Thursday, May 5, 2016

Spreading American Culture, Hockey Monkey style

The musical group The Zambonis, which we are not sure are even still together, put out this little gem some time in the last. It is a much-requested song among the kids.

Apparently, Zoltan has taught the song to his best friend, who happens to also be the only other American kid in class.  And today, he tells me, the two of them performed the song for their music class.

You're welcome.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mission Accomplished

A couple of months after our arrival in St Petersburg the CLO organized a tour at a museum on Lake Ladoga. At the end of the tour the museum curator put together a little dinner, I wrote about it here, which included a wood burning samovar for our tea.  Ever since that day we have made it our mission to get one for the cabin.  The problem was the only ones we found in Russia were extraordinarily expensive and (to us) highly unattractive, so after four years we left the country empty handed.  Then we came to Kazakhstan, and one day in the fall last year we wandered around the central market (a huge bazaar massively misnamed, as it is located way out on the fringe of the city), looking for winter hats, and found one!  Because it was the end of the season they were out of the necessary chimney attachment, so we vowed to return when it would be available.

We leave in just about three months. Time is drawing nigh. Today was the day.  We went back to the central market and got the samovar. It was everything we want and need.  Perhaps I can convince Terry to take a photo of it and post it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

We have a match!

One of our grand plans for next year (no longer next year, but rather in about 4 months!) is to hire an au pair to give us more flexibility with traffic, snow days, and our study schedule.  We decided we would seek only German speakers, to get the kids a little familiar with the culture and language of where we're going, and helping us with our homework would certainly be an added boon! Because we're planners, we had decided April would be when we started the process.  For comparison, apparently most people start the process 2-3 months before they needed someone, and we were just shy of 5 months out. A few weeks ago Terry and I spent a large chunk of our free time crafting our "all about our family" letter, choosing photos to upload, answering all kinds of questions on the online questionnaires, reading au pair profiles, scouring advice from, and scheduling time to Skype with the au pair company people who had to vet us before we could be let loose on the unsuspecting young girls (and a few boys).  In the end we registered with two au pair companies to give us a broader range, although it turned out we would have done fine with only one as none of the au pairs we emailed to from the other agency ever wrote back to us.

It's only been about 10 days since we finished our paperwork and we just matched with an au pair!  I was really nervous because I didn't think we could possibly get so lucky, because she was only the second au pair we had an interview with. She seemed to have all the qualities we found most important, and she seemed such a good fit for us. We had her "meet" the kids tonight via Skype before we settled down to our conversation, as we figured we never hired a nanny who hadn't met the kids before, why would we start now?  Of course, we have had three out-of-the-ballpark amazing nannies so far, and one perfectly fine nanny who lacked the problems and dramas we have heard about from others, so we do seem to manage OK.  Two of the amazing nannies were only the second people we interviewed so I know it can happen so quickly.

When Alex wanted to be tucked in again after getting up to use the bathroom I told her the lady she met would take care of her next year while we were at work and she asked why we chose her.  I told her the main points, and she said it sounded good ... so I guess she's on board.

[note: I wrote this on Monday but was too nervous about jinxing things to post until she confirmed. She just did (within 10 minutes of being offered the match - the person at the company whose job it is to offer her our match was out Monday and Tuesday)]

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Leaving, on a jet plane ...

Well, not anytime soon, but it is for real now. I have orders and I have plane tickets. At this point it's just me and the kids, we don't know the details about what will happen with Terry (whether he leaves with us or 1-2 weeks later. He will leave Astana in August, that is for certain!)

With fewer than four months to go, everything seems funneled.  We base our meal planning on what is in our pantry we need to get through before departure day. we have stopped shopping in bulk and cancelled many a Subscribe and Save.  We're looking hard at anything we could donate: clothes, kitchen items, toys and although we've done one large load to the nuns, I plan to fill the car at least one more time.  Looking to sell the car. We try to keep the kids from buying things with their allowance, knowing we'll be moving them soon. Our last major allowance drawdown was when we convinced them to use their money to go visit the amusements at Khan Shatyr. We even let them buy themselves ice cream/sorbet at the end.  We have our bucket list of those things we figured we'd get around to doing, then never did - Khan Shatyr beach, you're on the agenda within the next couple of weeks!

