Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Drinking or no drinking?

The other night we went for dinner with friends. They speak better Russian than we do, so when the hostess asked something as we were handing our coats in to the garderobe (coat check, not medieval toilet) I didn't pay too much attention and let the friend answer.  The hostess led us from one room to a different one, and then everyone stopped and looked quizzical.  They asked the question again. It definitely wasn't "smoking or non-smoking room?" which is what I had gotten used to in Russia.

It was a Turkish restaurant. The question was "drinking or non-drinking room?"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hockey time

A friend kindly picked up tickets for us when she got tickets for herself this week, so on Friday we went to our first Kazakhstani hockey game. Go Barys!!  [barys = snow leopard, a Kazakhstani national symbol]  We had been warned about the madhouse of parking, and several people without kids recommended that we take a taxi or bus. We decided we'd try it in the car, as overtired children at the end of the night are best contained within car seats and not waiting outside in the cold for either of the other options.

We got to the stadium a bit less than an hour before game time. A good deal of parking still available at the stadium. Free. Yeah.  We get in and look for food. Not great options, next time we will try to get to the game even a bit earlier and grab dinner near the stadium.  The stadium seats 4,000 people. Cozy.  We hear the new stadium will be finished by next season.  We took a wander before game time and there were a bunch of rooms that seemed to be holding different kinds of practices, such as dance or karate, around the main arena.  There were two ping pong tables inexplicably in an open area by the end of the hall [during one intermission we watched people playing, apparently it's a "thing" and they bring their own paddles and balls].

It was a good game, the home team won and the kids stayed entertained. When it was time to go there was a small crush of people on the way out but we were soon outside. Walk to the car, get the kids strapped in and .... five minutes after I got into the car we were on the road. The "traffic" on the road was another 2-3 minutes, maybe.

Oh, and did I mention the tickets cost 1000 tenge? That's about $7, being generous with the conversion rate.  I think we'll be going back.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Car: Finally Victory

We didn't have any more pockets of free time until Saturday morning so that is when we went to make our second attempt at getting tires.  We were told at the embassy if we had pressure sensors for our tires we had to go to this one specific place to get the tires put on, even if we buy them elsewhere (as we had to - they don't sell tires at this place). So I called every half hour Saturday morning until they were open because their hours are not on the web site nor their telephone's prerecorded message.  We did ok finding the place except that the map showed the place being several blocks earlier than it really was.  We bought the tires and they said it would be about 10 minutes and they would bring them out, we could go wait in our car.  Um, it is freezing and sleeting and my children are with us, so I think we'll wait right here.

After a bit of time Terry went down to wait in the car. The kids had a snack and were playing with the few toys they had brought. Time ticks on. They eventually try to tell me to go downstairs and wait. I tell them I will go when we have tires in the car.

Once that happens it's off to get the tires put on. Here is victory #1.  I had to explain that we wanted the spare put back under the car, one new tire on the rim of the busted tire that was currently in the car and then that put on the back, the other new tire on the other back rim and lastly the tire from the back rim to replace a front tire that was well worn.  It was all done perfectly.  And we were able to lunch while we waited, thanks to the Hardees that shares space with the gas station next to the shop.

Except the tire pressure sensor was not re-set, indicating that they probably didn't do whatever was supposed to make them the only place to get pressure-sensor-tires replaced.

Victory #2 came during naptime, when I had to run out and buy a birthday present for a party Alex will attend this week. The invite came Friday, the party is Wednesday. Felt like we were back in Russia. With the help of the car I was now completely free to use - with gas, windshield wipers and a spare tire - I was able to run to the store and back in record time. I even didn't get lost!

Monday, October 6, 2014

More on the car

This car is more needy than a newborn.

When we realized what was missing from the car we immediately sent a confident message to the transportation guy that we were sure the windshield wipers and tire were somewhere and we would be happy to pick them up the next day. Confidence does not always make magic happen. The tire was still there, yes, but nobody knew what happened to the windshield wipers. And of course it rained, but cleared up enough for Terry to drive the car to the embassy the next day (after we corrected our insurance to also cover him. Somehow that never came up when I was dealing with all the paperwork previously. Now that I think about it, I may or may not still owe our shipping guy 2200 tenge - roughly $15 - for that.)

When you put a car on a boat for long distances, you are required to be sure there is no more than 1/4 tank of gas in the car. There are many stories of people aimlessly driving their car for a long period of time in order to get to that point when the transportation folks arrive and discover a fuller-than-allowed gas tank. I have to imagine some car exploded on some cargo ship somewhere in the world and now we have this rule. Anyway, what it means is #1 priority when a car arrives at the other end is to fill the tank.  Unless you don't have a spare tire because the spare is on the car and the busted tire was taken away from the car so a second nail-through-tire mishap would become tragic. In that case priority #1 is to re-obtain the busted tire so there is a rim on which to put a new tire.

