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Back from Chicago

April 24th, 2014

Seeing family who we do not get to see often enough, having kids spend quality play time with their cousins, and fitting in some sightseeing – that’s my recipe for a good time in Chicago.

We took a portion of Easter week to visit my brother and his family. They reside in Windy City’s northern suburban area, from where we took daily trips to the Loop for various entertainment purposes. More social-networky among us even provided live commentary of our exploits.

We also chilled in the backyard, made a couple of local excursions, imbibed uncommon quantities of wine, and generally had a blast.

Pictures to follow. For starters, here is panoramic view of the city from the Shedd Aquarium.
 

Chicago as seen from Shedd Aquarium

 

Family & Friends, Photography, Travel

Back from Mexico

April 13th, 2012

Once in a while, we decide to go for a beach vacation. It’s a pretty long while. Our last such vacation was a week-long stay on the Costa del Sol in 2008, but that included two day-trips and a couple of other excursions to strip the holiday of its “lazy” designation. The last true lazy vacation we had occurred as far back as 2004.

This time, we were dead set on spending a whole week on a beach by the sea. So we went to Club Med in Cancun.
 

Cerulean sea, Cancun

 
We found there not only the azure sea and the white sandy beach, but also plenty of activities to choose from. Here are just a few samples.
 

Enjoying water-skiing, Cancun

 

Flying on the trapeze, Cancun

 

Ready to row, Cancun  Sailing, Cancun

 

On a speedboat, Cancun

 
Not shown here are windsurfing lessons, snorkeling by the coral reef, kayaking, and tons of other forms of entertainment, most of it at no extra cost. One member of our party, which included four families of friends, went for a half-day scuba-diving trip. Another person decided to take a break from lounging in the sun by going on an excursion to Chichen-Itza.

Ah, yes, sightseeing. If you guessed that it was me who decided that a vacation is not good enough without at least one attempt to see something new, you know me too well. The fact that nobody else from our group shared my enthusiasm for leaving the beach behind for most of the day did not stop me, especially since on previous occasions of being on Yucatan Peninsula I bypassed the opportunity to visit Mayan city. I’ll put up a few pictures from the tour in the next post.

A great active lazy vacation! Some people already started talking about doing it again next year…

Family & Friends, Photography, Travel

A jobless man and a homeless man walk into a pub…

August 12th, 2009

…you can continue with your own joke here.

I’ll provide an illustration.
 

 
I realize this might be a bit cryptic for a good portion of my audience, and for that, I beg forgiveness.

Family & Friends, Photography

The line of defense against lunacy

October 22nd, 2008
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I’ve been reluctant to blog about this, because I’m always wary of providing cheap publicity to quacks such as Walter L. Wagner. A number of my online penpals, however, have done tons of research to expose him as nothing but a lunatic. I suppose every link counts in cementing lead positions for appropriate posts in Google rankings, so I figured spreading the word in this case considerably outweighs other considerations.

In case the name rings a bell – and especially if it does not – here is the briefest of summaries.

Mr Wagner is a self-professed “scientist” who filed a suit in a US court to stop CERN from launching the LHC on the grounds that the experiments it is supposed to run will create miniature black holes that will eventually devour Earth. The lawsuit has been duly dismissed, but the frenzy whipped up by Wagner and his ilk has produced a number of deplorable by-products such as death threats to CERN scientists.

One of the members of the UCF, an online community to which I belong, Janiece, has nominated Wagner for her regular “‘Tard of the Week” award. Then another member of our club, John, a physical chemist by trade, started exploring Wagner’s so-called credentials. Mr Wagner himself – plus a couple of his no less delusional friends – decided to defend his claims to scientific prowess on John’s blog, using his supposed mastery of chess and his erstwhile passage with flying colors of a basic primary education teaching qualifications exam, among other things. Their evasive and obfuscating rambles raised the ire of a number of UCFers, so not only John wrote another piece dissecting Wagner’s delusions, but Jim wrote a powerful essay on Wagner’s insanity, MWT summarized absurdity of Wagner’s claims and Eric, with his trained legal eye, exposed in detail that Wagner’s key claims do not pass muster.

If you don’t want to wade through all of that material, let me give you another brief summary: Mr Wagner is not qualified by any stretch of imagination to call himself a “Dr”, a physicist, or even a generic “scientist”. He is a lunatic who believes that he understands nuclear physics better than practically anyone in the world, and he uses a lot of misinformation to present himself as an accepted authority in the field, so that his delusions can be taken seriously by the public.