At work we're looking forward to our successors, looking for time to prepare handover notes among regular work duties. Goodbyes are still a couple of months away, but there is that note of winding down.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Date Night

Our date night plans were pretty sedate, then a friend called who also had a babysitter that night and we changed our plans to meet up with them. With the rain and additional movements in the evening we ended up deciding to take the car rather than try to catch cabs throughout the night.

It all started innocently enough.  Babysitter came, we hopped in the car and headed to Shoreditch, a restaurant we'd been hearing about.  It does burgers and stir fry type stuff. We tried one of each. The burger: completely forgettable.  The Indian chicken and spinach over basmati ... it tasted just like Indian food!  It had spice, and the right kinds, and the right flavors, and did I mention my mouth felt a nice warm burn that endured after the food was eaten?  We were ecstatic. It was probably on par with your average strip mall Indian in the USA but here in Astana, that makes it the best in the country.  The restaurant was also really funky and adorable, with a hopscotch game in the front entryway and live music appropriate for a restaurant (i.e. not too loud and not too distracting).  It was completely booked but we had come early and had no qualms promising to be gone before the table's second act at 11pm (outside the USA we have found there is no turnover for tables - the one you book is the one you own all night long). Also, service was FAST.  We got an appetizer and our main course and easily could have come and gone within 45 minutes.

Dinner over, we headed to the bar where we were supposed to meet our friends. It's drizzling. Our windshield wipers refuse to kick on. We pull over a few times to squeegee off the front windshield. Terry keeps turning the wipers on hoping to make them work. The back wiper is working just fine. This is not cool.  The bar is in a more populated part of town from where we live, and it took a few swings around the block and a half-block distance to find parking, When we got there not only was every table reserved, but almost all of the bar seating. We found our friends squashed into the corner of the bar against the wall.  The music is deafening.  The beer is Corona.  We decide to split.

The final stop of the night, The Rock's, was the perfect pub.  Several British standards on tap as well as the bar's own brew. Although they were also fully booked, our friends ran into friends and we all piled into their generously large booth. A good night was had by all.  When we returned to the car the rain had stopped and visibility was 100%.  Just for fun on the way home Terry tried the windshield wipers to see what would happen.  I think we all know what happened.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Homeward Bound

Technically, they are home and no longer bounding.  Terry and the kids went to Berlin during the kids' spring holiday last week while I had to stay behind and work. I earnestly hope he will post some photos of their trip.

Not only did they explore a new city, but they got to spend significant quality time with dear friends who live there. I wish I could have been there too and missed them desperately - it is always harder to be left than to leave - but don't begrudge them their adventure.

Due to my status of stay-at-home-mom for most of the kids' younger years, I have experienced hundreds of hours of just me-and-them adventure. Although they were too young to remember most of it, I can remind them, show photos, talk about what we did.  I think it's important for each parent to develop these special, independent times with their children - both one-on-one and one-parent-all-children. In the hustle and bustle of daily life it's hard to work those moments in, especially in our two-working-parent current existence, where I never feel we spend enough time with the kids.  I'm so happy they had this trip, and I am ever so happy to have them back in the house!

Monday, March 21, 2016


We finally headed south as a family for the long weekend over Women's Day. Although Terry and I had both gotten to Almaty for work, nobody had gotten any leisure time there and the kids had never been.  We got to the hotel, checked in, and headed out for lunch. Zoltan pitched a fit which earned him a nap while Alex and I enjoyed the warm weather and playground only a few minutes' walk from the hotel. When she got bored I decided to check out the Ramstore (everything is better in Almaty). We soon learned one similarity between the former and current capital - some looong blocks that make destinations seem only a few minutes away on a map, but are actually a kilometer or more. We spent shockingly little time in the store, and had many rest stops on the way home. Recognizing Alex was likely exhausted from the trek, we decided to take advantage of the hotel pool - it was one of the main reasons we'd chosen the hotel. By the time we'd gotten showered and changed it was dinner time, then we were all pooped out from the early day and all the activity - even though we hadn't seen any of the sights yet.

