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Aug. 10, 2006

The past month has been a lot of fun. It’s been very eventful, as teammates and club personnel always have something planned for us. I celebrated my 22nd birthday here on July 3. This was the day I saw the American embassy. My teammates gave me a few gifts, one of which was a matroshka (not sure how to spell it in English), which is one of those wooden dolls with more dolls inside. Very pretty. They had cake and fruit for me also, and sang Happy Birthday to me (in English). They made me feel very welcomed and at home.

As I said, they keep us busy here. We have been to numerous monasteries (and I tell you, the U.S. doesn’t make churches like Russia), battlefields (War of 1812 against Napoleon), and Moscow (which is a new adventure every time you go). Russia is very rich with history, and you seldom go to any town where there is not some sort of historical monument, particularly World War II monuments (because the Russians lost over 20 million people in the war). This definitely would be the perfect place for my dad. We have been to Moscow several times. We’ve been to Red Square, inside the Kremlin, to the American Embassy (no, I did NOT do anything wrong!), to an amusement park, and, of course, shopping. Moscow is such a big city, I don’t think you could do everything it has to offer if you lived there your entire life. The other day we went to give an interview (to the personal reporter of President Putin), but the President took priority over us, so we ended up eating cake and drinking cappuccino at our sponsor’s restaurant on Red Square, touring the town’s cathedrals, shopping, eating, and attending the circus instead! As our club’s President said, “Because of President Putin, we’re having a great day!”

A few weeks ago we went to Krimsk, which is a city near the Black Sea. We helped give a camp for the Junior National team, which will spend the next week in Italy playing in the European Championship. We did get a chance to go to the beach, where I bought Harry Potter in Russian (for all of you who are laughing right now, you don’t know what you’re missing!). Krimsk was a nice place, very hot (for Russia, but more like Michigan in July), but we’re glad to be back and finished with a week’s worth of three-a-days.

Back in Tuchkovo we have been practicing, playing pool, playing ping pong (a lot), watching movies, and, of course, eating, eating, eating. We walk to the town center almost every day to grocery shop (everything they sell is fresh, and there are no grocery stores here in our town–only small markets). We have made friends in a clothing store, and we go there several times a week to chat. I ate dinner at one lady’s house…she made me Ukranian Borsch. Borsch is the best soup you will ever have, and I’ll be learning to make it soon. A few days ago one of my teammates took us to her home and taught us how to make a few things (since I don’t cook at all)–chicken soup, chicken, Russian salad, and Tvorig cake. The food here is excellent. Tvorig, in case you are wondering, is, well, milk curds. It’s delicious! Who would’ve thought? I just hope that they sell it back in the states!

Well, I can speak a little better than before. I get lots of help from everyone–teammates, coaches, club personnel, and friends. Every once in a while, I understand the gist of conversations, and I am getting better at picking out words I know. I’ve learned to read cyrillic, so I can at the very least sound out words (even though I butcher half of them). I can speak a lot of things (not really a great deal, but it’s a lot for me). Everyone’s favorite is, “What do you want from me!?” Everyone gets a big kick out of it. I have one friend, Ira (which is my name here too, because mine is too difficult to say), who is 15 and speaks English, German, Romanian, and Russian. She has been teaching me a lot, and told me yesterday that I’m not allowed to speak in English anymore (which will be difficult since I only know about 6 or 7 verbs by heart). It’s the best way to learn, though. I hope I will be able to speak by the time I leave. We’ll see!

The next round of the National Tournament starts on the 16th, so we’re getting ready for that. We haven’t had any real games lately, just practice games. I’m excited to play in real ones again. The last round of the National Tournament will be held the following week. There’s a lot of softball coming up…I just hope is stays warm. It’s been getting quite a bit colder as the summer progresses. Already had to break out the baseball pants!

That’s pretty much it for now! I’ll write again in a few weeks.

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