If you don’t trust my word – or want to learn for yourself – then, by all means, please, click on the links in this post.

My friends in the UCF do a really good job in calling Wagner’s BS. I feel awesome in being associated with them.

Family & Friends

An [un]expected present

August 6th, 2008

I received a package today from my UCF friend Janiece. Since I am pretty sure that everyone else in the group had received theirs ahead of me (I am one of only two “offshore” members of the club, and the other person is “near offshore”), I can safely divulge what her Super Secret UCF project was: A T-shirt with the UCF logo on the front and personalized member blog address on the back. I’m wearing it as I type this.

Janiece, I’m speechless and a bit embarrassed that I cannot think of a way to get back at you.
You rock!
Many thanks!

[update] It turns out that a US-originated delivery to Canada – and to a couple of Stateside addresses, as well! – takes longer than a delivery to the UK. Cheers for Royal Mail!

Family & Friends

How my corner of blogosphere keeps expanding

June 18th, 2008

Several months ago, via Brian and/or Jason, who are my oldest blogging buddies, I started reading Whatever, a blog by the acsendant sci-fi luminary John Scalzi. I am not much of a sci-fi aficionado these days, and John’s outspokenly liberal political views occasionally grate on my sensibilities. But he is a witty and intelligent individual, who blogs on everything and nothing all the time, and my primary motive for reading him is not so much to virtually rub shoulders with a minor celebrity (who wouldn’t!?) but rather to broaden my exposure to superior and talented writing. He is also unabashedly effusive in publicly expressing his love for his wife and daughter, and I admire any man who does that.

I am not much of a blog commenter or a forum participant – the witticisms, essential to any modicum of success in that field, do not form in my head in English promptly enough to be useful – but after a while, I decided to join Scalzi’s forum, Whateveresque. One of the forum regulars, Nathan, welcomed me to the membership by posting a comment on my blog, so I had to go and check his blog as a polite gesture of reciprocity.

It turned out to be a pretty interesting read, and I since regularly found topics that I could contribute to. Eventually, I discovered that Nathan has a circle of virtual friends, each with their own blog, who habitually converse with one another by means of commenting on each other’s posts. Not only that – some of them are friends outside of blogosphere as well; and they all read Scalzi’s blog.

A couple of days ago, I surprisingly got co-opted into the fold.

The group coined a name to describe themselves, Union of Collaborating Founders (UCF). Not sure what it means and where it comes from, but it’s there. One of the members, Michelle, even came up with a logo:

And another member, Janiece, produced an affinity diagram:

Yes, that’s yours truly, in his lame loneliness in the upper right quadrant.

I do not see obvious ways to establish lines connecting me to other people, based on the available choices. “Pimping” could be about putting their blogs on my blogroll, but I have always been lukewarm to the idea of a blogroll on the front page of my website; plus, only one other person in the group, John, has ever recorded his visit to my blog, so I doubt I can expect much in terms of reciprocal recognition on the spot; a blogroll link without reciprocity feels overall too needy for my taste. Anyway, there would be a lot more links on the diagram if “pimping” was just about advertizing each other’s blogs.

I still figured that I needed to put in an effort into proving my bona fides as a new member, so I came up with a notion of posting this entry with all of the various links in it.

Now, if only I had enough time to spend reading and commenting on other people’s blogs. It’s not like there are several hours every morning when I have little to do at work on account of the US still being asleep. Honestly…

Just so this post provides a bit of entertainment for those who couldn’t care less of my social life in the blogosphere, here is a charming online catalogue, via Anne (hint: Give it a few seconds after it loads).

Family & Friends

Sad Christmas

December 25th, 2007

Natasha’s 17-year-old niece Katya, who has been fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma for over half a year, has passed away last night in Rostov. We knew that she has not been doing well lately, and one of the main reasons for Natasha’s trip was that she knew she might not get another chance to see her, but still, her death came as a shock. The year ended on the saddest note possible.

