Archive for November, 2007

Supplies are not forever

November 30th, 2007
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We knew before we moved to England that some common household items were considerably more expensive here than in the US, while others may simply be non-existent. It made perfect sense to stick large quantities of some necessary stuff into the shipping containers.

Relocating young mothers are routinely advised to ship large supplies of diapers, which are considerably more expensive in England. With our kids being tad bit too old for diapers, we settled on stuff such as toothpaste and other toiletries.

And what do you know? It took just a bit over a year, but we are close to exhausting our supplies of toothpaste. Listerine is long gone and has been replaced by locally acquired variety (at almost three times the cost at current FX exchange rates). There are only a couple of razor cartridges left…

Guess we should’ve brought double quantities of all that.

But the box of Splenda from Costco is still going strong. It is probably only half-empty, which means that it is likely to last a whole another year.

Was that a great acquisition or what?


Lapland in UK

November 29th, 2007
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As if to make sure that my complaints about general inactivity were unfounded, we have decided to entertain ourselves in the middle of the week.

Visiting SantaWe went to the seasonal attraction called Lapland UK, in Kent. As the name suggests, it is a Lapland-themed little village that holds a number of Christmas activities, aimed primarily at children who have not grown out of believing in Santa Claus yet.

Our expectations were quite low, as Natasha have read a number of reviews on TripAdvisor which posited that the attraction was quite underwhelming. Alas, we bought the tickets over a month ago, so we had to go anyway.
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Chronicles, London Album

Of speed cameras

November 27th, 2007
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What motorist would appreciate a device whose main purpose is to convert additional speed into hefty monetary penalties! I am no exception, certainly. A policeman hiding in the bushes with his radar never fails to trigger a Tourette-like urge for me to utter some unflattering epithet in his address. A speed control camera always grates on my nerves…

Objectively speaking, though, I have to admit that unlike those abominable police enforcers, the speed cameras so prevalent in England are a rather effective way to keep the speed with which the traffic moves under control.
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Auto trivia, That's England

School trips are fun

November 26th, 2007
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One way in which British school curriculum differs from its American counterpart is in the quantity of school field trips. As they bring variety to frequently dull coursework as well as often become an effective tool for learning certain topics, we are quite happy that our girls are exposed to that.

Consider. In this trimester already, Becky has been to the Eltham Palace for a field study of Art Deco, on a day-trip to France structured around culinary arts, and on a visit to Buddhist and Hindu temples as part of religious studies (she does not like the subject, but she very much liked the trip). There are five or six more of these scheduled for the rest of the school year.

Public schools are not far behind in taking kids out of the classroom and into some interesting environments. Kimmy, for instance, has been this year to a storytelling workshop. And today, the trip was to the British Museum – her favorite. She likes it mainly because she can normally get an activity backpack there (these backpacks provide a semi-scripted way to engage children in appreciation of different artifacts). Visiting with her entire class, there was no chance of getting a backpack, but the children were taken around the museum and shown many interesting things, according to Kimmy. More trips will follow for her class, as well.

I can’t recall more than one or two trips in a school year in America…


Becky dances to YMCA

November 26th, 2007
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It took me several days to figure out a good way to post locally stored streaming videos on my website. Trust me, every blogging software puts limitations on what you can transparently do, and what appears to be a simple task with embedding YouTube video becomes a lot less simple when you want to refrain from going to other sites for the components of the embedded object. And then, with .flv format, various containers behave in a different way, not necessarily the way you’d like them to. But I must be boring you.

In any case, I arrived at a reasonable solution (futher tinkering expected), and now feel empowered to start posting various video clips from our on-going recordings.

I do lack ready material at the moment though (other songs from Becky’s choir performance will be posted later this week). So, for the next number, at Becky’s request, I am posting the video that she and her friend made at their recent trip to the movies a couple of weeks ago. As it goes with such videos, the quality is on the lowish side…

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Children, Music

Less than active

November 25th, 2007
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Blame suburban living that keeps us away from the hustle and bustle of the big city or blame the expected decline of novelty in things that we can do. Blame the dull weather if you want. But our weekends have disappointingly become devoid of interesting family stuff. We lately got into let’s-just-chill-at-home mode of spending the weekends, as opposed to our earlier explorations (for examples, see here, here or even here just a couple of months ago).

