Archive for August, 2009

Russians Bearing Gifts

August 24, 2009 8 comments


Observing my husband-to-be and me in the first flush of romance, my mother observed that “you haven’t been loved until you’ve been loved by a Russian.”  She wasn’t speaking from first-hand experience (as far as I know) but she saw what I had been feeling for weeks — the depths of the Russian heart laid bare.

(Caution: sweeping generalization follows.)

Russians feel deeply and express it lavishly. Passion, anger, melancholy, joy — there are no half measures. I saw it the moment my husband danced into my life 11 years ago (yes — danced — but that’s a whole other post). And not just romantic love — it’s there in the bonds of friendship and family, too. When my husband and small son made our first family trip to Russia, we were welcomed warmly into homes in every city we visited. From Moscow to St. Petersburg to the relative wilds of Chelyabinsk, we were fed and fussed over, transported to and from airports at ungodly hours by friends who wouldn’t let us take taxis. Our son was cared for so my husband and I could wander the Hermitage freely. Tables were set with special china, soups and blinis and meat patties were made by hand and served with love.

The hospitality was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Russians are wonderful hosts — but as houseguests, they are spectacular. Remember those lessons your mother taught you about how to behave in someone else’s home? Never come empty-handed. Offer to help in the kitchen. Tidy up after yourself.  Russians elevate these basic courtesies to an art form.

They bring their own bed linens and towels. It does not matter how many times you assure them this isn’t necessary. They don’t want to trouble you with their laundry.

They clean your house. Seriously. (If this is a commentary on my housekeeping, so be it. I’ll take the implied criticism in exchange for a clean bathroom any day.)

They bring food. No… they really bring food. I’m not talking about some fancy-pants box of store-bought pastries. They cross your doorstep laden with sweet wine and vodka and enough food to feed an army, most of it made from scratch.

We just had Russian friends up to the house for a country weekend, and this is what they brought:

  • Six pounds of pork, three pounds of short ribs, six pounds of chicken wings — all perfectly marinated and grill-ready
  • Fifty or so home-made cream puffs (who makes cream puffs, and who makes 50??)
  • Two and half pounds of homemade oliv’e, also known as salade russie, also known as the most unbelievable potato salad you’ve ever had
  • A pound and a half of homemade Georgian bean salad (Russian, not southern U.S. Georgian, a cuisine I’d love if not for the evil omnipresence of cilantro)
  • Too many tomatoes and cucumbers to count
  • Four varieties of smoked kielbasa and three different cheeses
  • Many quarts of mixed olives (lost count)
  • Loaves of fresh-baked Russian brown bread, warm and steamy in their bags
  • One whole watermelon, the size of a large toddler

(By the way, this was to feed five adults and two children. And the kids only picked.)

And yes — they brought their own linens.

Russians may not have the world monopoly on good manners and warmth, but the ones I know have certainly taught me a thing or two about selflessness and generosity.

Especially the one I married, which I’d probably do well to remember a bit more frequently.

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Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,

Taking Leave

August 17, 2009 9 comments

Leaving the house in the misty early morning. Car packed, devices plugged into chargers, directions on the seat next to me. Ready to back down the gravel driveway towards the highway that will carry me away from my family for yet another business trip.

A tentative tap on the passenger side window. My boy is standing there, his face puffy with sleep, gangly limbs exposed and vulnerable in too-small PJs. I hop out, run around to his side of the car. He’s picked his way toward me in bare feet across the cold, sharp, slippery stones.

Baffled. “Where are you going?”

I tell him.

“Will you be home soon or late?”

In three days, I say. In his world, this means late.

“You didn’t give me a hug and a kiss.”

He’s right. I snuck out of the house while he was sleeping, hoping to avoid exactly this moment.

And then he flings himself into me with a fury that knocks me off balance, face buried and arms wrapped as tight around my waist as the knot that’s forming in the pit of my belly.

Someone tell me please. Will this ever get easier?

Categories: Parenting, Work Tags: , ,


August 13, 2009 9 comments

I am haunted by the Diane Schuler story. I can’t shake it. I go back to Google again and again, searching for the latest news updates and blog posts about the hideous, horrific crash which she caused, and which claimed a total of eight lives. I read and read and try to find information that will shine a light on the murk and mess of her final hours.