 

Katya

This picture is of a couple of years ago – somehow seems fitting…

 
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Family & Friends

Weekend visits

December 3rd, 2007
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We continued to disprove my earlier statement regarding diminished activity by making visits to friends over the weekend.
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Chronicles, Family & Friends

Of quietness and rumbunctiousness

August 17th, 2007

Tuesday morning it was some water leak in front of my driveway. Today it was the full-blown watermain burst at the busy intersection between our rented house and the train station.
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Chronicles, Family & Friends

Avec nous le deluge (but the weekend was nice)

July 24th, 2007

Weather again. Some portions of England have experienced the worst flooding in 60 years over the last couple of days.

Watching the news last night, I’ve noticed a clear convergence of events. Deluge in England… Floods in Texas… Inundation in Bangladesh and China… Is it too late now to start building an ark?

The anchorwoman on the news asked her weatherwoman counterpart point-blank: “Is all of this the result of the global climate change?” The poor weather girl could only manage something along the lines of “We are studying it”…

At least, the overall British weather seems to refute any notion of global warming so far. I know I am going to jinx it eventually, but we have not yet felt the absence of air conditioning in the house. With July almost at its end, it is still reasonably cool and, truly according to stereotypes, consistently damp.

But let’s talk about our weekend exploits, for a change.

Despite intermittent rain, we did finally go to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. To be honest, my approach to botanic gardens is once you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all of them. When I go to one, I am not looking to be impressed, but rather to spend a pleasant time walking around far away from car traffic and maybe incidentally learn something interesting along the way. But Kew Gardens is certainly an outstanding specimen of botanic gardens variety.

The gardens are vast, but walkable, with various “points of interest” in different corners. Strategically positioned numerous memorial benches (I came by one commemorating a Mrs. Neate “who loved these gardens” and her husband “who didn’t”) provide welcome respite in the shade. Impeccably maintained lawns are a prime real estate for picnics.

There are several glasshouses that contain enough educational information to keep the kids – as well as curious adults – engaged. In addition, there is a number of thematic gardens, which always go well with young ladies (the Rose Garden, which, unlike in many other places, is laid out on an open plaza, is utterly magnificent). Kids playground, beautiful vistas, quiet groves – for an unhurried day out, very little can beat a nice park.

We met up with our friends Anya and Ari and their cute toddler Ben, and spend the day alternating between spending the rainy spells inside glasshouses and the rest of the time strolling around. I foolishly at some point gave in to my children’s prodding to play tag with them – and seriously felt it afterwards.

At the Waterlilies House, the display was spiced up by sprouting pepper plants. Becky, and then Kimmy, thought nothing of harvesting a few fruits for themselves. A bit more than a few, actually. More than you would normally buy at a market. Of a dozen different varieties. Becky decided to try some there and then, but we ended up bringing home a fairly large pepper bounty.

Sunday was spent visiting our friends Anya and Alex. We literally sat down at the table around 3pm and got up when it was time to go back home about six hours later. Anya, as is her custom, produced a multi-course dinner. Unlike British aristocracy, I had red wine with fish, but it was delicious nonetheless. Catching up with friends is always nice…

The elder Popivker kid, Arthur, has grown old enough to overcome his erstwhile shyness, and played very amiably with adult and kid visitors alike. At some point, as Kimmy decided to busy herself with some drawing, he positioned himself to her side and spent quite a long time quietly observing…

For the grand finale today, a couple of totally unrelated items.

We have pre-ordered the last Harry Potter book, and it arrived on our doorstep on Saturday morning. Becky immediately dived into it, and is close to finishing it up. I am slightly surprised to say that mass hysteria has touched me as well – I am just a bit anxious to read the book after she is done. Normally, I am perfectly fine to wait until the book comes out in the mass market paperback edition, relieving me from the need to lug a huge tome around in my bag. Not this time.

Natasha was eating a piece of a chocolate bar last night, when we noticed a label with the word Vegetarian on the wrapping. It was like a revelation to me. So, that’s why I don’t particularly like chocolate – it has no meat in it! Who knew?

Chronicles, Family & Friends, London & Environs

Taste of London

June 24th, 2007
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Resuming our London-based activities, we went to the Taste of London festival on Saturday.
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Chronicles, Family & Friends, London & Environs

Political debates to avoid

May 20th, 2007

Our guests have returned home, and we have a brief lull until the next visitors arrive.
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Chronicles, Family & Friends, From Russia, Of Russia

Occurrences good and bad

April 30th, 2007
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Contrary to my regular protestations of an utterly routine boredom, things happen to us all the time. As it happens with the rest of humankind, only the biggest things tend to leave an imprint on our memory and, later on, resurface at a point of writing a blog entry.

