One year later…

An after school forest walk in Park Pokrovskoe-Streshnevo

It’s hard to believe but it has been a full 365 days since my school shut our campus on March 19, 2020. Though today we know that COVID-19 was with us much earlier than we had realized, this anniversary gives me pause. As I took some time today to reflect on the rollercoaster ride of 2020-2021 and write this post, I want to preface all of this by saying how lucky I feel that my friends and family have all remained safe, mostly employed, and fairly even-keeled mentally during this time. This is clearly not the case for so many people effected by this pandemic.

Strictly by the numbers, the last year has brought:

  • 80 days of lockdown in my Moscow compound
  • 11 COVID tests (all negative)
  • 1 antibody test (positive)
  • 4 international flights resulting in 48 days spent alone in quarantine (not counting the cat, she would be offended)
  • 6 weeks of asynchronous teaching via Google Classroom posts
  • 3 months of distance teaching in my Moscow apartment
  • 3 months of hybrid teaching (teaching simultaneously to students online and in my classroom)
  • 2 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine*
  • Hundreds of Marco Polo video messages to friends keeping in touch

Still not sure what to make of any of it except to say that I’ve survived, thanks in huge part to the support of my family, friends, colleagues, and students. The cat has some residual separation anxiety and I’ve gained about 10 lbs. but we’ll both bounce back. Some days are harder than others but, on the whole, I’m choosing to champion the little victories.

I’m very happy to share that my Grade 12 Visual Art students were able to hold their IB Exhibition this past week. The event was a bright spot in an otherwise abnormal school year, appreciated by the whole school community. Sadly, last year we were shut down just two days before my students were meant to mount their show. Above is a video of the event and below a few pictures of the artists and artwork. This was a small but mighty group and the show packed a punch. Very proud of these young women.

Next week our entire school will be returning to campus. Thus far, we have been in “hybrid learning” with only half of our student population on campus on a given day. It’s complicated but was starting to become the new normal. Can’t say I’m looking forward to yet another additional change in teaching flow but it’s the direction our school has chosen.

The more I read about mental health stability during this time, the more the word novelty arises. Many of us have turned to routine for stability during these turbulent times. However, as we humans are curious social creatures by nature, experts are encouraging us to change up the routine when possible to refresh our daily perspective.

In this vein, I was able to take a night at the Hotel Savoy over my February break. We are not allowed to travel internationally right now but it did seem necessary to change it up and spend a night in another part of town.

Choosing a hotel I could walk to and avoiding public transport was important to me. I also really wanted to see the lights in Red Square and hadn’t been able to due to temperatures in the negative numbers of Fahrenheit. The Savoy assured me of their safety measures and contactless check-in. I was sold.

The hotel did not disappoint and I even got a blue sky day to enjoy the 45 minute walk from my home to Red Square. After warming up and ordering room service for dinner, I set off to enjoy the lights. Moscow does “lights” particularly well.

Red Square was no exception, especially amid the snow of a recent storm. Though the Christmas market was over, the holiday spirit remained.

As always, there are bright spots. My students continue to bring joy and excitement to each new school day. The sun is staying out longer and rising earlier. We’re holding steadily at 35F after two months of very cold weather. I’m venturing farther from home as weather allows and taking walks with friends often. You may have noticed above that I made the choice to get the Sputnik V vaccine. I have no completed both doses and I’m a week away from “full immunity”. I continue to wear my mask. Moscow remains fully open which I find both intimidating and premature. However, this affords me certain liberties and choices that friends in other countries do not have. Pandemic life continues to be full of starts and stops, ups and downs, pros and cons. As always, I try to appreciate a little beauty amid the madness.

I hope you are all staying safe and getting vaccinated when possible. Wishing you good health and a good week ahead. Please stay in touch – it means a lot.

Postcards from Russia

Moloko’s perch in my Moscow kitchen
Walking with my friend Tammy around Moscow’s Garden Ring
Fili Park (my favorite) – Established in 1812
Looks quiet but actually full of cross country skiers, families, and dogs in snowsuits
The park runs down to the Moscow River, nearly frozen after a chilly week
A bright but bitter day – perfect for puzzling and sunbathing (or both)
Moloko enjoying an empty fridge on grocery day
Orthodox Christmas keeps the lights up longer at the Red Square Christmas markets
Muscovites out in droves
GUM Department Store aglow
Cinderella lights outside the Bolshoi Theatre
White lights make for bright nights
Warm and cozy – Happy February, everyone!

A Dispatch from Snowy Moscow

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GUM Department Store alight against an inky December sky

It’s February in Moscow and the snow is upon us. We’re currently in the middle of a two-day snowstorm, not that you’d know it from all the people out and about. Nothing stops Muscovites, especially not the weather. There is no such thing as a snow day here. This city is clearly not intimidated by winter.

From plows like these:

To shovels like these:

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Often I see a simpler version with two pieces of wood and a piece of flat metal between.

Here’s a little advice for surviving the Russian winter…

  1. Get outside whenever the sun dares to shine – no matter how cold the temperature.
  2. Have the right gear ready – what would I do without my Sorels?
  3. Cultivate a good group of friends – Happy Hours, book clubs, do what you will but always get out and about to socialize. Laughter keeps the grey away.
  4. Use a blue light everyday + take Vitamin D regularly, too.
  5. Hop a plane to the nearest sunshine whenever you have the chance. Professional development in Oman? Sign me up! A long weekend in Cyprus? I’m there! Those kind friends in Dubai? Prepare to find me on your doorstep! (Seriously, Ward and Leslie, any day now!)

In taking my own advice, I embraced a frozen but sunny day last week and walked the half hour through the forest to the metro station.

I am not kidding when I say nobody embraces winter like Muscovites! In the forest I found entire families on cross-country skis, mothers and daughters sharing sleds, and old couples strolling the seemingly endless paths with no particular place to go. And it was 15F out! Everyone is bundled, appreciating the beauty of the forest after a snowfall. It was a gorgeous and peaceful walk, I will give them that.

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Pokrovskoye-Streshnevo Forest

Another fun winter activity in Moscow is the theater. Ballet, folk dance, musicals – Moscow has it all. I had the chance to take in a show by the Igor Moiseyev Ballet Company recently and it was incredible. Igor was evidently the inventor of something called character dance, close to folk but more exaggerated. The bright colors and spirited dancers certainly lit up the stage. How high they could jump!

Fun tidbit – in Moscow you wear your boots to the theatre and switch into your nice shoes when you arrive. You check your boots and your coat together. The long coat check line after the performance is worth avoiding freezing toes and turned ankles outside!

Another must-do in Moscow this time of year is the Christmas Market down at Red Square. The neon lights of the carousel and the children’s shrieks of laughter light up the night (below and top, outside GUM department store).

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Festivus outside St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square

Of the many lessons I’ve learned here in Moscow, I think Kerouac captured it well when he said, “While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.”

Take care and stay warm, everyone!