So You Think You Can Master The Cyrillic Alphabet?

I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn a second (or more) language. But how many of you studied a language for so many years through high school and/or college only to totally feel useless at it when you meet a native speaker? Yeah, thanks for nothing, Spanish! Am I right?

Well, after a year and a half in Russia, followed by a minor in the language, I took a two year hiatus from ever speaking it out loud. Turns out, anyone can also forget important aspects of a language. When I speak, I sound like I don’t even know what a verb declension is now. But I promise I really do read and listen and write fairly well still! And yet, this week I was entertained to realize that I had no idea what the ABC song sounds like in Russian, let alone the order of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet! You’re all thinking I’m full of it. I know. I mean, I guess I had a general idea of where all the letters went based on my constant dictionary searches, but I had a tabbed dictionary, so that’s about all the alphabet study I ever did.

Luckily for me, having a toddler gives me a chance to review all my basics and start from the beginning again! I’m super excited to introduce him to Russian, and I am happy to accept any advice, resources, or encouragement you have! This week we’re off to a great start!

Visit my store to find some awesome Russian resources!
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Color-Me-Culturally-Confident

We watched the Baby Einstein’s Language Nursery, which I used (for myself, because I love Baby Einstein) to learn the alphabet song! I have spent the past three days singing the song while we did our normal things. And while the boys napped, I’ve been making some flashcards. Yesterday was the first time Trey and I actually went through the flashcards a couple of times, arguing over whether I was holding a shark or an акула, a horse or a лошадь, and so on.

Now, drumroll for Trey, please!

When Tyler came home last night, he drug my attention to Trey, who was sitting at the table trying to sing the Russian ABC song to himself! That was a proud mom moment. He’s such a fast little learner!

So, if you think it’s your time to learn (or relearn) Russian, I’m putting together tons of simple activities to help along the way! Flashcards, coloring sheets, little stories and printable activities, and access to recordings of my own practices (like this one below -yikes)! This is just my very first portion of what I have lined up, so head over to my store at Teachers Pay Teachers to check it out, and please share it with anyone who might also want to learn or teach Russian!

Yikes! That is rough, but every practice counts! Get these flashcards for yourself at
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Color-Me-Culturally-Confident.

I’m always working on different kinds of resources, so if you have ideas of things you want, send me an idea! And if you send me a really great idea, I’ll make you one for free before putting it on my store! So think about what you and your kids are interested in learning about different languages, countries, religions, and people! I’d love to hear what you have in mind!

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Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage) Recipe from Moldova

My first experience eating sarmale was in the homiest Russian apartment with my favorite Armenians in the world. This is a popular Eastern European dish, and today’s recipe is inspired by a dive into Moldova’s beautiful culture! Maybe I just have a bizarre love for cooked cabbage, but this dish was honestly one of my favorites during my seventeen months in Russia! And I had a lot of foods from a lot of different places in that time period! I hope you enjoy it even half as much as I did.

Prep Time = 30 – 45 minutes       Cook Time = 40 minutes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup long grain rice

1 1/2 lbs pork, diced

1 lb carrots, chopped

1 large white or yellow onion, chopped

5 Tbsp tomato sauce

1 Tablespoon dried dill weed

1/4 cup of a subtle oil- sunflower seed, vegetable, or corn

2 Tablespoons parsley

I medium cabbage

Instructions

  1. If you’re like me, you can probably be happy with just about any kind of rice. In this recipe, I won’t dictate how you should do your rice. Minute Rice, Jasmine Rice, even Brown Rice is a favorite in our house. You can get crazy and mix it up a little. Just follow the directions on the rice bag/box, and you’ll be fine. It’ll be mixed in later.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of your oil of choice in a large pan, preferably a skillet, and add the onions, carrots, parsley and tomato paste. Cook until the vegetables are tender. If your rice is ready, add the vegetables in with the rice. Otherwise, put these in a bowl to the side.
  3. Heat 2 more tablespoons of oil and add the pork. Cook it through. Again, mix this in with the vegetables and rice, if the rice is ready. Add your dill now and stir the mixture.
  4. Peel apart your cabbage leaves gently  and bring to boil in a couple inches of water until they are soft. This should take about 10 minutes after the water boils.
  5. Remove most of the cabbage leaves, but leave just enough to cover the bottom of the pot. They will offer more flavor, and also keep your rolls from burning.
  6. On each of the cooked leaves, place a spoonful of the pork/vegetable/rice mixture, and then roll the leaf like an eggroll.

