Wednesday, January 28, 2015

happy birthday Steve

I worked as a teacher when I lived in Moscow, and I've had a lot of students; and this one, he was my favorite.

He had a great sense of humor, he was smart, and he really, really rocked the essays.

His nickname was Steve, and to this day I call him so (out of habit). I quit my job more than 5 years ago, but thankfully, Steve and his beautiful wife (and now, their four kids, too) have become our dearest friends. We moved from Moscow to Orel, but these guys actually come to visit us and we have a wonderful time together just hanging around our house or, last year, camping.

It's Steve's birthday today (January 27), and I have no idea how old he is. I know some other things about him instead.

I know he's really well-educated, like he graduated from our country's best University (in physics and maths if I got it right) and has finished more courses and classes than I can remember. I know he's worked on really impressive jobs in our country's most powerful companies. I know he has a really demanding and dangerous hobby which requires excellent physical condition. I know he's an expert in rafting and camping. I know he can carve exquisite things out of wood. I know he's the person I drank with. I know he's the person I can talk to even when it's way after midnight. I know he's a fantastic friend.

It always feels like a holiday when Steve and family come to town, and we start missing them as soon as they get out of the door.

I love you guys! So grateful to have you in our life.

Friday, January 23, 2015


We've never had our own house. Since Sensei and I started to live together we've changed four rented apartments (two in Moscow and then two in Orel). We sort of carry our home with us - wherever we live together becomes a home.

One of my intentions for this year is taking care of this home, meaning I'd like it to be clean, organized and cozy. Right now I can think of a few things I could do to move forward in this direction.

First, I'm really inspired by the ideas of minimalism. I'd like to get rid of (either sell or give away) most of the things we've accumulated through the years and keep only those which are absolutely necessary and which we really love.

There is a beautiful idea (I got it from the Japanese, again) that every thing you own must have a "spark of joy" in it. If it doesn't make you smile, get rid of it. Here's to choosing carefully what to surround ourselves with and what to let into our lives (more on this later).

Second, we have two kids (who would draw on any surface they see) and two cats (who would scratch anything scratchable), so the wall-paper in the house is a disaster. The best thing to do would be just to rip the wall-paper off and paint the whole house, especially as I really detest the wall-paper in this apartment and would love paint so, so much more... like, some good shade of light-light grey... But as it would be rather expensive, and this year we're trying to get out of debt, I think I'll have to come up with a different idea.

Third, there are a few things I'd like to add to our house to make it cozier. Curtains for the kitchen and the living-room; a bigger table and more chairs for the kitchen; and lots of candles for the window-sill.

And finally, I joined the FlyLady community. Now, everyone knows of FlyLady, but I've never tried this system before. Honestly, I'm not a very good housekeeper. I'm a desperate one. But I know it's never too late, and I'm really willing to improve, so hopefully, this system will be of some help.

fried cheesecakes

All right, I totally made this name up. Here in Russia we call these little pancakes "syrniki", but I'm yet to find a proper English name for them.

Basically they're just small pancakes made of curd or cottage cheese, and they do taste like fried cheesecake (hence the name). Personally, I'd trade them for a classic cheesecake any day (cause unlike your ordinary cheesecake they're hot, cute and have a delicious crust!) So easy to make, too.

Here's how:

50 g sugar
2 eggs
100 g flour
400 g cottage cheese

1. Put a pan over medium heat. 

2. Mix eggs with cottage cheese.

3. Add sugar.   

4. Add flour. 

5. Mix till the dough looks like this.        

6. Pour oil into that preheated pan.          

7. Start making little balls of dough by rolling them in flour.

8. Press them a little bit.  

9. Admire rows of little flat cakes.

10. Fry them over medium heat.

11. Turn.

12. And enjoy! 

They might turn out so good that your kids are actually gonna fight for them.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Japanese wife

When I was a teenager, I was never thinking about having a family and being a wife and a mother.

Of course I thought it'd be nice to fall in love and get married and maybe have a child one day, but I'd never dream of it or think about it for a long time. What I was thinking about though was my calling - I strived to find something I'd love doing and get really good at it. I truly believed that following your passion was the most important thing in life. The problem was, I didn't really know what my passion was. 

There were a few things I liked (like books, theatre, music, or fencing) and a few things I was good at (like foreign languages). Sometimes I could even talk myself into believing that one of them was my true calling, like sometimes I thought I'd become a great actress, or a great musician, or a great writer (the "great" component was obligatory, why bother otherwise). However, deep inside I always knew that wasn't a true thing. I was never good enough at any of those things to become great at them.

