"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meet Agnesa!

I have never done a post introducing our housekeeper, Agnesa!  She is amazing.  She is one of the many Russian angels that God has put in our life and I am so thankful.

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We needed a housekeeper originally for two reasons – 1) We needed a regular person to watch Isla in the evenings 2 nights a week while Nick and I take our Russian lessons and 2) We also wanted someone to help alleviate the housework during the times of the year when I am working. Although, the truth is I basically work to pay for her Smile… that way I don’t have to feel guilty about not cleaning my own toilets since my income and not Nick’s pays for her.

Anyway I asked around and I was quickly introduced to Agnesa, and her becoming a part of our lives was definitely from God!  Originally I felt weird about having someone here TWICE a week, but we needed her that many times because of the Russian lessons, and one thing that I have learned, is that the mess in your house expands in proportion to the number of people you have to clean it up!

First, I want to tell you a little bit about her:

  • She is Armenian-Russian.  I love Armenia!  I had a friend in high school who was Armenian-American and I learned a lot about that extra special country because of him.  Most especially I love that it was the first country ever to declare Christianity its official religion.
  • She has a husband named Yura, two sons name Arthur and Peter, and four grandchildren named, Agnesa (after her), Robert, Levon, and Sava.
  • She has a HUGE home that is very nice.  She invited me over one day and she has a beautiful garden that she is constantly working on and also bringing me goodies from.  She lives on the bottom floor, her first son Arthur and his family live on the second floor, and her second son Peter and his family live on the top floor!
  • She is a Christian, and pretty much has a big open heart that will take anyone in.
  • She was a total Daddy’s girl and loved her father more than anything.  He helped her build her house and taught her not be prejudiced against anyone, ever.  It shows.  She has such a kind way about her, and everyone who meets her LOVES her.
  • She loves shopping! Smile But hates to grocery shop.
  • She works HARD, but she also spends time gabbing with me, which I love.  She doesn’t speak but a few English words, but she’s great to practice Russian with.  We talk a lot, and we somehow manage to communicate.
  • She loves children.

So that’s a little bit about Agnesa’s character, but I want to tell you a little bit about what she means to us in our home.

Yes, she cleans for us (and irons – hallelujah).  She works so hard!  But she does a lot more than that.

She is such a huge help with Isla.  She doesn’t watch Isla normally other than during our Russian lessons, but she is always willing to listen for Isla when I have to run to the grocery store during her nap, and about once a month, I have her watch Isla instead of clean so that I can meet Nick or someone for lunch or run an extra long errand.

She is such a good resource when I get stressed out about something related to Isla!  Like when Isla won’t nap or she is sick (more on that later…).  She has raised 6 kids in her home between her kids and grandkids, and so she knows a lot about them.

She adores Isla and Isla adores her and is always willing to stop and play with Isla.  She is also so good at cleaning and entertaining Isla… a skill that I have never mastered.

Also, she is so good about giving me advice without being pushy.  She has helped a lot with potty training since all Russian children are potty trained early (Isla is getting there but she is the OLDEST child I know here not potty trained completely!).  She will always give me advice on how to feed Isla and other behavioral things, like working on sharing.  She does it in such a nice way that it is not offensive at all, just so helpful.  And actually she frequently does take over, but she does it in the nicest way.  I pretty much let Agnesa do whatever she wants!  If she’s happy, I’m happy.

Sometimes though, I have been inclined to snicker at some of her dietary suggestions because they always involve a lot of sugar… like a lot of sugar and while flour products.  I usually just let her when she wants to cook for Isla though because its only once every few weeks.  And like I said, she can do whatever she wants Smile.

Well, I will never snicker again!

Isla has had a terrible hacking cough at night, and on Friday I told Agnesa about it.  In her sweet Mary Poppins way she started taking over and quickly gave Isla a cup of boiled milk (with sugar, ha!) explaining that it would help get the mucous out.  Milk is usually the last thing that I would give someone with a cough or cold.  Then she said that she would give Isla a massage before her nap time and that would also help get the mucous out.  I thought that it would be a gentle massage…

but it was a full body rigorous massage of Isla’s front and back chest that lasted for 20 minutes!  I mean Agnesa was karate chopping and beating on Isla’s back, and Isla thought it was great fun Smile.

I had to catch a few pictures.

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Anyway, Isla didn’t cough for the rest of the day, but that night she started coughing again.  Nick went into her room to check on her and quickly called me to get a towel because Isla was coughing something up – clear mucous!  Isla coughed that stuff up for over an hour.

And you know what? She hasn’t coughed since then and seems to be doing much better!  I am never doubting Agnesa again.

Here is just one example of how good she is playing with Isla.  I walked into find this Smile.  Agnesa was calling Isla her little baby and treating her like a little baby and she got Isla to be still! Quite a feat.  Its so funny to watch her play with Isla.

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Also, on the day  Isla was sick she was really acting up at nap time and would not nap.  So Agnesa just wrapped her in a towel like a burrito, and put a rag over her face.  She said this is what she does with Sava, her grandson who is one month younger than Isla.

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Then she proceeded to walk Isla around singing to her for 20 minutes and I thought that it worked! Sadly it did not and Isla grinned as soon as Agnesa took the cloth off and thought it was great fun.

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And my absolute FAVORITE thing that Agnesa does is when she helps out at meal times.  She does a full on HUGE production to get Isla to eat.  It is so funny, she is so animated and she calls for the “sebaka” (dog) to come and get Isla’s food and tells Isla she better eat before the sebaka gets here!  At first I didn’t like it because I didn’t want Isla to get used to the production and not eat whenever someone did do it, but that has never happened. Plus, at the time she was teething and wasn’t eating anything and I was so grateful that she could get Isla to eat anything!

