Thursday, August 14, 2014

The pack out

It all started so auspiciously. The pre packout inspection was the most thorough I've seen, he was detailed, wanted to see absolutely everything and wrote down what was going where and how.  High hopes.

I even got a phone call early enough on the Friday before packout that I hadn't thought to call them yet. Confirmed the team would arrive between 8:30am-10:30am.

The team arrived well within the timeframe. There were three guys. My heart sank a bit but I cheered remembering a recent blog post I read of the packout power of three (apologies to the poster, I now can't find it amid all the packout blogging going around these days).

One guy started packing the downstairs UAB (90% of our air freight was piled in the study), one was in the kitchen working on UAB stuff there, and one guy started going through the kids' rooms packing whatever needed packing there.

Things started to go south rather quickly. Knowing the weather forecast, Terry and I each encouraged different team members to start on the outside stuff right after doing UAB because Monday would be clear but Tuesday rainy. Being ignored by people who are supposed to work for you doesn't really lead to good relations. By 5pm Monday we knew there was no way we'd finish in 2 days.  And, because the movers never touched the stuff outside, Terry and I had to drag it all back into the house or shed because the deluge that would become our Tuesday was already starting.

Tuesday was rainy as predicted, and the movers brought a 4th person. Things moved a bit faster but by mid-morning we'd added a third day and I had cancelled or rescheduled all my consultations for Wednesday.  To say I was annoyed would be an understatement. We'll come back to this.  By 5pm all the HHE was out of the house (thank you Mother Nature for the brief interlude in your deluge so the movers could actually move the boxes out of the house, we thought they would have to wait until Wednesday.)  The movers wanted to quit for the day.  The team lead said he was sure we could probably be finished on time Wednesday. I said "probably" wasn't enough reassurance, they needed to stay a bit longer. A bit after 6pm we all went home.

Boy, was I glad I made them stay Tuesday when 4pm Wednesday rolled around and they weren't done!

Why was I so annoyed at the extension of packout? Let's compare:  Philly 1200 sq. ft. rowhome, 5 movers. St. Petersburg only HHE/UAB, no storage, 4 movers. So how anyone could expect 3 movers to pack out a 4 bedroom home full of stuff, furniture and tools is beyond me. What was the purpose of that detailed prepackout survey if it was so entirely useless? We had a full day on Wednesday.  This means the move took 50% longer than expected. I don't think it unfair to say usually if someone is wrong by 50% we question that person's opinions/skills/expertise.

I know my husband's answer to the problem for next time: own less stuff. There is a tiny chance I will try out such a possibility before our next packout.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Terry's dad had the kids for the weekend a couple of weeks ago. It was our only chance. We cashed in a bunch of miles and booked a room downtown, right by Reading Terminal Market, henceforth known as RTM. We packed an overnight bag and threw all the ice packs in the cooler. We knew what a weekend in Philly meant - food!

We drove up first thing Saturday morning. Went to RTM and bought as much Lancaster county-grown steak as we thought we could eat in 3 weeks. Managed an early check-in. Moved the car, went to lunch at Vietnam and bought a soft pretzel at RTM on our way back to the hotel. I'd totally forgotten what a pretzel could taste like. Took a nap, went back for another pretzel on our way to Italian Market. Wandered around, popping into stores, buying fresh mozzarella in marinade and duck prosciutto and blueberries. Wishing we'd brought 2 coolers. One more stop by RTM - we had thought we'd find cannoli in Italian Market but hadn't.  Back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Mmmm Malik's. We were worried it wouldn't be as good as we remembered. We were the only patrons in the entire restaurant and it took an hour to get our food. But - worth it! And we drove by our old Philly house for the first time since we moved. The tree we planted is gone, whether it died a natural death or not is up for grabs.

Sunday morning we ate the desserts we hadn't finished Saturday.  Yet again to RTM, this time for beef ribs as we hadn't managed to fit that into our calorie budget. We finished our trip with New York style pizza. Then on to Terry's sister's house, which is conveniently right between our house and Terry's dad's. We met up, had an early dinner and took possession of the children. And got to taste some treats we'd bought at RTM to bring over - the cinnamon rolls really weren't anything to write home about, which was surprising, but the pecan rolls were absolutely delicious.

I hadn't realized how much I missed Philly. When we were there last year I didn't feel like this, but then I was also going through stress at dealing with Alex's medical issues and sadness at leaving Piter so abruptly. This time we left with heavy hearts and a heavy cooler of delicious reminders.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I had my Russian language exam Friday. I went into it feeling confident - I knew I was at the right level, my teachers has prepared me well for the general format of the exam, doing lots of practices to get me comfortable with it.

The end result was the 2 I needed, so it means I go to post on time!

