Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What would you talk about?

Last week was my first conversation class. Conversation class number two will be this Wednesday. In my first class, I gave the students a survey to see what things they would like to discuss and what things they wouldn't. While the things they were interested in discussing were wide ranging, they seemed unanimously opposed to discussing politics and religion. So barring politics and religion, any suggestions? This class, while far more advanced than the beginning levels that I normally teach, consists of students who are very advanced but definitely below the fluent and almost-fluent groups that B and J have, so anything they would be given to read/discuss would need to be graded to their level. At the end of last class, I gave them the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a Rock" to read over, with the idea that we would listen to and discuss the song in the next class. Unfortunately, I can't come up with a topic that could follow the discussion of this song in a coherent manner other than the concept of the Professional Hermit (which probably appeals only to me), so any suggestions would be welcome!

Monday, January 30, 2006

apparently I have low blood pressure

Yesterday was really quite scary, not just because of my catastrophic skiing experience, but because of what came after. Following the skiing debacle, I felt healthy enough to take the trolleybus to the AH to blog about the event and to check my email. I'd been here for about two hours when I started to get a headache. This is pretty common for me, but I figured I should go home and lie down. On the bus ride home, I began to feel sick, and barely made it through the door before vomiting. I won't go into all of the disgusting details, but suffice it to say that for a period of about five hours I had an excruciating headache (not a migraine, but the same kind of pain) and and inability to keep anything down. I was also going back and forth between swealtering hot-flashes and chills. Nina M., who has high blood pressure, and who is constantly monitoring it, took out her BP cuff and checked my blood pressure. It was so low that she decided to call "skoro pomoch" ("quick help"), the Russian equivalent of 911. The woman who arrived from quick help was neither quick nor helpful, and while she confirmed that I did indeed have low blood-pressure, she said I wasn't dying and seemed put out that we'd bothered her. Nina M. says that I need to eat lots of chocolate and drink lots of coffee, so as to raise my blood pressure (twist my arm!). This is all kind of scary. I felt fine when I woke up this morning, and I hope it lasts... [WebMD about low blood pressure]

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I am *so* NOT a snow bunny

Yesterday I agreed to meet J, Y, and N for skiing this morning at 11a.m. This seemed like a good idea at the time (even though I'd never been skiing before) as it was only -7C (and as I commented the other day, after the utter frigid temps of a short while ago, -7C is pretty warm). This morning I got up early, got dressed and then learned that it was -20C outside. Instead of doing the sensible thing and crawling back under the covers, I figured I should go skiing anyway. I went back into my room and added a few more layers of warmth, had my breakfast, and set off on the skiing adventure.

Well, it was a pretty miserable experience, and I don't really imagine that it's one I'll be repeating any time soon. Or ever. First there was the problem with me, the girl who has never skied before moving forward at an unbelievably slow pace, falling over with a resounding whump! every few feet. Not to mention that small children were whizzing past me expertly every couple of seconds... somewhat disheartening. Plus I couldn't feel my fingers at all.

We weren't out there very long, maybe about 15-20 minutes or so. Maybe less, I don't know for sure. I was starting to feel slightly better about the skiing thing (by which I mean I was moving forward and not falling as much), but I started to feel overheated. How can a person feel overheated when it's -20C??? The physical exertion of skiing combined with a billion layers of winter clothes? Maybe. Anyhow, have any of you ever passed out from being overheated? Well, I have had this experience before a few times (what comes of growing up in Florida), but I certainly didn't expect to have this experience while outdoors at -20C. Yep, I passed out. First I started feeling really hot and dizzy and had to sit down a few times. (At this point I discovered that one of my hand warmers had burst open, spewing charcoal - or whatever it's made of - all over my hand and the inside of my glove. Lovely.) Anyway, I decided that I needed to go back. I took off my skis and decided simply to walk back, and J, Y, and N were nice enough to agree to come with me. Which was quite fortunate, as I made it about five seconds, then passed out, face-first in the snow. Lovely.

