The Kremlin – Heart of Russia

For those of us who grew up during the “Cold War,” the word “Kremlin” has a particular connotation, not altogether warm and fuzzy. As far as I knew then, it was synonymous with the Soviet government, that cabal of mysterious leaders who, in Khrushchev’s words, would eventually “bury us.” Of course had I bothered, I could have discovered much more about the truth of the Kremlin, although its image probably would not have changed much in my imagination.

The word itself is more of a generic description than an actual name, somewhat the equivalent to the English word “citadel,” and as such is used to describe similar sites in other Russian cities such as Yaroslavl and Smolensk. It is the one in Moscow to which it almost invariably refers however, and it is that one that interests us now.

Recently I had the good fortune to visit Moscow and of course, could not have left without dedicating a good bit of time for a visit to the Kremlin. As I passed through the outer wall of the famous citadel, I couldn’t help but think that a few decades earlier I would have been immediately arrested and never seen again had I actually gotten this far. Times have changed, however, and the once forbidden Kremlin is now one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s not difficult at all to see why as soon as you pass through its mighty walls.

The first major attraction is found at the below street level entrance to the famous Kremlin Museum, and if not for the usually long line of visitors it could easily be missed and passed right by. What really draws the attention however, is the collection of cathedrals crowning the aptly named Cathedral Hill. There are three magnificent cathedrals there and two more churches to complete the set. If I had done my homework as a kid, I would have known that these religious structures not only existed in but dominated the Kremlin. But alas, I hadn’t done it so I was truly surprised to see such an imposing spiritual component of the heart of what President Reagan had called the “evil empire.”

If you can withstand the magnetic attraction of these beautiful buildings, it would be good to step over to the Kremlin Museum first and take advantage of the culture and history lessons it offers. Splendid examples of the enormous wealth of past empire are housed in its several sections and include items that you will likely never see outside its walls, ranging from the fur lined crowns of Russia’s first Tsars to the beautiful Faberge jeweled eggs of its last. You will leave the Museum with a much better sense of and feeling for the power and magnificence of Russia’s past empires and perhaps an insight into the psychology and character of today’s Russia.

After leaving the windowless galleries, stepping out into the fresh air to behold the architectural splendor of the Kremlin is a refreshing change. …

Christmas Vacation

The most wonderful time of the year is almost here. The kids are on their school break, and parents can not wait until they go back, the guests are making their way to their family dinners and the partridge is queuing up for his moment in the pear tree. Christmas movies have been playing in regular rotation. I usually save my favorite movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation until the big day, when the whole family can sit down and have a good laugh.

While the movie is a rip-roaring comedy, there are some scenes that if they happened in real life, there would not be a laughing matter. The scene with Uncle Lewis lighting a cigar next to a drawn out Christmas tree is one of my favorites. Many people prefer a real one. However they forget to add water regularly which can cause the tree to dry out and become a fire hazard.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, during the four year period 2003-2007, US fire departments responded to an average of 250 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year, causing an average of 14 deaths, 26 injuries, and $ 13.8 million in Direct property damage annually. Christmas tree fires are not a regular occurrence but based on these statistics, they can have serious ramifications.

Here are some tips so that you can have a safe Christmas without winding up as another statistic.

-If you leave your tree for a few days before you trim it inside your house, the tree will naturally open up. This ensures that the branches do not open up inside next to candles.

-Keeping your tree hydrated and moist over the holidays will greatly reduce the chances of a fire. Spraying it daily with water and keeping the base full of water will prevent dryness and make it more resistant against fire and flames.

-Don't overload your Christmas tree with too many lights. Using a power strip to connect multiple sets of lights will reduce the risk of overloading electrical circuits.

-It's important to keep it away from open flames such as candles and especially fireplaces and stoves.

Finally, keep pets and children away from your tree. Remember what happened to the cat in Christmas Vacation who was chewing on the wires. Children have been known to take unnecessary chances.

It's important that you and your family enjoy your Christmas Christmas tree on Christmas morning with presents all it. These basic Christmas tree tips can go a long way. …