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!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Inching closer

I have Travel Orders!And a housing assignment! And flight reservations, sort of!  Last week I was able to apply for my and Zoltan's passports. I scheduled my packout. I am trying to find time to meet with the ever-popular Ash at CWT to make our flight arrangements - hoping it will be next week. I went to get the first round of shots this week. (ick!)

I met my Desk Officer and got an initial briefing on what's up in Kazakhstan. I started my job-specific training and am learning how to do my job.

We have a bunch of construction and smaller house projects to complete in the next two weeks. Terry will be assisted by a professional for some of it, and his father (also a professional, but much cheaper) for other parts of it.

We are totally moving the ball forward.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Memorial Day Part 2

The only reason I'm making a second post is Terry has antiquated views of how many photos one can attach to a single blog posting and I am trying to honor his request. So, where we were? Ah yes, the fun we had on Memorial Day weekend.

Our friends' kids shoot bows and our friend has brought all the necessary equipment, including a smaller "starter" bow and arrow set. Both of the kids loved it, prompting us to purchase a set of our own. Check out the look on Alex's face after she shot.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Memorial Day Part 1

For Memorial Day we ended up going to a Pennsylvania cabin ... but not ours. Our friends have a cottage so we went to spend the weekend there. Now we are slightly regretting our cabin doesn't have a stream running through the property, because although Zoltan does not love the "quiet woods" he took to the stream like a duck to water (couldn't resist).

The kids played by the water or in the field around the cottage almost unsupervised for hours. Of course, they resurfaced every hour or so to devour a good portion of the fruit we'd all brought. At night we roasted marshmallows and our friends had glowstick bracelets for the kids to wear like little portable nightlights.

One important lesson we learned this weekend: Alex is not quite up to the foreign service threshold. The cottage's pump went so to wash our hands in the bathroom we had a couple of buckets of water from the stream. To flush the toilet we then poured water from those buckets into the bowl. She expressed her displeasure.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Holy Moly Zoltan is reading!

After Zoltan's T-ball game this morning, we went to the library. While we were looking for books appropriate for Alex, Zoltan was also hovering over the bookshelves. All of a sudden he says "Zoney?" and points to the word "Zone" on the spine of a book. Then he reads the rest of the title. Then we go to the books Alex loves to get, the "my first reader" ones that are about 3 years below her reading level and let him pick one out. He knows none of the rules, like the silent "e" or how 2 letters sound together ("th", "sh", "ch" etc) but by golly the boy is reading!

To say we were not expecting this or preparing for it would be an understatement.