The next morning we woke raring to go.  We walked to the cable car to Kok-Tobe. Unbeknownst to us, its repairs had only been completed the week before and it had only just re-opened. The cable car ride was a blast, as we knew it would be.  The brass Beatles statues up on the top, the majestic mountains as backdrop, and the unfortunate view of smog climbing up the mountain were all noteworthy.  We stopped for a snack, gave the kids some time on the amusement rides, and checked out the very sad small zoo (there were domesticated animals and birds who seemed to be doing just fine but a few of the traditionally wild animals really seemed to want to go home). Lunch at cafe Nedelka, which had been recommended to us, was nice although Terry kept arguing to stop at the "real American diner" next door instead - they had free coffee all day (presumably they meant refills) so it must have been legit. We then hopped a taxi to what we thought was the Mega that housed a science museum (like in St Petersburg, I assume) but it was the wrong Mega and by then we were all tired and grumpy and it was time to go back for a rest.  Dinner was at VietCafe and very tasty - definitely hit all the right spots!

When we got back to the hotel we noticed Alex was warm. I chalked it up to being run all around all day and made everyone promise to sleep as late as possible the next day.

The next morning she was clearly ill.  I was grateful that we always travel with children's Motrin (They can now manage the chewable kind! This is huge!) Zoltan was perfectly healthy though, and bouncing off the walls, so I took him to the little playground at the hotel.  Then the bigger playground he missed the first day when he was napping.  Then the hotel pool.  Lunch, a short nap in an effort to keep everyone else healthy, then it was time to head toward the airport (or so we thought).  The traffic Terry and I were used to was non-existent (it was a holiday not a work day) and there was no line anywhere at the airport. We left the hotel a solid hour, hour and a half earlier than needed. Hurrah for the tablets!

The trip home was relatively noneventful. The next day Alex and I went to the embassy doc and learned she had strep throat. That was way less fun, and meant our Women's Day was spent in the apartment reading, watching TV and playing games. Inside. Not bad, but not what we had planned.

* note: if Terry ever looks at the photos we took there he may post a few. Check back someday!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A yellow plum

This week the market was particularly exciting.

Since October, fruit has been pretty predictable. Apples, pears, oranges, mandarin (clementines), pomegranate, bananas. Sometimes grapes, although they are usually the large globe grapes with all the annoying seeds (yes I am American and appreciate my convenience, in this case seedless grapes).

But this week there were plums. I bought four yellow plums at $1.00 each and considered it a good deal.  I was so rapturous the kids were begging to have one of the precious few. Of course I acquiesced.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan

As we stare at our last few months, we realized there are many things in Astana we'd been holding off on checking out. But now there's no reason to keep waiting. A few weeks ago we had some days off and decided to spend some time at the "new" museum - it opened just before we arrived in 2014.

We were quite happily surprised, as we'd been warned that it wasn't much.  We spent the extra 1000 tenge for a visit to the gold rooms, and spent the bulk of our time there.  The rooms have a number of artifacts including a reproduction of the "Golden Man" (photo of something similar, if not actually him, to the left).  They provide headphones that play in English, Russian and Kazakh. The kids loved the interactive screens that gave more detailed information about various items that were in the rooms, for example Zoltan spent time flicking between screens of various weaponry and then we'd walk around and find some of the examples.

We made sure to get to the main entrance in time to watch the golden eagle soar to the sounds of ... well I'm not sure what the music was, but it sounded majestic and Kazkh and suited the mood.  I'll be honest, it wasn't as impressive as the golden peacock at the Hermitage, but it was worth seeing.

It didn't take too long for the kids to be just done, and it was lunch time anyway. We probably didn't even see half the halls in the museum, but will definitely make a return trip later when the weather is better (it is a bit too far to ask the kids to walk all bundled in snow gear, but would be a perfect distance when we pull out bikes or scooters).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lesser known milestones

In child raising there are the obvious milestones we celebrate as they inch closer towards independence:  when they can walk, dress themselves, use the potty themselves, strap their own seat belts, read.  Then there are the lesser-considered: when they move from bath to shower, then to shower on their own, when they can be trusted to get themselves from the bus up the driveway and into the apartment building by themselves.  We recently hit upon another one - when they can take tablet medicine rather than liquid. It had only really become relevant to us in terms of travel, but wow it has really opened things up for us! Throwing  Zantac into the bag rather than the liquid ranitidine syrup, or chewable ibuprofen rather than liquid ... it is no less of a milestone and one we greatly celebrate.