Movie and a Dinner

Our favorite night out: dinner and a movie. Add to it a friendly couple, and you’ve got a classic double date. The night was lovely, dark, and -15 degrees Celsius. Thankfully, the bulk of the trip was underground. We met our friends in the Metro, running to get into their car before the doors slammed shut. As always, in my panic, I chose the door too early and got stuck in a car by myself until we got to the next stop.

Cold evening streets in Moscow

Cold evening streets in Moscow

It’s not too long before we’re above ground again and we, four figures, tromped like decked-out marshmallows; hats, hoods, and scarves to our noses, down the busy sidewalk until we reached our destination: 35 Millimeter, our go-to theater that sports foreign films in their original language with Russian subtitles. You know what that means! American movies are in English! This night’s showing, Inside Llewin Davis. Only the 3rd time seeing a movie in theater this year, we were all happy it was one by our favorite directors, the Coen brothers.

We entered and purchased our tickets (want a center seat? towards the back? near the front? in comfy seats? As if you’re going to a ballet, buying tickets for a movie asks you to consider your seating. Cheaper, undesirable seats or double your money for mid-center, cushioned heaven. We bought our usual: 4th row, to the right of center, just 250 rubles each, that’s less than our American standard movie ticket by, at least, $2 –living large in Moscow.)

What’s the natural next step in theater going? Not concessions. We bring our own or purchase a latte and cheese cake at the “while you wait for your movie to start” cafe. You see, you can’t enter the auditorium until 5 minutes prior to the beginning of the film. At that time, we all get into line and shuffle into the single entrance. Our seats are easy to find. They’re a little too close to the huge curved screen, as always, but we prop our heads up with our scarves and get comfortable.

The movie begins right on time, the first 15 minutes packed with dubbed-over trailers; the voice they chose for Julia Roberts is about 2 octaves too low. There is also a trailer for a french film which, of course, has to show somebody’s behind. Finally, they show us the trailer for the movie we are about to watch Inside Llewin Davis.
“What movie will we watch?” asks the Russian teen beside my husband.
“That,” replies Chris and points to the screen. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who find it confusing to be watching the trailer for the movie we’re about to view!

Watching a film from your own culture in a room full of people who are from a different culture is like having an inside joke with the director played out for 2 hours. You laugh when no one else laughs and you forget that no one else is in on “it.” Eventually you feel that it’s kind of rude to be laughing so much, you should probably stop, but you don’t.

As the credits roll, we shuffle back into our lines, now exiting the auditorium slowly. We tighten our boots, snap-up our down, wrap our scarves around our faces like mummies, and off we go to part 2: dinner. There’s a pretty fancy mall about 1/2 a mile from the theater, so we waddle there and find the food court. Over Burger King and KFC, we do our favorite part of the night, at least it’s mine, discussing the film. Favorite scenes, growth of the characters, that Odyssey reference, and the look in her eyes. . . it goes on and on. Until, there she is. We’re snapped back into the reality of where we are.


Hats, scarves and coats hanging out of the way as we eat.

Her big brown eyes and dirty hat–a beautiful pre-teen gypsy girl cups her hand for some money. Experience tells us she isn’t going anywhere until we give her something, anything. There is always that moment of hesitation, what’s really best? This time, we choose to smile, hoping she feels less like a beggar and more like a girl, and give her the coins we have in our pockets. Satisfied, she hurries off to another table and then, eventually, to her parents. We’re ready to go home, too, so we put our coats on for the 3rd time tonight and tighten up our boots, and wrap our scarves around our faces-a 5 minute affair. The Metro swallows us whole then spits us out a few blocks from home, where we go to bed, grateful for an evening out Moscow-American style.


Beverly Hills, Moscow

It was a beautiful, gray Moscow morning with unexpected bits of blue sky peeking out behind the smoggy clouds. It was the day we had all trained for. The half-marathon awaited our first step. Sure, it was a rough start, our over-hydrated bodies needed a place to leave their waste and the public potties were locked, but we came through it. In true urban style, we squatted in the muddy corner as early metro riders walked quickly by, not batting an eye or wondering what was happening behind that tightly standing curtain of women in jogging outfits. We did what we had to do, and then we ran.

We ran for over two hours, chewed our energy gummies, and passed Christ the Savior, countless buildings of the 7 Sisters, and St. Basil’s herself. In a grand finale we stumbled over the cobblestones of Red Square to our glorious finish line: Beverly Hills Diner. A true American diner experience was ours to be had after our sweaty run. Pancakes, diner coffee, endless Christmas pop songs sung in our own native English. But, surprise, surprise, it wasn’t meant to be.