So, I'm lying there with my face in the snow, being told that I really should *not* have my face in the snow, and thinking about how I needed to get up but couldn't. I found myself thinking about two things: ONE: That time in Doc Salzburg's class when we had to rub the garlic on the bottoms of our feet, and then could taste garlic. Mmmm, osmosis, yummy. Which led me to wonder if I'd been poisoned by my broken hand warmer. And TWO: That unbelievably depressing Jack London story To Build A Fire (about that dude in the Yukon who freezes to death at seventy below zero). Cheery. Well, they helped me to my feet and helped me walk back to the ski-rental place. At first I was still all dizzy and really hot, trying to remove my hat and scarf and gloves so that I could cool down, but by the time we got back to where this adventure had begun, I was feeling properly cold again. And neither dizzy nor sick to my stomach. So, yeah, I feel fine now. I guess I'm just not meant to go skiing.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

WD40ian Literature

Those of you who know me well, or who have been following my adventures in the blogosphere for a lengthy amount of time, will probably have noticed that I have a tendancy to bring up WD40 periodically and inexplicably. Well, sorry to disappoint, but you won't get an explanation from me today. In fact, as the 65+ pages of the as yet unfinished WD40 story are locked in the harddrive of a dead computer from which I may never recover them, it may very well be that you will never know what I'm talking about. Let's just say that it refers to an extremely bizarre period in my life which began almost exactly eleven years ago. Ever since, anything which yields a poignant reminder to that time has inevitably been described by me as "WD40ian."

Some WD40ian things:

  • ancient Egypt
  • Arthurian Britain

  • The other day, my coworkers and I were discussing taxes, and Brooke said, "What's that form called that you get from your employer? All I can think of right now is 'WD40,' but I know that's not right." (Melissa, let's just say that I totally thought of you right then!) While we may have come down to Earth with Britt piping up with, "W-2!" from the other room, I feel I should bring this up, as Brooke is the person who provided me with the item most recently described be me as WD40ian: A Trip To The Stars by Nicholas Christopher.

    My apologies to those of you who don't know what I mean when I say WD40ian, but that's simply the best way for me to describe A Trip To The Stars. Let's just say that the book is incredibly magical, although set in the mundane real world of the 1960s-1970s. The author all but beats you over the head with star/space-related imagery, although I for one utterly love that kind of stuff. There's a pyramid of significance, although it's not Egyptian, and there are so many coincidences that you, as the reader, will find yourself wanting to scream at the characters, "Dammit - why can't you see that it's a sign?!"

    Over the past few years I have found myself developing an overly fatalistic view of life (which I must say has solidified over the past few months), and even though we never mentioned it back in the day, WD40 was pretty fatalistic. And well, A Trip To The Stars could also be summed up as a fantastical lesson in fatalism. If that intrigues you, get yourself a copy. Otherwise, well, I didn't want you on my planet anyway.

    Friday, January 27, 2006

    Chronic Failures

    So here's a question directed at those of you out there who are teachers (ESL or otherwise). What do you do about chronic failures? This semester, I am teaching three classes of ZII (second level). Two of my students are taking ZII for the second time, having both completely failed it last semester. The students have very different personalities. One tries very hard, but never comes up with the right answer. The other doesn't try at all, and doesn't come to class half the time either. Last Friday I administered the first quiz of the semester, which focused on the present simple of the verbs to be, to work, to do, to study and to teach. Nearly all of my students in all three classes received As, and most of the students who didn't make As made Bs... but the two students who have already sat through (and failed) an entire semester of ZII totally bombed the test, receiving the two lowest grades of all of my students. I will ask them both to come to my office hours, although I had one of these students last semester, and he never appeared during my office hours, despite repeated requests. Perhaps I will fare better with the other one. It's very frustrating. Suggestions? Helpful hints? Anything?

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Let's chat!

    I just got out of my first ever conversation class, and it went really well (or at least I think so).I took pictures of ten of my friends from myspace.com and placed the pictures on a page and gave everyone a copy. We discussed what characteristics might belong to each individual, and let me just say that doing this with people whom you know really well is absolutely hilarious. M, according to my students, you're a veterinarian (probably because in the pic you're holding a cat); G, you're shy but very nice; P, you're a big party girl probably dating M. I swear my students just about pissed themselves with laughter when I told them that M was my ex-boyfriend from LONG long ago... Anyway, that was fun. 

