would agree to move on. Now he calls that book "the Bible about idols," or he just asks to read about the idols. He's very quick to explain that idols are bad, though, and that we should only pray to God.

He also loves this Bible story book:

Jaan and his book
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

The pictures are from a Danish version. They're very bright, intricate, and different from anything else I've ever seen. Does anyone know if that's a traditional Danish style? Today we were reading about the Sermon on the Mount, and Jaan pointed out a place next to Jesus in the picture: "I could just sit right there and listen to Him."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kolya's moving today

Will and Kolya
Originally uploaded by fylliska.

At least he's not going to be too far away, but we'll miss having him right here in our building. Will saw they were moving out and went over to say goodbye. Kolya again promised to stay in touch, and even gave Will one of his icons of St. Nikolai.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reflections on life in Russia (from Will)

I love Russia. I love living in Russia. I believe God has given me this love. However, sometimes I realize that I have become ‘too Russian’ in my thinking or outlook. Life can be hard here. Russian history has hardened the people of Russia. I myself, I shouldn’t be hardened, though. God has given me a love for these people, to the extent that I would rather live here than in the country I was born in. And I need HIM to constantly renew, to deepen that love, to RE-sensitize my heart to those who are literally dying in their sin, without hope, without a future, without God.

I want to introduce you to friend of mine, Kolya. Nikolai Sergeyevich, to be proper. Kolya lives in our apartment building, the next entrance over from us. Almost a next-door neighbor, you could say.
Kolya is a character, but a classic, modern Russian character. He is definitely one of a kind, but he also embodies many common characteristics of the men of his generation. He’s his mid fifties, but could pass for 65 or so. A hard life and hard living have had their toll on him.

Kolya is a true ‘Kovrovan.’ He was born in somebody’s vegetable garden right here in Kovrov, on the way to the hospital. His mother was fairly poor and later gave her son into the tender arms of a state institution. Kolya grew up in one of Kovrov’s Orphanage/Boarding schools, and matured into a tough, rough, self-made man. The army was where he really ‘became a man,’ like so many others. He served his time and then some, as a sergeant, and a good one, to hear him tell.
After retiring from the army, Kolya went to work for the city, maintaining and repairing electrical systems all over the city. (Much of that including residential work, here.) He’s still working, and is a hard worker.

It’s good he’s still working. He’s also a hard drinker, and more than likely, work keeps him from drinking himself to death. Not too long ago, coming home after a long time of ‘counseling’ a buddy on woman troubles over a few drinks, Kolya tripped, fell... and fractured three ribs. Maybe more than a few drinks, come to think of it. Kolya did a ‘watch this’ kind of trick in front of me once. He showed me a little bottle of ‘red pepper extract,’ sold at the pharmacies for heart problems. ‘See this, Will? This here is 90% alcohol!’ he says, as he pours it into a small glass half full of water. He was already a little under the influence, but as he downed his cocktail at one gulp and walked away, he wasn’t staggering any more than usual. Impressive? I don’t quite know.
He recently said he’d just come back from the hospital, and the doctor had given him orders to drink at least every day. He said that his blood pressure was so bad when he didn’t have any alcohol in him that the doctor had actually said it would be better for him to stay a little drunk at all times! I think I miiiiiight believe that. I do know that there are various medicinal ‘extracts’ sold in little bottles at the pharmacies for only 6-9 rubles, and they’re quite popular with all the neighborhood drunks. Doctor’s orders! It’s good for the heart! Hey, and it’s 40-90% straight ethanol, too... will wonders never cease!

My friend Kolya is one of the building’s ‘official’ electricians, and is called on to fix things fairly regularly, so we see him around a lot. As I’ve spent time outside cleaning up, working on things around the building, I’ve gotten to know Kolya better. He loves to walk up and just talk for a while, educating me on everything from politics to history to child raising.

When we had some fairly serious electrical problems recently, we had the whole building up in arms because we called in an ‘outsider.’ We had checked and none of ‘our guys’ were home, so we got a newspaper and called the first ad that looked promising. Oh, and what widespread admonishment, reproof and scorn there was!!
The ‘outsider’ came and went, promised to return another day...and never returned, wouldn’t answer phone calls, wasn’t available, etc. for days. Finally we tired of the glares from Kolya and all the other old men, repented of our foolishness, and asked him to help! Having come to our senses, we were given the ‘neighbors know best’ lecture, along with many others aimed to strengthen our communal spirit.

Kolya then spent several days trying to set things straight, figuring out what had gone wrong where, and trying to fix it. (Half the apartment was without electricity.)
Having spent time thinking about our problems, he evidently was inspired... or something! The next morning he came knocking at the door and blearily informed Phyllis: “I have the solution -I know what’s wrong in your wiring! God revealed it to me last night when I was drunk!!” How do you reply to something like that?!
As Kolya himself said one evening, “Russians are amazing people, huh, Will? Might be drunk, but we still want to work! I want to get the job finished that I started here, a little drunk or not!” Of course, with Kolya, sadly, ‘a little drunk’ describes him roughly 45 percent of the time.
We don’t really mind helping Kolya, by letting him do this work for us. We didn’t want to at first, but we changed our minds. It’s always good to keep peace with the neighbors. We did wonder what his wife thought about it, though. I’m sure she minded. Extra money can only mean extra ‘medication,’ or at least larger amounts. That is where our second thoughts come in, of course.

Sometimes Kolya refers to God around us. He knows we are believers, after all. He himself wears a cross, and swears by St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker. He goes on about how St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker keeps him safe. “Every day, when I’m working with high voltage, or right before I open an electrical panel, I always cross myself and pray to St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker. Once I forgot, and well, lemme tell you, I had a pretty bad accident! Never again!”
Hmmm. I guess with the falling and fracturing his ribs, he had forgotten to cross himself before setting out for home. It’s rather sad, but that’s really about as far as Kolya’s conception of faith in God has gotten. And that’s about the extent of any discussion of spiritual truths. I talk about God... and he talks about good old St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker.