“They’re not letting us in,” my husband said. He was sitting in the 60’s style diner chair across the table from my visiting brother and sister-in-law.

There were numerous empty tables on the first and second floor. It just didn’t add up. The sweat on my dry lips tasted salty. All I wanted was clean sweats, icy water, and that endless pancake platter that was promised on that sparkly menu. We weren’t going to give up this easy.

Batman is our witness. We did it!

Batman is our witness. We did it!

“What’s the problem?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“There are too many of us. They say they don’t have the staff for this big of a group.” Our so called group was trickling in slowly: several other runners and their families, almost all of which had small children. They entered, tired from their metro transportation, heavy strollers, and lethargic children. The manager took a quick step forward and said something urgently. He would open the third floor for us, the kid’s floor, we had to go up there if we were going to bring children into this mess. We could only be on the third floor, he made it abundantly clear.

Children always win them over, I thought, now that we’re in, it’s only a matter of time.  “They always say, ‘It’s impossible! Impossible!'” I explained to my brother, “But if you push back, they’ll let you in.”

We moved up to the third floor slowly, our sore muscles aching for a rest. The young couples carried their diaper bags and lifted their strollers and infants.  We found our seats in booths next to the iron Batman and plastic ball pit–so far our only rewards for our long run.

Waiting for pancakes

Waiting for pancakes

Several more discussions were had with the manager. No, there was not anyone higher than him that we could talk to. No, even if we were willing to wait, he didn’t have the servers enough to take our orders. No, your group is too large to serve, just keep your kids on the third floor. “Wait it out,” he seemed to say. “Just wait long enough, and you’ll get your stinking pancakes!”

I walked up and down the stairs, once to change, once to greet more finishing runners, once to inspect the servers who were far too busy to take our orders. I couldn’t help but notice the slow business. There were only three other customer tables. One on the first floor and two on the second floor. They all were eating their already served food or making-out. I was getting seriously hungry now, and desperate. Where were these busy servers who could not take our orders? I climbed back up to our third floor exile.

“Okay,” started our fluent Russian speaking buddy, “I’ll take your orders and pass them onto the manager. I think he’s coming around.”

“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to serve us!” exclaimed my sister-in-law, “Don’t they want our money?”

The poor visitor tried to understand. Little did she know, while flipping through the menu, we had already seen it too many times before.

And then, there came the pessimist’s expected blow. “They’re out of pancakes, you guys!”

With that, we walked away from our restaurant Siberia, leaving the too-large group a bit smaller and with more hope that they might get served.  We don’t exactly know what happened to our poor third-story friends. Some may have escaped to a second diner. Some say they ordered eggs that never came. All I know is, their children were left swimming in sweaty ball-pits, and no one got a pancake. Not one stinking pancake.

A Hint of What We’re Missing By RKC

It’s the small things which make our time Stateside so enjoyable: driving a car down to the store, loading up the trunk and driving home again; trips to Target to browse anything and everything; looking out the window to breath-taking views of Colorado peaks and the San Juan Islands at sunset… Most treasured, though, would be the sound of Anna squealing with joy at the sight of a grandparent coming to scoop her up for a hug – I wish we could bottle up these special moments and relive their day-to-day resplendence at any time.

We’re filled with very mixed emotions as we prepare to return to Moscow just days from now. What a delight to be here in the States with family and friends during this season of our lives. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be here: we recognize that the opportunity to be in the US for Peter’s birth was truly a luxury that many families in our line of work are unable to pursue. Each day here has been a gift. As we prepare to say goodbye, we recollect the treasured memories we’ve made here over the past months – not wanting this time to end. Returning overseas with small children who adore their grandparents (and vice versa) is quickly becoming an emotional experience for which we feel desperately unprepared. The looming heartache feels staggering.

Sometimes emotional heartache, although overwhelming, feels spiritually healthy. It reminds us that there is something more, something missing, something coming for which it’s better to wait. I think the coming of the fullness of God’s kingdom feels a lot like this imminent separation. We’ve had a taste of life in daily fellowship with family and friends, celebrating the gifts of life, of love, of creation, of beauty, of light. But for a little while, we suffer the lack of this fullness. We live at a distance from the people we treasure with simply the hint of what we’re missing.

