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When a family visit means a trip to Siberia

Going grocery shopping is one of my favorite "tourist" activities. Supermarkets are much more compact but still have every possible thing you could need. Every time we went, they were packed with people shopping and talking in a language I am far from mastering. If I keep my mouth shut, most people don't notice me. Some peg my height as being a dead giveaway that I'm not from here.

Russian supermarkets have us beat. It's all in the variety. They carry many different items; they put fewer on display and employ a few people to help. At the checkout, the first question is how many bags you need. If you didn't bring your own, you can buy those plastic T-shirt bags for a nickel each, and then you step to the end of the line and bag your own groceries. One thing is for sure. Russians use far fewer plastic bags than we do, especially if you consider how many bags are pumped into our community's land fill and blow around in our neighborhoods. I wonder where all those nickels go?

Back at the house, at the kitchen table, casual family discussions refereed by Katerina reveal stories from the past. Her grandmother tells stories stretching back to the assassination of the Romanov Family by Lenin and the Soviets right downtown in a house near the river. There's an enormous cathedral there now called The Church on the Blood. They were the last of the notorious czar families that ruled the country for more than 400 years. After that, it was socialism and seclusion from the world from 1918 to 1991.

While America was emerging from The Great Depression and enjoying some of the most prosperous times our country has ever seen, my daughter's mother and family were certainly not thriving, but at least they could count on the bare necessities. Right around the time that we're engaging Iraq in the most technological war in history, the Soviet government falls and millions of Russians are plunged into a depression that economists say was twice as devastating as ours. Katerina was 8 years old.

Married to a soon-to-be first-generation American and having a beautiful child that has family on opposite sides of the earth has been an experience that has been very fulfilling for me on so many different levels. Right now, we're all hoping for a baby soon from my brother-in-law to give us another reason to visit!

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