Tuesday, September 20, 2016

We've got wheels!

This one is a good one. A really good one. Our car got packed up to head out of Astana about six weeks ago.  On Thursday afternoon it was delivered.  By Thursday evening it was registered, insured, plated and ready to go. We drove it to work Friday.

Let's hope this didn't use up all of our shipment good mojo.  We still have the most important shipment - HHE from post - yet to arrive.

Monday, September 19, 2016

In the last days of Astana ...

[Oops, somehow this never got published....]

In the two weeks before packout we had excitement - some serious stuff, some less serious, some personal, some work-related.

We learned that the route we intended to fly - involving a first leg of Astana to Vienna - had been cancelled at the last minute about every other flight or perhaps even more often during the last two months, with increasing frequency, and would officially cease to exist the day after our intended flight. My orders had me stopping in Vienna, so to change my flights required all the bureaucracy and paperwork one might think accompanied something called "changing my orders." Presumably, as more and more Astana-ians discovered the fate of the Astana-Vienna leg they would also be working to change their flights, possibly making three seats unavailable on our intended day. Although I was a near-hysterical bundle of stress for about 4-5 days, that was all the time it took to get everything done and dusted, as my British friends say.

Terry has a family emergency that sent him back to the USA for about 10 days, arriving back in Astana 5 calendar days before packout.

My boss, who I adore and we have an excellent working relationship, had been on holiday and was meant to return for my last 2 weeks at work. After one and a half days in the office he had to fly back out and only returned about 15 hours before my departure - so although we got to say goodbye, we did not work together again.

On a positive, note, my successor arrived three weeks before my departure - overlap is an unheard-of blessing in the foreign service world.  A major event got scheduled for one of my days of packout and although I did have to devote endless time and energy to preparing the event, she was able to take over on the day.  Also, although it took longer than expected, I was eventually able to focus my time on handover rather than current issues while she worked on the issue of the day, and managed to get done everything absolutely necessary before heading out on my last day of work at a normal time.

And of course, nobody is indispensable, time marches on, and by the time our airplane hit cruising altitude the spaces we occupied in Astana had likely already been filled in with suitable replacements. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Language training

We are back at work, which means we are in language training. During the next several months our full time jobs plus off-time hobbies will be to learn German.  I can't stress enough how happy I am right now.  Unlike Russian, which I beat my head against for six years and didn't seem to get much for the effort, I am already learning a LOT and making notable progress in being able to talk to people about simple things (What is your name, where are you from, do you have children, etc).

We're also providing endless amusement to our lovely au pair, as we try out new words or ask her questions.

The commute just might kill us though. My desperate hope is that when the metro system is closer to operational level all these extra drivers will go back to riding the train. There should be a rule that if a person leaves his or her home at 6:30am there should be no traffic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hungry Harvest

A fellow foreign service officer posted something on Facebook about Hungry Harvest, which alerted us to this organization's existence. The gist is that they recover fruits and veggies that stores won't sell but that are perfectly good, and deliver a box of produce to your home on a weekly, or every two weeks, basis. One awesomeness is that they send an email the day before to let you know what's coming.

We got our first delivery this weekend and I should have taken photos.

Alex's comment was she likes Hungry Harvest because it's the only time in the summer I let her eat apples (we had a bunch of apples in the box. She could happily eat apples every day and apples as her only fruit; I say she needs greater diversity of nutrients. I also noted to her that it is no longer summer.)

Like a CSA, the random assortment of produce encourages us to try new foods or, if we are familiar with everything, try new recipes. Some peppers we hadn't had before, plus way more green peppers than normally enter my home and some enormous tomatoes meant we made homemade salsa. I will now put green peppers on our "never" list - yes, they even let you choose a select number of foods you either love and always want if they have, or foods you hate and never want to see. Six green peppers is a bit much for us, as only Terry likes them.

Tonight we cooked up the broccoli rabe that landed in our box and now Terry is dying for a road trip to DiNic's in Philly. I can't remember the last time I even saw broccoli rabe in a store.

Every last item in our boxes was completely appropriately edible, if a few veggies were not completely crisp (let them soak in water a bit and most veggies perk right up, worked marvels with the huge head of red leaf cabbage). And Terry didn't love the apples, although they were gobbled up by the rest of the family.