So we return to Russia because so few Russians know that a new Kingdom has come. They don’t know of the fullness of life in fellowship or a love worth waiting to experience. They do not even recognize the hints of the Kingdom, let alone the existence of the King who will reign for all time. “We talk of the second coming, half of the world has heard of the first” (Oswald J. Smith.) We return to Moscow for the sake of this coming Kingdom and for the faces and faces of people living outside the Kingdom but desperately wanting to come in.

Searching for Cornbread

As a child I didn’t like cornbread for two reasons. First my sister liked it, and secondly it was cut into triangles. Silly I know, but cornbread tastes better cut into rectangles. As I got older I realized that it is simply ridiculous to forgo my Grannie’s southern cornbread just because of a few hard feelings. Before moving to Moscow I was a cook-it-straight-out-of-a-box kinda girl (not just for cornbread). After moving to Moscow I realized that cornbread is one of my comfort foods, so I needed to learn how to make it. During the past year I have had a difficult relationship with cornbread because I just couldn’t seem to get the right texture, flavor, or moisture. I almost gave up on cornbread after a terrible experience at Thanksgiving, but as a foreigner failure is no stranger. I decided to combine a few recipes and a little bit of my new baking experience to finally settle on a good recipe. After about 6 unfortunate cornbread recipes, I have finally settled with my very own.


Cornbread Recipe

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup melted butter, plus 1 Tablespoon for the pan

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 T vinegar, then fill to the 1 cup line with milk)

2 eggs

1/2 cup canned corn, drained

Preheat the oven to 400F (204C). Melt 1 T of butter in an 8×8 inch pan in the oven being careful not to burn the butter. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Combine 1/3 cup melted butter, buttermilk, and eggs in a small mixing bowl. Lightly beat the buttermilk and egg mixture. Then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until all of the dry ingredients are wet but still lumpy. Fold in the corn. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Two Different Things

It had been raining all day– the clouds were gray and moving quickly overhead. The uneven sidewalks were littered with puddles. Yet the babushkas and dedushkas (grandmas and grandpas) had already emerged to sell their home produce carefully displayed on cardboard boxes and plastic tarps.

I passed a group of two babushkas and one dedushka each selling different types of produce. I glanced back as I recalled the comment my husband had made earlier in the week about the corn looking good on the walk home from school.

“It’ll go well with taco salad,” I thought to myself.

As I did a double take the man selling the corn turned to talk to the babushkas near him. When the women saw me approaching, they shooed the man back over to his cardboard box displaying two small piles of corn.

“Do you have a bag?” He inquired.

“Yes,” as I pointed to my backpack. He looked slightly discontent with this answer, but I wasn’t phased because after all it was only two ears of corn.

“I would like two,” I said confidently as I got out forty rubles in coins.

“Do you have bills?” He asked.

“Yes,” I answered slightly confused until I realized that he had been saying two hundred instead of twenty. That should have been a red flag because  two ears of corn should certainly not cost two hundred rubles (about $6). I pondered how I had seen corn for twenty rubles across the street just the other day.

Nevertheless, I handed him two hundred rubles.

Backpack full of corn

I took off my backpack, and I opened the outside zippered pocket to put in the two ears of corn that I thought I had just purchased. He placed the two ears of corn into my backpack much to my delight, but he didn’t like how it fit. I showed that there is an open pocket that he could place it in instead. He added 3 more ears of corn to that pocket. My backpack was starting to get a bit dirty, and if he added any more corn my other groceries were sure to be squashed.

He motioned to the bigger compartment which was already full of groceries. By this time, I was already smiling at how comical this must look trying to fill a full backpack on the wet sidewalk with half husked corn. Plus the dedushka was so happy to be helping me pack up the corn that I couldn’t help but smile at him.

Then he proceeded to shove the other pile of corn (five more ears) into the open compartment. I just stood back and smiled trying not to laugh at how two people can try to communicate and inevitably understand two completely different things. I had just bought two piles of corn (ten ears) instead of two ears! To top it all off he transferred the other five ears into the big compartment to the point that it would barely zip. I bent down to help him zip the backpack the rest of the way. When I looked up he was beaming, and it looked as if he was just going to jump in the air and give me a big hug.

He certainly made my day a little brighter! Oh, the joys of cross cultural (mis) communication.

Dust Bunnies on Display

This summer our landlords surprised us with a new refrigerator. They also fixed our sagging blinds, the broken doorknob, and the creaky cabinet door. Day after day they’d call, “We’re on our way again. This time we are going to clean the windows.”