This was my first time cooking sarmale, and though my cabbage leaves fell apart when I tried to roll them, it tastes great and was so easy to do!

Enjoy this with your friends, family, neighbors, and don’t forget to tell them all a few new facts about Moldova, where your delicious meal was inspired! Then, be sure to share your experience below! Let us know any tips, tricks, successes, or funny failed attempts you may have!

If you want more recipes, book suggestions, song, games, and learning activities from around the world, then be sure to join my monthly newsletter!

Mid-Autumn Festival

In my time with VIPKID, I have taught a LOT of lessons about the difference between American and Chinese cultures, and some units focus in more specifically on the differences between our countries’ holidays. One of the biggest celebrations in China is the Mid-Autumn Festival. As the name suggests, this holiday happens in the middle of Autumn, lining up with a full moon and harvest.

How do people celebrate this festival?

Like with any good holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with food, of course! A small, round, very dense pastry called a mooncake is sold and exchanged as a gift. Now, while I usually advocate for trying all traditional foods at least once, this is one I wouldn’t push you to taste. They’re deceptively beautiful little creations, and I imagine they take a lot of time to make. Even most of my students say they don’t like them, which is so funny and confusing to me.

Chinese tradition has a special place for the moon, as full moons symbolize times for family gatherings. Family dinners with dumplings and rice cakes are the usual celebration for this holiday, and thanks to modern transportation it is becoming more common to make small family trips over the holiday to visit extended family and friends. It is so fun to see the gifts my students show off from their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles after each holiday vacation. Or even more likely, I get to meet the family in the middle of the lesson!

How long ago did this tradition start?

Clear back in the Zhou Dynasty (1045-221BC) a practice of worshipping the moon was spread among the people of China. They would pray and give offerings to the moon in hope of receiving a good harvest through the next year.

Then moon gazing became a thing. It sounds very Hollywood to me, but I picture balcony parties under the full moon with all the highest level officials of China drinking wine and admiring the moon together.

Eventually someone brought a fancy mooncake to a fancy moon party during the Mongol reign. Now I’m no fan of mooncakes, as mentioned before, so I can imagine why some people started using them to pass along anti-Mongol messages using the treats.

Finally, it became a national holiday. However, in recent years a lot of the hype has died back down and its just a day without work and school where families can gather – and no moon worship is involved.

What legends are told about the moon?

I was only aware of one such legend – the popular Chang’e legend. But I came across this website that has so much more fun information and legends that you can find about the Mid-Autumn Festival and other Chinese traditions! CLICK HERE

The Legend of Chang E describes a time long ago when ten suns used to shine, causing a blistering heat across the Earth that was almost intolerable for people. An archer name HouYi wanted to fix this problem for everyone, so he took his bow and arrows and shot down nine of the suns! With only one sun in the sky, the Earth was much cooler. As a reward for his heroism, HouYi received the elixir of immortality. He did not want to be immortal without his lovely wife, Chang’e, so he gave the elixir to her for safekeeping. Unfortunately, while HouYi went hunting his apprentice, Fengmeng, broke in to steal the elixir. Rather than allow him to take away the elixir, Chang’e drank it herself. Now immortal, Chang’e flew to the moon where she could be somewhat close to look over her husband. HouYi was distraught when he learned what had happened and where Chang’e had gone, so he would often set out her favorite cakes and pray to the moon where his wife now lives.

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of how you can celebrate the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival! If you would like to download “The Legend of Chang’e” comic strip, just sign up below! You’ll receive access to all of my free documents as well as monthly newsletters with more fun cultural activities!

How to Decipher Your Grandma’s Navajo Taco Recipe

My whole life I have been fed Navajo tacos. Whenever there were big events or guests, my mom had a few go-to recipes to feed a crowd, and one of those options was Navajo tacos! My husband thought it was a weird joke when I told him that my mom used to make us sort the pinto beans and acted like it was a fun game or competition. But that was my real childhood! When my family was done with the beans and toppings, we’d move in on the leftover fry bread for dessert. Some good ol’ multipurpose fry bread and honey!

