this might be bad timing.

I'm a little cranky.

I'm giving up chocolate for Lent.

And my car is dying, and I have this sinking feeling that I'm going to need to buy a new one.

open up the sky.

This is the video to a new worship song I heard for the first time in church today:

These lyrics have really been sticking with me today:

We won't be satisfied with anything ordinary
We won't be satisfied at all

Open up the sky, fall down like rain
We don't want blessings, we want you
Open up the sky, fall down like fire
We don't want anything but you

Lord, let this be true of me.

siberian fast food.

This is the design on the t-shirt I bought my brother in Russia:

the russia adventure, the conclusion.

After a long day of traveling, I made it back to the U.S. I've spent the last couple days hanging out with my family, and will be driving back home later tonight.

I'm still processing what this trip means for me - trying to understand what God has taught me and what he wants to do in me through this. In some ways, I'm eager to get back to my life - to be in my house and see my dogs and be at my church and with my friends. I miss those things.

But I don't want to get complacent, either. I don't want to just settle back into my routine, only to find that years down the road, the only thing these last two weeks have left me with is some fun memories.

I've been feeling God stirring my heart toward a change for several weeks now, maybe even months. And I think its time to do the hard, concentrated work of trying to figure out what he's called me to do.

In the midst of this, I am still going to get back to my regularly scheduled life, at least a little. I'll probably start blogging about home decorating projects and recipes again soon. Maybe this weekend, I'll take pictures of our new preschool and infant nursery rooms at church to show you. (I only wish I had bothered to take before pictures, because there's some seriously cool stuff that's been going on there).

the russia adventure, day 10 (moscow).

If I could sum up this day in two sentences, I would say first, that I did Moscow in a day. Ad second, that the weather today was much more life what I was expecting when I planned to go to Siberia in February.

We got up early this morning to fly to Moscow. Moscow is 2 hours behind Ekat, so it was still pretty early in the morning when we arrived. It was slightly warmer, only right at freezing, but that just meant that the snow falling was more of a rain/sleet combination. And everywhere it was just very wet and slushy. Luckily, it stopped snowing part way through the day - otherwise I don't think we would have made it through everything I wanted to do.

We were picked up at the airport and driven to the C&MA Russia guest flat (basically an apartment filled with lots of beds for when members of the C&MA team need to stay in Moscow). We got settled and the boys got a chance to run around a bit after being cooped up on the airplane. Diane, one of the C&MA missionaries in Moscow, met us, then we walked to the metro. This was actually the worst part of the day - the snow/rain was at its most biting, it was a bit of a hike, and both boys were clearly miserable. (I didn't really enjoy it, either).

Moscow has one of the longest and most elaborate subway systems in the world. Also, most of the stations are very beautiful, almost like museums. They have beautiful mosaics on the walls, or sculptures, or elaborately painted ceilings. Though to be honest, I had little time to notice such things. I was too busy trying to keep up with JB (the speed racer) or to reassure Iris that I was right there with them. She was paranoid about losing me, which I actually appreciated.

(Statue of Lenin just outside of Red Square.)

After getting off the metro, we walked the short distance to the Kremlin and Red Square, and passed a small communist rally on the way. I finally ran out of space on my camera's memory card and had to borrow JB and Iris's camera. It was gray and visibility was not great (as you can see in the photos). Had it been nicer, I might have wanted to walk closet to Saint Basil's Cathedral (if you have a picture at all in your head of a Moscow landmark, this is most likely it). We tried to get a picture of all of us, but Gavin was not having it (we got a much better one later).

(The entrance to Red Square - ignore the guy picking his nose in the foreground.)

(Carter, all bundled up in his stroller.)

(GUM Department Store, on one side of Red Square.)

(The Kremlin, on the the other side of Red Square.)

(Me in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral.)

We stopped at McDonalds, which was an absolute madhouse, then took the metro to Arbat. Arbat is a walking street and is lined with souvenir shops and street vendors, and has two Starbucks. The Starbucks was especially important as a bribe of hot chocolate was one of the only things that kept Gavin going.

I picked up a few more souvenirs, mostly for me - a Christmas ornament, a few tiny matroshka dolls for a special commemorative project I have in mind, and a beautiful watercolor of Moscow. Then we stopped at Starbucks, where I got a Moscow Starbucks mug and Gavin got a sugar fix. Then, outside, we got a much better photo.

(Me, JB, Iris, Gavin, and Carter).

