Sunday, November 16, 2014

cooking up a storm

Today the kids went to Sunday rugby.  Beforehand Terry made a full breakfast and I started bread.  After we came back:  pumpkin puree, pumpkin bread, applesauce, bread, oatmeal cookies, and homemade dinner.  It was quite a day.

We have friends with now-adult children. When we met them their youngest was a teenager.  They used to tell us to get the kids in the kitchen as young as possible. Part of the reason today's kitchen-fest was possible was that the kids helped and - as importantly - didn't need supervision so that it was help, not "help".

We still haven't convinced ourselves to work on their knife skills, though.  

Friday, November 14, 2014


Image result for kazakhstan flag
I know so many people around the world were excited and nervous at whatever time corresponded to midnight in D.C. on Monday, which was when handshakes went out.  I forgot that it was an important handshake day for us too.

Congrats, Terry!  Next summer when we go home for R&R, he'll actually return to post on a PCS out of his teleworking position and into the IPO slot in Astana.  I am sure that sentence just made some travel tech's head explode.

My little love

Zoltan is definitely more free with his affections than his sister. The other day they got the idea to make me birthday cards (6 weeks early).  Zoltan gave me his right away. He explained the picture and the very long word in "silly language" as meaning "Mommy, I love you. Thank you for all the love. Love, Zoltan"

I'm going to miss this when he grows up.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Astana is a relatively new city created in the middle of nowhere, with a lot of great open steppe around it and not much else. For the most part, a "getaway" involves an airplane. Except for Borovoe (now known by some - including Wikipedia - as Burabay, but I have never heard anyone use that word).

The Astana Outdoor Adventure group planned a hike in Borovoe that was reportedly very child friendly, so Saturday morning we got up and met almost 80 people in a parking lot and then caravanned in a dozen or so vehicles for three hours to a spot that I thought was remote enough I couldn't imagine how anyone could have discovered it. Nobody got separated from the group or otherwise lost. Some of the sedans almost didn't make it the last part of the drive, and we did agree that the Xterra really is the right vehicle for this post.

I've got to give the kids credit - they were rock stars.  Zoltan doesn't really love hikes anyway, and he missed his nap.  I had figured we would be out there 1.5-2 hours then call it quits.  We hiked around for more than 3 hours!  There were fits of whining but those were surprisingly weak and brief.  There were piggy back rides on the walk back to the cars, which was an excellent strength training exercise for mom.

When we made it back to the cars, we headed out to the second adventure of the day - a hotel stay at the Rixos Borovoe.  Many embassy families had recommended it and I can see why.  The place is a little resort - two playgrounds outside, a walking path along the lake, an indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and apparently if you can find the correct site there's inclusive deals with dinner or spa treatments included in the room rate.  We somehow hadn't eaten even a fraction of what we'd brought for the day of hiking so we ran to the restaurant after settling into the rooms.  I had promised the children at the worst moments of the hike that we could swim before going to bed so we hit the pool for 40 minutes too.  Next morning we were up early enough to see the last pink fading in the sky, reflected in the lake.  At breakfast we ran into friends who were also staying there, Alex got to borrow a book (she just runs through them and we still don't have our ship freight), and then back to the pool for a couple of hours before rinsing all that chlorine off and heading home.

On the way home we bought honey and vareini from a guy selling it on the side of the highway.  He was one of at least a half-dozen similarly-situated vendors or groups of vendors we saw on our side of the road.  Of course the vareini, made from some berry we didn't know, was очень полезно (very good for health).  I guess Terry should start slurping it down!

As a follow-up, it turns out our hike was captured on Kazakhstani television (must have been a slow week).  You can watch the clip here.  Look for Alex around 0:50.

Monday, November 3, 2014


This was our first year of an embassy Halloween celebration that we hear is pretty common worldwide.  The offices decorated doors, staff got slightly early leave and kids trick or treated from 5pm around the building. After their bags filled with candy, there were games and activities, followed by pizza (for kids) and potluck (for adults) and more games and activities.

After last year's USA Halloween I worried the kids would be disappointed not being outside, going door to door, and the significantly lower volume of candy. I shouldn't have worried, they had a blast!

Ready to trick or treat. Note they are holding hands - adorable when they want to be!

After the face painting. Alex already had her kittycat whiskers, so she opted for hand-painting. It's a bit hard to see but a very nice looking black cat on a fence in the moonlight.  I have no idea why Zoltan is striking that pose. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Looking like Zoltan looks

When a person walks into a room, turns around in a circle and comes back out saying "I couldn't find it!", we call that "looking like Zoltan looks."

Today he misplaced something. There was drama, tears, and he even accused our nanny of throwing the thing away.  After nap he noticed it was in very plain view, right on a shelf in his room.  His comment:  "I guess I looked like I look."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bringing home the bacon

This week I had my first business trip, to Almaty.  Part of my job is meeting with people doing work in different parts of Kazakhstan. It was a good trip, productive professionally and a good time personally to see another part of this enormous country.  Our hotel's dining room was on the top floor so when I walked in for breakfast yesterday I gawked like a country yokel at the stunning mountains that overlook the city. If Terry helps me I will upload the photos from my phone.

There was no time for sightseeing but I did manage to eat Indian and Vietnamese food so I was pretty happy. I also had an expedition to the grocery store. It is well known among the Astana embassy crowd that when in Almaty one must pick up some food items that are not sold in Astana. Sadly, the cheddar cheese was completely sold out - Philly cream cheese took up its old space on the shelf (one of the store workers brought me to exactly where the cheddar was).

I did, however, manager to snag a few pounds of bacon. My original intent was to fill the insulated lunch bag I'd brought for the purpose, then when I saw the price tag ($15) I decided Terry could savor the occasional strip.  I got the bacon into the hotel minibar fridge. The next morning I had to request ice from the hotel, then fill a Ziplock I'd brought for that purpose in an attempt to keep the bacon cold throughout a day of meetings and flight back to Astana.

When I got to our apartment tonight, some of the ice was indeed still solid, and the meat was still cool enough that I felt safe keeping it.

There is now absolutely no doubt who in this household brings home the bacon!!

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!