“Clean the windows?” I asked my husband as he hung up the phone.

“Don’t ask me,” he said. As foreign tenants, we just do as we’re told.

Hours later, the landlord and landlady couple were hard at work, yes, indeed, cleaning the windows and the screens and the bathtub. Having landlords in “your” space, which is technically their space, is hard enough, but to be cleaning up our window streaks, and our soap scum: I couldn’t handle it. My westernized personal space boundaries were being stomped on. I went to my room and started to read and remind myself to be cross-culturally mature.

“Katya!” My landlady’s voice broke into my failed protective bubble.  “Katya!”

I put down my book and found the source of the calling, “Da? Yes?”

She spoke rapidly in Russian as I ridiculously and pathetically grasped for a few recognizable words.

“You…” she said while pointing to me, “. . . clean. That’s your job.” She then pointed to the closet door and pumped her arm in case I didn’t understand that she wanted me to look at the closet.

And I didn’t. “I don’t understand,” I said my most-practiced Russian phrase.

She sighed, moved to the closet door, and slid it open to reveal our winter coats, board games, and Christmas decorations. I couldn’t remember the last time I opened this closet; it’s like our forgotten attic.

Her finger began pointing again: pump, pump, pump. I followed her gesture to the closet floor. There, staring up at us as if it wanted us to run away in terror was a giant Moscow dust bunny—very common in these parts and almost impossible to eradicate. So what? I thought. You can sweep everyday of the week and still one will crawl out of the corner and stick to your toes. Those of us who are smart just go back to sweeping once a week for something to do: it really makes no difference. But it definitely made a difference to her. The big, hairy, full-of-ashy-pollution ball was not going to be ignored.

“Look!” Her wrinkled finger continued it’s death point, “You . . . clean. . . You work . . . wife’s job.” Behind the finger, which was now pointed at my face, I could make out her eyes. They were bright and threatening.

This is disgusting, she seemed to say.

But I clean every week! I wanted to respond. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to say “I clean every week.” I could say, “I every day clean. Work–I do that.” No, that wouldn’t do. “I understand,” I said.

Moscow dust bunnies

I was then led to the bathroom where, of all things, behind the cleaning supplies bucket, she wiped a clean rag against the tile. The orange rag was now black and gritty. Oops. Why couldn’t she have wiped the shelf instead?

“. . . dirty. . . you clean,” then again with the finger pointing. The finger went on to show me the corner of the tub and the dirty crack in the sink. “I cleaned,” she finally said, “you need to clean. Your job.”

I bowed my head and said over and over again, “Yes. Of course, I do that. I do that. I understand.” And then, “Thank you,” with a bowed head.

I went back to my book and tried to read the words. Instead, I felt that I’m-a-foreigner feeling. It’s a mix of self-loathing, confusion, and complete inability to handle a situation. I called my husband to come home. Right away, he took over as lecturer-receiver and cleaning student. In his good nature, he asked his teacher, “So what is our grade for cleaning?”

“Oh, a three out of five, I think,” she said thoughtfully, and laughed.

“Not bad. See, Caitlin, they like us. Don’t worry,” and he gave me another hug, “They’ll be gone soon. The windows are almost done.”

Two hours later, we all sat around our kitchen table looking over our wedding pictures. They had specifically asked to see them as we wait for the plummer to arrive and fix the leak that we didn’t notice and doubt existed. “They must be bored,” Chris concluded in a whisper.

As those pointy fingers flipped through our happy photos, she raved, “You’re beautiful. . . What a young looking mother. . . how lucky you are, Chris, to have such a beautiful wife!” She wouldn’t stop praising me and every member of our families. This Russian babushka (grandma) was caring for us in all the ways she knew how: she was a friendly representative in a not-so-friendly city. She is one who is willing to have weird, foreign tenants and help them when they can’t call for their own stinking plummer. Teaching me how to keep house was just another thing she could give to me.“You poor young thing.” I imagined her saying, “Here, let me show you how it’s done in this incredibly dirty city—it’s so hard to keep up, I know!” This is how it’s done here. The experienced teach the inexperienced, whether asked to or not. Every babushka is a teacher.

The plumber finally came and left (he did find something to fix, after all) and our landlords made their way to the exit, too. On their way out the Mrs. had to share one last bit of advice.

“Get pregnant,” she said. And that finger pointed at my husband, “That’s your job!”