Twice the legal level of alcohol in her bloodstream, the equivalent of ten shots. Weed in her system. Booze consumed so recently it had not yet metabolized in her body. The broken bottle of vodka found under the seat of the wrecked minivan.  

The husband’s press conference, his pathetic, infuriating denial. The lawyer, despicable. She had diabetes/a stroke/an abscessed tooth, they suggest. Absurd claims the coroner’s report flatly contradicts.

The lone survivor, Diane Schuler’s son — the little boy released from the hospital today. His mother and sister and cousins are dead. What does he remember? We’ll probably never know – the police have said they don’t plan to talk to him.

My son is one year older than that little boy, one year younger than one of the girls who died. It’s impossible for me not to think of him when I imagine the final chaotic minutes in that minivan – the fatal turn onto the Taconic, the two-minute terror ride going the wrong way. The final impact. Did the kids cry? Did they scream? Did they beg her to stop, to slow down? Did they cling to each other? Did they close in on themselves and just surrender to the inevitable?

I can’t shake this story.

I am raging at a woman I never knew, a woman who is dead and buried. God forgive me but I am full of contempt for her, for her stupid choices, for her weakness. Weakness to let her drinking spiral out of control. Not to seek help. I’ve been around alcoholics, I’ve been caught up in the toxic swirl of their bullshit. Don’t quote twelve steps at me and ask me to absolve the alcoholic for her sins because she was in the “grip of her disease.” Don’t you dare tell me it was the disease that killed those people. Those babies.

Diane Schuler killed three adults and four children. Not the disease. SHE CHOSE. Some say she was not a bad mom. I hear that and it makes me physically ill.

Wordless Wednesday

August 12, 2009 2 comments
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m a Little Bit Country

August 10, 2009 2 comments

At the tender age of 14, I met a much older Russian man in the wilds of the Catskill Mountains who filled the long, sultry afternoons of my summer with passionate music and beautiful dance.

 (Got your attention?)

Wish I could tell you it was my Lolita summer. It wasn’t. I’ve never had any kind of Lolita-esque experience but I’m not complaining – that being statutory rape and all. No, I was just studying at a ballet camp run by a respectable gentleman named Ivan Rabovsky. I don’t remember exactly where the camp was, or even what Mr. Rabovsky’s dance credentials were (other than being Russian of course).  All I know is  he worked our butts off that July and by the end of the session I managed to get myself up en pointe.  I also fell hard for the unruly, unspoiled world of the Catskill Mountains.

Many summers later, I’ve consummated my love affair both with these mountains and with Russians. I married one (a Russian, not a mountain…obviously), and two years ago became the happy mistress of a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in Greene County, NY. This is me on closing day, staring at the mountains out back and pinching myself that this sweet little farmhouse was actually ours.

I spun into high gear those first few weeks in a frenzy to get everything JUST RIGHT. I had a very specific vision for this house – it would be a mix of country styles that reflected both my and my husband’s passions. Think classic American farmhouse meets Carl Larsson meets Russian dacha.  We were a flurry of productivity and thanks to IKEA and the hard work of my husband’s buddies (free paint and carpentry in exchange for vodka and permission to hunt mushrooms on our property – which Russian men take extremely seriously, do not come become them and their gribs), we got the little house in great shape. Depending on the season, we ski or swim or grill or just sit around looking at the stars and listening to the roar of the creek coming down off the mountain behind us. We are blessed to have this refuge.

Whether you lead a country lifestyle full-time, part-time, or only in your dreams – these books will provide many hours of inspiration and enjoyment. They certainly did for me.

Baltic Homes by Solvi Dos Santos

 Influential Country Styles by Judith Miller

Shades of Country by Chippy Irvine

 Modern Country by Nancy Ingram

 The Russian House by Ella Krasner et al.

 Catskills Country Style by Steve Gross

 Creating the Look: Swedish Style by Katrin Cargill

 An Affair with a House by Bunny Williams

(I’m too lazy to hyperlink every picture. Sorry, it’s late and I’m long overdue at home. Bad Blogger, bad. If you can’t find these books on Amazon, I promise you can find them on Amazon UK.)

Posted via email from Stephanie Smirnov’s Posterous

Categories: Inspiration Tags:

Dipping My Toe in the (Life)Stream

August 6, 2009 1 comment

Okay, I give. You dangle a shiny digital penny, I’m gonna grab. Test driving Posterous to see how it goes. I admit the idea of posting on the fly…with a bit more space than 140 characters…is very appealing.

