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.  

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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”

The Freedom of Stuff-Forgetfulness

My husband and I are accidental minimalists.  We ditched half of our belongings before moving to California and then cut our stuff in half again before trekking cross-country again.  We recently packed everything we need for a year of living abroad into two suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and a backpack.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard.  We’ve learned a lot over the last two and a half years about what we don’t need to still live well.  Also, I watched a documentary on minimalism once, so that makes me an expert, right?

A quick Google search will uncover a plethora of articles on the benefits of “less is more” and a rising tide of counter-articles based on the idea that minimalism can lead to idolatry of nicer things instead of just lots of things.

Based on my clearly established expertise on the matter, here’s my two cents.

  1. Less stuff makes life easier.

It means less to pack when you’re moving, less options in the closet to paralyze you, and less risk of buying things you don’t really need and letting them clutter your home.  

  1. The freedom of stuff-forgetfulness is better than minimalism or maximalism

Tim Keller wrote a short read on “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.”  It’s a great exposition of what true humility really means and the joy that comes when you stop connecting every experience to yourself.

Likewise, there is a great freedom in just thinking about our stuff less.  Personally, I’ve found that one way to do this is by simply having less stuff.  In order to have less stuff, I’m more thoughtful about my buying decisions so that I don’t buy useless stuff, but that doesn’t mean I have to obsess over every item in my home (or currently, suitcase).  

The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 provides apt warnings against both forms of idolizing stuff–both the quantity and the quality of it.  After reminding the crowd that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” Jesus goes on to tell the parable of a rich man with many quality goods and grains to whom God says:

“Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12: 20 – 21)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the very next verse Jesus exhorts his disciples:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (Luke 12: 22 – 23)

There’s not a perfect number of items in your closet or kitchen utensils in your drawers, but when your decorations take up more mental space than the incredible glory and majesty of our Creator, that’s when it’s time to reevaluate.  For me, it meant shipping off a few boxes to the Salvation Army.  For others, it might mean taking those thoughts hostage and redirecting them towards the things we are called by God to think about.

 Either way, it’s not the stuff that matters as much as the place we give it in our lives.

This post is the third in my “Misplaced” series–click on the words to find my thoughts on misplaced kindness and misplaced attention.  I’ve got a few more up my sleeve, enter your e-mail below if you’d like to follow along.

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.

мы идем в Санкт-Петербург

The bags are packed (almost), our visas are in hand, and we’re cleared for take off.

It’s been a while since I posted on here–the last month has been dizzily and beautifully full of family and friends as we completed our coast to coast journey.  In between visits and festivities, Luke and I have been doing our best to learn the language via online tutoring and hours of flashcards.

I’ve been working on a series about Misplacement during this season of transition and displacement from our California home as we wait to find our Russian one.  The last tweaks are almost done (yes, sometimes I actually edit things before I post them) and I’m excited to share these summer musings with you all!

In the meantime, I plan on sharing travel updates and discoveries on this blog.  I don’t want to spam everyone’s Facebook timeline with travel posts so if you’re interested in:

Joining our journey through the written word (and some pictures): follow this blog

Tracking our trek via image: follow me on Instagram

Contacting Luke or I in real time: message me on WhatsApp.

Luke won’t have a smartphone or possibly his current phone number, so your best bet is WhatsApp using my phone number.  I’m assuming you already have it if you’re interested in talking, but if not, put your e-mail in the box below and I’ll send it your way!  This will be the best way to get a hold of us directly, as opposed to messaging on Facebook or Instagram.

Road Trippin’

 

IMG_20170703_184306Because let’s be honest, the end of a 7 day journey gets pretty trippy.  When you start making up your own idioms.  When a McWrap sounds gourmet compared to your daily diet of peanut butter sandwiches.  When you start playing the alphabet game against yourself — and lose.  You see your spouse’s best dance moves and more corn fields in Minnesota than you ever care to see again.

Life with Luke is certainly a grand adventure–full of braving lightening storms in a tent and hiking in hailstorms.  The endless fields of the Great Plains were the perfect canvas for great planners to paint their future dreams.

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And so..The Adventure Begins

6 years ago this month, I was driving my trice-recycled ‘94 teal Chevy Malibu with the windows rolled down from my high school to the Senior Picnic–just days before graduation.  “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer came through the radio waves and it just seemed right.  I was full of optimism and excitement for a fresh chapter.  And what better way to kick off the next adventure than a class-wide picnic with my 700 other classmates?

If I remember correctly, the picnic was lame and I didn’t know where to put myself, like the rest of my high school experience, because some things never change.

I was driving to my last day of work this morning, in my ‘10 Ford Focus that mercifully doesn’t spray water in my face every time it rains like the Malibu did so I’m clearly moving up in the world.  Andy Grammer’s familiar tune came warbling through the FM again and I felt the echoes of that same optimism bubble up.  And then a new Maroon 5 song came on with the same tune they were using 6 years ago. Some things really never do change.

But some things do. I’m more cautious now than I was back then.  I’m not as willing to chase every idea but have learned to patiently wait for my dreams to surface.  I’ve stopped caring about eating lunch at the cool table and although I’m slower to act on new ideas, I’m braver in carrying them out.  During the last 6 years, I pushed to find the limits of how many things I was capable of doing simultaneously and now I’m content to find the few things in life that are worth pursuing deeply.

I’m thankful for nostalgic songs that inspire reflection–even if that includes some awkward high school memories–before starting this next adventure.  Besides learning the Russian language and acquiring a fur hat, one of my biggest goals for our time abroad is to grow in wisdom, character, and flexibility.  Hopefully by the next time I hear Andy Grammer on the radio in June, I can see those fruits in my life.

Until then, just gotta keep my head up.