All is Calm

This has been the calmest December of my life.  No holiday parties, parades, or paraphernalia.  No white elephant, secret Santa, or cookie exchanges. This Christmas, all is calm.

But all is not bright.  We’re edging nearer and nearer to the winter solstice and the sun only feebly attempts to show its for a mere six hours a day.  All is calm, but all is dark.

The absence of a frenzy of festivities combined with long shadows make for a very different Christmas experience this year.  These dusky days are teaching me the importance of light and hope, a lesson that’s easy to forget in sunny San Diego.  My advent reading included this prophecy from Isaiah chapter nine – a beautiful reminder that it is in the darkness that the hope of Christ’s coming shines all the brighter.

Isaiah 9:2-4

2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

I showed the original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon to one of my ESL classes yesterday.  It’s one of my favorites although I failed to anticipate the difficulty in explaining words like “bizilbigs” and “fliffer bloofs”  While most Christmas cartoons today center around a mad rush to save Christmas, this classic reminds us that a celebration of Christmas is not a collection of things but an expression of gratitude, love and hope.

Like the Whos, there will be no whoboohoo bricks or pankunas on Christmas morning this year for Luke and me.  We’ll be celebrating alone on the 25th, amidst a culture that doesn’t celebrate the holidays until New Year’s Eve.  Like much of our experience here in Russia, everything seems so different than what we are used to and yet the important things are still the same.

God’s love has not changed.  His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is still ours.  Our hope still rests in Him alone who has the power to create worlds and recreate our lives.  I’ll take that over roast beast any day of the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Wishing you a day filled with true gladness of heart for the life God has given us, now and eternally.

P.S.  You are welcome for not titling this one “The Reason for the Season”.  So tempting.

Everything But The Dutch Oven

The mission: find as many different recipes as possible that all call for basic baking ingredients: flour, yeast, baking powder. Baking Basics is a fun cooking challenge I’ve been on since moving to Russia and today’s installment features two favorites of gluten lovers everywhere: artisan bread and homemade biscuits.

Luke and I have been making our own bread since we got married 2.5 years ago. However, we usually employed a bread machine so we could come home to the delicious wafts of freshly cooked bread meeting us at the door.  Without our plethora of appliances, I went back to making bread the old-fashioned way–in the oven.  Here’s how to make artisan dutch oven bread without a dutch oven:



  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon active yeast
  • 1¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary


  1. Combine flour, yeast, salt, water in a bowl. Stir until combined. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let dough sit on the counter overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
  2. When ready to make the bread, place an enamel oven-proof stock pot in the oven at 180 degrees Celcius while the oven preheats, around 30 minutes. While  the pot is heating up, transfer dough to a floured surface, it will be bubbly and sticky. Add a little flour and gently fold and tuck it into a round ball (it will still be a pretty loose dough). Using oven mitts, carefully take the hot pot out of the oven, add just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot (olive, sunflower, vegetable whatever) and drop the ball of dough into the hot pot. Cover with the lid and place back into the oven to bake for 25 minutes..
  3. After 25 minutes, rotate the pot, remove lid and let it bake another 15 minutes or until brown.


Recipe adapted from


Wonderfully fluffy and flavorful bread that is perfect with lentil soups.

Another recipe recommended by a friend was the classic biscuit.  The only glitch with this recipe was it calls for buttermilk which very well might be available for purchase at my local grocery store, but I have no idea what buttermilk is in Russian.  Instead, I used my trusty trick: add 1 TBS white vinegar per cup of milk and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Voila!  Buttermilk biscuits without the buttermilk.



  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk + 1 TBS white vinegar


  1. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  2. Add 1 TBS white vinegar to 1 cup milk, let it sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients. With two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingertips, cut or rub the butter in  until the mixture looks like bread crumbs.
  4. Add the liquid all at once, mixing quickly and gently for about 20 seconds until you have a soft dough.
  5. Drop the dough by the spoonful onto a lightly floured baking sheet.
  6. Bake the biscuits for 15 to 20 minutes, until they’re lightly browned. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm.


Recipe adapted from


Fluffy, not too sweet, biscuits that warm up a Russian winter, especially when served hot with butter and honey.

Sights and Sounds of Saint Petersburg in the Fall

Each month, I select three daily goals that I aim to hit each day (thanks to my favorite Nomatic planner).  Over the past 12 months, one of those daily goals has been “Russia” and all the related work involved. Between job searching, visa applications, and language acquisition, I’ve checked the “Russia” box consistently for a year.

We’re here now.  The visa work is done, I passed the migration test, and I know enough of the language to survive and buy coffee.

Entering this autumnal season forced me to reflect more on my daily goals for the month.  Bible reading and working out still made the list but I decided to swap out “Russia” with a more reflective ritual that I’d like to incorporate into my daily life in the long-term: Going on walks.  

This is a bit of a cop-out goal because we have no car here so I have to walk everywhere  but there are still days when I don’t have any real need to leave the apartment.   Luke and I love walking together, but I haven’t done a lot of solo adventures so I was excited about this opportunity to slow down every day, put my phone away, and simply exist for a bit while strolling around.  Here’s a little taste of Saint Petersburg in the fall.