The last few days gave rise to a few big occurrences, so my task of keeping an up-to-date, yet entertaining, chronicle is so much simpler.
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Chronicles, Customerography, Family & Friends, London & Environs

New friends and other events

April 19th, 2007
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It took me a while to emerge from under the pile of emails after a protracted absence from work. But I did emerge from that battle victorious, if in desperate need of another vacation. Nice trips, I always found, have an annoying quality of appearing insufficiently long, when recalled after just a couple of days of routine, work, school, etc…

Anyhow, the beautiful Tuscan weather not exactly followed us to the cold shores of Great Britain, but sort of seeped in anyway. For the last few days, it’s been sunny and bright in London, a bit chilly in the mornings and at night, but very inviting during the day. I remember in the late 90′s, me and a group of coworkers would take a stroll during lunch hour along Park Avenue on a day like this, drinking in the sun, surveying shortening skirts and discussing whatever hot topic captivated us at the moment… Ah, good old times!

We went to a French restaurant in Soho last night, with new friends. They are relocating to London from Brooklyn and, in search of information, came across my blog. Emailing ensued, followed by a dinner out during the house hunting trip of theirs. The company was excellent, the restaurant pretty good too. A couple of bottles of Haut-Medoc and a superb selection of cheeses for dessert went along quite well with a conversation on many different topics. We did not exactly close the place, but we were there for nearly four hours. For a non-banquet type of a dining affair, that must be my personal record.

Too bad the guys will most likely be living somewhere north-west of center. Bad for us, not for them. St John’s Wood is one of the best residential areas in London, quite close to the city center, urban enough for those who dislike suburban living, but away from most of the tourist noise, with great parks and overall pleasant ambience. We were thinking about that area ourselves at first (it also happen to sit on the Jubilee line of the Underground, which goes directly to Canary Wharf, where my offices are), but turned away from it, because living space to rental price ratio is many times lower over there than in suburban Greenwich area where we reside. We cannot figure out how to manage with less than four bedrooms, but we now know a few families – albeit a bit younger and certainly more urban in their makeup – who manage quite all right. Long story short, yet another couple is going to reside diagonally across the city from us, which will surely make maintaining relationship complicated.

On a different tangent, this was a first time that we truly have walked around Soho at the end of a working day, and the place is happening. Pubs are packed, restaurants are impossible to get into without a reservation, tons of people on the street. Very cool!

For those keeping score, I was out after work on Tuesday for a couple of beers with a colleague visiting from New York. Just a couple, honest!

In other news, our electric shower pump (see about water pressure for reference) developed a terminal case of broken-itis and is being replaced in a few days (at landlord’s expense). In the meantime, taking a shower is an everyday adventure under a weak trickle of water.

Another item in need of repair, CD player in the car (we did not realize it right away, but it was only playing the right channel and nothing on the left) was fixed by the dealer with thousands of apologies for missing the problem during the vehicle check-up before delivery. While the car was serviced, we got to drive a loaner with only 125 miles on it, and that was a pretty good ride as well.


At the conclusion of today’s post, I feel compelled to say something in regard to the horrible thing that happened at Virginia Tech on Monday.

Guns make it awfully easy for a deranged person to kill people. You can sermonize all you want that “guns do not kill people, people kill people”, but the fact remains, a psycho would not be able to cut short lives of dozens of people in a short span if not for the institutionalized enablement of the Second Amendment. This guy was probably determined enough to get his guns on the black market, if needed. But we surely made it way too easy for him.

The Second Amendment is unlikely to ever get repealed, meaning that guns will always be easy to get. I think it is a sad commentary on the American nation that it considers something that stopped making sense a hundred years ago sacred.

I have no intention of turning my blog into a political forum, and I plan to limit my political statements to exceptional cases such as this. If you, my reader, would like to debate the topic with me, please email me directly.

Chronicles, Family & Friends, London & Environs, Re: Current Events

Life goes on…

March 11th, 2007

Sincere apologies to my faithful readers for such a long gap in my posts.