This weekend, I barely set foot out of the house… for about the third weekend in a row.
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A license, finally

November 24th, 2007

Well, well, well, look who is now a fully licensed British driver. Natasha has passed her road test!
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Auto trivia

Girls singing beautifully

November 22nd, 2007

It has not been a great week, as we all fluctuated between unwell and well states. Natasha took through Tuesday to recover from Sunday’s malady, but was feeling fine and went for her badminton session on Wednesday. I was back in office on Tuesday, but continue to have a peculiar relationship with food intake, and have not even deigned to go to gym. Becky went to school on Tuesday, but had to be taken out late in the morning, and then spent all Wednesday in bed. And Kimmy suddenly developed a fever on Wednesday night, taking her turn of staying home…

But by the end of today, we were all more or less in decent shape and attended a concert at Becky’s school. She sings in two different choirs and participated in four numbers. Three of those were absolutely fantastic and I offer you here the one that I liked the most. Enjoy!


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Children, Music

Disparity in travel costs

November 20th, 2007
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The cost of a weekly economy car rental (automatic transmission, A/C, unlimited mileage) in Andalucía for a UK resident: £157. The cost of the same rental for a US resident: $650.

Something to be said about the inter-EU travel.

On the other hand, business-class-only MaxJet tickets cost almost 50% more (at the current exchange rates) if paid through a UK “gateway”, and our upcoming Swiss ski trip would cost 60% more if we were to book it through a non-US agency.

Go figure!

Costs, Travel Costs

Natasha’s Birthday

November 19th, 2007

Thank you to all who wrote, called or otherwise expressed their adoration of my lovely wife on her birthday. I am happy to report that we celebrated the occasion with a bang. In more than one sense…
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November 17th, 2007
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With a tip of the hat to Jason Bennion.


This blog is at an Elementary School reading level

I don’t know whether to take this as an insult to my mastery of the English language or a compliment to the clarity with which I express myself…

Idle Amusements

A bit of social networking

November 16th, 2007

Even though I’ve never been to either Facebook or MySpace, I do my little share of social networking on the web. I am not in it for the networking, per se. Other people like finding new friends or are intent on becoming widely-known for their opinions or want to distribute their attempts in art or simply enjoy people-watching from the safety of their house. For me, the expectation of getting in touch with somebody – anybody – whom you otherwise do not regularly correspond with (and, in many cases, have not even thought about for years) is the primary reason to get in.

With the recent explosion of social networking activity, I suspect that everybody that I have ever had so much as common acquaintances twice removed, would be within web shouting distance in a couple of years at most. From blogging at LiveJournal to posting pictures at Flickr to sharing your favorite links at to recommending web content at StumbleUpon, you now have practically unlimited ways to connect – or re-connect – with people.

I have joined the fray so far in only two places.

One is LinkedIn, which has the distinction of being a fad that could actually be useful in time. That is, if you connect with the right people… My modest network is a mix of friends, relatives, former colleagues, current colleagues, not exactly colleagues whom I am barely familiar with, vendors, recruiters… And I only have about 70 people, nothing to brag about. Just shows that I am a very reluctant networker…

The site which I am more active at is (apologies to my non-Russian audience – it makes no sense to apply if you are not from the former USSR). The site has the incredibly dumb approach to recording affiliations – basically, if you want to spell the name of your town or school in a novel way, go ahead, knock yourself out, it will appear as a separate entry in no way linked with other entries of the same town or school; I am registered with five different instances of my high school already – but it allowed me to catch up with a few people that I have not seen or heard from for over 15 years. There’s been a recent influx of my close American friends to the site, so I am now connected with many of them as well. And daily, I find new people to correspond with and catch up.