By then it was getting pretty close to the boys' bedtime, at least Ekat time, and JB, Iris, and I were all pretty exhausted, since we were up early and had been up late the night before getting ready for the trip. So we headed back to the guest flat and ordered Papa John's pizza, then just relaxed until we went to bed.

the russia adventure, day 9.

Tonight was Ladies Club. Every two weeks, several ladies get together to do some sort of craft. Sometimes its a planned activity, and sometimes Iris just gets out beading and scrapbooking supplies, and lets them work on whatever they want to.

Since I love making jewelry, Iris asked me to pick up some supplies and bring them over with me. I also brought some examples of things I've done, and some beading magazines, for inspiration.

After crafting for about 2 hours, the ladies take a coffee break (and eat snacks) and discuss the latest chapter in whatever book they're currently reading. Right now, they're reading Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge, though this week they didn't discuss the book directly too much, so with Iris's translation, I was able to follow along.

the russia adventure, day 8.

Friday was even more low-key than Thursday. Iris and JB planned a family movie night (which basically means a movie and pizza sitting on the floor). And during the day, we mostly packed for Moscow, and JB and Iris made plans for their upcoming year-long home assignment.

So, since we didn't do anything particularly interesting, I thought I'd show you some pictures of JB and Iris's apartment. Some of these are photos of theirs, so if you've ever read Iris's blog, some of these might look familiar.

(The single bathroom is actually two separate rooms. One
has the toilet, the other has the bathtub/shower,
sink, and washing machine. The dryer is in their bedroom closet.)

(This actually isn't so bad, except the tiny space you see
between the sink and the edge of the washing machine
(in the bottom right hand corner) is all the room you
have to get dressed after your shower, in the steamed
up bathroom. I'm continually impressed by
how much stuff Iris can fit in a small space).

(This is the other side of the sink bathroom - not because
its big, but because its too tight to take just one photo).

The other things I wanted to show you, from their apartment, is some of the hand-crafted stuff that JB has built.

(For this,, he cut slats out of folding screens
and replaced them with photo frames.)

(This is a cabinet they use to store DVDs. Each photo
frame can be unlatched and lifted up to get to
the shelves underneath. Pretty neat idea, huh?)

the russia adventure, day 7.

Today was really low-key. Iris and I and the boys hung out at the apartment all day, while JB ran a few errands. I spent most of the afternoon importing and editing photos, and writing my blog posts for the days before.

Then, at night, JB and Iris hosted Action Group, which is kind of a cross between a small group and a planning meeting. Not many people were able to make it this week, so it was a pretty small group. JB translated for me, which actually worked pretty well - better than I expected.

the russia adventure, day 6.

Today was JB's day off, so he stayed home and read and relaxed and Iris and I did our own version of relaxing. Which basically means that we went out to eat and went shopping.

We started at a restaurant called Shtolle. Iris told me that Russians eat three courses for lunch - soup, salad, and a main course. You order all three at the same time, but you never know in what order they're going to arrive. There's also no guarantee that your food will arrive at the same time as everyone else's.

The main course are pie crusts, filled with meat or vegetables.

(My pie is on the right and was filled with chicken, onion, and
greens (dill and parsley). Iris's pie had mushrooms, onion, and boiled egg).

I also had a vinaigrette salad - beets, potatoes, and mushrooms, covered with vegetable oil. My soup was called solyanka - a tomato, broth-based soup with kielbasa and vegetables.

I also tried Iris's salad, which included eggplant. This means that I have well-surpassed goal number 22 for the year (eat three new fruits and vegetables). Since I've been here, I've had pomegranate, Chinese cabbage, persimmon, beets, eggplant, and tonight I'll have sweet potato fries.

After lunch, we stopped at the souvenir market outside the Church on the Blood, where these vendors set up booths to sell all kinds of things - matroshka dolls (basically nesting dolls - matroshka means little mother or mothering dolls), jewelry made with locally found stones like jade and onyx, birch boxes and other containers, zhel (blue and white pottery), and hahlahma (wooden bowls and other dishes that were painted and lacquered).

We also stopped at a bookstore called Dom Knigi, literally translated house of books, and looked through several Russian toys for kids.

Once we arrived back at JB and Iris's apartment and the boys woke up from their naps, we all bundled up and walked to the train park (called that because there are broken down trains there).

(Carter rode in a special sled that you can either push or pull,
just like a stroller, and
JB pulled Gavin on another sled. I focused
on staying upright myself, since my boots still have no traction.)

(It was hilarious watching Carter try to walk in the
snow, because it was up nearly past his knees. And
that's just the most recent snowfall - there are several
more inches packed below our feet.)