So I’m down with Posterous…just not with digerati posturing. Blogs are NOT dead. (Long live blogs.)

(Let’s see how this picture thing works. This is a picture of Verushka, the amazing Russian model from back in the day. It’s neither here nor there, I just love the picture.)

Posted via email from Stephanie Smirnov’s Posterous

Categories: Uncategorized

School Buses are Evil

August 5, 2009 8 comments

I hate school buses. Always have. My aversion dates all the way back to third grade. My parents were on vacation so my sister and I stayed with a neighbor just far enough away from school that we couldn’t walk comfortably. I had never set foot on a school bus, and now I had to ride one every day. FOR A WEEK. 

I was terrified. Who to sit with? Which bus to get on at the end of the day? The moment I climbed up into that fetid, overheated interior that cold January day, a deep fear and loathing of school buses was permanently implanted in my eight-year old brain. 

Name one good thing that’s ever happened on a school bus

Mmm hmm. Thought so.

Kids barf on school buses.

Kids have illicit sex on school buses

Kids fall asleep and get abandoned on school buses.

Kids get bullied on school buses.



 Kids get hijacked on buses and have to be rescued by Dirty Harry.
That's Harry on top of the hijacked bus. Can the cops in your town leap from bridges onto buses driven 70 mph by homocidal maniacs? I didn't think so.

That's Harry on top of the hijacked bus. Can your local cops leap from bridges onto buses driven by homicidal maniacs? Didn't think so.

 I’m not even going to talk about what happens to the kids on the school bus in this movie, because if I have to say it I’ll never get out of bed again and neither will you.
Google it. I'm not telling.

Google it. Like hell I'm telling.









Don’t you see?  School buses are the devil’s chariot.  


There’s a reason why #3 on my List of Top Three Things that Terrify Me Most is that my son will one day be involved in a school bus accident (I’m not mentioning #1 and #2 because I do not want to “put them out into the universe,” if you can dig what I’m saying.)  Fortunately, we live in a small town without public busing — we can drive or walk him to school.


It is, however, summer — a time of camp, of fun and games, of leisure, of FIELD TRIPS.  Field trips require school buses. Every freaking Wednesday, no less. So I’ve observed a new weekly ritual this summer: put son in bright blue official camp T-shirt. Inhale back of his neck (that’s what I do, it’s better than coffee. You do it too, you know you do.) Kiss top of his head. Pray fleetingly to all that is holy that his school bus will not crash on the way to the bowling alley/petting zoo/museum.
Guess what happened yesterday?  His school bus crashed — backwards, into a building. He is fine. All the kids are fine. Thank God. But that was not a fun call to receive. Or to make, I’m sure. I could hear the fear in the young counselor’s voice as she told me what she had to tell about 40 parents yesterday:  “Your child was on a bus, and the bus was in an accident.”
I was sharing this story with a colleague, another mom with kids about my son’s age. She shares a lot of my maternal phobias, we’ve talked about it before. She said a great thing: “So your worst fear came true, and now it won’t happen ever again.”
I assume the odds are in our favor. That’s what I’ll tell myself as my son clambers aboard the bus next Wednesday in his camp T-shirt, thinking hopefully not of what happened yesterday, but what DS game to play on the way to the bowling alley/petting zoo/museum. Kid are resilient like that. As for me, I will do what I do every time he and I part: I will force myself to let go. To breathe. To trust in the universe.
Categories: Parenting Tags: ,

How Sharpie Does It

August 4, 2009 4 comments

Sharpie___Converse_by_GlowynDdarkAs many of you know, I am obsessed with Sharpies. They are much more than pens to me. They are self-expression accessories, if you will. They bring color, boldness and clarity to my life — both my lives, actually. Professional Life and Private (Mom) Life.  I think with Sharpie, I create with Sharpie, I edit with Sharpie, I doodle with Sharpie, I label with Sharpie, I define with Sharpie. 

Yes, I think Sharpie is fine. Ultra-fine! (Heh.)  I also think Sharpie is smart, smart, smart. I’ve gushed about the brand blog before, I still hold it up as a model for powerful branded presence in the social media space. The presentation below (from SlideShare) provides a fabulous glimpse at how the Sharpie team does what they do. Kudos to Susan Wassel — or SharpieSusan, as she is known to her Twitter followers — who’s been the tireless force behind this work.

View more presentations from GasPedal.


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