Monday, August 24, 2015

Dinnertime, foreign service style

Last night for dinner we had steaks, snow peas, and baked potato. Halfway through the meal Terry looked at me and said "You know, these peas cost more than the steaks."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Polite society

Kazakhstanis are known for kindness, generosity and tolerance.  Here's something I am really getting used to and will miss when we move on.  When you let someone into traffic, or quite frankly even when they cut you off, they put on their hazard lights for a few blinks to say "thank you."  It turns out that being acknowledged for doing something for someone, even if they forced you to do it, reduces stress and road rage by 50% (using my very non-scientific method of asking Terry and mentally rating how I feel.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Our summer vacation

What did we do on summer vacation?

We spent as much time at the cabin as humanly possible, although as always it wasn't enough. Cabin highlights included:
  • counting the trees (planted last year) that are still alive. Not as many as we wanted, but at least the counting required us to go through a nice nice hike in the woods.  
  • grilling dinner and roasting marshmallows over the fire
  • fighting over who got to spend time in the hammock. Next year we put up a second one. 
  • beach time! for some reason my children get along like Brady Bunch children when they are in or near water, and that's the only time.
  • an "after dark" night hike up to the field to look at the stars. Mommy misjudged the time, we went to early, and the kids were bored before the constellations were visible. Next year we'll try again.
  • Walking straight through the lower part of the property that we are studiously adversely possessing. We've been mowing it and are considering putting in a pond. That would certainly be notorious!
We went to Massachusetts to see my family. Highlights included:
  • going into Boston to see my dad and riding both the Duck boat and the swan boats. Alex even got to drive!
  • shopping with Bubby. No, seriously, the kids like clothes shopping.
  • Terry grilling dinner in a thunderstorm. He pulled the grill right up to the sliding glass doors so he could get the least of his body outside and still cook food over fire.
  • the epic game of Uno where my mom finally pulled out of last place when she decided to apply herself.
  • spending time with both of the kids' uncles at one time, a feat normally accomplished once every 5 years or so.
  • (for Terry and me) stumbling upon some kind of open air music performance at the park by the water in Newburyport on our date night.
We managed to hit one cousin's kid's graduation party. We managed a few date nights while grandparents got to spend quality time with the kids. We got to see some friends although not nearly enough.  We got to see some siblings although not nearly enough. Terry and I went ice skating one afternoon while the kids napped.  We saw movies in the movie theater (in English); spent loads of time at the grocery store; shopped for a year's worth of [fill in the blank]; left the kids in grandparent care in order to run errands; and managed to glut ourselves on various sorely missed food items.

Bless America! See you again next year!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bless America!

One of the many blessings of annual trips home is we appreciate our country in ways that people who don't leave it for extended periods of time can't.  I don't think I will ever tire of an American grocery store even after we retire and spend decades in one place. So much stuff. So many choices. Thank you America, for having sugar snap peas, fresh green beans, endless sweet corn, steak, bacon (both piggy and turkey varieties), hot dogs, Turkey Hill All Natural ice cream, any kind of otherwise dairy food in a dairy free option (Alex has eaten her own weight in Tofutti Cuties). And when I go through the produce section, it is possible that I may not find even one rotting piece of fruit, even if I am looking for it. I think I gained 5lb in our first week. We've eaten Chinese, Thai, BBQ, Nepalese, real PA pizza, cheesesteaks (No, NOT with "whiz". The better, Lehigh Valley style with Provolone and tomato sauce).

It's mostly the food, but it is not just the food. I speak the language fluently. "Graduate school in this language" level of fluency, truth be told. It means I can communicate anything I want with anyone I want. Customer service? Ooooh. Nobody does customer service like good ol' USA - except the Japanese. But here, as aforementioned and how we can distinguish from Japan, I speak the language. And, for the most part, things just work properly here. This bears repeating. Things just work properly here. Until you live somewhere that things just don't work I don't know if you can have the same level of appreciation. Maybe you can. I didn't.

It's easy to watch the news and figure our country is going to hell in a handbasket. But the on-the-ground truth is that there just isn't anywhere quite like home.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer vacation, Foreign Service style

It's summer in the foreign service, which means we are on a several week whirlwind trip to see as much family and as many friends as possible, plus handle a year's worth of medical needs, grocery, clothing, and other purchases, and maybe get some "relaxing" done at the cabin.

We had dentist appointments last week. While checking out one of the kids, the hygienist asked when we would go anywhere for summer vacation this year.  We both just looked at her.  "This is our summer vacation," I explained.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July!

Well, picnics and fireworks and red, white and blue weren't in tonight's plan here in Astana but I did manage to get a little of 'Murica ... went to see Terminator: Genesis and it was IN ENGLISH!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Astana Airport



Image result for astana airport photosIt has been quite a week for us, Astana Airport. It all started when my flight from Istanbul touched down at 6am on Friday morning. You had no idea that you'd be seeing me again in fewer than 24 hours, as I brought my family over so they could go home (a.k.a. 'Murca. Which is something I never, ever call it.) And then again 12 hours later to pick up the delegation.

Sunday is a day of rest, as we all know. In our case Monday was as well. But Tuesday our 5am date happened as scheduled. And Wednesday. Ah, Wednesday, when I went to Almaty for the day.

One pick up, one drop off, one inbound, one outbound. We've watched the sunrise together a lot this week, dear Astana airport. I'm glad to know I have a whole week before I see you again!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Spring Days

One of the days we were in England we went into Hexham and it turns out a spring fete was going on.  There was live music in a park, and plenty of food trucks, sweets, and activities for the kids.

Alex loved her horseback ride. Zoltan refused to go.  They both loved their face paint though!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Peacocks!

The peacocks like biscuits ("cookie" to you Yanks ... well, um ... us Yanks)  It must be mating season because the two males with long feathers kept yelling at each other and shaking those tailfeathers

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Alnwick Castle

When we went to England, we were desperate to find a book long enough to keep Alex's attention for more than an hour because we didn't have enough space or weight to carry as many of her usual books as it would take to make the trip.  I thought Harry Potter would be the perfect complement to an English vacation.

She stubbornly refused to read it. In retrospect we should have had her watch the movie first.

The scene in the first movie where they have their first flying lesson?  Alnwick Castle, about 1.5 hours' trip from the hotel.  Turns out a Downton Abbey Christmas Special got filmed there too.

The place is impressive, with several smaller museums in various towers, the main State Rooms beautifully decorated, a library I could kill for, and for the kids a whole Knight's Quest area with costumes for dressup, activities to pursue (they made soap) and medieval games to learn to play. In addition, for the older and/or braver ones, a Dragon Quest that was like a tamed-down version of a haunted house but with the addition of riddles and games to solve to get the answer to the Quest.  And, finally, the broomstick flying lesson.  Because there must be a broomstick flying lesson. It went way longer than we expected so halfway through Zoltan got bored and tired and went to sit down.