The first time I tried to make it myself was years ago in Russia! My dear Navajo companion was crashing at my apartment that weekend, so we decided on a little taste of home for dinner. It was a disaster. I don’t remember what went wrong, but I know that we were embarrassed at the outcome. So every time I’ve thought about making them since then, I just think that if the two of us couldn’t do it together, then there’s no way I’ll manage on my own and toss the plan.

That is, until this last weekend.

I did it! And it was so easy! My mom have me the recipe and said, “Just follow this exactly. It’s tried and proven!” I was like, sweet! This looks super easy! Any recipe card as dirty as the one she sent has to be good.

Buuuut it was also written 20 years ago by a small town woman, who is a much more confident cook than myself, and I had so many questions about the cooking instructions.

So let me help fill in the gaps with things I was told by my mom and sister who patiently answered my phone calls all day as I prepared for this meal.

Ingredients:

  • 4 (15oz) cans cooked pinto beans OR 4 cups dried pinto beans
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion
  • garlic salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 packages of yeast
  • 1 Tbsp margarine (melted)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sat
  • 6-7 cups of flour

Meat and Bean Instructions

1. If you are using dried pinto beans, they’ll need to sit in the slow cooker for about 8 hours so start early! You’ll want to check your dried beans and make sure to sort out any small rocks that may have found their way into the bag. Then put the beans in the slow cooker and cover with water for 8 hours. Brown the meat and add it and onions in with about 2 or 3 hours to go. If you are using canned beans, do NOT drain them. Just pour the entire can in.

2. Brown the meat and sautee the onions before throwing them in.

3. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste. (My sister suggests lots of salt and pepper.)

4. Cook all ingredients together for 2-3 hours.

Fry Bread Instructions

  1. Put 2 cups of warm water in a bowl and add the yeast, slowly mixing it until it dissolves.
  2. Mix in the other ingredients, withholding the flour til last.
  3. Add in the flour immediately after the other ingredients. (If you’re like me and realize you have to run to the neighbors to borrow some flour, the yeast will start to rise even without the flour)
  4. Knead it together by hand or in your kitchen aid until it’s nice and stretchy.
  5. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  6. Roll into balls and then stretch them into 6-8 inch circles.
  7. Warm up about 1/3 cup of vegetable oil on the stove to medium-high heat, and fry the dough on each side for about 20-30 seconds.

The Lemon Tree

Do you know the difference between a keffiyeh and a fez? Or are those words totally new to you? What about the term “Nakba”? If you answered ‘no’, then that makes me feel better because I didn’t know before reading this book either!

“The Lemon Tree” addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict from the 1930s on. If you can send me a word that has an edge of the hard feeling of “ignorant”, but also encompasses “its my teachers fault for not ever covering that”, then that would sum up how I felt at certain points in this book. Like, why is it so hard for me to accept that WWII had such a huge impact on Palestine as to cause this ongoing fight I grew up being (sort of) aware of? And why wouldn’t the conflict between JEWS and Palestinians have roots in a WWII-coping Palestine. It’s not called a “world war” unless it affects the majority of the world, right? Of course the mass scale migration of Jews into Palestine started at a time when they were being hunted like witches. Some world history student I was, right?!

This book is so interesting not only for the crash course in a major section of world history, but also because it’s a true story of what I’m going to christian “cultural frenemies”. Dalia and Bashir have this incredibly unique and mature connection that just leaves you wondering how they do it – how are they so kind to each other when they feel so strongly against each other at the same time. It’s the kind of stuff you really just can’t make up. **Spoiler Alert** At times I felt certain that they would either become romantic, or someone or their family member would tragically die. Neither of those happened. And still, the story is so so gripping and thought-provoking. It’s most definitely a worthwhile read.

You can also learn more by looking at Dalia and Bashir’s peace center, which I think is really amazing, for Israeli and Palestinian children here:

http://www.friendsofopenhouse.co.il/

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