On the off chance someone in the Hungry Harvest service area is reading this and wants to try it out - use my name "Lynne Madnick" in the field where they ask whether someone recommended them to you and you and I will both get 50% off our next (your first) order. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Home Leave

The kids and I left Kazakhstan, most likely (but in this crazy world never say never) forever, on August 1.

it feels like a lifetime ago.  When we leave post it always feels like we had been there forever, that we left forever ago, that everything has changed. In the real world, it's been 31 days.

We have spent nights in three states. We have slept in six different homes as well as hotels. Children have spent time with every grandparent. We've been in the car too much, and at the cabin too little. I nearly started crying with joy in Whole Foods while loading my cart with non-dairy cheese, yogurt, ice cream and milk. Alex brought a cheese sandwich to school for lunch.

Nicole, our au pair, arrives at our house tomorrow. We start class next week.  The kids have reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. They start some after school activities in a few weeks. We have painted a lot more of the house than originally planned. We have fixed many things and many things remain to be fixed. We fixed up both kids' rooms to be awesome. Terry created another epic two-story UAB-box fort.

We're back!!!!

Friday, August 5, 2016

The upgrade

Dear Business Class,

You've changed in the years since we hung out together regularly.  Mostly, for the better. Back in the day I could sleep in any airplane seat, but these days I truly appreciate that fold-flat feature. Sorry none of us slept any more than usual (1-2 hours) even with your full sized, comfy pillow, full sized, warm blanket, and, again, the fold flat.  The extra attention from staff; real plates, glasses, and cutlery; and fruit (twice, once as a snack and once with breakfast!!) were a huge hit. I'm a little embarrassed to mention how baffled the remote control for the TV made me, but seriously, there was nothing to indicate that little square was a motion sensor in addition to being a "select" button. The noise-cancelling headphones gave me an actual shock when I unknowingly put them on and the roar of the engine immediately ceased. I've never tried noise-cancelling headphones before, and didn't understand the hype.

There were three of us to upgrade, so I was relatively confident it wouldn't come through, and thought to my self it was probably for the best; for all my life advantages I never flew business class until I was an adult and maybe this was just one step too far towards creating pampered, jaded children/future adults.  But they were properly excited and thrilled with each feature, and the trip was so much more comfortable, and we came off the plane like slightly tired human being rather than stinky, grumpy zombies. I am now thinking we may need to do more of this!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Happy Anniversary, once again we suck

It is 8:43pm. My mom and I were trying to arrange an online chat, and she was having so many problems with it I finally said don't worry, we're putting the kids to bed so no need to keep trying. She wrote back "Happy anniversary."

D'oh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Terry and I were married 11 years ago today (can you even believe it has been so long??).  Apparently, we live the adage - it's the marriage, not the wedding. This is definitely the latest in the day we have ever gotten before remembering our anniversary, and it doesn't even count because neither of us remembered.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More Mcguyver

In typical Soviet fashion, we received a message this afternoon from the kids' summer camp that tomorrow is the talent show/party and everyone should bring some food or drink to share.

We packed out earlier this week, so we have very close to nothing at all in the house both food- and implement-wise.

We do still have chocolate chips.

Each of the two tin foil pieces used to line the baking sheet used to house a loaf of bread in the freezer. They are both now completely destroyed and fit only for the bin.  There is no brown sugar in the mix. All the white flour is now gone, so the pancakes I planned to make to use up the maple syrup will have to be made with 100% whole wheat flour.

I love moving.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Best. Packout. Ever.

11 boxes of air freight (65lb underweight) and 219 boxes of ship freight (almost 2000lb underweight) later, with a total of 6 suitcases and 4 carry-ons for 4 people, we have crossed a threshold.

Ten men came through my home like whirlwinds, like a finely choreographed dance, and packed, weighed, labeled, moved and paperwork'd all to finish at the same time. Did things get packed that shouldn't have? Sure, but in all cases it was our fault - we forgot to set those things aside. Is any of it critical?  Nope.

Our house now echoes with vast emptiness. Last night, our first night in pared-down surroundings, we went out to eat as at that time we hadn't unpacked the welcome kit. It will be interesting to see how the children entertain themselves with only the toys they had selected to bring in their suitcases (plus several bonus games I'd squirreled away)


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I wrote a book!

Well, OK, not exactly. What I did do was write a chapter in a book. Still a pretty big deal to me (and, I'm sure, to my mom).

A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis is a compilation of stories about travel, foreign countries, and food - topics that many foreign service officers (myself firmly in this camp) sometimes get a little obsessive about.  I am so incredibly grateful to Tales From a Small Planet editors who invited me to join this group of much more accomplished writers, and give my my first, and perhaps not only, taste of publishing.