I try to point Kolya to God, but a self-made man anywhere in the world tends to be hard of hearing spiritually. Not to mention a man hardened by a hard life and an army career in Soviet Russia. Aside from that, everyone knows that a serious, ‘sincere Russian Orthodox believer’ categorically turns away from any semblance of worldly pleasures and goes around looking serious and sad all the time. They forsake everything that the common man finds comfort in: drinking, smoking, drinking, dancing, drinking, partying... and what kind of life is that??? (Religious options outside of Russian Orthodoxy are not considered viable by the common man here. All else is seen as heresy and dangerous cultish groups, thanks to general ignorance and effective propaganda.)

So what do I say? What do I do? Pray he doesn’t kill himself by alcohol poisoning before he understands that he needs God on a personal level, and not just the intervention of his favorite ‘intercessor,’ St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker? I do pray. The heartbreaking tragedy of it all also hurts me, makes me take another look at ‘that old drunk.’ This is a man who has had a full life. A full life of hardship, both self-inflicted as well as simply a byproduct of the times he’s lived in. His grandfather spent 14 years in Siberia for a chance comment made in the workplace. He doesn’t talk about his father, probably didn’t know him, and his mother handed him off for the government to raise. All he has known in hardness. Jack London is one of his all time favorite authors. ‘He writes about real life, don’t he... survival of the meanest! I understand that... I’m tough, I’m mean.”
Still, even with such claims, Kolya is friendly, open, faithful to his word, faithful to his own understanding of right conduct. He goes on about how faithful his men in the army were to him. “Didn’t lose a single one of them, took care of them like my own children.”
His friendship is unfeigned, even if it has a healthy dose of self interest in it. “You can always rely on me for help, Will. Don’t ever call any of those dishonest ‘professionals’ in the newspaper again. We’re moving soon, but here’s my new number... call me and I’ll be over to help as soon as I can!”
I can have him help with electrical problems, sure, but how do I help him with the need of his own heart and soul which just cries out to me? Kolya has no hope for the future. He has no trust in the leaders of his country. He sees nothing to plan for, to look forward to. His children don’t respect him or understand what he’s lived through. Life is just existence to exist. Recently he told me “What really scares me, Will, is when I think about my children, about my grandchildren - what future do they HAVE? What do they have to look forward to in life? What can I tell them? Nothing!”

I can only pray that God changes his heart, that the Holy Spirit will convict him of God’s righteousness, of his own sin, and of the coming judgment; that God will show Kolya his very own personal need of a Savior. Maybe God will see fit to use me in some way. I don’t know. I do know that He has used Kolya to begin RE-sensitizing my heart once again to the crying need of those around me.

Pray for hearts broken by the needs around us, for lives always ready to be used to display God’s love. Most of all, pray that God would work in us, through us, and use us to draw needy people to Himself.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I’ve helped give you a better picture of our life, ministry and our daily challenges here. Thank you for your prayers, and for your support of us. We treasure you and want to communicate better and more often to you our needs, our blessings... our life here in Russia.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doctor's report

Thank you for all your prayers! I ended up going to Moscow by myself, while Will stayed here with our children. Everything went well. I made it there and back with no problems, and I didn't even pass out when they drew blood. I'm still not entirely satisfied with answers to my questions, but the doctor wasn't worried by my symptoms. They tested my heart (fine), my vision (not so good as it used to be), and my thyroid (waiting for results, but I'm sure it's fine, too). The diagnosis is that I had a few migraines. I already knew that.

The doctor and I didn't start off too well. His first question for me was, "So, what is your profession?" I answered, "I'm a mother." His response: "That's not a profession!" (Grr.) Next questions: "Didn't you go to doctors for your pregnancies? Why not?" My response: "I don't like doctors!" (Grr on his part.) I really didn't mean to let that pop out; it's just our general excuse when other people ask. I wasn't meaning to offend him!

Anyway, after that little exchange, we didn't really get anywhere, and he left me to a nurse. But then he came back, and we made much better progress. He ended up doing most of the testing for free and writing off a lot of the time that he could have charged me for.

Once I was done at the clinic, I had to kill time until my train, and I actually enjoyed walking around by myself. In one day I read 400 pages of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It's probably been five years since I indulged in a book feast like that! I also had Chinese food, browsed a book store, and just enjoyed the novelty of being alone. It was rather boring, though. There was so much that I would have enjoyed more with my family around.

I finally got home at 11:00. When I crept in to wake Raia up, because I really needed to nurse her, she said, "Mama" and started signing "milk" in her sleep. Too cute!

We've had a great time together today. Jaan told me that it was a "bad train" that took me away yesterday. This morning we made snow cakes outside, molding them with a little bucket, and then decorating them with leaves, sticks, and berries. While I was gone, Jaan and Will made a big boy sized snow shovel, so we had to try that out, too. It's so good to be home!

Oh, interesting note: there's almost no snow in and near Moscow. As the train got closer and closer, there was less and less. We have so much here already!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006

Our transportation

I've been too busy knitting, sewing, baking, playing (and not feeling good yesterday ) to post anything here for a few days. The fact that our church is again homeless and nomadic is keeping Will busy, too.

Here are some older photos, showing how we get around:

Originally uploaded by fylliska.

Originally uploaded by fylliska.

(It's too bad Raia's making a face like that. She really does love riding with Jaan.)

To continue the theme, I should get a photo of a trolleybus, but that's not as interesting, and it's not our own private transportation. Pretty soon we'll be switching to sleds for the children; Jaan can't wait!