My background beat is the steady beep of the pedestrian crossing lights, mixed with rustling wind in the rows of trees that line each street and the little ones screaming in delight when their babuska shakes a leaf off the tree for them.

I see schoolchildren on scooters in their uniforms and moms holding onto little hands while balancing bulging bags of groceries.  The golden orb of an Orthodox church breaks the backdrop of shades of white clouds.  


When the wind blows my scarf from my head to my shoulders, my velcro hair rushes to cover my ears from the crisp air.  Leaves fly across the path, much to the frustration of a worker raking, although you wouldn’t know it by her face.

I pass cafe after cafe and mentally gamble with myself about whether I’ll go in and try to order something complicated.  I usually chicken out and find a bench for reading since that doesn’t require me to speak Russian.

Now that temperatures are flirting with the freezing line, my walks have a different flavour and feel.  Tune in next time for “Saint Petersburg in the Not Quite Winter but It Sure Feels Like It”

In A World of Pure Imagination

Faith, hope, & love.  These three easily recognizable Christian virtues from 1 Corinthians 13:13 are also widely valued as human characteristics that benefit ourselves and our society.   All 3 require an element of imaginative thinking.  To have faith, we must believe in a God bigger than ourselves and our own limited conceptions.  We hope in a future and eternity that we do not physically see, but must imagine.  We love others best when we imagine them as God sees them–immeasurably valued and worthy of glorification through Christ.

Imagination enriches our lives in many other ways too.  Getting lost in a book, dreaming up new businesses, playing make believe with a child.  But when imagination gets misplaced into the hands of an idealist, things get messy.

Idealism sounds nice but has some fairly nasty side effects.  At it’s essence, idealism is the practice of forming expectations about the way the world should operate, especially unrealistically (the dictionary’s words, not mine).  When we start projecting our idealism on a very real world, we set ourselves up for disappointment at best and destruction at worst.

My imaginative ideas about what makes the world better might not actually be good or wise.  Or even if I do happen to strike on a good vision of what the world ought to look like, the way I go about forcing my will on reality will probably hurt others in the process.

But what happened to our hope, our faith, and our love?  Don’t those require some idealism?

Not necessarily.  We need our imaginations to develop our virtues and we need optimism to live out those virtues in this often confusing and hard life.  But idealism and optimism are not the same thing.

The optimist is full of hope for the future whereas the idealist insists that the future fit their vision.  The optimist seeks ways to make the world a kinder place while the idealist works to make the world their kind of place.

Well-intentioned optimists can easily become dangerous idealists when imagination is misplaced.  Living in a country where I don’t speak the language has taught me that the hard way.  Things never go as planned and insisting on forcing my vision inevitably leads to frustration.  I’m slowly learning to redirect my imagination and view this world with optimism instead of idealism.  It’s a process for us perfectionists but I believe it’s worth it.

The last installment of my Misplaced series will hit the blog next week!  It’s about one of my favorite topics–budgeting and personal finance.  Thanks for following along so far!

Not A Travel Blog

When asked what I write about on my blog, I always respond with a tentative “lifestyle things?” although I don’t really know what that means.  I started writing here 8 years ago and since I’m free from all pressures of monetizing the site, I’ve never defined my genre. Content marketing has a powerful gravitational pull and I’d like to keep this corner of the Internet free of all gimmicks, content gating, and gotchas.

What I do know is that this is not a travel blog.  My husband and I currently call Saint Petersburg home and we hope to travel more than we normally would over the next few years, but this will still be my place to share my musings on the world around me, which just happens to be in Russia right now.

Moving to Saint Petersburg has felt like becoming a child again.  I’m slowly sounding out words on buildings as we walk by them, am fascinated by the bright colors of the buildings and parks, and it takes so much longer to do simple tasks than it feels like it ought to.  Just charging my phone is a 3 apparatus ordeal.  And there is the child-like wonder to it as well.  New sights and sounds amaze me and each day is a new adventure as we explore the town, transportation system, and shops.

Daily life here so far is very similar to life in the States on a large scale, and very different in many minuscule ways throughout the day.  The downsized toilet paper and circle electrical plugs, for example. Differences that are neither bad nor good, just different.  These small changes were threatening to throw me off-kilter (is this what they call culture shock?) until I read this passage from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet:

It was only days later that Ransom discovered how to deal with these sudden losses of confidence.  They arose when the rationality of the hross [a being from a different planet] tempted you to think of it as a man.  Then it became abominable–a man seven feet high, with a snaky body, covered, face and all, with thick black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat.  But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have–glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath and whitest teeth–and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason.  Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other.  It all depended on the point of view.

By no means am I suggesting that Russians are extraterrestrials, rather, I’m realizing more and more how similar we all are.  But moving to a foreign country can feel like an other-worldy experience and I’ll drive myself crazy if I’m finding the small differences “disgusting” instead of appreciating things for how they actually are and finding the similarities delightful.  As Lewis put it best: It all depends on the point of view.

I’m a big believer in dreaming and doing but reality is a  strong force to be reckoned with. Our expectations about what reality should look like often cause us to be disappointed when life doesn’t deliver.   I’d rather rejoice in the ways it gives me joy instead of constantly comparing reality to what I think it ought to look like and ending up feeling like everything is just a little bit (or a lot a bit) off.