    I really enjoyed having conversation class, although my schedule this week is going to be pretty rough compared to last semester (and everyone said the first semester at the AH is always the hardest!). I never used to have classes on Wednesdays, so I'd use them to prep for Thursdays, and I'd always be a step ahead. Notice how I haven't yet planned a thing for VEMZ tomorrow. Or done my Russian homework. Perhaps I should stop blogging and, you know, go do these things...


    On my way to work today (in the falling snow) was pleasantly warm. You know you've been in Russia too long when you start to consider -16C "warm" - unfortunately, if you check out the ten day forecast, you'll note that soon we'll be back in the frostbite inducing -28F range again. Damn.

    My first advanced conversation class is this evening. I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do, having never taught either an advanced class or a conversation class... I'm thinking about using an idea about using images from myspace.com to discuss personality traits, possibly leading into the pros and cons of online dating. I haven't decided yet. I suppose I should stop blogging and get on that; class starts in five hours!

    Sunday, January 22, 2006

    M, the Coy Belly-Dancer

    Shake Your Bosom!

    Me, B, Y, L

    Yesterday afternoon B, Y, G, M, and I trekked out to Dobroye (suburb of Vladimir) to visit L. It takes about 30 minutes to make it out there by bus, which would have been substantially more comfortable had the bus been heated. But what can one do? Anyway, it was an absurdly fun and silly afternoon and evening. At some point, we all began practicing belly-dancing. Now, any of you who might remember my one abortive attempt at post-early-childhood dancing (think back to that embarrassing tutu incident during my senior year of high school) will know that dancing is not exactly my strong suit, but we were being giggly and silly, and we weren't exactly dancing, per say. (I should insert here that L takes belly dancing lessons, and that B - who is a kick-ass swing dancer - has taken a couple of belly-dancing lessons herself.) L and B were attempting to teach me and Y how to do a shoulder shimmy, the goal of which, as far as I can tell, is to make one's boobs shake back and forth. I think this is probably a lost cause with me, no matter how much my shoulders shimmy, and when you add in my lack of coordination, it simply becomes hysterical. We had a lot of fun. And G and M were pretty amused. The whole trying-to-shoulder-shimmy is kind of addictive (I found myself trying to do it in front of the mirror this morning - I'm glad Nina M. didn't catch me!), not to mention it works your stomach muscles tremendously. We are all seriously contemplating taking Saturday morning belly-dancing lessons.

    In addition to making total asses of our selves (or, should I say, making total boobs of ourselves?) we dined on some lovely plov and blini (like crepes) stuffed with a yummy meat-and-potatoes mix, and watched Spirited Away, a beautiful if somewhat confusing piece of Japanimation that I would love to watch again...

    When we left L's it was after 10pm, and cold, windy and snowing. B and I ended up on a different bus than the rest of the gang, and (like the bus we rode on our way out to Dobroye) it was unheated. These unheated busses are the perfect breeding ground for a thick coating of ice on the inside of the windows. This means that if you're way the hell out in Dobroye, where you've only been a small handful of times, you spend the bulk of your busride home wondering where the hell you are. Luckily, Brooke and I made it to my busstop with no problems other than the fact that my feet were frozen blocks of ice by the time I got off the bus. I waited with B for her marshrutka (mini-bus-taxi) to arrive, then all but ran into my apartment, and spent about ten minutes with my ice-block feet on the heater waiting to regain sensation.

    The heat in average Russian apartments is supplied by the state. In normal winter temps (0 to -10C) this is great: the apartment is always warm and toasty and you don't have to worry about turning down the heat to save money because it's free. Of course, the state supplied heat is supplied at the same rate from the point at which they turn it on to the point at which they turn it off. When they first put it on, it was still fairly warm, and we all had our windows open and were sleeping naked atop the covers. And now that it's so utterly frigid out we have no means of cranking it up to a decent temp. I'd say it's around 55F inside my apartment. L's lucky, living out in Dobroye: she's near to the hot-water plants (these things that look like nuclear reactors, but which are really giant boilers designed to heat the water that will then be pumped into State operated radiators across the city). According to Nina M, residents of Dobroye are the warmest right now, because the water is the hottest when it hits their apartments. But, I said I was going to stop bitching. After all, the AH (being an American home after all) has its own heaters, and it's nice and toasty in here.