This situation made me really sad. I knew one was supposed to find what he loved; then do it, no matter what; and then have a difficult and happy lifetime. I really wanted to become a master at something. I wanted people who I admired to admire me, too, to see that I'm talented, to think that I'm worthy, and most of all, to love me. 

It seemed a hard enough plan, but I couldn't even check off the first task. What was my thing? What was my calling? And how was I supposed to succeed in life if I didn't even know that?

I was young enough to hope that I'd figure it out somehow if I move to a big city and try different things out. Get a career, get a life, that sort of thing. My parents completely agreed with me. We decided that I should go to Moscow, rent a flat, get a job, and then wonderful things might happen to me (like getting rich and famous and finding a good husband). So I graduated from the university and started looking for a job in Moscow.

And then, suddenly, I met a guy.

That is a whole another story, and I'll leave it for another day, but since I met that guy something changed in the picture of the world that I had inside my head. It was the first time in my life when the principles I believed were unshakable started to shaken. That was scary as hell, and I hoped that it was temporary, that it would pass. 

So I did move to Moscow (though I didn't really want it by then). I got an office job (of a personal assistant) and got really good at it, was promoted very fast, but didn't like it at all. I quit and found another job (of a teacher), and it happened again. On this job, though, I found a dear friend, so it wasn't completely in vain. I was also promoted very fast to the highest position possible (the co-owner of the language school), got good money and did interesting things (like writing books and recording audio for them). It wasn't that "calling thing" I was looking for, but it was certainly good enough. But to my horror I didn't feel I wanted it anymore (even the calling thing). I lost my old values, and my new ones scared me.

Then a few things happened - painful things, world shaking things, life changing things through which I survived and changed. I chose another way, though it took me a lot of courage to go the way no one (at least, not my parents or our society in general) approved of. I became a wife, and a mother, and I decided that it was the most important career I could ever find. 

It was so hard at first, because it just wasn't my thing. Running a house, cooking, bringing kids up... I've never dreamt about it, I wasn't prepared for it, I couldn't do it. 

But I could.

And ironically, right when I decided to make this change and take this unknown path which I felt was right, and decided that having a true calling was not as important as I thought at all - right then, I found it. While looking for some sort of craft to do when I was pregnant I stumbled across scrapbooking and got totally lost in the world of design, photography and writing. It is yet a totally different story waiting to be written, but I thought I'd mention it here nonetheless.

Right now my kids are small, and this "calling" is more of a hobby, but I hope to make it my job some day. But not now. Now I work as a stay at home mom. Of course I spend all my free time (when kids are sleeping or walking with dad or grandparents) to design. I take up classes, e-courses, get all education I can find (and sometimes even actually do something). But I have no wish to "combine" motherhood and career and "have the best of two worlds". I think there is a time for everything. A time to be a mother. A time to make a career. This is how I can do my best. Now is the mother time, and I'm going to enjoy it as fully as I can. 

For me, being a good mom doesn't mean just sitting at home with kids. I have to be loving, grateful, calm, brave and joyful. I have to be wise. I have to be strong. I have to soften. I have to look and see, to listen, to pay attention, to be super mindful. I have to learn to conflict and learn to compromise. I have to learn to make it through stressful situations with grace. I have to learn to let go. I have to change my habits. I have to exercise and eat well. I have to be always there. 

It looks like a lot of work to me.

Sometimes I get asked why I think I'm doing the right thing if the only people who think I'm right are my husband and some of my closest friends. It's quite simple:

Before I made that decision, I never ever felt happy or safe. True, there were lots of moments of joy in my life, but I could always feel some tension inside, an anxious knot that just wouldn't go away. I could forget it was there, I always acted as if it wasn't there, but it was.

After I made that decision I became happy. I'm not sure it's as simple as that, but any time now you may ask me if I'm happy and I'll tell you yes. I still feel anger and frustration and sadness and other normal human feelings at times, but there is always this peaceful spot inside me, which I can turn to any time I want. I'm finally being honest with myself. I look into my heart and I see that I'm doing what I think is right, no matter what other people think about it. And it makes me crazy happy.

Recently I've read some interesting information about Japanese women in the old times: a woman in Japan had to cook, run a house and look after her husband and children; and only then, when she could do that perfectly, she was allowed to do arts.