I also get checked out by some unexpected visitors. The site keeps track of the people who viewed your profile, and I occasionally see 20-year-olds from Moscow (always Moscow) on my list. Quite hot young things, if the photos in their profiles don’t lie. Some of them give high grades to the pictures in my profile. I guess there is an implied invitation in each such visit, with a hope of becoming a new Darya Zhukova to a new Abramovich… :)

I suppose my exposure to social websites is still pretty limited. Which such websites do you grace with your presence, o my faithful reader? Any recommendations?


On an unrelated note, the spell-checker suggests correction to as Mongolians. It must know its history: Isn’t it said that every Russian has some of the Batu Khan hordes’ blood in his veins?

Idle Amusements

What’s in a name

November 15th, 2007

Say my last name out loud in its anglicized pronunciation. Now, transliterate it phonetically into Russian. What do you get? Right – Бёрлак – which is exactly how it appears on the visa issued to Natasha by the Russian embassy in London.

I suppose I can’t imagine a Russian embassy worker in charge of visas not being a Russian national (and, therefore, speaker of the language). And even though the name has Yiddish etymology, it also happens to be a perfectly recognizable word in the Russian language. How in the world can an educated Russian make such a mistake is beyond me!

Natasha’s maiden name has been butchered many times in the past at the hands of Americans; I guess the time of her married name has come as well, at the hands of Russians…

For my non-Russian-speaking friends, the best way to explain the correct pronunciation of Burlak is to use the somewhat unfortunate association of “poor luck” (Is that why I am fond of saying “With my luck”, normally alluding to Murphy’s Law?) Substitute b for p and make r rolling, and you got my last name in Russian. As you may or may not expect, there are different letters in Russian alphabet to denote sounds made by ‘ur’ and ‘oo’…

Burlaki trivia

The unending source for contempt

November 13th, 2007
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Lest some of you think that I am becoming nonchalant about traffic in England (the last time I devoted more than a sentence to it was over a month ago), here is a sad reminder.

Driving distance from the house to Becky’s school: 4.1 miles.
Driving time suggested by Google: 11 minutes (up to 20 minutes in traffic – now, exactly how is that determined?)

On Monday:
Left house: 7:18am
Arrived at school: 7:32am
Returned to the house: 7:49am

A pretty good trip, I say.

Now, Tuesday.

Left house: 7:15am
Arrived at school: 8:38am
Returned to the house: 9:12am

Two hours for an 8-mile round trip! I still can’t believe it!


Nice Sunday, good Monday

November 12th, 2007
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Despite what I wrote on Saturday, Natasha and the kids did not want to waste a perfectly cold and unpleasant weekend. So, on Sunday, they picked one of Becky’s school friends and went to the movies.
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On football

November 11th, 2007

Remember this ESPN commercial that ran during the World Cup last year?


On any given Sunday these days, I proceed from watching one football to the other and back. I can’t help but notice how the environment dictates the primary watching habits. While the last few years of my sports fan life have been dominated by the American football (and baseball), I am now firmly engrossed again in football that only America calls soccer.
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Let’s not go to the beach today

November 10th, 2007
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We woke up this morning, looked out the window, regarded skies of dark lead hues, and decided to stay home for the day.

Not that we had much planned, but we could go to the city and spend some time with our friends. Only, the weather outside was loudly hinting that it did not welcome our presence.

As it often happens in these parts, at some point later in the day the skies cleared up. We thought, fine, let’s at least go for a walk in the park. The skies thought better of it, and within fifteen minutes turned to threatening again. We surrendered.

This was a fitting coda to an unremarkable week.

After all the excitement that we had last week, there were no social events and only one diversion all week long. Given that Becky and I got back to our morning drive routine and the temperatures started to drop noticeably, we have been working hard just to find reasons for cheerfulness.
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Loose ends

November 7th, 2007
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Tying a few of old threads today.
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Chronicles, Customerography

Thinking same thoughts

November 5th, 2007

One thing I neglected to mention in my brief tribute to married life. After this many years, Natasha and I have progressed from finishing each other sentences to frequently thinking the same thoughts at the same time.

Quite uncanny, I should say.