    Killer Icicles

    These scary icicles live on the building across the street from the AH.

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Still cold....

    I think these posts are going to get pretty repetitive as long as this weather stays so frigid. Weather.com seems to think things are getting warmer here, but as the thermometer outside my kitchen window still says -30C, and as Nina M is still turning on the oven and then opening the oven door to augment the state-supplied heat (which has been over-worked by this weather, leaving the inside of the apartments hovering around 56F). Anyway, here are some news articles on this lovely weather we've been having:

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Getting ready to head out...

    Getting ready to head out into the cold. Wish me luck. Apparently it's -21F out there. (It's warming up!!) I'm off to my first class of the semester at VEMZ. I got the low-down on the equivocating nonsense regarding my class there. Because they cancelled at the last minute after agreeing to pay for a full semester, the AH tried to convince them to pay for 30% of what they had originally agreed to pay us. Finally VEMZ management agreed... but only if we taught 30% of the classes! So I'm off to VEMZ, but only for a total of 10 classes. I'd like to say I'm hoping for a trolleybus with heat, but I've already ridden the #7 once to day, and it was pretty frigid.

    In other news, the morning class I was supposed to teach has been cancelled. That group has decided that they don't have time to meet. This pleases me immensely, as I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. However, this means that I'm back to teaching an advanced conversation group on Wednesdays... Any suggestions as to what I should talk about with my Russians?


    Tights. Wool socks. Sweat pants. Slacks. Long-sleeved long underwear. Turtleneck. Long-sleeved blouse. Sweater. Leather boots lined with fur. Leather gloves lined with fleece. Knee-length coat stuffed with down. Wool hat. Wool scarf. Still cold out there.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Well, it was good while it lasted....

    So, my too-good-to-be-true schedule of three classes on Tuesday/Friday and nothing the rest of the week other than my Russian lessons on Monday/Thursday has gone the way of the dodo. My current schedule:

    8:30am - Advanced business English at the AH12:30pm - my Russian lessons
    5:00pm - VEMZ (yep, they're back, after all that equivocating!)

    Tuesday/Friday:4:00 to 9:00 - three ZII (second level) classes at the AH

    Glen gets the Wednesday conversation group I was going to have... although now my office hours are back on Wednesday. I'll be too busy to bemoan my ongoing lack of laptop. Oh wait, I can never be too busy to not miss my baby...

    holy pancake, it's flippin' cold!

    I slept in late today, hoping that it might be warmish by the time I went outside. (When you spend the winter in Russia, your idea of warmish tends to change drastically. Last week there was actually one day when it rose to +1C. Talk about temperate!) Unfortunately, while it had "warmed up" a little between the time Nina M. awoke (-32C) and the time I awoke (-30C) neither of those options can be remotely described as warmish. When I finally ventured outside, I did so wearing so many layers that I felt (and probably looked) like a roly-poly. The problem, of course, was my face. While my hat was pulled down to cover my eyebrows and my scarf pulled up to cover my chin and mouth, that still left my nose, cheekbones and eyes out there for Ded Moroz* to work his frigid magic upon. (The glasses are actually a bit of an obstacle to warmth. Last night, when it was only -18C (haha, only!), I tried pulling by scarf up over my nose and cheekbones too. This immediately caused my glasses to fog up, and the fog then froze in place... And for those of us who can't see worth a damn without the otchki, this is a problem either way you squint at it.) By the time I reached the halfway point between the bus stop and the AH, my nose had passed through the so-sold-it's-painful phase to the the numb phase, and my cheekbones felt like they were on fire. And then there's the annoying fact that the cold air makes my nose run... but as soon as the, er, runnage makes it anywhere near the surface it freezes. Miniature icicles in my nose. Talk about a great way to start off the day.

    Please keep in mind that I grew up in Florida, folks! And even the last winter I spent in Russia, it only dropped to -27C once, so this is a new record-cold for me. (According to Nina M, it's also pretty record cold for Vladimir, as it hasn't been this cold here since 1941!)