(Gavin (he's the one in blue) loves the ice slide
and is absolutely fearless on it - we've decided he's
destined to be an Olympic medalist on the luge. The
cold weather actually doesn't keep people indoors, at all.)

For dinner, Iris made fajitas (Mexican food in Siberia - don't you just love that!). The only difference is that you can't find traditional tortillas, so we used lavash instead. These are like thinner versions of tortillas.

the russia adventure, day 5.

(Ekaterinburg, in Russian.)

So, this is not only my first international trip, but I've also managed to be in three different continents. Ekaterinburg is about 10 miles from the Europe/Asia border, so we drove there so I could take pictures standing in both places.

(Me and Gavin - Asia is on the left, and Europe is on the right.)

(Iris took this photo, since you know we don't see this much snow in Portsmouth.)

(In Russia, brides and grooms travel around the city and takes pictures at all
kinds of landmarks. The bridesmaids and groomsmen wear ribbons and sashes
to identify their position in the wedding party, and tie these and wine
bottles up near the border for good luck.)

(May Peace Prevail On Earth.)

(These are the distances to several key cities - Geneva, Berlin, London,
Copenhagen, Guangzhou, and Paris. The three on the bottom were added
more recently, all cities is Kyrgyzstan - Osh, Uzgen, and Bishkek.)

After the border, we drove to Mega, a local mall that includes Ikea. This is important because Gavin could play in the ball pit in Ikea while we were shopping. The mall is actually a lot like ours - clothing stores, sports stores, bath stores, stationary stores. There was even Claires and Hallmark stores. We met the Irvins (another family serving here in Ekat) for lunch at Ikea, then headed back to JB and Iris's apartments for the boys' naps.

After dinner, Alyona came over the show us how to make blini. These are a lot like pancakes, but dinner and less dough-y. Russians eat them for breakfast, wrap them around meat for dinner, or dip them in honey, sour cream, or sweetened condensed milk for dessert.

(Gavin loved helping to mix the batter.)

(Alyona doesn't speak a ton of English, but she tries. Also, in this
picture, you can see how small Iris's stove and oven are.)

(My blini wasn't quite as neat as Alyona's. Or Iris's, for that matter.)

(Me, Alyona, and Iris.)

the russia adventure, day 4.

Me: Hey, its snowing outside.
JB: Yeah, it finally warmed up enough to snow.

It actually did snow on Monday, and it made it much easier for me to walk. My boots are great at keeping my feet warm and dry, but they provide next to no traction, so I keep slipping on the packed snow that's everywhere. Fresh snow is a lot less dangerous to walk on.

Because we were so busy the first two days that I was here, Monday was a much more relaxed today. In the afternoon, Iris and I walked a block to the local cosmetic store, which is kind of like an upscale cosmetic store in the US, except you can also get toiletries and cleaning supplies. You can find a ton of typical brands, like Herbal Essence and Pantene. They also have some small bottles of Russian-made home remedy lotions and masks and such, so I picked up some of those to use for gifts for friends and family back home.

In the evening, Iris invited several ladies over and asked them to bring some traditional Russian dishes for me to try. She made Salisbury steak, which is a lot like ?, and a seven-layer salad made with Chinese cabbage instead of lettuce (Russians are very big on salads). Natasha also brought a salad made with eggs, chicken, crab, squid (they call it calamari, even if it isn't breaded and fried), and mayonnaise. And yes, I forced myself to try some. (That's a very big deal). Then we played a couple card games that work well in both English and Russian and don't require much translation during the course of the game.

the russia adventure, day 3.

Note: I added photos to my post about Vienna.

In addition to telling you all about my Sunday (day 3), I thought I'd also respond to some of your comments.

Russia food

I promise, I'm eating Russian food, mixed in with the American stuff. On Saturday, when Subway didn't have any bread, we stopped by a grocery store, then Iris made vareniki (kind of like pierogies, these are dough filled with potatoes) and pelmeini (dough filled with meat, a lot like ravioli). She bought them pre-packaged and frozen, but their babysitter, Lena, is going to teach us how to make them from scratch later this week.

Today, we went to both McDonalds and Subway (I promise - this wasn't my choice), but we also had samsa and shashleek. More about that later.

The weather

Right now is -9° F. JB did the math, and Saturday it was 80 degrees warmer in Portsmouth. Just to give you a comparison. The only part of me that's getting really cold is my hands, though.

(This is Carter - he was so bundled up to be outside that
his legs stuck straight out from his car seat.)