***As a side note, my Russian instructor tells me that the big production is very common amongst babushkas to get children to eat!  They are big food pushers and it’s the WORST thing in the world to them when children don’t eat.

I managed to capture a little bit of their mealtimes together, although I did not get the “sebaka” production because Isla was happily gobbling up the sugar laden drink that Agnesa had made for her. 

You do get an idea of how Babushkas talk to babies here in Russia, and that is HANDS-DOWN my favorite thing about Russia.  I wish that I could bottle up that baby talk and take it with me where ever I go!  It seriously makes me smile every time I hear it… which every time I go outside with Isla. Its SO different from how English speakers talk to babies, we tend to squeak and increase the tone of our our voice, while they lower it. I LOVE IT!

Did you catch the part in the video where Agnesa is trying to convince Isla she doesn’t need the pacifier?  Isla is now weaned and I gave her the binky to help with the weaning.  In a few weeks I will take it away.

Anyway, that is our Agnesa.  She is amazing and warm and kind, and together we three girls have A LOT of fun during the day!

Friday, October 28, 2011


What to say about Venice??? We loved, loved, loved, loved Venice Smile.  I cannot wait to go back.  Its one of those cities that makes you feel like you could turn around a corner and be back in 1528 AD in the middle of Carnival!

We spend a lot of time walking, walking, and walking.  The city has so many bridges that it does not allow for any type of motorized vehicle, and it makes everything so much more pleasant.  And when I say it had a lot of bridges… I mean it had a lot of bridges!  Poor Nick had to carry Isla and her stroller up and down and up and down countless bridges.  He got quite a workout!

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We had a lot of fun just walking around and getting lost in the city.  We saw a lot of signs like this one…

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…but I have a feeling that several enterprising shopkeepers added a few segues to the route to San Marco because the few times that we were able to get our bearings, we had definitely strayed off the most direct path. Nick examining the map!

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We also had the best. pizza. ever. Not an important fact, but I wanted to throw that in.  Isla slept the whole time we ate so we got to people watch.

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Europeans and their Nutella!  I would guess that these were 3 to 5 gallon jugs… definitely HUGE. (Of course I would manage to get pictures of Nutella…)

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I wish that I had taken more pictures, but the truth be told, the pictures that I did take did not do the city justice.  Its just one of those cities that you have to go and walk around in and experience.  Narrow “streets” surrounded by so many antiquated buildings.  You really do feel like you are in another time. 

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We finally made it to Saint Mark piazza! The resting place of Saint Mark’s body.

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Venice did not join Italy until the 19th century, and prior to that it was its own “country” and was a major sea power, as well as major cultural and political superpower.  I really want to read some books on the history of Venice… someday Smile.

Day 2 we experienced more of Venice by boat.  Honestly… is there any place cooler than being on a boat???  Oh I know a cooler place… being on a BOAT IN VENICE!  Isla agrees.

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It was so nice to get to ride around and see all of the beautiful old palaces. The water was SO blue!

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I seriously dropped the ball in photo taking in Venice!  This was the only photo that I took of the Venetian Doge (seat of Government), and I think I only took it because Isla was so cute pushing her own stroller. 

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For the record – the Doge was also amazing.  Arg.  I wish that I had taken more pictures.

We also said Good-bye to Jessy and John in Venice (sniff, sniff)! We did get to spend a little time with them at the airport the following day though.

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They were kind enough to take a family photo. We didn’t get too many of those while we were on vacation.

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Our last night in Venice we went out for dinner as family.  It was a blast but so long.  Isla did pretty well but then she started to get restless at the end. She left her own little mark on the city… namely in the form of a sippy cup that she managed to toss into the canal! Smile

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All in all, Venice is one of my favorite places to visit of all time!  Part of my lack of pictures is that I was having too much fun to take any Smile.  It was a wonderful time with my two loves and I cannot wait go back!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

San Gimignano

Our last full day in Tuscany, we decided to drive over to San Gimignano, famous for its 17 towers, and I am so glad we did.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Our guides, standing in front of a tower, and perusing their Eyewitness Travel: Florence… once again, it kicked Rick Steve’s Italy in the booty. I promise I that I didn’t make them pose for this picture or anything.

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Everywhere we went in Italy, Isla seemed to gather a small following… she has a tendency to do something cute and everyone stops and watches. It’s a little disconcerting to turn around and not see your baby, but then laugh because you realize you can’t see her because of the group that’s surrounded her!

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Also during our trip, we had several random people stop and take a picture of Isla… I’ve always thought she was that cute, but its nice to have the confirmation Smile.

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Random photo op.

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Yes these two are that cute! Even in real life. We LOVE them!

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Time to head to Pisa (which I already blogged about… totally out of order!).

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cinque Terre

Before we visited Pisa, we decided to visit the Cinque Terra.  These are 5 beautiful cities on the Italian Riviera that are connected by a walking trail called the Light Blue Trail.

We were only able to walk from the first city, Riomaggiore to the second city, Manorola on the “Love Walk”.  We only had a few hours and we wanted to see as much as we could.  After that, we took the train.

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We skipped the 3rd city, Corniglia and took the train to the fourth city, Vernazza.  We stopped at the beautiful, historical castle there before we had lunch.  The views were absolutely beautiful.

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After lunch, we took the train to the fifth city, Monterosso, again, gorgeous and walked along the beach.

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I realize that I am standing in front of a man in a speedo… it was a European beach!  There is almost no way to get a picture without some old dude walking around showing of his “stuff”…

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And of course!  We stopped for Gelato Smile.

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It was a beautiful day, and I would love to go back one day with more time and hike the full trail!

Pure and Undefiled Religion

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