    *Ded Moroz/Дед Мороз translates to Grandfather Frost and is the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus. In this sense I'm using the term as an equivalent to Jack Frost. I have no idea if that's something Russians do, but after my walk to school, it feels wholly approprate.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Amusing connections from the blogosphere

    (I've been meaning to post this email for a while, but I didn't. I have no excuse. I suck.)

    Dear (fellow blogger) Annie,

    I was looking at your blog the other day and think that we may have arrived in Moscow on the same flight. I arrived Saturday, Jan. 7 on the Atlanta flight on Delta into Sheremetyevo. I recall seeing someone who looked like you in the passport control line. Was that you?! I didn't have the guts to go up and say "hi." What would I have said? "Are you blogger Annie Nimity? Hi, I'm Raffi, the maaskva: nashimi glazami blogger"? Just as your brief entry for Jan. 7 suggests, you did not look your chirpiest at that moment.

    Should you ever been in Moscow, it would be great to meet for coffee. I have really gotten into this blogging and am toying around with organizing a blogging conference in Moscow this September. I have an excellent format for such an event in mind.

    maaskva: nashimi glazami)

    Sunday, January 15, 2006


    Originally uploaded by janekeeler.
    Last night, L took us to the newest restaurant to open in Vladimir. It's part of a chain of Azerbaijani restaurants based out of Moscow called Shesh-Besh. In my opinion, this place is the best restaurant in the city of Vladimir. It is located right next door to the Hotel Vladimir, and you can smell the delicious aroma emanating from the place from at least half a block away. I had some delicious soup (they were out of harcho, spicy soup I wished to try, but the soup I got, while not hot-spicy contained a very rich blend of tasty spices... yum, yum) and the kicker... I was able to eat genuine hachapuri!! (Some of you might remember that this is my absolute favorite food - it's a delicious, mouth watering, cheesey-bread that I am forever at a loss to describe to the fullest extent of its scrumptiousness... oh, foodgazm, foodgazm.) We also had some of the most delicious wine I have ever tasted (it was a sweet, red Azerbaijani wine). Again, I have no words to describe how incredible this wine was. I could seriously spend the rest of my life inside of Shesh-Besh, living off hachipuri and red wine. My mouth is watering as I type. Shesh-Besh (named after the Middle Eastern equivalent to backgammon) has a bit of a gimmick, whereby if you order a big jug of this wine, they give you some dice and three chances to roll a five and a six together. If you succeed, the jug-o-wine is free. Otherwise, you've got to pay 300 rubles (around $10) for the jug. Well, we were unable to roll a five-six, but considering the quality of the wine, $10 split amongst 6 people was absolutely worth it. For dessert we had some traditional Azerbaijani pastries (well, pastries is probably the wrong word, but that's the closest thing I can think of to what we ate) that were exceptionally sweet, and some unusual herbal tea. I left feeling extremely content. I'm definitely going to become a regular at this joint.

    Saturday, January 14, 2006

    Computers, classes, and such

    For anyone who might be interested in the status of my baby Compaq: the computer-fixing-fellow says that my AC/DC adapter has burnt out. He also says that this is probably a result of overuse of the power transformer (you know, converting 220v to 110v) but what else am I supposed to do? The power has to be converted! Am I going to have to replace the damn thing every six months? Anybody have any suggestions? Supposedly the computer fellow is in Moscow, even as I type, looking for a replacement part for me. I fervently hope that he is successful, as I am going through mad laptop withdrawal. I also hope that nothing else is wrong with the computer... I guess we shall see.

    But moving on... Yesterday was my first day of class. Thursday was the first day for everyone but me (owing to the last minute loss of my VEMZ class). I will definitely be teaching an advanced conversation group every Wednesday, but there's been no word as to whether or not I'll be picking up another 90 minutes worth of class time some where to keep me in the full-time-salary-position. Of course, it was quite nice on Thursday, having absolutely no responsibilities. Anyhow, yesterday I had three ZII (second level) classes in a row. The first class (most likely hooligans-to-be) was deathly quiet. They're all new to the AH, and didn't know one another. My previous hooligan class was like that too on the first day. In fact, they didn't erupt into hooliganism until class three or four... This group definitely has potential for utter madness. I also got to see my hooligans from last semester (they're G's now), and they were all happy to see me. I hope I can form as good of a bond with my new students as I had with my old. My second class of the day was my most advanced. They were all in their 20s-30s, and seemed studious but fun. My third class was similar in composition to my second, although not as strong. It's hard to form an opinion of their capabilities after only 90 minutes in their company.