There are obvious house-related things such as remembering an outstanding chore and going for it simultaneously.

There are easily explainable shared idiosyncrasies that flare up with a common trigger, such as when riding in a car together and being blocked at a roundabout entrance by a tentative driver in front of us, we synchronically say untoward things about the poor schmoe.

Or when we looked at one another during the fireworks display the other night, and said to one another: “Well, this is our first annual event in England”.

There are fairly transparent, but kinkier, examples such as when once changing for sleep in our bedroom with the drapes not yet closed and seeing a double-decker bus pass on the street in front of the house, we exclaimed in unison: “Now, those people on the upper deck just had them a good show!”

(Quick show of hands: How many of you just having read that, imagined yourself for a moment riding that bus? :) Come on, at least whoever searched for this should admit that that would be very close to the desired result).

But then, there are truly supernatural ones, such as yesterday, when at a rare moment of quiet contemplation I thought back to some of the things that I miss about America. People who know me well (unfortunately, Russian background is required for this), know that I like КСП.1 But that was probably the first time in over a year that I thought about how great it would be to go to a festival.

And what do you know? I talk to Natasha later that day, she relays to me regards from our American friends, and says in passing, You know, we talked about going to КСП together when we are back in the States.

How in the world did those thoughts coincide on exactly the same day!?

Anyone notices the same thing about their spouses?

1 For non-Russian members of the audience, КСП (which is loosely translated as Author-performed Song Club) is a term used to describe a wide cultural phenomenon of celebrating artists who write and perform songs with only acoustic guitar accompaniment. In fact, anyone who knows how to play guitar chords probably knows how to play dozens, if not hundreds, of songs that originate within this movement. And most likely, even dabbled in writing some opuses him/herself…

The Russian-American communities on both coasts hold regular КСП campground-style festivals, with well-known authors attending as guests of honor. For most of the attendees, however, sitting through the night by the fire with friends and singing – or listening to – familiar songs is in itself the most prized attraction.


Sleepover and fireworks

November 4th, 2007

The invasion of adolescent girls left one member of the family exuberantly happy, the other exhausted, and the third excited but relieved.

Me, I was exempt from proceedings, and holed up in my study occupying myself with various blog-related tasks (for instance, Loire Valley review).

The most excited was Kimmy, who was allowed to participate in all activities with a dozen girls Becky’s age. And the girls were not at all dismissive of her, so there was no limit to the 7-year-old’s happiness.

Becky, on the other hand, was somewhat nervous about how things were going, and did not fully relax even after some of the guests started exclaiming that they have not had this much fun ever. There were many planned activities on the program; she was aiming to lead all of them and include all of the guests, which kept her on the edge throughout the night. But as the party overall was a blast, she certainly was sad to see it end.

Natasha performed gargantuan tasks of preparing the party and then coordinating along the way. Setting up sleeping accommodations was a project in itself. That everyone involved enjoyed it is fully creditable to her efforts.

All of Becky’s friends were nice and well-behaved. They did everything together and paid enough attention to Kimmy. All expressed their delight with having participated in such a great party. Most offered their help to clean up. I can’t imagine this with a boys’ event…

After all the guests had left on Saturday morning, we recuperated for a few hours (I had to compensate for my lack of access to the TV on the previous night and watched several hours of football), and then went to our first annual English event.

I have wrote about the November fireworks in this post, exactly a year ago. This year, we came to the Royal Blackheath again. There were seemingly even more people than last year, and the show was more elaborate and fancy, accompanied by a movie themes mix, including music-coordinated fire torch battery and some amazing light show displays. We all loved it.

Will we make it three years in a row next November?…

Beyond the fireworks, the weekend was spent at home. But the weather today was so nice, that we left the children to their devices (read: TV and PC) and went for an hour-long stroll in Greenwich park. Unless you count occasional travel to central London for dinners with our friends, this was probably the first time in a year that Natasha and I had for just the two of us. Not surprisingly, we were plotting all along the way how to make these occasions more frequent… Oh well, probably only when we return home…

Children, Chronicles