I was not in much of a mood for writing. My family in New York has suffered through an inconceivable loss, and a beautiful little girl has never got a chance to open her eyes and experience the world and the love of her family. I am truly not a sentimental person, and it is hard for me to find words to express how I feel. So I decided to give it time…

Guys, our hearts go out to you, we grieve with you and curse at the senselessness of it with you. But we also know that joy and happiness will one day be with you again! We love you all!
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Chronicles, Family & Friends, London & Environs

Karaoke, bikes and cars

March 4th, 2007
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It’s nothing short of amazing that I don’t impersonate Natasha-without-her-voice today. Try singing karaoke for a hundred songs in one sitting, and you’ll understand…
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Chronicles, Customerography, Family & Friends, That's England

New Year in Switzerland (part 2)

January 4th, 2007

If you have not read the first part of our report, you can do it here. Otherwise, read on.

The first full day in Switzerland met us with springtime-like weather, warm and sunny. Internet reports told of very little snow on lower mountains, and since our family – Becky excepted – is made of mediocre skiers, we decided not to try going to higher skill slopes.

Instead, we went to a spa.

The road took us along the shore of Lake Leman, on a motorway high above it. The skies were blue, the sun was shining, but the lake below us was covered by dense fog. We were literally driving above the fog, which was a pretty cool sight.

Located at the foot of a mountain, the spa is made of a large pool with hot mineral water under open skies, plus several saunas, steam rooms and another pool inside the building. There are different hydro-massage areas in various parts of the main pool, and a strong-current circular enclosure in the middle (hands down the kids’ favorite).

Saturday, warm weather, little snow on the mountains – it all conspired to bring way too many people to this place, for my taste. But the girls were very pleased, and Natasha expressed a desire to spend the rest of her life in that spa…

Relaxed and happy, we drove up the mountain. This drive was even better than the one on the way from France, since we now were truly in the Alps, and each new turn in the road opened fascinating vistas. I have to admit that driving on a mountain road with breathtaking views after a couple of hours in a spa is probably not entirely advisable – keeping focused on the narrow twisting road was a struggle. But the visuals were clearly worth it.

We then took in the skiing resort atmosphere in Villars. Main street, lined with chalets, shops and restaurants, was quite busy (have I mentioned the absence of snow yet?), and we idly partook in aimless strolling around, as well as had a nice lunch at a local restaurant. Very festive and pleasant, crisp air and surrounding views adding to the overall enjoyment. Someday, it would be interesting to spend some time at such a resort, skiing ineptitude be damned.

The snow did not fall on the next day either, and we decided to explore the local environs. Nyon, a sleepy little town less than 20 miles away from Geneva, is located on the shore of the same lake, Leman. It is very picturesque, especially the waterfront, which also provides magnificent views on the Alps (Mont Blanc included) beyond the lake. The town was also probably even sleepier than usual, Sunday and New Year’s Eve being the major reasons, most likely. Barely a car passing by every other minute…

Walking the streets of Nyon, Natasha at one point exclaimed: “Now, this is what I call Europe! And where we live in London – that’s just Queens!”

Nika and Lenya, whom we were staying with, have a very nice apartment on the top floor of a seven-story building, with sweeping views towards mountains and surrounding areas. Several times during our stay, one of us would stand on the balcony or at a window, enthralled by the landscape…

New Year night came. Nika prepared a fantastic banquet. As we were watching Russian television all night long, we first celebrated the arrival of 2007 at 10 o’clock, when it struck midnight in Moscow. We then proceeded to celebrate the New Year in Ukrainian time zone (Nika is originally from L’viv) at 11, in Switzerland at 12, and in London at 1. The last one was already subdued, on the account of the amount of consumed alcohol and general tiredness. My joking suggestion about waiting to celebrate the Eastern time zone New Year (at 6am local time) was quickly dismissed and we retired to bed around 3.

It was quite different – after so many years of largely staying away from it – to watch Russian television non-stop for several hours. The shows were all pretty well staged, but we definitely had a recognition problem (both regarding young performers whom we have never seen before and some old ones who had gone overboard with plastic surgery). Plus, the shows morphed into one another, and the same performers kept popping up in all of them. I can swear that Задорнов was even wearing the same suit twice…

The New Year day started with driving rain, which lasted through early afternoon. Skiing was completely out. It’s a shame to spend several days in Switzerland in winter and never ski! Oh, well, there is always next time, I guess.