    It was good to be back teaching again. Not that I don't thoroughly enjoy sitting around being a bum (have I mentioned that my life-goal is to become a professional hermit?), but teaching is actually fun. It's good to have a job I enjoy (yes... this is a hint, hint to those of you - you know who you are - in jobs you hate...)

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Bye, Bye VEMZ

    I was deep in the middle of preparing my lesson plan for tomorrow's class at VEMZ (the Vladimir Electro-Motor Plant, where I taught a class last semester), when Galya approached me and said, Annie, I have some very bad news. If you know me, you know that obviously the first thing I thought was that my computer was unfixable, but no. (Still no word on its condition, by the way.) Apparently VEMZ called today (classes start tomorrow) to say that they "don't have enough money" for a class this semester. Sigh. I really enjoyed my VEMZ class, and I'm going to miss them.

    This means that my schedule is going to become very interesting this semester. I was scheduled to teach at VEMZ on Monday and Thursday and to have three second-level classes here at the AH on Tuesday and Friday. I still have my Tuesday-Friday classes, but as the schedule and number of classes is set, there aren't any more classes open for me to fill this VEMZ vaccuum. And as my salary is kind of tied to the income the school receives from students... As if I'm not already poor enough! 

    But never fear, there's still some work available for me. I will be teaching a conversation class on Wednesday evening (not sure of the level, but it's probably going to be a fairly advanced group, which I find exciting, having not yet taught advanced students). There's also a possibility that I will have a small morning class (yes, I did groan audibly at this) of businessmen from another factory, who are studying at an advanced level and need to prepare for an international trade show where the working language is English. But that's kind of up in the air. So we shall see.

    Today we had the first part of a three day teaching seminar for local area English teachers. I find if kind of bizarre that part of my job requirement, as someone who has only had a few months of teaching experience is to conduct seminars where I instruct professional English language teachers on how to teach English. The last seminar in late October was pretty crappy (only about five teachers showed, and I was in a state of near-hysteria at the time and quite frankly remember very little of the whole thing), but this one (day one, at least) went pretty well. Today I gave a presentation on the use of realia (real-world objects) in the classroom in conjunction with written text. My realia consisted of the calendar designed by me and my mom, and the newspaper article about my mom, the calendar, and the museum it benefits. I also included a short "dumbed-down" version of the newspaper article, which could be geared towards low-level students. Afterwards, we discussed my hometown and the local wildlife refuge, and alligators (they were all very interested in alligators!). While it ended up being more of a discussion group instead of an Annie-as-teacher sort of thing, it went very well, and they all seemed really interested. I'm not as excited about tomorrow, when I get to introduce medical vocabulary and have the "students" (the teachers) perform a role play.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Here, but still not fully awake

    Well, even though I've been back in Russia for three whole days now, I have very little of note to say. Why? Well, I've pretty much been asleep for the past three days. I caught some sort of stomach bug on the flight over, and Nina M has been pretty insistent that I stay in bed. Which is fine, except that when one is in bed, one tends to sleep. And when one sleeps all day, one remains on Eastern Standard Time. I awoke this morning at 3am, and stared at my ceiling until Nina M awoke at 9. I could have used the awake at night time to do something useful with my computer... but my Compaq is dead! i have no idea how this could have happened (it was obviously un-touched while I was gone) - I took it out of the desk and pressed the power key - and NOTHING happened. I have tried numerous times over the past three days, hoping that this time it will work... but no. So, I have to see about finding someone to fix it. I'm glad I had the foresight to backup all of my Russia photos onto CD. If only it had occurred to me to back up 60+ pages of the WD40 story. Sigh. I am exhausted. My body thinks it is 2:30am. I need coffee.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006


    Here. Back from xmas break in the US. Exhausted. Jetlagged. Must. Sleep.