I speak Russian, Terry does cars, so we end up having to do a lot of things together that one or the other of us could theoretically handle on our own. One day last week I had enough of a break between meetings, and he had enough free time, that we decided to hold a late "lunch hour" and get some things accomplished. First was finding the busted tire at the embassy motorpool garage. First step: find the garage (10-15 minutes). Second step: let them know we came for the tire  - not as easy as it sounded as the guy we spoke with didn't know about "the tire" so I tried to explain in my level-2 Russian and he definitely came out of it thinking I was asking for one of the embassy's tires because the second guy was surprised when I said "maya shina" - my tire - and he eventually figured out what I wanted and showed me the tire, then made Terry drive into the warehouse to where the tire was to pick it up.  Getting to the gas station that also sold windshield wipers was the easy part of the whole experience, except that our car takes two different sized windshield wipers and one of those sizes was not sold there. We found close enough and the guy pumping our gas helped up get the wipers on with the help of Terry's pocket knife to open that darned clamshell packaging.

Off to the tire store! Except the shopping mall where the tire store was meant to be has  two names and the one we knew wasn't the one proclaimed in big letters on the top of the building so we had to go past, turn around in traffic, and head back.  There was a sign showing that parking could be had in the back so off to the back we went. The biggest tragedy of this story is that we didn't get photos of the abandoned construction site we walked past from the parking lot to the front of the mall. Imagine a half-built building, sitting in at least a half-floor of water like a little pond, and the road that goes along this pond has almost rusting metal bars sticking out every few inches or so into the air above the pond, dissuading anyone from jumping in (not that one would. It also smelled of sewage).  I have never seen anything like this in the middle of such a developed city - as Astana is nothing if not a very developed city.

But I digress.  We go into the mall, find the tire store, and ask for the tires we need. I had called earlier and I knew they had them but there must have been a mis-communication because they now told me they only have winter tires. We have four winter tires on a boat in the Atlantic so we really wanted all season/summer ones. Strike out!

Making the best of the situation, we headed to the grocery store we noticed in the mall. We've been in this chain before, it sells Shop-Rite brand stuff. We grabbed a bunch of things we didn't think existed in Astana and called it a victory.

Part II comes soon .....

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I drove my car

The car is here, cleared customs, registered, insured and ready to drive. We only noticed after we got it home that the windshield wipers have gone missing, as well as the rim to the tire that got destroyed in shipping (the benefit of a big car is full sized tires as spares!) I'm hoping motorpool can find those items today. We still need to buy tires as we have no spare right now ...

Sunday, September 28, 2014


There's a gourmet food store in town that people talk about because they sometimes get in bacon. When Terry went to check it out last week, they were out of bacon but told him they would have ribeye later in the week if he wanted to get some. Mmmmm ribeye. We knew it would be a treat and would definitely cost more than it would at home. We were prepared to pay up to double the usual cost because, you know, we're overseas.

I went to the store today and asked about the ribeye. Yes they have it, here it is. How much does it cost?  "Sixteen [and change]".  "Sixteen thousand?"  "Yes."

Friends, we declined to buy the $90.00 per kilogram ribeye.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cashew milk

Astana is a consumables, Pouch-only post. There are few non-dairy milks to be found around town and the only ones I have heard of so far are ones I don't drink.  What does this mean? Any non-dairy milk I drink must be procured within the year after my arrival, and too bad that expiration dates don't quite take me all the way to the end of the tour. So, we will be experimenting with the home-grown variety.

On our super-productive trip to the rinok this weekend we found the nuts and dried fruit vendor and got a small volume of cashews to work with for our first experiment. We'd heard it was a super easy nut to milk and if the blender/food processor is good enough you don't even need to strain anything.

First off, we don't have our ship freight so we don't have the awesome Ninja blender. We have the tiny food processor that attaches to the 220v stick blender motor. Second off, ignore the first off. With our inadequate equipment and the need to strain the liquid I still managed to make something I wouldn't mind drinking with a chocolate chip cookie, PLUS a small batch of homemade cashew butter.  Cashew butter is relatively tasteless, or perhaps something is missing from the recipe?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Adventures in fresh produce

We love us some farmers markets, rinok, produce stands, whatever you want to call them. Although we had a major packout fail this time and didn't pack spices in air freight, when you have fresh produce you don't need much additional flavor. Plus, we like to do some "putting up", and made sure to put canning supplies in air freight.