As soon as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, we drove to Geneva and spent a brief time in the old city center. It is quite attractive and enjoyable, with many nice buildings and quaint streets. Somehow, on the first of January, it was overrun with Russian-speaking excursions. The tourists kept throwing curious glances in our direction, upon hearing our mix of Russian and English in communicating with the kids.

Later, we followed Nika and Lenya to their friends, who live in Geneva proper. Cool guys. We very much enjoyed getting to meet them. The man of the house is a wine connoisseur, and while my qualifications in the field are markedly modest, at least I freely express my enjoyment at tasting a good wine, and that was an immediate ice-breaker. We will surely make an effort to cultivate this new friendship…

The morning of our departure came… with a snowfall!! Would you believe that? Becky was especially crestfallen, but what can you do!? It was a whole different adventure to drive the mountain portion of our trip back in the heavy snow – one area where my car is definitely lacking is traction in snow – but we went very slow, avoided getting stuck, and eventually crossed into France (nobody stopped us this time either), where the snow turned into heavy rain. I was still able to maintain 80 m/h all the way back to Calais, and we arrived at the train terminal with plenty of time to spare.

British authorities were checking all passports before train boarding, which caused a small hold-up when I pulled up to the window. It surely looks as if not too many American citizens use the Channel train daily.

Family & Friends, Travel

Of NFL and new friends in the making…

December 27th, 2006

This weekend, I watched more NFL than on any weekend on the US. Sky Sports channels broadcast CBS/NBC/ESPN games live, with a recording repeat next day. Because the weekend was 4 days long and we have not had much to do due to everything being closed, I watched 4 games in total…

The broadcasts are a bit weird. Announcers are American – whoever is announcing on the actual US channel. But there is a UK-based studio crew, with one obviously British bloke posing as the ultimate expert, and these talking heads break into the broadcast at any opportunity, sometimes almost preempting the action on the field. Their biggest shtick is reading emails from viewers and commenting of them. Say, the game is Eagles vs Cowboys. The email would go something like “From Nigel in Ipswich, Aren’t the Ravens playing great?” and the comment would be something like “Yes, they are definitely contenders this year”. Fantastic insight! At the expense of the game at hand!! By a Brit who has no idea what he is talking about!!! I want to throw up…

For those who are disgusted with my America-centric sports viewing habits, I also managed to get Chealsea-Reading and Blackburn-Arsenal soccer games in. The commentary was quite enlightening, light years ahead of what American clowns come up with…

I am guessing somebody will now make a couch potato accusation…

The weekend ended with another summit of Popivkers and Burlaks, which прошёл в тёплой и дружественной обстановке. Even Artur no longer got scared upon hearing my voice – which was the case every time I previously visited – and got along with all of us very quickly. Little David is a cute miniature version of Sashka. Two small kids definitely keep Anya grounded, even with a help of a new young nanny. I am afraid we will only see each other if we put aside our shame of putting a dent in Popivkers’ budget and come visit them ourselves…

In the meantime, we finally started on the road of making new friends. As I have mentioned in the past, Kimmy has a classmate whose parents hail from a corner of a former Soviet Union. The girl had a birthday, and we visited their house for a celebratory dinner. While the kids were playing upstairs under Becky’s supervision, the adults imbibed wine and liquors around the table and got to know each other. Nice family, pretty cool, several common interests with us (not mentioning obvious common background) – we definitely want to explore the possibility of cultivating friendship.

I have definitely alluded already to the fact that the lack of companionship is the biggest obstacle for us to enjoy our new mode of life. We can cope with domestic inconveniences, we can learn to deal with cultural idiosyncrasies, but not having our habitual everyday contacts with close friends and relatives is the biggest – if not the only – serious deficiency of our situation. We are not looking to replace you guys in the States – shame on anyone who had that thought! But we certainly are in need of making new friends here in our current environs. Tonight was the first step in the right direction…

A vendor sent me a case of wine at the office. Christmas gift. Well, to be honest, the wine was aimed at quite a few people, but I guess I was selected as the actual recipient for being the seniormost person of the bunch. I had a seriously hard time parceling the wine out, since people whom I allowed to choose all wanted red and the case was half-red, half-white. I did manage – although only one bottle of white ended up being left for me – and possibly even scored some points with certain people who did not expect the giveaway. Oh, the joys of being a senior manager!