It made me smile. This is a path I've chosen for myself, though (surprise!) I don't live in ancient Japan. If I learn to do all this stuff (kids, husband, house) perfectly, I'll probably make a much better artist. So I'm off to being a good Japanese wife, and I wish you all finding your true happiness.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

why i'm going to learn tea ceremony

Today our friend Misha came to have a tea ceremony with us (my husband, who has just got home from Arkhangelsk, and I). He came before dawn, so that we could  enjoy the sunrise during the ceremony (and get some tea while the kids are sleeping).

We started in the darkness, with one candle as the only light source, and as the water was boiling, and the pot and cups were being warmed, and the tea was being served and we were losing ourselves in a heartfelt conversation, it was also getting lighter and lighter outside, till the sun went up and we actually met the morning behind our table (which is now right against the window so that we could enjoy the view).

I had no questions left on why I want to learn tea ceremony myself. But as if to make things even more certain, I heard a thing which became one last drop.

"There's a fun saying in China", Misha said, "which goes like this. If the Chinese see a man who is nervous, restless, unbalanced, and worrying too much, they say "there's too little tea in him".

Nailed it.

I really want to become a calmer person. I'd love to be more mindful, feel the moment I'm living in, pay attention to details and be at peace even (and especially) in the challenging times. There must be lots of ways of getting this done, but I thought I'll start with a tea ceremony. There is something so inviting about it, something that speaks to me so much. And then of course, it might be just that I've always loved tea.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


When I was a kid my grandmother taught me to say a prayer before I went to bed.

She came to stay with our family, and as we didn't have enough beds in the house she had to sleep with me on a sofa. She always said three prayers before going to sleep (one of them was Our Father), and soon I remembered them and said them with her, too. It sort of became a habit, until not so long ago I felt there was something wrong with it.

A prayer can't be just words. Words are good, everybody knows I love words, but I think that in this case they are not enough.

This year I'd like to focus on gratitude. In the end of the day I'll think of things I'm grateful for that happened during the day (I really hope to make it a habit).

I want love and gratitude to be my prayer.


Today this task is so easy!

Today I unexpectedly found two things waiting for me in the mail.

First, I got a beautiful, beautiful Christmas card from my dear friend John the writer, and it made me smile and warmed my heart.

Second, I got a surprise package from my mentor Ali Edwards, one of her amazing prints (this one) which she generously gave me as a gift, and I literally jumped from joy.

These two items instantly filled me with gratitude, and oh, I will treasure them so.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

happy birthday son

Today you're four years old, and I love you so.

You're unbelievable. I still wonder if it's true that I have a son and he's so cool. I've never really dreamt of having a baby before I had you. And after that, I thought it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I still think so.

I still remember the exact feeling which I felt when you were born, that enormous explosion of love that burst inside me and swallowed me up and left the world full of unbearable white light, and there was nothing but this light. It was the most fierce, intense and powerful feeling I've ever felt. It was crazy impossible, but there it was. I thought I'd known love, I thought I'd known life before you were born. After that, I knew that I'd known nothing.

It's just something you can't describe, you can't foresee, you can't imagine. You simply have to live through it to know it. There's no other way.

That happened on January 12, 2011, on this same day, but four years ago. Now, four years later, we're here, and you're four. But I still can get to that feeling anytime, anywhere. Just remind me, and here it is. It hasn't  faded, withered or weakened out; it's as bright and powerful as on that same day.

Today you're such a cool little guy. Once we were waiting in a cafe for your dad to come, and we were sitting by the window, and you asked me: "what would you have mum? tea, as usual? or maybe coffee?", and then you told me what you'd like to order, and then you waited patiently for it, and we were looking out of the window, and you said, "the leaves are falling, and the wind is blowing them away. it's autumn". And I thought OMG who is that little guy?! He's not just my baby, he's a kindred spirit, a partner in crime, he's someone who can sit with me in a cafe and just GET IT - yes, that's it - he just gets this whole thing!

The other time we were coming home after a long walk, and Alice was fast asleep in her pram, and you were walking next to me holding my hand, as usual. It was late November, a dark and gloomy day. The sky was overcast, but suddenly brightest sunshine split heavy clouds and the road ahead of us became instantly full of gold. There was such severe beauty in that contrast of light and darkness, and it was so unexpected that I stopped, and you stopped, and we stared. We were standing there for like twenty minutes, and you looked like you were actually really appreciating, really taking in that beauty just as I was. "It's beautiful", I said and you said, "it is". And it hit me again. You're so small, but you completely get it. Most of the time you're just a wonderfully ordinary kid, but then you do or say something like that and I'm totally blown away. I am so lucky and blessed to have you as my son.