All this leads to ... the weekend farmer's market running in Astana through the fall, wherein farmers from some nearby areas bring in their produce every weekend at low, low prices. We decided Saturday that it was a good use of our time to figure out the bus schedule and route and pile everyone out to the "сельскохозяйственная ярмарка" (agricultural fair). 

Unfortunately, by the time we got out of the house and the bus got through traffic, it was mid-day. The hoardes of people (yes, I used that word intentionally and ironically) meant that any stop at a stall to try to buy some of the food we came to buy would take longer than our patience and hunger levels could tolerate. For example when the kids and I went to the honey stand, a woman in line was calling out another woman for just walking up to the front and told her they had already been waiting 1/2 hour.

Conveniently, the mall next to the fair held Burger King, so it was lunch and back home for us. Getting what value we could from the experience, we silenced the whining Alex by telling her that when you try something new, sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes it doesn't quite work out.  The kids got 2 bus rides out of it, so they should have been pretty happy. 

We were wary, but in need of ingredients for various culinary projects so Sunday we headed out again. This time we got out earlier in the day, made the kids take backpacks with toys and snacks to keep them entertained while they waited for us to hunt and gather, and went to Evrazia.  The best way I can describe it is that it is as close to Sennaya Ploschad as anything I have found here so far. There's inside and outside vendors, selling all kinds of meats, farm fresh eggs, dairy products and fruit and veggies. Oh and honey too!

We got tomatoes, peppers and onions for salsa. We got three different varieties of apples for sauce, apple chips, and pie (one variety was pretty fresh/sour). The strawberries should have been passed over, but we ended up incorporating them into apple-strawberry sauce. I can't wait to make scrambled eggs from the 10 (they don't sell by the dozen here) that Terry chided me into buying - I was sure they would all break all over everything on the bus ride home. Can you tell which egg in the photo is store bought vs. market? And of course the honey! It is so good that offering the children bread and honey for treat elicits squeals, not groans.  We'll be back often.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The one where we mess up pretty big

With care and attention, Alex has been healthy and medicine-free for about six months.

And then we moved to another country.

We thought we were still being diligent. We kept her away from known dangers, and even read the labels on the chocolate bars (thank you Kazakhstan for having so much delicious non-milk chocolate!!) Without our stuff to make it, though, we had to buy our bread from the store. And this was our ruin.

We tried a few different types of loaves and found a good sandwich bread, and then we found this bread.  I have been told it is actually Uzbek or Tajik, but anyway it is in our grocery store and delicious. The week we discovered it we ate 4-5 loaves in the week.

I have had no confirmation about this but I suspect the bread is made with milk. In retrospect, the taste and consistency definitely point to milk in the recipe. I also only now remember that we had to read labels carefully in the USA because so many brands of bread had milk.

Alex has been coughing for a week, and I had a massive dairy reaction last week as well.  She's been back on medicine and the coughing doesn't seem to be quieting down as quickly as usual but Terry tells me I'm misremembering. I hate when I'm an idiot.

Disclaimer: I am also working with Alex's school to check out the lunch menu to be sure there wasn't anything verboten there, but I don't dine there and I also had a big reaction. The bread is the only thing that didn't either have a label or was clearly safe like fresh fruit. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

UAB forts

One thing that has become a tradition for our family with each UAB shipment is the follow on cardboard forts.  We pack a couple of box cutters and a roll or two of packing tape in the UAB boxes.  When they are emptied we give the kids a play area that they are so excited to have.  Another benefit is that the three walled cardboard used for UAB is it really sturdy, so you can make dual level structures.  We could probably go higher but I have visions of Zoltan wiggling out of a window back down to the floor for a nasty bump on the noggin.  So when UAB showed up the kids were very very excited to the see all the big boxes.  The first night we put together a relatively simple structure with two levels (Upper right photo).  The kids each agreed on one entry box being their own houses and the two in the middle are the shared house.  You have to go through one or the other kid's house to get the shared house.  They were quite pleased with the arrangement.

This tour is unusual that we also got an HHE by air shipment. The movers in Maryland packed it just like any other UAB shipment.  So we have lots and lots of boxes this time.  I decided to expand the fort some the next night.  I added another bottom section but not actually attached to the the first section.  Then I added a second section on the second level that you can use to as a bridge to go from one side to the other.  Alex was showering when I finished this up.  She can out and went in the fort and proceeded to go to the second level when she saw the new addition.  Her words were something like "Hey what the? Oh Cool!!"  Unfortunately the written word can not really catch the confusion in her first statement followed by the excitement in here second.  Not sure how many of these we will build before they become boring to older kids (or they just don't fit) but right now it is such fun to watch.