The rest of Sunday

Sunday was another busy day. We started off at an ice city, which is literally a city block where they've constructed an ice city. Its based on China, so there's a great wall surrounding it that you can walk on, a maze, and a bunch of slides for kids to go down. There is also an ice sculpture contest (Virginia Beach does sand sculptures, Ekat does ice sculptures).

(I darkened this photo so you could see it more clearly. This sculpture is
huge - there are actually arches that you can walk underneath).

(Gavin going down the ice slide.)

(These are statues of Father Frost and Snowflake, his lover/niece/granddaughter,
depending on who you talk to. Underneath it says Happy New Year).

(Iris and I in front of one of the winning ice sculptures. We
picked this one because it was not of a naked woman.)

Then, we went to a renok, which is basically a market. Some of it is inside, and some of it is outside (which is insane), and they sell everything you could possibly imagine. I bought some souvenirs, and then we ate samsa and shashleek. Samsa is something new even to JB and Iris - its bread filled with meat (and I think maybe onions, too), and they're stuck to the sides of these big round ovens and cooked.

Shashleek is seasoned and cooked pieces of pork, like kabobs - its kind of like American barbeque. The men that were selling them were Uzbeki (from Uzbekistan) and really friendly, and loved having their picture taken.

After we left the renok, we headed to Ganana Yama, then the Church on the Blood. You can read the full story in detail here, but here's a basic synopsis.

The Romanov family, included the current tsar Nicholas, was killed secretly at the hand of the Red Army in 1918. To keep their murder a secret, the bodies were dismembered and taken to a field outside of Ekaterinburg and dumped. Later, rumors started about the family's death, so the bodies were moved to another location, and sulfur was poured over them. There were two men in the 70s who actually managed to find the bodies, but buried them again due to their fear of the those in power. Finally, in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell, the truth came out. A monastery, called Ganana Yama, was erected at the place where the bodies were found.

The architecture here is really interesting, because all of the buildings are made are logs, but they're also really ornate.

The Romanov's home was then torn down, and a church, called Church On The Blood, was built on the same site.

the russia adventure, day 2.

We're nearing the end of day 2, and I'm exhausted. The jet lag and my skewed sleep schedule just caught up to me about 2 hours ago, and I'm going to sleep shortly. So photos will have to wait another day.

As I mentioned before, I got into Ekaterinburg at 4:30 this morning. Both passport control and customs were a breeze, and I didn't lose any luggage. Which gives me the honor of being the very first person to visit JB and Iris in the nearly 4 years they've lived here to not lose their luggage. So, that's a miracle in itself. And so unexpected that I was waiting for JB, instead of the other way around.

I grabbed a couple hours sleep, then JB and I needed to meet Edik, their pastor until recently, to get me registered as a visitor (from what I understand, a Russian national needs to do this).

From there we (JB, Edik, and I) joined another local church in a ministry to the homeless. They gather in a hollowed out building (think ceiling, floors, and some walls, and the floors are covered with snow) and build a fire on the top floor. A few different people shared about Christ (all in Russian, of course, so I'm really not sure what they said), then they served food. I talked to a few people - mainly Jordan, one of JB's colleagues here, and another man from the other church, who could speak English.

And in case you're wondering, yes, it is crazy cold here. I'm not even sure I can accurately explain, because its cold like I've never felt before. I think the high temperature today was -4° C. But my boots and coat and the extra layers I bought seem to be doing their job. We'll be out tomorrow for even longer, so I'll let you know for sure then.

Tonight we went to English cafe, an English club JB and Iris run for those who want to improve their English. They usually have a theme (tonight the theme was Valentine's Day) and cover new words and phrases, with games and other activities to help them learn. Its fun and interesting, and I have a lot of respect for anyone learning English as a second language - I never realized just how many English words can mean more than one thing.

One final thought - after English cafe, we were going to stop by Subway for dinner (this is apparently a tradition). But, they were out of no bread (which doesn't really make sense, because they bake their own, so it seems that they would be able to just make more. And wraps are apparently really expensive, so we ate at home instead.

the russia adventure, day 1 (vienna).

Note: Most of the content of this post comes from notes I wrote while in Vienna. I also took pictures and had intended to post them, but am having trouble with my laptop at the moment. I'm on a bit of a time crunch now, but will try to upload some later.

Another note: I'm not going to ask you to comment if you're following along for notes about my trip. But I am going to tell you that I love comments. And, since I know it will be difficult to actually keep in touch with each of you individually over the next couple weeks, if you have questions, feel free to leave them here.