Yesterday your grandparents brought you to a shop and asked what you'd like for your birthday. "A helicopter", you said. "Which one?" asked the shop assistant, who heard it, "we have so many!" "Just a helicopter", you said, "the one with a propeller". The shop assistant took you to the part of the shop with all sorts of helicopters. "Just look at what they can do", the shop assistant said, "this one has beautiful lights, and this one plays melodies, and this one can fly..." "I told you, I just want the one with a propeller", you said, "a simple one". You just killed me. I don't know what it was about it, but it made me so happy.

Anyway, you got a simple helicopter that you liked, and you wanted to take it outside to play, but your gramma asked: "what if the older guys will take it from you?" You looked at her seriously and said: "I will fight. I'm like this". I told it to your dad, and it melted his heart. "My son!" he bellowed. "That's my son!"

Your dad is still in Arkhangelsk now, and I was a little uncomfortable that we'd have to spend this special day without him. Still, I think we did just fine. You woke up to a birthday cake with four candles, and then we played a lot, and went to a cafe, and walked and played outside, and visited your grandparents. We did all the things you like. Dad called you, and your great aunt, and my friend Julia. And now you're sleeping, and I'm typing this, and my heart is so full of gratitude.

My boy, my son, my little one. You'll always be my first baby. Today you're four years old, and I love you so.

Monday, January 12, 2015

saying goodbye and saying hello

I remember reading like in an old Russian book someone was burning letters in a fireplace. Well, that's a good thing to do on a long, cold and dark winter night which here in Russia are plenty. I don't have any letters to burn, but I think it's a brilliant idea if you want to let go of something. I just sort of like the whole concept.

So I thought of something to let go of, something I felt was keeping me back (in my scrapbooking - yes, I know, I know - but it could totally work with everything else!), and burned a sheet of paper with those things written on it. Meaning I took a plate, put that paper on it, grabbed a match and let it go literally up in flames (wish I had a fireplace, of course, but this time I had to work with what I have).

I'm not sure how (or if) it worked, but I felt something that you feel when saying goodbye. I also felt like saying hello to something new.

Which overall is a nice thing to do in the beginning of a year.

P.S. Really hope to share my scrapbooking plan for 2015. As soon as I have one worked out.

Friday, January 9, 2015

a nice way to start a morning

I love tea, and I love coffee, and I love the process of making both just as much as I love the drinking (if not more). But not so long ago I decided to start a morning with a glass of lemon water (no worries, there's still time for tea and coffee later in the day), and I truly like it.

Here's how it goes:

I wash a lemon.

Slice it in half, and then slice one of the halves in half again.

Squeeze all the juice from one fourth of a lemon into a glass of water.

And then drink it!

Yes, shocker, I know. Such a new and sophisticated idea. But I like the taste, it's fresh and awakening, and it sort of tunes me on healthy living. So I thought I'd share.

intentions for 2015

Keep love in my heart.
Get out of debt (thus, try saving money instead of spending it).
Do some scrapbooking.
Blog daily.

That's it, really. And a few actions I'd love to take (come to think of it, they might be connected to my main intentions, but then, they might not):

clean and declutter the house (plus get some curtains, chairs, cups and candles). 
sell craft supplies that I don't need (and other things that we don't need).
learn tea ways.
connect with those I love on a deeper level (pay real attention to my kids; see my friends more often and send letters, parcels or emails if I can't).
eat real food (three times a day, no snacks), exercise (really?), go to bed and wake up early 
improve my skills in photography. design. and writing.

And this is how I want to change:

be full of love.
be grateful.
be calm.
be brave.
be joyful.

She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
Proverbs 31:25

I wish that was said about me. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

today was Christmas

Today was January, 7. Christmas Day.

Today Sensei made a giant bowl of dough and started making flat cakes (the recipe he invented himself long ago), but then got a phone call from work, and went to Arkhangelsk with his friend and colleague Gena. They need some more wood to finish the roof of the monastery bell tower which they've built in December, and the best wood comes from Arkhangelsk. So we finished baking flat cakes ourselves (and Egor called dad to proudly inform him about that). We were actually going to make Christmas cookies, but decided that flat cakes would do, too.