One part that was very funny to me: After giving me the score, the tester asked if I wanted feedback. Of course!  Well, the gist of the feedback was that I needed to work on everything. It was funny to me because level 2 is a very low level of ability so of course I needed to work on everything - if I didn't, I should have gotten a higher score. For the record, the score is spot-on.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The travails of two working parents

Yesterday I got a phone call from Zoltan's preschool. His eye was red and swollen, he might have conjunctivitis, someone needs to come get him.  I call Terry. "But I am about to go into a meeting."  "But I need to go to class, there's a zero absence policy and I test in 2 days." Long pause.

We agree that he'll go get her, but he's in Virginia and needs to get the shuttle back to DC to metro home. I go back to work (well, studying, but that's my job right now). Then it's time for class. An hour after our last conversation my phone rings. "I'm stuck in traffic on 395." @$(%@!*$)%)(*

So I got to discover how not exactly 100% attendance is required, because, obviously, there are certain exceptions. We're lucky I took the car, because it would have been a lot longer to get there otherwise.

And of course by the time I get there, the area around his eye is a tiny bit swollen but otherwise fine. Not red, not gooky. He must have gotten something in it, and after it was flushed out it took a bit of time to heal from it. But as I was there, I took him home. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our house is rented!

Our property manager is someone I grew up with - it just happens he is a property manager in this area so of course he's the guy I called. He came by, went through the house telling us what we needed to do and what we could do if we wanted. We got the place ready and in due time the house went up for rent.

The conventional wisdom I had heard was that you don't want to be hanging around when people come through to look at your house. Find a park, neighbor, or errand to run, but in any case don't be home. Well.

We must have done something right marketing-wise because we had about 6-7 people come through in the first few days after the listing. For three of the people, we were indeed home when they came through - it just happened that way. It turns out those are exactly the three people who put in applications to rent the place!

We chose one application, there was a little back and forth and in the end we have a 2 year lease signed, sealed and delivered!

Now I really need to pass the Russian exam as we will be homeless two weeks after I take it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

We took advantage of the extra day off for the 4th to make a cabin trip. My mom was here that week, she stayed with the kids for the 4 workdays and then came with us for the long weekend. Between the extra passenger and the need to bring a ton of stuff up there that weekend we ended up driving two cars.

[the worst of times]
One hour out of town I hear "I need the potty."  "I do too."

One half hour after that stop, "I need the potty again. I need to make a poopy."

Another hour later I am hungry and grumpy and need to stop for a snack.

Almost two hours later we stop for lunch and groceries.  One last half hour later we are finally there.

Terry starts unloading the truck while I unload the children and the Bubby and start putting the kitchen things away. He calls from the basement to come down. I enter the room and gasp in horror. The floor is soaking wet and the back wall is speckled black. Mold. We turn the dehumidifier back on - oops - and grab mop, bleach, rubber gloves, rags. One door is so nastily moldy that Terry takes it off its hinges and brings it outside.  We become very thankful for the decision to use the semi-gloss paint downstairs as the mold wipes right off the wall. We also become very thankful for the Bubby, who entertains the kids upstairs, feeds them a snack, and generally keeps them from coming downstairs to the mold and bleach dangers that await them there.

[the best of times]
We drove on the 4th itself. Learning from past mistakes, we planned to keep the kids up for the fireworks. This meant late nap and late dinner. Everyone except Terry napped. Afterwards the kids and I went up the hill to check things out. We saw the mature trees (aka the old apples, the plum, and the various Adams County new fruit trees). We picked black raspberries - we probably got a whole cup of them.  For dinner we grilled the steaks we'd bought on the way up, as well as corn and potatoes. Later came the fire and S'mores. When it got dark we pulled out the glow-sticks and let the kids pick two each. We watched the fireworks from the deck - there were some to the side, barely visible through the trees but there was a second display right smack in front of us on the water. The kids were beside themselves with excitement and happiness. Turns out fireworks are their very most favorite thing.

The next day we went to the beach for a while. I hadn't planned to go in the water so hadn't worn a bathing suit. There was an "emergency" - the beach ball went beyond the marker where Alex was allowed to go - so I ended up swimming in my shorts and Tshirt. And glasses But I did rescue the ball. The kids really do love the water. When it was time to head home for lunch and nap, they were reluctant to leave but handled it remarkably well given that they had not slept nearly enough the night before. Our traditional dinner at Grotto's and another round of S'mores back home and it was once again bedtime.