Becky, under tender direction by Natasha, has prepared a baked fish dish by herself. I had to inquire which large animal has expired in a nearby forest to precipitate such an occasion, but the truth of the matter is that she enjoyed doing that quite a bit. It was positively a welcome distraction from her customary vacation regimen of TV, PC and very little bedtime reading. The recipe was Natasha’s anyway, so the meal came out pretty good, too…

Kimmy, meanwhile, is quickly becoming our most well-corresponding family member. She receives letters from her friends rather frequently, and very much savors making drawings and writing replies for all of her pen-pals. As some of the letters she has to write are in Russian, and some of them are in English, it is also an agreeable practice for her penmanship (albeit, dictated by Natasha, in most instances).

We are pretty much set for our trip to Geneva for the next several days. Chances are that I will not be able to post a new entry until we return on January 2nd.

Have a very happy New Year, everyone!

Chronicles, Family & Friends, Sports

Popivkers, TV and Kimmy’s first day in school, among other things…

October 30th, 2006

The wife demands a rebuttal – the shirt did not turn the color of salmon, but rather a very pleasant pastel pink. I should still be a big hit in a gay neighborhood…

Sunday afternoon, Popivker family had to deal with an invasion of voracious Burlaks. This was the first time that our entire gang visited them, and Artusha took some time to warm to the invaders. We had great time. The food was excellent, the company most pleasant, and we were made exceptionally welcome by commentary along the lines of “На базаре всё так дорого”… Entertainment in the form of Тайна Третьей Планеты and Простоквашино appealed to both kids and adults. We should do it more often (Alex seriously intends to put a dent in our budget with a reciprocal visit, but his kids are too little, they don’t eat as much as ours :) ).

The first family weekend in the foreign land ended, and today was the first day that Kimmy went to school. The whole procedure ended up being very simple: We came, we talked, we left, she stayed. The teacher and the kids were prepared that there would be a newcomer, and did their best to cheer for a Yankee girl. She even has a Russian-speaking girl in the class (who is actually either Lithuanian or Estonian, depending on which teacher you ask).

Kimmy was really excited afterwards, even at the prospect of wearing a uniform, which we promptly ponied up for (thankfully, in a public school, the uniforms are fairly simple and do not cost up the wazoo). During the dinner, she effortlessly demonstrated her mastery of the British accent, by saying the word fork as only a native can. It sounds so unbelievably funny coming out of her mouth, and incredible at the same time, given that she only spent half a day in school. I am sure that she’ll have the accent down in a matter of weeks.

“Mommy, this is not an eraser, it is called a rubber”, was another highlight…

Natasha had her first experience driving on the wrong side of the road today, and to her own surprise, was unimpressed. It is not that hard, it turns out. The biggest challenge was getting back into our driveway – the openings on both side of the crescent are quite narrow. She needed to parallel-park once – and nailed it.

Becky is simply having an impromptu vacation, greatly enhanced by a new television. We had bought one on Ebay and it was delivered to us yesterday. It came with a DVD player and surround sound system, which amazingly does not provide sound to the TV if connected directly through what they call a SCART connector. I have managed to set up only a couple of speakers by now, and Becky has her entertainment, since the DVDs she bought on the last day in the States play in this system. Ebay rulez!

There are still only five channels through the aerial antenna. I tried several times today to order satellite TV through Sky, but the website kept timing me out and the not-toll-free customer service line kept me on hold until I gave up. This is pretty ludicrous, how they try not to earn my business…

Among the stores on the nearest corner from us, there is a shop that sells aquarium supplies, including lots of fish and reptiles. Natasha and kids went as if on a tour. They say the fish is exquisite!

Another first was mailing a letter from the local post office. As I mentioned once, the post office is primarily just another convenience store/newsstand, which also happens to provide postal services. Those services are limited: They did not actually take the letter that we needed to send to the States, they only sold us the stamp, and Natasha then dropped the letter into a regular mailbox.

As for me – does it feel like I have now been upstaged by my ladies, as far as adventures are concerned? – my work is quickly becoming routine. The highlight – or rather lowlight – of the day came on the evening commute, when I barely squeezed myself into a packed train. The next train was in 30 minutes, so I had to disregard the feelings of my fellow commuters. The quicker commute is not always what it’s cracked up to be…

The dinner home compensated for all, though!

Children, Chronicles, Family & Friends