The flight

The flight was pretty uneventful. It didn't seem nearly as long as I thought that it would. I also didn't sleep nearly as much as I thought I would, which made for an interesting day in Vienna.

I met a woman on the plane who lived in St. Louis, but was originally from Iraq. She was on her way to Syria, then Iraq, and would meet up with the husband she hasn't seen in 8 months, because he couldn't come to the US, and she owned a business she couldn't leave.


I'm actually surprised at how much German I remember from the three years I took in high school. Its not enough to talk to anyone, or even really to understand them, but I can read road signs, or at least sound them out. Fortunately, I ran into very few people who didn't speak English, and most of the signs in the airport were in both German and English. Also, there are a lot of similarities between the two languages, so its actually possible to kind of figure some things out.

The weirdest thing is that there are English words all over the city, mixed right in with German words. For example, the train from the airport to the city is called the City Airport Train (or CAT train). That's not a translation - those are the actual words.

After getting my first stamp in my passport (yea! I can cross that one off my list), I transferred the stuff I needed to my purse and stored my two carry-ons with airport security. Then I took the CAT train into the city, and used the underground train to go Stephensplatz (the location of St. Stephen's Cathedral). The underground train wasn't too difficult to figure out - its very similar to DC's metro.

St. Stephen's Cathedral is absolutely beautiful. There's something awe-inspiring about standing in a building older than your country. Parts of it actually reminded me of this church in colonial Williamsburg (the oldest still active church in America) - something about the pews. But this, of course, was significantly bigger. Also, the roof outside the building, and the ceiling inside, were amazing - just beautiful.

After touring the cathedral, I wandered around the area a while, browsing stores even though I knew I wouldn't buy anything. I bought a sausage from a street vendor and chocolate filled with strawberry cream. I even got asked out for coffee by a man selling concert tickets on the street (I think) outside the cathedral. It would have actually been a good way to pass the time, but too many of my friends and family have seen Taken recently, I was a bit nervous about doing that.

Then, I took the train to the university center, partly because I thought it probably had some beautiful buildings and partly because I saw something about a teddy bear museum. I never found the museum, but wandered around outside and took pictures of buildings. By that time I was so exhausted (since I was running on about 3 hours sleep, total), that I just went back to the airport, found a Starbucks with a nice comfy chair, and chilled for the next several hours.

I saw a few familiar places - McDonalds (no surprise there), T-mobile, Claires, Timberland, and Weight Watchers. That last one actually had my jaw dropping open.

the russia adventure.

I made it! Flying into Russia was a piece of cake, and all my luggage actually arrived - which is a miracle in itself.

Vienna was beautiful, and I took notes, because I knew that I would have a lot I wanted to share and record about the trip so far. I'll post more info later.

Right now, though, I'm headed to bed to try and catch at least a few hours of sleep, since sleep has been very erratic over the last two days.

russia: the itinerary.

I leave for Russia the day after tomorrow.

Let me just repeat that, because I'm not sure that its sunk in yet. I leave for Russia the day after tomorrow.

So, here's my basic itinerary:

Wednesday evening - drive to Frederick, stay at my parents' house
Thursday evening - fly from DC to Vienna
Friday morning - arrive in Vienna and head off the explore the city on my own
Friday evening - fly to Ekaterinburg (also spelled Yekaterinburg)
Saturday - arrive in Ekat very, very early and spend the rest of the week there with JB and Iris and their boys
The next Saturday or Sunday - Fly (with JB and Iris and kids) to Moscow and do some sightseeing
Monday - Fly back to DC, and chase the sunset across the Atlantic ocean
Tuesday or Wednesday - drive back home

Those are the details. It feels like the last few weeks have been filled with details - what to buy, what to take, what not to take, what to get done here before I take off for two weeks. The details are a comfortable place for me - I do well here.

But the closer I get to actually leaving, the fewer details there are left to deal with, the more I'm thinking about the big picture. And to be honest, I'm a little nervous.

Because here's the thing. I know I'm supposed to go to Russia. I am absolutely confident in this - I believe with all of my heart that God wants me to go to Russia, and that he wants me to go now.

What I don't know is why I'm supposed to go to Russia. I could come up with a lot of possibilities, a lot of potential reasons, but I'm just not sure of them. This makes me think that God has something very specific and very special in mind for me there, and I'm kinda thinking its going to be big. Like, rock-my-world big.

And that's the part that's making me a bit nervous, even as I want it at the same time. Does that make sense?