Today it was so cold outside (-20 C) that we stayed at home all day.

Today the twinkle lights and candles were lit all day long.

Today both kids fell asleep at the same time, but instead of taking advantage of that and sitting down to my laptop, I fell asleep with them, too.

Today we took a hot bath with rose bath bubbles which our friend Misha gave us for Christmas, and kids had a lot of fun splashing and throwing the bubbles around.

Today Egor discovered my old 3.0 mega pixel digital camera (which is like 12 years old), and was taking pictures with it all day (some of which turned out totally rad).

Today we were running around the house playing with toy guns and laughing our heads off for like an hour.

Today I read a lot of Petson and Findus, and even Alisa was listening.

Today we had no guests and spent the whole day just by ourselves.

Today we went to sleep almost at midnight.

how to make pancakes

These are the greatest, the easiest and tastiest pancakes I know. Made for breakfast today (and would be made for breakfast every day if my son were in charge).

Here's how to:

2 eggs
5 tbsp sugar
500 ml kefir (yogurt)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
250 g flour

1. Put a pan over medium heat.

 2. Mix eggs, sugar, salt and kefir in a bowl.

3. Add soda and flour.

4. Add some oil to the pan (and maybe put a kettle up to boil - that will take just the right amount of time for the oil to get hot enough to fry pancakes).

5. Pour a few pancakes on the pan with a tablespoon.

6. Turn them over.

7. Enjoy them!

And we're off to have some tea.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

today the man i love said

"I got a message from above that you're going straight to Heaven. Like a stalker*. Cause you're a great mum and wife and you're just wonderful".

*There's a game called "Stalker" based on a book "Roadside Picnic" by Strugatsky brothers, and there's a phrase "Stalkers jump the queue to Heaven", meaning they earn it by their life and don't have to stand in a queue to get to paradise, they just go right in.

Monday, January 5, 2015

how to make vanilla sugar

I don't use a lot of sugar, but when I do, I usually use vanilla sugar.  Make it myself, of course (as it's so simple).

Here's how:

Take a vanilla pod. Split it in half lengthwise. Put it in a glass jar. Fill the jar with sugar and close the lid.

That's it! This vanilla pod will last forever (especially if it's a good quality one). When I take some vanilla sugar out of this jar (for hot cocoa, coffee, pancakes or baking), I just add some more plain sugar in, and it takes on the aroma.

How to choose good vanilla:

Good vanilla pods are soft, flexible and oily to the touch, dark brown, or even black-brown in color. The best ones have a thin coating of whitish crystals. So if the pod is light in color, hard, opened, or brittle, its quality is low.

Good quality vanilla has a beautiful, incredibly steady aroma (which would stay the same for more than 36 years if the pods are kept right).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

for the love of candles

A dear, dear friend came to visit the day before yesterday, and as he was contemplating how to better conduct the tea ceremony (he's a tea master), he suggested that we moved the table up to the window, so that we could appreciate the view while drinking tea.

I'm so happy we did!

Apart from the Christmas tree, this kitchen window is the only decorated place in our house. It has twinkle lights all around, and there are a few candles on the window-sill. As it gets darker (which is now around 4 p.m.) I light the candles, and the kitchen is suddenly full of magic. It's so simple, yet so beautiful. I LOVE IT.

Now I think that even when the season is over we'll keep the candles, and, hopefully, add more, so that the window-sill is completely filled with them. Lots and lots of candles, big and small. We'll light them in the evenings and watch the dancing flames every time we sit down to the table.

This thought makes me ridiculously happy.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

how to make hot cocoa

There is something about winter that makes me think hot cocoa is a good idea (we drank nearly a liter at one go today).

Here's what's needed for an ultimate cup:

cocoa powder - 1 tsp
sugar - 2 tsp
milk - 1 cup (200 ml)

We made 4 cups, so I took 4 tbs cocoa powder and 8 tbs sugar and 800 ml milk.

The process goes like this:

1. Heat the milk. 

2. Mix cocoa powder with sugar in a dry cup. 

3. Add a bit of hot milk into the cup and stir really well. 
No lumps allowed.

4. Pour the liquid into the pan again, stir until it's mixed well with the rest of the milk, 
and heat it over medium heat...

5. ...until it boils. Then it's ready. 

6. And delicious. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

here we go

A blossom... and then another one...
This is how a plum blossoms.
This is how it grows warm.

Hattori Ransetsu