On Sunday, Terry's dad and step-mom came. The kids told me how excited they were to have two sets of grandparents together at the same time. And it was pretty cool. With so many grandparents I felt not a shred of guilt leaving them all together and Terry and I went to check on the game commission yearling trees. This was our 2nd or 3rd try at rebuilding a healthy forest and Terry told me later he planned to give up if this wasn't successful.  One of the main differences this time was that he had done a lot to prepare the area where the trees were planted - cleared all the weeds and ferns for a decent perimeter - and some lucky trees also got the assistance of tubing. I am hoping he will pop on one day and blog about the reforestation dream and adventure. This time, well more than 50% of the oaks were still alive and I think 75% of the cherry trees were alive. One cherry was maybe 3 inches off the ground with two tiny leaves, surrounded by ferns reaching past my knees. I was sure there was nothing there to find, but even that little baby persevered despite all the competition.  We had to clear more weeds and ferns, but they seem like many of them will actually make it. Next year will be the big test.

[back to the worst of times]
And then it was time to leave. We got all the kids's stuff situated with the Pennsylvania grandparents and Terry, mom and I took off for home.  Usual 4th of July weekend traffic meant that although we only stopped once, it took just as long to get home as it took to get there, and on the way there we had a sit down lunch. The "highlight" of the awful trip home was the major delay on Route 15 that led Terry to decide to get off at Gettysburg and find another way. I followed him dutifully, past the center of town, past the horse-drawn carriage, and right through Gettysburg battlefields. Well, it was in the battlefields I turned to my mom and said "We are so lost. We're going to have to turn around eventually."

Silly me for doubting my husband who can follow the sun and carries a map in his head. Soon thereafter we saw the highway we'd gotten off of about 5 miles back (but now we were 5 miles farther along it) and traffic was moving. As in, going the speed limit.  From there on out the traffic was bad but not as bad as we'd expected. We got home before bedtime, it was a win.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Russian language highlight of the day

Background: language instruction at FSI in generally thus: 3 hours of speaking practice/lesson; 2 hours of reading practice/lesson; one hour of language lab; 2 hours of homework. Sometimes people have the same teacher for reading and for speaking and sometimes they are different. Right now I have different teachers for the two.

The highlight: My reading teacher is amazed at how well I guess the meaning of an article when I actually know so few of the words. He thinks my ability to guess is even more impressive than if I actually knew what the article said.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The goodbyes begin

Several people from my A-100 class left for post this past week. Several others have finished their time at FSI and are doing their other stuff (leave, consultations, outside-of-FSI-training) and will hit the road within the next few weeks. It's funny how going from post to post is bittersweet and nostalgic, but this is the first time I really feel like I am leaving something. My language training is the last FSI training I get and I'm in it right now. There are several people I'm making plans to see and I know this time will be the last time for a while. My mom is coming this week to spend time with the kids - unless she comes to Astana, when Terry drives her to the airport at the end of her week here it will be the last time we see her until R&R.

On the upside, we found our Rockville version of shashlik in the park. There's a wonderful water ice place across the street from a playground. Sugar the kids all up with a frozen treat then work it off. Meet up with friends and it's a party. We'll be there once a week until we leave!

Monday, June 23, 2014


Last week I began my six little weeks of Russian language training that is supposed to get me to the level I need to be to be allowed to go to post and talk to people in their (likely but not 100% certainly) native tongue. I will have enough knowledge not to accidentally start an international incident, but not enough to really have a deep, meaningful conversation. My hope is that by going out there and talking to people frequently enough the ability will deepen and eventually I will speak well enough to hold my own in the kind of conversation Terry and I have over the dinner table - in Russian. This may take longer than my two year posting!

But I digress.

Language training at FSI is a unique and interesting experience. Because we are learning language for our jobs, we discuss current events and political theory rather than the price of apples in the market or where one can find an English speaking hockey instructor (However, if anyone knows where to find an English speaking hockey instructor in Astana, please let me know!). Yes I can say "according to experts, earthquakes may be caused by drilling for gas" (aka fracking, but I don't know how to say fracking), but not "Oh look my child is hitting yours with a shovel. Let's stop that."

When I went to Tver for my two week intensive study, I had four hours one-on-one with an instructor. Including rewriting my notes and doing assigned homework, I spent another 2-3 hours at least on instructive learning. I napped every day. At FSI we have 5 hours of classroom instruction - just me and one other student with our instructor - and an hour in the language lab doing online exercises. We have homework every night. Our teacher told us to spend no more than 2 hours on the homework, if it took longer just don't worry about it. At the end of every class hour we have a quick break and each time the teacher says "pereorif" I look up surprised that so much time has already passed. However, there's no napping.

My commute is between 45-75 minutes and I have to drive because of the schedule - the last shuttle to the metro is 10 minutes after my last class and it's a long walk or expensive cab ride if I miss it. I barely participate in family activities anymore such as dinner, doing laundry or running errands. I desperately miss taking naps. I have resigned myself to a six week daily coffee habit and hope my clothes still fit at the end of it.

This may seen like complaining but I only mean to paint the picture of what the day looks like. Well, the commute part was complaining. If it weren't for my nervousness about the exam at the end of all this I would be celebrating - my only complaint is that I don't have more time!